The infamous Rescission Act of 1946 may soon be rescinded if the Filipino veterans equity provision in the stimulus bill that passed the US Senate on February 10, 2009 is retained in the joint Senate-House conference bill that is approved by both Houses of Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama.
There were approximately 430,000 Filipino WW II veterans who were slated to receive US military benefits (health care, G.I. Bill of Rights, pension, vocational rehabilitation etc) when this bill removing those benefits was approved by the US Congress on February 18, 1946. Before signing the bill into law, President Harry Truman declared that “the passage and approval of this legislation does not release the US from its moral obligation to provide for the heroic Philippine veterans who sacrificed so much for the common cause during the war.”
Estimates vary on the value of the benefits that would have been received by the Filipino veterans in 1946 dollars with some placing the value at approximately $3.2-B. Known officially as the “First Supplementary Surplus Appropriation Rescission Act of 1946”, the bill offered $200-M to the army of the Philippine commonwealth government (the Philippines did not become an independent republic until July 4, 1946) in exchange for a quit claim of all other com pensation and benefits of Filipino World War II U.S. veterans.
On May 22, 1946, Gen. Carlos P. Romulo, the Resident High Commissioner of the Philippine Commonwealth Government in the US, spoke on the floor of the US House of Representatives and denounced the US Congress for passing the Rescission Act calling it “an act of discrimination” against Filipinos and declaring that “the $200-M which were purportedly in lieu of benefits of which Filipino veterans were thus deprived, are actually not sufficient to cover the back-pay entitled by these veterans. The Philippine government has chosen NOT to accept the appropriation!”
Coincidentally, the amount currently offered to the surviving Filipino WW II veterans - $198-M – is close to the $200-M that the Philippine government rejected in 1946. The equity provision in the stimulus bill provides benefits only to those approximately 15,000 veterans who are still above ground but who are dying exponentially at a rate of about 3 a day. The bill provides a one-time payment of $15,000 to Filipino veterans who are US citizens whether living in the US or in the Philippines and $9,000 to those veterans who are Philippine citizens.
This one-time payment version of the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill was introduced by Rep. Bob Filner (D-California) after an earlier bill providing monthly payments of $900 a month to US citizen veterans and $300 a month to Philippine citizen veterans failed to pass the House last ye ar even though that version passed the US Senate by a vote of 97-1 (the lone vote aga inst was Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter).
It failed the House because the American Legion and other US veterans organizations vigorously campaigned against it as the money for this bill, as mandated under the House’s “Pay-Go” rule, would have come from the funds allocated to disabled American veterans who were receiving double compensation benefits under the Hartness Decision of the Court of Appeals.
House Republicans led by Rep. Steven Buyer (R-Indiana) charged that the bill would take money from American veterans to give to “foreign nationals”.
After he realized that the House would never approve the version of his bill that would have provided relative “equity” to Filipino veterans because of the Hartness issue, Rep. Filner, chair of the House Veterans Committee, introduced a new bill that would provide a lump sum payment that would not be drawn from an existing allocation under the “Pay-Go” rule. This new version received the support of Rep. Buyer and was approved by a lopsided vote of 372 to 32.
When this Filner bill was introduced in the Senate in the waning weeks of the last session of Congress in November of 2008, Republican Senator Richard Burr (R- North Carolina) blocked a procedural vote that would have allowed the Senate to consider the bill without further debate and amendments, effectively killing the bill.
But an appropriations bill which included a provision allocating $198-M towards payment of the lump sums to Filipino veterans sponsored by House Appropriations Committee chair Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas) was approved by the US Congress. All that was needed was a bill that would authorize the disbursement of the $198-M to the Filipino veterans.
After President Barack Obama was sworn into office on January 20, 2009, Filipino veterans pinned their hopes on the House stimulus bill that they hoped would include the authorizing measure for the Filipino WW II veterans. But, for whatever political reasons House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had, the authorizing bill was not included in the $819-B stimulus bill approved by the House on January 28, 2009 with a 244-188 straight party-line vote.
When the stimulus bill was introduced in the US Senate on February 2, 2009, US Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) successfully included a provision in the Senate version (Section 1002 Title X) providi ng the authorization for the disbursement of the $198-M to t he Filipino WW II veterans.
When the Filipino veterans provision was debated in the US Senate on February 5, 2009, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) attacked the bill for not having anything to do with creating a stimulus for the US economy.
While Inouye agreed with Senator McCain that the Filipino veterans' bill is not a stimulus proposal, he stressed that "the honor of the United States is what is involved."
“It is about time we close this dark chapter. I love America. I love serving America. I am proud of this country, but this is a black chapter. It has to be cleansed, and I hope my colleagues will join me in finally recognizing that these men served us well… At this moment, while I am speaking, hundreds lie in hospitals on their deathbeds. And I am certain, while I am speaking, some are dying," the senator said.
Please, if you have not done anything at all for our Filipino WW II veterans, this is your last chance to help them. Please take a few minutes of your time NOW to call the office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi at (202) 225-0100 or email her at www. speaker.gov/contact and urge her to recommend to the Senate-House conference committee that Sen. Inouye's Filipino WWII veterans section (Sec. 1002, Title X ) be included in the reconciled Senate and House version for final passage this week.
Please join me on February 18, 2009 for a candlelight vigil at 6:00 PM at the US Federal Building at 450 Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco to commemorate the 63rd anniversary of the Rescission Act of 1946.
We will either celebrate the passage of the stimulus bill with the veterans provision included in it or not. Celebrate or mourn but join us.