Philippine Veterans Affairs Office [02/01/2016]

To know how the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) came to be what it is today it would be helpful to have a historical perspective, keeping in mind that the Office did not occur in a vacuum or in isolation. It came about through a process of conditioning by a series of positive and negative past forces and events. This may have been political, economic or social. Which is why we need to look for its connections.

Why did PVAO come into being? Let us look into the past, into its origins. By the last decade of the 19th century, the Filipinos, fed up by centuries of Spanish oppressive rule and no longer unable to keep their pent-up feelings of what they called violent action for "Kalayaan ng Inang Bayan", launched the 1896 revolution. In a couple of years, that is in 1898, they succeeded in glorious triumph. But hardly a year after, even as the euphoria of their victory had not subsided and their efforts at setting up the governmental machinery of what was a liberal and democratic Philippine Republic still incomplete, the Filipinos had to fight again in defense of their newly-won victory against the Americans. They were defeated, and again the Philippines was once more colonized, this time by the U.S.

Both wars caused the people a lot of casualties. Countless Filipino warriors along with a good number of foreigners who fought on their side were killed and wounded. Those killed left their families - wives, sons and daughters - destitute. Many of those wounded were rendered invalid for life, hardly able to eke a living.

It was under these circumstances that the all-Filipino law-making body of the colonial government - the Philippine Legislature - did something to ameliorate the plight of the victims, particularly the invalids of the Philippine Revolution. Invalids of the Philippine-American War were not included, however. In its Resolution No. 8 of February 8, 1917, the Legislature created a joint committee to prepare a list of invalids. Then, a year later, on February 23, 1918, it passed Act No. 2756. This law empowered the Secretary of Interior to determine who were the invalids, with the list drawn by the Committee as reference. Further, he was to establish, maintain and administer a home for the invalids, where they would be taken care of and given assistance. For the purpose he was authorized to receive donations of all kinds and include its funding support in the yearly appropriation for his Department.
Then, in 1935, following the grant of Philippine autonomy, the Commonwealth Government was established preparatory to independence in ten years. In June 1938, the law-making body, now the National Assembly, felt the need for the government to look after the welfare and well-being of all veterans. And as a gesture of grateful appreciation for their patriotic services to the country, it enacted a law (Commonwealth Act No. 288), repealing Act 2756 and creating a "Board of Pensions for Veterans." Subject to the Interior Secretary's approval it was to determine who were veterans, classify them by ranks and fix their pensions.

Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon, who was a veteran himself, must have been so concerned for the care and upkeep of the veterans that he ordered the Board, barely two months old, to be transferred from the Department of Interior to the Office of the President. Then, in 1940, under Commonwealth Act No. 605, the Board obtained an even more formal composition, with the Commissioner of the Budget as Chairman and the Commissioner of Civil Service and the Auditor General as members. The law also appropriated funds for the Board to discharge its functions.

After the country became independent and the Third Republic of the Philippines inaugurated the Philippine Congress (Senate and House of Representatives) passed a law (RA No. 65). This law created the Philippine Veterans Board whose members were all veterans; it was placed under the DND. More importantly, the law created a bill of rights for veterans, granting educational benefits, disability and death pensions as well as veterans preference in civil service examinations. Four years later, in 1950, another law (RA 539) was passed creating a "Board of Pensions of Veterans." It is not clear whether it had the effect of reverting the board to its former name. In any case, the new law was an improvement in that this time the board was now to pay pensions according to the manner prescribed by the law. This was to ensure against giving pension to fake veterans and that pensions were actually received by the veterans. The monthly pension ranged from 30 to 100 pesos.

Meanwhile, a Veterans Claims Commission was established under the Office of the President. It was to go over and decide all unsettled claims of Filipino veterans. Also, the Commission was to work and negotiate for more benefits for Filipino veterans from the US. This mandate appears to have stemmed from the general expectation that Filipino veterans would get the same or similar benefits the US government would be providing for their American counterparts.

On June 18, 1960, all the offices having to do with the administration of veterans benefits were abolished, including the Board of Pensions for Veterans, the Philippine Veterans Board, the Veterans Back Pay Commission, the Veterans Claims Commission, and the Claims Office under the Office of the AFP Judge Advocate General. Their functions and responsibilities as well as their records, supplies and equipment were all consolidated and brought under a new office - the Philippines Veterans Administration which was placed under the Office of the President.

Shortly after Martial Law was declared Presidential Decree No. 1, dated 24 September 1972, was issued. The decree reorganized the executive branch of the national government in accordance with what was laid out as the Integrated Reorganization Plan. Part of the Plan was the establishment of the PVAO under the DND. This was why, in accordance with the decree and a subsequent Letter of Implementation, the Secretary of National Defense ordered the creation and organization of the PVAO as outlined in the reorganization plan. Among other responsibilities the PVAO assumed the functions of the Philippine Veterans Administration, the Veterans Claims Settlement Staff, and the Assistance Center for Ex-Servicemen, which were all abolished. The Veterans Memorial Hospital was likewise made an operating unit under PVAO.

And so as we now take a second look at PVAO, we see from its origins in American colonial times to this day, a historical process that has been shaped by the relational impact of positive and negative forces and events and as well the will and the wisdom of men. With pride and satisfaction we also see PVAO as a government instrumentality doing well its job of looking after the care and treatment of veterans and keeping their patriotic services ever fresh in the memory of the Filipino people, particularly the young.

It has thus become a prayer and a challenge that their welfare and well-being and the memory of their patriotic services be preserved and enhanced by our leaders. Will they, in particular those in the Defense Department and PVAO, listen to the prayer? Will they be able to stand equal to the challenge? Given their demonstrated competence, zeal and will, I have no doubt that they will. Yes, they will, with God's blessings.