Reveille

The fight continues

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Three years ago, I wrote a column titled “Two injustices, different endings.”

The first injustice had to do with the treatment of Filipino war veterans who served in the US Armed Forces at the outbreak of the Pacific War in 1941. Alongside US soldiers, the Filipinos fought with loyalty and determination even when the white flag of surrender was raised after Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s departure for Australia.

Legally as citizens of a Commonwealth of the United States, Filipinos were American nationals entitled to all benefits afforded those serving in the US Armed Forces. This equal treatment was emphasized by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt when he called on Filipinos to stand firm with America against Japan.

However, when the war ended and victory had been achieved, the US Congress swiftly passed a law titled the “Rescission Act of 1946” declaring that “the service of Filipinos shall not be deemed to be or to have been served in the military or national forces of the United States or any component thereof….” This effectively stripped Filipinos of their recognition as US veterans.

Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, a Japanese-American who served with the US Army in the European Theater of Operations during World War II, had this to say about the Rescission Act: “This nation made a solemn promise and with hardly a hearing, we revoked it. This episode is a blight upon the character of the United States and it must be cleansed.” Incidentally, Inouye, the highest-ranking Asian-American politician in US history and a holder of the Medal of Honor, was awarded the Philippine Legion of Honor in 1993. In 2011, President Aquino conferred on him the Order of Sikatuna for his role in securing the passage of benefits for Filipino war veterans. Inouye passed away in December last year.

In February 2009, 64 years after Japan signed the instruments of surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, formally ending World War II, the US Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, a $787-billion stimulus package designed to pull back the economy from a recession. Included in the law was an appropriation of $198 million for payment to Filipino veterans of World War II.

The new law provided for the payment of $9,000 each to eligible individuals who were not citizens of the United States. In the case of eligible persons who were US citizens, the amount was $15,000.

Now let me mention the second injustice.

Between February and March 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, some 117,000 Japanese-Americans living mainly along the West Coast of the United States were given 48 hours to prepare for evacuation and relocation to internment camps in remote areas under difficult living conditions. They were forced to sell their properties immediately at great loss. (It is important to note that 264,000 German-Americans and 600,000 Italian aliens residing in the United States were not subjected to the same treatment.)

In 1988, 46 years after the mass transfer of Japanese-Americans, the US Congress passed the “Civil Liberties Act” that provided each of the surviving 60,000 Japanese-American internists with $20,000 along with an apology signed by President George H. W. Bush. The note read “A monetary sum and words alone cannot restore lost years or erase painful memories… we recognize that serious injustices were done to Japanese-Americans during World War II.”

We leave it up to the readers to compare the two cases and come up with their own conclusions.

* * *

Last week, I received a copy of an article by Mr. Sluggo Rigor of Seattle, Washington, USA, published in the Filipino-American Bulletin. “Old Soldiers Battle Onward” provides us with an update on the implementation of the payment program for Filipino veterans as called for in the ARRA of 2009.

“Of the 43,083 old soldiers who applied, more than half were turned down because of wartime records that could not be verified in the US military files and archives. As of August 2012, the US government had made payment to 18,698 applicants.

“Veteran Sam Aquino, 89, a long time resident of South Seattle and a retired university sports facility worker, is among those who are demanding an explanation why their applications for payment were rejected. He said that he had submitted documents signed by recognized veterans and superior officers attesting to his wartime enlistment and service. ‘They wrote back and said that I am not on the roster,’ referring to military records that the US government relies on to determine eligibility.

“The US government relies on military records of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) compiled during and after the war. The files include memoranda, affidavits, combat orders submitted by recognized guerilla units, and from the ranks of Philippine and US Army officers.

“Retired Filipino General Delfin Lorenzana, chief of the Office of Veterans Affairs at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C., believes that the rosters at the NARA are incomplete and that other documents the veterans have kept for years should be considered.”

The article mentions support for the veterans in the US Congress. A bill has been filed by Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) that would honor Filipino veterans with the Congressional Gold Medal, America’s highest civilian award.

“Rep. Hanabusa also introduced a bill addressing the soldiers’ frustration about the payments. The measure would require the US government to broaden the types of documents used to determine whether a Filipino soldier actually performed military service for the United States during World War II. The White House launched its own review in the fall after hearing from veterans who believed their claims were unfairly denied.

“Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Washington) said, ‘The repayment cost is not much. More importantly, it is something we owe these old soldiers’.”

Recently a group of Filipino war veterans lost a lawsuit filed in a federal appeals court. The lawsuit was seeking compensation benefits for their services. The lawsuit said that the claims of thousands of veterans were rejected since their records were not accepted by US authorities.

The veterans decided to bring their case to the Supreme Court.

The fight continues.

* * *

A private organization dedicated to providing Filipino veterans of all wars various forms of humanitarian assistance is FILVETS or Filipino War Veterans Foundation.

It was founded in 1989 by a group of retired military officers led by former President Fidel V. Ramos, Gen. Fortunato Abat, Col. Emmanuel de Ocampo and others. Today FILVETS is headed by Gen. Renato de Villa as chair; Gen. Umberto Rodriguez, president; and Lt. Gen. Raul Urgello, executive director.

During the past year, FILVETS conducted medical and dental missions, operated medical outreach clinics and a skills training center to prepare veterans for jobs in other fields of interest.

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