Wednesday, February 11, 2009

World War II Filipino Veterans Will Benefit from the Stimulus Package

More than 60 years after the end of World War II, Filipino veterans who fought alongside G.I.s to repel the Japanese Army finally may get the benefits that were pledged to them, then yanked away by Uncle Sam.

According to a recent Los Angeles Times article, the Senate's economic stimulus plan includes $198 million for the surviving fighters, many of whom are in their 80s or older and live in California.

Both Philippine army regulars and guerilla fighters were ordered to serve under the U.S. Army by President Roosevelt in 1941, when Japan invaded the archipelago, still under American control.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur commanded the combined group, known as U.S. Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) -- but the Filipino soldiers ultimately were deemed not "active service" and were denied full veterans benefits in 1946, a few months after the Japanese surrender.

Did they deserve the veterans compensation that was initially pledged yet withheld? I'd say the war stories speak for themselves. As I wrote a couple years ago for the San Mateo County Times regarding a failed vets bill:

"I was a guerrilla," said Regalado Baldonado, 80, who grew up in Laguna province near Manila. "I was 15. We were given a machine gun. We destroyed bridges in the area."

Baldonado said his group hid out on a mountain along with an American pilot and ran raids on Japanese troops on the roads below. "In Santa Cruz (on the Philippine coast), we surprised them one morning, and they were all gone," he said. "That was a long fight, took a whole day."

After the war, Baldonado went to college and came to Hayward in 1988, eventually making his way to the Mission District. Today he gets about $350 a month in Supplemental Security Income payments and is eager for his fair share of veterans' compensation. "That 1946 bill, that was an error," he said.

Another Bay Area Filipino veteran shared a similar experience:

Regino Nacua, another guerrilla fighter, was born in Manila and joined the underground movement with his father shortly after the Japanese invaded the Philippines in 1941.

"My father, he escaped from the march to Bataan," Nacua said, referring to the infamous transfer of Japanese prisoners that left thousands dead. "During the time of liberation, the American forces gave us a carbine. Then in 1945, I was discharged under the 86th Infantry Division, the Blackhawk division."

Up to now, 78-year-old Nacua -- who lives near the Presidio, where mass oath-takings took place after Filipino veterans were offered full citizenship in 1990 -- has made do with SSI payments and VA hospital care. He said he hopes to finally receive a full pension in the next few months to bring his family from home.

"It's about time," Nacua said. "I've got five boys who are waiting in the Philippines. I said, 'You just wait, be patient, you will be here in America.' Some of them will see that America is very nice and beautiful."

If approved, the Senate's stimulus plan would pay a lump sum of $15,000 for those veterans living here and $9,000 for those still in the Philippines. Inevitably, Republicans have attacked the idea as pork spending. The L.A. Times article says:

Among the critics ... is Rep. Steve Buyer of Indiana, the top Republican on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.

"I do not question the valor and courage of the Philippine army, which fought alongside U.S. forces to defeat Japan in World War II, and I am not opposed to discussing ways to compensate these veterans," he said. "However, to do so and say it under the guise of stimulating the American economy is a complete falsehood and is the lowest form of partisan politics."

He has a point, but putting this off any longer -- and the political back-and-forth has been going on for decades, while the ranks of surviving veterans dwindle -- is a crime.

It's not really pork, it's more like a well deserved plate of adobo -- that savory, tangy, signature Filipino dish made with chicken, beef or, yes, pig -- after a long day's work. And it's loooong overdue.

Article by Todd Brown of San Jose Culture Examiner
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