The Last Hurrah: Filipino WWII Veterans Waiting Anxiously for Bill

by Joseph Pimentel/AJPress
LOS ANGELES – In what may be its last ditch effort for this Congressional session, Filipino World War II groups are preparing for a make or break September month to seek the passage of the Filipino WWII Veteran’s Equity Act.
“Right now, we are gearing up for the fall,” said Ben De Guzman, the coordinator of the National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE) to the Asian Journal from Washington DC. “We’re trying to prepare a national action week to mobilize the community before congress comes back. This is really it. We have three legislative weeks left before they [members of the House of Representatives] campaign.”

Executive Director of the American Coalition of Filipino Veterans Eric Lachica seemed more optimistic.

“We’re hoping that our champions will live up to their pledge. We are within reach,” said Lachica.

House Resolution 760 is a bill that would provide Filipino WWII veterans to receive equity veterans affairs (VA) pension. There are less than 18,000 surviving Filipino WWII soldiers, 13,000 of which still reside in the Philippines.

A version of the bill has already passed the Senate floors under S. 1315, the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007. According to the Senate bill, Filipino WWII veterans residing in the Philippines to be eligible for an annual payment of $3,600 ($300 a month) and married veterans would be eligible for $4,500. The annual payment for surviving spouses would be $2,400, according to the Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate of the S. 1315 bill.

However, since its overwhelming favorable vote in the Senate earlier this year, the House version has received less fanfare amongst Republicans and blue dog Democrats and currently at an impasse in the appropriations committee.

With only a few months left in the congressional calendar, Filipino WWII groups and advocates are feeling a sense of urgency. Though technically they have until the end of the year to get the bill passed, Republicans and Democrats in the House are preparing for their re-election campaign and focusing on the upcoming Presidential elections.

It’s the reason why September is the month to get anything done.

“If we don’t get this bill passed by September,” said De Guzman. “Realistically we are done for this congressional session and would have to start over again next year.”

Jump Start

Congressman Bob Filner (D-CA), who has championed the bill for several years, has tried to jump start talks before the House left for recess. De Guzman said Filner set off “fireworks” proposing an amendment for a lump sum payment to the veterans as opposed to the proposed annual payment.

“What he really wanted to do was to jump start talks again,” said De Guzman. “It worked. Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi (D-CA) spoke on the Filipinos WWII veterans’ behalf. Of course, Steve Buyer (R-IN) [ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs] opposed it. Chet Edwards (D-TX) [Head of the Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee] gave his support. So in that sense it was positive.”

“Filner’s feeling the same frustration we’re feeling,” added De Guzman. “We’re at an impasse. Nothing is happening.”

The reason for the impasse is simple – money. Creating spending to any veterans groups such as for Filipino veterans would mean taking away money from another source. To fund the Filipino veterans equity bill would mean to eliminate a special monthly pensions for severely disabled veterans over 65 who are also receiving pensions for wartime service.

Giving money to veterans in the Philippines rather than US disabled veterans is a hard pill to swallow for some Republicans, according to De Guzman.

“We are very disappointed how it is being characterized,” explains De Guzman. “In reality, the money set aside for the Filipino WWII veterans would not really take away from the disabled veterans. The disability pension was not being distributed correctly so really it’s restoring the original intent.

“The problem is that our champions and Democratic supporters have allowed the Republicans to set the debate terms and standards,” said De Guzman.

Veterans Fatigue

While De Guzman of NAFVE and Lachica are working behind the scenes in Washington, many members of the community nationwide are feeling veterans’ fatigue.

This past year, it has been a roller coaster ride for Filipino WWII veterans, grassroots groups and their supporters. It’s been full of ups and downs with many members of the community screaming for joy but some feeling woozy from the ride.

The momentum from the Senate passage earlier this year seemed to have waned during these past few months.

Lachica said it’s time for the community to make a last push effort.

Lachica is on his way to Denver for the Democratic National convention to rally support.

“During this recess time, community members should make an appointment to see their congressperson just to remind them about the Filipino WWII veterans equity bill,” said Lachica.

Lachica added that the ACFV is hosting a number of community forums in the West Coast to update veterans and supporters of what’s going on in Capitol Hill.

“We are very close to our goal,” he said. “I think we have enough members of the House to support this bill.”

De Guzman is asking for community supporters, grassroots groups and more importantly the WWII veterans not to give up.

“We are a community that has never engaged in a campaign like this before,” said De Guzman. “I know it’s hard to deal with this veteran’s fatigue but the veterans have been marching 60 years. We’re asking the community to continue their support for the next month. We have fought the fight but we need to do another week, another month of making phone calls to our congressperson so we could look our veterans, the manongs, in the eye and say we did everything we can for you. If we win, great. If we lose, we go back to the drawing board to focus on the 111th but we did what we could.

“Our manongs marched for more than 62 years, we’re asking the community to march with them for the next 62 days.”

(www.asianjournal.com)

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