Introduction: "Tagapakpak la kami!"
"We will be there only to clap our hands!"
This statement uttered by 74-year old Jeremias Acebedo, one of Palo, Leyte's veterans, probably illustrates the current sentiment of former soldiers in the last war 50 years ago. It is also a sad commentary on the way government treats our veterans.
For unlike dead heroes, streets are not named after them. Nor are monuments built to commemorate them. Aging and confined to their sickbeds and wheelchairs, Filipino veterans are no longer the spritely fighters that they used to be. All of them are way past retirement age who should be handled with extreme care and compassion.
"You've got to think of the boys because they're not young anymore," quips Salvador Flores, a 75-year old former US Army veteran from Sogod, Southern Leyte.
But it seems government is not even compassionate enough. Otherwise how come Jeremias and others of his age feel they are being neglected?
As we go to the press, the vets are anything but the focal point of our grand 50th Leyte Landing Anniversary celebration. Oh, yes, they will have lunch with President Fidel V. Ramos and a few other heads of state. They will get the chance of their lives to rub elbows with dignitaries and to reminisce the war with fellow vets.
If nothing goes wrong, they will be provided transportation money and enough food to survive the October 20, 1994 ordeal. They will see Gen. MacArthur and his officials going down the barge once more, courtesy of Holywood stars and local showbiz people. Most probably they'll go home in one piece.
"It is not true that we are neglecting the local veterans," announced National Executive Committee Chairman Teofisto Guingona in one of his visits to Leyte recently."We have paid them honors as veterans, we salute them." How? Guingona did not explain.
Truth is, government wants to dress up the affair to make the region attractive to tourists and investors. That's the whole point in all the fuss and the hoopla.
So government is erecting a stage huge enough to hold 100 people and about 100 booths in which to show our wares in the region. Included in the display are Leyte's delicacies -- moron, suman latik, binagol, roskas -- which this part of the island is famous for.
Add in a bicycle race, oratorical contest, kundiman and drum & bugle corps competition, fun run, the search for Miss Liberation, cockfights, floats, paddle race, subiran regatta -- and you've got one grand circus, the likes of which Leyte˝os never had in the last 50 years.
Seventy-five million pesos is not even enough, President Ramos swore through his pipe. Earlier, the press made a lot of noise about the millions going to this affair.
"We are showing that the Leyte Landing is a turning point, a lesson for the young and those who were not yet born that time so that they will share in the meaning of the Leyte Landing," Guingona hastened to add. Aye, and dazzle them with the fanfare.
Veteran Jeremias Acebedo, a former vice-mayor of Palo, Leyte, was right. "We will be there to clap our hands." For what other role can government possibly give to aging grandpas?
Yet 50 years ago, it took men and women of unwavering courage and hearts of steel to face up to the ferocity of the Japanese Imperial Army in a war they hardly understood. It took a certain brand of heroism that called for the ultimate sacrifice of one's life in defense of one's country and people.
To those who fought valiantly in the last war, living or dead, we humbly dedicate this piece with the hope that a similar war, concocted in the war chambers of despots and overfed capitalists, may not happen again.*