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One More World War II Battle to Fight

Asian Journal, News Report, Joseph Pimentel Posted: Mar 08, 2009

At the Lake Street Park in front of the Filipino World War II Veterans Memorial in Los Angeles, many Filipinos who served in that titanic struggle recently gathered to celebrate the passage of the Filipino Veterans Equity Act. The legislation restores long-denied benefits for veterans who signed on with the U.S. to help drive Japan's military from the Philippine Islands, a key to victory in the Pacific.

The passage came on the anniversary of the infamous Rescission Act of 1946 the legislation that denied these same vets the benefits they had been promised. That timing appeared to bring history full circle, yet there remains an open question about the Filipino Veterans Equity Act: What about the widows?

Ms. Lou Lou Astilla had that question on her mind as she sat just around the corner from the recent celebration in Historic Filipinotown on the edge of Downtown Los Angeles. The 85-year-old, dressed in a red shirt, sat quietly on a park bench in the shade away from the blaring afternoon sun, away from the podium where the Filipino veterans and their supporters proclaimed their victory.

"The continuing struggle of equity moves forward," said Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti, addressing the celebration. "It is not done. And yet as we achieve a victory...we stand here and celebrate today because if we forget to celebrate we forget to live life to the fullest."

But as the others celebrated, Lou Lou Astilla was torn.

Lou Lou Astilla is a veteran's widow. She said she would have loved to enjoy this moment with her late husband, Francisco Astilla Jr., who served as a guerilla soldier for the U.S. in WWII and received U.S. military honors upon his death in 2002.

Lou Lou Astilla is torn because the $198 million provided under the Filipino Veterans Equity Act which came as part of President Barack Obama's stimulus package does not provide any compensation for widows of Filipino veterans.

"It's so sad you know," said Astilla, who is starting an organization to help claim money for veteran widows. "I know there are many widows complaining, even those in the Philippines...why have they been discarded or put aside? When in fact the widows need more help because they are widows."

Lou Lou and many of the widows are confused by a late change in the recently passed legislation. Earlier versions of the Filipino Veterans Equity Act gave compensation to widows of veterans. However, when the bill was revised into the lump sum agreement, payments to the widows were left out.

U.S. Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard, a Democrat who represents Downtown and much of its surrounding areas, said that it came down to budgetary concerns.

"It does not in any way diminish their contributions and what they deserve," said Roybal-Allard. "It's just too bad it had to happen this way. I do regret that was not part of the package."

Filipino WWII veteran Franco Arcebal said that he and some of his comrades are planning a way to compensate the widows. He said that the U.S. House of Representatives overestimated the number of living Filipino veterans when they came up with the $198 million total. Arcebal said veterans are planning to speak with Senator Daniel Akaka a Democrat from Hawaii who has long been a champion of the benefits for the Filipino veterans to possibly use the any unclaimed money from the lump sum bill to give to the widows of veterans.

"We are working on it," said Arcebal.

Indeed, until the widows receive their payment, many Filipino veteran supporters wonder if these lump sum payments signal a new beginning or the end of the Filipino veterans battle for true equity.

"I am so disappointed," added Esther Perlas, another widow at the Lake Street Park. "My husband has been waiting for that and then he died, waiting for that money.""

Joseph Pimentel is a writer for Asian Journal.

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