SACRAMENTO — Filipinos who fought for the United States during World War II will continue to receive state benefits even if they go back to the Philippines, under a new California law.
Surrounded by elderly Filipino veterans, their widows and families, Gov. Gray Davis, a Vietnam veteran, raised his hand in a military salute and ceremoniously signed the legislation Thursday before the War Memorial on Capitol Park's east lawn. Davis had signed the bill by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) for real the night before to meet a state deadline.
"For four long years, these men fought under the American flag, side by side with U.S. soldiers, to free the Philippines from Japanese aggression," Davis said. "Side by side with U.S. forces, these heroic men beat back aggression, defended liberty and preserved democracy. For that, we owe them our undying gratitude."
The new law, which is similar to legislation that President Clinton signed last year to benefit Filipinos conscripted into the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II, is largely symbolic. Though about half of the 17,000 Filipino World War II veterans who live in the United States reside in California, only about 650 are expected by veterans' affairs officials to take advantage of the law and return to their place of birth.
Nevertheless, Cedillo, who represents the section of downtown Los Angeles around Temple Street known as Filipino Town, said it was critical for the government to right a decades-old wrong by giving the veterans at least some of the benefits they had earned.
"To all the great Filipino veterans, thank you," Cedillo said to cheers from the audience. "We love you."
About 200,000 Filipino soldiers fought alongside American servicemen during World War II, relying on a promise by President Franklin D. Roosevelt that they would receive full veterans' benefits. But in 1946, Congress passed the postwar Recision Act, which excluded Filipinos from the benefits offered by the GI Bill of Rights.
Many of the Filipino veterans who settled in the United States have died--their numbers are a fraction of what they were even five years ago. But after years of fighting for the benefits they consider rightfully theirs, they have begun to win some political support--especially from Clinton, who four years ago signed a proclamation honoring their service.
The federal law now allows the veterans to return to the Philippines and keep 75% of monthly Supplemental Social Security benefits, or $384. The state law, which will take effect next year, will allow Philippine-bound veterans to keep all of their $215 in monthly State Supplementary Program benefits for the aged, blind and disabled, as long as the veterans were eligible for benefits last year.
In other moves this week, Davis signed environmental protection legislation by Assemblyman Kevin Shelley (D-San Francisco) to implement some of the policies outlined in the state budget, including converting agricultural waste that is otherwise burned in fields into clean energy.
But in his signing message, he criticized a program for a new study of the polluted white croaker population off the Palos Verdes shelf, which contains the nation's largest deposit of DDT and PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls. Similar studies have already been done and the federal government has provided $3.1 million to enforce an existing no-fishing zone, Davis said, so it is "questionable" whether another study is needed.
Davis also signed legislation by Assemblyman George Runner (R-Lancaster) that requires the California State Lottery to post the odds of winning its prizes in all television and print advertising. It does not apply to billboards.