US Congress seeks to confer gold medal on PH veterans
LOS ANGELES, California— Just in time for the celebrations marking 117 years of Philippine independence on Friday, US legislators on Thursday (Friday in Manila) introduced a bill in the US Congress seeking to confer the highest congressional honor on Filipino and Filipino-American soldiers who fought with US forces during World War II.
“Filipino veterans fought bravely alongside American forces during World War II, and our recognition of their service and sacrifice is long overdue,” said Hawaii Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard at a press conference she called with Sen. Mazie Hirono (Democrat-Hawaii) to announce the bill’s introduction.
“The Filipino veterans of World War II have faced many challenges in their fight for compensation, family reunification and verification of wartime service,” said Hirono.
“Awarding the Congressional Gold Medal would go a long way toward making sure that their story is never forgotten,” she said.
Highest civilian awards
The Congressional Gold Medal is bestowed by the US Congress to those “who have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient’s field long after the achievement.” US citizenship is not a requirement.
The award is the US Congress’ highest expression of appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. The Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom are the highest civilian awards in the United States.
The US Embassy in Manila said the bill was supported and introduced by a bicameral and bipartisan group of legislators that included, besides Gabbard and Hirono, Senators Brian Schatz, Harry Reid, Dean Heller and Tim Kaine; and House Representatives Joe Heck, Juan Vargas, Mark Takai, Mike Thompson and Jackie Speier.
Vets campaign for recognition
About 260,000 Filipinos fought for the United States during the war and were promised equal treatment as American veterans after the war.
But in 1946, the US Congress enacted the Rescission Act that took away full recognition of the Filipinos and stripped them of their benefits, leaving bitterness in the former colony. Decades of campaigning followed to change US policy.
In 2009, Congress approved a stimulus package that included one-time payments of $15,000 to Filipino veterans in the United States and $9,000 to those living in the Philippines.
However, community advocates said thousands of veterans’ claims were denied, usually because US authorities did not accept records from the Philippines, the veteran soldiers’ only means of proving their service.
US Army retired Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba also spoke at the press conference on behalf of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project.
Two Fil-Am veterans, Purple Heart recipient Maj. Jesse Baltazar and retired Senior Chief Petty Officer Remigio Cabarcar, attended the press conference.
Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. said the announcement was very timely as the country celebrated its Independence Day on June 12 and prepares to observe Philippine-American Friendship Day on the 4th of July.
“Our friendship has deep historical roots, which include fighting side by side in wars for liberation,” Cuisia said.
“I am pleased to see this friendship continue to grow and hope that our veterans receive the recognition they deserve,” he said.
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