Thursday, July 24, 2008

Where's Senate Speaker Pelosi?

By Johnny Pecayo: Editor-In-Chief (Manila.US.Times)

The U.S. Speaker of the House must step up and deal with the plight of the Filipino Veterans of World War II.

For over six decades, the Filipino veterans who were commissioned by the United States Armed Forces of the Far East (USAFFE) to fight for America, now estimated at 18,000 from the original list of about 472,000, have been fighting for a war that they had already won but have yet to reap the benefits of.

It is on record that Filipino soldiers who fought against the Japanese in the Philippines were ordered by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt into service in the U.S. Army. When the war broke out, the Philippines was a colony of the U.S.. Therefore, the Filipino soldiers were American nationals serving the USA. They should have been entitled to full VA benefits had the Rider to PL 79-301, the Rescission Act of 1946, not taken those benefits away.

Where is Speaker Nancy Pelosi? No, we are not asking for the undisclosed location where she can be seen in person. We are asking about something more important than her present location. Where is the authoritative power, leadership and influence she possesses as Speaker of the House?

President Roosevelt once said: "The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men (and women) who can dream of things that never were.....The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts about today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith." And the Valiant World War II heroes responded to this call and put their lives on the line to fight for the freedom that all of us now enjoy.

It is hoped that Speaker Pelosi would follow her instincts and heed what President John F. Kennedy said: "There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction." She must act now before it is too late. For indeed, President Kennedy further stated: "Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction."

Since the passage last April 14 by the U.S. Senate of S. 1315, otherwise known as Veterans' Benefits Enhancement Act, by an overwhelming vote of 96-1, the expectation was that Speaker Pelosi would take the lead role in ensuring approval of this Bill in the Lower House, considering that her present leadership commands a "simple majority," or an equivalent of 218 members of Congress favoring its approval. To get S.1315 to pass the House, Speaker Pelosi will need all 230 House Democrats to support it and at least 60 House Republicans to reach the magic number of 290 (two-thirds of the 435 total number of House members) in order to call for a Suspension of the Rules that would avoid killer amendments that would delay, if not kill the bill.

The leadership of Rep. Darryl Issa (R-CA) can gather enough Republicans to join the Democrats in reaching the number of 290. It is believed that Rep. Issa, whose office in the Cannon House Bldg. we visited last week, can get 74 Republicans to vote for S.1315.

Speaker Pelosi is urged to heed what Gen. Douglas MacArthur said: "A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others." There are over four million Filipino Americans in the U.S. who are taxpayers and registered voters, including the unsung heroes now in their mid-eighties to nineties. These World War II veterans could barely walk the halls and long corridors of Congress, and they are badly in need of Speaker Pelosi's undivided support to reap the long overdue benefits due them.

SB.1315, provides $250 to $300 million over 10 years for the Filipino World War II veterans. If Speaker Pelosi would apply the resources of her office and crack the whip, to have this bill passed, an allocation of about $50 million for Filipino veterans will be needed in the first year and would steadily decrease over a 10-year period ($46 million in year 2, and $42 million in year 3, based on mortality rate of 10 a day).

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which prepared the estimate, took into consideration the fact that many of the Filipino veterans living in California (4,000) out of the total of 6,000 vets in the US) may elect to keep the Supplemental Security Income that they are currently receiving about $650 a month plus $200 from the state of California rather than the $900 a month they would receive as US Veterans Affairs pension because the veteran and his spouse would receive a higher monthly total SSI benefit of $1,500. They would not be entitled to combine both.

“Compressing” the bill from 10 to 5 would allow Philippine veterans the opportunity to receive $600 a month over a 5-year period rather than $300 a month over 10 years.

These are incredibly difficult times now for the 12,000 veterans in the Philippines who are all eagerly awaiting passage of S.1315 to help them cope with skyrocketing food and fuel costs. While the young activist members of the VEC and the Student Action for Veterans Equity should be admired for sticking to their principles, the veterans in the Philippines know that they cannot eat their principles or fill their gas tanks with them.

Robert Gnaizda, General Counsel of the Greenlining Institute, led a small delegation last July 17 to meet with Speaker Pelosi's senior staff, Melissa Shannon, comprising of Dr. Primo Andres, Chairman, Filipino American Leadership Council (FALCON); Johnny Pecayo, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of the MANILA-U.S. TIMES, who is Co-Chair of FALCON Public Relations; Maj. Gen. Delfin Lorenzana, Minister-Counselor and Head, Office of Veterans Affairs, Philippine Embassy; Gines Gallaga, Vice-Consul and 3rd Secretary, Philippine Embassy; Percival Abu, Veterans Service Officer, Philippine Embassy; Eric Lachica, Executive Director,American Coalition for Filipino Veterans; Jorge Corralejo, Chairman Latino Business Chamber of Commerce of the Greater Los Angeles Area; Ben de Guzman, National Campaign Coordinator, National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE); and four Filipino Veterans of World War II -- Guillermo Rumingan, Celestino Almeda, 91, (who rides in a motorized wheel chair); Joaquin Tejada, and Potenciano Dee, who had to beg off as he could not endure walking the long corridors of the Cannon Office Bulding that connects to the U.S. House of Congress.

Gnaizda, spokesman of the group, is a long time friend of the Speaker whom he has known even prior to Nancy Pelosi's becoming involved in politics.