Two months ago, I proposed to the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) that the association which advocates for the Filipino WW II veterans should direct its 12 regional chapters to each sponsor local activities to mark the 62nd anniversary of the infamous Rescission Act of February 19, 1946. The purpose - to highlight the law that stripped Filipino veterans of the USAFFE of their US military benefits and to mobilize support for the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill that is pending in the US Congress. I also suggested that we distribute 500,000 armbands with “2/18/46 – Rescission Act” inscribed on it to supporters all over the US.
My proposal was tabled for future discussion so February 18, 2007 came and went with only a march-forum in Los Angeles and a wreath laying ceremony in Washington DC to commemorate it.
When I went to Washington DC two weeks ago to lobby the US Congress to support the bill, I wrote about my concern that the Filipino veterans were getting caught in the crosshairs of the anti-foreigner anti-immigrant sentiment of Republican lawmakers. Unlike columns on other subjects, I received no feedback from readers about this issue.
Was this an indication that the Filipino community has lost interest in the fight of our Filipino WW II veterans to regain the benefits that were denied them 62 years ago?
Was the level of interest in the community always just a mile wide but only an inch deep? In other words, was the professed interest in the issue by the Filipino community leadership not actually shared by the Filipino community at large?
Is there a Filipino veterans "compassion fatigue" which occurs when, due to constant media stories of suffering Filipino WW II veterans, people in the community somehow develop a numbness to the stories of their plight?
These are questions that our community should raise and grapple with. The honest answers to them should guide us in our campaign for the veterans.
It may be that it is not just a community-wide indifference to the veterans issue but simply an indication of an indifference to all issues. This week marks the 22nd anniversary of People Power, perhaps the most shining moment in Philippine history, the spark that ignited similar People’s Power uprisings in South Korea, Taiwan, and in all of Eastern Europe. But there are no celebrations of this glorious moment anywhere in the Filipino community this week. Why?
Five months ago, the Filipino community expressed outrage at the “Desperate Housewives” veiled attack on Philippine-educated physicians (September 30, 2007 premiere episode). There were demonstrations, on-line petitions (signed by 150,000 people), a barrage of protest letters and emails sent to ABC, and a national conference in Las Vegas in November to mobilize the community to demand a meaningful on-air apology from ABC.
But three months after the November conference, the issue has been forgotten. ABC dangled the carrot of a collaborative partnership with NaFFAA to accept Filipino interns into ABC, which carrot was apparently enough to prompt NaFFAA to discourage any lawsuits or protest actions against ABC.
With all the Democrat-Republican, liberal-conservative, pro-GMA/anti-GMA divide in the Filipino community, it was believed that support for the Filipino WW II veterans was the one issue that all sides could agree to and rally behind.
But there are divisions even with this issue. There are those supporters of the veterans who believe that the community should not compromise on the full equity issue, that Filipino veterans in the Philippines should receive the same benefits as those in the US.
But even that formerly inflexible position has given way to support for the proposal of Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA), the chair of the House Veterans Committee, whose bill would provide $900 a month to the 6,000 US-based veterans and $500 a month to Philippine-based veterans. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), this would amount to $1-B over 10 years or about $100-M a year.
There are those who believe that the veterans should get whatever they can get. As the ranks of the surviving veterans dwindle at an exponential rate, what good would it do the veterans if the US Congress, several years from now, passes a bill giving all the veterans full equity when there is no one left alive to receive it?
This group of aging veterans support the Senate bill of Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), the chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, which would also provide $900 a month for US-based veterans and $375 a month for Philippine-based veterans with dependents, $300 for single veterans, and $200 for widows of veterans. The CBO believes this bill would amount to $365-M over 10 years.
Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) proposed a more modest bill that would also grant $900 a month to US-based veterans but only $100 a month to Philippine-based veterans. He withdrew this proposal on December 13, 2007 and currently backs the bill of Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) to totally eliminate any benefits to Philippine-based veterans.
The divisions within the Filipino community on this issue discourage many of our supporters in the US Congress and provide a convenient cover to those unwilling to back the bill (“if you guys can’t agree on what bill to support, why should we?”).
I strongly suggest that the Filipino community rally behind supporting a veterans bill that can pass the US Congress. If even US Pres. George W. Bush has to regularly compromise with the US Congress now, why shouldn’t we?
In the final paragraph of the 4-page letter written to Sen. Craig by veterans advocate Gen. Delfin Lorenzana, he wrote: “As we commemorate the Anniversary of the Rescission Act of 1946 on February 18, we pray that this 62-year old claim for recognition and benefits of these remaining gallant men and women who served America with utmost loyalty and devotion during WWII be finally granted.”
Prayers have been known to work wonders.