Tuesday 31 October 2017

WWII Filipino Veterans finally honored by US after 75 years

The belated recognition by the US Congress of Filipino veterans who fought and died alongside American forces during World War II would have been more meaningful had the US legislature not reneged on the promises made to them by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the immediate aftermath of the war.

The Filipino veterans and their families still remember that the 79th United States Congress enacted the Rescission Act of 1946 on February 18,1946.

The Rescission Act retroactively annulled benefits that would have been payable to the Filipino troops on account of their military service under the auspices of the US during the time that the Philippines was a US territory and Filipinos were US nationals.  *
US Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan (center),with some Filipino veterans and other officials during the Congressional Gold Medal presentation ceremony last October 25, 2017 (photo credit to CNN)

The law showed its hardheartedness in its opening paragraph: “Service before July 1, 1946, in the organized military forces of the Government of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, while such forces were in the service of the Armed Forces of the United States pursuant to the military order of the President dated July 26, 1941, including among such military forces organized guerrilla forces under commanders appointed, designated, or subsequently recognized by the Commander in Chief, Southwest Pacific Area, or other competent authority in the Army of the United States, shall not be deemed to have been active military, naval, or air service for the purposes of any law of the United States conferring rights, privileges, or benefits upon any person by reason of the service of such person or the service of any other person in the Armed Forces.”

We should mark and remember these words in light of our history. During World War II, more than 200,000 Filipinos fought in defense of the United States against the Japanese in the Pacific theater of military operations, and more than half of them died. As a commonwealth of the United States before and during the war, Filipinos were legally American nationals. With American nationality, Filipinos were promised all the benefits afforded to those serving in the armed forces of the United States. In 1946, Congress passed the Rescission Act, stripping Filipinos of the benefits they were promised, citing the reason that the US gave the Philippines $200,000,000 after the war.  *

In the US ceremony on the 25th of last month, a Filipino veteran of World War II, the 100-year-old Celestino Almeda, and his fellow veterans were presented a Congressional Gold Medal after fighting in the war.

It should not be lost on anyone that Almeda had been waiting 75 years for the moment to come. It’s wonderful and just that this veteran will also be getting health benefits and US citizenship, and that he will finally receive $15,000 under an equity bill signed by President Barack Obama in 2009. This money took long in coming because of lots of red tape and past denials of the claims to compensation.

As we mark All Souls Day this week, it is fitting that we say a prayer and remember the 200,000 Filipino soldiers who died in the war during their time of service. We also remember those who survived the war, but did not live to see the day when they could justly receive the benefits for their service and sacrifice.

We are glad that Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, sponsored the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015, along with four co-sponsors. The bipartisan list of sponsors grew to 71 until it was finally passed. *

Manila Times Editorial October 31, 2017


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