Saturday, May 24, 2008

FilVets Equity Bill Vote Delayed

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 incorporates 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 disappointed 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 members of the conservative Blue Dog Caucus some of whom 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 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. It urged Speaker Pelosi to support a House companion bill that would provide "full recognition and benefits to Filipino WW II veterans residing in and outside the United States ."

"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 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."

On the same day that the veterans in Washington DC were dismayed by news of the postponement, 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.

(Pres. and Mrs. Fidel V. Ramos with SF Consul-General and Mrs. Marciano Paynor, Jr. and WWII Veterans at the SF Philippine Consulate. Photo by George Gange).

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 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:

Monday, May 19, 2008

Birth Control

How will the Philippines survive soaring food prices? Through “birth control at home and friendly ties with the world’s top rice exporters”, according to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in a press statement issued on May 10, 2008.

Birth control at home? Wow. This was a surprising admission from a president who has consistently rejected 840 million pesos in annual donations of contraceptives and other birth control devices from the US and other donor countries and who has yet to spend a centavo of the 180 million pesos allocated in the current budget for birth control.

But with the Philippine population increasing by two million mouths a year and with the price of rice and other food commodities skyrocketing, President Arroyo recognizes the general consensus in the Philippines that some form of population control or management (what she has called "birth spacing") has to be found for the country to survive this food crisis.

Unfortunately, population control programs in the Philippines have never taken off because of the fierce opposition of the Roman Catholic Church which believes that artificial contraceptives only serve to promote sexual promiscuity and immorality. Church leaders vehemently deny that overpopulation is the cause of poverty and underdevelopment.

Philippine Commentary blogger Dean Bocobo contends that while birth control policies are not “per se the cause of hunger, poverty and economic underdevelopment, their undeniable consequence in the form of overpopulation strictly limits the efficacy of any solutions to the problems that face Philippine society and vastly diminishes any gains that are achieved. Overpopulation has a structural, multiplier effect that exacerbates those problems, places pressure on natural resources such as water, land and the ability of society to feed, clothe, shelter and educate the people.”

Although the Catholic Church believes that sexual intercourse should only be engaged in by heterosexual married couples for the purpose of procreation and never for recreation, the Church does not oppose birth control. But the Church will only support the natural family planning (NFP) method of birth control.

NFP requires a woman to know when she is fertile and to refrain from sex during that period. A woman has to record her body temperature when she wakes up, measure the length of her menstrual cycle and her cervical secretions. For this Church-endorsed birth control method to work, both partners must religiously follow the recording process and avoid intercourse during the woman’s fertile period.

Do Catholic priests and nuns hand out thermometers, notebooks and pens to their poor parishioners to explain how the NFP method works and what faithful Catholic couples should do to prevent pregnancies?

NFP “is not an easy method to teach”, according to Jed Meline, deputy chief of the USAID’s Office of Population, Health and Nutrition, who points out that it takes incredible discipline for couples to control their sexual urges for as long as 11 straight days in a 23-day cycle. The keeping of daily records and the length of time to learn it effectively (three to six cycles) are not the only drawbacks. There is also the inability of NFP to protect partners against sexually transmitted diseases.

President Arroyo supports the NFP method for others but not for herself. In a luncheon held on February 28, 2003 with pro-family planning legislators to discuss their reproductive health bill, she disclosed that she herself had used contraceptives as a young mother. She said that when she went to confession after taking birth control pills, the father confessor told her “It’s okay”.

Her point, she explained, was that there are members of the clergy who see nothing wrong with using birth control pills or condoms. But, she told them, she could not support their bill as she was committed to advocate only for NFP. Why, the legislators wanted to ask, would you deprive women from having the same choices you had.

As one luncheon observer noted, Arroyo is hopelessly conflicted: “As an economist she knows that an exploding population puts undue stress on a weak economy, but as a Catholic whose rise to power was due in part to Church support, she is torn."

The result is that, unlike other Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines has no coordinated government family planning program and no public funds for artificial birth control. Many economists believe that this uncontrolled population growth has created a country with a big and permanent underclass, with 40 percent of the population subsisting on less than $1 a day. As the Philippine government’s own Population Commission (Popcom) warned, “Larger families among the poor make it more difficult for them to break out of poverty.”

Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources Lito Atienza, a devout Roman Catholic and head of Pro-Life Philippines, believes that a population boom will pave the way for prosperity, and birth rates will drop as a by-product of wealth. The last point is undoubtedly true as the poorest 20% of women have an average of 6-7 children while the top 20% average only 2 kids. But how overpopulation will lead to prosperity is highly questionable.

When he was mayor of Manila from 2000 to 2006, Atienza vigorously opposed any form of health campaign that promoted contraception (condoms, birth control pills), abortion, or sex education programs. Atienza does not believe in interfering with population growth, explaining that he has “not read a religious teaching that said man should meddle with the plan of the Divine Master.” But is it the Divine Master's plan for the poor to suffer?

It would perplex Atienza to learn that the Roman Catholic Church was very close to changing its moral position on sex and birth control when the Second Vatican Council was convened in the early 1960s to reexamine church teaching on this issue. Began by Pope John XXIII, and continued by his successor, Pope Paul VI, the Vatican created a Papal Commission on Population and Birth Control, composed of 15 cardinals and bishops and 64 lay experts representing a variety of disciplines.

After a two year exhaustive study, the Papal Commission voted decisively, 69 to 10, to change the Church’s anachronistic position on birth control. Unfortunately, the minority report was written by the Polish archbishop, Karol Wojtyla, who later became Pope John Paul II. When he became Pope, he adopted his own report and rejected any change in the Church’s position.

In his minority report, Archbishop Wojtyla warned that “if it should be declared that contraception is not evil in itself, then we should have to concede frankly that the Holy Spirit had been on the side of the Protestant churches in 1930… It should likewise have to be admitted that for half a century the Spirit failed to protect the Catholic hierarchy from a very serious error. This would mean that the leaders of the Church, acting with extreme imprudence, had condemned thousands of innocent human acts, forbidding, under pain of eternal damnation, a practice which would now be sanctioned.”

Face and Papal infallibility trumped all other considerations.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Cuts Endanger Public Education

There are close to 4,000 Filipino students enrolled at City College of San Francisco, by far the largest Filipino student body outside the Philippines . Their large presence accounts for why four of the last eight student body presidents at the main Ocean campus have been Filipinos. They are beneficiaries of California 's landmark 1960 Master Plan for Education which transformed educational opportunity in California for several generations and became the national model for public higher education.

The Plan defined specific roles for the University of California (UC), the California State University (CSU), and the California Community Colleges system (CCC). Its underlying principle was that some form of higher education should be available to everyone based not on their economic means but on their academic persistence and proficiency.

But now that principle is in jeopardy after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that the projected budget deficit for this year is close to $20 billion dollars, which will mean deep cuts in education. Although the state has weathered budget crises in the past, this time may turn out to be the worst for California public education and particularly for its community colleges.

Because property tax revenues are coming in far lower than predicted when the budget was signed last summer, the Governor’s budget proposes to cut community colleges by nearly half a billion dollars to cover the shortfall, including about $92 million that will immediately be trimmed out of their budgets by July 1, 2008.

For City College of San Francisco, this shortfall translates to nearly a $3 million loss, enough to defund about 460 course sections. Although operating costs continue to increase by nearly 5% —with health care costs increasing into the double digits—the state is not providing any money to cover the inflationary costs, creating an $8 million hole in the projected $195-M annual budget of City College .

How will City College deal with this budget crisis so that it can continue to educate its 110,000 students in 10 campuses throughout San Francisco ?

Eighty-five percent of the students who attend City College work, so they need to get through college as fast as possible. Others need to make up or fill-in so that they can complete their studies or transfer to a 4-year college or university. Many want to accelerate their course work in order to enter the job market as soon as possible. For them, summer school classes are not a luxury, they are a necessity.

To deal with the crisis, City College will not replace administrative, faculty, or staff retirements. If the Governor’s proposed budget becomes a reality, City College will have no choice but to eliminate 500 classes, 50 of which are English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. This will result in larger class sizes, longer lines, fewer offerings, and less student services—all of which translate to a longer time before the students achieve their educational goals.

City College will also have to dip into its reserves to help balance its budget for this fiscal year. But, unfortunately, this is not a one-year budget problem. Next year—2008-2009—is expected to be devastating.

To deal with the problem, tthe state’s Legislative Analyst is proposing a hike in student fees from $20 to $26 per unit, a 30% increase in one year. The last time tuition fees were increased, 300,000 students statewide dropped out, many postponing their college education for at least a year.

The impact of the proposed tuition fee increase will not be shared equally as it will fall hardest on the most vulnerable students, students who have just lost their jobs and can not afford to pay the increased fees. Students who have budgeted $6 per day for food would have to go 2 weeks with no food to pay for the fee increases.

Furthermore, since the proposed tuition fee increases will be for all of public higher education in California , fewer students will be able to afford a CSU or UC education, and more of them will have to rely on the California community colleges for their education. Their entry will edge out the traditional community college student, with the least educated and those with the lowest income pushed out and denied their opportunity to achieve the American Dream.

The present fiscal crisis can be traced back to the November 17, 2003 Executive Order of Gov. Schwarzenegger eliminating the $200 Vehicle License Fee (VLF), an election vow he fulfilled but an action which has meant an aggregate loss of $9-B in general revenues much of which would have gone to education.

To avert the crisis, new revenue enhancements need to be part of the budget solution, not just cuts. There should be no fee increases for the students as the budget should not be balanced on their backs.

The Filipino community should demand that public higher education must be enhanced, not reduced, now more than ever.

Rodel Rodis is a Trustee of the San Francisco Community College Board who has served three terms as Board President and as chair of the Board’s Finance Committee.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Save Our Pastor

When Pope Benedict XVI delivered a homily at the Nationals Stadium in Washington DC on April 17, 2008, he asked the Catholic faithful to “love your priests, and to affirm them in the excellent work that they do.” A few hundred miles north of that stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey, the parishioners of the St. Frances Cabrini Church, led by Frank Cicerale and Anne Carey, are doing exactly what the Pope asks them to do. They love and affirm the excellent work of their parish priest, Fr. Edgardo Abano, and they are determined to get the local Bishop to reinstate him.

Last year, Bishop Paul Gregory Bootkoski of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Metuchen, N.J. informed Fr. Abano that the Diocese would be closing down St. Frances Cabrini Catholic School because enrollment was down, the school was underused, and St. Frances Cabrini Church was subsidizing the school. Despite the subsidy, however, Fr. Abano’s church was still able to pay the yearly assessments to the Diocese although not enough to pay off the Diocesan debts.

Bishop Bootkoski believed that if the Cabrini school closed down, the parish would be able to pay off its Diocesan debts. But Fr. Abano disagreed with his bishop and led his parishioners in protesting the planned closure of the parish school.

In the middle of this dispute in September of 2007, the Diocese contacted the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office in New Jersey to report that Glenn Obrero, a Filipino diocesan employee and a seminarian at the Immaculate Conception Seminary, had informed the Diocese way back in 2005 that Fr. Abano had inappropriately touched him in the chest and buttocks.

Was it a coincidence that Bishop Bootkoski saw no merit in Obrero’s claim for more than two years until he was locked in a dispute with Fr. Abano over the fate of the Cabrini school?

After the bishop lodged the complaint with the local prosecutor, the police on October 19, 2007 invited Obrero to the police station and instructed him to call Fr. Abano and to wish him a happy birthday while they taped the conversation. As planned, Obrero brought up the “touching” incident which occurred in 2005. After the phone call, a court interpreter, Bong Nepomuceno, provided the English translation of the taped conversation in Tagalog.

After reviewing the transcripts, on October 23, 2007, the police arrested Fr. Abano at the Cabrini parish rectory. The police denied Fr. Abano’s request to be allowed to put on his clothes and brought him to the police station in his undershirt, shorts and slippers. After he was booked, Fr. Abano was released on $1,500 bail.

The next day, at the direction of Bishop Bootkoski, Fr. Abano resigned as Pastor of St. Frances Cabrini Parish, a post he had held since 1992. He also tendered his resignation as Director of the Office of Multicultural Ministries of the Metuchen Diocese which oversees nine ethnic ministries; as Chairman of the Commission for the Filipino Apostolate of the Diocese of Metuchen; and as Head Shepherd of the Association of Filipino Catholic Charismatic Prayer Communities of the U.S.A. and Canada, an association with around 40,000 members.

Fr. Abano was ordained as a priest in the United States on May 18, 1985 and had served many parishes in New Jersey prior to St. Frances Cabrini Church including: Our Lady of Lourdes in Whitehouse Station; Immaculate Conception Church in Somerville, Saints Philip and James Church in Phillipsburg; and Our Lady of Fatima in Piscataway.

His arrest on October 23, 2007 was carried by local and international news and media services including The Filipino Channel, ABS-CBN, which reported the incident to its international audience.

After his arrest, parish supporters of Fr. Abano set up a legal defense fund and hired Joseph Benedict, a highly-regarded criminal defense lawyer, to represent Fr. Abano. The parishioners drew up a petition signed by more than 900 of them and created a website,, to express their full support for Fr. Abano.

Benedict hired a Tagalog interpreter to listen to the taped conversation and to translate it. The new translation showed that Fr. Abano denied ever touching Obrero while the first translation showed no such denial, which the police had misconstrued as affirming the misconduct.

“The denials were there (in the new transcript),” Benedict said, “I’m not sure that Fr. Abano would have been charged in the first place if they had an accurate transcript.” He then filed for trial by grand jury based on the new translation which contradicted the key piece of evidence the prosecutor’s office had on the alleged crime.

On February 22, 2008, Fr. Abano and Obrero both testified separately before a grand jury in New Brunswick, NewJersey. After only 45 minutes of grand jury deliberation, Middlesex Assistant Prosecutor Christie Bevacqua announced that the jury issued a “no bill” finding which meant that the prosecution had no case.

After the charges against Fr. Abano were dropped, Bishop Bootkoski announced that he would “review the grand jury’s findings and meet with Fr. Abano before making a decision about his future.”

According to his sister, Fr. Abano’s primary focus right now is to “clear his good name and the good name of his family. He wants to get back his faculties to practice his priestly ministry. This test of faith has only strengthened his resolve and conviction that he will continue his vocation as a priest to serve God and His people.”

More than 70 days have passed since the grand jury’s “no bill” finding and Bishop Bootkoski still has not made a decision about Fr. Abano’s fate. Why?

Please contact Bishop Bootkoski ( and urge him to reinstate Fr. Abano back to his parish and to the national posts that he was compelled to resign from. Tell him to heed the Pope's words.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The First Filipino

Below is the speech I delivered after receiving the Dr. Jose Rizal Achievement Award at the induction of officers of the Filipino Bar Association of Northern California (FBANC) held on April 25, 2008 in San Francisco. I revised my speech a bit for the column since it was extemporaneous).

This award holds special significance to me as my mother was born and raised in Calamba, Laguna, just a short block from the home where Dr. Jose Rizal was born on June 19, 1861. As a child, I spent many summers with my grandfather where I would often stroll over to Rizal’s childhood home, which had become a museum. I remember devouring all the books about Rizal that I could find there.

As it turned out, I went to elementary school at the Letran College in Intramuros in the walled city of Manila just a few blocks from Fort Santiago, where Rizal was incarcerated and executed on December 30, 1896.

In between his birth in Calamba and his death near Fort Santiago, Rizal informed and defined the Filipino national identity.

Before Dr. Rizal, the people who lived in Las Islas Filipinas were generally called indios by their colonial masters. In the logs of Spanish galleon ships plying the Manila-Acapulco trade, the native mariners were referred to as “Luzon indios” or “Visayan indios” but always “indios” regardless of whether they were Ilocanos, Tagalogs, Cebuanos, Ilongos or any number of disunited, disparate tribes.

The word “Filipino”, named after King Felipe II of Spain, was a pejorative insult employed by Spanish citizens born in Spain of pure Spanish blood to put down and denigrate Spanish citizens born in the Philippine Islands whose parents were not pure Spaniards.

Through his writings, Dr. Rizal elevated Filipino and infused it with a distinct racial, ethnic, cultural and political identity. We became one people, from one nation because of Dr. Jose Rizal and we all would not now be members of the "Filipino" Bar Association of Northern California if it were not for him.

I am aware that there are still many Filipinos who reject their own national identity. When I attended a conference in Atlanta many years ago, I sought out Filipinos from the thousands of delegates there. When I spotted someone who might be Pinoy, I went up to him and asked him if he was Filipino and he replied "I was".

What he does not understand is that while he may no longer consider himself a Filipino, others will. He may find himself as I did five years ago in a Walgreens store paying $44.32 worth of goods with an old but genuine $100 bill only to have the white manager call the police based on his suspicion that the bill may be counterfeit simply because the bearer is a Filipino. The white police officers may believe the bill is counterfeit simply because the suspect they arrested, as they wrote down in the police report, was wearing "khaki shirt, khaki pants" with perhaps a khaki skin.

Racial profiling does not distinguish between those who consider themselves Filipinos and those who believe they are “former Filipinos”.

What my Walgreens experience taught me is that even in this day and age, no matter what individual honors you achieve, you will not be judged for the content of your character but for the mere color of your skin.

We are fortunate to belong to a legal profession that can do something about racial profiling. I sued Walgreens and that billion dollar company settled with me for an undisclosed sum. I sued the San Francisco Police Department and the police officers who arrested me. The police department issued an apology and issued a new policy directing officers not to arrest anyone suspected of using a counterfeit bill without some evidence that the suspect knew the bill was counterfeit.

But the two white San Francisco police officers who arrested me, admittedly without probable cause, brought my state civil case against them to the federal court where they filed a motion to dismiss my suit on the basis of qualified immunity. When the judge denied their motion, the officers appealed the case to the Ninth Circuit which issued a published opinion on August 28, 2007 upholding the federal court decision.

Unfortunately, the police officers have chosen to appeal the case all the way to the US Supreme Court. If that Court grants certiorari to hear their appeal, then I invite all the members of the Filipino Bar to join me in Washington DC to hear oral arguments on this significant civil rights issue.

Chief Justice Charles Hughes once said “If you think the Constitution provides you security, remember that they are just words. If you think the laws provide you protection, remember that they are just statutes. The real power of the people lies in those who interpret the Constitution to benefit the people. “

That, my fellow Filipino attorneys, is our challenge - to use the law to help and benefit our community, in the proud spirit of Dr. Jose Rizal.