By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City
In 2011, WWII veteran Felino Punsalan was accorded a Lifetime Achievement Award during the 6th Annual People’s Ball of the Washington, DC-based Migrant Heritage Commission for his effort to have the USAFFE veterans under Gen. Douglas McArthur fully recognized by the US government.
In May this year, he passed away peacefully in his sleep at the age of 95 in San Francisco, California, still very much involved in the campaign for justice for the veterans. Punsalan’s struggle would not be in vain, for the inspiration he left behind will energize those who shall continue with the quest.
The MHC will give Punsalan’s family his Posthumous Award during the 8th Annual People’s Ball, the biggest gala of Philippine immigrants and advocates in the US at the national capital’s Marriott Wardman Hotel on June 22, 2013.
Punsalan and all the other remaining Philippine soldiers have ceaselessly called on Pres. Obama to grant full benefits to Filipino veterans who until now have been denied the corresponding benefits as war heroes. All the other WWII veterans of the 65 allied countries were given full benefits by the US government, except the Filipino soldiers.
Punsalan called this institutionalized racial discrimination. He served the World War II but because his name was not in the Missouri List, he was unable to get any benefit from the US government as one of its freedom fighters. He died fighting for his right. His group, the Justice for Filipino Veterans, continue their campaign for equity.
“We fought and won the war that made America the greatest country on earth. We have to be duly recognized, as the other allied soldiers were,” Punsalan used to say.
Born on June 1,1918 in Concepcion, province of Tarlac, Punsalan had been orphaned early. His father, Anselmo Punsalan, died when he was two months old and his mother, Bibiana Coronel, died when he was nine. A sister provided for his grade school education; an elder brother for his high school education.
Punsalan married Edith Refundo Ardena, an elementary school teacher, with whom he has six children: Imelda, Edgar (deceased), Renato, Susan, Brenda, and Alan.
He worked as stenographer at a private office in Manila in 1940-1941 and joined the army during WWII and was a member of the United States Forces Far East (USAFFE). He retired with a rank of Master Sergeant in 1966. He joined the Bureau of Customs- Piers and Baggage Inspection Division 1966- 1983 and received an award “Best Employee” in 1976.
He migrated to the US in November, 1983 and eventually took the advocacy campaign for equity benefits for the Filipino veterans.
He may have been a good lawyer, but he dropped out on the third year at the College of Law of the Far Eastern University for economic and health reasons. He gives high regard to education and once said, “…after reading my story you may have noticed that in my family, I am the only one without a college degree. It is really difficult to be an orphan at an early age. It is very good for children to have parents who could guide them to the pathways towards good college education.”
The JFAV have lobbied for equal protection for two groups, one group belongs to the Filipino veterans and the other group is composed of widows and children of the veterans who passed away.
Recently, the veterans found an ally in the office of Democratic US Senate Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid-NV who promised to work closely with equity champion Senator Brian Schatz-HI and other leaders to bring about the passage of S690, “The Filipino Veterans Fairness Act of 2013,” on the floor.
This came as a result of the week long lobbying by volunteers of the JFAV at the Capitol. The office of Senator Durbin recommended either to right away co-sponsor or vote for the bill when it’s on the floor.
Schatz was given the right to stand up and state support for the bill he introduced. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski- AK together with Senators Mazie Hirono- HI and Mark Begich- AK co-sponsored his bill.
In the House, Rep. Jackie Speier- CA introduced a companion bill with 33 co-sponsors including Republican Joe Heck- NV. Schatz called on his colleagues in Congress to join him in moving swiftly to pass this legislation, “so that we can finally fulfill the promise of equal rights for thousands of veterans across the country, and fully honor the men and women who served our country so bravely in a time of war.”
JVAC coordinator Arturo Garcia welcomed the bill of Sen. Schatz. “The Fairness Act by Senator Schatz provides
unconditional recognition and full compensation while the Promise Act by Senator Heller simply affirms the lump sum payment for pain and suffering, and minimizes benefits,” said Garcia.
JFAV is obviously supporting the Fairness Act.
Aside from lobbying at the Capitol, JFAV has filed a certiorari on their case before the Supreme Court, after the Court of Appeals in California affirmed the decision of the district court to dismiss their benefit claims in February this year. As the soldiers continue to lobby for their campaign, Garcia said they will sorely miss the veteran Punsalan, who, at 95, still had the zest to belt out songs with his beautiful voice and the stamina to dance gracefully. (Photos by JFAV)