Pinoy WWII vets still top Fil-Am concern

By Rodney Jaleco, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 19 2010 03:49 PM | Updated as of Oct 19 2010 11:49 PM

WASHINGTON D.C. - We can’t blame Democratic congressional candidate Ben Frasier for promising to support bills for Filipino World War II veterans if he wins on Nov. 2.

But Frasier, who’s vying for the 1st District of South Carolina, is no stranger to Filipinos – after all, he’s been married to one for the past 28 years.

Zenaida Frasier, a native of San Antonio, Nueva Ecija, Zenaida runs the family business – a detective agency, driving school and limousine service in Rockville, Maryland.

She is also one of his biggest fund-raisers. She claims to have raised a significant amount from Fil-Ams in the Metro DC region, although Frasier is running in South Carolina’s historic Charleston region where there are very few Fil-Ams.

“It’s always been his dream to serve his people,” Zenaida says of her husband’s maiden foray in national politics.

“He’s also committed to helping Filipinos, by opening more job opportunities, working on immigration reforms and giving justice to Filipino veterans,” she explained.

Filvets still hot button issue

The plight of Filipino World War II veterans remains a hot button issue for the Fil-Am community.

Before it adjourned last month for the campaign season, the US Senate passed a resolution recognizing October as Filipino American History Month.

“Filipino American servicemen and servicewomen have a longstanding history serving in the Armed Services, from the Civil War to the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, including the 250,000 Filipinos who fought under the United States flag during World War II to protect and defend this country,” the resolution read.

The Senate acknowledged that the “roles of Filipino Americans and other people of color have been overlooked” by American history.

Historic contribution: Pinoy war heroes

The resolution cited, for instance, that nine Filipino Americans have won the Congressional Medal of Honor – America’s highest award for valor.

They include Pvt. Jose Nisperos of San Fernando, La Union, a soldier in the 34th Company of the Philippine Scouts who became the first Asian American to win the coveted medal; Navy Fireman 2nd Class Telesforo Trinidad of Aklan who continues to hold the distinction of being the only Asian American sailor to receive the Medal of Honor during peacetime; and Sgt. Jose Calugas of Leon, Iloilo who earned the medal during the battle at Culis, Bataan on Jan. 16, 1942.

It resolved to “renew efforts toward the research and examination of history and culture to provide an opportunity for all people in the United States to learn and appreciate more about Filipino Americans and their historic contributions to the Nation”.

In fact, those “historic contributions” are still questioned by even some in Congress who have blocked full equity and recognition for surviving Filipino World War II veterans.

The government granted last year a one-time lump sum payment for Filipino veterans in the US and the Philippines.

The Department of Veterans Administration (DVA) reported that as of Sept. 1, 2010, they have received a total 41,562 applications for the lump sum -- $9,000 for those in the Philippines and $15,000 for those living in the US.

More veterans denied

More applications have been rejected than granted (49% vs 41%). The DVA denied the applications of 20,492 veterans. Over 4,000 more applications are pending.

A group of veterans and veterans’ widows filed recently a class suit to compel the government to accept other evidence as proof a veteran served with the US Armed Forces in World War II, as well as allow widows to collect payments for deceased but qualified veterans.

Ben de Guzman, executive director of the National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE), revealed that in a meeting of the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders with Deputy Director Christina Lagdameo, “we made it clear that our veterans continues to be a priority for the Filipino American community.”

Despite the lack of progress on immigration reforms, De Guzman said they were encouraged that the Filipino World War II Veterans Reunification Bill was included in S-3932, the latest immigration reform measure introduced by Sen. Bob Menendez.

On various fronts, it’s clear the Filipino veterans issue remains a top concern for Fil-Ams.