Rodel Rodis, June 9, 2008
There is an inherent conflict in writing a weekly opinion column, as I have done for the last 20 years, and in being an elected public official in San Francisco, as I have been for the last 17 years. It is an occupational hazard that from time to time, I have expressed opinions which offended certain individuals who happen to be San Francisco voters.
Most recently I wrote two columns about the need for the Filipino community to express our unequivocal support for the Filipino veterans equity bill, S.1315, which passed the US Senate 96-1 on April 24, 2008, and which is currently pending in the US House of Representatives.
In one column, I wrote about the expected House vote on S.1315 that was set for May 21 but which was delayed. I speculated that the delay may have arisen from doubts by Speaker Nancy Pelosi about whether she had the 290 House votes needed to pass S.1315 with a Suspension of the Rules call. Were there 230 House Democrats and at least 60 Republicans ready to vote for it?
I also reported that after the vote was delayed, Filipino veterans in Washington DC questioned whether “a letter from San Francisco Veterans Affairs Commissioner Regalado Baldonado to Speaker Nancy Pelosi denouncing S.1315 played a role in the vote delay.”
The "Baldonado" letter to Speaker Pelosi and to Philippine Ambassador Willie Gaa declared S. 1315 to be "woefully insufficient" as it would provide the 12,000 Filipino veterans in the Philippines with $300 a month pension while the 6,000 Filvets in the US would receive $900 a month.
The DC veterans told me that they spoke with Baldonado and that he explained that the letter was prepared for him to sign by members of the Veterans Equity Center (VEC) and the Student Action for Filipino Veterans (SAVE).
In response to my column, Roy Recio, secretary of the VEC and an active member of SAVE, issued a press release this past week entitled “Call for Apology and Retraction After City College Board Trustee Rodel Rodis Attacks Student Coalition”.
The press release stated that my “article included a diatribe of speculations disguised as facts, including a claim that a letter prepared by SAVE caused Speaker Nancy Pelosi to postpone the vote for the proposed Veterans Enhancement Bill, S. 1315. However, the fact remains, Speaker Pelosi and her offices have never confirmed the exact grounds for such postponement.”
The Recio press release contends that “a careful read of the letter drafted and circulated by SAVE’s organizations… would have revealed that the undersigned was not against S. 1315, as Rodis vehemently portrays.” What part of “S.1315 is woefully insufficient” did I misconstrue as “not against S.1315”?
Recio did not deny that the “Baldanado” (consistently misspelled by Recio) letter was written by SAVE, only that Speaker Pelosi “never confirmed the exact grounds for such postponement." That's what he wants me to apologize for? Is Recio naive enough to actually believe that Speaker Pelosi will acknowledge the exact grounds for the postponement?
In her article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer published on June 3, 2008 (“No veteran left behind in final battle”), VEC board chair Atty. Lou Tancinco wrote that if S.1315 is passed, it will mean that “those residing in the Philippines will get only about one-third of those benefits instead of the full benefits. This is discriminatory treatment of the veterans based on residence.”
Tancinco believes that S.1315 will not correct the “historical injustice” of the Rescission Act of 1946 and that what is needed is “for the US Congress to pass another bill to revert their status back to US veterans and afford the Filipinos the same treatment as other veterans who fought under the US flag in World War II. The economic part of the bill should be incidental to the principle behind full equity.”
Tancinco further declares that "for us who have worked hard to attain equality for Filipino veterans, holding a firm position for equity does not necessarily mean we are not in favor of veterans’ benefits." So what does it necessarily mean?
This is the heart of the conflict which has divided the Filipino community on the veterans issue from the outset. Tancinco, the VEC and SAVE believe, as the Baldonado letter unequivocally declares: "we cannot waiver in our position or tolerate any deviation from equal treatment for all of our Filipino WW II veterans."SAVE’s website, www.fullequitynow.org, states its fundamental principle is “commitment and support to fight for nothing less than FULL EQUITY for Filipino WWII Veterans “
Since S.1315 is not "full equity" as it only provides $300 a month for the 12,000 Filipino veterans in the Philippines, instead of $900 a month, Atty. Tancinco, Recio and their supporters are simply unwilling to compromise even if S.1315 is the “last best chance” to get a Filipino veterans equity bill to pass the US Congress.
Interestingly enough, the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill (HR 760) introduced last year by Rep. Bob Filner, a bill supported by Tancinco and VEC, is also not full equity because it only provides $500 a month to veterans in the Philippines. Rep. Mike Honda suggested to me that after S.1315 is passed, supporters of full equity can push for a bill that would "compress" the $300 a month over 10 years to $600 a month over 5 years for the Filipino vets in the Philippines.
The 12,000 remaining veterans in the Philippines need the $300 a month ($370 with dependents) to help them deal with skyrocketing fuel and food costs. Passing a $900 a month “full equity” bill for them when they are dead makes no sense to them. S. 1315 is a bird in the hand.
While I respect Atty. Tancinco for her principled belief in “full equity” above all, I question the motives of Roy Recio and his band of true believers. Recio is an active member of Bayan USA (www.bayanusa.org), an organization that supports the New People’s Army (NPA) in the Philippines, and I believe that he and his cohorts will be truly disappointed if S.1315 passes because they will be deprived of an ideological issue with which to organize the masses. The Rescission Act has been a perfect issue for them because it depicts the US as betraying its promise and causing the poor elderly veterans to suffer. To Recio, the veterans serve a useful political purpose, their sacrifice for principle will be greatly appreciated by the masses.
But many seasoned activists like Lillian Galedo, co-chair of the National Network for Veterans Equity (NNVE), wholeheartedly believe that we must do everything we can to pass S.1315 now. In an email sent out to various e-groups on June 6, 2008, Galedo attached my most recent column (“Unequivocal Support for S. 1315 Needed”) and wrote:
“For the people organizing on the ground, it is absolutely clear that we have unequivocal support among the long-time advocates and those who have more recently taken up the cause to restore U.S. veterans status to Filipino WWII veterans. Our center of attention should be focused on getting the final 50 or so votes to pass the House version of S. 1315, in the House of Representatives.”
P.S. to friends: I am running for re-election to the San Francisco Community College Board this November. I fully expect Roy Recio and his cohorts to actively oppose me which is why their press release highlighted the fact that I am a City College Board Trustee. I would appreciate your support. Please send your non tax-deductible check made out to "Re-elect Rodel Rodis, College Board" to 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127. Thank you. Please send comments to Rodel50@aol.com.