JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka spoke yesterday to Filipino World War II veterans during a gathering to honor Akaka for his efforts on their behalf in the Senate. About 40 vets and spouses were present during the meeting at the Prince Kuhio Federal Building's cafeteria.
Filipino veterans are recognized for their WWII service
Soldiers from the Philippines who fought beside Americans during World War II hope their long wait for veteran benefits will soon be over.
"We deserve to get a benefit for our sacrifices," said 84-year-old Leon Tabaniag. "We are now in our twilight, and we want to get a benefit before we move on."
About 40 Filipino veterans met yesterday at the Prince Kuhio Federal Building in Honolulu with U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka in hopes that Congress will finally treat them the same as American fighters for their wartime contributions.
A vote on the proposal is pending in the U.S. House after the U.S. Senate passed it in April. The House is expected to take action on it this year.
"It's more honorable to be receiving a pension that to be receiving no help from the government," said 83-year-old Feliciano Barroga Jr.
Filipinos fought against Japan during World War II as part of the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East. The United States controlled the Philippines as a commonwealth during World War II and was responsible for the islands' foreign affairs and national defense
When the Philippines became an independent country in 1946, Congress took away the pension benefit.
The cheering veterans gathered in the building's cafeteria to thank Akaka, himself a World War II veteran, for helping to get the measure approved in the Senate.
"They're getting what they deserve," said Akaka, D-Hawaii, who sponsored the bill. "To me, that's so powerful to restore their status as U.S. veterans."
Military pension benefits in the United States provide about $900 per month to veterans in 2008, with more money given depending on the number of dependents and medical support needed. World War II veterans living in the Philippines would only receive about $300 per month.
The pension provision is part of a broader bill called the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007. The bill does not provide any back pay for the last 62 years Filipinos have gone without veteran benefits.
Salome Calderon, a widow whose husband fought for the United States during the war, said Filipinos should be treated with respect and dignity, just like other veterans.
"In the United States, they're only receiving Social Security income. Please help us because we are old already, and we want something done," she said.
She urged Filipinos to write letters to their congressional representatives asking them to pass the bill. If approved, it would need President Bush's signature to go into effect in May 2009.
Opponents of the measure have said money could be better spent on housing, education and burial assistance for American veterans.
But Akaka said both Democratic and Republican leaders in the House have signaled their support for the proposal, which passed the Senate 96-1.
"I am very happy because the U.S. has finally decided to give the veterans our benefits," 87-year-old Lodovico Guanzon said.