Fil-Am Vets aim for equity at march
November 20, 2007
STUDENTS march in Historic Filipinotown to rally for the passage of H.R. Bill 1315. PHOTO: KATRINA ROMERO/BNS
BY KATRINA ROMERO
Balita News Service
LOS ANGELES—On an overcast Sunday morning with the scent of pan de sal wafting through the air, marchers took to the streets and neighborhoods. Armed with flags and banners, the procession filled the air with chants like, “Don’t say no-no to my lolo!” and “We want justice, we want it now!”
The march was the seventh annual justice for Filipino Veterans (JFAV) rally, which took place on Nov. 11 in Historic Filipinotown. Organized by the coalition group JFAV, the event aimed to raise community awareness for H.R. 1315, a bill that would grant Filipino veterans a long-awaited pension for their service in World War II, the same pension that their American counterparts are already receiving.
At Lake Street Elementary School, supporters and veterans alike gathered to prepare for the march that would take them through the neighborhood. Franco Arcebal , a Filipino WWII veteran and the vice president of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans in Washington D.C., encouraged the supporters to fight for the passage of the bill.
“We fight the U.S. Congress to give us justice, to give us the benefits that are due us, not tomorrow, but today—now!” he shouted.
“You must make your voices loud,” he encouraged the crowd, “because the voices of the Filipino veteran are very little. America won’t listen to us, and only 18,000 of the 400,000 remain alive.”
Pension for veterans
This most recent bill is one of many that the veterans have been fighting to acquire since the end of WWII. In recent decades, the veterans have also fought for and won burial benefits, supplemental income, health care, pharmaceuticals and nursing homes. But lately, the passage of the pension bill for veterans has been an issue. With so many other issues taking priority in Congress, Arcebal said that the H.R. bill has been neglected.
“This is not a priority issue, it’s a minority issue,” Arcebal said of the bill. “These congressmen and senators, very few of them know about WWII.
They’re all very young. We have a difficult time as vets—our voice is very few.”
At least in the Senate, then, the solution lies with two people for Arcebal and other Filipino veterans. The veterans are relying on Hawaiian senators Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye, also both WWII veterans, to help get the bill passed in Congress as a rider, or a smaller piece of another bigger bill to help assist it in passage.
‘We suspect that Sen. Akaka intends to put this bill as a rider so that if (another bigger) bill is passed, our bill we be passed as well,” Arcebal said.”
Another bill also being pushed for approval, along with these benefits, is the Family Reunification Bill, which veterans could use to expedite the immigration process for family members still remaining in the Philippines.
“For some of the veterans, they’d rather have this than the pension,” Arcebal said. “Because if the pension bill is passed and you die three days later, what’s the use?”
Taking it to the streets
At the Nov. 11 march, community members filtered out of neighborhoods and churches to watch the nearly 600-supporter crowd pass through. One Cuban man stood outside his store with a Filipino flag, waving and fluttering it about. With a thick Cuban accent, he proudly announced that his daughter had married a Filipino.
On Beverly Boulevard, another man sat in his car honking in encouragement to the ralliers, while a few blocks behind, an African American woman stood out on her porch, pumping her first in support and dancing to the beat of the hip-hop music being played by the march’s organizers as they coasted through the streets.
The event itself was organized by JFAV but was supported by several student groups consisting of students from University of California, Irvine; UCLA; UC Riverside; UC San Diego, Cal State University (CSU) Long Beach; CSU Pomona; Loyola Marymount University as well as other universities. Event organizer and Search to Involve Pilipino Americans (SIPA) Community Outreach Specialist/IT Michael Nailat said that he was “presently surprised” by the large turnout.
“We anticipated no more than five hundred,” he said. “It just shows the unity that we have. Hopefully it’s a sign to the decision makers in Washington D.C.—the thing is trying to get those bills voted on and passed.”
Although the ralliers were mostly composed of students, there were a few exceptions. Several adults were present to march and least cheer, and there were also a few in uniform. One of these was Arsi Arceo, a 22-year-old CSU San Marcos student and member of the U.S. Navy. Dressed in Army fatigues, Arceo marched at the head of the crowd, helping to carry a large banner. He said that he had always wanted to come out and support the veterans, and as a student, this year was finally his chance.
“I’ve always supported them, “he said, “but coming out here with all the people—it’s so much energy, everyone sees us as we’re making our voices heard.
“I can definitely relate to the veterans,” he continued, “I can relate to them but I can’t exactly know how they’re feeling. Talking with some of them today, it just was amazing the stories that they tell. I’m only twenty-two, I’m in the Navy. They were twenty, but they were in actual combat; I couldn’t imagine that. Even right now, I know I couldn’t imagine being thrown into a world war. It’s too crazy.”
The greater cause
Without a vote this year, Congress would adjourn its session and the veterans would have to wait until next year to resolve the issue. But for many of the veterans, time is only the enemy, as dozens of them continue to pass away each day.
“Every year there are less veterans,” Nailat said. “Before long, there’s not going to be any veterans left. Before that happens, we need some kind of recognition. They need to know that people do care about what (the veterans) did, not just us in the parade today, but the whole entire country recognizing that the veterans did something for this country.”
And indeed, recognition did seem to be a part of the bigger picture for many of these veterans, not just through bills and pension received from the government, but recognition as valuable entities to the country. WWII veteran Faustino Baclig reiterated this point as he spoke to the ralliers after the march. A survivor of the Bataan Death March, Baclig said that it was important to continue to fight for justice and equality in all sectors and all costs, especially for the younger generations of Filipinos.
“My dear friends,” he said, “if we cannot get equity and justice during our lifetime, please pick up the cudgels for us and fight until you have it.
And when you have it, please be vigilant to keep it, because if the American government has done this to these people who have offered their lives and limbs so that this nation will be great again, they can do that to you anytime if they wish.”
“You don’t have to be complacent because you’re having a good life,” he continued, “that good life may be cut off at any time. Do this for you, not for us, because to us now it doesn’t matter whether we get the justice or not—we are just in the late departure of the last days in this world.
“Do it for yourself,” he concluded, “we want to be one voice, one Filipino youngster among you to be able to speak up in the walls of any government in this world, against justice denied to us, privileges that were never given to us, so that you will reap it when you get old, as we are.”