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Filipino Veterans Fairness bill filed at US Congress

A United States lawmaker filed on Thursday (US time) a bill that seeks to make all Filipino veterans of World War II eligible for the same benefits that other US veterans receive. California’s 12th district representative Jackie Speier filed on January 6 the Filipino Veterans Fairness Act of 2011, which seeks to redefine “certain service in the organized military forces of the Government of the Commonwealth of the Philippines and Philippine Scouts" as “active service" with corresponding benefits. The text of the bill is not yet available, as it has yet to be introduced on the floor at the US House of Representatives. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. According to the Speier’s website, the bill aims to repeal the Rescission Act of 1946, which stripped some 250,000 Filipino WWII veterans of full benefits as American veterans, as one of the 66 allied nationalities who fought for the US during the war. “The Filipinos veterans were promised benefits by President Franklin D. Roosevelt but Congress passed an act in 1946 that stripped them of their benefits. (This) legislation restores the benefits," a notice on the lawmaker’s website read. The bill likewise proposes to invalidate the “quit claim" or the waiver of the right of Filipino veterans to receive future benefits, like a lifetime monthly pension, as provided for in the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) of the $787-billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Missouri List The bill also seeks to recognize the US military service of Filipino veterans whose eligibility can be based not only on the Missouri List, the official record of the US army personnel, but also from all military records that would prove their military service during the war. The Missouri List, being kept at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri, was gutted by fire in 1973 and as much as 80 percent of the original list of soldiers from 1912 to 1960 was lost, according to a press statement of Ago Pedalizo, president of the Justice for Filipino-American Veterans, and Arturo Garcia, a veterans supporter. “I am 93 years old now and all I want before I die is (for) the US government (to) recognize me as (a) full American veteran," said Felino Punsalan, a Filipino WWII veteran whose application for lump sum benefit was denied because his name was not included in the Missouri List. “This is not only a matter of just compensation but of honor and justice," he added. In a May 4, 2009 letter, Scott Levins, Assistant Director For Military Records, certified that “(n)one of the claim folders in the Philippine Republic were destroyed or damaged by the fire of 1973. All 1.4-million claim folders were recovered, as were the archival roster." The list is supposed to record over 400,000 soldiers and guerillas of the United States Armed Forces of the Far East, about 386,000 of them were Filipinos. Under the ARRA, which was signed in 2009 by US President Barack Obama, Filipino WWII veterans are qualified to get a lump sum benefit of $9,000 (P418,500), while Filipino-American veterans who live in or have returned to the Philippines are entitled to $15,000 (P697,500) each. A week before the deadline of the filing for benefits, however, only 12,600 veterans were found eligible for benefits, even as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) estimated that there were at least 40,000 surviving veterans living in the Philippines and 11,000 in the U.S. To date, the DVA received 41,000 claims for the lump sum benefits so far. Lawsuit vs Veterans Affairs Last year, Filipino veterans and widows filed a class lawsuit against the DVA for denying at least 42 percent of the 41,000 claimants. “Justice is never begged for; we got to fight for it," said Washington, DC-based Arnedo Valera, lead attorney of the law suit and executive director of the Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC). A separate lawsuit was initially filed in San Francisco court demanding that the eligibility of WWII veterans be not restricted to the Missouri List. “The US government abandoned the brown American soldiers who victoriously defended an American territory and the principles of democracy in Asia. Now is the chance to redeem herself," Pedalizo said in a statement. “We can no longer afford to have half-Americans," Speier likewise declared during the election campaign last year, referring to Filipino WWII veterans who received partial benefits but were never treated as full American, veterans and thus not qualified for full benefits. Speier, Pedalizo and Punsalan, as well as some 40 Filipino veterans, will hold a press conference in California on Monday (US time) to introduce the bill to the public. - JA/KBK, GMANews.TV