History Lesson: The Filipino World War II Veterans’ Battle for Equity, according to Rodel Rodis

October 29, 2005 at Wyndham Hotel - Filipino American Veterans from San Jose, California with Stephanie Reese & Joselito Pascual, photo by Sanny Leviste (tekonsult@juno.com)

July 17, 2007

I was a typical immigrant from the Philippines who didn’t know anything about the Rescission Act of 1946 and the role of Filipino American and Filipino soldiers in World War II. It was a huge piece of artwork that was being prepared for the NaFFAA Y2K2 Empowerment Conference in San Jose, California, courtesy of Terry Acebo Davis, that alerted me to something that I missed since I first arrived in San Francisco in January of 1986. I can still remember Terry’s artistic interpretation: It was a photo of some frail-looking Filipino American veterans with somber faces looking right at me. I would eventually meet them and interact with them on a daily basis. They were some of the veterans who were active members of the Filipino American Senior Opportunities Development Council, Inc./Northside Community Center’s American Legion Northside Post 858. I have some of their oral histories on analog tape, ready for annotation.

Many of us believe that we need to build critical mass this year so that our veterans can get their benefits. If some policy-making leaders think that the Filipino community will finally give up on this battle for veterans equity, they had better get their heads straightened out. The “Filipino Spirit Prevails!” Never doubt the tenacity and perseverance of a Filipino when fighting for a cause!

I know, you might ask, “What does this plight have to do with me? I’m ekking out my daily living and I believe charity begins at home.” Well, dearies, we are interconnected. The past, the present, and the future. Think about it. Ever since the Treaty of Paris was signed between Spain and the United States in 1898, we’ve allowed people to disempower us. Why do we keep doing this to ourselves?

For you to understand that the veterans’ cause is also yours, you will have to make a personal connection. So, if you know a Filipino World War II veteran, talk to him or her. Record their stories… and remember to make these stories something to pass on to your children.

I received many e-mails about the importance of today’s date. I’m putting everything into perspective by having Rodel Rodis’s column about the origins of the Filipino veterans’ battle for equity as the introductory article here. There are also some excerpts from an e-mail I received from Lillian Galedo from the group, Filipinos for Affirmative Action, and the Co-Chair of the National Alliance for Filipino Americans Equity (NAFVE). Please go the NAFVE website for complete details.

P.S. Follow-up e-mails from July 18, 2007 are included in this post. The “call to action” is found in the press release sent by NaFFAA and an e-mail from my cousin, Clarice Veloso-Lugo. Makibaka!




by Rodel Rodis

The US House Veterans Affairs Committee finally voted on July 17 to “mark up” the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill (HR 760) to send it to the full House for a vote, bringing the long battle for justice for the Filipino WW II veterans closer to victory than at any other time in its history.

A counterpart bill (S. 57) in the US Senate was approved last month by the US Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and incorporated into the omnibus veterans billl S. 1315 which is now headed for a floor vote in the US Senate.

If HR 760 passes in the House vote and S. 1315 passes in the Senate as well, then a joint Senate-House conference committee will reconcile differences in their respective versions. Once a conference-crafted bill is finalized, both chambers will then vote on it. It it passes both chambers, it will then head to the White House for the signature of US Pres. George W. Bush, who may sign it into law if he ignores the recommendation of outgoing Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson.

Only then will the battle for equity be won.


The battle for equity began in 1946 when the US Congress passed the Rescission Act on February 18,1946, a law which deemed service by Filipinos in the US Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) as not to be service in the US Armed Forces for purposes of entitlement to US veterans’ benefits. Filipinos considered this a betrayal of the promise made by US President Franklin Roosevelt which he made on July 26, 1941 when he issued an Order drafting Philippine Commonwealth soldiers into the US Army. Filipinos that they would be entitled to the same benefits as Americans in the US Army, Roosevelt promised.

But the Rescission Act was not the first US betrayal of Roosevelt’s promise. A few months earlier in September of 1945, US Attorney-General Tom Clark issued an order revoking the authority of Vice Consul George Ennis, the naturalization officer at the US Embassy in Manila, to process the naturalization applications of Filipino USAFFE soldiers who were eligible to apply for US citizenship under a 1940 US law. The law was amended in 1942 to set a cut-off date of December 31,1946 and required that the applicants still remain in active duty when they apply.

The 1940 law was the vehicle by which 7,000 Filipinos in America, most of whom immigrated in the 1920s and 1930s as farmworkers, were able to obtain US citizen after they enlisted in the US Army and were assigned to the 1st and 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiments.

The Attorney General’s revocation of authority in 1945 applied only to Filipinos in the Philippines and lasted until August 1946 when the US Embassy finally began accepting and processing applications of Filipino WW II veterans was restored. In four months, some 4,000 Filipinos under US command applied for and were granted US citizenship out of 200,000 USAFFE soldiers who were otherwise eligible to apply.


For more than 20 years after 1946, nothing significant occurred in either reversing the Rescission Act or in obtaining naturalization for Filipino WW II veterans. It was not until a veteran named Marciano Haw Hibi arrived in San Francisco as a visitor for business in 1964. With the assistanceof his immigration lawyer, Donald Ungar, Haw Hibi filed his application for US naturalization as a Filipino war veteran under the 1940 law. After the naturalization examiner denied his application, Haw Hibi then filed his petition for naturalization in the US District Court in San Francisco on September 13, 1967.

Haw Hibi argued that the US government should be “estopped” (legally precluded) from claiming that he filed his petition 21 years after the cut-off date in 1946 because it was the “affirmative misconduct” of the US government in removing the authority of the naturalization officer in Manila to process his application for US citizenship that caused the delay.

Haw Hibi had enlisted in the Philippine Scouts in February of 1941 after this military force was placed under US command. He was captured by the Japanese in 1942 and released after six months of internment. In April 1945, after the liberation of the Philippines by Allied Forces, Haw Hibi rejoined the Scouts and served until his discharge in December 1945. Although the US naturalization officer in Manila was allowed to process naturalization applications in August of 1946, Haw Hibi was by then no longer eligible to apply as he had been discharged in 1945 and a 1942 amendment required an applicant to still be in active duty at the time of his application.

The District Court denied Haw Hibi’s naturalization application, which he then appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. After that appellate court denied his appeal, Haw Hibi then sought and obtained certiorari to appeal his case to the US Supreme Court. On October 23, 1973, the US Supreme Court affirmed the lower courts’ denial of Haw Hibi’s claim.


But it was not a unanimous decision. Three Supreme Court justices (William O. Douglas, Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan) dissented and criticized the majority’s opinion for ignoring “the deliberate – and successful – effort on the part of agents of the Executive Branch to frustrate the congressional purpose and to deny substantive rights to Filipinos such as respondent by administrative fiat, indicating instead that there was no affirmative misconduct involved in this case. The record does not support that conclusion.”

The dissent in the Haw Hibi case inspired many Filipino veterans in the US to file their applications for naturalization by arguing that they were denied their Due Process and Equal Protection rights under the US Constitution when the executive branch of the US government thwarted the will of legislative branch which “mandated” that a naturalization examiner be present at the US Embassy in Manila to process naturalization applications.


In 1976, a number of Filipino WW II veterans, including noted Filipino kundiman singer Ruben Tagalog, filed their applications of naturalization in the US District Court in San Francisco after their applications were denied by the INS (which began to refer to the applicants as “Hibi Veterans”). Their cases were consolidated into one (In the Matter of 68 Filipino War Veterans) and assigned to US District Court Judge Charles Renfrew.

Aside from hearing from the government’s attorney and from Donald Ungar, the immigration lawyer of the Filipino veterans, Judge Renfrew also allowed Philippine News publisher Alex Esclamado to present oral arguments on behalf of the Filipino veterans. Esclamado’s impassioned plea and Ungar’s legal arguments combined to cause Judge Renfrew to rule in favor of the Filipino veterans.

Even though the US government appealed the Renfrew Decision, the administration of then US President Jimmy Carter subsequently withdrew the appeal and allowed the 68 Filipino veterans to be sworn in as US citizens.

Hundreds of other Filipino war veterans then filed their applications following the Renfrew Decision. The large number of applicants eventually caused the Carter Administration to reconsider its position. In 1978, the INS denied the naturalization application of Dr.Sergio Mendoza, a veteran who then appealed the denial to the US District Court which reversed the INS and granted his naturalization application, ruling that the government was “collaterally estopped” from opposing the naturalization of Filipino war veterans because it withdrew its appeal of the Renfrew Decision. The government then appealed the Mendoza decision to the Ninth Circuit, which affirmed the lower court’s decision.


The government then elevated the Mendoza case to the US Supreme Court. On January 10, 1984, a unanimous Supreme Court denied Mendoza’s petition for naturalization. In a decision penned by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, the Court reversed the lower court’s decision and ruled that the doctrine of collateral estoppel applies only to private litigants and not to the US government.

The Mendoza Supreme Court decision did not discourage other Filipino WW II veterans from applying for naturalization. Four years after Mendoza, the US Supreme Court in 1988 was faced with the Filipino veterans issue once again, this time involving 16 Filipino war veterans (INS v. Pangilinan) who had successfully argued that federal courts, as courts of equity, could provide an equitable remedy to a legal wrong. The wrong was that the executive branch of the US government had subverted the mandatory language of the 1940 law enacted by the legislative branch of the government by revoking the authority of the Vice Consul at the US Embassy in Manila to process
naturalization applications.

Once again, the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the Filipino war veterans. In a decision penned by Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court ruled that courts do not have the “equitable” power” to confer citizenship in violation of the limitations imposed by Congress in the exercise of its exclusive constitutional authority over naturalization.” Pangilinan effectively ended all efforts by Filipino
veterans to obtain relief through the courts. It would now have to come from the US Congress.


Concerned that hundreds of Filipino war veterans who had applied for naturalization would now be subject to deportation, members of the US Congress, led by US Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Rep. Melvyn Dymally (D-California) and Rep. Tom Campbell (R-California), sponsored bills that would grant naturalization to Filipino WW II veterans. In 1990, they succeeded in getting the Filipino veterans naturalization bill included in the omnibus Immigration Act of 1990.

But to secure its inclusion, the sponsors had to assure their colleagues that the naturalization bill would not involve veterans benefits equity issues. At a hearing on the bill, Rep. Campbell categorically stated that giving the Filipino veterans citizenship will not “make them eligible for federal benefits which they do not receive.” The immigration act that was passed by the US Congress and signed into law by US President George H. Bush specifically stipulated that the law “shall not be construed as affecting the rights, privileges or benefits” of the Filipino WW II veterans.

Up to that point, the Filipino veterans had believed that obtaining US citizenship would overcome the discrimination of the Rescission Act against “Filipino” USAFFE veterans. Once they became “Americans”, the veterans thought, they would now be eligible for the same benefits enjoyed by other American veterans. Unfortunately, the law retained the discriminatory provisions of the Rescission Act.

Finally, 66 years after Roosevelt’s promise and 61 years after the Rescission Act’s betrayal of that promise, the dwindling number of surviving Filipino war veterans may yet see that promise redeemed.

(Rodel Rodis is a lawyer and a long-time member of the San Francisco Community College Board. He has been involved with the Filipino WW II veterans issue since the 1980s. Send comments to [email protected].)


Dear Friends,

Today is an extremely important day in the life of our bill. Tuesday, July 17th, HR 760 the Filipino WWII Veterans Equity Act will be considered for ‘mark-up’ in the House Veteran’s Affairs Committee. We need to keep up the pressure for FULL EQUITY, down to the moment the legislators actually vote.

So, in pursuit of achieving our goal for FULL EQUITY in the House, please act immediately to call, email and fax to ALL the House Veterans Affairs Committee members listed below.

Thanks for all your work; we’re one step closer to out goal. Please keep in touch.



As discussed, the House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) has scheduled a markup hearing for Tuesday, July 17. It is expected that the Filipino Veterans Equity Act will be included at this hearing.

Please find the Action Alert we’ve circulated below. I’ve also included a News flash that will be e-blasted to the media and all our contacts.

Please cc: [email protected] to your correspondence with HVAC. Let me know if you have any questions.


News Alert


July 12, 2007 Ben de Guzman: 202.422.4909

E-mail: [email protected]

Web: www.nafve.org



Washington, DC- The House Veterans Affairs Committee today announced that they will hold a markup hearing on Tuesday, July 17, 2007. At this hearing, the Committee is expected to take up the issue of the Filipino Veterans Equity Act (HR 760). The hearing will be held in Room 334 of the Cannon House Office Building.

If the House Veterans Affairs Committee reports the Filipino Veterans Equity Act out of committee at this markup hearing, it will be the first time the bill has moved out of this Committee. This follows the Senate, which marked up the bill on June 27. The bill, as reported out of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, would provide full benefits for Filipino veterans living in the United States in line with that received by U.S veterans, and an administrative flat rate of $300.00 per month for veterans in the Philippines.

“NAFVE looks forward to progress for the Filipino Veterans Equity Act in the House Veterans Affairs Committee,” said Lillian Galedo, NAFVE Co-Chair. With the Senate markup already achieved, we are that much closer to securing recognition for the service of these brave soldiers to the United States.”

“We are holding National Call-In Days with NAFVE’s partners to encourage the community to call the House Veterans Affairs Committee members who have not already cosponsored this bill to call on their support for FULL EQUITY for our veterans,” said Rozita Lee, NAFVE Steering Committee member. “The Filipino American community nationwide is mobilizing- from Virginia, to Illinois, to Nevada and California- to move the Equity Act forward.”

NAFVE represents over 20 local, national and international organizations committed to securing full equity for Filipino World War II Veterans. More information about NAFVE and the Filipino Veterans Equity Act is available on the NAFVE Web site: www.nafve.org.



Date: Jul 18, 2007 5:05 AM


To: [email protected]



Yesterday, the House Veterans Affairs Committee. chaired by Rep. Bob Filner, passed H.R. 760, the Filipino Veterans Equity Act of 2007 by a vote of 15 to 12, mostly along party lines. News emanating from the House of Representatives’ Veterans Affairs Committee stated that calls kept coming in, up to the last minute before the vote!

I had no doubt that Filipino Americans from all over the country will come together and join this campaign to win equity for our veterans! Maraming salamat sa inyong lahat!!!

We thank Congressman Filner and all the members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee who voted to pass H.R. 760 on to the House floor.

The next step is for a full vote in the Senate on S. 1315 and for a full vote in the House on H.R. 760.

Some of the more important differences between the pension benefits for the surviving Filipino WWII veterans that Senator Akaka’s Senate Vetarans Affairs Committee passed last month as part of S. 1315, and the House version passed by Congressman Filner’s House Veterans Affairs Committee as H.R. 760 yesterday are:

House (H.R. 760) Senate (in S.1315)
Married veteran – $8,400/year – $4,500/year
Single veteran – $6,000/year – $3,600/year
Low-income Widow of veteran – $3,600/year – $2,400/year
Dependency Indemnification
Compensation (DIC) – included – not included

After the respective bills are approved in the House and Senate, there will be a conference committee to reconcile the two versions. The reconciled (merged) version will then go to the President for his approval.

So on to the next step. NOW WE NEED TO CONTINUE TO REMIND ALL U.S. SENATORS AND REPRESENTATIVES TO VOTE FOR the respective bills – H.R. 760 and S. 1315.

Alma Quintans Kern
National Chair, NaFFAA

Released by:

Armando ‘Doy’ Heredia
Natl Exec Dir, NaFFAA

National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA)
email: [email protected]
phone: 202.986.1153
web: http://www.naffaa.org


And here’s a note from my cousin, Clarice.

From: [email protected]

Date: Jul 18, 2007 10:26 AM

Subject: Let’s Help Advocate for Filipino Vets Rights

Hello All Fellow Pinoys —

I am forwarding this e-mail to you to request that you take 2 minutes to help advocate for better benefits for our living Filipino veterans and their spouses. Most of these living veterans have very limited means. They have fought hard for the Philippines and the United States and it is but fair that they are aptly compensated.

Please e-mail your respective representative and senator about voting for H.R. 760 and S. 1315. If you would like to know your representative’s e-mail address, click on this link below.


Thanks for being an advocate and let’s all – MAKIBAKA!

Clarice Veloso-Lugo




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