Feb. 11, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO — It was a painful decision for the Philippine veterans to accept. But after the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the district court to dismiss their benefit claims, the Justice for Filipino Veterans group said they are taking their case to the Supreme Court.

“The role of the judiciary is not limited to interpretation of the law enacted by the Congress, but also to faithfully interpret the
Constitution as a living document in order to dispense justice,” said Arnedo Valera, legal counsel for the veterans. “A historical injustice has been done to our veterans, and a historic decision by the US Supreme Court can correct that,” he added.

Valera, who is also co-executive director of the Migrant Heritage Commission, said the veterans will ask for a certiorari from the Supreme Court of the within the next 90 days. A certiorari is a writ that the Supreme Court issues to review lower court’s judgment for legal error where no appeal is available as a matter of right.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals released a decision February 7, 2013, affirming the district court’s earlier decision to dismiss the case of Filipino WW II veterans and widows for failure to state a claim and for lack of subject matter jurisdiction claims.

The plaintiffs were denied of benefits in the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) enacted by the US Congress in 2009.

Denial of Benefits

There are 24,000 Filipino veterans who were denied of the lump sum benefit out of the estimated 41,000 veterans in the US and the Philippines. Most of the widows were denied since the law did not cover those who became widows before the enactment of the law. The benefit provided that upon the receipt of benefit, veterans will forfeit claims for future benefits like lifetime monthly pensions estimated at $1,500 per month. Philippine-based veterans were granted $9, 000 and US-based $15,000.

Claim for Due Process

“I gave my life as a USAFFE guerrilla defending the US during the war, and now I got this letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) saying that my name was not in the ‘Missouri List’, therefore I am not an American veteran and I cannot receive any payment, “ said Regalado Baldonado. “This is ridiculous.”

The case against the DVA cited that the due process was violated by the DVA’s exclusive reliance on the “Missouri List” as official record of US military service. The list was burned down in 1973 and as much as 80% of the list from 1912 to 1960 was lost.

The Court of Appeal upheld lower court’s decision that it does not have jurisdiction over claims that would require it to review veterans benefit decisions. In defense, the court cited the Veterans’ Judicial Review Act of 1988.

“There are 600,000 pending cases at the DVA. Would you expect the vets that have a mortality rate of ten a day to stand at the end of the line and expect immediate attention?” asked Chevy Evangelista, NY-based equity advocate. “The court is an appropriate avenue.”

The Case of Equal Protection

The court dismissed the equal protection challenge on the ground that the plaintiffs “did not challenge a new classification established by the Act and did not allege plausible facts suggesting that the new classification was created for discriminatory purpose.”

“The FVEC already provided full recognition for the US military service of the Filipino veterans, why wouldn’t the court provide full benefits?” asked Valera. “What’s the difference between the sacrifice and heroism of the Filipino veterans from other American veterans?”

The Rescission Act of 1946 singled out the Filipinos out of the 66 Allied nationalities not to receive full benefits. In 2009, the
Filipinos were provided paltry lump sum in exchange for forfeiture of other benefits like monthly lifetime pension that average American veterans and widows enjoy.

“Are we back to the ‘separate but equal’ law that justified segregation many years ago,” asked Evangelista. “How could we afford to see Filipino veterans having equal recognition but separate benefits?” (Ago Pedalizo/Justice for Filipino-American Veterans)

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