The US 70-Year Promise to Filipino WWII Veterans Remains Unfulfilled

George Winston
 
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During WWII, the Philippines was a commonwealth of the US. When the call went out for volunteers to fight in the war, tens of thousands of Filipinos signed up.

The day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they attacked the Philippines. President Franklin D. Roosevelt pledged to protect the Philippines to the death.

Since the Philippines was a US commonwealth, the Filipino soldiers were legally American nationals and they were promised by Roosevelt the same veterans’ benefits members of the US Armed Forces received.

Filipino and American prisoners of war marched from Mariveles to San Fernando.
Filipino and American prisoners of war marched from Mariveles to San Fernando.

Where Pearl Harbor was a single strike by the Japanese, their attack on the Philippines was a long, sustained campaign. The Japanese occupied Manila.

The US Army fought alongside their Filipino allies in the Battle of Bataan. General Douglas MacArthur was defeated there and had to retreat to Australia.

The Japanese captured approximately 10,000 US and Filipino troops and marched them on the infamous 65-mile long “Bataan Death March” which caused the deaths of thousands of soldiers.

Filipino World War II veteran and survivor of the Bataan death march Wenceslao Rodriguez. GETTY
Filipino World War II veteran and survivor of the Bataan death march Wenceslao Rodriguez. GETTY

In May 1942, the Philippines surrendered to the Japanese. But the Filipinos continued to fight as guerrilla soldiers. They continued their resistance for three years until MacArthur returned and drove the Japanese out.

When the war was over, an estimated one million Filipinos had died.

In a radio broadcast in August 1943, Roosevelt promised that the Philippines would be an independent republic once the Japanese were stopped. On July 4, 1946, the Filipinos celebrated their own day of independence as that promise was fulfilled.

But Roosevelt’s promise to provide benefits to the veterans of the Filipino army was broken. In 1946, Congress passed the Rescission Act which stopped paying benefits to veterans and their widows due to concerns about the $3 billion cost.

The US had made Europe their priority after the war. They paid a lump sum of $200 million to the Filipino government and left it to them to disperse it.

(Original Caption) Elude to Death March of Bataan. 
(Original Caption) Elude to Death March of Bataan. 

Philippines: The myth of Japanese “Chivalry” which tye call “Bushido: was exploded when the world learned of the infamous death march of Bataan. Here is the prelude to the long treak of torture and death. Filipino and American troops captured at Bataan and Corregidor and drawn up in formation for the start of the march from Bataan to the hell camps of Capas and O’Donnell. The story of that march should be familiar to every American.

President Harry S. Truman signed the bill reluctantly. At the signing, he called it a “moral obligation of the United Stated to look after the welfare of Philippine Army veterans.”

Over 70 years have passed and Filipino veterans still wait for the US to meet that “moral obligation.” Members of the “Old” Philippine Scouts were made eligible for benefits, but members of the Commonwealth Army of the Philippines, the Recognized Guerrilla Forces or the New Philippine Scouts.

In 2009, a lump sum payment of $15,000 was authorized to surviving Filipino veterans who were US citizens and $9,000 to non-citizens.

CAPAS, PHILIPPINES: An unidentified Boy Scout kisses the hands of Filipino World War II veteran Rafael Estrada, 87, in a gesture of respect, at the Capas National Shrine in northern Tarlac province, 06 April 2004 during a memorial day marking the fall of Bataan. 
CAPAS, PHILIPPINES: An unidentified Boy Scout kisses the hands of Filipino World War II veteran Rafael Estrada, 87, in a gesture of respect, at the Capas National Shrine in northern Tarlac province, 06 April 2004 during a memorial day marking the fall of Bataan. 

The shrine was built in a former Japanese concentration camp where about 26,000 Filipinos and 5,000 American soldiers died as prisoners of war after the infamous Bataan death march when Bataan fell on 09 April 1942 to superior Japanese forces.

Estrada, like other thousands of Filipino war veterans who fought for the US flag under United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE), are still waiting for US benefits 58 years after the war. The US Congress’ Recission Act of 1946 stripped the Filipino WWII veterans of recognitions and financial benefits. Photo credit ROMEO GACAD/AFP via Getty Images.

By 2019, over 18,000 claims had been approved by the US. On the other hand, almost 24,000 were denied. In order to be approved, veterans had to appear on the list of Filipino guerrilla fighters that was compiled immediately after the war and on the “Missouri List” of veterans.

Unfortunately, a fire in 1973 destroyed many military records, including part of the “Missouri List.”

Filipino veterans did receive the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2017. This is the highest civilian award in the US. Yet, many still are waiting for the benefits they were promised so long ago.

As time moves on, their numbers decrease. Estimates are that there are less than 10,000 Filipino WWII veterans still alive.

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Time is running out for the US government to fulfil their promise to the soldiers who helped us win WWII.

 
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