Try to go to Camp Aguinaldo–the sprawling headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in heart of Quezon City–and you won’t miss to see a throng of people, most of them military retirees and World War II veterans, congregating at the Philippine Veterans Administration Office located at the back of the Department of National Defense Building.
On any given day, traffic inside the PVAO premises is terrible as pensioners and fixers alike mingle to make a feast of you know what? Instant cash from rediscounting of checks made out of the pensioners’ loans. And some enterprising and greedy businessmen have taken advantaged of this business opportunity for many years. All they do is standby in one of the corners, not far from where the unsuspecting pensioners’ attention and always ready to give the extra cash needed for them to qualify for another loan.
According to some military retirees and veterans themselves, the modus operandi are simple. As always, making a loan out of the pensioner’s monthly pension is blood, sweat and tears at PVAO. And it would take days for any loan to be released. Those who experience so much troubles are those coming from far-flung places, whose transportation fares and food allowance are just enough for them to survive the grueling trip to Camp Aguinaldo to file and secure the loan. Instead of waiting for a loan to be processed, approved and released, which normally takes at least three days or even a week at the most, loan applicants, some of them walking with the aid of canes, don’t want to endure the long wait. Consequently, they have prey of enterprising capitalists lurking around, who use people to keep watch on those who need immediate cash guarantee. All the loan applicant has to do is to look for a co-guarantor which is required before any loan applicant can secure a loan. Upon the check’s release, the loan applicant has no choice but shed off at least a thousand pesos per co-guarantor times two per loan application, to the capitalist, whose connection inside PVAO is extensive. Any approved loan check for release is immediately relayed to the spotters hovering around so that the pensioners could not escape the litany of troubles. Sounds like a good business using only a little sacrifice, standing by in one of the nooks–normally the Officers’ Club not far from where the PVAO is.
But behind the business frenzy at PVAO are the gloomy faces of hapless retirees, mostly enlisted military personnel who make do of what is left of their dismal pension to survive the costly life in the fast lane. Worse is some of them have been forgotten and left at the mercy of time and sickly. Frustrations are poured over a bottle of dry gin, the cheapest means of drowning ones’ worries and apprehensions to get a good night sleep. Where? To a cramped abode that is not even fit for humans to live but have to just to shelter them from the tempests of time. This is what some of the military retirees got after risking their lives fighting for many years to preserve democracy in a country whose economy is forever reeling from political mess and poverty.
While at the Officers’ Club, the stark difference radiates. Moneyed top military officers come to feast at any given day to savor the fruits of their enlisted personnels’ sacrifices. A close relative who retired from the military service after serving for many years in Mindanao, revealed that these are traditional realities that cannot be corrected anymore because they have been ingrained in the pedestal powers of military hierarchy that is hard to break. And the poor enlisted military retirees are reduced to a pulp. Now, ailing and weak, they have to stay outside in the shadow of the camp which serves as their home for many years. "Life is what we make it", an adage says. And perhaps, in death they will find fulfillment. No wonder, a former military officer now turned senator has been aching hard to correct this imbalance and unfairness inside the institution they have loved to serve.