By Joseph Pimentel/AJPress
LOS ANGELES – World War II veteran Franco Arcebal patiently waits. “We are so close,” he said.
Twenty-years ago, he walked into a Veteran’s Affairs office to find out that he had no veteran’s benefits. Since learning neither he, nor his fellow Pinoy soldiers, who fought with American troops during WWII would receive recognition or VA pension, he made it his life’s work.
“We’ve dreamt about this bill finally passing,” he said.
With the US House of Representatives in recess for the Memorial Day holiday, Filipino WWII veterans, advocates and their supporters gathered at the Philippine Consulate on Wednesday to strategize their final push for the passage of the FilVet Equity Bill to make the dream a reality.
It’s been a quiet month since S.1315 the FilVet Equity bill overwhelmingly passed the Senate floor last April. The measure would enhance life insurance benefits for disabled veterans, burial allowances and housing grants, and provides for $221 million in new pension benefits for Filipino WWII veterans.
After the Senate
FilVet advocates have a more daunting task after the measure’s stint in the Senate. Now they need to gather 2/3 of the 435 member House of Representatives to vote yes on the bill. The 290 votes would prevent delays, killer amendments and defeat, according to Eric Lachica of the American Coalition of Filipino Veterans.
The House of Representative will convene and most pundits expect the bill to be introduced in the next coming weeks.
Consul General Mary Jo Aragon said it’s time for the Filipino and FilAm community to contact their State’s representatives.
“We need to keep the pressure on,” she said in the FilVet meeting. “We have to let them know how important S. 1315 is to our community.”
Aragon, Consul Daniel Espiritu, and Ben De Guzman, the coordinator of the Washington DC-based National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE) hosted the meeting. Many Filipino WWII veterans dressed in their military uniform came out to share their thoughts. The biggest hurdle most Filipino WWII supporters foresee is the complacency in the community.
“When the Senate passed the bill, people were literally celebrating and dancing on the streets,” said Ben De Guzman. “But we are so far from that. It’s not over yet. We are standing on a razor thin edge. It’s either we make it across or fall off.”
Justice for Filipino American Veterans (JFAV) Coordinator Art Garcia warned that this is not the time for the community to become complacent.
“It’s normal to relax when we are near victory,” he said. “
’Bahala Na’ is the [attitude] that is so common in our community. But if we work harder, the sweeter the victory [will be].”
De Guzman said that the opposition mostly House Republicans and “blue dog” (fiscally conservative) Democrats are lining up to strike down the bill.
“We’re making history,” he said. “I always say that when people look back at this time, the members of the community are going to have to ask themselves whether they helped the cause or not.”
De Guzman said that the best way for the community to get involved is to start calling, writing, or visiting their representatives even if they’ve never done it before.
Garcia is already lining up his troop of supporters. JFAV has over 67 chapters nationwide.
“I’m issuing a press release so they can start to make their rounds of calls and visits,” he said. “I’m hopeful that this is going to pass this year.”