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Guest Editorial: US Assistance to Typhoon Stricken Philippines; “How Do I Love Thee?”

In the wake of the Philippines’ disastrous Typhoon Haiyan, President Obama declared: “Today, our message to our Filipino allies is that we stand with you once more. In the difficult days ahead, we’ll do our part to help you recover.”

The United States has pledged $20 million to date, and is sending in massive military aid to help in the rescue and recovery. Washington has made this priority number one, and it shows.  We care for the Philippines, and we always have.

It was the late Senator Daniel K. Inouye who publicly expressed that while the United States felt deeply for the Philippines, we have not done enough to help our former colony.

In our history books, we learn about General Douglas MacArthur being forced from the Philippines in 1942. We also learn of his return in 1944 when he said: “I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil.”

Interesting, that it was in the month of October of 1944 when MacArthur landed in Leyte, not far from where Typhoon Haiyan struck land in Tacloban. In the last 69 years, have we done all we could to help our former colony?

At the end of World War II  Congress passed the GI Bill of Rights, providing full benefits to all who served in defense of the US. A total of 66 countries were included, but Filipino soldiers were excluded.

In defense of freedom and democracy, the USAFFE (United States Armed Forces in the Far East) fought side by side with US soldiers in the Philippines, even wearing the same uniforms as regular US Army troops. It is often reported that the US offered veterans’ benefits and naturalization, as an incentive for Filipinos who enlisted in the fight to defend the Philippines from Japan.

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In 1946, the US congress passed a rescission act to deny veterans’ benefits to new Philippine Scouts who, at the time, were considered regular US Army. While naturalization was allowed in 1990 for those who served in USAFFE active duty status (and in the other Filipino troop organizations between 1939 and 1946), US veteran benefits were still NOT included in that legislation.

In addition to the Army, the US Navy had its hands in the action by restricting Filipinos to being Stewards, until that was modified in 1971.

Senator Inouye vowed to make amends. On behalf of the approximately 4 million Filipino-Americans, he tried hard to make a difference in any way he could. Whether it was for Philippine veterans or for US – Philippine trade, he was there to help.

The US has a special trade relationship with every former US colony except the Philippines. The US did give the Philippines generous quota allotments, but that went away when China ascended to the World Trade Organization in 2005, and quotas were eliminated. Philippines’ light industry (apparel assembly) was severely hurt at that time with over 500,000 Filipino jobs lost, as US trade policy set off in a new direction.

One of the trade related items that concerned Senator Inouye was how to protect what remained of light industry in the Philippines for the future. With all the discussion surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, the Philippines is about to get hammered again.

Vietnam will be duty free under TPP. The Philippines, sensing trade problems would accelerate with this new TPP agreement, were interested to be included in the talks. Discussions are underway, but it’s likely they would only be included in a second tranche of the TPP talks and, by then, what remains of the assembly industry will be so small, it won’t matter anymore.

Funny, when one really thinks about this TPP situation, Vietnam and Japan are included in the talks, but the Philippines (our former US Colony) is excluded.

The Philippines fought with the United States against Japan during World War II, yet Japan is included in TPP, and the Philippines is not.

At the request of the United States, the Philippines sent troops to fight against North Vietnam in the Vietnam War, yet Vietnam is included in TPP, and the Philippines is not.

The Philippines sent troops to fight with the US and South Korea, against the North during the Korean War, and yet South Korea has a free trade agreement with the US and the Philippines does not.

Does all this seem fair?

President Obama also said about the Haiyan disaster:  “And, as you rebuild from this terrible storm, you will continue to have a friend and partner in the United States of America.”

Let’s hope that our Congress will recognize the partnership and extend it well beyond this terrible tragedy. Let’s be sure that Filipino veteran’s rights and Philippine-US trade relations are covered as we move forward.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning:  “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…….I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears, of all my life!”

Our hearts go out to all who have been hurt and lost to Typhoon Haiyan.


Rick Helfenbein is President of TellaS Ltd (Luen Thai USA) and Vice Chairman of the American Apparel and Footwear Association. He is a strong advocate of a robust US Trade Agenda and often lectures on the subject of supply chain and international trade at prestigious universities around the country. He participates annually in the Consortium for Operational Excellence in Retailing at Harvard University and the Wharton School of Business.