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.