She has been trained in guerilla warfare. Juliana was a first lieutenant in the Philippine resistance during World War II. She was part of an all-female unit, the Daughters of Tandang Sora, named for a female revolutionary hero. She harbored guerilla leaders and passed targeting information to American troops. “I risked my life,” she said. “That was my life, and I was so afraid.” For most veterans of World War II, the memories of that time are warmed by the spirit of collective sacrifice and triumph. But for Juliana and other Filipino veterans, they are also tinged with bitterness and betrayal. Juliana is among the dwindling ranks of Filipinos who are still fighting for veterans benefits from the U.S. government, 62 years after the Philippine Islands were liberated from the Japanese. By Gene Maddaus STAFF WRITER Juliana Baldoza is 83 years old. She is small, energetic and hospitable, and welcomes visitors to her tidy Carson apartment with baked chicken and cantaloupe. But do not be fooled. Now they are closer than they have ever been. For the first time, a bill to grant pensions to Filipino veterans of World War II has passed the veterans affairs committees in the Senate and the House, and President Bush has promised to sign it. “We’re 95 percent there,” said Eric Lachiga, the executive director of the American Coalition of Filipino Veterans, and a longtime lobbyist for the Filipino Veterans Equity Act. “We’re very optimistic, but cautious. All the factors are in our favor.” Juliana was 18 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and invaded the Philippines. Her family lived in a coastal village called Barceloneta, where they sold corn, bananas and sugar out of their home. Juliana had been sent away to school in nearby Naga City. When the invasion came, she took the last bus home. Her parents packed the family’s belongings into three sleds drawn by pack animals and fled. Soon they encountered Japanese soldiers on the road, sweeping through the Bicol region from Legazpi City toward the capital of Manila. “We had to go away from the roadside and move down where we could not be seen,” Juliana said. “The Japanese might take advantage of us.” The occupation introduced her to the constant threat of such brutalities. The Japanese compelled the villagers to witness executions, sometimes by pistols and other times by swords. The soldiers captured a few farmers during a raid and executed them for the charge of disobeying the occupying forces, Juliana said. Three of her uncles were captured in a rice field and tortured. The mayor and two town councilmen intervened with the Japanese authorities, and the men were released. They were taken into Juliana’s home. “They could not even eat because their hands were very swollen,” she said. “I had to help them and wash them and feed them chicken broth.” Life got worse when Filipino guerillas assassinated a makapili – a collaborator – on the seashore. In response, the Japanese declared Barceloneta a “war zone.” Its residents were forced to resettle in Sipocot, a larger town a few miles away, where Japanese forces were concentrated and could keep watch on the local population. It was there that a friend of Juliana’s, Evangeline, was forced into marriage with the Japanese captain, Kodama. “He was in love with Evangeline,” Juliana said. “She was very strongheaded. She said, `Do not rape the girls or the women here. We will entertain you with folk dances and songs.’ That is how we helped, so the people there would not be molested.” The family was visited by a tall mestizo man, who was the cousin of Juliana’s mother. He was a guerilla who was there to coordinate with the village’s vice mayor. “They had an underground world,” she said. Another guerilla leader was nearly discovered by a Japanese officer at the family house. Harboring a guerilla could have carried a severe punishment, but the officer was distracted by a prize fighting cock, Juliana said. Ultimately, the guerilla said the family should leave Sipocot. “We were told to go out of this place so you will not be affected by the air raid which will be done by the American Air Force,” she said. “We moved out, little by little, out of town.” Juliana and her family moved to the guerilla stronghold in the hills above the town. From there, they were thrilled to see American bombers attacking the Japanese positions. Juliana was drafted into the guerilla forces and given the rank of lieutenant. She and 30 other women were formed into the Daughters of Tandang Sora. She was taught how to handle a pistol and a rifle – though she never had to use either one. Recalling it now, she assumes a military posture, holding a phantom rifle in her right arm. “I can still use it,” she said. She took minutes of guerilla meetings and cared for an American pilot who had crashed in a nearby town and was brought to the guerilla headquarters. (The pilot, she said, was later captured and killed.) Juliana was involved in gathering intelligence and passing it to American forces. She remembers the Americans were told of a secret cache of Japanese ammunition in a lumber yard near the family’s former home. After a bombing raid, she saw that the spot had become a crater filled with rainwater. In 1945, American troops and Filipino guerillas swept through the region just as the Japanese invaders had three years before. Capt. Kodama left Evangeline behind as the Japanese retreated. In Sipocot, there was a victory parade with a liberty float and a ball. There was dancing. “That was how we celebrated our victory during World War II when we were liberated by the Americans,” Juliana said. One of the Filipino guerillas was Jose Amor Baldoza, her future husband. He later became a Philippine Scout and was ordered by the Americans to Okinawa, where he was part of the occupation force. Her father warned her against marrying a soldier because he would always be away from the family. Her father preferred a teacher who was interested, but Juliana did not like him. During a 15-day leave, Jose brought his entire family to Barceloneta, and Juliana’s father relented. They were married the next day, and then Jose returned to duty. At the time, the Philippines was an American commonwealth. Its soldiers could be called into service by the American military. When they were drafted into duty by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1941, they were promised full veterans benefits and American citizenship. But in 1946, the same year the Philippines was granted independence, the U.S. Congress reneged on the deal, declaring that the Filipino soldiers who fought the Japanese had not been on “active” duty. “Nothing was given to us,” Juliana said. “Nothing.” The campaign to restore pensions and health benefits for Filipino veterans has been going on for nearly 20 years. Citizenship was granted to Filipino veterans in 1990. Medical and death benefits were granted in 2003. The only remaining issue is pension benefits. Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, has a bill to give Filipino veterans living in the United States a military pension of $911 per month. Veterans still in the Philippines would get $500 a month. (The Senate version is slightly different, calling for $300 per month.) Filner estimated the cost of the bill at several hundred million dollars. “We promised these veterans 62 years ago that they would get benefits,” he said. “We have not lived up to our promises.” Though the bill has several Republican co-sponsors, including South Bay Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, it passed the House Committee on Veterans Affairs on a strict party-line vote. (Local Democrats Reps. Jane Harman and Maxine Waters are also co-sponsors.) A spokesman for the ranking Republican on the committee, Rep. Steve Buyer, said the Republicans wanted the funds to go to elderly and disabled American veterans. “We very much noted their service,” the spokesman, Brian Lawrence, said. “But they were fighting for their home country. We had Montagnards and South Vietnamese fighting with us in the Vietnamese conflict. We’ve got Iraqis fighting with us now to gain control of their country. Are we supposed to pay them benefits as well? It doesn’t make any sense.” Filner called that argument “ridiculous.” The Philippines was not a foreign country during World War II. “They just don’t want to do it,” Filner said. “They don’t understand the moral or historical necessity of doing it.” Time is growing short. Ten years ago, there were an estimated 75,000 Filipino veterans living in the Philippines and the United States. Now there are about 12,000 in the Philippines and 6,000 in the United States. “There are four or five deaths every day,” said Peping Baclig, an 85-year-old Filipino veteran who survived the Bataan Death March and fought the Japanese as a guerilla. “Slowly but surely our group is vanishing from this Earth.” Filner, who chairs the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said he hoped the bill would be approved by the full House by the end of the session in November. That would go a long way toward easing the pain and frustration for Filipino veterans and their descendents. “I hope and pray they will give it to us because we really did our service,” Juliana said. “When the war broke out, I tried to serve.” After the war, she finished school and became a teacher. She had 10 children, and now has 33 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Her husband worked as a barber. He died in 1998, at the age of 74. Though he never received veterans’ benefits, she would still qualify as his widow. “It’s not so much the money, although we need the money,” Baclig said. “The most important aspect of my life is to transmit to my grandchildren that we have fought. We have done our role. We have done it right, and we did it with honor.” [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!