After US Senate, US House of Representatives Approves Congress Medal for Filipino War Veterans

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US CONGRESS MEDAL FOR FILIPINO VETERANS. US Senator Mazie Hirono, main sponsor of the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act,  and House counterpart Rep. Tulsi Gabbard,  pose with Filipino American leaders campaigning for the passage of the measure. They include Margaret Lacson-Ecarma, Bobby Ecarma, Eric Macalma, Bing Cardenas Branigin, Jon Melegrito, Eric Lachica, retired US Army General Antonio Taguba, Hector Vargas, Denise Diokno, Ben de Guzman, Jc Videna and John Victoria at the US Congress in Washington. (Facebook Post of Bing Branigin/PhilAmPress)

By JOSEPH G. LARIOSA with ALFRED GABOT (PhilAmPress)

WASHINGTON (JGL/PhilAmPress) – It maybe very late but Filipino veterans are now officially fully recognized for their exploits during World War II by the United States Congress itself.

This after the US House of Representatives approved swiftly by a voice vote on November 30 H.R. 2737, the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015 which seeks to award collectively a Congressional Medal, the highest US civilian award, to the Filipino war veterans. The US Senate approved S. 1555, its version, as early as in July.  Both bills exceeded the requisite supermajority cosponsorships.

The measure, a version (S. 1555) of which was approved unanimously by the US Senate in July 13, 2016, will be sent immediately to US President Barack Obama for signing into law.

Under the measure, only one Congressional Gold Medal will be awarded to the Filipino veterans. But the medal will not go directly to the Filipino veterans but to the Smithsonian in Washington where it will be kept and displayed. The Smithsonian is authorized to make bronze copies of the medal which will be sold to those interested to have the version of the medal.

The Senate version (S.1555) was sponsored by Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Dean Heller (R-NV), Harry Reid (D-NV), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Brian Schatz (D-HI) and co-sponsored by 72 senators. The House version (H.R.2737) was sponsored by Representatives Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Joseph Heck (R-NV), Juan Vargas (D-CA), Mike Thompson (D-CA), Mark Takai (D-HI), and Jackie Speier (D-CA) and co-sponsored by several representatives. Both bills were introduced on June 11, 2015.

Records showed that there were over 260,000 Filipino war veterans who were called to service by President Franklin Roosevelt but only less than 15,000 are alive today but not all will be able to personally see the medal being too old or sickly for the rigors of travel to the US Congress in Washington.

 The Filipinos fought side by side with the American soldiers during the war from July 1941 to 1946 and were promised equal treatment as American veterans after World War II. The US, however, reneged on its promised when  the US Congress in 1946 enacted the Rescission Act that stripped away full recognition and benefits from them.
In reaction to persistent Filipino action for support to the Filipino war veterans, the US Congress approved in 2009 a stimulus package that included one-time payments of $15,000 to Filipino veterans who have made it in the United States and $9,000 to those still living in the Philippines.
However, thousands of veterans’ claims were denied, mainly because US authorities did not accept records from the Philippines.

Retired US Army Gen. Antonio Taguba, who rose to become the highest and among the most prominent Filipino officers in the US military service, who helped in spearheading the campaign for the approval of the measure, said that Filipino WWII soldiers are the last minority veterans of World War II who have not received the Congressional Gold Medal. Other minority veterans who were previously recognized include the Tuskegee Airmen, Montford Marines, Navajo Code Talkers, Women Air Service Pilots, Japanese American Nisei Soldiers and the Puerto Rican 65th Infantry Regiment.

“Moreover, the Rescission Acts of 1946 took away their honor, their dignity, their pride and citizenship,” Taguba added in an earlier interview. “They obeyed President Roosevelt’s military order on July 26, 1941. But after their uncommon valor and sacrifice, they were treated unjustly by the same country they willingly vowed to protect and defend.”

The Congressional Gold Medal (CGM) is the highest award bestowed by U.S. Congress to an individual or group who performed a significant achievement that has impact in American history and culture.

Reports from Washington showed the House of Representatives passed the measure less than 30 minutes after it was introduced for a floor vote by Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI-02).

A nephew of a Filipino World War II veteran, Marlon L. Pecson, reacted with, “Thank God, Filipino veterans are finally honored with their sacrifices.” His uncle is Eleuterio Pecson of the Philippine USAFFE Infantry Division, who died in 1995.

The Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. also lauded the passage of the bill.

“We welcome this good news and extend our appreciation to all the advocates and supporters of the bill at the US House of Representatives and the Senate. Our veterans’ sacrifice is one of the greatest stories of heroism, courage, and strength that our two countries have ever seen. From ordinary civilians to defenders of free nations, these men and women deserve our deepest respect and gratitude,” said Minister Patrick Chuasoto, Chargé d’Affaires ad interim of the Philippine Embassy, in a statement.

“We also recognize the contributions of the Philippine Consulates General and Filipino communities across the United States, the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), and the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FILVETREP) in the success of this joint campaign. We look forward to the final step of President Obama’s signing this bill into law,” Minister Chuasoto added.

Last  Monday, Sen. Hirono and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI-02), both principal sponsors of the bills in both chambers, predicted an easy sailing of the bill in the House.

The Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015 seeks to award a Congressional Gold Medal, the highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions in the United States, collectively, to 260,000 Filipino veterans in recognition of their dedicated service during World War II. This means only one medal will be awarded.

The bill had the support of the supermajority 71 percent of the co-sponsors from both the U.S. Senate (71 votes) and U.S. House of Representatives (312 votes).

The Congressional Medal Gold Medal is the highest civilian honor bestowed by the U.S. Congress and has been awarded to heroes such as President George Washington, surviving veterans of the Civil War, Native American code talkers, the Tuskegee Airmen, Rosa Parks, the Apollo 11 astronauts and Simon Wiesenthal.

According to the bill, the congressional gold medal shall be given to the Smithsonian Institution, where it will be available for display as appropriate and made available for research.

However, the Smithsonian could“strike and sell duplicates in bronze of the gold medal struck under this Act, at a price sufficient to cover the costs of the medals, including labor, materials, dies, use of machinery, and overhead expenses.”

The amounts received from sale of duplicate medals shall be deposited in the U.S. Mint Public Enterprise Fund. National medals such as the Congressional Medals are considered “numismatic items” or “collector’s items,” whose values are in excess of the monetary values conferred by law.

Before the passage by the House of the bill, Congress leaders issued statements on the measure. Sen. Mazie Hirono said: “This week, Congress will take the next step to recognize the brave and courageous service of Filipino World War II veterans like Domingo Los Banos from Kauaʻi. This Veterans Day, I joined Domingo aboard the USS Missouri to recount how these veterans were instrumental to our victory in the Pacific, but had to fight for decades to receive the benefits they earned. The unanimous support this bill earned in the Senate and the overwhelming backing it has in the House honors the sacrifice so many of these veterans made for our country.”

“This week, the House will take a historic vote to honor our Filipino World War II veterans with the Congressional Gold Medal—our highest civilian honor. These loyal and courageous soldiers suffered, fought, and gave up their lives alongside their American counterparts throughout the war, and have waited decades for their service to be recognized. They cannot afford to wait any longer,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. “It has been an honor to personally get to know some of these veterans and their families, and to hear them humbly tell their courageous stories of service. I urge my colleagues to join me in voting to pass this timely legislation, and to honor our veterans with this long-overdue recognition.”

When the bill hurdled the Senate before the elections, there were misgivings that its importance will be overshadowed by elections results and will not be scheduled for a floor House vote.

A Congressional aide of Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL-18) clarified, however, to this reporter that during election recess, Congressmen could not register their votes on a bill when Congress is not in session. Representative LaHood, a friend of this reporter, was among the seven members of the House of Representatives, who voted for the bill after the presidential elections.
Senator Mazie Hirono and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard introduced the Filipino Veterans of WWII Congressional Gold Medal Act in 2015, and have worked together toward the bill’s final passage. The legislation acknowledges the more than 200,000 Filipino and Filipino-American soldiers who responded to President Roosevelt’s call-to-duty and fought under the American flag against the Imperial Forces of Japan during World War II.

Reached for comment, Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev-03), who also supported H.R. 2737, told this reporter, that he also introduced H.R. 1875, the Filipino Veterans Recognition Act that extends compensation fund while streamlining eligibility requirements to ensure that those who serve receive the appropriate compensation. Some 24,000 of aging WW II veterans have yet to collect compensation “due to bureaucratic roadblocks” established by the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund passed by Congress in 2009.

During the grassroots campaign of the H.R. 2737 in the Philippine Consulate in Chicago, Illinois last August, reading the explanatory portion of the bill, Philippine Consul General Generoso D. G. Calonge clarified that the bill would not only bestow Congressional Medal on Filipino WW II veterans but also as a recognition on “any individual who any time during the period beginning on July 26, 1941, and ending on Dec. 31, 1946, were in an active-duty status under the command of the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East (USAFEE); and those within the Philippine Commonwealth Army, the Philippine Scouts, the Philippine Constabulary, recognized Guerrilla units, the New Philippine Scouts, the nearly 9,000 First Filipino Infantry Regiment formed on April 1, 1942 at Camp San Luis Obispo in California and the Second Filipino Infantry Battalion formed at Ford Ord, California on Nov. 21, 1942, or the First Reconnaissance Battalions; or Commanding or serving in a unit described in paragraph (3)(a) as a U.S. military officer or enlisted soldier. (jgl/philampress/ jglariosa@hotmail.com)

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