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.

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