US federal court dismisses Filipino vets class action suitBy Lourdes Santos Tancinco
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Edmundo voluntarily enlisted in 1945 in the Military Police of the 3rd Replacement Battalion, Philippine Army, under the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE).
In his claim for benefit under the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC), he recalled being in the lead vehicle of a convoy of four trucks carrying Japanese prisoners of war.
He was with members of the 11th Infantry Division and the 11th Airborne Division in Southern Luzon. The veteran even has his photograph with American soldiers.
But his name is not on the Missouri List or the National Personnel Record Center at St. Louis, Missouri so his claim for compensation of $15,000 was denied.
In a videotaped hearing in February, the veteran reiterated his claim for benefits before the Board of Veterans Appeal. A board member asked only one irrelevant question: “Are you happy about your hearing today?”
His claim is just one of those denied by the court recently because the claimants were not on the Missouri list.
The Revised Reconstructed Guerrilla Roster (RRGR) or “Missouri List” is the official database of all personnel who served in the US armed forces in the 20th century.
It is now incomplete and inaccurate, as a fire destroyed about 80 percent of Army personnel records from 1912 to 1960.
De Fernandez is another veteran whose records were lost. He enlisted in 1940 with the 24th Field Artillery Regiment of the US Army’s Philippine Division. He joined the defense of Manila and was captured by the Japanese Imperial Army. He was part of the infamous Bataan Death March. In 1942, he was imprisoned at the Camp O’Donnell Concentration Camp.
De Fernandez received the American Defense Service Medal, with one bronze star; the Asiatic Pacific Theater Medal, with one bronze star; the Distinguished Unit Badge, with two oak leaf clusters; the Philippine Defense Ribbon, with one bronze star; and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon, with one bronze star.
Now he is one of the plaintiffs in the case of De Fernandez et. al. v Department of Veterans Affairs filed with the US District Court for the Northern District of California.
On Feb. 7, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided against the plaintiffs in the case of Recinto v US DVA for lack of jurisdiction.
On Feb. 19, the US District Court of Northern California dismissed the class action lawsuit filed by Romeo de Fernandez, Ciriaco C. dela Cruz and Valeriano C. Marcelino and the Veterans Equity Center challenging DVA’s reliance solely on the Missouri List as basis for denying Filipino veterans benefits due them.
There are some similarities in the cases of Recinto and de Fernandez, but they are also distinct in some ways. The de Fernandez class action suit involves an organization as plaintiff, the Veterans Equity Center. In a prior decision, the Ninth Circuit ruled that district courts were not divested of jurisdiction where an organization was a plaintiff.
But Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.
President Barack Obama reiterated in October his commitment to honor and address concerns of Filipino World War II veterans by establishing the Inter-Agency Working Group, composed of representatives of the National Archives Record Administration, Department of Defense and DVA. A 335-page document, “US Army Recognition Program of Philippine Guerillas,” released in December hoped for the reconsideration of the cases of 24,385 whose FVEC claims were denied.
Recent adverse judicial decisions and DVA denial of claims make us wonder if WWII Filipino veterans will ever receive justice.
(Tancinco may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 8717877 or 7211963.)