Senate Approves Congressional Gold Medal Bill for Filipino World War II Veterans

Washington, D.C. The U.S. Senate today approved by unanimous consent S. 1555, the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal (CGM) Act of 2015, a measure that would grant national recognition to the more than 260,000 Filipino and American soldiers who served under the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE).

Introduced in June last year by U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), with U.S. Senator Dean Heller (D-NV) as lead co-sponsor, the bill gained bipartisan co-sponsorship of 72 U.S. Senators – a super majority that demonstrates the support needed to merit moving the bill in an expedited manner. Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) also played key roles in moving S. 1555 this far.

“Our veterans and their families have been waiting for this awesome news,” says Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (Ret), chair of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP). “They will be very pleased and proud to know that the U.S. has not forgotten their wartime service to this country. We call on the U.S. House of Representatives to follow the Senate’s lead and finally make this long-awaited recognition a reality for our soldiers who performed their duty with honor and uncommon valor.”

To date, the House companion bill, HR 2737, which was also introduced in June last year by U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI-2), with U.S. Rep. Joseph Heck (R-NV-3) as lead co-sponsors, currently has 168 co-sponsors. It is expected, however, that today’s Senate’s action will help build momentum to gather more bipartisan support in the House.

“We are extremely grateful to Sen. Hirono and Sen. Heller for their personal commitment and determination to push this bill through,” says Marie Blanco, FilVetREP Vice Chair. “They championed this very important legislation because they appreciate the urgency of getting it passed this year.”

Blanco also thanked the Senate Banking Committee, which has jurisdiction over CGM legislation, for “giving the green light to pass this bill by unanimous consent. We are appreciative as well of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), U.S, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) for their leadership in promptly facilitating the approval process.”

Informed of this Senate action, 85-year-old Rudy Panaglima, a Filipino World War II veteran of Arlington, Va. welcomed the news with a sense of joy and relief. “My comrades and I have been waiting for more than 70 years, so I am delighted that we will finally be recognized,” he said. “I can only say ‘God bless America’ for doing the right thing.”

Panaglima is among 15,000 surviving veterans residing in the U.S. and the Philippines. Most of them are in their mid 90’s. They served in the USAFFE as Philippine Scouts, members of the Philippine Commonwealth Army and Recognized Guerillas.

The Congressional Gold Medal (CGM) is the highest award bestowed by U.S. Congress to an individual or group who performed a significant achievement that has impact in American history and culture.

Learn more about the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project here.

National Actions to Commemorate the 74th Anniversary of Bataan Death March

Prisoners In Bataan

Japanese troops guarding Filipino and American prisoners in Bataan. The prisoners were forced to march over 62 miles from Bataan to Tarlac in what became known as the Bataan Death March. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


Washington, DC– The Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP) is commemorating the heroism of more than 260,000 Filipino and American soldiers of World War ll by renewing its call to Congress to pass the Filipino Veterans Congressional Gold Medal Award of 2015. April 9 marks the 74th anniversary of the fall of Bataan, one of the critical moments of World War II in the Pacific theater.

Across the country, advocates will be holding community events, including wreath-laying ceremonies, to pay tribute to these soldiers who fought valiantly in Bataan and endured the Bataan “Death March” 74 years ago.

In San Francisco, Calif., the Philippine Consulate General, the Bataan Legacy Historical Society and Memorare-Manila 1945 Foundation will hold a Day of Valor Commemoration and open a Special Exhibit on World War II in the Philippines. The Exhibit will run from April 11-29, 2016.

In Washington, DC, FilVetREP will take part in a program of commemoration hosted by the Philippine Embassy on Friday, April 8. In the Philippines, the Day of Valor (“Araw ng Kagitingan”) is recognized as a national holiday.

Other actions nationwide include a #RecognizeBataanValor and #RecognizeFilVetValor social media campaign to secure co-sponsors to the Congressional Gold Medal legislation; letters and phone calls from around the country to lawmakers; and Op-eds on and other national publications.

Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (Ret), Chairman of FilVetRep, and other advocates will also be available for press interviews. Contact Jon Melegrito, FilVetREP Executive Secretary, at 202-361-0296.

Here is a list of events:

Friday, April 8, 2016, 5:30 PM Wreath-laying Ceremony, World War II

Memorial followed by program/symposium at Romulo Hall, Philippine Embassy, 1600 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington DC,    20036. Contact Gen. Delfin Lorenzana, Tel.202-467-9410.

Saturday, April 9, 1:00 PM Community Program, Philippine Mini Mart, Troy, Michigan. Sponsored by the US Pinoys      for Good Governance (USPGG). Contact Willie Deschavez, Tel. 586-713-8261.

Saturday, April 9, 9:00 AM Wreath-laying at the Bataan-Corregidor Memorial Bridge on the corner of State Street and Wacker Drive, Chicago, Ill., followed by a program at the Philippine Consultate, 122 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60603. Co-sponsored by NaFFAA West Illinois Region. Contact Anna Liza F. Alcantara, Tel. 312-583-0621.

Saturday, April 9, 2:00 PM Commemoration and Remembrance Ceremony, Filipino Veterans Education Center, War      Memorial Veterans Building, 401 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, Cal. Contact Rudy Asercion, Tel. 415-564-6262.

Saturday, April 9, 2:00 PM Wreath-laying Ceremony, followed by a program, sponsored by the Philippine Consulate     of New York and the Filipino Executive Council of Greater Philadelphia, Inc.  Contact: Mae Ermita Manubay,  Philippine Consulate General NY, Tel. 212-764-1330 Ext. 4013.

Monday, April 11, 8:30 AM A Day of Valor Commemoration and Opening of Exhibition on World War II in the Philippines. The Philippine Center, Kalayaan Hall, 447 Sutter Street, San Francisco, CA. Contact the Philippine Consulate, Tel. 415-433-666 x 313;

Democratic and Republican Lawmakers Agree on Congressional Gold Medal for Filipino American Vets


Originally posted on Huff Post Politics, June 15, 2015 

Democratic and Republican lawmakers can hardly agree on anything that nothing ever gets done in Washington. Last Thursday, however, members of Congress from both Houses announced the introduction of a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to 260,000 Filipino and Filipino-American soldiers who responded to President Roosevelt’s call-to-duty and fought under the American flag in World War II. Led by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), other leading cosponsors were on hand to commend the bravery of Filipino veterans, including Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV), Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA), and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA).

“These soldiers did not only defend the nation but they also defended and ultimately liberated sovereign territories held by the U.S. government. These loyal and valiant men and women fought, suffered, and in many instances died in the same manner and under the same commander as other members of our United States Armed Forces during World War II,” said Congresswoman Gabbard. Sen. Hirono added, “If there were ever veterans who deserved the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, it is our Filipino veterans and brothers in arms.”

Filipino WWII veterans were on hand, along with Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Tony Taguba, who leads the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project, a non-partisan, community-based group raising awareness of the service rendered by Filipino and Filipino-American troops during the Second World War.

“For over 70 years, the Filipino WWII Soldiers have sought recognition for their courageous actions and selfless service in defending the United States and Philippines,” said Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Tony Taguba. “Despite having their benefits rescinded by the US Congress in 1946, they maintained their unwavering loyalty to the U.S. We are eternally grateful for their faithful and dedicated service. They have earned national recognition from the US Congress proven by the thousands of lives lost in combat, and for those wounded for life. We ask Congress to approve the Congressional Gold Medal for the Filipino WWII Soldiers.”

On July 26, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a military order directing the Philippine Commonwealth Army, Philippine Scouts, and Philippine Constabulary to be under the command of the U.S. Army Forces Far East (USAFFE) commander to defend the Philippines and United States. A year later, the fall of Bataan (April 1942) and Corregidor (May 1942) led to the capture of over 72,000 American and Filipino troops. The soldiers of Bataan went through the Bataan Death March, while the soldiers of Corregidor were taken to Manila before being transported to Camp O’Donnell. Remnants of the USAFFE forces and Filipino civilians organized into recognized guerilla units led by U.S. and Philippine Army Officers. In 1945, the 1st and 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiments and 1st Recon Battalion joined the fight.

Over 260,000 Filipino troops fought in the Second World War. An estimated 16,000 to 17,000 soldiers remain in the U.S. and Philippines. However, public awareness about the contributions of Filipino soldiers during WWII is scant or nonexistent. While other minority veterans groups, namely, the Tuskegee Airmen (2006), Navajo Code Talkers (2008), Women Air Force Service Pilots (2009), Japanese American Nisei Soldiers (2010), Montfort Point Marines (2011), and Puerto Rican Soldiers (2014) have been formally recognized with the Congressional Gold Medal, Filipino American WWII soldiers have not been similarly honored for their selfless sacrifice and dedicated service.

“I heard the passion that they felt for America and the American cause in the war in their aging voices,” said Rep. Heck, who has championed the recognition and compensation of Filipino-American WW II veterans. “And it is only fitting and proper that we acknowledge their great sacrifice in service to the United States with the Congressional Gold Medal.”

In the spirit of full disclosure, I serve on the Executive Committee of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project.

Asian-American Groups Name Housing Project after Filipino Labor Leader


December 14, 2013; Asian Journal

Last Friday, two Asian American community organizations, the Pilipino Workers’ Center (PWC) and the Little Tokyo Service Center Community Development Corporation (LTSC) opened the Larry Itliong Village in Filipinotown, Los Angeles.

Named after the “forgotten” labor leader, the development includes 44 affordable housing units reserved for low-income families, homeless individuals, and transitional-age youth, defined as those between the ages of 16 and 24 and leaving foster care or state custody. The village also provides community spaces and social service programs including healthcare assistance, immigration case management, and employment workshops.

This is one of the few affordable housing projects that’s been able to be built in many years. And it’s really needed,” the Asian Journal quoted Aquilina Versoza, PWC’s executive director.

PWC was founded in 1997 and provides immediate services and resources to low- and moderate-income workers and their families. LTSC was established in 1979 and serves the needs of the Asian and Pacific Islander communities throughout Los Angeles County.

Larry Itliong, along with other Filipino laborers, started the 1965 Delano Grape Strike and were joined by Mexican farmworkers. The historic protest led to the unionization of farmworkers and formation of the United Farm Workers of America (UFW).

Originally posted in Nonprofit Quarterly.

Why a Gay Asian Immigrant Marches


Image: AFP Getty

I was born years after the March on Washington in 1963 and came to the United States 27 years after hundreds of thousands demonstrated for jobs and civil rights. Nonetheless, I felt the need to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr., A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, and so many other nameless women and men who marched and fought for the American promise of equality and opportunity. So am I compelled to be part of the ongoing march for social and economic justice.

Fifty years ago, the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) and LGBT communities were not even visible in the civil rights movement. However, Asian and gay Americans took part in the struggle, having experienced discrimination and marginalization themselves.

During the anti-Chinese movement of the 1800s, Chinese immigrants were lynched and murdered. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act effectively ended immigration from China and prevented Chinese immigrants and their native-born children from becoming U.S. citizens. In 1929, anti-Filipino riots erupted in California, after Filipino men displaced white farm hands and socialized with white women. In 1941, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 which revoked the rights of Japanese Americans and sent over 100,000 women, men, and children to internment camps scattered throughout the United States. Five years later, President Truman signed the Rescission Act of 1946 which took away veterans benefits pledged to 250,000 Filipino service members who courageously fought for America in World War II.

Until the 1960s, most lesbians and gay men remained closeted, fearful of being identified as homosexuals and deviants. Thousands of service women and men had been dishonorably discharged during the Second World War. Homosexuals, along with Communists, had been deemed threats to national security and hunted down during the McCarthy era. Women and men who were suspected of being homosexual lost their jobs and were ostracized. Gay bars and establishments were regularly raided. Gay men were routinely entrapped by undercover police officers.

Today, the AAPI and LGBT communities are visible, marching alongside African American and Latino communities, in the continued struggle for equality and opportunity.

Although the model minority myth persists, nearly two million AAPIs live in poverty. The community suffers the highest rate of long-term unemployment of any group in the United States. A study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Urban Institute reports AAPIs face significant housing discrimination. At the polls, lack of language assistance and voter ID laws hinder Asian Americans from exercising their right to vote. Since 911, South Asian and Muslim Americans have been racially profiled by law enforcement agencies.

The myth of gay affluence also belies the fact that poverty rates for LGBT adults are higher than for heterosexual adults. Nearly a quarter of bisexual and gay women are poor and LGBT people of color are more likely to live in poverty than their straight counterparts. Transgender people are four times as likely to survive on less than $10,000 a year and twice as likely to be unemployed as the typical American. A HUD report found lesbian and gay couples experienced unfavorable treatment in the rental housing market. Even though queer people are more visible and have won major legislative and legal victories, they continue to be victims of hate crimes. Transgender women of color in particular are regularly brutalized and murdered for being true to themselves.

As a queer immigrant of color, as a member of the AAPI, LGBT, and immigrant communities, as one who abides by the American dream, I march. Our nation’s future does not belong to one community, it belongs to all of us. But as President Obama exhorts us, we should not turn from or on each other but towards one another.

“The March on Washington teaches us that we are not trapped by the mistakes of history; that we are masters of our fate.  But it also teaches us that the promise of this nation will only be kept when we work together. We’ll have to reignite the embers of empathy and fellow feeling, the coalition of conscience that found expression in this place 50 years ago.”

And so we march on together, with the dream that 50 years from now we will have a more perfect Union.

Also on the Huffington Post.

Mail-Order Brides, Scandal, Shame and Immigration


Why do people immigrate, leave their homeland and loved ones, to be a stranger in another land? The Mango Bride tells part of the story, through the lives of two Filipino women forced into exile by circumstances of their birth and dictates of Philippine culture. The novel is an engrossing telenovela which captures the melodrama and emotionalism of Filipino life, while putting the spotlight on the country’s harsh socio-economic realities and debilitating cultural traits.

Amparo Guerrero, a daughter of privilege, has a secure future among the elite until she brings disgrace to the Guerrero clan. Señora Concha, the matriarch who values her place in society and reputation above all else, sends her only daughter to ride it out in California. Concha was not going to allow the iskandalo, scandal, to bring shame, hiya, to the family name.

Beverly Obejas, a child of the struggling masses, sees no future as she subsists on serving Manila’s upper crust. She signs up with a mail-order bride service, seeing marriage to a much older American as her only way out. She makes herself believe that Prince Charming, albeit older, will pick her among the thousands of other aspiring to-order brides and whisk her away to live happily and prosperously ever after in America. In California, her life is far from charmed and has its own iskandalo. Out of hiya, however, she bears her lot.

Iskandalo and hiya, wealth and class, bring Amparo and Beverly together in Oakland but something else has long bound the women’s fates. They are both mestizas, light-skinned with European features, traits valued by most Filipinos. Even Beverly benefits from the deeply ingrained colorism afflicting the former Spanish colony and product of Hollywood and Washington. This internalized racism opens doors to Filipinos who aspire social mobility and ensconces those who are fortunate to be born among the affluent few. Amparo and Beverly’s slender noses and widows peaks distinguish them and binds them in ways they do not expect.

The author, Marivi Soliven, succeeds in telling a story that will keep readers entertained and glued through the end. But she also manages to explain why Filipinos emigrate to America. Most, like Beverly, come with hopes of a better life for themselves and the loved ones they left behind. This was the impetus for men who worked the canneries of Alaska and the fields of California in the early 20th century. It spurs women today to leave their own children to be nannies and caregivers. A few, like Amparo, are exiled for breaking societal rules, or choose to escape stifling mores to be free to determine their own path.

Why do people come to America? “Those who run to America are only trying to escape their lives here,” says Beverly’s aunt. Some arrive to start anew. Amparo, facing her exile, is comforted by her own aunt,”Hija, think of this next year as your chance to make a fresh start. No one cares about the past in America. It’s where people go to reinvent themselves.”

Originally posted on the Huffington Post.

The Value of Family Visas

In the 1960s, my uncle settled down in Neshoba County, Mississippi, a very distant and vastly different place from our native Philippines, where he became the physician of Blacks, Choctaws, and the few Whites who came to trust the “Chinaman.” As soon as he was able, he applied for visas for his siblings and parents. In the mid-seventies, my grandparents, titas (aunts), and tito (uncle) came to the U.S. They provided much comfort to their eldest brother who was finally able to speak in Ilonggo again and enjoy dishes he had not tasted in years. My titas and tito eventually found their own way to Chicago and California where they thrived in their professions and started their own families. My lola (grandmother) became the trusted caregiver of my cousins, traveling whenever and wherever she was needed.

If some lawmakers have their way however, immigrants, under immigration reform, would no longer be able to sponsor their siblings, just their spouses and children. Under our current immigration system, a good majority of legal immigrants arrive with family visas and only a fraction come with employment visas. Republicans want it the other way around, arguing that replacing family visas with employment visas for high-skilled workers would strengthen our economy.

These politicians need to realize however that pamilya is very important to Filipinos and other Asian Americans, our fastest growing racial/ethnic group, just as it is to Latino Americans, our largest community of color. Do Democrats want to lose the strong support of these communities? Do Republicans want to continue alienating them? And, if the idea is to attract the world’s best and brightest, do lawmakers really believe that these desirable immigrants will come knowing that they will not be able to send for their sisters and brothers?

We also need to remember that immigrants who arrive with family visas eventually contribute to our economy as producers, consumers, and taxpayers. They not only produce as wage earners and entrepreneurs, but as unpaid labor as well. An Urban Institute report I wrote outlines how unpaid work, especially caregiving and household production, adds to our overall productivity. Take my lola for example. By babysitting her grandchildren and tending house, she saved my titas and titos a considerable sum and freed them to go out and work. Multiply that by the number of other grandparents, aunties, and uncles who help out when they get here and you have a strong economic argument for family visas.

Deepa Iyer, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, told the Washington Post that extended family members are the “people you need to build a support network. We’re talking about a U.S. citizen where the sister has a small business and wants to sponsor her brother who has the technical skills to help run that business. The fallacy is that folks think of immediate relatives not contributing to the economy. That’s not true.”

Moreover, members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus argue that “eliminating these categories would produce only a small reduction in visas while creating greater hardship for thousands of U.S. citizens and their loved ones.”

Perhaps politicians who want to cut the number of family visas should take pause and think about the implications, not just for immigrants, but for our shared prosperity and progress.

Landmark Gathering of Filipino-American Leaders in D.C.

Filipino-American leaders from across the country convened for a series of meetings in Washington, D.C. Friday.

The landmark gathering began with the first-ever White House briefing for the Filipino-American community. Participants heard from goverment officials about what the Obama administration has accomplished on issues of importance to the Filipino American community. Representatives from various federal agencies, including the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, and Homeland Security, and the Small Business Administration spoke at the event.

The briefing was followed by panel discussions on the state and future of the Filipino community, and culminated with the celebration of Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) a solid ally who retires after 36 years of service in Congress.

The series of events was organized by a group of Filipinos in government, advocacy, and research in tandem with Kaya DC. The organizers sought to mobilize participants and raise the visibility and influence of the second largest Asian group in the United States.

Filipinos have been in the U.S. since the 18th century but have remained mostly invisible at the highest levels of government, commerce, the military, and civil society. This gathering marks a new beginning for the next generation of Filipino-Americans who aspire to make a difference and be known not only as world-class singers or boxers but as national leaders.

Originally posted on the Huffington Post, June 26, 2012.

Filipino Expats Shop to Help Child Abuse Victims

February 8, 2011; Source: Asian Week | The ABS CBN Foundation International, a U.S.-based foundation for one of the Philippines’ largest broadcasting companies, has announced its official partnership with Seafood City Supermarkets to collect donations for the foundation’s main program, Bantay Bata (Child Watch), a child rescue and welfare program. Bantay Bata operates a 24/7 hotline number and a children’s village that offers safe transitional shelter for extreme cases of child abuse, neglect, and illness.

The partnership with the West Coast supermarket is a perfect match. Over a million Filipinos live in California, making it the largest concentration of Filipinos in the U.S.  The Filipino community has been patronizing Seafood City stores dispersed throughout the Golden State for decades and its members are now able to help through outright donations or a percentage of their purchases.

Low income and poor individuals and families in developing countries often depend heavily on the financial support of family members in developed countries. Those without relatives in richer nations occasionally benefit from the generosity of expatriates who feel a connection to those in need in their home countries. The Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development reports that, in 2009, more than 6,500 child abuse cases were served. It is most likely many more child abuse and neglect cases go unreported.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly, Nonprofit Newswire, February 14, 2012.

Immigrant Seniors Fear Loss of Haven

October 28, 2011; Source: Asian Journal | Isolation is a reality many elderly Americans face. Nonprofit programs that coax older individuals out of their solitude and provide a venue for socializing and physical activity are important for the well-being of our elders.  This is particularly the case for older immigrants who count on these services to be among others who share their native language and culture.

Organizations that take care of senior citizens, like many other human service organizations nationwide, are hit hard by shrinking government budgets and plateaued private giving. One such provider is the Silver Lake Adult Day Health Care Center in downtown Los Angeles which faces a precarious future as funding for California’s Adult Health Care Center program ends December 1.

The center, located in Historic Filipinotown, caters to more than 100 elderly women and men, most of whom are Filipino immigrants who come to enjoy their peers, benefit from therapeutic services, and be taken care of by staff members who are familiar with their cultural norms and values.

The idea of losing their second home has distressed  Silver Lake’s clients.

“What will happen to me?” Nanay (Mother) Seling, an octogenarian with mild dementia, told Asian Journal. “All my friends are here. I’m sad that I might not see them again … I can’t handle it. I will die.”

“We have been telling our patients of the possible situation and that we are here to support and help them,” said Mila Anguluan-Coger, Silver Lake ADHC program director. Her assurances are cold comfort for the seniors however, as state workers come and ask clients to fill out forms for pending transfer to other programs.

The elderly fear the loneliness that will come from the loss of their haven.

“What shall we become if the center closes? Of course, I will be left at home. Alone.” Bibiana Viernes, a  legally blind 86 year old, said. Viernes has been a center regular for eight years. She had insisted on going to Silver Lake even after her family moved away from Los Angeles.

“I live with my son and his wife, who work to earn for their livelihood…Being blind what will I do? Of course, I’ll do my best to survive but then I become sad, lonely and depressed. And I will be frightened. Any single sound, I will be frightened very fast. What if there is a natural disaster like a fire, earthquake or strong winds? Imagine what will I do? I will panic and die at that instance. My co-seniors are the same in that situation.”

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, October 31, 2011.