Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Opening Statement of Hon. Bob Filner, Chairman, and a Representative in Congress from the State of California
Good Morning- Magandang umaga. Thank you all for coming. As you already know, I am very happy to be able to hold this hearing today. Ever since first being elected to Congress in 1992, I have been heavily involved in the Filipino veterans’ equity issue. In fact, this year marks the 10-year anniversary of my protest, along with Filipino veterans, in front of the White House demanding equitable treatment. I am hoping that with the change of leadership here in Congress, we can get past the demonstrations and protest marches and get on the legislative path to correct the injustice inflicted on Filipino veterans over 60 years ago.
As most know, Filipino service members played a critical role in the United States’ victory in the Pacific during World War II. The brave Filipino soldiers, drafted into our Armed Forces by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, exhibited great courage in the epic battles of Bataan and Corregidor. In addition, these soldiers, while putting themselves and their families at risk, participated in many guerilla actions in the Philippines, which prevented enemy forces from leaving and prosecuting the war in other areas. Despite the gallant efforts of Filipino veterans during the war, Congress, in 1946, denied these veterans their benefits with the passage of the Rescission Acts.
Particularly unfortunate was the language of the Rescission Acts which said that service in the Philippine forces was not to be considered active military service for the purposes of veterans’ benefits. This language took away not only rightfully earned benefits, but also the honor and respect due these veterans who served under the direct command of General Douglas MacArthur. The Rescission Acts shocked the thousands of Filipinos who fought side-by-side with Americans and suffered brutality during the Bataan Death March and as prisoners of war.
When President Harry S. Truman signed the Rescission Acts, which included various other appropriations matters, he stated that a great injustice was being done.
“Filipino Army veterans are nationals of the United States...They fought with gallantry and courage under the most difficult conditions during the recent conflict. Their officers were commissioned by us. Their official organization, the Army of the Philippine Commonwealth, was taken into the Armed Forces of the United States by Executive Order of President Roosevelt. That order has never been revoked or amended. I consider it a moral obligation of the United States to look after the welfare of the Filipino Army veteran.''
That was President Truman in 1946. That moral obligation remains with us today.
For more than sixty years, a wrong has existed that must be righted. I urge everyone here to think of morality, of dignity, of honor. There is scarcely a Filipino family today, in either the United States or in the Philippines, that does not include a World War II veteran or a son or daughter of a veteran. Sixty years of injustice burns in the hearts of these veterans. Now in their 80s and 90s, their last wish is the restoration of the honor and dignity due them.
It is time that our nation adequately recognizes their contributions to the successful outcome of World War II, recognize the injustice visited upon them, and act to correct this injustice. To those who ask if we can afford to redeem this debt, I answer: “We can't afford not to.'' The historical record remains blotted until we recognize these veterans.
Also, I would like to point out that providing veterans’ benefits to non-citizen soldiers is not without precedent. Previously, in 1976, Congress provided veterans’ benefits to citizens of both Poland and Czechoslovakia.
Finally, I look forward to hearing the testimony of those who served during World War II. In addition, I am interested in learning more about the efforts of organizations and individuals across the country to educate the public about the injustice done to Filipino veterans.