by Perry Diaz
Now, back to the issue — to “our issue.” For the past 58 years, we’ve been trying to repeal the Rescission Act of 1946, or pass legislation that would restore all the benefits that were taken away. Every presidential election year, we made it an issue. And every presidential candidate ignored “our issue.” No candidate addressed “our issue” with the American people. Why? Because “our issue” is not an issue with the rest of the American people. “Our issue” is not an issue with the American veterans. “Our issue” is an issue only in our community and nobody else’s. That is the stark reality, folks.
And if we make “our issue” a presidential election issue, guess what? We will be disappointed, discouraged, furious, and angry! Angry because they ignored “our issue” again. Don’t we ever get the message? The message is: “Filipino Veterans Equity” is not an issue in a presidential election. Never had been and never will be.
But before you really, really get mad and run amuck, let’s look at what had been done in the past 58 years. Did Democratic Harry Truman’s administration do something for the Filipino World War II veterans? The answer is “No.” Heck, he was the President when the Rescission Act of 1946 was railroaded in Congress.
Did Republican Dwight Eisenhower do something? Democratic John Kennedy? Democratic Lyndon Johnson? Republican Richard Nixon? Republican Gerald Ford? Democratic Jimmy Carter? Republican Ronald Reagan? Republican George HW Bush? Yes, he did. It was during his administration that the Filipino World War II veterans were given American citizenship. That’s a major accomplishment. However, American citizenship was not enough. That legislation became the watershed for the fight for Filipino veterans equity and the multitude of Filipino veterans’ benefits that Congress subsequently passed. That started the ball rolling in the Filipino-American community to lobby for the Big Kahuna — full equity for the Filipino veterans.
Did Democratic Bill Clinton do something? Did Republican George W Bush do something? Yes, indeed. Several legislations were passed that restored a lot of benefits to the Filipino veterans. The last was passed this year. It increased the medical health benefits of the Filipino veterans. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi worked closely with representatives of the Filipino veterans in getting the bill passed. President Bush gave the final nod and signed it into law.
What the Filipino veterans did was — through their organization, American Coalition of Filipino Veterans — lobby for smaller pieces of legislations. We call this process, “Step by Step” — one piece of benefit in each step. To my recollection, there were at least six or seven pieces of legislations passed during the administration of President George W. Bush and, maybe, Bill Clinton. The “Step by Step” process worked.
On the other hand, there were proponents of the “All or Nothing” strategy. HR 677 was the latest version of the “All or Nothing” strategy. It has been introduced in Congress several times before and each time it failed to muster enough sponsors. This year, there were 206 sponsors, three less than the number of sponsors in the previous Congress. However, the issue is not the lack of sponsors. It is a budget issue. The Appropriations Committee of both chambers of Congress could not find the money to appropriate for HR 677. It is a question of priority. This year, the War in Iraq and the War on Terrorism take precedence over any veteran benefit appropriation bill.
What is encouraging this year is that for the first time, the “Step by Step” advocates and the “All or Nothing” proponents unified into one group behind HR 677. The unified front included both Filipino-American Democratic and Republican leaders. After all, the principal sponsors of HR 677 were Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham and Bob Filner of California, Republican and Democrat, respectively.
So, we lost the battle to pass HR 677 this year. But did we lose the war? Hell, no! Actually, we won the biggest battle that the Filipino-Americans fought: that is, the battle within its rank. We overcame the biggest obstacle and that was disunity. We finally got our act together and realized that in unity there is strength.
What we should do now is to prepare for the next battle. We should put “our issue” back on the front burner next year and evaluate its chances of passing the next Congress. That’s where “our issue” belongs — in the US Congress. Considering our setback in the current Congress, this year was not bad at all. It is a banner year and I hope that we would continue to work together each step of the way to final victory — the passage of HR 677.