Daily Breeze

September 21, 2004

Filipino-American WWII veterans arrested in protest for benefits

By Toby Eckert
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- Renewing their effort to win full federal benefits for their service during World War II, a group of Filipino-American veterans staged a small protest in front of the White House on Monday to dramatize their call for pension benefits.

Four of the aging men -- including 81-year-old Franco Arcebal of Los Angeles -- were arrested after symbolically chaining themselves together. Arcebal said the veterans were getting "burned out fighting for our benefits."

"It's just terrible that the U.S. Congress and the president have not come out with a program for something fair for us at our age," said Arcebal, who fought the Japanese as a guerrilla in the Philippines and said he was captured and tortured.

He and 19 other Filipino-Americans marched from the World War II memorial -- where they laid a wreath at the pillar honoring service in the Philippines -- to the south side of the White House. The protest was organized by the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans.

The Philippines was a U.S. territory during World War II. More than 140,000 Filipinos fought against the Japanese under a 1941 executive order from President Franklin Roosevelt that brought organized military units in the Philippines into U.S. service.

But many Filipino veterans were denied full U.S. benefits under a law passed in 1946, when the Philippines became a sovereign nation. The level of their compensation was tied to the type of unit to which a veteran had belonged and whether they resided in the United States or the Philippines.

The veterans have lobbied for decades to be put on an equal footing with other U.S. veterans and have scored several victories. Last year, President Bush signed legislation that expanded health care and disability benefits for Filipino veterans living in the United States.

The protest Monday was meant to draw attention to their demand for monthly pensions for disabled veterans.

"We're now in the last stage" of the fight for full benefits, said Eric Lachica, executive director of the coalition.

Arcebal estimated that pensions would cost $22 million. There are about 8,000 Filipino veterans in the United States, many of them living in the Los Angeles area, and 20,000 in the Philippines.

After they were arrested Monday, Arcebal and the other veterans were fined $50 and released.