By Abner Galino
EIGHT living and 15 representatives of deceased Filipino World War II veterans received the United States Congressional Gold Medals in a momentous occasion Wednesday at the Filipino Cultural Center at the Historic Filipinotown in Los Angeles.
The awarding of the highest civilian award medals was officiated by retired United States Army Major General Antonio Taguba, chairman of the Filipino veterans recognition project and the second American citizen of Philippine birth to ever reached the general officer rank in the US Army.
Those who were awarded (personally getting the medal or as representatives of deceased veterans) were Jesus Delfin, Ireneo Balani, Franco Arcebal, Heidi dela Torre, Gregorio Albano, Gregorio Espiritu, Reynaldo Figueroa, Yolanda Encarnacion, Nepomuceno Mangosing, Alfredo Lopez, Zosimo Novicio, Leoncio Jarlego, Virgilio Moreno, Antonio Ortega, Rizalino Tamayo, Lucio Tolentino, Fabio Villacrusi, Apolinario Froyalde, Marcelo Bartolome and Florentino Pascasio.
A leader of the awardees, Franco Arcebal, 95, took the stage to speak on behalf of his former comrade-in-arms.
“We have witnessed the awarding of Congressional Gold Medal to about 23 of ethnic Filipino veterans in recognition of their war services 75 years ago. Mantak mong tagal niyan!,” Arcebal jested to the delight of the audience.
Arcebal went on to explain that the Filipino soldiers “just like others who served in the war under the American flag risked their unrepeatable lives in defense of the values for which the American flag stands for — under God with liberty and justice for all — unfortunately, malas talaga! We were denied justice since February 1946. Mantak mo, barely two months after the war was over when Congress (US) passed the Rescission act of 1946,” narrated Arcebal.
The Filipino veteran leader expressed his gratitude to the American legislators who helped Filipino lobby groups to pass laws beneficial to the interest of Filipino WW II veterans.
The Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act was unanimously passed by the US Congress on November 30, 2016. On that same year, December 14, President Barack Obama signed the bill into law as Public Law 114-265.
The passage of the law were largely credited to the efforts Filipino lobby groups led by the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project, the United Filipino American World War II Veterans Association and the Justice for Filipino American Veterans.
Arcebal also credited the efforts of thousands of Filipino American youth activists, mostly students from southern California colleges and universities, who yearly conducted peaceful demonstrations along Hollywood Boulevard to gather support for the causes of the Filipino WW II veterans.
“Without doubt, nakatulong ‘yang mga mass action na ‘yan para kumilos ang mga US legislators,” Arcebal said.
The awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal in the Historic Filipinotown was also graced by Philippine Consul General in Los Angeles Adelio S. Cruz.
The FilVetRep has planned around 20 more regional awarding of Congressional gold medals all over the US.
More than 100,000 Filipinos were duly inducted to the US Army of the Far East (USAFFE) in 1941. Then US President Franklin Roosevelt offered full veterans’ benefits to Filipinos who would enlist to the US Armed Forces. The Philippines at that time was a US Commonwealth and Filipinos are US nationals.
The benefits were quickly rescinded by President Harry Truman after the war in 1946 and the Filipinos were stripped of their status as U.S. veterans.
Out from the 66 nations that fought with the U.S. during the war, only the Filipinos were singled out by the rescission law.
Today only an estimated 15,000 veterans have survived the passage of time.
Retired US Army major general Antonio Mario Taguba, the man at the helm of FilVetRep, is known for authoring the so-called Taguba Report, an internal US Army report on abuse of detainees held at the Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq.
The report was the result of Taguba’s investigation which started shortly after a military policeman turned over a CD full of images of abuse to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division.
The turning over of the damning piece of evidence happened on January 2004.
In May of that year, Taguba submitted his report about the said abuses which was subsequently leaked to the press.
The controversial report triggered a congressional probe that embarrassed many defense officials of the then administration of President George Bush.
Taguba was bafflingly transferred to the Pentagon later on.
And on January 2007, Taguba ended his 34 years of service, apparently a casualty of his truthful and no-nonsense investigation of the said abuses against prisoners of war.
Taguba was born in Manila. His father fought in the Battle of Bataan as part of the 45th Infantry Regiment of the US Army.
In 1972, Taguba was commissioned 2nd lieutenant and fought in the Korean War. He was a platoon leader at the Combat Support Company in 1974-1975 of the 1st Battalion, 72d Armor, 2nd Infantry Division, I Corps, Eighth Army.
Taguba commanded the 1st Battalion, 72nd Armored Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division at Camp Casey and was the executive officer of the Republic of Korea-U.S Combine Forces Command.