Wednesday, April 27, 2011


When aging World War II veterans from California trooped to Capitol Hill it was inevitable they’d get lost in the labyrinth. Inside an elevator, they decided to ask for directions from a man who, it turns out, was an Arizona solon and by the end of their brief encounter, netted their first Republican backer.

Rep. Trent Franks (2nd District, Arizona) is the only Republican so far to sign up for HR 210, the Filipino Veterans Fairness Act of 2011, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier (12th District, California).

“We were trying to get to another congressman’s office and one of our veterans decided to ask this gentleman in the elevator for directions. He turned out to be a congressman and he’s heard about our veterans from his wife who was Filipina,” recounted lawyer Arnedo Valera who was part of the group, mostly from California , lobbying for the bill.

At least 18 Democratic congressmen have co-sponsored the bill so far.

“We need 150 co-sponsors before a bill can be discussed, so constituents need to call on their representatives,” Speiers told the group.

Rep. Bob Filner (51st district, California ), the senior Democrat in the House veterans affairs committee, who had earlier engineered the passage laws for Filipino veterans, urged them to concentrate on wooing more Republicans.

“For now, forget about the Democrats and focus on our Republican friends. This bill must not be seen as something that concerns Filipinos alone. We’ve got to build bipartisan support,” he advised them.

They went door-to-door for two days and were able to complete 65 office visits, talking to both Democrats and Republicans. Perhaps a measure of her commitment, Speiers arranged for them to use one of the offices in Longworth Building and stocked it with coffee and pastries to encourage lawmakers or their staff to visit.

“Beyond restoring honor and dignity to Filipino veterans, we also look forward to the spiritual healing, as a people and nation, from 65 painful years of injustice and racial inequality,” declared Ago Pedalizo, coordinator of the Justice for Filipino-American Veterans (JFAV).

Most were lobbying for the first time, except for retired Maj. Gen. Delfin Lorenzana who worked for passage of the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) bill that provided lump sum compensation for Filipino WWII veterans here and in the Philippines .

Despite the Aquino administration’s focus on the SAVE Act (a bill providing for reciprocal tariff concessions for textiles and garments), he assured full support for this latest Filvets equity bill initiative.

“Almost everyone we talked to accept that the US has a moral obligation to our veterans, to do the right thing. Their only apprehension, including House veterans committee chairman Congressman Jeff Miller was the budget,” Valera explained.

This likely impediment was discussed by Jon Clark, a Miller staff member in the veterans panel. “Morally speaking, full equity is okay. It’s the cost that will be bothersome,” he was quoted telling the group.

Over $200 million in lump sum payments have been paid out to thousands of Filipino veterans in the US and Philippines under the FVEC. There is no estimate yet how much HR 210 will cost. But during the congressional deliberations leading up to the FVEC, US officials reckoned providing Filipino veterans the pension and benefits that American WWII veterans receive would cost nearly a billion dollars a year.

“I often hear politicians talk about supporting the troops. Don’t get me wrong,” Rep. Speiers averred, “words of thanks for those who served and continue to serve our nation uniform are important. But they are not enough. Our deeds must follow suit.”

But it’s not all about the benefits, they argued. The Speier bill will also direct the Department of Veterans Administration to accept proof other than the so-called Missouri List to establish the eligibility of veterans. Hundreds of veterans were turned away from getting the lump sum because they were not in the list.

The bill’s co-sponsors include Reps. Filner, Franks, Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois; Raul Grijalva of Arizona; Maurice Hinchey of New York; Judy Chu, Pete Stark, George Miller, Zoe Lofgren, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Lyn Woolsey, Linda Sanchez, Henry Waxman, Laura Richardson and Michael Honda of California; and Bobby Scott of Virginia

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