WASHINGTON – Sixty-three years after the end of World War II, an aging and dwindling group of Filipino veterans who fought alongside American forces against the Japanese is nearing victory in a long legislative battle for military benefits.
The Senate approved a measure Thursday that would expand benefits to those veterans. The House is expected to take up a similar measure before the end of the year.
“We have been waiting for this for the last 60 years – you can imagine how happy we are,” said Faustino Baclig, 86, a former guerrilla officer and survivor of the Bataan Death March who is now a U.S. citizen living in Whittier, Calif.
Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, a World War II veteran and chairman of the Senate Veterans Committee, sponsored the measure.
Republican opposition to creating a new pension benefit had blocked action on the Filipino provision until Thursday’s vote.
The Senate voted 56-41 to defeat an effort by Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., to redirect the pension funds toward American veterans.
The Filipino-veterans provision creates about $250 million in new benefits over 10 years. Of that, about $84 million would go to Filipinos in the United States for such benefits as grants to modify homes for disabled veterans. The remaining $166 million would pay pension benefits to Filipino veterans in the Philippines who fought under U.S. command but were not injured. There are about 6,000 Filipino veterans in the United States and 12,000 in the Philippines.
The measure faces an uncertain fate, as the Bush administration has expressed concern about the cost of expanding the benefits to Filipino veterans living in the Philippines.