Fairness bill for Filipino WW II veterans filed in US Congress

HERE’S a good news for Filipino World War II veterans.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA, San Mateo/San Francisco District) has introduced a bill in the United States Congress that seeks to make Filipino World War II veterans equally eligible for all benefits given to all American veterans, including lifetime monthly pension.

Grace S. Valera, executive director of the US-based Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC), told the Philippines News Agency in an e-mail that if passed, Speier’s bill — Filipino Fairness Act of 2011 — will repeal the Rescission Act of 1946 that stripped about 200,000 Filipino WW II veterans and their widows and children of full benefits, out of the 66 allied nationalities that fought with the U.S. during the Second World War.

It may be recalled that the Philippines was a Commonwealth of the U.S. before and during the war, and Filipinos were considered American nationals.

Then President Franklin Roosevelt promised the Filipino soldiers full and equal military benefits as any American veterans. Later, President Harry Truman echoed the same commitment but was ignored by the U.S. Congress.

Some 450,000 Filipino soldiers fought side by side with the American troops during the Second World War against Imperial Japan but only 250,000 were recognized by the U.S.

Speier said that the bill will fully recognize the U.S. military service of the Filipino veterans whose eligibility can be based not only on the “Missouri List,” the official record of the U.S. Army personnel, but also on all military records that would serve as reference to their heroic military service during the war.

In 1973, the “Missouri List” was gutted down by fire. As much as 80 percent of the original list of U.S. Army personnel from 1912 to 1960 was lost.

Felino Punsalan, a Filipino WWII veteran, now 93, said that before he dies, all he wants is that the U.S. government will recognize him as full American veteran. Punsalan was denied of lump sum benefit because he was not included in the so-called “Missouri List.”

“This is not only a matter of just compensation but of honor and justice,” Punsalan was quoted by Valera as saying.

Ramana Battung, widow of a Filipino war veteran, said her late husband had never received a pension when he was alive and neither does she now.

Battung is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) last year. She was disqualified to receive any lump sum because her husband died weeks before the enactment of the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC), Valera said.

The bill filed by Rep. Speier also proposes to repeal the “quit claim” or the waiver of right to receive future benefits like lifetime monthly pension upon acceptance of a lump sum, as provided in the FVEC approved last February, 2009 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) signed by President Barack Obama.

“The U.S. government abandoned the brown American soldiers who victoriously defended an American territory and the ideals of democracy in Asia. Now is the chance to redeem itself,” explained Ago Pedalizo, president of the Justice for Filipino-American Veterans (JFAV)-San Francisco Bay Area Chapter.

According to Lt. Gen. Ernesto Carolina (ret.), administrator of the Philippine Veterans Administration Office (PVAO), there are some 40,000 surviving veterans living in the Philippines and 11,000 others in the U.S.

The DVA last year received 41,000 claims for the lump sum— far from the initial estimate of 81,000.

Last year, the Filipino veterans and widows filed a class lawsuit against the DVA after at least 42 percent of all the 41,000 lump sum claimants were denied.

The Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) granted one-time lump sum of $ 15,000 for U.S. citizens and $ 9,000 for non-U.S. citizens. Those who became widows before, as opposed to those after the enactment of the law were automatically disqualified to receive any benefit.

“Justice is never begged for, we got to fight for it,” said Washington-based Arnedo Valera, lead attorney of the lawsuit and one of the three MHC executive directors.

“This is the time to rectify this great injustice against the Filipino veterans. The U.S. owes them a formal apology,” Valera said.

The Association of Widows, Advocates and Relatives for Equality (AWARE), JFAV and the MHC support the lawsuit.

“This new legislation complements court litigation efforts,” said Maria Galang, president of AWARE San Francisco Bay Area Chapter.

A separate lawsuit was initially filed in San Francisco court demanding that the eligibility of WWII veterans be not restricted in the “Missouri List.”

“We can no longer afford to have half-Americans,” said Speier during the election campaign last year in reference to the Filipino WWII veterans who received partial benefits like hospital access and burial benefits but were never treated as full American veterans and thus not qualified for full benefits.

“The Filipinos deserve full measure of justice,” said CA Senator Leland Yee who promised to sponsor a resolution in the CA Senate supporting full equity for Filipino WW II veterans and their widows and children. PNA

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