Wake Up, Philippines!

Inouye comes to Filipino vets’ rescue

Posted in Foreign Affairs, international relations, Veterans Affairs, Wars by Erineus on February 20, 2009

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.

Political Tidbits
By Belinda Olivares-Cunanan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:18:00 02/17/2009
http://globalnation.inquirer.net/mindfeeds/mindfeeds/view/20090217-189601/Inouye-comes-to-Filipino-vets-rescue

The Filipino Veteran’s Lonely Struggle

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Heroism/Martyrdom, international relations, Veterans Affairs, Wars by Erineus on February 20, 2009

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

By Benjamin Pimentel
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 11:38:00 02/17/2009
http://globalnation.inquirer.net/mindfeeds/mindfeeds/view/20090217-189677/The-Filipino-Veterans-Lonely-Struggle

Honor more important than money—veterans

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Heroism/Martyrdom, international relations, PVAO, Veterans Affairs, Wars by Erineus on February 20, 2009

MANILA, Philippines—For these Filipino war veterans and their heirs, recognition for their efforts and their rightful place in history are more important than the $198-million compensation package from the US government.

“Our lives are priceless. It cannot be measured in dollars,” said Col. Rafael Estrada, founder of the Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Inc. (DBC), during the group’s weekly fellowship at the Veterans Center in Taguig City Wednesday.

Estrada, now 90, said the Filipino veterans “volunteered” their lives when the Philippines was still a colony of the United States.

“We were not fighting for the Philippines, we were fighting for America,” he said.

The veteran dropped by for the fellowship and left soon after because he was not feeling well.

“I don’t know if gratitude is the right word,” Estrada said. “The fact is that the American people, through their president, have finally come to the financial aid of the poor Filipino veterans.”

Not mercenaries

Rafael Evangelista, a “national commander” of the DBC, said that attaching a monetary value to the veterans’ efforts “make you look like mercenaries.” He is the son of Dr. Rafael L. Evangelista, who served in the Medical Corps of the US Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE).

Retired 2nd Lt. Emilio Aquino, who enlisted as a corporal with the USAFFE on Oct. 7, 1941, said during the DBC fellowship that he was just glad he was still around. “Obviously, I’m happy,” he said with a wide grin.

The DBC was organized in 1948 in recognition of the services of some 80,000 Filipinos who were conscripted in July 1941 on orders of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

The Filipinos were trained and organized by the US government to fight together with American troops a day after Japanese planes wiped out the US naval forces at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941.

War dead, survivors

Thousands of USAFFE soldiers died in Bataan and Corregidor, while many of those who survived would meet the same fate during the Death March, or the forced transfer of prisoners from Bataan to Camp O’Donnell in Tarlac.

Thousands more died in the camp, according to two survivors who attended Wednesday’s fellowship.

Retired Brig. Gen. Felix Pestaña and retired 2nd Lt. Simplicio Copiaco remembered burying 20 to 25 bodies a day at Camp O’Donnell. “We have no pencil, no paper. We didn’t even know their names,” Pestaña said.

Getting the names of those who died and survived, and honoring their sacrifice and ensuring their place in history was a topic discussed at the fellowship.

Evangelista said the DBC would sponsor a project to expand the Wall of Heroes at Camp O’Donnell after Pestaña noted that his name was there, while his friends who had died were not even engraved.

Through the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO), the group has commissioned Dr. Trota Jose to compile the personal accounts of the men and women in WWII.

“This is not just a history the way it’s written, but it’s the story of the men and women who were there,” Jose said.

History books

Copiaco said that when his company was “wiped out,” he was sent to Pampanga to recruit farmers to the USAFFE.

“We got them in the rice fields, taught them how to shoot, gave them uniforms and boots, and they were soldiers,” he recalled.

Apparently, a lot of the written records about the heroism of the Filipino veterans have to be corrected.

Some veterans who attended the fellowship said Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, the leader of the Japanese Imperial Army, did not surrender to the Americans at Camp John Hay as recorded in history books but was captured by Igorot volunteer soldiers in the Mountain Province.

Jose’s book, to be titled “Defending Bataan and Beyond” and set for release in October, will set the records straight.

By Fe Zamora
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:32:00 02/19/2009

Lawmaker says: Suspend VFA if US won’t hand over Smith

Posted in DOFA, Foreign Affairs, Treaties, VFA by Erineus on February 11, 2009

MANILA, Philippines — The country can revoke the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) should the United States refuse to comply with the Supreme Court ruling to place convicted rapist Daniel Smith under Philippine custody, a lawmaker said on Wednesday.

“Now the Americans will be tested, whether they respect the primacy of the Supreme Court and agree to place Smith under Philippine custody. Their failure to do so would be a reason for the Philippines to suspend or even terminate the VFA,” Muntinlupa Rep. Rozzano Rufino Biazon said.

But militant lawmakers have a different take on the ruling, which also upheld the constitutionality of the VFA.

Bayan Muna (People First) Representative Teodoro Casiño said a bigger issue than Smith’s custody is the Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) joint military exercises being conducted under the VFA.

Casiño said Bayan Muna is considering filing another Supreme Court case to question the supposedly permanent presence of US troops in the country.

Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza called the VFA an “affront to the country’s sovereignty.”

“With this decision, the courts have virtually given the United States a free hand in dealing with criminal offenders from the US military and dims the hopes of attaining justice for women and children victims of abuse and violence,” Maza said in a statement.

“We can expect more impunity now that the Supreme Court has rendered our courts limp and toothless in the face of US criminal violations,” she said.

By Leila Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:08:00 02/11/2009