DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Attendees at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl stood at attention yesterday during the playing of the national anthem. Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, saluting at left, placed a wreath during the ceremony, spoke, then participated in a memorial marker dedication. Gov. Linda Lingle, right, placed her hand over her heart during the playing of the national anthem.
Arroyo honors fallen soldiers, pledges aid in war on terrorism
Speaking at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific yesterday, Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo honored U.S. and Filipino soldiers that have fought together in every war since World War II.
During a 10-minute speech on a overcast day with passing light rain, Arroyo spoke about eliminating terrorism in the Philippines and around the world.
"We stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States on the global war on terrorism," she said. "We're agonizing about the situation in Iraq . . . we support all moves that will eventually lead to the stabilization of Iraq."
Arroyo said the Philippines shared the same democratic values of the United States and hoped to "strengthen the Philippine economy to liberate the poor."
Arroyo also spoke about political killings that have occurred in her country.
"I am outraged at the indiscriminate killings of political activists and journalists," she said. The "political retribution" has been a part of the country's social fabric for many years, she said.
"We will do all in our power to break this cycle once and for all," she said.
Earlier in the day outside the Filipino Community Center, where Arroyo dedicated a statue honoring "sakada" plantation workers in Hawaii, a group of several dozen protesters chanted "No aloha for Arroyo" and called for Arroyo to stop political killings in the Philippines.
"It's an irony that she'd unveil the sakada statue when the blood of so many people is on her hands," said Daya Mortel, chairwoman of the Honolulu chapter of AnakBayan.
"As president of the Philippines, her job is to insure that citizens are protected, whether or not they are for or against her," Mortel said.
Before arriving in Hawaii on her five-nation, nine-day trip, Arroyo met with Amnesty International officials in London.
According to a news release on the Philippine government Web site, Arroyo briefed Amnesty officials on the creation of a commission to investigate the killings.
Arroyo also said her administration has made gains in the southern Philippines, where troops have been battling insurgents.
"We are optimistic that we will secure peace with out Muslim brothers in the southern Philippines," she said.
About the fight for equal veterans benefits for Filipino scouts and other veterans who fought alongside American soldiers in WWII, Arroyo said, "We're doing everything in our power to bring them the justice they deserve."
Arroyo thanked the U.S. for providing some assistance for Filipinos veterans, such as benefits for veterans living in the United States and veterans hospitals in Manila and other provinces.
After the speech, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye said Congress is making progress in getting equal benefits for Filipino veterans.
"We're going step by step," he said. "We've already got them citizenship for those who want it, Social Security ... veterans benefits. Now we got to get those who are still not signed up for it."
During the ceremony yesterday, Arroyo laid a wreath of red anthurium, white flowers and purple ribbons at a monument at the cemetery.
The military launched several artillery salutes and flew three helicopters over the grave site in a missing-man formation.
After her speech, Arroyo, wearing a turquoise pantsuit with a brooch and earrings, unveiled a plaque set upon a boulder from the Malita Tunnel on Corregidor in the Philippines.
The rock and plaque will remain at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific as a symbol of the strong military ties between the Philippines and the United States, Arroyo said.
Filipino veterans in attendance said they were glad their service won't be forgotten.
"This is a very significant thing we have to remember," said veteran Narzal Concepcion. "We were in it together in the Philippines defending democracy."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.