With a unanimous vote in the U.S. Senate Wednesday, Filipino soldiers who fought side-by-side with Americans during World War II came one step closer toward getting a Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor given by Congress.
But Filipino veterans advocates know the legislative battle is far from over.
"We're now focusing on the House," Ben De Guzman of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project told NBC News. "We just met with both Rep. Heck (R-NV) and Rep. Gabbard (D-HI), who are both pushing it personally with colleagues on the floor and are committed to getting it done. It's a much heavier lift ..., but we're looking to enlist the aid of CAPAC and bring more members who will personally walk this through as well."
The Senate version of the bill was authored by Sen. Mazie K. Hirono and was co-sponsored by a bi-partisan group of 71 senators.
"These veterans were instrumental to an Allied victory in the Pacific theater, but their fight didn't end with the war," Hirono said in a statement. "For decades, they have continued to fight for the benefits they have earned and to be reunited with their families in the United States. I thank my Senate colleagues for joining me in recognizing these veterans' service and sacrifice with the Congressional Gold Medal, one of our nation's highest civilian honors."
"Filipino World War II veterans answered the call to duty in defending our country," retired Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba in a statement. "They served honorably and courageously. They suffered humiliation and indignation when the Rescission Act of 1946 deprived them of their benefits and U.S. citizenship under the Commonwealth status of the Philippines. Today, some 15,000 to 16,000 remain from the approximately 260,000 who served. They have waited for over 70 years for this time to be recognized."
"We as a nation owe them a debt of gratitude for safeguarding our freedom and preserving our future," he continued. "They have earned the honor to be recognized with the Congressional Gold Medal. The cost is the insurmountable amount of lives lost in wartime and thereafter. We must forever dignify their legacy in American history."
The proposed legislation would recognize over 260,000 Filipino and Filipino-American soldiers who responded to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's call-to-duty and fought under the United States flag during World War II. The version of the bill in the House of Representatives currently has 172 co-sponsors.
"With just 18,000 Filipino WWII Veterans alive today, time is truly of the essence to honor these courageous men with the long overdue recognition they deserve," Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said in a statement. "We've made tremendous progress over the past year to gather bipartisan support from lawmakers for this legislation. Yesterday, the Senate cleared an important hurdle. 172 Members from both parties have co-sponsored this bill in the House so far, and we will continue working to pass H.R.2737 in the House before the end of the year."