by Alexa Pritchard
The Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Act of 2009 was intended to reimburse the Filpino-American veterans for their brave contributions in the Philippines by awarding $15,000 to each U.S. homeowner and $9,000 to each Filipino homeowner. However, the act had not worked out as hoped.
(continued) The American Coalition for Filipino Veterans, a strong and active association fighting for the rights of Filipinos that all war veterans should be given, had chained themselves to the White House fence and started petitions after expressing concern for years that the act needed to be implemented.
In 2009, Barack Obama signed the act to honor the Filipinos who had not been recognized for their contributions to the war, after visiting and getting to know soldiers at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig, the headquarters for the Philippine army. Obama designated 198 million dollars to support the remaining surviving veterans. Despite being rewarded, many were still upset about the fact that for decades school and hospital benefits were denied to these veterans, putting many who risked their lives at risk or in poverty, while some still have not received the money due them at all.
Franco Arcebal, a leader of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans, commented to CNN about the act that, “It does not correct the injustice and discrimination done to us 60 years ago… we were not granted school benefits. We were not granted hospital benefits. And in 60 years, several billion dollars were saved by not paying 250,000 of us.” The White House reported in defense that because the documents of who did and did not serve in the war “are not public”, it is difficult to go through the millions of applicants and decipher who did contribute from those who just wanted to collect some money.
While many were against the Act and how long it took to come about, in the publication, Pinay Guerillas: The Unsung Heroics of Filipina Resistance Fighters During the Pacific War, the author speaks almost positively about the Act. Magdalena Leones, an overqualified veteran and Filipino guerilla, got rewarded for her work with a sum of $15,000 and was later flown out for military honor and funeral in 2016. Despite Leones having a positive experience, the government still had not acknowledged other Filipinos early on who were left hopeless for years, dying with debt and fewer opportunities than many other American war veterans had been granted for decades.
As Arcebal said, many are left heated over the fact that despite George W. Bush and Bill Clinton recognizing during the late 1990s and early 2000’s that the Act needed to be established, it only came into effect after over 235,000 soldiers and other participants apart of the war efforts had already passed. Another issue that was debated was that many government officials thought it was too late and a waste of money to reward veterans who were considered very old. Like Franco Arcebal, veteran Celestino Almeda, who was interviewed by CBS News back in 2016, continued to wait for his compensation of money even reaching 99. He said that “before I close my eyes forever, I want to know that I am recognized as a veteran of WWII in the Philippine theatre of war”. Serving over 7 decades prior, Almeda had been peacefully fighting for his rights that should be granted by the United States of America.
Many Filipinos remain frustrated that even with paperwork proving evidence of serving, the rewards were not given. Also, many think that respects were being paid too late and have hence left families in shambles, unable to support themselves; because after the veteran has already passed, the spouse is unable to qualify. This meant that spouses who were getting older were unable to support themselves due to the debt that veterans had faced from absolutely no support from the government, leaving them hopeless. More than the money, it was about the acknowledgment of the hard work and dedication that the veterans had once contributed. Their lives were dedicated to the service of their country yet were never even recognized for it because the act was signed after many had already passed away.