Veterans hurt, outraged by Trump plan to end parole program

Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez and veterans (from left) Justino Delara, Potenciano Dee, Celestino Almeda, and Rey Cabacar observed Day of Valor/Philippine Veterans Week  in April 2018 at the National World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. Photos by FilVetREP

By Jon Melegrito

Filipino World War II Veteran Rudy Panaglima, 89, of Arlington, VA. is grateful that two of his four grown children were able to come last year to care for him and his 86-year-old wife, Pura, who passed away recently after struggling with Alzheimer’s. The Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program (FWWVP) authorized by President Barack Obama in 2016 allowed Panaglima and 5,000 other veterans living in the U.S. to be reunited with family members who live in the Philippines. Panaglima was among 300 veterans who applied.

But when he learned that President Trump abruptly ended the program, Panaglima said he was “hurt once again,” recalling the 1946 Rescission Act that denied him and his comrades their rightful status and benefits.

“We served under the American flag, and yet we continue to be treated as if our sacrifices don’t matter,” he said. “Who are we that the President should think less of us?”

Celestino Almeda, who turned 103 in June, is also “outraged” that “the President doesn’t seem to care that we put our lives on the line defending this country.” Although his family in Gaithersburg, MD. have looked after him over the years, it angers him that there are still several of his comrades who will spend the rest of their lives without loved ones caring for them.

“This is not right,” said the 91-year-old Rey Cabacar of Ft. Washington, MD., one of the few remaining Filipino veterans living in the Washington, D.C. area.  “We waited long for recognition, and it came only after many of our comrades have already died. We waited long for family reunification, and now many of them will die without their families on their side. This makes me very sad.”

Veterans, members of Congress and civil rights advocates welcomed President Obama’s authorization of the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program at a press conference on June 9, 2016 in Capitol Hill. From left: Marita Etcubanez of Asian American Advancing Justice, Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (ret), Celestino Almeda, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Rudy Panaglima, NCAPA National Director Christopher Kang, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Chief of Staff Juliet Choi.

Another broken promise

Calling the Trump administration’s decision “unwarranted and extremely distressing for families of living WWII veterans,” FilVetREP National Chairman Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (Ret) noted that “this is another broken promise against our veterans. It is senseless and totally unacceptable to terminate a program that would have allowed children to rejoin their parents. It is patently arbitrary and unjust to target aging and ailing veterans who only have a few years to live.”

Taguba led the effort in 2017 to secure legislation awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to Filipino and American World War II veterans.

“Although it was largely a symbolic act, it was nonetheless  historic in the way it honored their service and sacrifice,” he said. “But the ending of the family reunification program, like the 1946 Rescission Act, deprives the few veterans who are still alive some measure of dignity and pride in their sunset years. For their duty to country, they don’t deserve this. It is an egregious act of injustice and discrimination and unwarranted at best.”

FilVetREP plans to work with other organizations, members of Congress and national civil rights advocates to consider appropriate actions to rescind the Trump administration’s plan of terminating the Filipino World War II Veterans family reunification parole program.

NaFFAA – or the  National Federation of Filipino American Associations —  issued a statement from National Chairman Brendan Flores.

He said, “Our brave Filipino World War II Veteran warriors risked their lives to fight for the United States, and this parole program was put in place as a way to honor their service and to acknowledge the dwindling amount of time left to reunite these brave heroes with their families.

“It was only a few short years ago that I had the honor and privilege to witness then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan honor our Filipino American WWII veterans with the Congressional Gold Medal at the U.S. Capitol.  This honor was the culmination of a true bipartisan effort to recognize the extraordinary contributions and sacrifices of these brave men and women. Ending this program now diminishes the legacy of our proud Filipino American WWII veterans, and is an unfortunate rebuke to the very few remaining veterans, whose opportunity to reunite with their families will end with this action.”

(C) The FilAm 2019



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