On October 25, 2017, Filipino World War II veterans finally received the recognition they had been seeking when Congress awarded them the Congressional Gold Medal for their service to the United States. 20 veterans and their families gathered at the United States Capitol to hear speakers and accept the medal on behalf of the estimated 15,000 Filipino World War II veterans still living.
The road to the medal was a long one. It all started in 1935 when the Philippines, which had been ceded to the United States from Spain, was granted commonwealth status by the American government. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Filipino soldiers, who were US citizens at the time, were called up to serve their country. More than 250,000 Filipinos fought during the war and were guaranteed full government benefits. After the war ended, the Philippines gained its independence, and the United States paid $200 million to the new government to help with war recovery efforts. Since they had disbursed a large sum of money, the American government theorized that they did not need to extend full benefits to Filipino veterans. President Truman signed the Rescission Act in 1946, stripping the veterans of their benefits. For the next 70 years, the veterans would struggle to regain these lost benefits.
Filipino veterans did not achieve much headway until the 21st century. In 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law. A portion of the bill provided for a one-time payment of $15,000 to be disbursed to surviving veterans of World War II, including eligible Filipino veterans. The next phase came when Major General Tony Taguba founded the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetRep). The non-profit organization’s main goal was to lobby Congress for a Congressional Gold Medal. In 2015, their efforts bore fruit when Senator Mazie Hirono sponsored S.1555, a bill that proposed awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to Filipino World War II veterans. The bill was signed into law in December 2016.