Summit Brings Filipino Community Together
Students and youth from around the the Bay Area gathered in support of a bill that would give Filipino World War II veterans full benefits
February 17, 2005 3:16 PM
Filipino students and veterans rights activists attended the National Full Equity Now Summit in support of two congressional bills that would restore full benefits to Filipino veterans of World War II.
The Senate and House versions of the bill, known as the “Filipino Veterans Equity Act of 2005,” would give the same benefits to Filipino World War II veterans as American veterans.
Although previous legislation has extended some benefits to Filipino veterans, such as extended health care and the right to be buried in a national cemetery, not all Filipino veterans receive benefits and none of them receive the same treatment as other World War II veterans.
SAVE is a coalition of students and youth around the Bay Area that is pushing for these sister bills to be passed. It hosted the summit at Rosa Parks Hall, and the event was sponsored by two SF State organizations, the League of Filipino Students (LFS) and the Pilipino American Collegiate Endeavor (PACE).
SF State students Princess Bustos and Lyle Prijoles, both Asian American Studies majors and members of LFS, worked the registration table at the Full Equity Now Summit, held on Feb. 12 at SF State.
“(The LSF’s) mission statement is to analyze the problems of the Philippines, the context of us being here in America, and to try to fix problems,” said Prijoles. “Some of our members are also part of SAVE, and the LFS also campaigns for veterans.”
Irene Estrada, a member of SAVE and an SF State student, started organizing the National Full Equity Summit a few months ago.
“We knew that the 109th Congress was coming up, and we needed to have more people involved,” she said. “Right now, SAVE is about seven strong and we really need to have a lot more people involved in this issue.”
Luisa Antonio is executive director of the San Francisco Veterans Equity Center, a center established about five years ago in response to the number of Filipino World War II veterans who are not eligible for veterans’ benefits. She has been working on getting legislation passed for Filipino veterans for over a decade.
“What the equity bill attempts to do is amend part of the Rescission Act of 1946,” said Antonio. “(This act) declassified, or made inactive, the service of Filipino veterans of the Second World War. For (veterans), it’s a slap in the face. They fought, some of them even participated in the infamous Bataan Death March, and yet their services are not considered an active service in the U.S. military.”
It is important that full benefits be restored to Filipino veterans, according to Antonio, because their numbers are quickly diminishing.
“According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, we only have about 8,000 (Filipino World War II veterans) now in the United States, and I know for a fact that number is decreasing,” she said. “The death rate is very high. There are also about 20,000 (veterans) in the Philippines.”
At the summit, however, the mood was not so bleak. Event organizers started off with a call-and-response chant: “What do y’all want for the veterans?” Estrada and SAVE member Jun Cruz asked the audience.
“Justice!” the crowd replied.
Full equity, according to summit organizers, refers to the need for complete parity between Filipino veterans and other American veterans.
After this rallying cry, Antonio, also a keynote speaker at the event, discussed the need for advocacy, urged students to take time to notice veterans, and recognized the two veterans in attendance. Organizers introduced one of these men after Antonio spoke - Pablito Nidua.
Veteran Pablito Nidua, who served in the U.S. Armed Forces in the Far East and was a Recognized Guerilla from 1942 to 1946, was one of the featured veterans.
“In 10 years, no more veterans can tell the stories of our past,” said Nidua, who was wearing military garb and an American flag print tie. “Thank you so much for fighting for us.”
Students came to the summit from all over California, and even as far as Washington. Around 60 people, including volunteers, were present, according to event organizers. Workshop titles included: Organized Guerillas and the New Philippine Scouts, WWII in the Philippines, and Post WWII in the Philippines.
Janine Fiel, a student from UC Davis, attended a workshop called “Filipino WWII Veteran Women,” where women veterans spoke and a documentary was shown.
“I had never met women involved in the war,” she said. “They didn’t get any recognition, but they did a lot of things. They hid troops and also brought food and water.”
Jean Osbual, a 14-year-old student at Independence High School in San Jose, also attended this workshop and said she enjoyed speaking with the veterans.
“I can see the veterans and talk to them and be proud because it’s part of our culture,” said Osbual, who is a member of a Bay Area youth group called the Filipino Youth Coalition. “I can ask (the veterans) myself, instead of hearing things from someone else. I also know they’d be comfortable telling their story before they leave this earth.”
Arturo Garcia, coordinator for Justice for Filipino-American Veterans, an organization based in Los Angeles, said that this battle for equity needs to be fought for reasons beyond fiscal benefits.
“65 nationalities were recognized by the U.S. government as World War II veterans,” he said. “The only ones not recognized were the Filipinos. This is an insult to the Filipino community.”
Cruz noted, however, that “this is the best chance we’ve ever had. People from all over have come together for the first time in Filipino history to advocate for a bill in Congress.”
Antonio agreed that “it’s encouraging that a lot of people are involved (and) that a lot of students are involved.”
Cruz said that SAVE has plans to go to Washington D.C., eventually. Until then, SAVE encourages people to do what they can in their own community. This can be done by spending time with Filipino veterans, teaching others about the issue, contacting your congressional representatives, or joining rallies.
Those who want to be a part of SAVE and work on veterans’ issues can attend open meetings every Friday at the San Francisco Veterans Equity Center at 1099 Mission St.
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