US relaxes rules on Filipino WWII vets

Paterno Esmaquel II
For the first time, the US agrees to look into Philippine army records, extending benefits to over 4,000 World War II veterans

HEROES, TOO. The Philippine government pays tribute to World War II veterans on Independence Day. Rappler file photo/AC Dimatatac

MANILA, Philippines – The United States government will allow more Filipino World War II veterans to avail of benefits after it agreed, for the first time, to look into Philippine Army Records to verify these veterans’ claims. 

In a tweet on Thursday, July 11, the Philippine Embassy in the US said the White House “agrees to consider Philippine Army records in evaluating appeals of WWII veterans for benefits.”

This means over 4,000 WWII veterans will get a “second chance to avail of benefits” under the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) Fund, the embassy said.

“We’re hopeful that the procedures introduced will result in more appeals being approved and the processing time (being) reduced,” said Philippine ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia Jr.

Rosye Cloud, director of policy for veterans, wounded warriors, and military families at the White House, said the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has “created a special team” to process appeals for the FVEC Fund.

She said the team “will obtain copies of certain Philippine Army documents from the Adjutant General of the Philippines.” The US will expedite the processing of veterans’ claims, Cloud added.

Breakthrough for veterans

This is a departure from previous US policies on Filipino veterans.

Before this, the US only accepted records from the National Personnel Records Center in St Louis, Missouri, and refused to acknowledge records from the Philippine Army.

LAST STAND. Brigadier General Vicente Lim led the 41st Division which defended a portion of the Bataan defense line as US and Philippine forces retreated to Corregidor. Photo courtesy of Brig Gen Vicente Lim Facebook page

In an interview with the US Public Broadcasting Service in 2012, World War II veteran Celestino Almeda said the VA claims he doesn’t have “any records.” He said the agency “does not recognize records from the Philippine Army.”

Almeda relayed a position paper on Philippine Army records from the US Army Adjutant General Directorate.

 “The Philippine Army records in question are classified by (National Personnel Records Center) as Philippine military ‘organizational records’ used to establish identity of Missing Persons Act (MPAP) status regarding Philippine Army personnel and recognized guerrillas. These records are not Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF),” the position paper dated May 2, 2012 said.

The PBS said Almeda belonged to the Commonwealth Army of the Philippines, the soldiers of which “faced more structural and bureaucratic barriers.”

These barriers prevented up to 4,000 Filipinos from availing of the one-time, lump-sum payment that Obama awarded to Filipino World War II veterans in 2009.

These veterans have fought for recognition, however, as among the 260,000 Filipino troops who put their lives at stake for the US. Their ages now range from around 90 to 100, and time is ticking for them. – Rappler.com 

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.