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Filipino WWII vets finally recognized

THE United States House of Representatives finally approved on Wednesday, November 30, the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Medal Act originally filed in 2015. The Senate had earlier approved the counterpart bill unanimously last July. The bill now goes to President Obama for his signature.

Filipino veterans of World War II have waited long for this bill which seeks to ease the disappointment and frustration of Filipino soldiers who fought with American forces in World War II. They had been promised the same benefits as American soldiers by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt but after the war, with the US finally recognizing the independence of the Republic of the Philippines, the US Congress enacted the Rescission Act which stripped the Filipino soldiers of the benefits promised them by President Roosevelt. It was signed by President Harry S. Truman who succeeded to the presidency with the death of Roosevelt in 1945.

Some monetary benefits were extended to the Filipino veterans in 2009 – a one-time $15,000 lump sum for surviving veterans who are now US citizens and a $9,000 lump sum for non-citizens. But they never quite got over the disappointment brought by the Rescission Act of 1946. This law retroactively annulled benefits that would have been payable to Filipino troops for their military service under the US government when the Philippines was a US territory and Filipinos were US nationals.

Those monetary benefits may no longer be available, but the approval of the Congressional Gold Medal Act by the US House last week, following its earlier approval by the US Senate, carries with it the recognition of the Filipino troops who went to war at the side of the Americans. Recognition will be in the form of the award of a Congressional Gold Medal which is the US Congress’ highest expression of appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. The Gold Medal for Philippine veterans will placed for display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

Most of the Filipinos who fought in World War II are now gone, but their families and the surviving veterans welcome the enactment of the law. “It’s better late than never,” said one veteran who was only 13 when he served as a courier and a scout for the guerrillas who fought in Cagayan. It is not generally known but Filipinos formed the majority of the US Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) at the start of the war in Bataan and Corregidor, were in the Death March, and carried on with guerrilla warfare during the three years of Japanese occupation, until Liberation came in 1945.

The war in the Pacific began with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941, followed hours later by the bombing of Fort Stotsenberg in Pampanga. The 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor is only a few days away. That anniversary has now become even more significant with the enactment by the US Congress of the Congressional Gold Medal Act finally recognizing the Filipinos who fought in World War II.