Contact: Berna Ellorin
Secretary-General, BAYAN USA
Amidst news of the recent passage of House Resolution (HR) 6897, aptly titled “The Filipino Veterans Equity Act of 2008”, in a 392-23 vote by the Democrat-led House of Representatives last Tuesday, the US-based Filipino alliance known as BAYAN USA is not celebrating any victory for the 60-year old struggle of aging Filipino war veterans who fought side-by-side with US troops back in World War II. In fact, the alliance remains openly critical of the development.
“It’s an insult. The one-time payment proposal for our veterans completely misses the mark as to why the entire Filipino community in the United States and in the Philippines has been united in painstakingly campaigning for full equity for the past six decades– for recognition of the valor, honor, and courage contributed to the US war campaign by these great servicemen, without whom US military victory in the Pacific would be questionable, and to hold the US government accountable to it’s promises to these Filipino soldiers, which have proven themselves empty,” states Chito Quijano, chair of BAYAN USA. “It’s as if Congress is dishing out this small amount of money as a token measure just to shut the community up and be done with us. This is especially insulting when Congress is dishing out at least $700 billion in bailout funds for Wall Street bankers and corporations, while these Filipino servicemen gave their lives and health for the US military and are receiving scraps with no due recognition. This is far from the full equity they deserve.”
According to HR 6897, surviving Filipino Veterans in the United States will receive a lump-sum payment of $15,000, while those living elsewhere would receive $9,000. The bill, however, omits formal recognition of the Filipino World War II Veterans for their efforts as servicemen recruited to the US Armed Forces, as well as excludes widows for compensation. Lack of recognition prevents Filipino veterans from availing of general V.A. benefits, such as pensions and health insurance. At the same time, the bill requires veterans who sign on to also sign a quit claim, absolving the US government from any future monetary claims by Filipino veterans. This would disallow surviving veterans to avail of basic social benefits from the US government they may be already receiving, such as Social Security Insurance (SSI).
Of the original 300,000 Filipino men recruited by US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to participate in defending the Philippines, then a US Commonwealth, alongside US troops in 1941, only 18,000 are still alive. An average of 10 veterans die each day. Those who passed away were forced to subsist meagerly on SSI, Food Stamps, Medicaid, and died without V.A. burial benefits. For surviving Filipino veterans, the choice remains difficult between accepting a meager lump-sum payment or their social benefits allotted through government.
“With the rising cost of healthcare in the US today, Filipino veterans would be lucky if $15,000 would carry them through 6 months of doctor visits, procedures, and medicines. The cost of healthcare will dramatically rise with the advent of the Wall Street meltdown, and the quality of life for our veterans and everyone else in this country will be put to the test,” Quijano stated. “It is becoming more imperative every passing day that our aging veterans receive full pensions and health benefits.”
“For all the false promises of US citizenship and benefits given by the US government to lure these men into their combat ranks, it is unconscionable that they were forced by the same government to live lives without dignity, financial security, and recognition,” Quijano continued. “The wrongful treatment of the Filipino WWII Veterans by the US government is but a microcosm of the historically unequal and one-sided relationship between the US government and the Filipino people.”
The alliance also chided the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for offering zero advocacy for the plight of the aging Filipino veterans. In fact, the passage of HR 6897 occurred while Arroyo and a 71+ Philippine delegation were in the United States to speak at the 63rd General Assembly of the United Nations in New York City.
“While the future of the House and Senate bills remains uncertain, one thing is for sure, the decades-long struggle for full equity for our veterans has not been sufficiently addressed by US Congress. These are but token and short-changed measures that do not live up to the struggle Filipinos have waged for our heroic veterans,” Quijano ended.