RP veterans get $198M
Stimulus package somewhat fulfills wartime promise
MANILA, Philippines—The US Congress approved on Friday the stimulus bill, a $787-billion package of tax cuts and fresh spending to salvage the broken American economy, handing US President Barack Obama his biggest political victory yet.
The bill contains a provision recognizing the military service of Filipino veterans of World War II and granting a tax-free lump sum of $15,000 to those who are based in the United States and $9,000 to those living in the Philippines.
The Department of Foreign Affairs estimates the number of surviving Filipino veterans at 18,000-20,000, of whom 13,000 are based in the Philippines.
More than 250,000 Filipinos served alongside US soldiers to defend the Philippines from the 1941 Japanese invasion and resist the subsequent Japanese occupation.
The US government had promised Filipinos they could qualify for full US veterans’ benefits if they served. But after the war, the US Congress passed the Rescission Act of 1946, stripping Filipino veterans of their status as US veterans.
This denied Filipinos the benefits they were promised.
Since then, Filipino veterans have campaigned for recognition as US veterans to receive benefits.
“Despite America’s economic challenges, the US Congress voted to correct a historic wrong and incorporate the lump-sum benefit for our veterans,” President Macapagal-Arroyo said in a statement issued in Manila.
Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, a longtime supporter of Filipino veterans, had earlier said the stimulus measure would provide $198 million for one-time payments to the Filipinos.
Despite Obama’s early bipartisan goals, Republican opposition was nearly unanimous to the $787-billion package of tax cuts, aid to hard-hit Americans, and investment in infrastructure, education and energy.
Conservatives in both houses of the US Congress have been relentless critics, arguing that the plan is filled with wasteful spending and that greater tax cuts would be more effective in creating jobs.
Told that no House Republican backed the measure on Friday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs reacted by citing another number—“3.5 million jobs that we look forward to saving or creating.”
The stimulus bill includes spending on infrastructure projects, expanded unemployment benefits, aid for small businesses and billions to help strapped states.
The much touted tax break for middle- and working-class Americans survived but was scaled back.
Obama also won money for two other administration priorities—information technology in health care, and “green jobs” to make buildings more energy-efficient and reduce the United States’ reliance on foreign oil.
The final details of the bill included the drafting of precise language on trade.
The House included a “Buy America” restriction forbidding the use of foreign steel and other products on infrastructure projects funded in the bill. Negotiators were largely going with a Senate version that is much less restrictive, saying the US government would abide by its international trade commitments.
The bill’s approval caps an early period of accomplishment for the Democrats, who won control of the White House and expanded their majorities in Congress in the November elections.
Since taking office on Jan. 20, Obama has signed legislation extending government-financed health care to millions of lower-income children who lack it, a bill that President George W. Bush twice vetoed.
Obama has also put his signature on a measure making it easier for workers to sue their employers for alleged job discrimination, effectively overturning a ruling by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority. With reports from Cynthia D. Balana in Manila, AFP, Inquirer wires