The Filipino Veterans Movement
I, ______________, do solemnly swear...that I will bear true faith and allegiance...to the United States of America...that I will serve them honestly and faithfully...against all their enemies whomsoever...and I will obey the orders...of the President of the United States...And the orders of the officers appointed over me...according to the rules and Articles of War."
With this pledge, approximately 250,000 Filipino men joined the U.S. Armed Forces in the months before and the days just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. For the next several years, they would share the fate of their American counterparts on the battlefield, in prisoner of war camps, and throughout the countryside as part of the guerrilla resistance. Accordingly, Washington promised them the same health and pension benefits as their American brothers. Even after the war, in October of 1945, Gen. Omar Bradley, then Administrator of the Veterans Administration, reaffirmed that they were to be treated like any other American veterans.
But on February 18, 1946, the Congress passed and President Truman signed Public Law 70-301, known as the Rescission Act of 1946. It said that the service of Filipinos "shall not be deemed to be or to have been service in the military or national forces of the United States or any component thereof or any law of the United States conferring rights, privileges or benefits."
Ever since, Filipino veterans and others appalled by this injustice have lobbied without success for a reversal of the Rescission Act. Mr. Gustavo Ingles, whose sacrifices are vividly described above, gave voice to their frustration in his interview to American Experience.
Interviewer: And do think most Filipinos were grateful that MacArthur returned?
Gustavo Ingles: Well, in the case of people of my age, we were grateful to that certain extent that he came back, but the succeeding people who governed the States forgot about the promises made by Roosevelt when he encouraged Filipinos to fight for the Americans, and [about] this we feel very bitter. In fact, even myself, because of what happened to us, I never received any pension from the U.S. Government as a soldier. What I am receiving now is the pension from the Philippine government, and sometimes this is still forgotten because there is no money in the coffers. This promise was made, in fact even before I went to the States as a student in Fort Benning, [when] war was still going on in 1945, but [the] surrender of Japan was affected sometime in September.
So there was already peacetime ...[plans] to reconstruct the Philippines, and this was true up to the end of 1945. But [in] 1946, some time in February, the American Congress, because of the expenses it is supposed to receive or give out to the Filipino veterans, put a rider in the veterans code, they noted what they call the Rescission Act, denying all benefits except for those who died or were wounded during the war. And up to now we, as veterans, have not received anything — well, maybe medical treatment from the Old Veterans Memorial Hospital, but that was also cut off already by the U.S. Government.
Today, fewer than 70,000 Filipino veterans are still alive, and that number is rapidly falling as even the youngest of them are approaching eighty. In recent years, their cause has been taken up by Rep. Bob Filner (D-California), who has introduced a bill in Congress which would grant them full benefits. But equally, perhaps even more important to these men is that their service be recognized and the government admit it made a terrible mistake. Hunger strikes, protests in front of the White House, and extensive lobbying have yet to prevail over bureaucratic inertia, fiscal restraint, and plain forgetfulness.
Their case was probably made most clearly back in 1946, before their sacrifice had been relegated to a distant memory. "There can be no question," said a former World War I artillery captain named Harry Truman, "but that the Philippine veteran is entitled to benefits bearing a reasonable relation to those received by the American veteran, with whom he fought side by side."
Gustavo C. Ingles: Mr. Ingles, then in his first year at the Philippine Military Academy, escaped into the hills and joined the guerrilla movement in April of 1942. Captured in 1943, he suffered as a prisoner of war for over a year before escaping and rejoining the resistance. Mr. Ingles, who eventually became a Colonel in the Philippine Army, is the author of "Memories of Pain," a book about his wartime experiences.