Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Pass HR 760, the Filipino Veterans Equity Act NOW!

I got into it a little the other day with a buddy over whether Filipino WWII veterans should be considered for increased benefits or not. The conversation came up because of a current bill titled House Resolution 760, called the Filipino Veterans Equity Act. He doesn’t have anything against the old WWII guys, but my "misguided friend" feels that only American citizen U.S. veterans should have first crack at what little of the VA benefit pie is available.

In one way, I understand one of his beefs. He argues that the Philippines does very little for the few thousands of these aging fellows that are still left, and he says these guys ARE, after all, Filipino citizens.

(At one time I believe the WCC (war claims commission) counted 2 or 3 million of "them," as having served under the direction of the US military, until they decided to stop counting in the late 1940s when the numbers got "too high").

The old WWII vets here are paid a scant 5000 pesos a month (about $111) by their own government. Yet the Charge d’ Affairs to the United States, Carlos D. Sorreta, had the temerity to “testify” to our Congress:

“Mr. Chairman, the Philippine Government and the Filipino people continue to maintain that the Filipino soldiers who fought and served under the US Army during WWII specifically during the period July 1941 to October 1945, are US veterans under then existing US laws and are entitled to all benefits due a US veteran. We make this call based on assertions that are supported by clear facts and historical records.

We therefore welcome the filing and urge the passage of HR760 and its companion bill in the Senate, S57, into law, to restore veterans’ benefits that were removed by PL79-301 (the Rescission Act of 1940).”


Part of what upsets me about this Philippine official chiding and lecturing our government is that its not like we’ve done nothing for these guys. In the past the American government handed over several millions in dollars to the Philippine government for the benefaction of their WWII vets. I’d love to see exactly where all that money went over the years. Government accounting being what it is here, or isn’t, I don’t think the advocates of the old veterans would be very happy with what they’d find.

Aside from the question of what was done with all those millions meant exclusively for these honorable old WWII vets and my resentment at the scolding given to the US congress by a representative of “the steward” of those funds, I am STILL completely IN FAVOR OF the passage of this bill—and the sooner the better.

I wrote an earlier post about an entirely different issue concerning "Justice for WWII Filipino Vets." Unfortunately, HR 760 will do nothing to fix this even more serious problem. In a nutshell, there are veterans who did not feel it necessary to get “counted” by the War Claims Commission (WCC) canvassers when they crisscrossed the Philippines back in 1946 and thereabouts. These veterans KNEW they had served; after all, they had (and have) their discharges signed by American officers, their wounds and battle experiences were still fresh in their minds and on their bodies, and they didn’t see the need to find a WCC “bean counter” to report to. All most of them wanted to do was to get on with their lives. The result is that many who actually served are not considered veterans no matter how much documentation they have since the US VA insists that ONLY their inclusion on the WCC list constitutes US veterans status. It’s the most ridiculous, dishonest, and unjust thing I can think of. In fact, it’s much worse even than the injustices supposed to be corrected by HR 760.

On the HR 760 topic, here’s a little more background: For the vets who qualified for disability compensation and medical assistance, the VA has a clinic for them in Pasay, Manila; and actually, a clinic has been in place here for them since the end of WWII. To qualify for those disability and medical benefits, they needed to show that their medical conditions directly resulted from their active duty service—easier said than done I’m here to say. The rest of them would have to use the Philippine veteran’s hospitals as they got older and sicklier, and that, I think, is where the bulk of the monies are supposed to have been spent (or more likely squandered) that I spoke of above.

And now the crux of HR 760: Currently, the only WWII Filipino veterans being paid any US VA monies are the ones disabled by service-connected conditions. Those are the guys who were able to show that they had illnesses or wounds resulting from their service as I describe in the preceding paragraph above. What HR 760 is supposed to do is to provide “war pensions” to ALL WWII Filipino veterans. Even so, our congress only wants to pay them less than half of what we pay US veterans for the same sort of pension.

So, why should we pay these guys their pensions? Well, looking at the history and circumstances of how these fellows happened to serve is the best way to argue for them. I’ll provide an example of how one of my best friends, Baldomero, happened to find himself in the uniform of the United States Army of the Far East. He was recruited in spite of his tender age of 16, the recruiter having instructed him to lie about his birth date to prevent problems. It was September 1941--the Japanese invasion was just over two months away. Baldomero and his mates were put through a rigorously concentrated training course because his American officers and sergeants knew that war was just over the horizon.

Now, mind you, these fellows weren’t asked to serve in the Philippine Commonwealth Army; they served as soldiers for the US Army. Their commander was THE MAN himself, General Douglas Macarthur. These young Filipinos had put their full trust into the hands of arguably the most qualified and famous American military man alive. Looking ahead, if they had known they were being asked to serve in a half-assed delaying operation, which is what FDR had in mind for these guys all along, including the thousands of American troops serving alongside them, I’m sure most of them would have had second thoughts about signing on to serve, but serve they did.

I won’t go into the horrible events of the 4-month siege of Bataan (Dec 41-April 42), and the subsequent “Death March,” all of which involved bitter fighting and ghastly suffering; but these guys DID their duty. In fact, compared to the weak showing of the Brits and Aussies at Singapore, these inexperienced young Filipinos and their American mates fought the battle-hardened troops from Japan to a standstill. They only surrendered after their food and ammo ran out, and even at that, they had to be ordered to surrender. Just the same, Filipinos continued to voluntarily join and fight on as guerillas under American control, even knowing that if they were captured that it meant immediate execution, if they were lucky that is.

By comparison, I have assisted US veterans to obtain their much larger pension after they had done almost no real service at all, at least compared to what some of these Filipino vets went through. To qualify for a pension an American veteran must have served 90 days during a “period of war.” Notice that it says “served” and “period of war;” it doesn’t mean they needed to have fought in a war zone or to have even been part of even an iota of warfare. I assisted one US vet who was in for a total of 4 months and was discharged because of a medical problem, yet this man is now receiving a pension for the rest of his life. Why is this fellow any more deserving of that benefit than one of these Filipino U.S. war vets?

The sponsors of HR 760 and its senate counterpart are all democrats, mostly out of Hawaii, California and Guam. I’m ashamed to say that Republicans have turned this into a partisan issue. They say they are against the bill based on “higher priorities” and are doing their part in squashing the bill by holding up this important piece of legislation from passage. All I can say is that lately Republicans have been doing a lot of idiotic things like this and I’ve just about had enough. I’ve mostly voted Republican since 1976, and if I find that one of my legislators doesn’t support this bill then my vote will definitely go elsewhere. Hey you guys, if you want my continued support then you need to start backing the “right” horses, and there is nothing more “right” than this one.

Speaking of priorities, the youngest Filipino WWII vet that I know is over 80 years old. They are dropping like flies and soon bills like HR 760 will be moot. Is that what the opponents of this crucial legislation want—to continue to stall until the last of these US veterans are gone? And by the way, these guys ARE US veterans; that is according to the VA’s own regulations, which describe them as such. It’s time to start treating them like the rest of us U.S. vets, and right the wrongs of the past. This bill would make a nice start.

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5 Comments:

At 6:17 AM, Blogger Katana said...

I ran a marathon for two years while I was at NMMI - The bataan memorial marathon. The night before they would show us movies, we'd hear speeches or something that would commemorate the Death march. The morning of, we would go through the names of those who were survivors and they would alway sstrike home that our Bataan veterans are dying.

At the begining of the march, we would walk by the veterans who would be on golf carts in the middle of the track. At check points, we would see them too.

In two years, there was a dramatic difference in the number of survivors present. There are some people who have been running that marathon since it began, and they tell me that the numbers are dwindling and if trends continue... by the time I'm 25 there'll be no survivors fit to attend the marathon in White Sands, NM.

 
At 1:40 PM, Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

Its great that a person of your young age even knows that there WAS a WWII, and even more amazing that you know about Bataan. I say that because I have yet to find an American under the age of 20, except 1, who even knows we fought the Japanese and Germans in a war called the 2nd World War. I have to laugh when I listen to politicians talk about "trusting the judgment of the American people," when most of my countrymen are so uninformed about virtually EVERYTHING important. Oh, they know all about Paris, Lindsey and Britney, but don't know anything about history, geography or sociology. I'm proud of you Katana...

 
At 3:45 PM, Blogger watson said...

Thanks Phil for voicing out about this. I have lost my grandfather, who fought in World War II, and I'd say when he was living it wasn't exactly a life befitting a hero, as they call the veterans. I pray that those still with us today can truly receive what is due them.

 
At 10:45 AM, Anonymous Donald said...

My father in law ended up coming to the states as a veteran. He was one of the lucky ones. He ended up going back to the Philippines 3 years ago and was able to receive his SSI payments he was already getting for living in California. This was about seven hundred dollars a month. I would encourage any veterans who are eligible to get to the states even it is only for a year. Than you can return home and have a little semblance of a pension. You know this just a waiting game for Congress. Once they realise that 99.999 percent of the veterans are dead, they will pass some kind of bill and pat themselves on the back for being great humanetarians.

You Know I remeber you from Yokota.I was stuck in Instrument shop with that HARDASS Garoutte while you had laid back Tsgt Friend. I was just an airman than but I remember you and your wife.
Time really does fly, doesn't it?

Donald

 
At 9:01 PM, Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

Hey Don... Sorry I don't remember you. What was the last name again?

Jim Friend was a great boss; we were lucky to have him. I was very fortunate over the years to have had lots of good bosses like him. The ones that weren't I just killed, so no problem there either! (kidding!)

There was a one time deal where all WWII Fil Vets were offered US citizenship. Hundreds became citizens and went to the states, but for most it was too late. They were too old, too sick and or too poor to try. Some gave it a shot going to the US and couldn't take the change of culture or could not stand not being around their friends and family anymore. As you know, it ain't exactly easy being an American that has to work and get around. And socially, the states can be a very cold place compared to this place. Most of these fellers just didn't have it in them to try.

Hey, drop me an email. I'm at pjspear1@yahoo.com. It was great hearing from you Don.

 

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