Thursday, February 26, 2009


Even before the details of the $198-M lump sum payment to Filipino WW II veterans could be worked out and disseminated, there were already Filipino critics quick to denigrate the amount as a mere “pittance”.

In a radio interview on DZBB in Manila, Philippine Senator Joker Arroyo described the compensation granted to the Filipino veterans as “a pittance” and “too little too late” adding that “we waited for 63 years and this is the only compensation given to our veterans.”

Philippine Assistant Secretary for Veterans Affairs Jerry Adevoso, a former veterans attache in Washington DC, asserted in Manila that “the payment cannot be considered as part of the equity package of compensation long sought by our World War II veterans. In truth, equity has not been satisfied or addressed by the US Congress. Therefore, the Rescission Act of 1946 is still very much in place. The symbolic tearing of the Law is just that - a symbol of what we want, but have not yet obtained in full.”

In other cultures, success usually has a thousand fathers and failure always an orphan. But not so in the Filipino culture which seemingly thrives on glorifying failure. A prime example of this is the national music of the country, Kundiman, which speaks to this Filipino angst, this deep-seated spiritual condition of insecurity and despair that is embedded in the Filipino subconscious. The lyrics of the songs of the “Kundiman”, a contraction of the words “kung hindi man” (if it is not to be), speak of an unrequited love that is spurned but still remains devoted to the object of affection.

What is so difficult about accepting as a victory for the Filipino veterans the inclusion of Section 1002 in the stimulus bill signed into law by Pres. Barack Obama on February 17, 2009? It contains a provision that declares that service by the Filipinos in the United States Army Forces of the Far East (USAFFE), as all Philippine conscripted soldiers were organized under, is “service in the Armed Forces” of the United States - rescinding the express wording of the Rescission Act of 1946 which stated that it was “not” service in the US military for the purpose of benefits.

In the last 20 years, primarily as a result of the lobbying work of the American Coalition for the Filipino Veterans (ACFV), Filipino veterans have been incrementally awarded many of the veterans benefits that the Rescission Act had denied them.

While the amount of $15,000 lump sum benefits to US citizen veterans and $9,000 to Philippine citizen veterans is far short of the benefits the veterans would have received if the Rescission Act had not been passed, it should be viewed in perspective.

The historical context is that the Philippines was a colony (“commonwealth”) of the US when US President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a military order conscripting the Philippine soldiers of the commonwealth army to the US Army. The military benefits they were to be entitled to were awarded after they had already involuntarily signed up, and were not offered as an enticement for them to enlist.

These promised benefits were then revoked by the US government in 1946 while the Philippines was still a colony of the US and where the Filipino people, as subject colonials devastated by WW II, had no say in what the colonial masters would decide to do with their colony and colonial subjects.

In contrast, let us consider what happened to Japanese Americans during WW II. Shortly after President Roosevelt signed the Executive Order conscripting 460,000 Philippine soldiers to the US Army, he signed an Executive Order (9066) authorizing the internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps (“internment camps”) throughout the US. They were US citizens, not colonial subjects, and yet they were forcibly taken from their homes and removed from their jobs – sentenced to indefinite incarceration without ever being charged with any crime.

It was not until 1988 when the US Congress passed and President Ronald Reagan signed legislation which apologized for the internment on behalf of the U.S. government. The legislation stated that the wholesale internment of Japanese Americans was based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership" and awarded each interned Japanese American a lump sum of $20,000 and a letter of apology from the US president.

The Japanese American leadership did not claim that the $20,000 was a mere “pittance” even though each of them lost millions of dollars in property and wages. The Filipino soldiers were at least defending their homeland from vicious military invaders and not colonial mercenaries dispatched to defend Burma from Japanese attack.

The irony that should not be lost is that the fiercest most devoted supporters of Filipino veterans equity in the US Congress were Japanese Americans who spent three years of their lives in US internment camps. Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Mike Honda (D-California) all experienced the hardship and desolation of living in US concentration camps.

Their experience with injustice was so seared into their consciousness that it likely inspired them to fight tooth and nail to make sure that the aging Filipino WW II veterans would receive the justice that was denied them in 1946.

Yes, the lump sum payments are not nearly enough - they never are - but politics is always the art of the possible. In a time of deep recession, when millions of Americans are losing their jobs, their health care benefits and their homes in record numbers, the US government still found $198-M to give to the Filipino WW II veterans despite the stinging criticism of Republican senators that the awarding of the benefits to the Philippine-based vets would not stimulate the US economy.

Let's accept the fact that the rescission of the Rescission Act on February 17, 2009 was a victory for us. I know it's against our nature to accept victory. (For example, this week, there are no celebrations to mark the 23rd anniversary of the People Power victory over the Marcos Dictatorship).

To those "all or nothing" advocates like Adevoso and the young activists in the US still fighting for “full equity”, let us remember that those Filipino WW II veterans who were 21 in 1941 when the war began are now about 89 years old and dying at an exponential rate. As Adolfo Paglinawan asked, “Aanhin mo pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo?” (What will you do with the grass when the horse is dead?)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Phases of the Rescission Battle

The Filipino veterans’ battle to rescind the Rescission Act of 1946 was not one continuous fight over a 63 year period but rather a battle which occurred in five separate and distinct phases.

The first phase occurre d in the months following the passage of the Act on February 18, 1946 during the era wh en the Philippines was still a commonwealth of the US government, still dependent and reliant on the US government especially in the aftermath of the Japanese occupation which had devastated the Philippine economy. Because the Philippines in that time frame was not a sovereign republic, it had no clout to effect any change in US policy.

The Philippine commonwealth government did not have the lobbying resources or the will to prevent the US Congress from passing the Rescission Act that would save the US billions of dollars in benefits that would otherwise be paid to 470,000 Filipino WW II veterans.

The second phase covered the period from the time the country was granted its independence on July 4, 1946 until 1965, when the annual quota of Filipinos was raised from 50 a year to at least 20,000 a year as a result of the liberalization of US immigration laws.

During this 19-year period, because few Filipinos could legally immigrate to the US, there were precious few Filipino veterans who could travel to the US to challenge the Rescission Act or to assert their claim to US citizenship. Only one veteran’s petition for suit during this period was heard - Matter of the Naturalization of Munoz in 1957- but though he lost his bid, Munoz succeeded in getting the US government to admit that it deliberately controlled the processing and acceptance of the veterans’ naturalization applications in the closing months of 1946.

The third phase of the rescission battle followed the immigration of hundreds of Filipino veterans after 1965. The first Filipino veteran to file a naturalization suit after 1965 was Marciano Haw Hibi, whose suit contended that the US government failed to inform him about his right to naturalization in 1946 and failed to provide a naturalization officer at the US Embassy in Manila to process the naturalization applications of Filipino veterans.

With Don Ungar as his counsel, Haw Hibi won his naturalization suit in 1967 and the decision was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Unfortunately, the US Supreme Court in October of 1973 reversed the decision without even hearing oral argument. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall strongly dissented and criticized the majority for ignoring "the deliberate - and successful - effort on the part of agents of the Executive Branch to frustrate the congressional purpose and to deny substantive rights to Filipinos."

The Marshall dissent spurred Filipino veterans to file naturalization lawsuits, the most notable of which was the Matter of Naturalization of 68 Veterans which went before Federal Judge Charles Renfrew in 1977. Renfrew allowed Philippine News publisher Alex Esclamado to deliver an emotional appeal to the Court about the sacrifices of the Filipino veterans and the discriminatory injustice of the Rescission Act.

Esclamado’s plea must have worked as Judge Renfrew granted the naturalization petitions of the veterans. The US government appealed the Renfrew Decision but, after Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1980, the Carter Administration withdrew the appeal in 1981 allowing the 68 Filipino veteran plaintiffs to acquire US citizenship. Hundreds of other Filipino veterans filed for naturalization claiming that the government was “estopped” from denying their applications after it withdrew its appeal of the Renfrew Decision.

Because of the “unexpected repercussions” of withdrawing its appeal, the US government sought a policy revision of the Renfrew Decision and the case of US v. Pangilinan went to the US Supreme Court in 1988, where the Court ruled that courts do not have “the power to confer citizenship in violation of the limitations imposed by Congress in the exercise of its exclusive constitutional authority."

The 1988 US Supreme Court decision ended the third phase of the battle for rescission which was marked primarily by 21 years of legal challenges in court.

The fourth phase moved the battle from the courts to the US Congress in 1988 with bills20co-sponsored by Rep. Mervyn Dymally (D-California) and Rep. Tom Campbell (R-California) in the House, and by Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) in the Senate calling for the naturalization of Filipino WW II veterans.

Unlike the court challenges, the US government did not present any opposition to the naturalization bill when House hearings were held on September 21, 1989. But to secure majority support for his naturalization bill, Rep. Campbell assured his colleagues that giving Filipino veterans US citizenship will not "make them eligible for federal benefits which they do not already receive." In other words, the Rescission Act would not be changed. The bill was then incorporated into the 1990 Immigration Act, which became law in November 1990. The law explicitly stated that it "shall not be construed as affecting the rights, privileges, or benefits of" Filipino veterans coming to the United States.

The passage of the Filipino veterans naturalization bill in 1990 allowed over 28,000 out of 70,000 surviving veterans to become naturalized and some 17,000 of them came to live in the US.

They formed the core of the army of Filipino WW II veterans who would w alk the halls of the US Congress, veterans who would chain themselves to the gates of the White House, and who would rally tens of thousands of Filipinos throughout the US to support their battle for equity. Their champions in the US Congress included Sen. Inouye and Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) in the Senate and Rep. Bob Filner (D-California) in the House.

The 18 year final phase of the rescission battle culminated in Denver, Colorado at 1:24 PM on February 17, 2009 when Pres. Barack Obama signed the stimulus bill into law. The bill included a provision declaring that the service of the Filipino WW II veterans “is hereby recognized as active military service in the Armed Forces of the United States” and awarding a lump sum of $15,000 each to veterans who are US citizens (wherever they may be residing) and $9,000 to those who are Philippine citizens.

The law also provides that if “an eligible person who has filed a claim for benefits under this section dies before payment is made under this section, the payment under this section shall be made instead to the surviving spouse, if any, of the eligible person.”

To our dearly beloved veterans, you have endured and waited long enough. Go and file your claims now.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Rescinding the Rescission Act

The infamous Rescission Act of 1946 may soon be rescinded if the Filipino veterans equity provision in the stimulus bill that passed the US Senate on February 10, 2009 is retained in the joint Senate-House conference bill that is approved by both Houses of Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama.

There were approximately 430,000 Filipino WW II veterans who were slated to receive US military benefits (health care, G.I. Bill of Rights, pension, vocational rehabilitation etc) when this bill removing those benefits was approved by the US Congress on February 18, 1946. Before signing the bill into law, President Harry Truman declared that “the passage and approval of this legislation does not release the US from its moral obligation to provide for the heroic Philippine veterans who sacrificed so much for the common cause during the war.”

Estimates vary on the value of the benefits that would have been received by the Filipino veterans in 1946 dollars with some placing the value at approximately $3.2-B. Known officially as the “First Supplementary Surplus Appropriation Rescission Act of 1946”, the bill offered $200-M to the army of the Philippine commonwealth government (the Philippines did not become an independent republic until July 4, 1946) in exchange for a quit claim of all other com pensation and benefits of Filipino World War II U.S. veterans.

On May 22, 1946, Gen. Carlos P. Romulo, the Resident High Commissioner of the Philippine Commonwealth Government in the US, spoke on the floor of the US House of Representatives and denounced the US Congress for passing the Rescission Act calling it “an act of discrimination” against Filipinos and declaring that “the $200-M which were purportedly in lieu of benefits of which Filipino veterans were thus deprived, are actually not sufficient to cover the back-pay entitled by these veterans. The Philippine government has chosen NOT to accept the appropriation!”

Coincidentally, the amount currently offered to the surviving Filipino WW II veterans - $198-M – is close to the $200-M that the Philippine government rejected in 1946. The equity provision in the stimulus bill provides benefits only to those approximately 15,000 veterans who are still above ground but who are dying exponentially at a rate of about 3 a day. The bill provides a one-time payment of $15,000 to Filipino veterans who are US citizens whether living in the US or in the Philippines and $9,000 to those veterans who are Philippine citizens.

This one-time payment version of the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill was introduced by Rep. Bob Filner (D-California) after an earlier bill providing monthly payments of $900 a month to US citizen veterans and $300 a month to Philippine citizen veterans failed to pass the House last ye ar even though that version passed the US Senate by a vote of 97-1 (the lone vote aga inst was Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter).

It failed the House because the American Legion and other US veterans organizations vigorously campaigned against it as the money for this bill, as mandated under the House’s “Pay-Go” rule, would have come from the funds allocated to disabled American veterans who were receiving double compensation benefits under the Hartness Decision of the Court of Appeals.

House Republicans led by Rep. Steven Buyer (R-Indiana) charged that the bill would take money from American veterans to give to “foreign nationals”.

After he realized that the House would never approve the version of his bill that would have provided relative “equity” to Filipino veterans because of the Hartness issue, Rep. Filner, chair of the House Veterans Committee, introduced a new bill that would provide a lump sum payment that would not be drawn from an existing allocation under the “Pay-Go” rule. This new version received the support of Rep. Buyer and was approved by a lopsided vote of 372 to 32.

When this Filner bill was introduced in the Senate in the waning weeks of the last session of Congress in November of 2008, Republican Senator Richard Burr (R- North Carolina) blocked a procedural vote that would have allowed the Senate to consider the bill without further debate and amendments, effectively killing the bill.

But an appropriations bill which included a provision allocating $198-M towards payment of the lump sums to Filipino veterans sponsored by House Appropriations Committee chair Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas) was approved by the US Congress. All that was needed was a bill that would authorize the disbursement of the $198-M to the Filipino veterans.

After President Barack Obama was sworn into office on January 20, 2009, Filipino veterans pinned their hopes on the House stimulus bill that they hoped would include the authorizing measure for the Filipino WW II veterans. But, for whatever political reasons House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had, the authorizing bill was not included in the $819-B stimulus bill approved by the House on January 28, 2009 with a 244-188 straight party-line vote.

When the stimulus bill was introduced in the US Senate on February 2, 2009, US Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) successfully included a provision in the Senate version (Section 1002 Title X) providi ng the authorization for the disbursement of the $198-M to t he Filipino WW II veterans.

When the Filipino veterans provision was debated in the US Senate on February 5, 2009, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) attacked the bill for not having anything to do with creating a stimulus for the US economy.

While Inouye agreed with Senator McCain that the Filipino veterans' bill is not a stimulus proposal, he stressed that "the honor of the United States is what is involved."

“It is about time we close this dark chapter. I love America. I love serving America. I am proud of this country, but this is a black chapter. It has to be cleansed, and I hope my colleagues will join me in finally recognizing that these men served us well… At this moment, while I am speaking, hundreds lie in hospitals on their deathbeds. And I am certain, while I am speaking, some are dying," the senator said.

Please, if you have not done anything at all for our Filipino WW II veterans, this is your last chance to help them. Please take a few minutes of your time NOW to call the office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi at (202) 225-0100 or email her at www. and urge her to recommend to the Senate-House conference committee that Sen. Inouye's Filipino WWII veterans section (Sec. 1002, Title X ) be included in the reconciled Senate and House version for final passage this week.

Please join me on February 18, 2009 for a candlelight vigil at 6:00 PM at the US Federal Building at 450 Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco to commemorate the 63rd anniversary of the Rescission Act of 1946.

We will either celebrate the passage of the stimulus bill with the veterans provision included in it or not. Celebrate or mourn but join us.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Evil Pinay Stereotype

When ABC presented a demeaning image of Philippine-trained doctors in a “Desperate Housewives” episode (September 30, 2007), the Filipino community erupted in outrage and demanded an apology. Because Filipinos rarely appear on national TV, it was feared that the offending episode would cause Americans to view their Philippine-educated physicians in a negative light. That ABC episode is peanuts in terms of image and consequence compared to the depiction of Filipinos that CBS presented on January 31, 2009 in its CBS 48 Hours Mystery episode of “Conspiracy to Kill”.

CBS correspondent Peter Van Sant’s hour-long documentary began with this introduction:

“Larry Risken was a Navy officer. Earl Bourdeau was a Marine. Nineteen years apart, they married the same woman: Sonia Rios. And both military men met the same fate -- ambushed and gunned down in the Philippines, in the presence of Sonia's family. The families of Risken and Bourdeau say they’re sure Sonia was the mastermind in both killings. Then a year after Larry's Risken’s murder, Sonia suffered the same fate herself - gunned down in her home, on the south side of Los Angeles. By then, she’d been dubbed, “The Black Widow of Lomita.”

Larry Risken was a commander in the US Navy when he met Sonia Rios, a successful Filipina businesswoman who owned her own beauty salon in Lomita, California, and who drove around in a flashy Corvette. She had been previously married and divorced, his family was told.

Larry and Sonia were married in 1990 in three separate wedding ceremonies which excluded members of Risken’s family. But Larry visited the Philippines several times to spend time with Sonia’s family. In one of the visits, he met Sonia’s niece, Quinzy, and nephew, Jetmark, and decided to adopt them.

Sonia was supposed to take care of the adoption but when Larry found out that Sonia had sabotaged the process and did not want them to come to the US, his relationship with Sonia soured.

Fed up with Sonia, Larry began seeing a co-teacher, Eileen Stevens. When Larry told Sonia of his feelings for Eileen, she “flew into a rage” especially after Larry asked for a divorce after 16 years of marriage.

Sonia consented to the divorce but only after Larry visited the Philippines to see Quinzy and Jetmark one last time. Despite his parents’ misgivings about traveling to the Philippines by himself, Larry flew to Manila.

On April 18, 2006, while piling into a Jeep after taking one of Sonia’s nieces to a hospital to be treated for an eye infection, a gunman on a motorcycle shot Larry in the head and stomach, killing him instantly.

When 14-year old Jetmark called his aunt Sonia to tell her the devastating news, he was shocked to hear her response: "Jet, don’t worry. Everything is under control. Nothing to worry about."

Risken’s family, frustrated that the Philippine police could do nothing to solve the murder, decided to hire private investigator Bong Oteza, who concluded that it was a well-planned hit. Bong learned that Sonia had a $1 million insurance policy on Larry Risken.

Bong also learned that Risken was not the first Sonia husband to meet that fate. It turns out that she had been previously married to a US marine named Earl John Bourdeau who met her on his first overseas tour of duty in the Philippines in 1963. He married her and brought her to the US to meet his parents and settled in Lomita, California.

According to Sonia’s good friend, Henry Hoskins, Sonia was not into fidelity. “I knew some of her boyfriends. She was dating professional people," he said.

After 21 years of marriage, Bourdeau wanted out of the marriage. But Sonia would only agree to a divorce if he would go to the Philippines to “sell a family taxi business”.

Although he did not want to go, Bourdeau went and stayed at the home of Sonia’s brother. He was asleep on August 15, 1987, when he was shot at point blank range. Sonia’s brothers claimed that he was killed during a break-in.

Philippine police authorities would not buy that story, however, and within weeks of the murder, they solved the case. Five people, including two of Sonia Rios’ brothers (one of whom had blood splatters on his shirt), were arrested and charged with the murder.

The CBS reporter then said that everything stopped. “Do you believe that someone may have been paid off to stop this investigation? Van Sant asks Oteza. "Yes, to stop the investigation. Yes, to drop the charges against the five family members," he replies. Incredibly, Oteza says it takes as little as $1,000 to stop a criminal investigation. And he thinks he knows who paid to stop this one. "The person that wanted Earl Bourdeau dead is someone that will benefit and that is Sonia Rios."

Yes, folks, visit the Philippines where you can hire a hitman to kill your spouse for a few bucks (and collect millions in insurance money) and pay as little as a thousand dollars to stop the criminal investigation.

After cashing in on Bourdeau’s death, about 19 years later, Sonia did it again. But in Risken’s case, Sonia was unable to collect on his million dollar policy because Risken’s relatives cried foul.

Risken’s sister, Ellen Jackson, told Van Sant: "Sonia used the Philippines as a killing ground in two murders and no one has been brought to justice."

About one year after Risken’s murder, the 60-year old “Black Widow of Lomita”, Sonia Rios, was found dead in her home with a gunshot to her head.

The CBS 48 Hours Mystery did not end with the unsolved murders of Sonia and her two husbands. Its reporter and crew tracked down the remains of Bourdeau in the Philippines with the assistance of a Filipina forensic pathologist, Rachel Fortun. After confirming that the bones in a crypt belonged to Bourdeau, 48 Hours paid for the bones to be transported to Davenpot, Iowa where they were buried last month, 21 years after Bourdeau’s murder.

Within hours after the TV episode appeared on January 31, emails poured into the CBS website denouncing Sonia Rios and other “gold diggers and murderers” from the Philippines. One wrote that “anyone who gets involved with a person born and raised in the Philippines needs to understand that they are not like us…they are for the most part materialistic, greedy, manipulative, heartless people.” One psychopath (“cliffps”) even suggested that “what we need to do is take the law into our own hands but do so quietly and continue evening the score. It might take time, maybe a little bit (or a lot) of scheming and strategizing on one end but justice can certainly be accomplished.”

One American man married to a Filipina, Jack Spratzer, tried to stem the racist tide: “Don’t paint a race of people with a broad brush. I know the Philippines and her people and I can tell you that the Filipino people are kind, loving, polite and generous” but he was decidedly in the minority.

A new vile stereotype has been virally spread and many Filipino women married to American men will face suspicions, ugly accusations and harassment from their husbands and their husbands’ kinfolk because of Sonia Rios and the CBS show that exposed her.
(If you were unable to watch the clip in the embedded player above, click "here".)