Depending on the source, the Philippine Independence Medal was established as ribbon-only decoration on July 3, 1946 by order of either the Philippine Army Headquarters or the government of the Philippine Commonwealth. What makes nailing down the precise provenance of the medal so difficult is that the only source cited, the AFP Awards and Decorations Handbook from the Adjutant General of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, is not available on the Internet.

What we do know, however, is that the award criteria created for the ribbon underwent a radical change for reasons that are left unexplained and which almost defy logic. Originally, the medal was to be awarded to members of the Armed Forces of the United States who were serving in the Philippine Islands or in the territorial waters of the Republic of the Philippines on July 4, 1946. This makes nothing but sense since that is the date of the signing of the Treaty of Manila granting the Philippines independence—hence the decoration’s title. Acceptance and wear of the ribbon was authorized in a Department of Army Circular in 1948.

But a strange thing happened six years later: the original criteria were wiped away, and in its place was a new and quite stipulation: the ribbon was to be awarded to those had been previously awarded both the Philippine Defense Ribbon and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon. Besides being completely unrelated to the proclamation of Philippine Independence on July 4, 1946, these new criteria created a one-of-a-kind award: No other decoration authorized for acceptance and wear by members of the Armed Forces of the United States requires recipient to have earned two other ribbons or medals.

Why the change? Or, to be more precise, why such a radical change?

While it can’t be proven, the likely answer can be summed up in two words: Douglas MacArthur.

For all his outstanding qualities as a general and military leader, there’s no doubt that MacArthur had a bit of an ego. After he successfully pushed for the re-establishment of the Badge of Military Merit as the Purple Heart in 1932, for instance, he was the first recipient—and he had the phrase “#1” inscribed on the medal he received. Although the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal was established by President Roosevelt in 1942, the first one was not awarded until 1947—to Douglas MacArthur. And if you were to ask someone reasonably knowledgeable about World War II to name someone who took part in both the defense of the Philippines against the Japanese invasion in 1941-1942 as well as the U.S. invasion that liberated the islands in 1944-1945, is there any doubt who they’d come up with?

This is, of course, merely speculation. What isn’t speculation, however, is that those Servicemembers who received the award before 24 November 1954 based on the ribbon’s original criteria were allowed to keep the decoration. In 1968, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos authorized a Philippine Independence Medal for award to members of the Philippine Army as well as foreign military services.

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