Saturday, January 8, 2011
CALIFORNIA SOLON'S BILL AIMS FOR FULL FILVETS EQUITY
Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA 12th District) delivers on a promise to file a bill to reversing the 1946 Rescission Law and amending a 2009 law to expand equity compensation to widows and children of Filipino World War II veterans.
Rep. Speier – who won a 2nd term last November – is fulfilling a campaign promise made to Fil-Ams in San Mateo County and southwestern San Francisco, California last June (she’s one of a few US lawmakers with a Tagalog version in her website).
“The Filipino WWII veterans are full Americans who defended an American territory,” Rep. Speier said, stressing “They deserve nothing less than full recognition, full benefits and full equity.”
The proposed bill, tentatively called the “World War II Filipino Veterans Fairness Act of 2011” will virtually repeal parts of Title 38 of the United States Code – also known as the Rescission Act – that stripped recognition for about a quarter of a million Filipino soldiers and guerillas who served under the US Armed Forces during World War II.
It will also amend Section 1002 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that provides for the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) to include widows and children of deceased veterans who would have qualified to get the lump sum payments -- $15,000 for those living in the US and $9,000 for those in the Philippines.
Over 21,000 applications for the lump sum payments were rejected by the Department of Veterans Administration (DVA) – many because their names couldn’t be found in the reconstructed US Army roster – the so-called Missouri List (the original list was destroyed by fire in the 1970s).
As a result, some Fil-Am groups and advocates have sued the DVA in federal courts in California and Washington State.
The proposed Speier bill will authorize the DVA to accept “alternative documentation other than the Missouri List that the Secretary determines relevant.”
As expected, the proposed bill was lauded by Fil-Ams from California all the way to Virginia.
But lawyer Arnedo Valera, who helped file one of two suits against the government, said they will pursue the court cases.
“Eto na yung talagang fight for full equity and recognition,” he averred.
“The law suits were intended to secure the rights of our veterans so there is no contradiction with the lobby work that’s been done. It merely adds pressure,” Valera explained.
If passed by Congress and signed by the President, the Speier bill will qualify Filipino WWII veterans to receive the same DVA benefits given to Americans and foreign allies (the Rescission Act stripped recognition only for Filipino veterans).
It throws the Filipino veterans’ struggle for full equity back to square one.
Various bills have gone through this route in one form or another for half a century until the FVEC – the closest supporters got to full equity and recognition – was passed in 2009.
CLIMBING UP "THE HILL"
It’s uncertain our Rep. Speier’s bill will fare in the House of Representatives – now dominated by Republicans who're bent on cutting spending and had previously opposed the grant of full equity.
Advocates will also have to find a lawmaker willing to sponsor a companion bill in the Senate.
Filipino veterans supporters on Capitol Hill have been working on a "family reunification bill" to expedite the granting of visas to children of veterans living in the US.
They had hoped to pass the measure in last month's lame-duck session; failing that, they're expected to refile the bill in the 112th Congress.
Democrats enjoy a majority in the Senate, albeit slimmer than the one they enjoyed when the FVEC was approved.
Valera conceded a vigorous lobby will be key to passage of the bill.
“Alam natin mabigat ang laban dito but we’re optimistic the Fil-Am community will back this all the way,” he said.