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Senate historic vote on Fil vets a result of Filipino unity for full equity and people’s struggle: Fil-Ams demand House of Representatives to complete the process of righting a historical wrong

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Contact: Berna Ellorin
Secretary-General, BAYAN USA

The US Chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, or BAYAN USA, commends the perseverance of the Filipino WWII Veterans, their families, and the many grassroots organizations who have fought decades for full recognition and equity for Filipino World War II Veterans. The recent passing of US Senate Bill 1315 (S.1315), the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007, is a major step towards righting this historical wrong. It is important to underscore that it was only through unrelenting advocacy and massive struggle of many individuals and organizations including our own member organization, that the Filipino WWII Veterans will get their full recognition. And as we await the vote of the House of Representatives, it is important to intensify our advocacy for justice and to demand that the bill will not be watered down.

“It was the blood, sweat, and tears of the Filipino World War II Veterans themselves, their families, and their supporters, marching on the streets for over six decades that made the US Senate turn its head our direction,” states BAYAN USA Chair Chito Quijano. “Otherwise, the appalling institutional racism in the United States and historical unequal relationship between the US and Philippine governments would continue to enforce the painful 60 year-old status quo of mass deprivation of basic pension benefits for our aging veterans, many of whom have already passed away.”

Last week, in a historic vote, the US Senate voted an overwhelming 96 to 1 in favor of passing S. 1315, a bill that would finally provide Filipino World War II Veterans their veterans affairs (VA) pension. Before that, the issue of full equity for Filipino World War II Veterans stood as the single most unifying concern for a broad Filipino-American population of nearly four million in the United States. Numerous Filipino groups took the concern annually to Capitol Hill as well as organized marches and rallies around the veterans’ cause.

The Philippines was the first and only direct colony of the United States government acquired through a violent takeover at the turn of the 20th century. At the time of World War II, the Philippines, then a US Commonwealth, provided over 140,000 Filipino men under the US Armed Forces of the Far East (USAFFE) Program, to fight alongside US soldiers in defeating the Japanese Imperial Army. While considered US nationals at the time, the Filipino veterans were only foreign nationals recruited to the US Armed Forces that did not avail of the US government’s promise of pension benefits once their service to the United States was completed.

Of the 140,000 Filipino men who fought during World War II, there are less than 18,000 surviving, and many continue to die weekly impoverished and uncompensated for their bravery.

In 1946, the same year the Philippines was granted nominal independence from the US government, Congress and President Truman passed the infamous Rescission Act, which voided Filipino veterans who served alongside US soldiers in the same cause to receive pension benefits. It stated — “the service of Filipinos shall not be deemed to be or to have been service in the military or national forces of the United States or any component thereof or any law of the United States conferring rights, privileges or benefits.”

“We must continue to expose this shameful episode in US history, and hold the US government accountable for its many unforgivable acts,” Quijano added.

S. 1315 is a bill that would enhance life insurance benefits for disabled veterans, burial allowances and household grants, and provides for over $221 million in new pension benefits.

As the issue now moves into the House’s hands, Filipino-Americans are stepping up their demand that the deal be sealed.

“We cannot back down now. We need to keep the momentum going and keep the pressure on Congress. We urge all freedom-loving citizens to contact their local state representatives and demand full equity for the Filipino veterans especially when the issue is up for a vote in the Lower House this year. We will not cease our collective efforts and actions until justice for our brave veterans is finally attained,” Quijano ended.