LINGAYEN, Pangasinan -- Governor Amado Espino III vowed to provide expanded benefits to World War II veterans in Pangasinan, particularly the impoverished ones, in answer for their immediate need and those of their families.

The governor announced this at the 72nd anniversary celebration of the Lingayen Gulf Landings and 10th Pangasinan Veterans' Day held Monday night, January 9, at the Veterans’ Memorial Park within the Capitol Complex here.

“In my capacity as governor of this province, I vow to pursue a more comprehensive program to give honor to our unsung heroes, by expanding our services to them and their immediate families,” he said.

The governor directed the Provincial Population Officer, Provincial Social Welfare and Development Officer, and Provincial Employment Services Officer to design a special livelihood and educational assistance program for the families of those of the veterans who are in dire need.

"Our World War II veterans were there when we needed them, let us be here for them in return. By providing the needed aids to them (war veterans), we can assure them of keeping their legacy of bravery," he said.

The provincial chief executive, however, noted the dwindling number of living war veterans in Pangasinan from around 15,000 during World War II to only 370 as of January 2017.

Corollary to this, Romeo Madriaga, area director of the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO), confirmed that Pangasinan had the most number of veterans before, compared to Cebu.

He said during the war, it was in Pangasinan where American Lieutenants Robert Lapham and Edwin Ramsey aggressively recruited would-be guerillas to join their forces to continue the fight against the Japanese.

Governor Espino recalled that his father, former governor and now fifth district Representative Amado Espino Jr., instituted the Pangasinan Veterans Day as an annual event in Pangasinan to coincide with the Lingayen Gulf Landings Anniversary.

Being a former soldier himself, the elder Espino started giving prime attention to the war veterans and their families.

Since 2008, the veterans and their sons and daughters have availed themselves of free medical and dental services and medicines with cash gifts and other tokens as well as free transport service during observance of the veterans' day.

The veterans have also become recipients of the Provincial Government's free health care services from the 14 government-owned hospitals.

A major milestone made by the Provincial Government was the construction of the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office building within the Capitol Complex in 2015.

In the same year, the Provincial Government awarded medals of valor to the veterans who have not been accorded honors.

“Certainly, they deserve all these. However, we feel that these are not enough to reciprocate their sacrifice for our country. They deserve more,” said Espino. (PNA)