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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USCIS to Implement Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program

News release from USCIS, May 9, 2016.

WASHINGTON—Beginning June 8, 2016, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will allow certain Filipino World War II veteran family members who are beneficiaries of approved family-based immigrant visa petitions an opportunity to receive a discretionary grant of parole on a case-by-case basis, so that they may come to the United States as they wait for their immigrant visa to become available.    

This parole policy was announced in the White House report, Modernizing and Streamlining Our Legal Immigration System for the 21st Century,issued in July 2015. An estimated 2,000 to 6,000 Filipino-American World War II veterans are living in the United States today. Among other things, this policy will enable many eligible individuals to provide support and care to their aging veteran family members who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.

“The Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program honors the thousands of Filipinos who bravely enlisted to fight for the United States during World War II,” USCIS Director León Rodríguez said. “This policy will allow certain Filipino-American family members awaiting immigrant-visa issuance to come to the United States and be with their loved ones. For many, it will also allow them to provide support and care for elderly veterans or their surviving spouses.”

With the exception of immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, the number of family-sponsored immigrant visas available by country of origin in any given year is limited by statute. These limits result in long waiting periods before family members may join petitioning U.S. citizens or permanent residents in the United States and become permanent residents themselves. For some Filipino-American families, this wait can exceed 20 years.

Under the policy, certain family members of Filipino World War II veterans may be eligible to receive a discretionary grant of parole to come to the United States before their visa becomes available. In limited cases, certain eligible relatives will be able to seek parole on their own behalf when their Filipino World War II veteran and his or her spouse are both deceased.

Under the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program, USCIS will review each case individually to determine whether authorizing parole is appropriate.  When each individual arrives at a U.S. port of entry, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will also review each case to determine whether to parole the individual.  

Legal authority for this parole policy comes from the Immigration and Nationality Act, which authorizes the Secretary of Homeland Security to parole into the United States certain individuals, on a case-by-case basis, for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.

Additional information about the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program—including guidance on eligibility, the application process and where to file—is available in the revised Form I-131 instructions and the Federal Register notice published today. We will not accept applications under this policy until June 8, 2016.  USCIS strongly encourages eligible individuals interested in requesting parole under the FWVP Program do so within 5 years from June 8, 2016.

For more information about USCIS and its programs, please visit www.uscis.gov.

National Actions to Commemorate the 74th Anniversary of Bataan Death March

Prisoners In Bataan

Japanese troops guarding Filipino and American prisoners in Bataan. The prisoners were forced to march over 62 miles from Bataan to Tarlac in what became known as the Bataan Death March. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

 

Washington, DC– The Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP) is commemorating the heroism of more than 260,000 Filipino and American soldiers of World War ll by renewing its call to Congress to pass the Filipino Veterans Congressional Gold Medal Award of 2015. April 9 marks the 74th anniversary of the fall of Bataan, one of the critical moments of World War II in the Pacific theater.

Across the country, advocates will be holding community events, including wreath-laying ceremonies, to pay tribute to these soldiers who fought valiantly in Bataan and endured the Bataan “Death March” 74 years ago.

In San Francisco, Calif., the Philippine Consulate General, the Bataan Legacy Historical Society and Memorare-Manila 1945 Foundation will hold a Day of Valor Commemoration and open a Special Exhibit on World War II in the Philippines. The Exhibit will run from April 11-29, 2016.

In Washington, DC, FilVetREP will take part in a program of commemoration hosted by the Philippine Embassy on Friday, April 8. In the Philippines, the Day of Valor (“Araw ng Kagitingan”) is recognized as a national holiday.

Other actions nationwide include a #RecognizeBataanValor and #RecognizeFilVetValor social media campaign to secure co-sponsors to the Congressional Gold Medal legislation; letters and phone calls from around the country to lawmakers; and Op-eds on HuffingtonPost.com and other national publications.

Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (Ret), Chairman of FilVetRep, and other advocates will also be available for press interviews. Contact Jon Melegrito, FilVetREP Executive Secretary, at 202-361-0296.

Here is a list of events:

Friday, April 8, 2016, 5:30 PM Wreath-laying Ceremony, World War II

Memorial followed by program/symposium at Romulo Hall, Philippine Embassy, 1600 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington DC,    20036. Contact Gen. Delfin Lorenzana, Tel.202-467-9410.

Saturday, April 9, 1:00 PM Community Program, Philippine Mini Mart, Troy, Michigan. Sponsored by the US Pinoys      for Good Governance (USPGG). Contact Willie Deschavez, Tel. 586-713-8261.

Saturday, April 9, 9:00 AM Wreath-laying at the Bataan-Corregidor Memorial Bridge on the corner of State Street and Wacker Drive, Chicago, Ill., followed by a program at the Philippine Consultate, 122 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60603. Co-sponsored by NaFFAA West Illinois Region. Contact Anna Liza F. Alcantara, Tel. 312-583-0621.

Saturday, April 9, 2:00 PM Commemoration and Remembrance Ceremony, Filipino Veterans Education Center, War      Memorial Veterans Building, 401 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, Cal. Contact Rudy Asercion, Tel. 415-564-6262.

Saturday, April 9, 2:00 PM Wreath-laying Ceremony, followed by a program, sponsored by the Philippine Consulate     of New York and the Filipino Executive Council of Greater Philadelphia, Inc.  Contact: Mae Ermita Manubay,  Philippine Consulate General NY, Tel. 212-764-1330 Ext. 4013.

Monday, April 11, 8:30 AM A Day of Valor Commemoration and Opening of Exhibition on World War II in the Philippines. The Philippine Center, Kalayaan Hall, 447 Sutter Street, San Francisco, CA. Contact the Philippine Consulate cultural@philippinessanfrancisco.org, Tel. 415-433-666 x 313; edgar@bataanlegacy.orgwww.bataanlegacy.org

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.