* Vets in RP to get $ 9,000; those in the US, $ 15,000
* Last day for filing claims is Feb. 16, 2010
* These benefits, totaling $ 197 million, fall under the $787 billion package under the American Recovery and Stimulus Act which US President Barack Obama signed last February.
Qualified Filipino war veterans are set to receive lump-sum benefits of $9,000 and $15,000 each from the United States government by late April or the first week of May, United States Ambassador Kristie Kenney said yesterday.
The lady ambassador said the checks for the lump-sum payment are due for distribution to qualified veterans in the next two months.
Kenney noted that the US embassy has received 23,000 claims from Filipino veterans which she said it is now being processed.
“We’re hoping that the first batches that we’ve gotten (will be paid) by the end of April or early May. But this is a rolling process, some people applied Day 1; there are probably people applying today,” she said during the launching of the Kraft-Save The Children partnership yesterday.
The veterans’ benefits totaling $197 million were included in the $787 billion package under the American Recovery and Stimulus Act which US President Barack Obama signed last February.
Entitled to the benefits are qualified Filipino veterans based in US and in the Philippines. Those in the US will get $15,000 each while those still in the Philippines will get $9,000 each.
“Everyone who files for claims will get a written response, letting them know their claim was either accepted or not, depending on the different criteria. No one needs to wonder. We hope by the end of April to send those letters out for applications we’ve already received,” Kenney said.
She said Filipino veterans may file their claims until February 16, 2010 to avail themselves of the lump-sum benefits. She said in case the veteran dies during the time he applied and during the approval of his claim, his family will get the payment.
“Please help us get it out there that they have 11 more months to do so (file application for benefits),” she said.
Filipinos heeded the call of then President Delano Roosevelt to become defenders of democracy in the Pacific when he issued executive order on July 26, 1941, incorporating the Philippine Army into the USAFFE.
The late President Carlos P. Romulo, who served as Resident Commissioner of the Philippines to the United States Congress from 1944 to 1946, expressed disgust over the discriminatory act saying that the Philippine government stood by its position not to accept the appropriation.
Heavy cruiser HMAS Australia was first hit by kamikaze, a Japanese suicide plane, on October 21, 1944 during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, which is considered to be the largest naval battle with at least 850 ships involved.. It was repaired at New Hebrides, now Vanuatu, only to be hit again five times by kamikazes at Lingayen Gulf in January, 1945.
It was on January 9, 1945 when Les Kennedy of the Royal Australian Navy, arrived in the country onboard HMAS Manoora that was part of the 850-convoy that waged amphibious warfare against the Japanese during WWII.
There were more than 400,000 Filipino WWII veterans who were promised to receive the same military benefits given to American soldiers, including the disability compensation, full health care coverage, and survivors’ compensation from the US government when the First Supplemental Surplus Appropriation Rescission Act was approved by the US Congress in 1946 and stripped the veterans of their benefits for service rendered under the US flag.
It was on July 4, 1946 when the Philippines became an independent state.
US Department of Veterans Affairs verifies if those who applied were included in the list of the US Army Roster of WWII Filipino veterans stored at the US Army Archives in St. Louis, Missouri state or known as Missouri list of 1948, which makes the vets eligible for the US package.
This particular provision was successfully included in the Senate version by US Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii when the Stimulus Bill was introduced at the US Senate floor on February 2 this year.
At the wake of economic slowdown gripping the US and other rich economies, President Barack Obama signed the Stimulus Bill into law on February 17 in Denver.
US embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Thompson said so far, over 2, 500 Filipino veterans have applied since it started accepting applications on February 18, 2009.
“As of 11 a.m., February 24, the embassy allowed the veterans to mail their application because most of them are in their 80s and 90s. We do not want to give them unnecessary burden of lining up in this hot weather,” PVAO Claims Division Head Melinda Luna said.
In accordance with the new law, for an individual to be eligible for payment, the US Department of Veterans Affairs must receive the individual’s claim no later than February 16, 2010, which is one year from the date US President Barack Obama signed the historic legislation.
IN the few days since the signing of the veterans’ “stimulus bill” the discussion is all about the benefits: (1) if qualified dependents of veterans who died days after the bill became law can claim $ 9,000 (2) if veterans who are too ill and cannot write nor sign papers can still collect $ 9,000 through their dependents (3) if veterans who are “brain dead” (or on life-support) are qualified to receive full benefits, and (4) if application forms can be sent to claimants’ homes or hospital rooms.
Filling forms properly
Answering any of the above without full guidelines from the US Embassy may mean instant loss of benefits. The veteran, age 96, who “wrote X” shown on TV faces all the uncertainties/disqualifications.
In a previous article I ventured a guess that most living claimants fought the enemy forces in 1942 at age 18, and are now nearing 85 up. But officers born between 1910 and 1920 (89 to 99 years old) may not be alive anymore, except for very few exceptions in longevity.
Wheelchair, cane, etc.
Last week front-page pictures and news reports were about veterans limping their way asking questions about their fate. Some were on wheelchairs or leaning heavily on cheap aluminum canes and pretended to be strong and healthy.
In my town I know one qualified veteran, who is now 94 years old (born 1915, Frank Sinatra’s birth year). He taught in high school after 1945. He has no complaint except for body pains and aches common to old boys and girls in their late 80s or early 90s.
The waiting creditors/lenders
Most veterans who may get $ 9,000 expect to hold their check for a few hours/days before entrusting them to creditors (or Bombay-style lenders) who advanced cash for medicines, performance-enhancing vitamins, milk/chocolate, etc.
It is not expected that the dollar benefit will be added to their savings that don’t exist. It is doubtful that, with dozens of dependents expecting it, a large amount will be left for the remaining few years of the veteran’s misery.
Remembering their heroism?
Years ago our brave soldiers and freedom fighters stopped telling tales of bravery in battle or skirmishes between enemy and guerilla platoons. Bataan, Corregidor, Lingayen Gulf and the Leyte landing or invasion ceased to be important events or subjects as early as 30 or 40 years ago.
Only the officers of the various veterans legions, here and abroad, lobbied and waited with great expectations. But they knew the fading years and hope may end one day but not at age 80, 85, or 90.
No whistle of joy
The sick or sickly veterans who may benefit from the dollar lump-sum mostly are in dire need, but the time to whistle with joy may not come today or tomorrow. The passing years were too long to move them to “another show of gratitude” to the giver.
All the famous names who fought hard in Bataan were long gone – Napoleon Valeriano, Alfredo Santos, Carmelo Barbero were just three of the hundreds who died years ago.
Fighting under two flags
The one great trait of our veterans has a quality of its own: None of them ever complained of their suffering in total misery while waiting for any form of recompense from America. They knew they fought or died under two flags: Stars and stripes and Aguinaldo’s banner of the 1898 Republic.
The trek to 14 venues where claims are filed is just starting. It’s like “Death March” all over again.
Their one and last prayer? To live for one more year and get the final cash reward or symbol.
Those who are too infirm to remember their service to PI and America may wonder and ask: What’s the $ 9,000 for? (Comments are welcome at email@example.com)
By Atty. Romeo V. Pefianco
MANILA, Philippines — Filipino World War II veterans vowed to press their fight for equal recognition with their American counterparts after they were awarded $198 million in lump sum payments.
Speaking for his fellow veterans in Malacañang on Monday, retired colonel Emmanuel de Ocampo said the lump sum, which was included in the US economic stimulus law, was a “small step” towards their goal.
A veterans’ equity bill, which will recognize the efforts of Filipino soldiers during World War II, has yet to be passed before the US Congress despite a sustained lobby by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
“We will strive for a goal of equal recognition and equal consideration, to fully restore to the Filipino soldiers [the] honor, pride and dignity which were damaged by the Rescission Act,” he said, referring to a 1946 law which stripped Filipino veterans of equal treatment with their American counterparts.
“What we have today does not fully meet these aspirations. However, the Filipino veterans have respectful and grateful appreciation to those [who] worked sincerely [for the inclusion of lump sum payments in the US stimulus package],” he said.
United States Ambassador Kristie Kenney presented to Arroyo and a group of veterans at the Palace on Monday a copy of the US economic stimulus bill, which includes the $198 million for the lump sum payments — $15,000 each for those living in the US and $9,000 each for those living in the Philippines.
Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the lump sum payments were a “first step” towards equal recognition for Filipino veterans.
Asked if a lobby for the veterans’ equity bill would continue, he said: “I’m very sure that representations will move on. If this thing took 62 years, siyempre ipagpatuloy na natin [of course we will press on].”
LAST February 9, the day after his arrival from Washington, D.C., Foreign Secretary Alberto G. Romulo visited me. He lamented that media had ignored the real purpose of President Macapagal-Arroyo’s recent side trip to the United States. Recall that from the Davos World Forum in Switzerland (and a few other cities), GMA flew to America, instead of returning home as originally planned. He rued that media unfairly pilloried GMA’s alleged “shameless stalking” of US President Barack Obama.
Main purpose of US trip. Romulo explained that, at the recommendation of our Ambassador to the United States, Willy C. Gaa, he prodded GMA to go to Washington because the US Congress was then hurriedly debating the gargantuan economic stimulus package proposed by President Obama. He advised her to meet with US congressional leaders to make sure that the long-delayed compensation for the Filipino veterans of World War II is included in the stimulus bill.
Thus, according to the genteel foreign secretary, GMA met with Senators Daniel Inouye, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee; Daniel Akaka, chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee; John Kerry, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee; and Jim Webb, chair of the Sub-Committee on East Asia and Pacific Affairs, who all “promised to help her fulfill her mission.”
In the US House of Representatives, she spoke with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Steve Austria (the first first-generation Filipino-American member of the US lower house) who both “assured her of their full support.”
She also conferred with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose photo-op with her was carried extensively in TV and newspaper reports. The attendance of GMA at the National Prayer Breakfast—though given much publicity—was only an incident, not the main agenda, of her US trip, so Secretary Romulo said.
Congratulations but more work needed. I must admit that, given the wide publicity of her alleged dogging of Obama, I was not too persuaded—at that time—that the veterans’ cause propelled GMA’s recent visit to America. But this week’s headline stories announcing the allotment of $198 million (out of the $787-billion stimulus package) to compensate some 18,000 Filipino World War II veterans, convinced me that GMA’s US trip was well-worth the effort.
Perhaps, the residual public distrust of GMA’s administration as shown by repeated poll surveys and the inadequate reporting of her US visit contributed to the skepticism of her US agenda. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Her mission was accomplished. The six decades of effort to correct an injustice to our war heroes finally succeeded.
To quote Sen. Joker Arroyo, the amounts awarded are “too little and too late.” But I think they are still welcome. I just hope that, as urged by the Inquirer’s editorial last Tuesday, GMA will continue to lobby for a much bigger award. In the meantime, let me give credit to whom credit is due: Well-done, Madam President! Congratulations, Secretary Romulo and Ambassador Gaa!
I also join the Inquirer editorial the other day saluting US Senator Inouye for his steadfast support.
* * *
Legal and diplomatic solutions to VFA. On May 17, 2006, during my term as chief justice, I visited—accompanied by our then Ambassador to the US Albert del Rosario—some US Supreme Court justices in Washington, D.C. to invite them to participate in the Global Forum on Liberty and Prosperity that our high court was sponsoring later that year.
Declining my invitation, US Justice Antonin Scalia—the leader of the conservatives who often dominate the US Supreme Court—explained,
“… I am useless in international meetings because I believe that our Supreme Court is tasked to enforce only the US Constitution and US laws, not cross-border concepts that do not find implementing US statutes.”
This is why I was not surprised by the US Court’s ruling in Medellin vs Texas (Mar. 25, 2008) that a treaty—even if ratified by the US Senate—will not be enforced in the United States, unless (1) “by its terms,” it is self-executory, or (2) it is implemented by an act of the US Congress.
In a commentary published in the Inquirer’s front page last Feb. 14, I opined that, based on this ruling, the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) is not enforceable in the United States because (1) the US Senate had not ratified it; (2) nothing in the VFA says it is “self-executory,” and (3) no US law implements it.
Per Ambassador Kristie Kenney, the VFA has “the force of a treaty,” but sadly, per the US Supreme Court, the treaty does not have the force of a US domestic law. For this and the other reasons detailed in that commentary, the VFA violates our Constitution and is also unenforceable here. Hence, our government should initiate moves to abrogate it, or at the very least to renegotiate its objectionable features, as urged by many senators.
But to solve the diplomatic standoff now plaguing Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith’s custody, our courts should decide the appeal of his conviction as soon as possible. In this manner, Smith would either be unquestionably jailed in the Philippines if convicted, or freed if acquitted. This is a diplomatic solution without loss of face for the both the Philippine and US governments.
A diplomatic remedy suggested by the US Supreme Court itself is for the US Congress to pass an omnibus law implementing treaties entered into by the United States, including—if I may humbly suggest—the RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty and the revised VFA.
* * *
Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
A number of media commentators went to town criticizing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for making a “useless trip” to the United States after the Davos Conference in Switzerland, as she didn’t get to meet President Obama, contrary to speculations. If there was a big letdown here about that non-meeting, it was the fault of Ms Arroyo’s staff, for the US trip was made to center on the supposed meeting, so that when it failed to materialize, due perhaps to Obama’s being so preoccupied with the economic stimulus package that was then still in limbo in the US Congress, the trip did seem useless. But it turns out that there were, to borrow a phrase from Dr. Anding Roces, a number of things to crow about. For instance, the media only later learned that President Arroyo played an important role in securing the long-awaited benefits due to Filipino World War II veterans.
Palace sources said Ms Arroyo, who was then attending the Davos Conference, was invited by the US Congress to the National Prayer Breakfast annually held in Washington DC. She was assigned a seat beside Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who later arranged for her to meet with key legislators on Capitol Hill, among them Sen. John Kerry, chair of the US Senate foreign relations committee, and the chair of that committee’s East Asia subcommittee, Sen. James Webb, and Ohio Rep. Steve Austria, the first Filipino-American to win a legislative seat on Capitol Hill. Palace sources said Ms Arroyo took advantage of her meetings with key legislators for one specific agenda: to push for the inclusion of the veterans’ benefits in the economic stimulus package recently passed by the US Congress.
* * *
In fact, on the day of President Arroyo’s visit, Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, a staunch advocate of Filipino war veterans, stood up on the Senate floor to sponsor an amendment to the economic stimulus package bill that would grant Filipino veterans befits totaling $198 million. Some of Inouye’s colleagues tried to block the amendment, preferring to corner the sums for their own needy constituents, but the crusty, old, physically challenged Hawaii lawmaker, a distinguished war veteran himself, stood his ground.
Over the years, Inouye has developed a solid friendship with Filipino leaders, with Ms Arroyo hosting various receptions in Malacañang during his visits. At the 100th anniversary celebration in Honolulu in 2006 of the arrival of Filipino plantation workers in Hawaii, Ms Arroyo and Inouye once again renewed their friendship.
On Capitol Hill, Ms Arroyo lobbied hard for inclusion of the benefits to Filipino war veterans in the Obama stimulus package, and found a dependable ally in Inouye.
The amendment paved the way for the realization of the dream harbored by Filipino veterans (their ranks now decimated by death, age and disease) for more than half a century: to be compensated for their heroism during the days of their youth. The benefits that will accrue to Filipino veterans will not only be in recognition of the sacrifices of those still living, albeit sickly and old but also in honor of the memory of their fallen comrades who never tasted the glory of recognition or the well-deserved material compensation.
* * *
In another part of the US at that time, former House speaker Jose de Venecia addressed the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC, and the Universal Peace Federation, proposing in well-received speeches that President Obama recognize a “Global Inter-Faith Summit” in the US, inasmuch as all the great religions of the world — Christianity, Catholicism, Protestantism, the Evangelicals, Islam (Sunnis and Shiites), Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Shintoism and Sikkhism — are represented in that nation in great numbers. They could, De Venecia argued, help bring about global and regional peace, isolate extremists and strengthen moderates, “and regain the high moral ground for America.”
It will be recalled that De Venecia successfully pushed the Inter-Religious Dialogues in 2006, first with President George W. Bush and then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, which was later affirmed by the United Nations in a resolution. By a twist of events, he found his advocacy being tested soon. Late last year, the former speaker was in Cambodia to receive an honorary doctorate degree for international relations from the University of Cambodia, when a pocket border war exploded between Thai and Cambodian troops over a historic Buddhist temple in an area being claimed by both countries.
Speaking with Cambodian Premier Hun Sen and his deputy, Soc An, De Venecia pointed out that the border dispute was a “Buddhist problem” that could be quietly solved not by governments but by representatives of the Thai and Cambodian kings, who are both Buddhists and much-loved by their peoples, and the disputed ancient place of worship has been a Buddhist temple through the centuries. Hun Sen and Soc An said there was no need for Asean intervention, as some worried neighbors in the region had proposed, and the conflict quietly subsided. This little episode didn’t make headlines, but it demonstrates that there’s no substitute for meaningful diplomacy.
* * *
My brother Danny Olivares received a request from his Ateneo de Manila University classmate, Noel Trinidad, to help disseminate to the legion of friends of his brother, internationally renowned cartoonist Corky Trinidad, that the latter recently passed away after a lingering illness in Honolulu, Hawaii, where he had been a longtime resident. Noel said Corky had lived a “very full and meaningful 69 years on earth” adding, “We are proud of his achievements but even prouder of how he lived his life.”
Corky was the son of Lina Flor, famed columnist and creator of the highly popular “Gulong ng Palad” drama series, and Koko Trinidad, acknowledged as the father of radio broadcasting in the Philippines. The Honolulu Star Bulletin, where Corky did editorial cartooning, paid a glowing tribute to him, which I will reprint here. Our condolences to the Trinidad family.
THE benefits package approved by the United States Congress for the thousands of Filipino World War II veterans is an important victory. For many of the old men who’ve endured years of isolation in America in order to support their loved ones in the Philippines, the money would surely be a big boost in difficult times.
But there are those who see the approved bill as a sad, tragic compromise.
One of them is photographer Rick Rocamora who has spent nearly 20 years documenting the lives and struggles of the beteranos.
“As a photographer who has captured moments in the lives of the veterans during their early days in America, the funeral services of their passing and life in between, I also look forward to the day that our heroes will be given the full recognition as equal to US veterans,” he told me in an e-mail.
“While the monetary compensation will find its way to help the surviving beteranos and their relatives, being recognized as equals is more important,” he added. “For those who died waiting, I have been waiting for them. But we must not forget that it took many years for the US Congress to recognized and correct the injustice. We must credit the collective efforts of the Filipino community in America and their supporters to finally gain justice for our heroes.”
To the elderly Pinoys often seen hanging out on Powell Street near the Cable Car stop in downtown San Francisco, Rick “Totoy” Rocamora has been a friend and ally who helped preserve the memory of their gallant, but sad mission in America.
They’ve known him as the soft-spoken heavyset man with a mop top hairdo, who seemed always to have a fancy-looking camera around his neck. Totoy told in moving, vivid pictures the journey of the thousands of Filipino World War II veterans who arrived in the United States in the 1990s.
His work has been published in many magazines and newspaper articles, and put on exhibit throughout the world. Now, Rocamora’s impressive body of work has been collected in a newly-published book of photographs, “America’s Second-Class Veterans.”
Rocamora’s photographs helped spread the word on what has become a sad chapter in the history of US-Philippine relations. The Filipino veterans began arriving in the United States in the early 1990s after they were finally granted citizenship for fighting alongside American troops in the war against the Japanese forces in World War II. But many of the elderly men found themselves in a bind. While they fought bravely under US command during the war, they did not receive the same rights and benefits enjoyed by other American military veterans.
The beteranos came to America hoping to send money back to their families in the Philippines or to enable their loved ones to immigrate to the United States. But most of them were old and ailing. Some became vulnerable to abuse, falling victim to swindlers. Many of them lived in cramped and damp rooms in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District.
Rocamora began documenting their struggles almost as soon as the first veterans began to arrive. His work helped mobilize the Filipino American community in advocating for the elderly Pinoys. A few times, when one of his beterano friends became ill, Totoy brought him sinigang and kept him company.
Totoy’s photographs also helped inspire me to write my novel Mga Gerilya sa Powell Street (Guerrillas on Powell Street) which was adapted for the stage by the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Tanghalang Pilipino. His pictures also inspired prominent figures to support the fight for equity rights. One of them is Congressman Bob Filner, who has been the leading proponent for equity rights in Washington DC, and who wrote an introduction to the book.
“The photographs in Rocamora’s book and the words of the veterans next to the photos will not only bring tears to your eyes but also a firm resolve in your heart,” Filner writes. “Congress has officially granted the recognition as Veterans of World War II to these brave men, both living and dead.”
Totoy, Filner added, “has created a book with a powerful message, a book that should be in the homes and offices of every American.”
Totoy’s powerful images should be given even more prominence, as a reminder of the lonely struggle of the beteranos. As Totoy himself said, “Personally, I would like that my archive about the veterans will be housed appropriately in an institution where young Filipinos and Americans can look back on how much our heroes suffered waiting for full recognition.”
Copyright 2009 by Benjamin Pimentel