Students Push for Veteran Rights
November 5, 2004 9:57 PM
Filipino students of all ages met on campus one evening to discuss an issue that concerns their community: how to help over 80,000 Filipino World War II veterans receive the full equity, or benefits, they were denied for their service over 60 years ago.
Jun Cruz, an SF State graduate student and member of Student Action for Veteran Equity (S.A.V.E.), asks a group of 20 young Filipino students one Monday evening, "Who was the president of the U.S. that enacted the Executive Order calling Filipinos to serve in the U.S. military?"
As some shrugged their shoulders or turned to look at the ceiling for the possible answer, a student yells out, "Roosevelt. FDR."
Cruz and many Filipino students at SF State have been working feverishly with other colleges in the Bay Area to help Filipino veterans receive full equity, or full benefits and recognition, for aiding the U.S. military from 1941 to 1945.
Many college students from SF State to USF to UC Davis established S.A.V.E in 2001. S.A.V.E has been a forceful voice for student activism in the community. Since 2003, members of the organization pushed for the 108th Congress to pass H.R. 677, the Filipino Veterans Act of 2003.
The bill was introduced by Rep. Randy Cunningham, CA-51.
In order for the bill to pass, it needed 219 co-sponsors and has 207 supporters. S.A.V.E plans to help reintroduce another bill for the 109th Congress, which will reconvene next January. Last year, President George W. Bush signed Public Law 108-1709, which gives health care benefits to eligible World War II Filipino veterans. In order to become eligible veterans must prove their service, something that many students feel is an injustice because of lost documents during the war.
At the end of World War II, of the 66 allies the U.S. military had, under the President’s Executive Order of 1941, Filipino veterans were deemed non-U.S. citizens, even though they were inducted into the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East, or U.S.A.F.F.E. Five years later, under the Recession Act, Congress deemed the Filipino veterans as inactive through military, naval or air service.
Jaymee Faith Sagisi, 27, is an SF State graduate and now works with the Veterans Equity Center (VEC) as a legal volunteer. Sagisi believes the U.S. government is being disrespectful to the Filipino veterans.
“It’s a sad situation, they’re our elders,” said Sagisi as a group of SF State students gathered at the Veterans Equity Center to make banners and buttons for the Veterans Day parade. “They’re [the government] waiting for the veterans to die.”
According to Sagisi, who is currently a law student, everyone agrees that the veterans deserve full recognition for their service. “It globally unites the left and right, and they know it,” said Sagisi.
Carlo Montemayor, a 20-year-old SF State student, dropped by the VEC late Friday night to help make buttons. Montemayor said he was not familiar with the issues veterans face today until earlier this year.
“I had no idea,” said Montemayor, who credits Psyche and Behavior of Pilipinos, an Asian American studies class, for introducing him to the Pilipino American Collegiate Endeavor, which educated him about issues within the community.
Professor Danilo Begonia is the instructor of AAS 355: Psyche and Behavior of Pilipinos, and he has talked with his current students about World War II and how it affected the Philippine islands and culture. "The history of World War II is part of the Filipino struggle for liberation," said Begonia.
One of the many lessons introduced in AAS 355 is the concept of Kapwa, which is a shared identity. For the Filipino veterans, Begonia sees the men as strong. "It's a Kapwa-based struggle and they do it togther."
Begonia has also encouraged his students to participate in the Veteranos Project, where students interview and record the story of Filipino veterans. "To have my students in the presence of these great men is powerful and inspirational," said Begonia. "With knowledge comes responsibilty."
PACE is an organization on campus Filipinos and non-Filipinos can turn to for information about the Filipino community. The League of Filipino Students is another organization students are involved with as well.
Montemayor also believes many students on campus are not well informed about the veterans.
“We don’t hear about it in the newspaper, television, magazines or anything,” said Montemayor. “We don’t learn about Philippine history in school unless you take an Asian American studies class.”
For Cruz and Charles Ramilo, a fellow SF State student and S.A.V.E. member, leading educational workshops on the history of Filipino veterans is a great way to bring awareness. Last year, S.A.V.E launched the Brown Ribbon campaign, which the press release addressed as stemming from the “issue of injustice toward our Filipino WWII veterans."
According to SF State’s demographics report in 2003, there is an estimated 2,200 Filipino students studying on campus. Sagisi remains hopeful that the veterans will receive full benefits. She also believes many Filipino students should become involved with the Filipino community and understand why some students are not involved.
“SF State remains a commuter school,” said Sagisi. “It’s hard to get that message out there.”
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