Rick Rocamora / San Francisco Chronicle – 2007-11-13 21:26:11
(November 11, 2007) — In 1947, US Marine Corps Major Austin C. Shofner wrote to Magdaleno Duenas, “I can never repay you for all you did for me in Mindanao.”
Duenas assisted Shofner and nine other US soldiers on a long trek to freedom after their escape from the Davao Penal Colony on the Philippine island of Mindanao. Under constant threat of recapture by Japanese soldiers, Duenas and other Filipino guerrilla fighters helped the Americans reach Misamis Oriental, where they were rescued by a US submarine crew. When they reached Australia, they told the world of the Bataan Death March and Japanese POW camps. Life magazine described it as a “tale of atrocity, murder and starvation.”
The escapees continued their military careers and retired with full benefits and recognition as US veterans. We honor them every year.
Duenas, and the 200,000 thousand Filipinos who fought side by side with the US soldiers as part of the US armed forces in World War II were promised citizenship, and with it recognition of their service and veterans’ benefits, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Congress reneged on that promise.
Forty-five years later, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1990 allowing the Filipino veterans to apply for citizenship. Many became citizens and, despite their advanced age, decided to live in the United States. They subsist on Supplemental Social Security Income and continue to wait for the veterans’ benefits that they thought would come easily.
To survive, they live in sub-standard housing, frequent soup kitchens and avail themselves of free services. They live apart from their families in the hope that, eventually, they will be recognized as full-fledged US veterans, thus entitled to full benefits.
US Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, has tried since 1992 to pass the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill, which would give the Filipino WWII veterans full recognition and some better benefits. “Fifty years of injustice still burn in their hearts and memories. They want justice in their last years. It is time that this country adequately recognized their contributions, recognize the injustice, and act to correct it. We must do this to establish our honor – and the honor and dignity of these veterans.”
Many have died waiting for justice. They all have hoped that justice will prevail and that they will be fully recognized as veterans for their services fighting for democracy and freedom during World War II.
The Filipino Veterans Equity Act (HR. 760 and S.57) is again pending before the Congress. The Rescission Act of 1946 gave nationals from 60 other countries veterans’ status – but not Filipinos. They were singled out for exclusion. The pending bill will restore this status and bestow full honor and recognition on the Filipino veterans.
For those who died waiting, I will wait for them. They deserve justice, even after death.
Rick Rocamora is a documentary photographer. He has recorded the Filipino fighters’ day-to-day lives since 1992. He is working on “H-1B’s and Immigrant Entrepreneurs – America’s Technology Lifeline.”