By Ed Diokno
Seventy years ago this week the U.S. Congress committed an act of betrayal.
President Truman signed the Rescission Act on February 18, 1946, which took away the rights and benefits of thousands of Filipinos who fought for the United States during World War II. The few remaining Filipino veterans who are alive – many walking with canes or in their wheelchairs – are still fighting this battle against injustice.
At the start of the war against the Japanese, President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order incorporating the Philippine Commonwealth Army into the United States Armed Forces of the Far East under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
With that order came the promise that the Filipinos who joined the USAAFE would be eligible to receive the same benefits as the servicemen in the regular U.S. military.
Thousands heeded the call. They fought alongside their American comrades-in-arms against overwhelming odds, under-supplied and ill-equipped, they fought until U.S. forces surrendered in Bataan and Corridor.
Even after the surrender, thousands still fought as guerrillas, hiding in the jungles, raiding, spying and harassing the Japanese forces so much that the Imperial Army had to expend their energy fighting the U.S-backed units, delaying the Japanese invasion of Australia. It gave the Australians time to beef up their defenses and the U.S. to bring reinforcements and supplies to their Australian allies.
In 1946, a budget-conscious Congress more concerned about financing the grand Marshall Plan and rebuilding Japan, their former enemy, appropriated a piddling $200 million to the Philippine Army. Contained in that appropriation bill was a rider: the infamous Recession Act, that overturned President Franklin’s promise.
At first, President Truman vetoed the bill because of that provision but when it came back to him, he reluctantly approved the bill on Feb. 20, 1946 saying (emphasis is mine):
“In approving H.R. 5158, I wish to take exception to a legislative rider attached to the transfer of a $200,000,000 item for the pay of the Army of the Philippines. The effect of this rider is to bar Philippine Army veterans from all benefits under the G.I. Bill of Rights with the exception of disability and death benefits which are made payable on the basis of one peso for every dollar of eligible benefits. I realize, however, that certain practical difficulties exist in applying the G.I. Bill of Rights to the Philippines.
“However, the passage and approval of this legislation do not release the United States from its moral obligation to provide for the heroic Philippine veterans who sacrificed so much for the common cause during the war.
“Philippine Army veterans are nationals of the United States and will continue in that status until July 4, 1946. They fought, as American nationals, under the American flag, and under the direction of our military leaders. They fought with gallantry and courage under most difficult conditions during the recent conflict. Their officers were commissioned by us. Their official organization, the Army of the Philippine Commonwealth, was taken into the Armed forces of the United States by executive order of the President of the United States on July 26, 1941. That order has never been revoked or amended.
“I consider it a moral obligation of the United States to look after the welfare of Philippine Army veterans.”
Filipino American groups threw their support behind the veterans’ cause. and were later joined by other Asian American legal and civil rights organizations. Through the years, sympathetic congressmen tried to correct this injustice.
There have been some piecemeal victories: Citizenship was granted to some, but only for a limited group; benefits reinstated for some, but not all; benefits extended to some benefits. Most of the veterans that would have qualified have died. However, there are still a couple thousand waiting for their heroic deeds to be recognized, still fighting for the respect and justice they deserve.
The least that can be done is for Congress overturn the Rescission Act and fulfill the promise made when America needed them most.
(Ed Diokno writes a blog :Views From The Edge: news and analysis from an Asian American perspective.)
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