WASHINGTON, D.C. — “Recognition of our Filipino World War II veterans’ service and sacrifice has been achieved, finally, and we celebrate this historic milestone with much gratitude to everyone who made it happen,” says NaFFAA National Chairman Brendan Flores. “This long-awaited action by the U.S. Congress is a culmination of many years of struggle by our community to regain the rights and benefits promised our veterans.”
On November 30, the House of Representatives unanimously approved the Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015, a measure passed five months earlier by the Senate. This prestigious civilian award grants recognition to the 260,000 Filipino and American soldiers who served in the United States Army Forces of the Far East (USAFFE). President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law before he steps down in January.
After the bill was introduced 17 months ago in the House and Senate, NaFFAA adopted as a top priority among its advocacy initiatives the Congressional Gold Medal legislation.
NaFFAA’s national leadership gave its full support to the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP), which spearheaded the nationwide campaign. Several NaFFAA leaders served in the FilVetREP Board as regional directors and executive committee members. NaFFAA also directed regional coordinators to mobilize members to engage their senators and representatives in Congress and secure their cosponsorship.
Making a difference
“It’s heartening to know that all our dedicated hard work and outreach made a difference,” says Giselle Rushford, a member of the Board of Governors (BOG) and national FilVet coordinator. “We are ecstatic that our veterans don’t have to wait any longer.”
In acknowledging the leadership of FilVetREP Chairman Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba and the diligent efforts by several individuals and organizations, Flores also conveys the community’s gratitude to Sen. Mazie Hirono and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard for introducing the CGM measure; to Sen. Dean Heller and Sen. Harry Reid, for championing it in the Senate; and to Rep. Joe Heck, Rep. Mike Honda and Rep. Judy Chu, who heads the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC).
For more than a year and a half, NaFFAA’s members and affiliates, including many young people, contacted their representatives through emails, letters, petitions, phone calls, personal visits and tweets. Regional coordinators held regular conference calls to ensure that congressional engagement was moving forward. Regional conferences included workshops and plenary sessions on the veterans issue. And the last National Empowerment Conference highlighted the work of FilVetREP on the Congressional Gold Medal.
Making an impact
“To have secured 71 co-sponsors in the Senate and 312 in the House was a tremendous collective effort by hard working individuals from various national and local organizations,” says Region 1 FilVet Co-coordinator Lidy Chan of Boston, Mass. “It was also a valuable experience for me paying my district representatives with a personal visit at their Washington, DC offices. Talking face to face with them and their staff definitely raised the importance level of the CGM bill. I’m just glad recognition of our veterans is now a reality.”
Adds Region 8 Chair Myrna TF Reyes of San Diego: “The coordinated work of local grassroots, regional and national organizations made an impact on members of Congress, who were reminded of our veterans’ courage and patriotism. I am emotionally touched just knowing what we, in our own small way, have accomplished for them – given their noble sacrifices for our country.”
Securing justice for Filipino World War II veteran has been a major advocacy initiative of NaFFAA since its founding in 1997. The more than 1,000 community leaders who gathered in Washington D.C. that summer marched with dozens of veterans to the White House demanding equity and justice. Some of them chained themselves to the White House fence.
In 2007, NaFFAA also worked in coalition with other veterans advocacy groups in pushing for the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) Fund, which awarded one-time lump sum payments to veterans residing in the U.S. and in the Philippines.
“Now that the CGM measure passed Congress, we will now focus our attention to raising funds for the 20,000 bronze replicas that will be awarded to deserving veterans,” says Gloria Caoile, NaFFAA National Vice Chair Emeritus and FilVetREP Fund-raising Director.
We don’t want them to carry the burden of paying for their own award. It is our mission now as a community to provide the resources needed, and I know we can do it.”
“I encourage all NaFFAA members to work just as hard in raising funds,” Flores said. “We can start during the holiday season in a spirit of giving. Let us move forward with a sense of pride and through our contributions keep the story of our Filipino World War veterans alive.”