In July 26, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) issued the “Military Order” calling “into service of the Armed Forces of the U.S.” ,the “organized military forces of the Government of the Commonwealth of the Philippines.” The USAFFE or United States Army Forces in the Far East was born.
To be certain about it, FDR did not promise anything specific, but understandably, expectations of rewards and compensation, after the fact, are not unreasonable. I am unable to find any evidence that “the U.S. military promised full veterans benefits to Filipinos who volunteered to fight.”
There is no definitive number of that Filipino ‘organized’ military force. (Of course, there was no thought devoted to the “unorganized,” guerillas not being a consideration in 1941!) However, gleaned from available resources (notably the Wainwright Papers and Prof. R.T. Jose’s researches), the standing army of the Commonwealth could not have been more than 80,000 men and officers. (Figures that go beyond that are referred to as “c,” or calculated, i.e. aspirational!) An official chart I consulted even had blanks for the years 1939, 1940-41.
Out of Bataan on April 9, 1942, however, 66,000 Filipino soldiers marched in surrender. Stationed elsewhere (Southern Tagalog, Bicol, Visayas and Mindanao), again, an estimated 8,000.
After WWII, claims for ”backpay” benefits, consolidated from existing official records as well as from alleged notorious solicitations, presented Uncle Sam a bill for “$3 billion” representing 260,000 ‘patriot-soldiers!”
Would there have been need for budgetary “reduction/rescission” and instead, an acceptance and fiscal justification to grant, had the ‘backpay’ claims adhered to the 1941 numbers? Is the Rescission Act truly a blot upon America’s otherwise generous soul? Did the fiscal and political realities prevailing in the US immediately after WW II provide impetus to legislation and executive decision-making? Was there, perhaps, other motivation?
There continues to surface a surfeit of aching and pained sentimentalities whenever collective Filipino memory is jarred to remember U.S. Congress’ now infamous Rescission Act of 1946. Unspoken, however, and therefore unappreciated, are the circumstances that led to such decision. As a consequence, recriminations continue to be expressed in harsh and hurting language.
On the other hand, there continues to remain an unattended and unsatisfied absence of adequate scholarship that gets to the bottom of why the U.S. Congress, in the first place, passed that Public Law 79-301. Why did it happen? What motivated such an act only to be labeled, by the discomforted, an “ugly stain in America’s history?” What information, official and unofficial, did principal proponents — Senators Carl Hayden/Arizona and Richard Russell,Jr./Georgia — possess? Expressed sympathies for Filipinos by President Harry S. Truman, notwithstanding, he still signed off. Why?
Editorially and rhetorically, the avalanche of commentaries centered upon the common theme of “reneging;” and “betrayal.” “When they were sworn to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, 260,000 Filipino soldiers fought side by side with Americans….” “In that same war, more than 260,000 Filipinos paid the ultimate sacrifice serving under the American flag.” 260,000! Really?
So much so, that after 75 years there is now an “important project currently underway.” “It is time to repeal the Rescission Act,” “this unconscionable act of Congress,” proposes the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP).
FilVetREP is a non-partisan, an all-volunteer community-based organization whose mission is “to obtain national recognition of Filipino and American soldiers….. for their wartime service to the U.S. and the Philippines….” The organization is headed by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (Ret.) of the Iraq/Abu Ghraib Investigative Report (2004) fame. FilVetREP’s breakthrough accomplishment is the passage of the “Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal (CGM) Act” (PL 114-2650) signed into law in 2016. “It is the highest civilian honor, for the distinguished achievements and contributions for the United States during World War II.” Indeed, a highly commendable and celebratory accomplishment.
FilVetRep admits that “repealing a 75-year-old law is not easy.” It has yet to explain how an appropriations law can be overturned, since the Rescission Act of 1946 is indeed such a one. Timely amendments, perhaps, (if still timely!) but abrogation, after effects have become painful memories? It has never been done!
Lobbying for passage of new legislation is a completely different endeavor from erasing an historical record by another legislative proposal. Furthermore, the law is not exclusively about the Filipino soldier in WW II. The law’s title reads: “An Act reducing or further reducing certain appropriations and contractual authorizations available for the fiscal year 1946, and for other purposes.” Or, “Second Surplus Appropriation Rescission Act, 1946.”
There is absolutely no doubt that the Rescission Act of 1946 is an indelible juncture in the history of Philippine-American relations. Hurtful denial and demoralization have scarred thousands of the truly deserving. Thus, the memory can no longer be erased. Instead, it must be understood and surmounted. Tempers, especially when stimulated by the inexact and the misunderstood, must be tamed.
Why and how did 1941’s 80,000 balloon to an ‘unconscionable’ 260,000 in 1946?
I was 10 years old when I first heard the word “affidavit.” It stuck. I recall its use was in tandem with “backpay.” In those days “backpay” was popular street and table talk. My father was physically unqualified for military service, suffering from a degenerative affliction. Yet, he kept a certificate stating that he served as a guerilla “captain.” “Backpay” was the dangled lure! He was solicited to sign an affidavit. Happily, he did not pursue it. My sister found the souvenir certificate among stuff he left behind upon his demise.
There existed in Manila, immediately after World War II, a thriving ‘cottage industry” engaged in the manufacture of “affidavits-for-a-fee” that churned out regiments upon regiments of a larcenous phenomenon known as the “Escolta Guerillas.” The offices of the various ‘attorneys’ plying the trade was located in the Regina Bldg. along the Escolta. One such attorney successfully parlayed fraudulent claims of war exploits and heroism into the Presidency of the Philippines. The U.S. Army archives have the records of his notorious “Maharlika Guerillas” whose very existence and claims were investigated and rejected. One wonders, however, if individually and on their own, some “Maharlika” guerilla still made it to “260,000” list!
Next time we give vent to anger, should we not first know the answer to the existential question?
How much did Filipino chicanery contribute to the passage of the Rescission Act of 1946?
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.
In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.
During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.
After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.
He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.