By Don Tagala, ABS-CBN North America Bureau
June 18, 2014
WASHINGTON, DC – With more than 40 US Representative members — the US-Philippines Friendship Caucus is the Philippines’ portal to the US Congress.
Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia Jr. says the caucus was established during the term of then Ambassador Albert Del Rosario from 2001 to 2006.
He says the idea was to put together a group of congressmen who would be interested and willing to support House bills that would have favorable impact on the Philippines.
Cuisia said, “They’re interested in the military and security alliance we have, they’re interested in what’s going on in the West Philippine Sea and how they might be able to support us. So we thought of re-invigorating this caucus.”
Cuisia says the US-Philippine Friendship Caucus reboot will lead to more interactions between the US and Philippine governments, as well as their citizens.
US Congressman Bobby Scott, who is proud of his Filipino roots, says that members of the caucus will continue to support the Philippines as the country recovers from Super Typhoon Yolanda’s devastation.
Scott says, “There’s more, always more that can be done, and as a caucus and as a congress we will continue to make sure that we stay informed on how we can best help and support our friends in the Philippines.”
Meantime, Executive Director of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans Eric Lachica says the caucus has been instrumental in supporting bills that would recognize the service of Filipino World War II veterans to America’s democracy.
More than seven decades have passed since World War II, but 97-year-old Celestino Almeda is still fighting to be recognized as a US Army Veteran.
“Ilang beses na ho kami sumulat kay President Obama, na sinasabi namin kung meron dokumentong hawak yung beterano kilalanin naman nila, hindi dahil sa walang record sa Missouri, eh hindi na beterano,” Almeda said.
As Chairman of the Armed Services Sub-Committee on Oversight, Nevada Congressman Joe Heck says that a hearing has been set on June 24 to re-examine the process for verifying the eligibility of Filipino veterans for the Equity Compensation fund, which grants $15,000 to Filipino veterans who have become US Citizen.
The hearing is entitled “Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund: Examining the Department of Defense and Interagency Process for Verifying Eligibility”.
As of June 1, 2014:
• 45,991 applications were processed
• 9,290 were approved for $15,000
• 9,610 were approved for $9,000
• 24,977 applications were disapproved
Lachica and Almeda are among those who will testify to challenge the current policy of denying the official recognition of 4,500 Filipino veterans, including Almeda.
“The US Army should recognize the papers, the discharge papers that they issued in 1946-47, like Mr. Almeda. Binayaran siya but they won’t recognize their service, that’s the craziness of this situation,” Lachica said.
Lachica says, he and the Filipino veterans are hoping that with the help of caucus members like Congressman Joe Heck, this hearing would eventually lead to the full recognition of the services of Filipino World War II veterans to America.
You may contact Don Tagala at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.