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Filipino War Veterans, Supporters Eye Next Moves

Balitang America/ABS-CBN News, Video, Rodney J. Jaleco, North America News Bureau Posted: Feb 21, 2009

Editor's Note: This article was published on the "Balitang America" [News in America] section of the Philippines-based abs-cbnews.com website just before Pres. Obama signed the economic stimulus bill on Feb. 17, 2009. "Balitang America" is the daily English newscast for Filipino Americans by ABS-CBN's U.S. subsidiary, airing worldwide via The Filipino Channel.

WASHINGTON D.C. -- In a sense, we feel like were going back to the scene of the crime, said Filipino veterans activist Ben de Guzman.

President Obama signs the stimulus bill on Feb. 17, 2009, and with it the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation a.k.a. lump sum payment worth $198 million.

It comes on the eve of the 63rd anniversary of the Rescission Act. On Feb. 18, 1946 Congress passed and President Harry Truman signed Public Law 70-301, more infamously known as the Rescission Act of 1946.

The law stipulated that about 250,000 Filipinos pressed into service under the US Army shall not be deemed to be or to have been of service in the military or national forces of the United States or any component thereof or any low of the United States conferring rights, privileges or benefits.

Over six decades later, Section 1002 of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, a.k.a. stimulus bill, has erased this blight on the honor and dignity of Filipinos who fought side by side with Americans in the Pacific war.

The service (of Filipino soldiers and guerillas) is hereby recognized as active military service in the Armed Forces, it reads.

Its ironic, we note the coincidence of the time, observed De Guzman, executive director of the National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE).

The lump sum makes a one-time payment of $15,000 to veterans in the US, and $9,000 for those in the Philippines. There are an estimated 16,000 surviving veterans 4,000 here and 12,000 in the Philippines.

There was relief and gratitude that America had finally acted to address this long festering injustice.

Just like any veteran of World War II, we are very happy, declared Amadeo Urbano, 85, a guerilla in the Lapham Unit operating in Central Luzon. This is our moment, he enthused.

We are overjoyed by what has happened, added Rudy Panaglima, 79, a guerilla who operated in Laguna.

Although hes also thankful, Dr. Angelesio Tugado, 89, a training director for counter-intelligence and member of Gen. Douglas MacArthurs staff, said they had aimed for but fell short of equity.

We presented the bill in 1946 so whatever lump sum payment should begin from that date. Now, it looks like $20 a year, something like they give beggars, he lamented.

Tugado said he will put his $15,000 in a kitty for a new home. Panaglima said because of rising prices, hed be lucky to stretch the money for a few months. But they chorus, this was better than nothing.

Im already satisfied, declared Urbano. Time is of the essence; if we let this issue drag on for, say, another five years, maybe 90 to 95 percent of us will already be dead, he explained.

Looking Ahead, Next Moves

Ive always said that if you ask 10 veterans their opinion, youll get 11, De Guzman said in jest.

The community will be celebrating and rightfully so. We give ourselves some time to do that but after that we get back to work, he added.

We have to honor our champions, said Eric Lachica, a veterans son and former executive director of the Virginia-based American Coalition for Filipino Veterans (ACFV).

He said they asked veterans from nearby states to visit the capital and express their thanks to key solons who worked hard for Filipino veterans.

Prominent among them are the two Democratic senators from Hawaii Daniel Inouye, chairman of the appropriations committee, and Daniel Akaka, chairman of the veterans affairs committee; and California Congressman Bob Filner, chairman of the House veterans panel.

Inouye proved especially tenacious after Republican critics tried to zero-in on the Filipino veterans provision to underline their belief the stimulus bill was pork-laden.

Inouye is a much-decorated World War II veteran, including the coveted Medal of Honor, as part of the Nisei 442nd Regiment that saw action in Europe where he lost an arm.

One Filipino lobbyist said he saw Inouyes bond with fellow World War II veterans who were stripped of what was due them.

California Congressman Mike Honda served as go-between pushing the Filipino veterans equity bill, when relations between Filner and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly turned frosty.

But with the benefit in hand, Lachica said implementation is half the battle.

We work with the Obama administration, we work with the Congress to make sure this bill is correctly implemented and our veterans are best able to take advantage of the benefits that this bill provides for them, De Guzman explained.

He conceded that the $198 million is not enough to compensate for the sufferings of veterans.

Weve always preferred full equity, De Guzman stressed.

In the short-term we take care of the implementation for them, we make sure this short-term victory is done correctly for them; but part of our long-term agenda is picking up the pieces of the equity agenda, he averred.

Family Reunification, Expanded VA Services

Things like healthcare, they get access to VA medical centers but thats it. So how do we make sure they are better able to access health care? Immigration were talking about the Filipino World War II Veteran reunification bill. How are we going to help our veterans reunite with their families, De Guzman said, summing up future initiatives.

There are about 20,000 sons and daughters of veterans patiently waiting in the Philippines with approved petitions, Lachica alleged.

He said they expect Congress to tackle immigration reform by the summer. Hopefully, by Fall we can have an expedited immigration to the US of these sons and daughters of veterans with approved petitions, Lachica averred.

De Guzman said they are also looking at ways the Fil-Am community can help implementing agencies, principally the Veterans Administration.

The VA cares for veterans in the Philippines through the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City.

De Guzman also said they are scrutinizing the so-called quit claim in the lump sum provision. A section reads, The acceptance by an eligible person or surviving spouse, as applicable, of a payment under this section shall be final and shall constitute a complete release of any claim against the United States.

The one piece of the bill that people have a lot of questions about is the release claim. Were trying to figure out what that means? Does that release the US government from just future financial claims? Does it prevent us from pursuing the entire equity agenda? On the one hand, were trying to figure that out; but on the other hand, how we can get over that? he asked.

Lachica harped on veterans in the Philippines. The good thing about this law is that once President Obama signs it, they can apply at once, he explained.

They should go to the US Embassy, file right away their application by way of a letter requesting this benefit with a true copy of their US Army personnel discharge certification from St. Louis, Missouri, he urged veterans.

He stressed this was important to avoid fixers in the Philippines trying to get a piece of the action.

They should deal directly with the US Embassy in Manila, Lachica said.

Fil-Am Agenda

The veterans lobby was the single biggest Fil-Am grassroots initiative. More importantly, it established the burgeoning Fil-Am community in American politics, providing a raison detre for speaking with lawmakers and expanding ties with other organized minority groups.

We havent been able to fully engage the other social justice movements the immigration debate, healthcare, education all of these other issues that have impact on the Filipino communities, De Guzman averred.

My hope is that well be better bringing the community along. Weve taught ourselves how the lobby and now we have a broader set of issues that we have to care about, he said.

Photo credit for this article's front image of Fil. veterans with Sen. Akaka: Eric Lachica/ACFV

Related Articles:

Second Class Veterans

Belated Pay For Filipino WWII Vets a Bittersweet Victory

Filipinos Celebrate Inaugural, Ask Obama For Veterans Equity

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