Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Fatigue or Indifference?

Two months ago, I proposed to the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) that the association which advocates for the Filipino WW II veterans should direct its 12 regional chapters to each sponsor local activities to mark the 62nd anniversary of the infamous Rescission Act of February 19, 1946. The purpose - to highlight the law that stripped Filipino veterans of the USAFFE of their US military benefits and to mobilize support for the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill that is pending in the US Congress. I also suggested that we distribute 500,000 armbands with “2/18/46 – Rescission Act” inscribed on it to supporters all over the US.

My proposal was tabled for future discussion so February 18, 2007 came and went with only a march-forum in Los Angeles and a wreath laying ceremony in Washington DC to commemorate it.

When I went to Washington DC two weeks ago to lobby the US Congress to support the bill, I wrote about my concern that the Filipino veterans were getting caught in the crosshairs of the anti-foreigner anti-immigrant sentiment of Republican lawmakers. Unlike columns on other subjects, I received no feedback from readers about this issue.

Was this an indication that the Filipino community has lost interest in the fight of our Filipino WW II veterans to regain the benefits that were denied them 62 years ago?

Was the level of interest in the community always just a mile wide but only an inch deep? In other words, was the professed interest in the issue by the Filipino community leadership not actually shared by the Filipino community at large?

Is there a Filipino veterans "compassion fatigue" which occurs when, due to constant media stories of suffering Filipino WW II veterans, people in the community somehow develop a numbness to the stories of their plight?

These are questions that our community should raise and grapple with. The honest answers to them should guide us in our campaign for the veterans.

It may be that it is not just a community-wide indifference to the veterans issue but simply an indication of an indifference to all issues. This week marks the 22nd anniversary of People Power, perhaps the most shining moment in Philippine history, the spark that ignited similar People’s Power uprisings in South Korea, Taiwan, and in all of Eastern Europe. But there are no celebrations of this glorious moment anywhere in the Filipino community this week. Why?

Five months ago, the Filipino community expressed outrage at the “Desperate Housewives” veiled attack on Philippine-educated physicians (September 30, 2007 premiere episode). There were demonstrations, on-line petitions (signed by 150,000 people), a barrage of protest letters and emails sent to ABC, and a national conference in Las Vegas in November to mobilize the community to demand a meaningful on-air apology from ABC.

But three months after the November conference, the issue has been forgotten. ABC dangled the carrot of a collaborative partnership with NaFFAA to accept Filipino interns into ABC, which carrot was apparently enough to prompt NaFFAA to discourage any lawsuits or protest actions against ABC.

With all the Democrat-Republican, liberal-conservative, pro-GMA/anti-GMA divide in the Filipino community, it was believed that support for the Filipino WW II veterans was the one issue that all sides could agree to and rally behind.

But there are divisions even with this issue. There are those supporters of the veterans who believe that the community should not compromise on the full equity issue, that Filipino veterans in the Philippines should receive the same benefits as those in the US.

But even that formerly inflexible position has given way to support for the proposal of Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA), the chair of the House Veterans Committee, whose bill would provide $900 a month to the 6,000 US-based veterans and $500 a month to Philippine-based veterans. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), this would amount to $1-B over 10 years or about $100-M a year.

There are those who believe that the veterans should get whatever they can get. As the ranks of the surviving veterans dwindle at an exponential rate, what good would it do the veterans if the US Congress, several years from now, passes a bill giving all the veterans full equity when there is no one left alive to receive it?

This group of aging veterans support the Senate bill of Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), the chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, which would also provide $900 a month for US-based veterans and $375 a month for Philippine-based veterans with dependents, $300 for single veterans, and $200 for widows of veterans. The CBO believes this bill would amount to $365-M over 10 years.

Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) proposed a more modest bill that would also grant $900 a month to US-based veterans but only $100 a month to Philippine-based veterans. He withdrew this proposal on December 13, 2007 and currently backs the bill of Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) to totally eliminate any benefits to Philippine-based veterans.

The divisions within the Filipino community on this issue discourage many of our supporters in the US Congress and provide a convenient cover to those unwilling to back the bill (“if you guys can’t agree on what bill to support, why should we?”).

I strongly suggest that the Filipino community rally behind supporting a veterans bill that can pass the US Congress. If even US Pres. George W. Bush has to regularly compromise with the US Congress now, why shouldn’t we?

In the final paragraph of the 4-page letter written to Sen. Craig by veterans advocate Gen. Delfin Lorenzana, he wrote: “As we commemorate the Anniversary of the Rescission Act of 1946 on February 18, we pray that this 62-year old claim for recognition and benefits of these remaining gallant men and women who served America with utmost loyalty and devotion during WWII be finally granted.”

Prayers have been known to work wonders.

Friday, February 15, 2008


WASHINGTON DC – The Filipino WW II veterans’ long struggle to rescind the Rescission Act of 1946 faces a major bar in this presidential election year. “The Filipino veterans are unfortunately caught in the crosshairs of the anti-immigrant, anti-foreigner mindset of the Republicans,” a veteran Capitol Hill lobbyist observed.

It's a totally different political climate from last year when the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill - which seeks to restore the pension rights of the surviving Filipino WW II veterans (currently 6,000 in the US and 12,000 in the Philippines) that were rescinded when the US Congress passed the Rescission Act on October 18, 1946 - made unprecedented gains.

For the first time ever, the Veterans Affairs committees of both the US Senate and the US House conducted hearings and passed their separate versions, getting them set for a full vote in the floors of both Houses of Congress. Once they pass both Houses, a conference committee will then be formed to reconcile versions of the bill (Senate bill S. 1315 and House bill HR 760) and the emerging compromise will then be set for a vote. Once passed, the bill will then go the White House for the signature of the US President.

On November 7 and again on December 12 last year, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) sought unanimous consent from his senate colleagues for his bill to go straight to a floor vote without fear of cloture (a filibuster). On both occasions, Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) rebuffed his request.

It wasn’t just Craig’s objection that caused the bill to fail but the reason for his objection is the “crosshairs” problem of the bill this year. In his objection, Sen. Craig said: "First of all, they do not live in this country, they are not US citizens. They 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."

Sen. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), the ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said providing pension benefits to Filipino veterans is “the wrong priority at the wrong time” because the U.S. is now at war and the US government should focus on the needs of U.S. citizens and those injured in battle.” This bill is also being used as a vehicle for a provision that would take money away from helping veterans of war -- of the war on terror – and instead sending the money overseas," Burr said.

Sen. Burr this past week introduced a bill that deletes pension benefits for Filipinos veterans in the Philippines and instead boosts funds for grants to wounded U.S. veterans, providing retroactive payments between $25,000 and $100,000 to all disabled veterans who were injured since 2001 -- and not just in a war zone.

Sen. Burr is confident of winning a debate in the Senate Veterans Committee between Akaka’s bill which would provide veterans pension to Filipino WW II vets including 12,000 Philippine citizens living in the Philippines and his bill which would provide benefits to US citizens who are veterans of the current war on terror.

The Filner Equity bill that passed the House Veterans Committee, chaired by Rep. Bob Filner (D-California), proposed a $90-M annual package that would provide $900 a month to US based Filvets and $500 a month pension toPhilippine based veterans. The Akaka Equity Bill that passed the US Senate Veterans Committee proposed a $50-M package that would provide $900 a month pension to the 6,000 Filvets in the US and $300 a month pension to Filipino veterans in the Philippines.

Sen. Craig and Sen. Burr previously proposed a $20-M package that would provide $900 a month to US based veterans and $100 a month pension to each Philippine veteran and $100 a month to the veteran’s spouse. But Craig and Burr withdrew their compromise offer on December 13, 2007 because of opposition from US veterans groups like the American Legion.

Seeking a congressional compromise that would ensure passage of the bill has been complicated, according to one congressional staffer, by the mixed messages coming from the Filipino American community. Veterans’ groups like the American Coalition for the Filipino Veteran (ACFV) favor working on a bill that can actually get through Congress while veterans support groups like the National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE) “oppose any efforts to weaken the (Filner) bill”.

As of a week ago, Filner’s equity bill had only110 sponsors in the House, 96 Democrats and 14 Republicans led by former lead sponsor Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA). This week, the number was reduced by 2, with the death of long-time supporter Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) and the decision by West Virginia Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) to have her name removed from the list of sponsors.

The Akaka bill has only 16 sponsors, 15 Democrats and 1 Republican, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Akaka is confident that he can get all the Democratic senators to support his bill.

The House is waiting for the Senate to act on the Akaka bill before the House will consider the Filner bill and schedule it for a floor vote. When Speaker Nancy Pelosi assumed the House leadership after the November 2006 Democratic sweep, she quickly passed the PAYGO (pay-as-you-go) rule which compels new spending or tax changes to not add to the federal deficit and for new bills to be either "budget neutral" or offset with savings derived from existing funds.

Rep. Filner insists that there are funds available for his bill from veterans’ earmarks that were not used. But Filner has been asked to identify which veteran’s earmarks he is referring to as other veterans groups are also eyeing the same pot. Speaker Pelosi and Rep. Filner have to work together to identify the pot from which the Filipino veterans bill can be funded.

Meanwhile, American Legion officials have expressed a willingness to meet with Philippine Ambassador Willie Gaa to discuss dropping their opposition to the equity bill if the bill's supporters can assure the Legion that funds for the bill will not be taken away from funds for US veterans.

As the debate over the equity bill continues on Capitol Hill, the American Coalition for the Filipino Veterans paused to mourn 15 of its veteran members who died just in the last month. These veterans had actively participated in various mass actions in support of the bill but sadly will not be around to see it passed.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is thanked for her cosponsorship of the Filipino Veterans Equity and Family Reunification bills by (L to R) Rodel Rodis, San Franciso Community College Board Trustee, Angelesio Tugado, 86, DC leader of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans, and Edna Rodis, R.N. in the Washington office on February 12, 2008. (ACFV photo by Eric Lachica).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


By Felix Antero

SAN FRANCISCO - The five-year-old case of the $100 bill tendered by Filipino American lawyer Rodel Rodis which a Walgreens manager and San Francisco police officers mistakenly thought was counterfeit may yet wind up in the US Supreme Court.

This developed after the San Francisco City Attorney's Office on February 11 filed a writ with the US Supreme Court appealing the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' denial on February 6 of the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) petition to rehear en banc its earlier decision affirming the Northern District Court's denial of qualified immunity to two SFPD officers who mistakenly arrested Rodis on February 17, 2003.

"I am disappointed that the City Attorney has decided to take this case to the US Supreme Court hoping that the conservatives in that court will reverse the Ninth Circuit decision and give police officers the unbridled license to arrest anyone without probable cause," Rodis said.

The Ninth Circuit's denial of the rehearing request follows its August 28, 2007 decision ruling that the police officers, Sergeant Jeff Barry and Officer Michelle Liddicoet, are not entitled to qualified immunity because they did not have probable cause to arrest Rodel Rodis, a long-time member of the San Francisco City College Board of Trustees.

Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine which protects government officers if they did not violate a plaintiff's clearly established statutory or constitutional rights; probable cause refers to reasonable grounds to arrest given the totality of the circumstances.

The petition for a rehearing was filed after the 2-1 ruling of the appellate court held that just because the Walgreens manager was suspicious of the bill that Rodis used to complete his purchase at the store in February 2003 was not sufficient basis to arrest, handcuff and detain him at a police station for almost two hours.

While Rodis was detained, the US Secret Service determined that the bill used by Rodis was genuine. But even if it had been counterfeit, the court majority said, innocently passing a counterfeit bill is not a crime, and police had no evidence that Rodis thought the bill was a fake.

"No reasonable or prudent officer could have concluded that Rodis intentionally and knowingly used a counterfeit bill," Judge Dorothy Nelson said in the majority opinion.

"Without at least some evidence regarding the knowledge or intent elements of the crime," the Court further held, "probable cause is necessarily lacking. To hold otherwise would render any individual vulnerable to arrest who, unknowingly, through the normal stream of commerce, comes to possess or use a counterfeit bill."

Dissenting Judge Consuelo Callahan said officers are allowed to make reasonable mistakes of fact without violating constitutional rights.

The case has attracted not only the attention of the local Filipino-American community but also legal scholars and other interested parties throughout the United States.

In support of SFPD's petition for rehearing, the California State Association of Counties (CSAC), a nonprofit corporation representing California's 58 counties, and the League of California Cities, which claims in its brief to be an "association of 478 California cities dedicated to protecting and restoring local control to provide for the public health, safety, and welfare of their residents," filed an amicus curiae brief. An amicus brief is a document filed in a legal proceeding by an interested
party who is not directly part of the case.

Rodis, a 3-term president of the San Francisco Community College Board of Trustees since 1991 and former president of the city's Public Utilities Commission, is seeking damages for the violation of his rights and the humiliation caused by his arrest.

Rodis' separate lawsuit against Walgreens was settled in 2004 for an undisclosed sum.

The Ninth Circuit ruling last week would have allowed Rodis to proceed with the federal jury trial phase of his lawsuit against SFPD Officers Barry and Liddicoet. The appeal to the US Supreme Court may cause a further two-year delay of the five-year old case.

To see The Daily Case Report regarding this case, click here.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Filipino American Catholic Vote

Filipino Americans are part of the broader Asian American group that constitutes 6% of the US population. Filipino American Catholics (85% of Filipinos are Catholics), however, are part of the larger US Catholic community that constitutes more than 25% of the registered voters in the country. That bit is also the largest group of swing voters in the US and is especially significant because Catholics have backed the winner of the “national popular vote” in every US presidential election since 1972.

As Jim Dwyer noted in his New York Times column, Catholics voted for five Republican and three Democratic presidents and one “popular-vote-winning but presidency-losing” Democrat, Al Gore. “No other large group has switched sides so often”, Dwyer wrote, “or been so consistently aligned with the winners. Over that same period, a majority of white Protestants typically voted Republican, while blacks of all faiths and Jews strongly backed Democrats”.

There was a time more than 40 years ago when US Catholics were overwhelmingly Democrats especially because of John F. Kennedy, the first and only Catholic ever to be elected US president. But now Catholics don’t even vote for Catholic Democrats. In 2004, Protestant George W. Bush received 53% of the Catholic vote over Catholic John F. Kerry who received 47%.

Catholics supported Bill Clinton in his two presidential runs and Hillary Clinton in her two senatorial campaigns including her re-election campaign against a Catholic Republican opponent. In the Super Tuesday New York presidential primary on February 5, 66% of the Catholic voters voted for Hillary compared to 30% for Barack Obama. Brian O'Dwyer attributed Catholics support for the Clintons to what he said was their attention to the issues ethnic and working-class Catholics cared about like social security, health care, education and immigration reform.

New York Assemblywoman Catherine T. Nolan believes there is another reason Catholics, especially older ones, support Hillary. It's because older Catholic voters grew up with women in charge of daily life, she said. “Maybe we’re a little bit more open to female leadership,” Ms. Nolan told Dwyer. “We had female role models from an early age. When I was growing up, all the Catholic school principals were women, and almost none of the public school principals were. The nuns were the people we saw every day, and they were running the whole show.”

Filipinos, unlike other Asians, are accustomed to seeing women in authority. There have been two female presidents in the Philippines since 1946 while there have been none in the US since George Washington became president in 1789.

Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980 and re-elected in 1984 on both occasions with the backing of what are still called the "Reagan Democrats". Who will this group of disaffected Democrats support this November?

Raymond Flynn, a former Democratic mayor of Boston who was president of the Washington DC-based Catholic Alliance, endorsed Bush over Gore in the 2000 elections because he felt abandoned by the Democratic Party on issues of trade, health care, and abortion. Flynn, who regularly speaks to Catholic groups all over the US, senses that Catholics are now returning to the fold. "Right now, the so-called Reagan Democrat, they're going Democrat," Flynn said. "Health care, education, human rights — these issues are so compelling in this election that they're voting Democrat."

A nationwide poll of Catholic voters conducted by the author (William D'Antonio) of "American Catholics Today: New Realities of Their Faith and Their Church," found 82% of Catholic Democrats and 52% of Catholic Republicans favored "more government funding to provide health care to poor children". This position was opposed by Pres. Bush who in 2007 vetoed the SCHIP (State Children Health Insurance Program) bill that would have extended health insurance to poor children. In the 2006 congressional elections, Democrats won 55% of the Catholic vote.

Two years earlier, in the 2004 presidential elections, Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput openly endorsed Bush over Kerry because of their positions on abortion. But many Catholcs agreed with the National Catholic Register newspaper that opposition to the death penalty was also a “right to life” issue because abortion and the death penalty fall under the same Fifth Commandment heading -- “Thou Shall Not Kill.”

Most Catholics tend to be “Cafeteria Catholics”, picking and choosing which Catholic doctrine to accept or reject. Many liberal Catholics, for example, reject “creationism” and accept evolution, reject “pro-life” and are “pro-choice”. They support the church’s position on helping the poor and supporting a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Many conservative Catholics, on the other hand, oppose abortion and amnesty for illegal immigrants but support the death penalty and tax cuts for the wealthy.

With John McCain as the certain Republican Party presidential candidate, the “right to life” issue will be more complicated. In a 1999 statement to the San Francisco Chronicle, McCain said he did not advocate repealing Roe v. Wade, the US Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. “I’d love to see a point where it is irrelevant, and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary. But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations.”

This position explains why John McCain received strong backing from pro-choice Republicans. In Missouri, those favoring completely legalized abortion voted 48 % for McCain. In California, McCain received 49 % of the vote from those who want abortion to be “mostly legal.”

With the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates holding generally similar views on abortion, more or less, Catholics will have to look at the candidates’ positions on war and peace, the death penalty, immigration reform, tax cuts, housing, economic justice, welfare reform, the federal deficit, civil liberties, education, and health care.

Filipino American Catholics will also have to look at the candidates' position on the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill which is supported by Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama and opposed by Sen. McCain.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Sliming Barack

If American voters were to choose between a candidate who supported keeping US troops in Iraq for another 100 years at a cost of $2 trillion for the last six years (and 3,000 US lives) or a candidate who vowed to pull US troops out and use the money saved for the health and education needs of Americans in the US, there would be no question that Americans would overwhelmingly vote for the latter.

But elections in the US are not decided by the people who vote for the candidate who best reflects their views and interests. They are decided by people adept at manipulating voters into supporting or opposing candidates according to their prejudices and fears.

In January of 2000, Sen. John McCain scored an impressive victory in the New Hampshire primary and was on his way to securing the 2000 Republican presidential nomination when he entered the South Carolina primary as the heavy favorite. But supporters of Texas Gov. George W. Bush found a clever KarlRovian way to stop McCain. They simply made poll survey phone calls asking South Carolina voters: "Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for John McCain for president if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?"

In fact, there was no truth to the spurious claim other than the widely-known fact that McCain and his wife had adopted their daughter Bridget as a baby from Mother Theresa's orphanage in Bangladesh. But the “black” propaganda proved brutally effective as McCain lost the 2000 primary in South Carolina and the Republican nomination to George W. Bush.

A similar underhanded smear campaign is currently being waged against Sen. Barack Obama. In the last 2 months, I have already received more than a dozen emails from various sources asking the recipient to “forward the email to everyone you know. Would you want this man leading our country?”

Entitled “Who is Barack Obama?” the email claims that Obama is "the son of a Black MUSLIM from Kenya and a white ATHEIST from Kansas" who was educated in a "Wahabi Islamic fundamentalist school in Indonesia". The email also claims that Barack is a Muslim who took his oath of office as a US senator on a Koran and not on a Bible and that he will not recite the Pledge of Allegiance nor show any reverence for the US flag. It ends with this ominous warning: “The Muslims have said they plan on destroying the US from the inside out, what better way to start than at the highest level - through the President of the United States, one of their own!!!!”

Another anti-Obama Internet blast which I also received claims that Obama’s church, the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, is anti-American, will only accept black parishioners and tilts toward Africa at the expense of the United States. The e-mail claims Obama is "certainly a racist" and "desires to rule over America while his loyalty is totally vested in a Black Africa."

At a Filipino social gathering I attended over the weekend, I heard a matron asking people "Have you heard?" and then proceeding to spread the anti-Obama information she had received via email and which she proclaimed to be gospel truth.

Even though I support Hillary Clinton, I could not help but ask the lady to please check her facts and not to blindly accept the scurrilous claims of the anonymously written emails forwarded to her. I suggested that she check out the www.snopes.com site referred to in the email as well as with www.factcheck.org to determine the truth of the allegations.

Both online sources, I told her, debunked the anti-Obama email information as false. Barack had never been a Muslim and his mother was not an atheist but one who instilled in him a respect for all religions. As Barack wrote in his book, Audacity of Hope, “In her mind, a working knowledge of the world’s great religions was a necessary part of any well-rounded education.”

Obama and his wife, Michelle, are members of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago which counts Oprah Winfrey as a member. The Trinity Church describes itself in its website as "a congregation which is Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian" and which "does not apologize for its African roots." It openly proclaims its commitment to Africa (where Oprah recently opened a school for girls in South Africa) and to the "historical education of African people in diaspora." Although the congregation is overwhelmingly black, it has a few white members and whites are welcomed at the church.

Obama took his oath of office before Vice President Dick Cheney on a Bible and not on a Koran and he regularly recites the pledge of allegiance.

The source of the anti-Obama smear is a January 2007 Insight Magazine article which is a publication owned by the News World Communications of Unification Church founder Rev. Sun Myung Moon which also owns the very pro-Bush, pro Republican Washington Times.

CNN sent reporter John Vause to Jakarta to check ont he Wahabi story and learned that the school Obama attended was not even a Muslim school. Hardi Priyono, the school’s deputy headmaster, told CNN: "This is a public school. We don't focus on religion."

Aside from the fact that I believe she is the most qualified, one of the reasons I support Sen. Hillary Clinton is my fear that the Republicans will have an easier time destroying (“swiftboating”) Barack in the general elections than they would Hillary who has been hit with everything that the GOP could possible throw at her since she became First Lady in 1993.

In the 2004 presidential elections, I received dozens of emails directed at Filipino Catholics telling us that Sen. John Kerry, the Catholic Democratic candidate, was pro-abortion and that it would be a mortal sin to vote for him. The email asked the recipient to forward the email to everyone they knew who was a concerned Catholic. This KarlRovian email campaign proved effective in delivering the Filipino vote to Bush.

We can expect the sliming of Barack Obama to be even more vicious. I just hope the Filipino community will focus on the issues and reject the slime that has already reared its ugly head in the campaign.