Veterans Bank: Where Every day is Heroes Day
(Philippine Star. Aug 29, 2016)

If one wants to catch a glimpse of the Philippines’ colorful history and chronicle what had transpired in one’s townduring the Japanese Imperial rule, one better visit the nearest Philippine Veterans Bank.

There’s never a dull moment inside each newly renovated Veterans Bank branch with the bank’s revitalized image felt in every corner of the structure. Apart from business development and efficiency brought by the leadership of Veterans Bank chairman Roberto De Ocampo, all 60 branches of the mid-size commercial bank would soon showcase its centerpiece — a History Wall complete with strong and powerful images and in-depth documentaries of the World War II.

One of the two documentaries is entitled Unsurrendered 2: The Hunters ROTC Guerrillas, a rich narrative about a thousands-strong group of college cadets that resisted the Japanese invasion and participated in numerous operations and ambushes, including the Raid of Los Baños in February 1945. “We wanted to preserve our war veterans’ stories. Very little is known about the World War II because most of our history books are focused on the Hispanic and American occupation. We want to change that. Those three and a half years, although short, is very rich in terms of stories. We want to highlight that in our branches,” shares Veterans Bank vice president Miguel Angelo Villa-Real, as he toured some visitors in the bank’s Caloocan branch, which look like a mini museum with its numerous panels of historical trivia and collections of pre-war emergency currency and memorabilia of Philippine resistance against Japan.

Veterans Bank has also produced a book about the battle in Manila and another on the retaking of Corregidor. Recently, it has sponsored a book on the battle of Carmen in Davao.“It’s hard to encapsulate everything in a book as there were several thousand guerilla groups. Each battle has its own highlights and human-interest stories. What’s nice is that a lot of families of surviving veterans are contributing,” Villa-Real furthers. Aside from the images and displays which are mostly sourced from the US and Japan, what adds a laid back and less corporate atmosphere to the branches is the use of earth tones, inspired by the iconic “bahay kubo.” Outside is a stylized letter “V” that veers away from the usual façade design.The branches now look warmer while displaying some of the legacy of the bank’s stockholders, that is, the war veterans.

Originally, the bank’s seed fund came from World War II reparations. Japan had to pay the Philippines, of which half was given away as cash to the veterans while portion of the other half became the capital of the bank. Shareholdings were divided equally among the 385,000 WWII veterans and their families. Today, according to Villa-Real, the remaining World War II veterans number less than 8,000 and very few have given their firsthand accounts. Initially a government bank, Veterans Bank was supposed to be turned over to the veterans five years after its founding in 1963. Unfortunately, Martial Law took place and the Marcos cronies ran the bank to the ground in 1983. During Cory Aquino’s administration, the veterans rallied for the bank’s reopening and it was successfully re-launched on August 2, 1992 — now recognized as the bank’s anniversary date. The veterans then hired professional bankers to run the institution.

Under its charter, the bank is required to give 20 percent of its annual net income to surviving war veterans and their families through the Board of Trustees for the Veterans of World War II (BTVWII), a non-stock and non-profit organization that runs the BTVWII Museum and Archives and the BTVWII Outpatient Center, a medical facility where war veterans may get free medicine, medical and dental checkup, laboratory tests as well as canes, eyeglasses, etc.

“We are not aspiring to be a giant bank. It is not quantity that we are trying to emphasize but more on quality.” Being a bank with a heart for every Filipino — Veterans Bank’s new tagline — “is the kind of service we would like to be able to give the public,” says De Ocampo during the new campaign launch early this year.