Hearing Transcript on Equity for Filipino Veterans.
EQUITY FOR FILIPINO VETERANS
COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED TENTH CONGRESS
FEBRUARY 15, 2007
Printed for the use of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs
SERIAL No. 110-3
U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE
For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office
CORRINE BROWN, Florida
STEVE BUYER, Indiana, Ranking
Malcom A. Shorter, Staff Director
Pursuant to clause 2(e)(4) of Rule XI of the Rules of the House, public hearing records of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs are also published in electronic form. The printed hearing record remains the official version. Because electronic submissions are used to prepare both printed and electronic versions of the hearing record, the process of converting between various electronic formats may introduce unintentional errors or omissions. Such occurrences are inherent in the current publication process and should diminish as the process is further refined.
C O N T E N T S
February 15, 2007
Equity for Filipino Veterans
Chairman Bob Filner
Prepared Statement of Chairman Filner
Hon. Cliff Stearns
Prepared Statement of Congressman Cliff Stearns
Hon. John Boozman, prepared statement of
Hon. Doug Lamborn, prepared statement of
American Coalition for Filipino Veterans, Inc., Franco Arcebal, Vice President for Membership
Prepared statement of Mr. Arcebal
American Legion, Alec Petkoff, Assistant Director, Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission
Prepared statement of Mr. Petkoff
Bordallo, Hon. Madeleine Z., a Representative in Congress from the Territory of Guam
Prepared statement of Congresswoman Bordallo
Filipino American Service Group, Inc., Susan Espiritu Dilkes, Executive Director, and Member, National Alliance for Filipino Equity
Prepared statement of Ms. Dilkes
Filipino World War II Veterans Federation of San Diego County, Vista, CA, Col. Romeo M. Monteyro, PA (Ret.), Advisor
Prepared statement of Col. Monteyro
Hirono, Hon. Mazie K., a Representative in Congress from the State of Hawaii
Prepared statement of Congresswoman Hirono
Honda, Hon. Michael M., a Representative in Congress from the State of California
Prepared statement of Congressman Honda
National Federation of Filipino American Associations, Alma Q. Kerns, National Chair
Prepared statement of Ms. Kerns
National Network for Veterans Equity, Lourdes Santos Tancinco, Esq., Co-Chair, and Chair, San Francisco Veterans Equity Center
Prepared statement of Mr. Tancinco
Philippines, Republic of, Carlos D. Sorreta, Charge d'Affaires, Embassy of the Philippines
Prepared statement of Mr. Sorreta
Ramsey, Lt. Col. Edwin Price , AUS (Ret.), Los Angeles, CA
Prepared statement of Lt. Col. Ramsey
Vietnam Veterans of America, Richard F. Weidman, Executive Director for Policy and Government Affairs
Prepared statement of Mr. Weidman
SUBMISSIONS FOR THE RECORD
Abercrombie, Hon. Neil, a Representative in Congress from the State of Hawaii, statement
American Coalition for Filipino Veterans, Jacksonville, FL, Patrick G. Ganio, National President, statement and attachment
Batongmalaque, Jenny L., M.D., Executive Director, Filipino Veterans Foundation, Los Angeles, CA, statement
Bautista, Teresita Cataag, Filipino Civil Rights Advocates, Oakland, CA, statement
Braga, Manuel, Spring Valley, CA, statement
Buyer, Hon. Steve, Ranking Republican Member, full Committee on Veterans' Affairs, and a Representative in Congress from the State of Indiana, statement
Filipino Civil Rights Advocates, Chicago, IL, Chapter, Vanessa B.M. Vergara, Esq., Co-Chair, statement and attachment
Filipino Civil Rights Advocates, Oakland, CA, Teresita Cataag Bautista, statement
Filipinos for Affirmative Action, Oakland, CA, Lillian Galedo, Executive Director, joint statement
Filipino Veterans Foundation, Los Angeles, CA, Jenny L. Batongmalaque, M.D., Executive Director, statement
Galedo, Lillian, Co-Chair, National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity, and Executive Director, Filipinos for Affirmative Action, Oakland, CA, joint statement
Ganio, Patrick G., National President, American Coalition for Filipino Veterans, Jacksonville, FL, statement and attachment
Inouye, Hon. Daniel K., a United States Senator from the State of Hawaii, statement
Issa, Hon. Darrell, a Representative in Congress from the State of California, statement
Lantos, Hon. Tom, a Representative in Congress from the State of California, statement
Millender-McDonald, Hon. Juanita, a Representative in Congress from the State of California, statement
Nanadiego, Brig, Gen. Tagumpay, AFP (Ret.), Orange, CA, statement and attachment
National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity, Oakland, CA, Lillian Galedo, Co-Chair, joint statement
National Federation of Filipino American Associations, Region IV, Pembroke Pines, FL, Ernesto G. Ramos, Chair, statement
Sagisi, Jaymee Faith, Student Action for Veterans Equity, San Francisco, CA, statement
Scott, Hon. Robert "Bobby" C., a Representative in Congress from the State of Virginia , statement
Student Action for Veterans Equity, San Francisco, CA, Jaymee Faith Sagisi, statement
Vergara, Vanessa B.M., Esq., Co-Chair, Filipino Civil Rights Advocates, Chicago, IL, Chapter, statement and attachment
Zulueta, Gil P., Virginia Beach, VA, statement
MATERIAL SUBMITTED FOR THE RECORD
Post-Hearing Questions and Responses for the Record:
Chairman Bob Filner to VA Secretary Nicholson, letter dated February 21, 2007
Hon. Steve Buyer to VA Secretary Nicholson, letter dated May 1, 2007
Hon. Steve Buyer to Mr. Carlos D. Soretta, Embassy of the Philippines, letter dated May 1, 2007, and response from His Excellency Willy C. Gaa, Ambassador, Embassy of the Philippines, letter dated May 29, 2007
EQUITY FOR FILIPINO VETERANS
Thursday, February 15, 2007
U. S. House of Representatives,
Committee on Veterans' Affairs,
The Committee met, pursuant to notice, at 10:05 a.m., in Room 334, Cannon House Office Building, Hon. Bob Filner [Chairman of the Committee] presiding.
Present: Representatives Filner, Michaud, Hare, McNerney, Walz, Berkley, Rodriguez, Stearns, Lamborn, Moran, Boozman, Brown-Waite.
The CHAIRMAN. This hearing of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs will be in order. We have a full morning ahead of us. I thank everybody for being here. Good morning to all of you. I am very happy to be able to hold this hearing.
Many of you know that since I was first elected to Congress 14 years ago I have been involved in this issue. And, in fact, this year marks the tenth anniversary of a protest that took place with some of the people in this room in front of the White House demanding equitable treatment in which a bunch of us were arrested. But we were able to give a lot of publicity to the issue and, in fact, made some gains.
I am hoping that with the change of leadership in the Congress, we can get past these demonstrations and protest marches and get on to the legislative path to correct an injustice inflicted on Filipino veterans more than 60 years ago.
As most of you know, Filipino servicemembers played a critical role in the United States victory in the Pacific during World War II. These brave Filipino soldiers, drafted into our Armed Forces by President Franklin Roosevelt, exhibited great courage in the epic battles of Bataan and Corregidor.
In addition, these soldiers, while putting themselves and their families at great risk, participated in many guerrilla actions in the Philippines which prevented enemy forces from leaving and prosecuting the war in other areas.
The schedule of the Japanese was held up many, many months because of the heroic action of the Filipino guerrillas.
But despite these gallant efforts during the war, Congress in 1946 broke a promise and denied these veterans their benefits with the passage of the so-called "Rescission Acts." Particularly unfortunate was the language that said that service in the Philippine forces was not to be considered active military service for the purpose of veterans' benefits.
This language took away not only rightfully-earned benefits, but also the honor and respect due these veterans who served under the direct command of General Douglas MacArthur. The "Rescission Acts" shocked the thousands of Filipinos who fought side by side with Americans and suffered brutality during the Bataan Death March and as prisoners of war.
When President Truman signed the "Rescission Acts," which included various other appropriations matters, he stated that a great injustice was being done. I quote President Truman: "Filipino Army veterans are nationals of the United States. They fought with gallantry and courage under the most difficult conditions during the recent conflict. Their officers were commissioned by us. Their official organization, the Army of the Philippine Commonwealth, was taken into the Armed Forces of the United States by Executive Order of President Roosevelt. That order has never been revoked or amended. I consider it a moral obligation of the United States to look after the welfare of the Filipino Army veteran."
That is what President Truman said in 1946, and that moral obligation remains with us 60 years later. A wrong has existed that must be righted. I urge everyone here to think of the morality, of the dignity, of the honor of these brave men.
There is scarcely a Filipino family today in either the United States or the Philippines that does not include a World War II veteran or a son or daughter of veterans. Sixty years of injustice burns in the hearts of these veterans. Now in their eighties and nineties, their last wish is the restoration of the honor and dignity that is due them.
It is time that our nation adequately recognizes their contributions to the successful outcome of World War II, recognize the injustice visited upon them, and act to correct this injustice.
To those who ask if we can afford to redeem this debt, I answer we cannot afford not to. The historical record remains blotted until we recognize these veterans.
There is a precedent, of course, providing veterans' benefits to noncitizen soldiers. Previously in 1976, we provided such benefits to citizens of both Poland and of Czechoslovakia.
I look forward to hearing the testimony of those who served during World War II. In addition, I am interested in learning more about the efforts of organizations and individuals across the country to educate the public about the injustice done.
I would yield to Mr. Stearns, Ranking Member, for an opening statement.
[The prepared statement of Chairman Filner appears in the Appendix.]
Mr. STEARNS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And I am acting as the Ranking Member for my colleague, the actual Ranking Member, Mr. Buyer, of the Committee. Mr. Buyer is absent in order to attend a funeral for our good friend, Congressman Charlie Norwood, but he sends his greetings. And he has asked me to help him out as the Ranking Member, Acting Ranking Member.
So I am delighted to support him and to be here. And I obviously want to welcome all the witnesses this morning and thank them for their testimony.
I also thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important hearing. You have been a strong advocate for many years as I served on the Veterans' Committee and know of your strong feelings on this matter.
But I think this side, we just have a question that we have for you. There is some confusion on our side of the aisle over the type of hearing we are having today. Based on most of the prepared testimony that we have seen and our staff, the witnesses are here to endorse House Resolution 760.
Our side is under the impression that this is not a legislative hearing and that if you choose to bring that bill before the Committee, you obviously do it using the regular order, a legislative hearing followed by obviously a markup. And I just wanted to confirm that that is our understanding and perhaps is yours.
The CHAIRMAN. Would you like to give me an official definition of a legislative hearing versus what we are supposedly doing today?
Mr. STEARNS. Well, a legislative hearing is that perhaps after this, you would suddenly take this bill, not suddenly, but you would take the bill, start marking it up, and it would be not an opportunity to have a normal order of going through the subcommittees. We are now in a full Committee.
But as you know, lots of times in Congress, they bring bills on the floor without going through the regular order, which is the Subcommittee has a hearing. The Chairman and the Ranking Member on both sides have an opportunity to discuss it. It goes to the full Committee for discussion and we have the process which gives equal opportunity for all to speak on it.
So we are just hoping that that is ultimately what you intend and that what we have here is what we have often is just a hearing to hear witnesses and to gather information so ultimately we can all better understand the issue because, as you know, we have a lot of new members who perhaps do not understand your long advocacy for this group and cannot respect the amount of hard work you have done and testimony and the bills that you have advocated when you were in the minority.
So I think my question is just a fair one for our side just to clarify.
The CHAIRMAN. If the gentleman would yield.
Mr. STEARNS. Absolutely, yes.
The CHAIRMAN. I thought because of the number of new members here we would have, in fact, a legislative hearing in front of the full Committee so everybody would have the advantage of that, and I would intend to move to a markup at some point within the next few weeks of this bill at the full Committee.
Mr. STEARNS. Okay. So could I ask you then, Mr. Chairman, would it go through the Subcommittee of jurisdiction first?
The CHAIRMAN. No. We are the Committee of jurisdiction in this case, so we will—
Mr. STEARNS. So we will skip the Subcommittee and—
The CHAIRMAN. We have had many hearings on this over the last decade, so—
Mr. STEARNS. Okay. Well, I think we are just trying to clarify. And I think what you are saying this morning is we are listening to witnesses, but we are not marking up the bill today.
The CHAIRMAN. Exactly.
Mr. STEARNS. Okay. Well, I think you have confirmed what we in this side believe was the case.
And if I can continue, we are here today to discuss the question of equity. Specifically what is the equity for Filipino veterans who fought alongside our veterans to defeat the empire of Japan in World War II and free their country.
In this discussion, myself and other members were here to listen to all sides of the issue. I understand, and I certainly appreciate the valor and courage of Filipinos in combat 60 years ago.
House Resolution 622 which passed last session recognized and honored those veterans for their defense of Democratic ideals and their important contributions to the outcome of World War II. No doubt about it.
The history of the issue, however, is mixed. There have been claims that Filipino veterans were promised full benefits by General Douglas MacArthur. While there are no records supporting such claim and the General would not have been empowered by the United States law to make such promises, we do, my colleagues, know that Filipino men, many of them in their teens, fought and died for freedom.
For the benefit of all of us in this discussion, at a Veterans' Committee hearing on this issue in 1998, now retired congressional research analyst, Dennis Nook, said, "Filipino soldiers apparently believe that their service was a basis for becoming entitled to whatever benefit might be given to the United States military personnel."
He said further, "In part, this belief could have been based on ill-advised promises made by United States officers. No U.S. official was authorized to make such promises, and no evidence has been uncovered which suggests that such promises were made, whether or not such authority existed to make them."
[The referenced hearing before the Full Committee on Veterans' Affairs on July 22, 1998, entitled, "Benefits for Filipino Veterans," Serial 105-44, can be accessed at http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/vets/hvr072298.000/hvr072298_0f.htm. The Committee no longer has printed copies of this hearing, but hard copies may be viewed at any GPO Depository Library. Locations of GPO Depository Libraries are listed at the following web address http://www.gpoaccess.gov/libraries.html.]
Now, my colleagues, Dr. Clayton Lorie, a historian with the United States Army Center for Military History, said essentially the same thing in that hearing. So there is something less than full clarity on what the United States intended in those days.
But we do know, as the Chairman just mentioned, that President Harry Truman supported these benefits. We also know that since then, Americans have supported additional benefits in recognition of the valor and contribution of Filipino warriors.
With that, Mr. Buyer, who is the Ranking Member, and my colleagues on this side, we are open, receptive to ideas and discussion that would help identify what is fair, what is equitable for all veterans, those here in the United States, those abroad, and the American taxpayers who ultimately pay for this solution.
So I look forward to today's hearing. I want to thank our witnesses for coming. And I regret that Mr. Buyer, who is down in Georgia, he is at the funeral of our good friend, Congressman Charlie Norwood, but he sends his greetings and solicitations, and he also looks forward to reading the testimony of this hearing.
And with that, Mr. Chairman, I yield back.
[The prepared statement of Congressman Stearns appears in the Appendix.]
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Mr. Stearns.
And we will get right to the first panel since they have other obligations. We have here with us Deputy Under Secretary for Benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Mr. Ron Aument. And we have the Charge d'Affaires from the Embassy of the Philippines, Carlos Sorreta, who I think will be joining us shortly.
Thank you for being here. And I guess you will announce it, but I want to thank the Secretary who called me yesterday and said that he was prepared to continue what had been a practice under the previous Secretary of making a $500,000 grant to the veterans hospital in Manila to help make sure that veterans in the Philippines would have access to higher quality healthcare, and we thank the Secretary for his commitment there.
STATEMENTS OF CARLOS D. SORRETA, CHARGE d'AFFAIRES, EMBASSY OF THE PHILIPPINES; AND RONALD R. AUMENT, DEPUTY UNDER SECRETARY FOR BENEFITS, VETERANS BENEFITS ADMINISTRATION, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS; ACCOMPANIED BY ROBERT WEIBE, DIRECTOR OF VETERANS INTEGRATED SERVICE, NETWORK 21
Mr. AUMENT. Thank you, sir.
Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, it is my pleasure to be here today to discuss the benefits that the Department of Veterans Affairs provides to World War II Filipino veterans. I am pleased to be accompanied by Dr. Robert Weibe, Director of Veterans Integrated Service, Network 21.
For purposes of VA benefits and services, members of the Filipino Armed Forces can be recognized as having served in one of four groups, Regular Philippine Scouts, Commonwealth Army of the Philippines, recognized guerrilla units, and New Philippine Scouts.
Veterans who served in the Regular Philippine Scouts have always qualified for the full range of VA benefits and services as veterans of the United States Armed Forces.
Ms. BERKLEY. Mr. Chairman, could you ask our witness to speak into the mike. Some of our guests are not able to hear him so very clearly.
Mr. AUMENT. Pardon me.
Ms. BERKLEY. I am sorry. Thank you.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Ms. Berkley.
Mr. AUMENT. Congress limited the rates of disability and death compensation to the equivalent of 50 cents on the U.S. dollar and did not authorize eligibility for VA need-based pension, healthcare, or readjustment benefits for veterans of the Commonwealth Army, recognized guerrilla units, and New Philippine Scouts.
Legislative history indicates that the benefits were limited to 50 cents on the dollar in recognition of the different standards of living in the United States and the Philippines.
Congress also anticipated that the newly-independent Republic of the Philippines would rightfully assume additional responsibilities for its veterans.
Under legislation enacted over the past six years, veterans of the Commonwealth Army, recognized guerrilla forces, and New Philippine Scouts who lawfully reside in the United States and are United States citizens or aliens lawfully admitted for permanent residency in the United States now qualify for disability compensation at the full U.S. dollar rate. They also have eligibility for VA healthcare and burial benefits similar to other veterans of the United States Armed Forces.
The survivors of veterans who served in the Commonwealth Army, recognized guerrilla forces, or New Philippine Scouts who reside in the United States and are U.S. citizens or legally-admitted alien residents qualify for dependency and indemnity compensation benefits at the full dollar rate.
If the veteran or survivor does not meet the above residency requirements, VA pays disability compensation, DIC, and burial benefits based on the half-dollar rate.
Service-connected World War II Filipino veterans residing in the United States can obtain hospital and outpatient medical services for any condition on the same basis as veterans of the United States Armed Forces.
The United States also provides assistance to the Philippines in a number of different ways to facilitate the provision of medical care to World War II Filipino veterans. VA has historically provided grants in the form of monetary support or equipment to the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Manila.
Since 2002, VA has contributed over $3.5 million to the VMMC and VA provided the funding under its authority to assist the Philippine government in fulfilling its obligations to provide medical care for Filipino veterans who fought with the United States Armed Forces in World War II.
And we are pleased, Mr. Chairman, that the Secretary was able to share with you his decision to continue that grant again this year based upon the Senate's passage of the House approved continuing resolution for 2007.
The Manila Regional Office administers a wide range of benefits and services for veterans, their families, and their survivors residing in the Philippines, including compensation, pension, DIC, education benefits, and vocational rehabilitation and employment services.
The Manila Regional Office has jurisdiction over all cases involving veterans of the Commonwealth Army, recognized guerrilla units, and New Philippine Scouts no matter where they reside.
As of January 2007, the Manila Regional Office provides disability compensation, pension, and DIC to approximately 17,000 veterans and survivors. This includes 6,400 veterans who receive disability compensation of which 3,500 are World War II Filipino veterans and the remainder of the United States Armed Forces veterans from all periods of service.
The Manila Regional Office also provides DIC benefits to approximately 6,700 survivors which includes 5,100 survivors of World War II Filipino veterans. Nearly 15,000 of the 17,000 beneficiaries paid by the Manila Regional Office reside in the Philippines.
Our records indicate that about 690 Filipino veterans and 430 survivors of Filipino veterans currently receive benefits at the full dollar rate based upon their residence in the United States.
We are very pleased that Congress has in recent years improved the benefits for those Filipino veterans and survivors facing living expenses comparable to the United States veterans. We believe these improvements were extremely important as they allowed VA to maintain parity in the provision of veterans' benefits among similarly situated Filipino beneficiaries.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony, and I greatly appreciate being here today and look forward to answering your questions.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, sir.
[The prepared statement of Mr.Aument appears in the Appendix.]
The CHAIRMAN. Is there a representative from the Filipino Embassy here that—would you like to introduce yourself and give us your testimony.
I think the Charge d'Affaires has just arrived. If you want to introduce him.
General LORENZANA. The Charge d'Affaires is already here.
The CHAIRMAN. Good timing, sir.
Thank you, General, for your willingness to step in. Mr. Charge d'Affaires.
Mr. SORRETA. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And I apologize for my tardiness.
The CHAIRMAN. If you would introduce yourself for the record, please.
Mr. SORRETA. Yes. Good morning, Mr. Chairman and all members. My name is Carlos Sorreta. I am the Deputy Chief of Mission and Charge d'Affaires. The Ambassador is currently out of town and offers his deep apologies for being unable to attend this very important meeting.
Mr. Chairman, may I proceed?
The CHAIRMAN. Please.
Mr. SORRETA. Thank you, sir.
Mr. Chairman, all members of the Committee, thank you very much for inviting us to appear before you and to speak on an issue of great importance to my country and to my people.
Mr. Chairman, when the war ended in the Pacific, Filipino soldiers set their weapons aside, buried and laid to rest their fallen comrades, and collected the shattered pieces of their lives. For them, the end of the war came peace and with peace, they believed they had hope.
Little did they know that although the carnage and destruction of war had ended, they would once more be entering into another battle, one that would rage and drag on for decades.
Mr. Chairman, this new battle would be a fight that would once more call upon the courage, perseverance, and sacrifice that our veterans had unselfishly shown in the bloodied foxholes of Bataan and Corregidor and the steaming jungles of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, and the death camps of Capas, Fort Santiago, and Muntinlupa.
This would be another tragic battle that would make them stand witness once more and watch as their comrades would fall one by one, not by the bullets of an enemy nor their bayonets, but by their averages of time and the pain of equity.
Today few of these living symbols of the very freedoms and liberties that we now enjoy remain. By month's end, there will be fewer still, but the Gods of war have not totally abandoned them. For in this new battle, they did not stand alone.
There have been many in the Congress of the United States who have stood by our brave soldiers, possessed with a profound sense of history and a great appreciation of the common values that both our countries stand for and share and have fought for.
Many in this and past Congresses have waged their own battle on behalf of our veterans for justice and equity. On behalf of my government and the Filipino people, let me express our deep gratitude to our friends and partners in the U.S. Congress for their continued support for the Filipino World War II veteran.
Mr. Chairman, in this battle, our veterans have also marched on side by side with many Filipino-American organizations and individuals whose resolve and commitment have given all of us renewed strength to forge on.
Many of these groups and individuals are with us here today, and we thank them for their invaluable and tireless work and for their unqualified dedication.
Mr. Chairman, the Philippine government and the Filipino people continue to maintain that Filipino soldiers who served in the United States Army, particularly in the period between July 1941 and October 1945, are veterans under existing U.S. laws and are, therefore, entitled to all benefits that accrued to U.S. veterans.
We, therefore, welcome the filing and urge the passage of House Resolution 760 and its companion bill in the Senate to restore the veterans' benefits that were removed by Public Law 79-301.
Mr. Chairman, we make this call based on assertions that are clearly based on facts and historical record. And I will not dwell on this because it is clearly on the record, but I would just like to attach to my statement a reiteration of the arguments and respectfully request that it be made part of the hearing record.
The CHAIRMAN. It will be made part of the record.
Mr. SORRETA. Mr. Chairman, Filipino World War II veterans were treated unfairly in 1946. At the critical juncture in both our countries' history, they heeded the call of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They left their families. They left their homes for an unsure fait. They fought bravely, valiantly, and with uncommon courage. They fought against great odds and they fought without the support that they had been promised.
Of the 470,000 Filipino veterans supported by the U.S. Veterans' Administration in 1946, barely 20,000 remain, 13,000 in the Philippines and 7,000 here in the United States. Those who remain, they have very little time left. Many are sick. Many are infirmed.
Mr. Chairman, honorable members of the Committee, as an official and representative of the Philippine government, I ask on behalf of a nation that has stood by yours in the name of liberty, freedom, and democracy in World War II and the decades of uncertainty after and in facing today's new and grave challenges to please finally allow these brave soldiers to leave the battlefield with their dignity intact, with the honor that they truly deserve, and, finally, with a victory that has alluded them for far too long.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Sorreta appears in the Appendix.]
The CHAIRMAN. And members may ask this panel questions. I want to recognize Mr. Hare, whose predecessor from his district, Lane Evans, was a strong supporter of this legislation the whole time he was in Congress, and I hope you will pass on, Congressman, our deep gratitude to Congressman Evans.
Mr. HARE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I will.
Let me just say that, you know, I am the new kid around, I suppose, but that was the most compelling testimony I have heard in a long time. And I want you to know, and I congratulate the Chairman for this bill, I fully support it. I cannot for the life of me understand why it has taken so many years to do what is basically and fundamentally the right thing to do.
Whether somebody told somebody and did not have the right to tell them that, I do not know. But it seems to me that, you know, a veteran is a veteran and the Filipino veterans have been discriminated against. And it is my hope that this legislation will come out of this Committee quickly and that we will have a vote on it and then we can right a wrong. And we have the opportunity to do that.
So I guess the only question that I have for you is, and perhaps, you know—I do not know if you have the answer, but, you know, you are fighting this battle, and for the Filipino veterans, I am assuming they have a great sense of feeling that somehow they have been let down by this country for what they have been able to do.
Mr. SORRETA. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Sir, the Filipino veterans can speak most eloquently for themselves. But if I may have the honor to speak for them, they have shown the same patience over the decades that they have shown when they were facing the enemy, when they were in the jungles with barely anything. It is the same feeling. Low on ammunition, low on support, feeling abandoned, but they did not lose hope, sir, and they fight on.
Thank you, sir.
Mr. HARE. Well, it has never been easy. And let me just close by saying that, as I said before, I commend the Chairman for his strong support of this piece of legislation.
I will do everything I can, Mr. Chairman, to help get this wrong rectified, and we can get this bill passed and signed into law. It is long overdue.
Thank you very much. I yield back.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Mr. Hare.
Mr. STEARNS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Let me also echo my colleague's comment about the eloquent speech that you just gave, Mr. Sorreta. My father fought in Iwo Jima, and I am well aware of the sacrifice the Filipinos made. And so I think everybody in this Committee is sympathetic, empathetic.
There is some questions that as sort of the bouncer for the taxpayers, we just have to understand what it is going to cost, and I think some of the fair questions, if you do not mind, we will ask Mr. Aument, also you.
What would this cost based upon your analysis of this bill over, let's say, a ten-year period? What would it cost?
Mr. AUMENT. Congressman, no bill has yet been referred to us.
Mr. STEARNS. I think you have to put your mike on.
Mr. AUMENT. Excuse me.
Mr. STEARNS. That is all right.
Mr. AUMENT. I said the Committee has not yet referred us this bill for the Department and Administration's views, so we have really taken no action to cost this legislation at this time.
I know in previous bills that had been introduced, you know, some time back, I believe the projected cost of legislation that had been introduced in, I believe, the 109th Congress showed a ten-year cost of around $2.7 billion. But, again, that was less than a formal estimate. And should the Committee refer us this legislation for our views, we will very carefully cost it out. So right now—
The CHAIRMAN. If the gentleman would yield for a second.
Mr. AUMENT. Absolutely, sure.
The CHAIRMAN. Before the markup comes, we will have both a VA and a CBO official scoring. The CBO gave us an initial estimate, but we believe their assumptions were not necessarily sound.
So we are working with them. They came up with an estimate recently about half of what was just mentioned. But, again, the numbers of veterans and their longevity, I think, were assumptions that were not fully, I think—
Mr. STEARNS. Well, I think, Mr. Chairman, regardless of how we all feel, we should know what it is going to cost. You have given an estimate of $1.2 billion. Our staff shows that CBO shows it would cost just under a billion.
The Chairman has indicated some of the assumptions were wrong, and I think we have an all opportunity to find out what the real cost would be.
I ask the staff go back and look at historically when the bill was drawn up in fiscal year 2006. The Ranking Member, Lane Evans, suggested an appropriation of $22 million. That would be used to give each qualifying Filipino veteran about $200 a month.
Chairman Filner in 2006 supported this plan which estimated that the cost to the U.S. Government would be around $22.6 million. So that is for one year and that was for 2008.
So we have some varying proposals from 2006 fiscal year and we have now estimates as high as $1.2 billion over the ten years. And I guess after you see the cost and knowing how all of us have seen these dollars are so important, the question would be, you know, can we afford it. If we cannot, what can we afford.
Maybe the original numbers that Mr. Filner, Chairman Filner has brought to our attention at $22.6 million is more appropriate to what we should do instead of $1.2 billion over ten years.
Then the next question is, what is the Filipino government doing for its veterans, because if the United States Government gives support to the Filipino veterans and the Filipino government gives support, how does that play out?
According to our Census Bureau, the average per capita income in the Philippines is about $1,400. So if we took what we see in this bill—and, Mr. Aument, you can help me out on this—it is our understanding that if this bill was made into law, every Filipino would receive compensation at the full rates and an old-age pension that would make his or her income a minimum of $10,579.
Is that what your understanding is also, that that would be the average income of a Filipino in the Philippines? The Filipino would have from the United States government $10,600, he would make every year living in the Philippines when the average per capita income is around $1,400? Are my figures correct?
Mr. AUMENT. Well, the pension program, Congressman, typically makes up the difference between whatever is determined to be the poverty level for pension purposes and the income that that veteran already makes. It would bring pension-eligible veterans up to that $10,500 figure you just mentioned, but it may be paying each individual something less than that—
Mr. STEARNS. No, but—
Mr. AUMENT. —than the income that they already—
Mr. STEARNS. —we could have that maximum.
Mr. AUMENT. Uh-huh.
Mr. STEARNS. And I would just conclude by saying that that would probably be higher than many veterans in the United States are making. Is that a true statement proportionately?
Mr. AUMENT. The purchasing power of that income certainly would favor the Filipino national, yes.
Mr. STEARNS. Okay. Well, my time is expired. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Mr. Stearns.
Ms. Berkley, any comment?
Ms. BERKLEY. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I unfortunately have battling Committee assignments today, so I am leaving. And I appreciate your courtesy.
I have been a co-sponsor of this legislation every time it comes up before Congress, and I am appalled that we have not rectified a 61-year wrong.
With the amount of money that the United States Government wastes on a daily basis does not even begin to compensate the Filipino veterans who helped the United States of America win the war, win World War II. And we are all better and safer for their efforts on our behalf.
I would hope that this Committee and the United States Congress move with all deliberate speed to rectify this injustice as quickly as we possibly can.
And it would give me great pleasure to be able to introduce to you, Mr. Chairman, somebody from my congressional district who was here, Rosita Lee. She was Vice Chairman of the Association. She came all the way here from Nevada to add her voice. And I have heard what she has to say and I fully support it.
And I yield back my time.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Ms. Berkley.
Mr. Lamborn, comment or questions?
Mr. LAMBORN. I yield back, Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. Okay. Thank you.
Mr. WALZ. No.
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Moran.
Mr. MORAN. Thank you. I, too, have supported your efforts and I commend you on your leadership on trying to rectify the apparent injustice that has occurred in regard to Filipino veterans.
And I also associate with the remarks of Mr. Stearns in regard to trying to find the appropriate solution to this problem, but it is one that should be resolved much more quickly than we have been able to do.
My only question is of the Charge d'Affaires, Mr. Sorreta. Can you give us an estimate of how many eligible World War II veterans are now still living in the Philippines.
Mr. SORRETA. Mr. Chairman, thank you, sir.
Sir, our estimates are, at the end of the war, there were 470,000. These are the numbers counted by the U.S. Veterans Administration. As of today, there are 20,000 left, sir, 20,000 in the Philippines.
Mr. MORAN. That are living in the Philippines?
Mr. SORRETA. That are living in the Philippines.
Mr. MORAN. And their average age?
Mr. SORRETA. Their average age, they are close to about 70 to 80, sir.
Mr. MORAN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, sir.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you.
Mr. BOOZMAN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And, again, I appreciate your hard work over many, many years in trying to rectify the situation that we find ourselves in. And we appreciate all the veterans being here. Certainly your presence here makes a statement in itself.
A question I have, if we were able—again, we have this problem. We have got problems with our atomic veterans. We have all kinds of things that we are going to be trying to work through in the next two years and, in fact, in the next several years.
But if we are able to reach a compromise, my understanding is that if we strike a deal with $200 a month or whatever, that under current law in the Philippines, that the pension that is being given there now would no longer continue by the government. Is that true? So they do not help us with the amount that they are getting now. But if we increase that by $200, would they no longer receive their pension under current law?
Mr. SORRETA. Mr. Chair, sir.
Thank you for that question. The funds that the government has dedicated to the veterans form part of a larger group of funds for all retirees in the Philippine government. It forms part of the funds for benefits, retirement, and all these funds that go to government employees when they retire.
To be fair to all the others, if one group receives more than what has been allocated to them, then those funds that were given to them would go back to the pool. So it could help out others who are also in dire need.
We are talking about retired nurses and government employees. It is part of a bigger fund. We wish we could have devoted a very specific fund to the veterans, but the resources are just not that much.
What I would just like to add, sir, is that it does not reflect on our desire not to help the veterans if they get this additional funding. They are getting support of medical, burial. All the other support that goes to a veteran would go to them except for the pension portion, which actually is also quite small. That money would not go into it. It would go back to the fund that helps other government retirees.
I would just like to add, sir, that after the war, the U.S. would have spent close to four billion. For six decades, we have carried the burden for the veteran. I am not going to quibble over where we will not be giving them any more if they are given the equity. But I would just like to reiterate, sir, that we do support their quest for equity.
Thank you, sir.
Mr. BOOZMAN. And I understand that. I guess what we are trying to do in the process of this is figuring out how much better off the veteran would be once we participated. So right now do they get $50.00 a month or $100 a month or—
Mr. SORRETA. Mr. Chairman, it amounts to about $100.
Mr. BOOZMAN. Okay. So if we passed legislation here giving them $200 a month, they would lose the $100?
Mr. SORRETA. Yes, they would lose that $100, but their net would be $200, sir, or $100.
Mr. BOOZMAN. Okay. The other thing, too, is you mentioned—and, again, maybe you all can help me with the history, but after the war, did we not contribute several hundred million dollars to set up a fund to be helpful in this regard?
Mr. SORRETA. Right after the war, sir, the U.S. government gave an amount of $200 million. We were very thankful for that. But recovering from the ravages of war, sir, that $200 million went to very good causes, but did not last too long.
Mr. BOOZMAN. Okay.
Mr. SORRETA. It just did not, sir, compared to, for example, to what was given to Europe or to Japan to recover from the war. I am not going to compare devastations between all these victims of war, but we were thankful. But, sir, it was just not enough. And we are fighting for equity.
Mr. BOOZMAN. The gentleman here, did you have a comment that you wanted to make?
General LORENZANA. I am General Lorenzana. I am the head of the Veterans' Affairs Office at the Philippine Embassy.
Going back to the question of Mr. Boozman about this $100 being taken away if and when the Filipino war veterans are given a pension from the U.S., yes, sir, it is true. It will be taken away from them because of a law that was passed in 1990.
But there is an effort now to amend that law to remove the effect of that, so that even if the Filipino war veterans get the pension from the U.S., they will continue receiving $100 worth of Philippine money.
Mr. BOOZMAN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Mr. Boozman.
Mr. Rodriguez, did you want to say anything before we move on?
Mr. RODRIGUEZ. Mr. Chairman, first of all, let me congratulate you because I served eight years on this Committee before I left for a while, and I know that you brought this issue before us not once, not twice, but every time you have had an opportunity. And I know I have listened to the data through the years, and I just feel it is, you know, about time that we do the right thing.
And I just personally want to thank each and every one of you for what you have done not only in terms of defending your own country but also being there for us. And so I want to thank you for that. And hopefully we eventually will do the right thing on this issue.
And just thank you, Mr. Chairman, for bringing forth your tenacity on this issue. Thank you.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Mr. Rodriguez.
We thank your panel for being here. We will get that request to the VA. Our regards to the Ambassador. One of General D. Lorenzana's predecessors, General Nanadiego, who we wish would be here, called me yesterday and said he was ill and also had to take care of his wife. And if you also would give him my regards .
Thank you very much.
We have a panel of Members of Congress who are here with us today. If they will join us, and then we will hear from them before we hear from some veterans from World War II.
Mr. Honda, you have been a tenacious supporter of this legislation and as Chair of the Asian Pacific Americans in the Congress, we thank you for being here. And you may proceed with your testimony.
STATEMENTS OF HON. MICHAEL M. HONDA, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA; HON. MADELEINE Z. BORDALLO, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE U.S. TERRITORY OF GUAM; AND HON. MAZIE K. HIRONO, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF HAWAII
Mr. HONDA. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee.
Ranking Member Buyer, Chairman Filner, we really appreciate you holding this critically important hearing concerning the injustices done to some of the bravest men to have fought on behalf of the United States, the Filipino World War II veterans.
Mr. Chairman, I also commend you for your tireless leadership on efforts to rectify the situation and for reintroducing House Resolution 760, the "Filipino Veterans Equity Act."
As members of the Committee know, I have been a vocal advocate for the equitable treatment of Filipino World War II veterans. I consider the recision of U.S. military status from approximately 250,000 Filipino World War II veterans who fought under the U.S. command and our flag as one of the greatest injustices ever perpetrated by this Congress.
After six decades of our disgrace, we have the responsibility—and this is not a partisan issue—we have a responsibility to correct this injustice and honor their service and sacrifice, and our window of opportunity to make these brave veterans whole is rapidly closing.
In 1934, when the Philippine Islands were a U.S. territory, Congress enacted Public Law 73-127 requiring the Commonwealth Army of the Philippines to respond to the call of the U.S. President.
On July 26, 1941, with the Nation facing the threat of Japanese aggression in the Pacific, that call to arms came when President Franklin Roosevelt signed a military order for the Commonwealth Army to serve with the U.S. Army Forces-Far East (USAFFE) under the command of the U.S. military leaders. These Filipino soldiers bravely fought alongside their American brothers in arms until the end of World War II.
With the enactment of Public Law 79-190 in 1945, Congress recruited an additional 50,000 Filipino soldiers, known as the New Philippine Scouts, in anticipation of needing occupation forces for captured enemy territories. At the time of recruitment, the U.S. Government promised that all that responded to the call would be treated as U.S. veterans for the purposes of their benefits.
As a sidebar, I want us to remember part of the history of our U.S. Army when MacArthur had to leave under orders that the Filipino veterans were still there with our prisoners of war under the Japanese Imperial Army.
We all remember the Bataan Death March. These Filipinos stayed by their side, harassed the Imperial Army in order to make sure that the maximum number of our POWs survived the Bataan Death March. Through the loss of their limbs and through the loss of their lives, they had dared to help the POWs to survive that Bataan Death March.
In 1946, just after the conclusion of the war, Congress rescinded this promise, turning their backs only on the brave Filipino veterans. I say only. When passing the first and second "Supplemental Surplus Appropriation Rescission Acts," commonly referred as the "Rescission Acts," Congress sought to reduce the amount of previously appropriated funds devoted to the war effort.
Within these bills, however, contained the specific provisions that declared that service by the members of the Commonwealth Army and the New Philippine Scouts should not be deemed to have been service in the United States military, effectively stripping the Filipino soldiers of their U.S. veteran status.
You might want to ask yourself, if you had read the "Rescission Act," that it was precisely written to only affect and impact one group of veterans. And you must ask yourself how many other non-U.S. veterans that fought under our flag with us who were not U.S. citizens but were granted U.S. veterans benefits? How many of those non-U.S. veterans had fought under the U.S. flag and how much did they receive and how many countries did they represent while they fought on our behalf?
Although President Harry Truman signed the "Rescission Acts" into law, he recognized the heroic contributions of the Filipino soldiers and requested that efforts be made to correct the injustice. And I quote, "The passage and approval of this legislation do not release the United States from its moral obligation to provide for the heroic Philippine veterans who sacrificed so much for the common cause during the war."
Since 1946, piecemeal benefits have been hard won by the Filipino World War II veterans. However, full veteran benefits are still denied. To correct the injustice, I have been a steadfast supporter of the "Filipino Veterans Equity Act," which would provide the full benefits promised to all Filipino veterans who fought under the U.S. Command during World War II.
I am encouraged by the Chairman's dedication to facilitate a quick passage of this legislation and the large number of members participating in this hearing.
As Chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), I can also voice the Caucus's united support on this concern. We have prioritized the plight of the Filipino World War II veterans as a top legislative goal. CAPAC will continue to work to educate and recruit support from our colleagues and the public.
Other members may cite the cost of the "Filipino Veterans Equity Act" as an obstacle, but who among us can refute the injustice that has been done? Congress must return the promised veteran status to the courageous World War II Filipino soldiers.
During the war, there were nearly 250,000 Filipino soldiers who had served under the U.S. Command. At this point, only an estimated 22,000 are still living.
To put things in perspective, the funding necessary to provide these remaining Filipino veterans with full equity of benefits is roughly equal to what we are currently spending in one or two days in Iraq. Must we wait for more of these deserved Filipinos to pass away to justify the cost? Is this how we should repay our courageous veterans? I think not.
Mr. Chairman, these World War II heroes are in the twilight of their lives, and time is running out for Congress to recognize their service. A promise made should be a promise kept, especially when it comes to veterans.
Bolstered by our country's sense of moral values and honor, we say that our word is our bond. If we are to be a legislative body dedicated to the ideals of justice and dignity, then it is imperative we honor the promise made to our Filipino veterans and restore their benefits.
Mr. Chairman, I wish to close with a roll call of Filipino veterans of World War II from my home in northern California, Bay area that passed away last Congress.
I call this a roll call: Boayes, Guillermo, he died at the age of 87; Carino, Demetrio died at age 91; Duenos, Magdaleno died age 91; Fabricante, Salomon died age 81; Galang, Dioniso died age 81; Gomez, Godofredo died age 83; Pelaez, Ariston died age 75. There were many more before this congressional session. There are very few left.
We talk about the cost of this. What is the cost of our honor? What is the cost of their dignity? And the cost diminishes every year as each one of these veterans pass away.
So it is my hope and desire that the Congress of WWII is still the Congress of this country of 2007. We are an esteemed body. We are the same institution with the same promises that need to be kept.
Congress must not wait any longer to correct the dishonor that our disgraceful actions has imposed upon our Filipino veterans of World War II. We can do no less than to keep our word.
I appreciate the time.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Mr. Honda.