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Who's Got Our Filipino WWII Veterans' Backs? A Look Back for a Better Look Forward

The Filipino American community is shaping up to be a critical constituency in the upcoming Presidential election.  Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial group, and Filipino Americans are the second largest contingent in this increasingly important demographic.  At the same time, we have higher levels of undecided voters and Filipino Americans in particular, demonstrate almost an equal split between undecided voters and Obama supporters, with a slight lead for Romney supporters.  In an election where undecided voters are at a premium, significant populations of Filipino Americans in battleground states such as Nevada, Virginia, and Florida are poised to be a critical demographic, if not the missing piece of the Presidential Election puzzle.  It is a puzzle though, that President Obama and the Democratic party have been working on for a long time, and are only now being joined by Republicans looking for short term victories despite years of neglect and obstruction. 

 I don’t make this accusation lightly.  I’m proud of the work our community has done to hold both sides of the aisle accountable to our communities.  I’ve worked for over a dozen years on behalf of our Filipino WWII veterans, and I have enjoyed working with our Republican brothers and sisters to exercise their voice to their leadership to address the needs of our aging veteranos.  Time and again though, it’s been the Democrats that have risen to the occasion.  Throughout the 90's and into the 2000’s, while the Republicans controlled the Congress, legislation on Filipino WWII veterans stalled, and only piecemeal progress was made. 

It was not until the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees were headed by Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA)- now currently running for mayor of San Diego, CA, and the retiring Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) when veterans legislation began to move in earnest.  Then Senator Obama issued a public statement when he cosponsored the Senate version of the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill, which was the first ever of its kind to pass in April 2008.  Action by the House Republicans shuttled that bill, and every House and Senate Republican voted against the final legislation in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that ultimately gave us the victory for our veterans that we now fight to maintain.  President Obama’s Administration has continued to work with us since that law has passed and this year after gathering information from our veterans in a special VA White House briefing in January, recently formed a special Interagency Working Group to better address our veterans’ needs.  On the other hand, efforts like a bill that Senator Heller (R-NV) has only introduced in the heat of the election season with no possibility of passing and are really intended to mollify supporters while the real work has been done by members such as Shelly Berkley (D-NV) who has worked on bills such as the full equity Filipino WWII Veterans Fairness Act (HR 210) for years.

I gained a powerful political insight in talking with my family about the Filipino American community recently.  Aunties whose votes I had already assumed based on the vocal positions they’ve taken were still adamant in not having “officially” made up their minds.  In a political election where so much is at stake, being undecided for them is not a question of ambivalence or fence-sitting, it is a sincere desire to have as much information before making an important decision. 

 There is no more important decision before us now than the election of our President this November.  For all our Filipino American kababayan, the issue of Filipino WWII veterans has been a high priority for the entire community, and has been the main issue that has kept Washington’s attention on for more than a dozen years.  But in all my time working on this issue, Democrats like Rep. Bob Filner, Senator Daniel Akaka, and yes, President Obama have been the ones working most closely with our veterans to turn 60 years of struggle, into victory and a path forward.  Now is not the time to turn away from that path.


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