"In societies where Robbing Hoods are treated like a celebrity it is but natural to expect political parties to act like a Mafia syndicate" Political Jaywalker "In a nation where corruption is endemic people tend to confuse due process with aiding and abetting criminals" Political Jaywalker "War doesn't determine who is right, war determines who is left" Bertrand Russell "You have just one flash flood of money, you keep your people poor. It's like a time bomb and it's scary" Philippine Lawmaker

Filipino veterans' bill: The worst enemy is from within our ranks

Mga Kababayan,

With its lopsided passage in the U.S. Senate recently, it may be said that the long sought Filipino veterans' benefits bill has once again managed to progress beyond initial obstacles laid across its path. To this initial milestone we have the principal sponsors of the bill, ardent supporters, veterans organizations and other well-intentioned individuals and groups to thank to high heavens.

For sure the hurdles that await the House version of SB 1315 are no less formidable. And while the entire process should have been a matter of conscience on what's fair and just on the part of our legislators and, subsequently, the president, the fact is that this is not a perfect world. We, too, have to continue doing our part.

Needless to state, what lies ahead require that we not be detracted from our usual involvement and vigilance if only to impart on the minds of our representatives that this issue is the heart and soul of our advocacy. We should not fail also to make known our gratitude to those who have been with us in this.

That being said, we must also be aware of forces that seek to negate what has already been accomplished. To this end we should not be surprised or disheartened by disinformations that seek to disparage or belittle the cause of our long suffering veterans. The bad-mouthing as contained in the message kindly forwarded by Mr. Yapit should not be allowed to poison the wellspring of goodwill that the veterans' cause has generated so far. And while certainly spiteful and negatively affects our cause, the worse opponent we have to face are those from among our very own ranks. Below is the latest update from Atty. Rodis, which is heart rending indeed.

At this point I suggest that these issues be urgently discussed with the end of hopefully bridging the schism among us. Time is of the essence. We have to act now if only to avoid the possibility of disappointing once again our fast dwindling number of World War II veterans, relegating them in a cliffhanger of uncertainty as they had been in the past.

D. Grava

In a message dated 5/24/2008 12:53:32 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time,
Rodel50@aol.com writes:

Rodel E. Rodis, May 24, 2008

It was an emotional roller coaster ride for the Filipino WW II veterans this past week as they rode high hopes that the House version of S.1315 - which incorporated the Filipino veterans' equity bill approved by the US Senate - would come for a floor vote in the House on May 21. The timing would have been perfect coming the week just before Memorial Day when Americans traditionally remember and honor veterans.

The Speaker's plan, as they were told, was to present the House version of S.1315 for a floor vote under a Suspension of the Rules call which requires 290 House votes (2/3rds of 435 total members) to get the bill considered without killer amendments that would only delay if not defeat the bill. This would also ensure that the bill would be veto-proof.

As the veterans huddled in the halls of the Capitol anxiously waiting for the vote, they heard the news from Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office that there would no vote on the veterans' bill on that day. The veterans wondered what could have caused the vote to be postponed.

Was Speaker Pelosi worried that there were not enough Republicans willing to support the bill? Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista CA) and Ben Gilman, the former Republican chair of the House International Relations Committee and currently a Philippine government lobbyist for the Filvets bill, had assured Pelosi that there were 74 House Republicans who would vote for the bill. The American Coalition for Filipino Veterans (ACFV) confirmed earlier the solid commitment of 27 Republicans.

Was Speaker Pelosi worried that she and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) did not have all 230 House Democrats in lock step behind the bill especially among the 51-member conservative Blue Dog Caucus whose members have echoed Republican concerns about "giving money to foreigners"?

Just the day before on May 20, Speaker Pelosi had addressed Democratic House members to firm up support for the bill telling them "I'm very committed to it because it is the right thing to do and we do not want any more time to pass by."

But was there another reason for the delay perhaps? Could a letter from San Francisco Veterans Affairs Commissioner Regalado Baldonado to Speaker Pelosi denouncing S.1315 have played a role in the vote delay?

The Baldonado letter urged the introduction of a House companion bill that would provide "full recognition and benefits to Filipino WW II veterans residing in and outside the United States." It declared S.1315 to be "woefully insufficient" as it would provide the 14,000 Filvets in the Philippines with $300 a month pension while the 6,000 Filvets in the US would be entitled to $900 a month.

"We cannot waiver in our position or tolerate any deviation from equal treatment for all of our Filipino WW II veterans," the Baldonado letter asserted.

Speculation about the role of the Baldonado letter in postponing the vote caused a number of veterans in Washington DC to call fellow WW II veteran Baldonado in San Francisco and to ask him about his letter. The DC veterans pointed out to Baldonado that the Veterans Federation of the Philippines (VFP), which represents the 14,000 Filvets in the Philippines, fully backs S.1315 which would provide $375 a month pension to Philippine based veterans who have dependents, $300 a month to those without dependents and $200 a month to their widows.

Baldonado explained to his comrades that he did not write the letter, that it was prepared for him to sign by leaders of the Filipino Veterans Equity Center in San Francisco and by an activist group called Students Action for Veterans Equity (SAVE). He said he did not know that Rep. Filner had abandoned his HR 760 in favor of S.1315.

Delfin Lorenzana, head of the Veterans Affairs Office of the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC, was among those who spoke with Baldonado. "The danger here is that if his letter has been widely circulated," he told the other veterans, "it may have influenced the decision of Pelosi to postpone the vote on S.1315 yesterday, despite the fact that there are more than enough Republican support, because of the conflicting signals she is getting from the Fil-Am community especially in her home district."

As the veterans were gathered in Washington DC to ponder the fate of the veterans' bill, on May 21 over 100 community leaders in San Francisco gathered at the Philippine Consulate to hear former President Fidel V. Ramos urge the community to support S.1315 as the best chance to get the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill to pass the US Congress.

In the Open Forum that followed his speech that was moderated by Ben Menor, Atty. Lourdes Tancinco, chair of the Veterans Equity Center (VEC), informed Pres. Ramos that her group did not support S.1315 because, she said, it did not cover all the veterans and at the level they should be entitled to.

Pres. Ramos replied that we cannot get everything we want from the US Congress, not even Pres. George W. Bush can do that, and that we have to be realistic about what is possible and take what we can get. He said we should build on the momentum of 96-1 vote in the US Senate for S.1315 to get a House version passed.

But Jaymee Sagisi of the Students Action for Veterans Equity (SAVE) voiced her disagreement with the position of Pres. Ramos asking him "How can you advocate that Filipino veterans in the Philippines should receive only one third of what US veterans get?" Ramos reiterated his position that we have to be realistic about what can be expected from the US Congress.

"Filipino veterans in the Philippines getting $300 a month, and another $200 a month in widows' benefits, that realistically will happen under S.1315 is better than a $900 a month dream that will never come," commented veteran Lucio Dimaano.

In the discussions that occurred among members of the audience, it was explained that Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), the principal sponsor of the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill in the Senate, recognized that the Filvets bill could not pass if it went out on its own, as the anti-immigrant sentiment in the Republican Party was too strong. The only chance of passage was to fold it into an omnibus Veterans' Benefits Enhancement Bill which would affect several veterans programs, including disability compensation, housing, pension, burial, life insurance, and readjustment benefits.

Akaka's advocacy for the Filvets stand alone bill was met with vociferous opposition from Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), Sen. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) and Sen. David Vitter (R-Alabama). They opposed offering benefits to non-US citizen veterans who, Craig said, "are taking money away from our veterans. That is the 'Robin Hood in reverse' effect. At least Robin Hood, when he took money, left it in Nottingham. He spread it out amongst his own. Here we are taking money from our own and sending it all the way to the Philippines."

Filipino veterans expressed concern that if Baldonado and his group succeed in stalling passage of the veterans' benefits enhancement bill, the other non-Filipino veterans groups may likely junk the Filipino veterans’ equity provision in the bill and move on with their omnibus bill.

Filipino veterans groups are hoping that the Filipino community, including Commissioner Baldonado, will unite to support passage of the House version of S.1315 if and when it comes for a vote probably on June 3.

Members of the Filipino community are urged to email Speaker Nancy Pelosi and their representatives in Congress to express support for S.1315 by logging on to the website: www.house.gov.

Please send comments to Rodel50@aol.com or log on to rodel50.blogspot.com or write to Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127, or call (415) 334-7800.

In a message dated 5/23/2008 9:08:43 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time,
felicianoyapit@msn.com writes:
From: MRGRG-MS@yahoogroups.com [mailto:MRGRG-MS@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Jean D. Beard
Friday, May 23, 2008 4:22 PM

To: Military Retiree Grass R; lonestargrp; MRGRG-MS-TALK; VVB-Forum; Undisclosed

Subject: [MRGRG-MS] Fw: U.S. House of Representatives to Debate a $1 Billion Cut in Wartime Elderly, Poor, Disabled Veterans' Benefits

I have not read this whole thing, trying to catch up on mail.

Excerpt: The United States House of Representatives will soon be debating, and voting on S. 1315, as amended, a bill that will cut nearly a billion dollars in pension benefits for wartime, elderly, poor, severely disabled or house-bound American veterans to in part fund unprecedented benefits for World War II Filipino veterans.

Have a great evening,

Jean D. Beard

Surviving Spouse of: Wiley M. Beard USAF (Ret.)

----- Original Message -----

From: Veteran News from Ranking Member Buyer
Friday, May 23, 2008 11:20 AM

Subject: U.S. House of Representatives to Debate a $1 Billion Cut in Wartime Elderly, Poor, Disabled Veterans' Benefits


Friday May 23, 2008 (202) 225-3527

This mailing was prepared, published, and mailed at taxpayer expense. You have received this email because you signed up for current news from the Committee on Veterans' Affairs Republican Office. If you no longer wish to receive this information, please click here.

U.S. House of Representatives to Debate a $1 Billion Cut in Wartime Elderly, Poor, Disabled Veterans' Benefits

The United States House of Representatives will soon be debating, and voting on S. 1315, as amended, a bill that will cut nearly a billion dollars in pension benefits for wartime, elderly, poor, severely disabled or house-bound American veterans to in part fund unprecedented benefits for World War II Filipino veterans. Please let me know what you think of this cut of nearly $1 billion in benefits from veterans who most need our support by calling (202) 225-3527.

Background: The language in S. 1315 is similar to a bill in the House of Representatives, H.R. 760, as amended, the Filipino Veterans Equity Act of 2007. The amended bill would eliminate special monthly pensions for many severely disabled veterans over 65 who are also receiving pensions for wartime service. It would use $156 million of the funds saved by this unprecedented cut in veterans' benefits eligibility to provide budgetary offsets to fund oversized pensions for non-citizen, non-resident World War II Filipino veterans.

In 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (the Court) overturned a Department of Veterans Affairs decision that denied an 86-year-old, legally blind World War II veteran, Robert A. Hartness, a VA benefit called "special monthly pension" (SMP). SMP provides an additional payment of up to $2,200 per year to the most severely disabled veterans who are eligible and who apply.

The Court reversed VA's denial of benefits to Mr. Hartness and required VA to begin paying him SMP benefits. The Court held that U.S. law requires an award of SMP to a veteran eligible for VA non-service-connected disability pension if, in addition to being at least 65 years old, he or she has a minimum disability rating of 60 percent or more, or is considered permanently housebound. VA had determined Mr. Hartness to be 70 percent disabled due to loss of vision. According to VA, more than 20,000 veterans could be affected by this unprecedented cut in benefits.

The pension that the Filipino veterans would receive would be an increased pension for wartime veterans that is means tested in the United States to a maximum level of $11,181 for veterans without dependents.

Adding insult to injury for those elderly, poor, disabled U.S. veterans whose benefits would be cut, the average Filipino WWII veteran's payment under S. 1315, as amended, will put their average annual income 1400% above of the poverty rate in the Philippines. American veterans who currently receive this pension, annual income is only raised to 10% above the poverty rates due to the income disparity between the two countries. Sending this over-generous benefit to non-American citizens is not the best use of American taxpayer dollars in this time of economic downturn.

The valor and courage of the Philippine Army, which fought alongside U.S. forces to defeat Imperial Japan in World War II, has been demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt. However, despite claims to the contrary, no U.S. official during or immediately after the war was authorized to promise benefits to members of this army or to so obligate the U.S. government. When the Philippines became an independent, sovereign nation after the war, the Philippine Army became the responsibility of the new government.

The use of the Hartness offset in S. 1315, as amended, is opposed by the American Legion, AMVETS, and the National Association for the Uniformed Services and other veteran service organizations. In their letter of April 25, 2008 opposing the legislation the American Legion stated, "The American Legion believes the sacrifice of these heroes warrants relief. Balancing the books on the backs of the very patriots that protected and defended this nation is unconscionable. Don't make a grave mistake in the name of fairness, equality, or even fiscal responsibility. Do what is right!"

Ranking Member Buyer whole hardily agrees. Congress has an obligation to protect the benefits that Americans have gratefully provided to our veterans. There are better ways to fund new entitlements than to cut benefits for aging veterans who need us most, violating the principle of honor that defined their service and our obligation to both them and the nation they served.

For more information, please go to: http://republicans.veterans.house.gov/.

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