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?)

No comments: