By JOSEPH G. LARIOSA
(© 2016 Journal GlobaLinks)
CHICAGO (JGL) – By a voice vote, S. 1555, the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015 was passed by the
House of Representatives Wednesday (Nov. 30), less than 30 minutes after it was introduced for a floor vote by Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI-02).
In her sponsorship speech, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI-02) said, “There were more than 200,000 Filipino and Filipino-American soldiers, who responded to President Roosevelt’s call-to-duty. They fought under our American flag during World War II.
“Today there are just 18,000 of these Filipino World War II veterans who are still alive today. Time is of the essence. We cannot afford to wait. I urge my colleagues to quickly pass this legislation so that these courageous men may be honored while they are still among us.”
“Today is truly a great day, a significant seminal period in American history – second only to the liberation of the Philippines and surrender of the Japanese Imperial Forces on August 15, 1945,” says Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (Ret), chairman of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP). “Now we can tell our veterans with pride in our hearts that this grateful nation has, at last, granted them recognition for the selfless sacrifice they endured in war, and restored their dignity and honor in service to their nation.” Gen. Taguba is a son of a Filipino World War II veteran.
“I’m very happy because this recognition is long overdue,” says 99-year old Filipino World War II veteran Celestino Almeda of Gaithersburg, MD, one of the less than 7,000 surviving veterans residing in the U.S. today. “We responded to President Roosevelt’s call to serve and risked our lives fighting under the American flag. But after the war was over, we were treated unjustly, which was painful and humiliating.”
FIL AMS WITH REP. GABBARD:
U.S. REP. TULSI GABBARD, who sponsored the Congressional Gold Medal Award legislation in the House, congratulates Filipino World War II veteran Rudy Panaglima following passage of the Congressional Gold Medal bill Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of Rep. Gabbard's Office).
Rudy Panaglima, 86, of Arlington, VA. has also harbored the same disappointment and frustration over the years, but is nonetheless “thrilled that the U.S. has now recognized us. It’s better late than never.” Panaglima was only 13 when he served with guerilla forces near his home in Cagayan, as a courier and scout. In 1995, he availed of the naturalization benefits granted to Filipino World War II veterans and immigrated with his wife, Pura, to the U.S.
WAITED FOR A LOOOOONG TIME!
Jerry B. Clarito of Skokie, Illinois, a son of a Filipino veteran, said, “Well, it is a welcome success, of course, after a looooong wait before recognition was given to Filipino World War II veterans. So, it’s very important for the veterans to be recognized for their services. We cannot say this is just a medal. This is really something because the U.S. government and Congress have finally realized that thru the work of the Filipino community leaders especially Gen. Antonio Taguba, people in NaFFAA and supporters of the equity movement that these veterans are fighting for very, very long time have finally succeeded. Today, we can reach out to the living sundalos (veterans) so they can finally receive this Congressional Gold Medals, which, I think, are very important for them, very important for the Filipino people, very important for their families. My father served during the war. He passed away but still this is a recognition.”
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.
The bill was introduced in June last year in the Senate by U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), with U.S. Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) as lead co-sponsor, and in the House by U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI-2), with U.S. Rep. Joseph Heck (R-NV-3) as lead co-sponsor.
“We did our due diligence by securing more than the two-thirds majority required in both chambers, to ensure its passage,” says Marie Blanco, FilVetREP’s legislative director. “We know how much it means to our veterans and their families.”
SON OF A VET RESPONDS:
JERRY B. Clarito, a son of a Filipino World War II veterans Jerry B. Clarito of Skokie, Illinois, welcomed Wednesday the passage of the Congressional Gold Medal bill, in an interview with this reporter, saying, “Well, it is a welcome success, of course, after a looooong wait before recognition was given to Filipino World War II veterans. So, it’s very important for the veterans to be recognized for their services. We cannot say this is just a medal. This is really something because the U.S. government and Congress have finally realized that thru the work of the Filipino community leaders especially Gen. Antonio Taguba, people in NaFFAA and supporters of the equity movement that these veterans are fighting for very, very long time have finally succeeded.” (JGL Photo by MARLON L. PECSON)
She adds: “We are extremely grateful to Sen. Hirono and Sen. Heller, and to Rep. Gabbard and Rep. Heck for their leadership in pushing this bill through to the finish line. We are appreciative as well of the senior leadership in both the House and Senate, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) and, of course, to all the cosponsors and their staffers for championing this very important legislation.”
“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. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Representative Gabbard, both principal sponsors of the bills in both chambers, predicted an easy sailing of the Senate bill when it was scheduled for a vote Wednesday.
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.
With supermajority 71 percent of the co-sponsors from both the U.S. Senate (71 votes) and U.S. House of Representatives (312 votes) in hand, the S. 1555, Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015 was expected to pass the House vote. It will be sent to the desk of President Obama, who is expected to sign the veto-proof bill.
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.
Should the bill pass the House, the bill would make a gold medal that shall be given to the Smithsonian Institution, where it will be available for display as appropriate and made available for research. The bill had already passed the Senate with a unanimous vote four months ago.
If the bill is passed, it will order to “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.
“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,” said Senator Mazie Hirono. “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.
HIGHEST CIVILIAN HONOR
“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.
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.