Belated Pay For Filipino WWII Vets a Bittersweet Victory
New America Media, News Analysis, Rene P. Ciria-Cruz Posted: Feb 18, 2009
Editor's note: The stimulus bill that President Barack Obama signed into law last Tuesday includes the authorization of a $198-million benefits package for Filipinos who fought under the U.S. flag in World War II. Although the authorization caps a 62-year-old Filipino crusade to mend a promise that the American government had broken, veterans’ supporters greeted the victory with a mixture of relief and disappointment.
“It’s a ‘Whew!’ moment for all of us,” said Greg Macabenta, publisher-editor of Filipinas Magazine in San Francisco. “It comes in the midst of an economic crisis, at a time when America is more concerned with domestic stability than justice for foreigners.”
The provision authorizing payments to Filipino soldiers who served in the U.S. military in World War II was tucked as a rider in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed by President Obama. It partially rectifies the Rescission Act of 1946 by which President Harry S. Truman revoked a promise made by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941 that Filipino soldiers who were fighting under U.S. command would be given full rights and benefits as regular U.S. veterans after the war.
As a result of yesterday’s enactment, surviving Filipino veterans will be eligible for one-time payments of $15,000 for U.S. citizens and $9,000 for noncitizens. The Philippine government estimates that of the 475,000 Filipinos who fought under the U.S. flag, only 18,000 are still alive, many of them in their 80s and 90s. Some 13,000 are residing in the Philippines.
Supporters of the veterans in Congress inserted the provision in the stimulus bill as a last-ditch effort. Every attempt to pass an equity bill had failed to overcome legislators’ objections to “unnecessary spending.” Lawmakers, most of whom have no vivid memory of Filipino sacrifices in World War II as allies of the United States, refused to be moved by appeals to rectify “America’s broken promise.”
Lobbying and petitioning for full recognition of the old Filipino soldiers as U.S. veterans intensified in the past decade as the number of surviving veterans, most of whom are poor, began to dwindle.
Finally, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and one of only three remaining World War II veterans in Congress, pushed to include the authorization in the stimulus bill, after “we got filibustered and everything else,” he told the LA Times. He called the payment "a matter of honor.”
The only way to bypass opponents who had blocked payments in the past “was to put it in a must-pass bill,” concurred Rep. Bob Filner (D-Chula Vista), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, who for 12 years pressed in vain for the full recognition of the veterans.
‘BETTER THAN NOTHING’
Filipino-American supporters of the veterans were often embroiled in rancorous debates over pushing for full recognition or settling for partial gains. “The more pragmatic among us decided it was better to see some benefits for the remaining veterans than to have them die with nothing,” said Macabenta. “A stand-alone veterans equity bill would’ve had absolutely no chance of passage.”
Echoing the sentiment, Emil Guillermo, former columnist for AsianWeek, blogs, “In this something-is-better-than nothing world, we leave with what we can.” Guillermo, however, says “it’s not quite the equity we sought.”
Filipino veterans interviewed by Asian Journal in Los Angeles were happy to receive news of the authorization. “Finally. Many of us have been waiting. Some were resigned to fighting [for the bill], others have already died,” 85-year-old Franco Arcebal told the Filipino-American newspaper.
But Art Garcia of the Justice for Filipino-American Veterans told Asian Journal, “The Rescission Act is not being amended or rescinded, so therefore the inequity still exists.”
Similarly disappointed was Luisa Antonio of the San Francisco Veterans Equity Center, who told the San Francisco Chronicle that she objected to the inclusion of a waiver that anyone who accepts the lump-sum payment surrenders any further claims against the United States.
“We need to do something for them, but putting that clause in really killed the hopes of our Filipino World War II vets for the full and true recognition that, ‘Yes, you are a U.S. veteran.’”
Meanwhile, congressional opponents of the provision attacked its inclusion in the stimulus bill. The Philippine News underscored GOP opposition to provision with the headline, “Keep Equity Out of Bill: Republicans.”
Senators Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) and Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi) said they could not see how payments to Filipino veterans would stimulate the U.S. economy. Senator John McCain aired the same objection.
In the House, Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Indiana), the ranking Republican in Filner’s committee, was quoted by the International Herald Tribune, saying, “I hope Americans will stop to ponder the distorted values of those who crafted this bill.”
The Philippine News report pointedly included a Politifact.com “Truth-O-Meter” rebuttal of the Republican criticism. Money for the veterans’ benefits will not come from the stimulus package, the website says. The provision only authorizes the release of funds appropriated last year but blocked in the Senate.
“The amount of money coming from the stimulus bill is zero. The money was appropriated last year,” Rob Blumenthal, Democratic communications director for the Senate Appropriations Committee, told Politifact.
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