Filipino veterans to take their fight to U.S. Supreme Court

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa meets with Filipino World War II veterans (Getty Images)

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa meets with Filipino World War II veterans (Getty Images)

LAS VEGASAging Filipino veterans seeking benefits for their World War II services have decided to elevate their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, the lawyer representing them said on Monday.

Arnedo Valera, in a statement from Manila on Feb. 11, said they have no other recourse than take the case to the highest court after a San Francisco appeals court turned them down.

“The fight continues,” Valera told the Philippine newspaper, The Daily Inquirer.  “Sadly, the decision highlights the continued discrimination against our beloved veterans.”

He did not say when the case will bed filed, but “soon.”

The Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the claims of thousands of other veterans were rejected since records from the Philippines proving their services were not accepted by US authorities.

The case was brought before the court in October 2010, after what seemed at the time a historic solution in one of the first acts of the Obama administration.

In 2009, the US Congress approved the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Obama’s stimulus package, which included one-time payments of $15,000 to Filipino veterans in the United States and $9,000 to those living in the Philippines.

In addition, the in the run-up to the November election, President Obama created an inter-agency task force to look into the records of veterans excluded from the initial payments to have their records reviewed.

Thus far, the task force has not submitted a report on the review.

More than 250,000 Filipinos who fought for the United States during World War II, were integrated into the U.S. Armed Forces on orders of then-President Franklin d. Roosevelt.

 

However, in 1946, the US Congress enacted the Rescission Act and stripped Filipinos of their U.S. veteran status, and took away their full benefits.

Through the efforts of Filipino veteran groups in the United States and their supporters in the U.S. Congress, certain benefits were restored, including the opportunity to become U.S. citizens, which several thousand veterans availed of.

The lawsuit, filed in the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in October 2010, said the claims of thousands of other veterans were rejected since records from the Philippines proving their services were not accepted by US authorities.

The Department of Veterans Affairs required documentation from a federal registry in St. Louis, Missouri, where records were destroyed in a fire.

Some Filipino veterans also said it was unrealistic to get them to file their claims before the Feb. 16, 2010, deadline.

They described as discriminatory a provision of the law that denied benefits to widows and other survivors of veterans who had died before US President Barack Obama signed the ARRA in February 2009.

In its decision, the federal appeals court upheld a federal judge’s dismissal of the lawsuit, saying there was no evidence that excluding the widows and other survivors of deceased veterans was discriminatory.

The appellate court also said that to conserve funds, the government could provide territorial residents with fewer benefits than those given to US citizens.

“Our veterans are dying,” Valera said. “In the next few years, the last veterans of World War II could perish without seeing justice.”

Quoting Felino Punsalan, 96, who recently wrote a letter to Obama asking him to issue an executive order giving full recognition to the Filipino veterans, Valera said: “As veterans, we do not beg for entitlement. We simply ask [for] the recognition that we earned with our sacrifice.”

In Las Vegas, Republican Congressman Joe Heck filed a bill that would recognize the Filipino veterans as U.S. veterans. It is essentially the same bill he filed last year which Dean Heller of Nevada also filed in the U.S. Senate.

Follow Bert Eljera on Twitter @vegaspinoy60 and on Facebook at facebook.com/BertEljera

 

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