By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Which meant, basically, that most of the more than 200,000 Filipinos officially recognized as having risked their lives fighting the Japanese and who had managed to survive the war without serious injury were, as the old service expression went, SOL - shit out of luck.
The slight did not pass without protest. The Washington Post editorialized at the time, "[I]t is one thing to leave the long range problem of caring [for] . . . disabled veterans to the new government at Manila, and quite another thing to deny the Filipinos the current benefits they had earned as members of the American fighting forces." Philippine General Carlos Romulo - a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, MacArthur's former aide de camp and a future president of the U.N. General Assembly - announced 10 days after the passage of the Rescission Act, "It would be bad enough if the Filipino veteran were to be forgotten. It would be inconceivable that he should be discriminated against." And President Harry Truman considered it "a moral obligation of the United States to look after the welfare of the Filipino veterans."
Moral obligation or not, Congress cut the Filipinos out. Yet, despite the implied stain on their honor, the veterans still felt a deep loyalty to this country and its ideals.
Though the historical relationship between the Philippines and the United States, which occupied the archipelago from the end of the Spanish American War until 1946, was hardly idyllic - U.S. economic policy, for example, favored large landowners and the export commodities they produced, thus indirectly forcing many small farmers from their land - government policies were aimed at preparing the Filipinos for eventual independence. Chief among them was the establishment of a highly popular system of universal public education - for all practical purposes staffed entirely by Filipino teachers - teaching the English language and American values.
Ask a Filipino vet what the U.S. did right in the years before the war, and the chances are good he will say, "Education." Filipinos had not only learned what America was supposed to be, but, like the men on Omaha Beach, believed that it was worth fighting and dying for.
"From the beginning we were taught to sing 'The Star-Spangled Banner,'" recalls veteran Dalmacio Austria, 73. "We were raised under the laws of the U.S. We were taught democracy, the laws and the Constitution."
The influence of easily accessible American popular culture - jazz, baseball, the movies - humanized the civics lessons and effected a monumental cultural change after three centuries of Spanish occupation. "The saying is that we were 300 years in a convent and 50 years in Hollywood," says John Melegrito, executive director of the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations. "And it's shaped the way we think and the way we conduct ourselves."
But even if the virtues America preached were not always practiced, the U.S., which in the mid-1930s had already set the date for Philippine independence, engendered more genuine loyalty than any other imperial power in the Southwest Pacific.
"I think it would also be appropriate to point out . . . that nowhere else in Asia did subject peoples support and defend their colonial masters," Lieutenant Colonel Edwin Price Ramsey told Stump's committee. "The Indochinese turned on the French, the Indonesians on the Dutch, and Malaya and Burma were against the British. Only the Filipinos remained loyal." The former commander of the 40,000-strong East Central Luzon Guerrilla Force, the largest in the Philippines, Ramsey reminded the committee that more than 1 million Filipinos (out of a population of something over 16 million) died during the war. The liberation of Manila alone cost 100,000 lives and reduced "the pearl of the Orient" to the second most damaged Allied city after Warsaw.
Last June 14 - Flag Day - in MacArthur Park, the Equity Village protest movement celebrated its first anniversary. A crowd of around 200 Filipino veterans, all in their 70s and 80s - many wearing old campaign ribbons with here and there a bronze star or Purple Heart - carried American flags and sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" as they paraded slowly past the statue of General Douglas MacArthur.
Signs neatly taped to the memorial proclaimed, "We Are Americans - Treat Us as Americans," "For Former Foes - Billions of Dollars. For Comrades Nothing." And on every jacket or shirt, a red, white and blue button: "Justice for WWII Filipino Veterans - Equity Now!"
A year before, inspired by the techniques of the American civil rights movement, veterans had chained themselves to the MacArthur memorial and occupied the area around it to publicize their cause and rally support for the Filner bill. They staged hunger strikes and stayed for more than 300 days - so tidy in their housekeeping and so well-mannered in their protest that the worst any vet was ever charged with was a misdemeanor citation for distributing political literature in a public park.
The story of Dalmacio Austria - right out in front of the anniversary march and carrying the biggest flag of all - is not untypical. He was a high school kid, only 16, when the war broke out. When the call came for volunteers on December 8, 1941, he reported to Manila City Hall to enlist, but the training camp he was assigned to was bombed, and instead he wound up as one of Ramsey's guerrillas, gathering intelligence on the Japanese while he worked as a pipe fitter for the Manila Metropolitan Water District, and stealing Japanese aircraft oil to clean and lubricate weapons of the resistance. Eventually captured and facing certain death, he managed to escape, and finished the war as an infantry corporal attached to a number of U.S. units.
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