Monday, April 8, 2013


The United States Army said that even under the best conditions recognizing Filipino guerillas at the end of World War II proved difficult, raising doubts about the accuracy of their records, and aging veterans here and in the Philippines appear to be paying the price for it today.

The Philippines and US mark the 70th anniversary of the Fall of Bataan tomorrow (April 9). It is remembered as the “Araw ng Kagitingan” (Day of Valor) as 76,000 Filipino and American soldiers shared both the ignominy of defeat as well as the horrors of the 90-mile Death March.

But many were able to escape, melt into the mountains and launch one of the most potent guerilla campaigns in the Pacific War.

Today, thousands of aging Filipino World War II veterans are still fighting to get the benefits that were deprived by the 1946 Rescission Act. Many claims for benefits under the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) fund have been rejected because the US can’t or will not authenticate their service during World War II.

Last year, President Obama authorized the previously classified report “US Army Recognition of Philippine Guerillas” to be made public in the hopes those Filipino WWII veterans will find some document that could help them qualify for the benefit.

I’m not sure how helpful the report is for Filipino veterans – some advocates attest to it – but it offers an interesting snapshot of the US-run Philippine Commonwealth at the end of World War II.

After repeated acts of valor, members of the Philippine Scout, USAFFE forces and guerillas who fought under US military command for most of World War II settled back to a life in a nation devastated by conflict and years of brutal occupation.

Leaders from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Gen. Douglas MacArthur promised to rebuild the country and pay back the heroic exploits of Filipino fighters. But much of that turned out to be hollow.

The US began the process of recognizing Filipino guerillas but faced immense challenges. “Under the most favorable reception the granting of guerilla recognition to deserving Filipinos would have been extremely difficult to accomplish,” the report admitted.

They were hobbled by insufficient manpower, the post-war politics leading up to the granting of Philippine independence in 1946, and corruption so insidious the report suggested some guerilla organizations acted more like the Mafia.

American officers were under significant pressure from repeated deadlines and suspicion that erstwhile Japanese collaborators had managed to get their names in the guerilla roster they were trying to build.

This was compounded by the fog of war. Most collaborators served with the Kempeitai, the Japanese equivalent of the German SS. But sometimes personal animosities and tactical exigencies bred disasters as when a suspected supporter of the Hukbalahap – perhaps the fiercest anti-Japanese fighting unit in Luzon – betrayed Lt. Col. Claude Thorp, allegedly because they refused to be placed under US military command.

“Throughout the rest of the Occupation a state of warfare existed between the Huks and the USAFFE guerillas with the Huks attempting to expand and the USAFFE guerillas attempting to contain them in Pampanga.” Thorp was captured on his way to negotiate a truce with Huk commanders and was executed by the Japanese in October 1942.

“As benefits flowed, the desire to receive such benefits prompted hundreds of thousands of Filipinos to seek recognition as guerillas. An additional reason for desiring recognition…was to cloak collaborationist activities. On the surface, the fact of recognition was prime facie evidence of loyalty to the Commonwealth and the United States and would be difficult to overcome in the People’s Court.”

“Highly placed” Filipinos in the government or the Philippine Army – former guerillas or not – “sought to use their personal positions to influence the recognition of personal friends or potentially politically powerful guerilla organizations.”

The Americans became so concerned with leaks that they allowed critical manpower shortages to fester rather than recruit additional Filipinos to fill the vacancies.

“In all fairness to these (Filipino) employees, the majority of whom were extremely loyal and devoted to their duties, it should be pointed out and not underemphasized that certain guerilla units have employed ruthless means in obtaining their ends and may have forced some employees to furnish the information desired under threat of violence to themselves or to their families.”

The report said some tried to bribe officers “ranging into hundreds of thousands of pesos, by extending such commercial advantages as lumber or mining concessions…furnishing investigating officers with their own homes, automobiles and women, or by throwing huge parties.”

When they couldn’t get what they wanted with honey, some tried intimidation. It became so serious the report said “many direct and indirect threats” were made against American officers and personnel.

And the alleged attempts to defraud were not limited to Filipinos.

“A number of former American military and naval officers who had served with guerillas or had been connected with them during the course of the Occupation and Liberation, now engaged in private business in the Philippines, have consistently submitted recommendations in favor of their own guerillas. In some cases, these recommendations have not been questioned…In other cases, certain individuals have consistently submitted recommendations which were later determined to have been not based upon facts.” 

“In spite of all care exercised a few units slipped through and received recognition.” Still by the time the process was completed, only about 10 percent of the nearly 1.3 million claims filed were actually approved.

All this appear to cast a question about the propriety of rejecting the claims of Filipino veterans on the ground that their names can’t be found in these “official” records.

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