For Filipino Vets, Justice Arrives In An Unlikely Package

By Julianne Hing Feb 25, 2009

Filipino veterans with Sen. Daniel Akaka (photo courtesy of Pacific Citizen) Some days, every once in a while, there’s legitimately good news to share. Today’s one of them! Have you heard? After dozens of years of fighting for fair compensation and recognition from the U.S. government, Filipino veterans who were recruited to fight for the US during World War II have won the pension and veterans’ benefits they’ve been long owed. The lump sum payment amounts to $198 million for the surviving 18,000 veterans, with $9,000 going to the vets who stayed in the Philippines, and $15,000 for the vets who moved to the U.S. and became U.S. citizens. And how’d they win it? It was one of the line items in the stimulus package. Republican Senator Jon Kyl from Arizona said the fund “had no place in this bill.” It “was a big fat target because nobody could argue it was a job creator,” said Kyl. Other Republicans got similarly cranky about it, calling it unnecessary pork weighing down the 1,494-page stimulus bill. So be it, I say. What looks like pork to them tastes like long overdue justice to me. Let’s be clear: I’m no fan of useless government spending either. But the difference between Kyl and me on this one is that in my opinion, this money is a form of stimulus, and one that’s been a long time coming. Sixty-three years, to be exact. A Bloomberg article gives a full account of the protracted back-and-forth:

The Filipino veterans first lobbied Congress to reinstate the payments in 1946, the Veterans Federation of the Philippines says. Manuel Pamaran, who led the country’s anti-graft court, was on three delegations sent to Washington. “It was really a bitter, long, continuing struggle,” Pamaran says in Manila. “The gallantry and courage of Filipino veterans were not recognized.”

The lobbying efforts swayed Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye, a fellow veteran with a significant Filipino-American constituency. He pushed for a 1990 law allowing Filipino veterans to become U.S. citizens. Repeated efforts by Inouye, a Democrat, to guarantee compensation were defeated. The veterans kept up their demonstrations, including a months-long vigil in 1997 at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles. Representative Bob Filner, a California Democrat, joined a subsequent protest outside the White House in Washington. In 2003, President George W. Bush extended health benefits to Filipino veterans who are American citizens living in the U.S. Last year, Senator Daniel Akaka, the Hawaii Democrat chairing the veterans’ committee, supported legislation requiring the government to pay the soldiers every month. It failed in the House.

Ironically, the measure’s most recent defeat in October 2008 coincided with Filipino American History Month. So you know what? This is good news to me. Somewhere, I know, there’s a little pork that’s being eaten to celebrate this win.