Chapter Four: The Long Road to Equity

1946 – 1985

An Ongoing Struggle

The veterans' issue remained “unfinished business.”

In the decades after the Philippines won its independence from the United States in 1946, the two countries remained close allies. Philippine forces joined U.S. troops in Korea and Vietnam. American bases in the Philippines were a staging ground for Cold War battles against communism in Asia.

An armored unit of the independent Philippine Army in 1950. Several such units served alongside U.S. forces during the Korean War. Cpt Conrado D Yap as provided by Maam Sabs Yap-Aganon
Filipino Sailors in the U.S. Navy (1940s). Bound by War
Filipino soldiers ride a WWII Willys Jeep during the Korean War. Cpt Conrado D Yap as provided by Maam Sabs Yap-Aganon
A Philippine civic action group member distributes medicines during the Vietnam War. U.S. Department of Defense

Thousands of Filipinos continued to join the U.S. Navy directly from the Philippines until 1992. In the U.S., Filipino American men and women volunteered for the military to carry on their families’ traditions of service. But the veterans’ issue remained “unfinished business.”

Two U.S. Navy sailors in the 1940s pose for a photo. Filipinos came to Annapolis to serve as laborers and crewmen. Shades of L.A. Collection

Using every political avenue open to them, veterans and their advocates pressed for rights they had earned during the Second World War. Veterans in the Philippines petitioned the government of their newly independent nation to do something. “Uncle Sam Has Forsaken Us,” read the placards of protestors who marched on the U.S. Embassy in Manila. Veterans in the United States filed court cases and asked Congress to pass legislation.

Oral History

Oftentimes you get written out of history when you're not the one doing the writing.

Sonny Izon, Son of Veteran, Documentary Filmmaker

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After 1946, Filipinos were legally foreigners, no longer America’s colonial subjects. Philippine government officials used diplomacy and negotiation to advocate for veterans benefits. They made occasional breakthroughs, including an agreement signed in 1966 transferring wartime backpay to the Philippine government.

Senators Lorenzo Tañada, Carlos P. Garcia, Geronima Pecson, Pablo David, Vicente Madrigal, in the temporary Senate session (circa 1947-1948). The National Library of the Philippines.

But only a small fraction of those funds made their way into the hands of the veterans themselves. From Manila, presidents and ambassadors tried to win over Americans and convince the U.S. to repeal the Rescission Act, but little was accomplished at the national level.

Washington, D.C. in the 1950s. Sandaan: One Hundred Years of Filipinos in America

Inspired by the courtroom successes of the Civil Rights Movement, veterans began to file lawsuits in U.S. federal courts in the 1970s. One series of cases focused on the INS’ withdrawal of the only naturalization officer in Manila immediately after the war. Filipino veterans argued that this was a direct effort to deny them any chance to file the paperwork and take the oath necessary to become a U.S. citizen.

A group marching near the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., to protest the 1946 lynching of four African Americans. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Oral History

My involvement encouraged me to be conscious of the other civil rights issues.

Jonathan Melegrito

Grassroots Movement

Marciano Haw Hibi, a World War II veteran in California, brought his case to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973. Hibi lost, and Justice William Douglas noted in a dissent that the ruling “ignores the deliberate—and successful—effort … to deny substantive rights to Filipinos.”

The U.S. Supreme Court (1973) U.S. Supreme Court

Another lawsuit tried to convince the courts that excluding Filipinos from veterans benefits was a form of racial discrimination. On several occasions, the veterans convinced some judges of the justice of their cause, but they lost almost all of their cases. More than once, they took their case all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled against them for the last time in INS v. Pangilinan (1988). This strategy had reached a dead end.

The Supreme Court ruling against the Filipino veterans, cementing the Court's inability to counteract the Rescission Act.
“Starting from that point, we began movements to try to regain recognition.”
Sandaan: One Hundred Years of Filipinos in America

At the same time, veterans turned to Congress to change the laws, targeting the Rescission Act most of all. They found a few sympathetic advocates, including Representative Edith Nourse Rogers (MA), one of the few women in the House of Representatives and a longtime supporter of veterans’ rights. But with relatively few Filipino Americans in the United States and their history largely unknown, advocates faced an uphill battle in Congress.

Edith Nourse Rogers. U.S. House of Representatives

As veterans tried to make a life for themselves in the postwar era, there were obstacles at every turn. They tried to get help from the GI Bill to go to college—and were denied. They went to VA hospitals when they were sick—and were turned away. They struggled not only against the law but against an American public who didn’t see them as American soldiers. Instead of accepting defeat, the veterans sought new allies and found a new voice in the nation’s public life.

Filipinos wait at the Veterans Administration Office in Oakland to file claims for compensation for war-related injuries and for being former prisoners-of-war. Filipino World War II Soldiers: America's Second-Class Veterans by Rick Rocamora

The veterans sought new allies and found a new voice in the nation’s public life.

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1965 – 1980s

A New Community

Emerging Filipino American communities gathered power, found allies, and educated the public about the ongoing denial of citizenship and veterans benefits.

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