SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (AP) — Filipino Americans who fought for the United States during World War II are hoping their long battle for equal veterans benefits will soon end in victory.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) introduced legislation last month that would grant Filipino and Filipino American veterans the same benefits enjoyed by other U.S. military veterans.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Speier’s bill would provide benefits to about 10,000 surviving veterans in the United States and another 40,000 who live in the Philippines.
“We should be considered complete American veterans, not second-class veterans,” veteran Regalado Baldonado, a retired San Francisco electrical engineer, told the Chronicle.
Speier said not providing full veterans benefits to Filipino soldiers who fought for the United States is the “grossest case of discrimination and inequality.
“It’s actually embarrassing,” Speier said. “What happened to these heroes was absolutely a case of breach of contract.”
Roughly 200,000 Filipinos fought under Gen. Douglas MacArthur against the Japanese during World War II when the Philippines was a U.S. commonwealth. They were considered U.S. nationals.
Many spent years in prison-of-war camps, lived in the mountains as guerillas, and suffered in the Bataan Death March. About half of the Filipino soldiers died.
When the war ended, the Filipino soldiers were promised veterans benefits such as health care, pensions, and college money. But Congress rescinded the offer in 1946, reasoning that the United States had already given the Philippines $200 million after the war to cover veterans benefits, among other things.
Two years ago, survivors each received a one-time payment of $15,000 as part of the federal stimulus bill, but Filipino American veterans say the fight has never been about the money.
“You can’t use money to compensate for humiliation,” said Ago Pedalizo of the Los Angeles group Justice for Filipino American veterans. “This is about dignity, about recognition.” ♦