December 2007

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz

A year ago, at a summit held at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC, representatives of various groups of Filipino Veterans of World War II and their advocates met. The participants unanimously approved the formation of a coalition that would lobby for the passage of a full equity bill. More than 20 Filipino veteran groups and community advocates were unified under the banner of the National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE). In February 2007, they formed a steering committee and hired a staff of three legislative consultants — Filipino-Americans with strong ties to the Democratic Party — to lobby for the Equity Bill.

By the summer of 2007, the 60-year legislative impasse was finally broken… or so it seemed. In my article, “Hope Brightens Up for Filipino Veterans” ( July 6, 2007), I said: “The U.S. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee marked up — or approved — S.1315 which contains a modified version of the Filipino Veterans of World War II Equity Act of 2007. For the first time in 14 years since the Equity Bill has been repeatedly introduced in the U.S. Congress, the bill was voted out of committee and will move to the Senate floor. This is a significant — and unprecedented — first step towards the enactment of the bill.”

At about the same time, Congressman Bob Filner, author of the House version of the Equity Bill and the new Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, was able to get the bill voted out of committee and sent to the House for floor vote. Finally, victory was within sight. One of the Fil-Am leaders said, “I can smell victory in the air.” Indeed, there was every reason to be optimistic. “The Democrats will pass the Equity Bill. They promised us that,” Filipino-American Democrats said. With both chambers of Congress controlled by the Democrats and the newly elected Speaker of the House, San Francisco Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, solidly — and squarely — behind the Equity Bill, how could they go wrong?

Then subtle things began to happen. In my article, “Filipino Veterans’ Final Battle” (July 27, 2007), I said: “I just received a disturbing report that American veterans have been pressuring Speaker Nancy Pelosi not to pass the Equity Bill. Although Pelosi came out solidly behind the Equity Bill when she was elected Speaker of the House, the report I got was that her office is being bombarded with calls from American veterans who are concerned that the money that would be earmarked for the Filipino veterans would be taken away from the US veterans’ budget.” I brought this issue to the attention of NAFVE’s Steering Committee but they shrugged it off.

In September, Congressman Filner told key Fil-Am leaders that there were not enough Democrats to pass the Equity Bill in the House. He said that 20 Republicans were needed to pass it and suggested hiring a Republican lobbyist. The Philippine Embassy contacted former Congressman Benjamin Gilman — a Republican from New York who authored Equity Bills in the past — for help. Gilman was willing to give his free time except for the incidental expenses associated with the lobbying which was estimated at $10,000.

The Philippine Embassy conveyed Gilman’s proposal to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for approval. Arroyo approved the proposal but would not provide the $10,000 for incidental expenses. The Philippine Embassy then asked NAFVE for help in raising $10,000 but the NAFVE consultants rejected the request saying that any money raised should go to NAFVE’s account for its own lobbying efforts. They also said that they did not need Gilman to get Republican votes. They were pretty sure that the Democrats would deliver the votes needed to pass the bill. To date, no progress has been reported on the Gilman deal and Filner still does not have enough votes to pass the Equity Bill. Meanwhile, Speaker Pelosi has clammed up. I wonder what would she tell her loyal Filipino-American constituents when she runs for reelection next year?

In the Senate, Republican Senator Larry Craig — a ranking minority member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee — created a furor when he threw a monkey wrench into the Equity Bill by putting a “hold” on the bill because “a provision was added after it cleared the committee to reopen VA health care to new Priority 8 enrollees.” Priority 8 enrollees are veterans who have no service-connected disabilities and no adequate income by government standards. Craig also made it known that he is opposed to giving Philippine-based veterans the same amount of pension given to US-based American veterans. He believed that $300 for Philippine-based veterans was too much but would support a lower amount of $100. He did not, however, object to US-based Filipino veterans receiving $911 a month which would be same as what American veterans are receiving today. The good news is: Craig indicated that he was willing to compromise.

In politics, “compromise” is the name of the game. It produces a win-win solution that would make all parties happy. What we’re talking about here is a $200 difference for Philippine-based veterans. An easy way to a compromise would be to split the difference. That would give the Philippine-based veterans $200 a month, which was what has been floating around in the Filipino veterans community since the “demise” of HR 677 during the 108th Congress in 2004.

In my opinion, the major obstacle is not in the Senate but in the House of Representatives. If Speaker Pelosi would only use the power of the Speakership, the bill could pass. However, there is a small but powerful clique known as “Blue Dog Democrats” who have not indicated their support for the Equity Bill. Without their support, Filner would have difficulty in mustering the 219 votes necessary to pass the bill.

It’s different in the Senate because of a blocking procedure known as “filibuster” which could only be ended by at least 60 votes. The Senate Democrats have a razor-thin majority of only one vote and it is very unlikely that they could get nine Republicans to join them in ending a filibuster. The only known obstacle at this time is a potential filibuster by Craig. But he’s willing to compromise. If the Filipino veterans fail to compromise, they might as well kiss the Equity Bill goodbye.

Retired U.S. Major General Antonio Taguba had advised the Filipino World War II veterans to take “whatever comes our way for now and just work for an additional amount later.” It’s time for the Filipino veterans to bite the bullet and settle for a lesser amount.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz

As we close the year, we hear a lot of people say, “Thank God this year will soon be over.” Indeed, 2007 is a year that most people would like to forget and just move on. A lot of events in the Philippines have made us to wonder: “Where are we heading as a people and as a nation?”

Many Filipinos have given up hope that our country will ever get out of the abyss of corruption and poverty. The recent survey conducted by Pulse Asia showed President Arroyo as the “Most Corrupt President in History.” Arroyo was named as “Most Corrupt” by 42% of the respondents followed by Ferdinand Marcos at 35%, Joseph Estrada at 16%, Fidel Ramos at 5%, and Corazon Aquino at 1%. Arroyo’s rah rah boys were quick to dispute the poll blaming the media for her poor rating. She needs to understand that she made the news and the media merely reported it.

While it can be argued that Marcos was more corrupt than Arroyo, the real significance of the survey is that almost one out of two Filipinos perceived Arroyo as unsuitable for the job of President. It was a vote of “No Confidence” on her performance notwithstanding all her pronouncements that the country’s economic engine was revving at full speed.

There has been a call for “moral revolution” by several Catholic bishops and Speaker Jose de Venecia, Jr. A “technical working group” was formed and Fr. Romeo Intengan, a Jesuit academic of Ateneo de Manila, was appointed to head it. Fr. Intengan is the top ideologue of the Partido Demokratiko Sosyalista ng Pilipinas (Social Democratic Party of the Philippines).

The group’s initial meeting was attended by leaders of the Nacionalista Party (NP), Liberal Party (LP), Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD), Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (KAMPI), Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), and Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP). The NP and LP are identified with the opposition and the rest are identified with the Arroyo administration. It’s interesting to note that one of the representatives of Lakas-CMD was President Arroyo’s brother Diosdado Macapagal, Jr. who, other than Fr. Intengan, was the only non-politician in the group. Did Arroyo send her brother to be her eyes and ears at the meeting and to report to her every word spoken at the meeting? It would seem that way.

One of the Nacionalistas’ representatives, Deputy Majority Leader Crispin Remulla, was quoted as saying that the “NP believed certain things in government and society were needed to address the persistent problem of corruption.” Yes, he hit the nail on the head; however, the question is: Can politicians change the way they govern? Can — or would — they eradicate corruption in government? We need to understand that the government is only as good as the people who run it. Bad leaders create bad government. So where do we start the change?

Recently, the House of Representatives, at the urging of Arroyo, revived the effort to change the constitution. Several resolutions and bills were filed for Charter change or “Cha-cha.” One bill calls for a constitutional convention (Con-con) and another one calls for the adoption of the controversial constitutional amendments that were drafted by the Constitutional Consultative Commission established by Arroyo’s Executive Order 453. A third bill calls for a people’s initiative to amend the Charter.

Two year’s ago, the Philippine Supreme Court dismissed a petition for a people’s initiative to amend the constitution to replace the presidential system with a parliamentary form of government. The Supreme Court’s decision stated that to allow the “constitutionally infirm initiative, propelled by deceptively gathered signatures, to alter basic principles in the Constitution is to allow a desecration of the Constitution.” This was in reference to documented reports that those signing the petition did not know what they were signing. There were reports of signature-buying and coercion by barangay leaders. It further stated that “the great majority of the 6.3 million people who signed the signature sheets did not see the full text of the proposed changes before signing.”

A lot of people are cynical of another attempt to change the constitution. Arroyo’s call for Charter change was perceived by many as another attempt to alter the constitution in a manner that would allow her to stay in power beyond 2010 when her term ends. With her tight grip on the House or Representatives where 80% of the members are allied with her, any of the three Cha-cha proposals could easily pass. However, the opposition-controlled Senate would block any attempt for Charter change. That would leave Arroyo with only one viable option — people’s initiative. She has done it before and she can do it again.

In 2005, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition for a people’s initiative because of flaws in the signature-gathering process; otherwise, the High Court would have approved it. So, all Arroyo had to do was to start another “people’s initiative” that would incorporate a “process” acceptable to the Supreme Court.

If a “moral revolution” is to succeed, we need to have a clean slate in the 2010 elections. Under the present constitution, Arroyo is precluded from running for another term. And the only way that she could continue to rule is to change the Charter.

Indeed, Fr. Intengan’s “technical working group” has a monumental task. The corrupt system is deeply rooted. A “moral revolution” would not succeed without a broad base of support. The “technical working group” should not be limited to political office holders and should include representatives of various sectors. Anything short of that would be perceived as another round of gimmickry by the ruling oligarchy.

The moral decay that has been eroding the nation’s foundation needs to be stopped. It’s time for a change.

(PerryDiaz@Gmail.com)