CHICAGO – As the dwindling Filipino World War II veterans prepare to commemorate the 70th year of the Fall of Bataan in the first week of this month, I am reminded of a Biblical quote about God’s punishment of the king of Babylon for holding the Jews in captivity.
Like the Jews, the surviving Filipino veterans may now be turning to the Bible for inspiration in their 70-year-long quest for recognition and justice.
The Fall of Bataan took place a week before Good Friday (April 9, 1942 Manila Time). This came as a result of a massive offensive launched by the Japanese 14th Army commanded by General Homma.
More than 60,000 Filipino and 15,000 American prisoners of war were forced into the infamous Bataan Death March in which many of them died.
Of the more than 250,000 Filipino veterans who answered the conscription order of then US President Roosevelt at the outbreak of war, the number of the surviving veterans, 10 of them dying everyday, should now be down to less than 50,000.
And of the survivors, 24,000 have yet to be accorded recognition by the US government. Luke Perry, son-in-law of a Filipino veteran (Filvet) and an advocate for Filipino veterans residing in Las Vegas, Nevada, hopes that one of the United States senators would introduce a Senate version of HR 210 (Filipino Veterans Fairness Bill) that would allow the US Veterans Affairs to accept the claims for benefits of the 24,00 Filvets even if their names are not found in the in the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri.
The bill introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA-12th) has drawn 90 co-sponsors, but it has been gathering dust in the subcommittee on disability assistance and memorial affairs since Feb. 18, last year.
The Senate version, S. 63, introduced by Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI) has not drawn any co-sponsor although it has been read twice and referred to the committee on veterans’ affairs since Jan. 25, last year. The bill requires the Secretary of the Army to determine the validity of certain Filipinos’ claims that they performed military service on behalf of the United States during World War II.
Perry said several volunteers are lobbying in Washington, D.C. to get HR 210 pass through the committee and be discussed at a public hearing.
I will try to get Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) interested in this bill. Senator Akaka’s press secretary, Jesse Broder Van Dyke, told me Senator Akaka is retiring in January, next year. Akaka is a consistent supporter of Filipino-American issues, and I am hoping that he may have a soft spot in his heart for the Filipino veterans.
But a son of a Filipino veteran, Father Prisco Entines, believes that behind the woes the Filipino veterans is a racist policy of the US Congress and the White House towards Filipinos.
Father Entines, a full-time advocate for the cause of the veterans, believes that the flip-flopping on the classifications of the citizenship of the Filipinos by the US Congress and the White House is proof of the racist attitude.
He said that when the US colonized the Philippines after the Spanish era from 1899 to 1946, the Filipinos should have been accorded US citizenship, not US nationals, two words which are not found in the US. Constitution. Only “native-born or naturalized citizens” are American citizens. The concept of “US national,” Father Entines said, “is a legal fiction.”
During the period when the Philippines was a colony of the US, Filipinos were holding US passports because they were residents of a US Commonwealth territory like Guam and Puerto Rico.
Father Entines insists that Filipino veterans have “triple right” to US citizenship.
Under the Supreme Court ruling on United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898), it was established that the US Congress has no right “to deprive a naturalized citizen of his citizenship without his consent.”
When the US Congress changed the status of Filipinos from US citizens to US nationals, it violated the US Constitution, whose 14th amendment reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction (like US Commonwealth of the Philippines) thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”
The US Congress never conducted a referendum in Commonwealth Philippines when it stripped the Filipinos of their US citizenships as laid down by the US Supreme Court in Mackenzie v. Hare (239 U.S. 299 (1915)), This ruling stated, “It may be conceded that a change of citizenship cannot be arbitrarily imposed, that is, imposed without the concurrence of the citizen.”
There are only a few grounds that US citizenship can be taken away. These include commission of certain “definite acts” – such as treason or desertion or residence abroad under certain circumstance.
The Filipinos, who were native-born, were stripped of their US citizenships even though they did not commit any of the “definite acts.”
The Filipino veterans, like ordinary Filipinos during the Commonwealth period in the Philippines, became US citizens by birth.
Father Entines said that if the Commonwealth Filipinos were “US nationals,” it follows that their children – the Filipino veterans – were also “US nationals.”
Estines also argued that when the Filipino veterans took their oath to the American flag, not the Philippine flag, during their induction into the US Armed Forces of Far East, they were en route to becoming US citizens. This was so because they faced the death penalty in the event of their desertion from the US military.
As a consequence, the Filipino veterans also renounced their Philippine citizenship. And if they are neither US nationals nor US citizens, what then is their citizenship?
It seems that the flip-flopping by the US government on this issue has made the Filipino stateless citizens.