The House passed legislation on Tuesday to reward belatedly more than 18,000 Filipinos for their service with U.S. forces in the Philippines during World War II.
Amounts involved fall far short of what they and tens of thousands of their Filipino brothers-in-arms were promised for their service. Filipinos made a major contribution to the U.S. defense of its colony and its recovery from Imperial Japanese forces as the United States military machine moved back toward Japan.
The "Filipino Veterans Equity Act of 2008," which passed 382-23, would make one-time payments of $15,000 to Filipinos who are U.S. citizens and $9,000 to non-citizen Filipino veterans. The Senate passed a bill on veterans' affairs in April that provided pensions for many of the surviving veterans but has not acted on the House-passed legislation. Senators could take up the House version or meet in conference committee to work out the differences in the two versions of the legislation.
Ben de Guzman, a spokesman for the National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity, said only 18,115 veterans remain. He said roughly two-thirds still live in the Philippines.
After President Franklin D. Roosevelt conscripted Filipino men and boys into the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East on July 26, 1941, they were promised full benefits as veterans of the U.S. Army. After hostilities ceased, however, Congress reversed the promise in the Rescissions Acts of 1946.
Veterans who began receiving benefits before passage of the Rescissions Acts continued to receive them. The duty of the other veterans, many of whom fought in the Philippine jungles in U.S. uniforms and were forced on the Bataan Death March with their American comrades, was deemed not to have been active duty.
De Guzman said while he is pleased that both the Senate and the House finally have passed bills to rectify the situation, questions remain.
"Not the least of it is the amount" for each old soldier, he said. The veterans themselves, he said, "are surprisingly of one voice on this. Traditionally if you ask 11 vets what they think, you get 11 different answers." They are united in thinking the congressional action is lacking, he said.
They would seem to have a champion in the chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka, a World War II veteran from Hawaii.
His spokesman, Jesse Broder-Van Dyke, said Akaka was meeting with senators about the veterans. Akaka sponsored the bill that passed the Senate with the pensions intact.
"He just wants to give them the recognition they reserve while they're still alive," Broder Van Dyke said.