Hawaii's Filipinos Lose A Great Friend–Sen. Daniel K. Inouye

U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye (Official Senate Photo)

The Filipino Community (FilCom) Center in the Waipahu district of the City and County of Honolulu is a handsome building with a semi-Mediterranean architectural flair. Built on an old plantation site donated by American Factors (Amfac) in the 1990s, it's the only one of its kind outside of the Philippines, and Filipinos in Hawaii are understandably proud of it. Its spacious auditorium, named after FilCom's major shakers and movers, Eddie Flores, Jr. and Roland Casamina, buzzes with activity just about every weekend–social, cultural, educational, religious events; entertainment; ceremonies; workshops; conferences and other programs. It's the center of gravity in the burgeoning Filipino community, now the largest ethnic minority in the state of Hawaii. Waipahu, Kalihi-Palama, Ewa Beach and much of western Oahu are virtually "Filipino towns" reminiscent of the old country. There are two Max of Manila restaurants, a Jollibee, an RCBC remittance center, a Golden Coin, and so on. You really feel at home.

Senator Daniel Inouye (center) with the Filipino Community Center Banda Kawayan (Photo courtesy of the Filipino Community Center)

But it wasn't a happy time for the Filipino community last Christmas. The reason: The community’s strong supporter over not only years but decades, the liberal senior U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye, passed away after continuously serving the state for nearly 60 years since Territorial days, nearly 50 of which were in the U.S. Senate as President Pro Tempore and chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

Inouye was a compassionate mentor, colleague and supporter of the early Filipino leaders in post-statehood Hawaii–Ben Menor, Alfred Laureta, Peter Aduja, Bernaldo Bicoy and others.  He was also a strong supporter of the Filipino labor movement, which grew considerably since plantation days. He led a group of "Young Turks," which included many early Filipino leaders, towards Hawaii's democratization and modernization after it became a state.

The Filipino veterans who fought side by side with the U.S. military in World War II received their long overdue benefits after Inouye continuously lobbied or passed legislation to give what was due to our old warriors.

Known as the "King of Pork" because of his unusual ability to secure or channel millions of dollars in federal grants to his native Hawaii, Inouye made possible the landmarks that you see today in the nation's 50th state–the international airport, H-3 freeway, the USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor, various military facilities, the East-West Center, etc., all recipients of the late Senator's tireless efforts to snag federal assistance for the state.

The Filipino veterans who fought side by side with the U.S. military in World War II received their long overdue benefits, as much as $15,000 for each veteran, after Inouye continuously lobbied or passed legislation to give what was due to our old warriors. A veteran himself, whose right arm was blown off by enemy fire in Italy where he was a platoon leader, Inouye never forgot his fellow veterans.

Federal grants sponsored by Inouye also completed the construction of the FilCom Center's physical plant. These grants also funded the Center's Banda Kawayan (a musical group that includes children performing with bamboo instruments), an archival diagonal library and a Smart Seniors Program. "We are deeply grateful for his assistance," writes FilCom president Rose Churma, "and perhaps someday we will be able to memorialize his presence within the Center's walls."

Space limitations prevent me from detailing all the late senator's good deeds and great support for the Filipino community. He was unwavering in his support and always ready to offer any help he and his office could give.

Senator Daniel Inouye (seated, left) at the United Filipino Council of Hawaii banquet (Photo courtesy of the Filipino Community Center)

I join the many who were saddened by his passing, and I would like to add a personal note of deep gratitude that Churma talks about. The Senator did not know me from a hole in the wall during the ‘70s and ‘80s when martial law was still raging in the Philippines, and many of us who were caught by that disaster while we were students in the U.S. could not go home. But the late U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink introduced me to him for the sole purpose of asking him to introduce a "private bill" for me in the U.S. Senate to enable me to sort out all kinds of immigration issues at the time. The late senator introduced the bill just like that, which astounded me upon receiving a copy of the bill he had introduced. No questions asked.

This will always mean a lot to me. He was a person unlike any other for his legendary humanity on top of all his remarkable accomplishments during his lifetime. Most of all, for all the positions of power he occupied, he remained the epitome of humility, grace, dignity, compassion–all the personal traits that lead one to say, there may never be another one like him.

Author Belinda Aquino

Author Belinda Aquino

Belinda A. Aquino is professor emeritus at the School of Pacific and Asian Studies University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu.