After fifty years of controversy, the US Congress finally decided to grant the promised pensions to the “irregular” soldiers who fought the Japanese in the Philippines during World War II.

Rooting back to 1941, since the Philippines was considered a protectorate of the United States, then-U.S. President Roosevelt ordered that those Filipino soldiers who fight against the Japanese in the Philippines could acquire U.S. citizenship and be granted the same privileges and benefits as their U.S. soldier counterparts in the mainland U.S. Approximately 250,000 Philippine Army regulars and guerilla fighters bravely fought alongside with American soldiers. The group, known as U.S. Army Forces in the Far East or USAFFE, was commanded by General Douglas MacArthur.

However, shortly after the Japanese surrendered, the Rescission Act of 1946 was passed which deemed the Filipino soldiers as not in “active service” thus denying them most of their veterans benefits as earlier promised.

There aren’t a lot of veterans left nowadays, but it is a  step long awaited here in the Philippines, a country that has a love/hate relationship with the US.

For example, our City Square has two memorials: One to the local heroes who fought the Spanish and then the Americans for independence, and another memorial for those who fought for their country and the US against the hated Japanese invaders.

When the Japanese invaded, a few Filipinos thought that fellow Asians would help them gain independence faster, but the treatment of the Philippine people, from the Philippine soldiers who died along side Americans in the Bataan death march to atrocities and harsh treatment of local people as inferiors quickly infused the ranks of those opposing Japanese expansion.

My husband Lolo was one of these. He was just a teenager, and claims he only “ran around with a gun” and never fought, but his older brother was in charge of one of the local groups.
Here’s his brother’s photo from years later, when he was chief of police.

From dad’s family

But even being suspected of helping those opposing the Japanese could be arrested.

Lolo’s cousin, who was one of the local guerrillas, was picked up and presumably tortured and killed by the Japanese. Thirty years later, my husband still could point out the large colonial style house where the Japanese had their headquarters, saying it was “haunted”…and indeed, no one would live there, because of it’s history.

His cousin’s family still has his photo almost as a shrine, surrounded by other family photos and a framed letter from President Harry Truman giving condolences to his family for their loss.

For years, when the town held their fiesta, Lolo and his fellow soldiers would be there, marching in front.

But with the years, the numbers got fewer and fewer, and then even Lolo had a small stroke and had to go in the parade on a car…and the younger generation is busy with making money (getting out of poverty would be a better way to put it) and don’t spend a lot of time contemplating the past.

Lolo used his veterans benefits to go to medical school, which enabled him eventually to immigrate to the US to work. Like many families, he was the one who sacrificed his own ambitions to pay the school fees and expenses of his large extended family.

Since we returned to the Philippines, Lolo does get a tiny pension from the Philippine government. We of course have our own pensions from the US, but many of the veterans who are still alive are living in poverty and have many medical expenses of old age.

But for most Philippinos, it is nice to know that after all these years, the US kept their word and will finally acknowledge that the “irregular” soldiers indeed fought and even died as soldiers for both America and for their own country.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She blogs at Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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