It Could Be Now or Never for Flipino Veterans Equity

We have a lot going for us in terms of pushing forward the agenda for Filipino veterans equity.

We have not had stronger alliances in Congress in a long time. Notable links in Congress we can count on regarding the Filipino veterans equity issue are Senator Inouye (HI) and  Senator Akaka (HI), who heads the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA) his counterpart in the House of Representatives who actually sponsored H.R. 760, known as the Filipino Veterans Equity Act of 2007.

We also know that Rep. Issa (CA) head of the US-Philippines Friendship Caucus and Rep. Honda (CA) of the Congressional Asia-Pacific American Caucus stand by our side in this long struggle to rectify a monumental injustice to our aging Filipino veterans. The leadership in the Senate (Sen. Harry Reid) and the House (Rep. Nancy Pelosi) are both sympathetic to the veterans’ cause.

On the other hand, Filipino organizations who, at times, have gone their separate ways in pursuit of divergent views on this issue, have finally closed their ranks to form the National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE) after Philippine Ambassador Willy Gaa and National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) headed by Alma Kern co-hosted a summit in Washington, D.C. in December 2006.

A House hearing on the equity bill was held on February 15 and Rep. Filner has promised a House vote by April 9. Sen. Akaka reportedly said the Senate vote will eventually follow.

The situation of Filipino veterans has been an issue for a long time and many Filipino organizations, community leaders and the veterans themselves have brought this issue up before.

With respect to the immigration of the spouses and children of Filipino veterans, special immigrant status had been provided for them in the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in the 109th Congress. Hopefully, the same provision will be included in the draft bills being prepared by the Senate on comprehensive immigration reform which will reportedly be introduced next week.

For my part, I have started advocating for the immigration rights of the Filipino veterans’ spouses and children as early as 1978 through the publication of a law journal article and by raising the issue with the naturalization commissioner then. Some of my advocacy activities and articles are found on my website.

With regard to the campaign for Filipino veteran equity, I have written several columns and articles, including one that criticized the then-INS for its rigid interpretation of the Filipino veterans’ naturalization law which in turn, led to arbitrary denials of naturalization benefits to Filipino veterans. I said then that it was disgraceful for anyone, America in the least, to fail its brothers in war in their last hours by formally and finally reneging on a clear promise.

Now is our defining moment, for while the ultimate goal will be realized if and when Congress passes the Filipino Veteran Equity Act of 2007, the responsibility to make that happen belongs to us.

Our efforts must be as effective as they are earnest.

We need to view and project the Filipino veteran equity issue as something more than a Filipino concern. America, not just the Filipino community, must see and work for the Filipino Veteran Equity bill to correct a historical injustice.

Though frequently considered a sectoral issue, Filipino veteran equity must now be embraced by the public as America’s moral imperative”one that cuts through ethnicity or politics.

For over 61 years, Filipino WW II veterans have been embroiled in their own lonely struggle for recognition and equality after the Recission Act stripped them of US veteran status. The ranks of the estimated 20,000 Filipino WW II veterans today, most of whom are in their ’80s and 90s, are rapidly thinning. Many may not even see the day when their courage and sacrifice will be acknowledged alongside their American counterparts.

We need to ask Congress to act on the concerns of Filipino veterans, by contacting our representatives and senators in writing, by phone calls, via email, among others. We must also raise public awareness.

Filipino veterans equity is long overdue. Filipino veterans have been taken advantage of, and worse, taken for granted for a long time. It is our duty not just as Filipino Americans, but as decent human beings, to ensure that our heroes are not forgotten.