A provision for benefits for Filipino World War II Veterans was inserted as a rider in the American Recovery and Reinstatement Act of 2009 which passed in the U.S. Senate this month. After more than six decades of struggle for benefits, hope for the Filipino veterans of World War II remains alive.
Rooting back to 1941, since the Philippines was considered a protectorate of the United States, then-U.S. President Roosevelt ordered that those Filipino soldiers who fight against the Japanese in the Philippines could acquire U.S. citizenship and be granted the same privileges and benefits as their U.S. soldier counterparts in the mainland U.S. Approximately 250,000 Philippine Army regulars and guerilla fighters bravely fought alongside with American soldiers. The group, known as U.S. Army Forces in the Far East or USAFFE, was commanded by General Douglas MacArthur.
However, shortly after the Japanese surrendered, the Recission Act of 1946 was passed which deemed the Filipino soldiers as not in “active service” thus denying them most of their veterans benefits as earlier promised.
In the early ‘90s, President George H.W. Bush signed a bill granting Filipino veterans instant citizenship which resulted in about 30,000 veterans coming to the U.S. Since then a few hundred of them have died or returned to the Philippines. To date, there are about 18,000 Filipino veterans living either in the U.S. or in the Philippines.
The hope of fulfillment of this promise was revived when Senator Daniel K. Inouye, inserted $198 million into the economic stimulus bill for the veterans. He is the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee and one of three remaining World War II veterans in the U.S. Senate. He has long supported the cause of providing benefits to the Filipino veterans to honor the outstanding promise owed to these brave soldiers and as a matter of principle.
In the Senate Bill No. 366, “Administrative Provision Sec. 1002″, entitled “Payments to Eligible Persons who served in the United States Armed Forces in the Far East during World War II,” provides that those Filipinos “who served in variety of units, some of whom came under direct control of the United States Armed Forces,” will be entitled to a lump sum pay of $9,000 if they are not United States citizens or a one-time pay of $ 15,000 if they are U.S. citizens. The beneficiaries include the regular old and new Philippine Scouts, the Guerilla Services, and more than 100,000 members of the Philippine Commonwealth Army called into the service of the USAFFE on 14 July 26, 1941.
This particular rider has steered criticisms among the legislators like Rep. Steve Buyer of Indiana, the top Republican on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee who does not question what the Filipino veterans have contributed but to compensate them under the guise of an economic stimulus is false. Another criticism came from Sen. John McCain, (R-Arizona), who argued that the provision does not have to do anything with stimulating the U.S. economy.
Today, the U.S. Congress is set to vote on Obama’s 789 billion dollar economic stimulus package Friday. President Obama has declared a deadline of February 16 to have the bill passed and the Filipino veterans are keeping their hopes alive that the final version of the stimulus package will include solid and substantial benefits for the Filipino veterans.
Atty. Michael Templo is an attorney admitted to practice law in New York State and Federal Courts and is a partner at Templo & Templo with offices in New York, USA and Makati City, Philippines. Atty. Templo specializes in US Immigration matters. The discussion above is not intended as legal advice, and cannot be relied upon for any purpose without the services of a qualified professional. For your comments and questions, Atty. Templo can be reached at [email protected] or log on to www.templolaw.com.