April 10, 2012
As lobbyists press for sub-committee hearing,Texas Rep. Ron Paul, 90 Congress Leaders Supports Equity of Filipino WW II Vets
Los Angeles—A week after the Bataan Day celebration, lobbyists will visit the US Congress the second time in a month’s time to press for sub-committee hearing on HR 210, “The Filipino Veterans Fairness Act of 2011,” which will provide full recognition to the US military services of the remaining 50,000 Filipino WW II veterans and full benefits to the veterans, widows, and their families.
Lobbyists find inspiration in Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a war veteran himself and Republican presidential candidate who openly endorsed the bill in a public rally in Nevada. “We are pleased to announce Ron Paul’s unwavering legacy of supporting veterans by announcing he will support and co-sponsor HR 210,” said John Tate, national campaign manager. “HR 210 provides a small thank you for an enormous debt of gratitude owed the Philippines and America’s most heroic individuals.”
“We cannot afford to have half-American veterans. Enough with token recognition,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, CA-D San Mateo/San Francisco who introduced HR 210 with current 90 bipartisan co-sponsors from the House. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised to vote for the bill once it reaches the plenary. Pelosi said, “We will make sure that no veteran is left behind.”
With the great amount of political support from the House and the local communities, lobbyists are not cowed by the opposition of Senators Daniel Inouye and Diane Feinstein to introduce companion bill in the Senate.
“Bataan is about endurance and hope in an uphill battle,” said Felino Punsalan, 94 and WW II veteran. “Full equity is a struggle but we are hopeful that as we fight to the last drop, we are redeeming our pride as true American veterans deserving of unquestionable full recognition by the government we served.”
Senator Feinstein Defers to Senator Inouye
California Senator Dianne Feinstein opposed the introduction of Senate companion bill of HR 210. During the second phone conference at Feinstein’s local office in San Francisco in the presence of ten veterans and widows, the DC legislative staff from DC explained that Feinstein pays high respect and thus defers to the opinion of the Hawaii Senator, who previously opposed introducing a companion bill, because “he is an expert on how the Senate works.” In the Senate, most legislative aides refer to Filipino equity as Inouye bill.
“Why would the Senator defer to someone outside of the state when majority of California have openly supported the bill? We are her constituents and 30 of the total 53 US Representatives in California are now co-sponsors,” said Regalado Baldonado, a WW II guerilla veteran and member of the Justice for Filipino-American Veterans (JFAV). He added, “We need a leader who can decide independently.”
Feinstein in her letter to veterans dated March 1, 2012, cited the budgetary constraint as reason for her opposition. “…Congress must debate the appropriate level of spending for the coming fiscal year in the context of many other pressing needs in the budget.”
“In the 45-minute negotiation, we discussed the issue of money in passing and maybe spent less than three minutes; the rest was centered on Inouye and her deferral to his position. This is not about money at all,” said Baldonado. The cost of full benefit of the equity bill is estimated to be less than 1% of the total budget of the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). The typical estimate of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) covers all benefits for ten years including monthly pensions but given the average age of 90 of veterans, they are only expected to live for the next three years, thus cutting benefits abruptly.
Inouye Champions Opposition in the Senate
In his letter to Commander Francisco Obina dated September 29, 2011, Inouye said, “I believe the lump sum was and is the best benefit we could achieve for the Filipino WW II veterans. I was just grateful that I was able to provide them with something as opposed to nothing.”
Inouye historically supported full recognition and full equity for the Filipino veterans since 1993 until 2008 when the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund (FVEC) was enacted. Instead of full benefits that include lifetime monthly pensions, the Filipino veterans received one-time lump sum payment of ,000/,000 with a quit-claim provision disallowing them to ask for future benefits. Most widows were disqualified from any lump sum benefit. To date, 24,000 veterans have been denied out of the 42,000 who applied for lump sum.
“It’s very sad that Senator Inouye is trapped in the framework of ‘something is better than nothing’ in addressing 66 years of injustice to the Filipino veterans who sacrificed for this Nation,” said Arturo Garcia, a Los Angeles based pro bono Congressional lobbyist.
“The lump sum was another partial recognition. It was a good start but is definitely not full recognition and full equity. Historically Inouye agreed with the veterans to pursue equity slowly by getting partial benefits one after the other. However, when the FVEC was enacted, Inouye completely backtracked from his promise to ultimately pursue full recognition and full benefits,” Garcia added.
During WW II, 250,000 Filipinos joined the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) to defend the Philippines, a member of the US Commonwealth of Nations. US President Roosevelt promised that Filipinos will be recognized as American soldiers with full benefits like any other American soldiers. After the war in 1946, the US Congress enacted the Rescission Act that took away full recognition of the US military service of the Filipinos. To this day, Filipinos are not considered American veterans
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