Miriam Webster defines “rescission” as the abrogation of a contract and the restoration of the parties to the position they would have occupied if there had been no contract. Seventy years ago this week, on February 18, 1946, the US Congress passed the two Rescission Acts of 1946.
The first one, Public Law 79-301, authorized a $200 million appropriation to the Commonwealth Army of the Philippines, with the provision that “service in the Commonwealth Army of the Philippines should not be deemed to have been service in the military or naval forces of the United States.”
The second one, Public Law 79-391, provided that” service in the New Philippine Scouts was not deemed U.S. military service.”
The first bill was supposed to be just an appropriations bill authorizing the US Government to transfer $200 million to the commonwealth government in the Philippines to assist the country’s war rehabilitation efforts.
But two conservative southern senators, Carl Hayden from Arizona, and Richard Russel from Georgia, inserted legislative riders in the appropriations measures intended to save billions of dollars for the United States.
What these two senators sought to rescind was the Executive Order signed by Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt on July 26, 1941calling members of the Philippine Commonwealth Army into the service of the United States Armed Forces of the Far East entitling them to full veterans’ benefits. After this order was issued, more than 100,000 Filipinos volunteered to enlist in the Philippine Commonwealth Army and be sworn in as members of the United States armed forces.
As chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Sen. Hayden wrote to Gen. Omar Bradley, then Director of the Veterans’Administration, requesting information about the Filipinos serving in the US Army and the potential cost of their veterans benefits.
In his response to the committee, General Bradley said that the total cost of paying veterans’ benefits to members of the Philippine Commonwealth Army and their dependents, under the existing veterans’ laws, would amount in the long run (75 years) to about $3 billion.
This information prompted Sen. Hayden and his conservative colleague, Sen. Russel, to introduce the rider that basically overruled Roosevelt’s 1941 Executive Order
Two days after the US Congress passed the Rescission Act, on Feb. 20, 1946, Pres. Harry S. Truman signed it in to law. B tater doing so, Pres. Truman took the opportunity to criticize the law he had just signed.
“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.”
The Rescission Act of 1946 reduced the obligation of the US government to take care of its veterans, who happen to be Philippine citizens, from a legal to a moral one.
In his speech on the floor of the US Senate in 2008, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye criticized the anti-Filipino discriminatory intent of the Rescission Act enacted by Congress in 1946.
“Congress took this action in spite of the fact that Filipino veterans in our armed forces rendered services that were identical to that rendered by other, non-Filipino soldiers who were American nationals or who held United States citizenship. Thus, the Filipino veterans that fought in the service of the United States during World War II are precluded from receiving most veterans’ benefits which were available to them before 1946, and which are available to all other veterans of our armed forces regardless of race, national origin, or citizenship status,” Inouye said.
Sen. Inouye concluded his senate speech with these words: “Last year the Congress passed a joint resolution which recognized and honored the Filipino veterans of World War II. The next logical step in righting the wrong committed against Filipino veterans of World War II, is to provide the same rights, privileges and benefits granted to Americans. I realize there are budget concerns associated with my bill. I am confident this Committee will do what is best and try to reach a compromise. For many years, Filipino veterans of World War II, who are now in their twilight years, have sought to correct the injustice by seeking equal treatment for their valiant military service in our armed forces. We must not ignore the recognition they duly deserve as United States veterans.”
The compromise that was reached was, ironically enough, a legislative rider to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 which was signed into law by Pres. Barack Obama on February 13, 2009, provides a tax-free $15,000 for each of the Filipino veterans who are United States citizens and $9,000 for each of non-US citizens, mostly living in the Philippines.
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