Mariano Calara of Maili served more than two years as a Philippine Scout for the U.S. Army during World War II.
Filipino vets family
caught in benefits struggle
By Treena Shapiro
He received a Medal of Victory and a letter of meritorious duty.
His service did not make him eligible for U.S. veterans' benefits, however, and when he died Thursday at age 75, his family realized that it may not be able to come up with his burial expenses.
Filipino soldiers who fought under U.S. military command during World War II were originally promised full military benefits and U.S. citizenship, which would have provided Calara with a pension, medical coverage and burial benefits. But in the Recision Act of 1946, Congress reversed its position. Veterans from the Philippines have been fighting for equity with American soldiers ever since.
Since moving to Hawaii in the early 1990s, Calara had received government aid in the way of Supplemental Security Income and state-subsidized health insurance.
He was receiving only $80 a month in Supplemental Security Income, said son Alvin Calara. The benefit gradually was reduced from $400 as his family members from the Philippines joined him in Hawaii and his wife started working, adding to his household income.
Calara's wish was to have his body returned to the Philippines for burial with his brother and sister, but his family has not been able to scrape together the $2,300 to pay for the funeral expenses, and his children could only get a large enough loan to cover cremation, Alvin said.
"We still don't know yet how much money we can come up with," he said. He and his sisters are paying the mortgage on his parents' home, while his mother earns roughly $800 a month at her sewing job.
Under the Recision Act, the U.S. government declared the Filipino soldiers' duty was "nonactive" because their country was on a timetable set for independence when the U.S. Army took control of more than 140,000 soldiers from Philippine Army units during World War II.
Some members of Congress argued that the soldiers were fighting to liberate their country as much as they were fighting for the United States, so when the Philippine government gained independence in 1946, Congress decided that the American and Philippine governments would share the cost of awarding veterans packages.
Only Filipino veterans with a service-related disability are eligible to receive U.S. veterans packages.
Bills to award equitable veterans packages to all Filipino soldiers who fought in World War II were introduced in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives this year, as they have been since 1995. Both bills were referred to the respective houses' committees on veterans affairs but never passed.
Diana Holmes, the Calaras' neighbor, said she called the Department of Veterans Affairs on Friday to find out what benefits Calara was entitled to, only to be told "he was just a Philippine Scout, and there's nothing we can do for him."
"These men fought for their country," Holmes said. "These men fought for the Army of the United States of America."
Holmes said she will try to have Calara's name added to a class-action lawsuit by Philippine Scouts against Veterans Affairs.
But that does not help Mariano Calara's family now, Holmes said.
"He is dead and his widow is destitute."