Fil-Ams protest in Hollywood for full recognition of World War II veterans
HOLLYWOOD – As the United States honored its war veterans (Thursday in Manila), hundreds of Filipino-Americans held a rally on one of the busiest streets in Los Angeles to demand full recognition for thousands of Filipino World War II veterans.
The protesters, mostly university students from all over Southern California, joined aging Filipino veterans in the rally in front of the Grauman’s Chinese Theater, a historic landmark on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“Taos puso naming pinasasalamatan ang mga kabataan sa pagsuporta sa amin, (We wholeheartedly thank the youth for supporting us)” said Bataan Death March survivor Rizalino Tamayo, 95, who begged off from going up on stage because of lower back pain.
No longer able to stand for long periods of time, 94-year-old veteran Roger Dagdag listened to rally speakers from the backseat of a car parked behind the crowd of protesters.
“Kami ay matanda na. Kailan pa kaya ibibigay ang aming hinihiling. Sana itong gobyerno ay magising naman,” said Dagdag. “Panalangin sa Diyos na lang ang tutulong sa amin.” (We are old. When will they give us what we ask for? We hope the government wakes up. Our prayer to God is the only thing helping us.)
Tamayo and Dagdag are among thousands of veterans whose claims for benefits had been denied for the past 69 years.
More than 250,000 Filipinos fought for the United States during the war and were promised equal treatment as American veterans after the war. But in 1946, the US Congress enacted the Rescission Act that took away full recognition of the Filipinos and stripped them of their benefits.
In 2009, Congress approved a stimulus package that included one-time payments of $15,000 to Filipino veterans in the United States and $9,000 to those living in the Philippines.
However, thousands of veterans had their claims denied, mainly because US authorities did not accept records from the Philippines, which were the veterans’ sole means to prove their service.
“We have been marching for the past 22 years and we will not stop until we get justice and equity for our (Fil-Am) freedom fighters,” said Arturo Garcia, national coordinator for the Justice for Filipino American Veterans (JFAV), which led the rally.
“We stand with our brave veterans, our lolos and lolas, in their fight for recognition,” said University of California Santa Barbara sophomore Maribel Barrera, one of hundreds of Fil-Am students who marched on Hollywood Boulevard, from Ivar to Highland Avenue.
Meanwhile, in Washington DC, supporters joined 98-year-old disabled veteran Celestino Almeda in front of the White House as he read his letter to President Obama criticizing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for bureaucratic delays in recognizing his World War II service.
“Mr. President, as our Commander-in-Chief, may I ask again for your assistance to find out why the VA Secretary has not acted on my case,” Almeda said in his letter. “I hope to receive my final honorable recognition before I fade away.” SFM
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