Senate Approves Congressional Gold Medal Bill for Filipino World War II Veterans

Washington, D.C. The U.S. Senate today approved by unanimous consent S. 1555, the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal (CGM) Act of 2015, a measure that would grant national recognition to the more than 260,000 Filipino and American soldiers who served under the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE).

Introduced in June last year by U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), with U.S. Senator Dean Heller (D-NV) as lead co-sponsor, the bill gained bipartisan co-sponsorship of 72 U.S. Senators – a super majority that demonstrates the support needed to merit moving the bill in an expedited manner. Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) also played key roles in moving S. 1555 this far.

“Our veterans and their families have been waiting for this awesome news,” says Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (Ret), chair of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP). “They will be very pleased and proud to know that the U.S. has not forgotten their wartime service to this country. We call on the U.S. House of Representatives to follow the Senate’s lead and finally make this long-awaited recognition a reality for our soldiers who performed their duty with honor and uncommon valor.”

To date, the House companion bill, HR 2737, which was also introduced in June last year by U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI-2), with U.S. Rep. Joseph Heck (R-NV-3) as lead co-sponsors, currently has 168 co-sponsors. It is expected, however, that today’s Senate’s action will help build momentum to gather more bipartisan support in the House.

“We are extremely grateful to Sen. Hirono and Sen. Heller for their personal commitment and determination to push this bill through,” says Marie Blanco, FilVetREP Vice Chair. “They championed this very important legislation because they appreciate the urgency of getting it passed this year.”

Blanco also thanked the Senate Banking Committee, which has jurisdiction over CGM legislation, for “giving the green light to pass this bill by unanimous consent. We are appreciative as well of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), U.S, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) for their leadership in promptly facilitating the approval process.”

Informed of this Senate action, 85-year-old Rudy Panaglima, a Filipino World War II veteran of Arlington, Va. welcomed the news with a sense of joy and relief. “My comrades and I have been waiting for more than 70 years, so I am delighted that we will finally be recognized,” he said. “I can only say ‘God bless America’ for doing the right thing.”

Panaglima is among 15,000 surviving veterans residing in the U.S. and the Philippines. Most of them are in their mid 90’s. They served in the USAFFE as Philippine Scouts, members of the Philippine Commonwealth Army and Recognized Guerillas.

The Congressional Gold Medal (CGM) is the highest award bestowed by U.S. Congress to an individual or group who performed a significant achievement that has impact in American history and culture.

Learn more about the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project here.

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Democratic and Republican Lawmakers Agree on Congressional Gold Medal for Filipino American Vets

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Originally posted on Huff Post Politics, June 15, 2015 

Democratic and Republican lawmakers can hardly agree on anything that nothing ever gets done in Washington. Last Thursday, however, members of Congress from both Houses announced the introduction of a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to 260,000 Filipino and Filipino-American soldiers who responded to President Roosevelt’s call-to-duty and fought under the American flag in World War II. Led by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), other leading cosponsors were on hand to commend the bravery of Filipino veterans, including Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV), Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA), and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA).

“These soldiers did not only defend the nation but they also defended and ultimately liberated sovereign territories held by the U.S. government. These loyal and valiant men and women fought, suffered, and in many instances died in the same manner and under the same commander as other members of our United States Armed Forces during World War II,” said Congresswoman Gabbard. Sen. Hirono added, “If there were ever veterans who deserved the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, it is our Filipino veterans and brothers in arms.”

Filipino WWII veterans were on hand, along with Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Tony Taguba, who leads the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project, a non-partisan, community-based group raising awareness of the service rendered by Filipino and Filipino-American troops during the Second World War.

“For over 70 years, the Filipino WWII Soldiers have sought recognition for their courageous actions and selfless service in defending the United States and Philippines,” said Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Tony Taguba. “Despite having their benefits rescinded by the US Congress in 1946, they maintained their unwavering loyalty to the U.S. We are eternally grateful for their faithful and dedicated service. They have earned national recognition from the US Congress proven by the thousands of lives lost in combat, and for those wounded for life. We ask Congress to approve the Congressional Gold Medal for the Filipino WWII Soldiers.”

On July 26, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a military order directing the Philippine Commonwealth Army, Philippine Scouts, and Philippine Constabulary to be under the command of the U.S. Army Forces Far East (USAFFE) commander to defend the Philippines and United States. A year later, the fall of Bataan (April 1942) and Corregidor (May 1942) led to the capture of over 72,000 American and Filipino troops. The soldiers of Bataan went through the Bataan Death March, while the soldiers of Corregidor were taken to Manila before being transported to Camp O’Donnell. Remnants of the USAFFE forces and Filipino civilians organized into recognized guerilla units led by U.S. and Philippine Army Officers. In 1945, the 1st and 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiments and 1st Recon Battalion joined the fight.

Over 260,000 Filipino troops fought in the Second World War. An estimated 16,000 to 17,000 soldiers remain in the U.S. and Philippines. However, public awareness about the contributions of Filipino soldiers during WWII is scant or nonexistent. While other minority veterans groups, namely, the Tuskegee Airmen (2006), Navajo Code Talkers (2008), Women Air Force Service Pilots (2009), Japanese American Nisei Soldiers (2010), Montfort Point Marines (2011), and Puerto Rican Soldiers (2014) have been formally recognized with the Congressional Gold Medal, Filipino American WWII soldiers have not been similarly honored for their selfless sacrifice and dedicated service.

“I heard the passion that they felt for America and the American cause in the war in their aging voices,” said Rep. Heck, who has championed the recognition and compensation of Filipino-American WW II veterans. “And it is only fitting and proper that we acknowledge their great sacrifice in service to the United States with the Congressional Gold Medal.”

In the spirit of full disclosure, I serve on the Executive Committee of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project.