It is official: that the old debt of the United State of America to the Filipino soldiers who fought side by side with the American soldiers during World War II will soon be settled.
The payment, in lump sum, is included in the $787 billion stimulus package signed into law by President Barack Obama.
The sum, at $198 million, represents the debt of America to these Filipino soldiers, many of whom went through a lot of struggle to fight for their right during the last 62 years.
President Harry S. Truman, in 1946, stripped the Filipino soldiers of their United States citizenship, reversing thus a previous official acknowledgement of the sacrifices of the Filipino soldiers in their fighting for the American war in the Philippines against the Japanese invaders.
This one-time payment, though, has its minuses and pluses, with the minuses outnumbering the pluses.
Some pluses: the Filipino veterans, now in their 80s and 90s, have finally received what is due them: official recognition and some sense of inclusion in the history peace-making.
But that recognition came in too late: these veterans, many of them feeble and spent, have been denied what has been promised them and for 62 years they stayed put, waiting and waiting and waiting until this stimulus package came.
There were between 240 thousand and 250 thousand of them in the beginning.
Now there are only about 18 thousand alive, many of them diseased. Of these, 12 thousand remain in the Philippines; 6 thousand are in the United States.
But the death toll is going to decimate many of them in the days ahead—with 10 deaths per day.
One question remains: how does a country settle its obligation justly and fairly, an obligation it kept delaying and delaying in fulfilling?
Of the lump sum, $15T will go the US citizens while $9T will go to the non-US citizens.
Certainly there is goodwill here—and it is difficult to ask for more in these hard times.
But there is huge lesson here: justice delayed is hardly a form of justice.
Let us admit it: we are living in difficult and trying circumstances.
The numbers are mind-boggling: five million unemployed and their ranks are swelling each day.
How can a country that is so prosperous that it can afford to extend help and assistance and kindness to strange countries and peoples go through this story of stumbling and falling on its knees?
Those who are used to the idea that the people of the United States are a bit privileged can hardly believe that this is coming.
The signs were nowhere—or if there were, we were not paying attention.
But this privilege that borders on entitlement sometimes is gone and we have to begin to dust ourselves off and pick up the pieces and hit the ground running to fight the greatest battle of our lives as a nation and as a people.
It is not that this economic downturn is our only lot as it is everywhere, transcending America and reaching other shores.
But this is not the point here.
The point is in the midst of these narratives of untold miseries that are not simply part of ‘top of the nation’ account and ‘newsbreaks’ but are now knocking on our doors must be seen as an opportunity to gather ourselves, muster our strength, and move on.
One redeeming virtue we can hold on to is to hope for the better days ahead.
The end is not hopeless—and it is so—for as long as there is endless hope.
For life’s light becomes meaningful in the backgrey of the dark and the dim and the dreary.
Published in FAO as editorials, March 2009
A Solver Agcaoili/Hon, HI