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RP war vets elated as US Senate OKs pension bill

April 28, 2008 1:24pm
WASHINGTON, DC — After 62 years, victory at last. And Filipino World War II veterans triumphed by never giving up against all odds, and with a lot of help from Filipino civilians and American friends.

The 100-member U.S Senate, including Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), voted Thursday 56-41, to defeat a Republican-led amendment that would have stricken out pension proposal of $300 a month to some 12,000 Philippine-based veterans who did not sustain combat-related injury or ailment (nonservice).

A House floor vote is expected to follow soon, with the same expected successful result.

The amendment by U.S. Sen. Richard Burr (N. Carolina), ranking veterans committee member, who opposed the high pension for Philippine-based veterans, left untouched a proposal to grant $911 to some 6,000 non-service Filipino and Filipino American WWII veterans based in the U.S.

The good news: Once the bill becomes a law with the signing of President George W. Bush, service-connected Filipino American and Filipino veterans living in the U.S. can apply for the non-service pension, based on a “choose the greater benefit" Veterans Administration regulation.

Many U.S.-based service-connected Filipino WWII veterans receive 10 to 20 percent disability compensation, starting at the recently-adjusted $100.

“There are no documents that will be required of them, so they can simply go to the nearest veterans’ office in their area and fill up a form," said veteran Guillermo O. Rumingan, service officer of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans based in this U.S. capital.

But he added not all nonservice-connected veterans in the Philippines or the U.S. would qualify for the pension. He said only those whose names appear in the Revised Reconstructed Guerilla Roster, or RRGR, found in Missouri here in the U.S. will be entitled to the pension.

Must-pass bill

The pension provision was tacked on to the must-pass S.1315 bill by U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, Democrat from Hawaii and chairman of the veterans committee. S. 1315 sailed smoothly, with a 96 to 1.

Akaka said after the vote: “The Filipino veterans of World War II fought bravely under U.S. military command, helping us win the war only to lose their veteran status by an Act of Congress. I commend my colleagues for supporting those veterans who stood with us."

Akaka added: “I am also very pleased that the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007 can finally move forward. This bill makes needed improvements to veterans’ benefits by expanding and increasing support for veterans, their families, and their survivors. I urge my colleagues in the House to act swiftly on this much needed bill."

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told this writer, coming out of the floor, “It was the right thing to do. It’s a bit expensive for some, but it’s not about the money."

With that vote on an amendment to S. 1315, the U.S. senate corrected 62 years of injustice to non-service Filipino WWII veterans. The Rescission Act of 1946 deemed their service under the U.S. flag as not service for purposes of benefits.

President George W. Bush promised to sign the pension legislation to President Gloria Arroyo when it reaches his desk. There are speculations Arroyo would come to the U.S. for the signing ceremony. Or a separate ceremony honoring the veterans and their supporters to the hard-earned victory.

“It’s an omnibus bill including all other veterans," not really a bill on the Filipino veterans, explained Ambassador Willy C. Gaa in a phone interview April 23 Wednesday here. But he did not discount the possibility of Arroyo coming here for that purpose. Recent presidents have been strong supporters of the pension legislation, leading to Thursday’s success.

Reactions

Gaa said in a phone interview immediately after the vote, “Of course, we are very happy the campaign for the veterans finally achieved victory. We won justice for our veterans this time around."

He added, “Next is the House of Representatives, and we are very optimistic on that. We are meeting with Congressman (Bob) Filner as soon as possible, as soon as practicable."

Veteran Joaquin Tejada said he was “very very happy." Tejada, a member of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans here, was with the ambassador and others making thank-you rounds to senators.

Veteran Rumingan, also with the impromptu delegation, said, he was elated that the dignity and honor of all veterans has been restored. “The Rescission Act took away that honor and dignity when it did not recognize our service in World War II."

Retired Maj. Delfin N. Lorenzana, head of the Office of Veterans Affairs attached to the Philippine embassy here, said, “We expected this to pass last year, but it passed this year, and that’s what matters. I’m happy for the veterans." -JENNIE ILUSTRE, GMANews.TV
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