Wake Up, Philippines!

WWII Filipino Veterans: From 1941 to 2010

Posted in Heroism/Martyrdom, Veterans Affairs, Wars by Erineus on March 6, 2009
March 06, 2009

1941

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.

1944

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.

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.

1946

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.

1948

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.

2009

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.


2010

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.

Special Report
Manila Bulletin
http://www.mb.com.ph/node/197966

Sadness & remembrance

Posted in Heroism/Martyrdom, PVAO, US, Veterans Affairs, Wars by Erineus on February 24, 2009

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.

What for?

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 roming@pefianco.com)

By Atty. Romeo V. Pefianco
Manila Bulletin
http://www.mb.com.ph/OPED20090224148896.html

Vets to press for equal recognition

Posted in US, Veterans Affairs, Wars by Erineus on February 24, 2009

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].”

By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 16:28:00 02/23/2009

US envoy tells vets: We’re coming to you

Posted in Uncategorized by Erineus on February 24, 2009

MANILA, Philippines—US Ambassador Kristie Kenney appealed to Filipino World War II veterans entitled to the recently approved benefits from Washington to limit their entourage of family members when filing their claims, citing overcrowding at the processing desks.

And to veterans too old and weak to personally file their claims, Kenney said they would not have to leave town because “we will find you and come to you.”

“If you are not well, don’t risk your life coming to us,” Kenney told reporters in Malacañang on Monday, her message addressed to the estimated 18,000 surviving Filipino veterans covered by the $198-million lump sum payment from the US government.

The package—contained in the US economic stimulus bill signed by President Barack Obama on February 18—allots $9,000 (P435,000) each for eligible Filipino veterans residing outside of the US. The veterans waited 63 years for such benefits.

Most of the veterans are now in their 80s and 90s, and are said to be dying at the rate of 10 a day.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs (USDVA) has received around 2,000 claims since the filing period started Thursday last week. The agency will accept applications up to February 18, 2010.

Kenney, however, reported on Monday a “very small problem we’re having right now at the embassy is a lot of people are bringing a great many of their family with them and we’re running out of space.”

“I know many people are older and they need a family member with them (but) it’s probably best if you don’t bring the whole family,” she said.

Also at the Palace, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered the Philippine Veterans’ Affairs Office (PVAO), which has been assisting its US counterpart in receiving applications and locating bed-ridden veterans, to set up “fast-track” centers for pensioners based in the provinces.

“We look forward to the speedy implementation of the provisions for Filipino veterans in the stimulus bill,” Arroyo said in a program celebrating the approval of the lump sum package. “We will continue working with the US government in ensuring that benefits and recognition are given to our veterans.”

Arroyo reminded veterans that the coming lump sum was “in addition to the present benefits they’re already getting, not in replacement of.”

“In other words, in addition to the recognition of their military service and the lump sum payments that are forthcoming, those who enjoy the supplementary security income will be able to continue with that benefit,” the President explained.

Kenney said the USDVA would also be sending teams of four to five people to 15 application centers around the country. More centers would be set up depending on the need, the diplomat said.

“Our teams are ready to work as long as they need to and to go to as many places as we need to,” she said. “We will come to where you are throughout the country, so don’t worry about having to come to Manila or the embassy personally. We’ll find you.”

Kenney also warned the aging beneficiaries against “fixers” who, for a fee, would offer to help them with the paperwork. Less than a week since the claim period began, she said, some veterans with whom she had spoken to at the embassy already reported being approached by suspected fixers.

“You don’t need any help. Come on in. It’s absolutely free,” she assured the veterans. “(They) are senior citizens. They deserve our best care. I don’t want them to be taken advantage of.”

By Christian V. Esguerra
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 21:21:00 02/23/2009

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

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

‘Better than nothing’

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

It is humiliating for a veteran, let alone a Filipino veteran of World War II, to see his service in the United States military reduced to dollars and cents. But that is the result of a six-decade-long struggle that the United States itself caused — and that may have come to an end only the other day, when US President Barack Obama signed his $787-billion stimulus program into law.

The massive spending-and-tax-cuts law includes an appropriation of $198 million for payment of lump sums to Filipino veterans of the US Armed Forces in the Far East — some 18,000 out of an estimated 200,000 at the end of the war — who are still alive. Veterans who had opted to become American citizens will receive $15,000, and those who did not will receive $9,000, or less than half a million pesos.

“It’s better than nothing,” 81-year-old Manuel B. Braga told The New York Times. The Times described Braga as “a guerilla fighter in the Philippine jungles [who] now lives near San Diego,” in California.

If the lump-sum amounts are weighed by the scales of history, not those of politics, which can measure only the limits of the possible, the sums are indeed better than nothing — but not by much. At a time of great peril, Filipinos joined American soldiers in defending the Philippines, then a US colony. When the US soldiers returned home and received generous benefits, it was only a simple matter of fairness that their Filipino comrades in arms, who fought the same enemy and died in the same battles as the Americans, or endured the same ghastly march from Bataan and suffered the same prison of war, receive the same benefits.

The Rescission Act of 1946 put paid to that; in one stroke (of US President Harry Truman’s pen), it stripped Filipino soldiers of their status as US military veterans. In the six decades since, Filipino veterans fought valiantly for US recognition (if not American gratitude) and won a few important victories, including a belated option to immigrate to the United States. But the very attempt to undo the damage of the Rescission Act narrowed the veterans’ struggle, in the view of the US Congress, to money matters alone. (Before US bases negotiators unfairly accused Filipinos of so-called cash-register diplomacy, some US legislators already thought the worst of Filipino veterans.)

It is one of history’s parallel ironies that an offensive legislative act forced by cost-cutting concerns has been redeemed 63 years later by a spending bill.

We must recognize the legislative engineering that allowed the lump-sum appropriation, a key feature of what was the Veterans Equity Bill, to finally become law. Due credit must be given to the redoubtable US Sen. Daniel Inouye, himself a World War II veteran (but in the European theater of war). It was Inouye, a staunch supporter of Filipino veterans’ rights, who inserted the appropriation into the US Senate’s version of the bill, and ensured that the provision would survive the conference committee.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has already paid tribute to Inouye. “His crucial role will always be honored and remembered,” she said last week. It is a matter of national honor that we acknowledge Inouye’s leadership on the veterans’ issue.

Inouye said the appropriation allowed Americans to “close a dark chapter in the history of this country.” A statement he released during the congressional debates read in part: “This nation made a solemn promise, and with hardly a hearing, we revoked it. This episode is a blight upon the character of the United States, and it must be cleansed.”

If only the cleansing waters were less murky.

The Filipino veterans should have been granted monthly pensions, because that is what their American comrades in arms and some veterans of the “old” Philippine Scouts received. But after 60 years, and in the dim light of the worst economic downturn since the war itself, a modest lump sum can still pack an emotional wallop. We guess most veterans will welcome this belated gesture from the government they used to serve; the disappointment is probably keenest among those who did not have the chance to serve.

Still, a nagging question remains: Why the difference in lump sums? Those veterans who chose to remain in the Philippines — didn’t they fight the same war?

Editorial
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:12:00 02/20/2009
http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/editorial/view/20090220-189930/Better-than-nothing