May 22, 2013


By Marivir R. Montebon

New York — War veteran Felino Punzalan may have to wait till eternity when the US government will finally give the full benefits to Filipino World War II veterans for having served the war that won America as the single most powerful country in the world.

Punzalan, a frontliner in claiming those equity benefits, passed away peacefully in his sleep early May 2013 in San Francisco, California.  He has yet to see justice meted for himself and his colleagues who are in their twilight years.

He served the World War II but because his name was not in the Missouri List, he was unable to get any benefit from the US government as one of its freedom fighters. He died fighting for his right, at age 95.

The MHC had accorded Punzalan a Lifetime Achievement Award during its 2011 People’s Ball celebration in Washington, DC for his dedication to claim full entitlement and benefits to WW II Filipino veterans.

The aging Philippine soldiers have ceaselessly campaigned for Pres. Obama to extend full benefits to Filipino veterans who until now have been denied the corresponding benefits as war heroes.  All the other WWII veterans of the 65 allied countries were given full benefits by the US government, except the Filipino soldiers.

Punzalan, and the other Filipino soldiers, call this institutionalized racial discrimination.

Two groups, under the Justice for Filipino-American Veterans (JFAV), have lobbied for their equal protection, one belongs to the Filipino veterans and the other group is composed of widows and children of the veterans who passed away.

Recently, the veterans found an ally in the office of Democratic US Senate Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid-NV who promised to work closely with equity champion Senator Brian Schatz-HI and other leaders to bring about the passage of S690, “The Filipino Veterans Fairness Act of 2013,” on the floor.

This came as a result of the week long lobbying by volunteers of the JFAV at the Capitol. The office of Senator Durbin recommended either to right away co-sponsor or vote for the bill when it’s on the floor. On June 5, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, headed by Democratic Chairman Senator Bernie Sanders decided to conduct hearing for the Fairness Act and other bills related to veterans’ bills after it was cancelled last May 15.

Schatz was given the right to stand up and state support for the bill he introduced. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski- AK together with Senators Mazie Hirono- HI and Mark Begich- AK co-sponsored his bill.

In the House, Rep. Jackie Speier- CA introduced a companion bill with 33 co-sponsors including Republican Joe Heck- NV. Schatz called on his colleagues in Congress to join him in moving swiftly to pass this legislation, “so that we can finally fulfill the promise of equal rights for thousands of veterans across the country, and fully honor the men and women who served our country so bravely in a time of war.”

JVAC coordinator Arturo Garcia welcomed the bill of Sen. Schatz. “The Fairness Act by Senator Schatz provides

unconditional recognition and full compensation while the Promise Act by Senator Heller simply affirms the lump sum payment for pain and suffering, and minimizes benefits,” said Garcia.

He added, “Fairness Act provides lifetime monthly pensions for both veterans and widows. The other bill does not even talk of equity at all nor recognize the rights of widows to receive benefits.They are not complementary as the other bill negates the core provisions of the Fairness Act that deals with full recognition, full compensation, racial equality, and inclusion of survivors as beneficiaries.”

Aside from lobbying at the Capitol, the veterans are asking a certiorari on their case before the Supreme Court, after the Court of Appeals in California affirmed the decision of the district court to dismiss their benefit claims in February this year.

A certiorari is a writ that the Supreme Court issues to review a lower court’s judgment for legal error where no appeal is available as a matter of right.

As their legal counsel, Arnedo Valera of the MHC posed two questions before the Supreme Court on a writ of certiorari filed early May: (1) Whether or not the US Court of Appeals committed reversible error in holding that a due process challenge before the District Court on the VA’s exclusive reliance on records from the NPRC to verify service history of the petitioning Filipino War Veterans is precluded by 38 USC §511(a), the jurisdiction-stripping of the Veterans’ Judicial Review Act (VJRA). And (2) Whether or not the US Court of Appeals committed reversible error in holding that the constitutional rights of the petitioners to equal protection are not violated by Sec. 1002 of ARRA 2009 notwithstanding that it provides to US citizen Filipino War Veterans whose service has been recognized as active military service, and their surviving spouses, less benefits than what other US war veterans receive.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals released a decision February 7, 2013, affirming the district court’s earlier decision to dismiss the case of Filipino WW II veterans and widows for failure to state a claim and for lack of subject matter jurisdiction claims.

Valera, in his argument before the Court of Appeals in California on behalf of the veterans, said that because the

Filipino veterans were duly recognized as war heroes through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, they have to be given US citizenship and as such must receive all the same benefits as their American counterparts. Valera further argued that the process of identifying the veterans was problematic, with only the Missouri List as sole reference.  There were thousands more of veterans who participated in the war who were not included in the list.

“I gave my life as a USAFFE guerrilla defending the US during the war, and now I got this letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) saying that my name was not in the ‘Missouri List’, therefore I am not an American veteran and I cannot receive any payment, “ said war veteran Regalado Baldonado. “This is ridiculous.”

Under the Rescission Act of 1946, the Filipinos were singled out from the 66 Allied nationalities not to receive full benefits. After long arduous years of campaigning, 63 years later, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed in 2009.

From this law was created the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) Fund where Filipino veterans were given a lump sum of $15,000 (those in the Philippines were to be given $9000 quit claim benefits) as payment for pain and suffering in defense of the US, instead of the monthly pensions, educational benefits, and other equity benefits accorded to a US veteran.

To the veterans, the quit claims was a far cry from the full benefits they deserved, as their local counterparts were recognized and given benefits as full US citizens as entitlement and compensation to the war.

Adding insult to injury, the FVEC has excluded about 24,000 Filipino veterans from receiving the lump sum benefit, out of the estimated 41,000 veterans in the US and the Philippines. Most of the widows were denied since the law did not cover those who became widows before the enactment of the law.

The veterans questioned the Department of Veteran’s Affairs exclusive reliance on the “Missouri List” as official record of US military service. The list was burned down in 1973 and as much as 80% of the list from 1912 to 1960 was lost.

The MHC, through Valera, thus joined the call for Pres. Obama to take action on the case of the Filipino war veterans.

“They are the heroes of democracy. It is but proper that we give what is due them,” he said.

The remaining Filipino soldiers, like the late Punzalan, have steadfastly continued to lobby for their demands in court and among sympathetic legislators with what little time they have. #


Lobbying at Sen. Schatz’s office


War veteran Felino Punzalan: Waiting till eternity


Valera and the vets in Congress. Punzalan at the left-most seat.

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