Thursday, June 12, 2008

Betrayal of the Filipino Veterans

Photo slideshow by Jay Fermin - Los Angeles

PerryScope: by Perry Diaz

Just as the U.S. House of Representatives was about to vote on S.1315 -- known as the "Veterans' Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007," introduced by Sen. Daniel Inouye -- a group of Filipino-Americans from San Francisco drove a polarizing wedge that could potentially impede the passage of the bill. Indeed, what was almost a certainty two weeks ago is now in jeopardy.

Sixty-two years after the infamous Rescission Act of 1946 was signed into law denying benefits to more than 200,000 Filipino veterans of World War II, the surviving 18,000 aging veterans came within arm's length to finally getting the recognition and benefits that they deserved. Last April 24, 2008, S.1315 was overwhelmingly passed by the Senate on a 96-1 vote. On May 22, 2008, the House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on the bill. The game plan was to get 290 bipartisan support to ensure passage under "suspension of rules," which means that a "killer" amendment could be stopped from being introduced on the floor; thus, averting any attempt to remove the benefits for Filipino veterans.

Supposedly, 230 Democrats had already been lined up to vote for the bill. That would then require 60 Republicans to reach a 2/3 supermajority in order to suspend the rules and pass S.1315 without amendments. As of 5:00 pm on May 21, the Office of Congressman Darrell Issa (Republican, Chula Vista, California) released a list of 74 Republican congressmen who were committed to vote for S.1315. That's 14 more votes needed to suspend the rules and pass the bill.

But on the designated day of the historic floor vote, Speaker Nancy Pelosi removed the bill from the calendar. Words went around that the "Blue Dog Caucus" members -- consisting of 51 conservative Democrats -- were reluctant to support S.1315 because they were worried that their re-election might be jeopardized for "giving money to foreigners." It was also reported that Speaker Pelosi wanted to confirm individually the 74 Republican supporters on the Issa list. Can't Pelosi take the word of Issa who had been working diligently for the past several years for the passage of the equity bill? Why didn't she strike while the iron was hot? Hmmm…

Meanwhile, a group of aging Filipino veterans who trooped to Congress for what they believed would be the culmination of the long and weary battle to regain their benefits suffered a stunning blow right under the dome of the Capitol. They must have felt the same way when the Rescission Act of 1946 depraved more than 200,000 young Filipinos of their benefits… and dignity. The surviving 18,000 fragile old men were hoping each day that they would just live a day longer to see the day when America would finally recognize them for their heroism in defending America during World War II. But, alas, that day remained as elusive as it had been for the past 62 years.

The Filipino veterans must have felt the pang of betrayal once again, this time not only from the representatives of the American people in Congress but from their own people. The Filipino-Americans who claim to be "advocates" for full equity for the Filipino veterans have once again played the only game they have been playing for the past eight years, "All or Nothing." They would rather see the Filipino veterans get nothing unless it was "full equity."

The core of the issue was a letter sent by Mr. Regalado Maldonado to Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the eve of the floor vote asking her not to support S.1315. Mr. Baldonado sent the letter without the authorization of the Veterans Federation of the Philippines (VFP) and U.S.-based Filipino veterans organizations. He claimed that he merely signed the letter prepared by leaders of the San Francisco-based organizations, Veterans Equity Center (VEC) and the Students Action for Veterans Equity (SAVE) . Mr. Baldonado's act was, in my opinion, an abuse of his responsibility as "San Francisco Veteran Affairs Commissioner." He was appointed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, a local agency that has nothing to do with S.1315.

Last May 25, 2008, VEC Chair Atty. Lourdes Tancinco, in an article she posted in FilAm Star, remarked that the National Network for Veterans Equity (NNVE) and VEC "are leading the community in calling and urging the office of Pelosi to stand uncompromisingly behind the Filipino veterans' clamor for full equity." It is interesting to note that her "uncompromising stand" for "no equity if not full equity" for the last eight years has yet to deliver a single piece of legislation for the Filipino veterans. This year, the Senate resoundingly passed S.1315. Had the House of Representatives voted and passed S.1315 last May 22, President Bush, as he recently promised, would have signed it into law this month.

On June 3, 2008, Atty. Tancinco wrote another article, "No Veteran Left Behind in Final Battle," and declared, "As long as there is a veteran alive, the fight for full equity and recognition lives on." Claiming that the "real issue here is the injustice perpetrated in 1946 and which can be corrected only through the passage of an Equity Bill," Atty. Tancinco should already know that, at this point in time, "full equity" is a dream lost in the labyrinth of political reality. Atty. Tancinco should have a "reality check" and come to terms with the politics of life. The long battle for full equity in Congress has come down to a "compromise" -- the only game in Capitol Hill. The lobbyists and advocates for the National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE) and the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans (ACFV) knew the "politics of compromise" very well and that was one of the reasons why S.1315 passed the Senate and would have passed the House of Representatives had Speaker Pelosi proceeded with the floor vote.

It's ironic that those who professed to advocate for "full equity" would, in the end, become the reactionary force that would deny the surviving 18,000 aging warriors the victory that they have been waiting for more than six decades. At the rate the Filipino veterans are dying -- 10 per day -- there would only be one Filipino veteran left standing in less than five years. At that time, the "All or Nothing" group would realize -- albeit too late -- that they have missed the noblest act that they could have done for the Filipino veterans: give them back their dignity.