Monday, June 16, 2008

Breaking the Curse

“No Filipinos or Dogs Allowed” was a common sign that appeared in motels, boarding houses and night clubs in the 1930s in California. While Filipinos have made progress and are now allowed in places where dogs are still not allowed, the California Legislature is one place where dogs and Filipinos are still foreign creatures.

Unlike more recent Asian immigrant communities (Vietnamese-Americans, Indian-Americans and Korean-Americans), Filipino Americans have never been elected to the California Legislature. But that long curse was about to end on June 3 when West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon was set to win the Democratic nomination in the heavily Democratic 8th Assembly District.

Praised by the state capital’s premier daily, Sacramento Bee , as "one of the most intelligent, talented and hard-working elected officials in the region," Christopher Cabaldon has served an unprecedented six terms as mayor of the city of West Sacramento.and previously served as Vice Chancellor of the California Community Colleges, the largest system of higher education in the United States.

Cabaldon enjoyed the endorsement of every Democratic mayor and county supervisor, every state legislator, US Representative and City Council majority in the district which encompasses Yolo and Sonoma counties. He also raised more money than any Filipino American candidate for public office in the US has ever raised - $590,000 – double what his opponent, Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada was able to raise ($290,000).

If Chris Cabaldon couldn’t win, with all his experience and credentials, with all his endorsements and money, then no Filipino American could ever hope to have a shot at breaking the curse.

But alas, in what can only be described as a stunning upset, Yamada edged out Cabaldon, winning “razor thin” margins in both Yolo and Sonoma counties, garnering 18,519 votes to 17,435 for Cabaldon

As Sacramento political analyst Marcos Breton asked: “How did the brightest, most promising young political figure in Sacramento lose an election last week that he seemed certain to win?”

It was the unions, Breton charged, pointing especially to Bill Camp of the Sacramento Central Labor Council who decided that Cabaldon was "anti-union" because business interests were backing him, ignoring the fact that Cabaldon “oozed potential and is a Democrat admired in more than Democratic circles.”

“Union muscle trumped all that with a barrage of negative ads that made some of Cabaldon's molehills seem like mountains,” wrote Breton. “Many of you say you hate negative campaigns. But Cabaldon's loss to Mariko Yamada in the Democratic primary for the 8th Assembly District proves that going negative works.”

There are Fil-Ams in organized labor throughout the state but neither Cabaldon, nor his campaign consultant, Richie Ross, thought of contacting them to ask them to talk to their union leadership to dissuade them from derailing the most serious Fil-Am hope of breaking the curse.

It was also speculated that Yamada won because she is Japanese American and Cabaldon lost because he is Filipino American. While it is doubtful that voters seriously considered the ethnic backgrounds of the candidates, it may have subconsciously entered some voters’ minds that Japanese American officials, like Rep. Bob Matsui and his widow, Rep. Doris Matsui, have successfully represented the district but no Filipino American ever has. And now may likely never be.

Also running in the June 3 California Democratic primaries was Arlie Ricasa, Director of Student Development at Southwestern College in the City of Chula Vista and a Trustee of the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) Board. She ran for the Democratic nomination for the 78th Assembly District in San Diego.

Like Cabaldon, Ricasa was endorsed by numerous elected officials including members of Congress, State Senate, State Assembly, County Board of Supervisors, City Councils and local School Boards. She also earned the endorsements of the California Democratic Party as well as various labor, small business and community leaders.

But like Cabaldon, Ricasa lost placing 4th in a pool of 4, garnering just 4,499 votes (13.6%) to the winner Martin Block who obtained 12,054 votes (36.5%).

According to San Diego Fil-Am community leader Aurora Cudal, “the cause of Ricasa’s failed candidacy may be attributed to lack of financial support and lip service by those who advocate for Filipino American empowerment.”

In a message to her supporters, Ricasa said: “While we weren’t victorious in the election, we were victorious in involving so many people who have been historically underserved, underheard and underrepresented. Soon, our time will come. I have faith and so should you. It could be you or one of our supporters who will soon represent us at the State’s table of decision making.”

Cudal added: “In America, the voters have to support their candidate not only through their votes but through their financial support and physical presence at precinct walks, placing yard signs, knocking on doors, and making telephone calls on behalf of the candidate. These practices are so unlike in the Philippines where the candidates give money and feed the voters in order to win.”

The other major Fil-Am candidate to run for public office on June 3 was three-term Milpitas Mayor Joe Esteves who ran for the Santa Clara County District Three Board of Supervisors against San Jose Vice Mayor Dave Cortese and Sunnyvale City Councilman Otto Lee.

Both Cortese and Lee raised $250,000 each while Esteves was only able to come up with $70,000. Cortese garnered 12,980 votes (42.6%) to Lee's 9,075 votes (29.8%). Esteves trailed Lee by 691 votes, as he received 8,384 votes (27.5%). As no candidate won more than 50% of the vote, Cortese and Lee will face each other in the run-off elections in November.

Esteves said he was disappointed in the outcome, attributing his loss to the low voter turnout in Milpitas, Berryessa and other parts of the district where he expected to draw votes. "Of course it's not the best, but I'm just happy because, with the limited resources that we had, I did a good showing," Esteves said.

Esteves’ predecessor, Henry Manayan, ran in 2004 for the 20th Assembly District after also serving three terms as mayor of Milpitas. He failed to break the curse then as Cabaldon and Ricasa also failed to do now.

Will the curse ever be broken?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Conflicted on the Vets

There is an inherent conflict in writing a weekly opinion column, as I have done for the last 20 years, and in being an elected public official in San Francisco, as I have been for the last 17 years. From time to time, I have had to write about certain issues which have offended certain individuals or groups who are San Francisco voters. That goes with the territory.

Most recently I wrote two columns about the need for the Filipino community to express its unequivocal support for the Filipino veterans equity bill, S.1315, which passed the US Senate 96-1 on April 24, 2008, and which is currently pending in the US House of Representatives.

In my first column, I wrote about the expected House vote on S.1315 that was set for May 21 but which was delayed. I speculated that the delay may have come from the fact that Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not have 290 House votes needed to pass S.1315 with a Suspension of the Rules call as she may not have all 230 House Democrats and at least 60 Republicans willing to vote for it.

But I also reported that Filipino veterans in Washington DC were questioning whether “a letter from San Francisco Veterans Affairs Commissioner Regalado Baldonado to Speaker Nancy Pelosi denouncing S.1315 may have played a role in the vote delay.”

I reported that the "Baldonado" letter to Speaker Pelosi and to Philippine Ambassador Willie Gaa declared S. 1315 to be "woefully insufficient" as it would provide the 12,000 Filipino veterans in the Philippines with $300 a month pension while the 6,000 Filvets in the US would be entitled to $900 a month.

I further reported that the DC veterans personally spoke with Baldonado and that he explained that the letter was prepared for him to sign by members of the Veterans Equity Center (VEC) and the Student Action for Filipino Veterans (SAVE).

In response to my column, Roy Recio, secretary of the VEC and an active member of SAVE, issued a press release this past week entitled “Call for Apology and Retraction After City College Board Trustee Rodel Rodis Attacks Student Coalition”.

The press release stated that my “article included a diatribe of speculations disguised as facts, including a claim that a letter prepared by SAVE caused Speaker Nancy Pelosi to postpone the vote for the proposed Veterans Enhancement Bill, S. 1315. However, the fact remains, Speaker Pelosi and her offices have never confirmed the exact grounds for such postponement.”

Recio did not deny that the “Baldanado” letter was written by SAVE, a fact which he further confirmed in a subsequent paragraph; only that Speaker Pelosi “never confirmed the exact grounds for such postponement." That's what he wants me to apolgize for? Is Recio naive enough to believe that Speaker Pelosi will actually acknowledge the exact grounds for the postponement?

In her article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer published on June 3, 2008 (“No veteran left behind in final battle”), Atty. Tancinco wrote that if S.1315 is passed, it will mean that “those residing in the Philippines will get only about one-third of those benefits instead of the full benefits. This is discriminatory treatment of the veterans based on residence.”

Tancinco believes that S.1315 will not correct the “historical injustice” of the Rescission Act of 1946 and that what is needed is “for the US Congress to pass another bill to revert their status back to US veterans and afford the Filipinos the same treatment as other veterans who fought under the US flag in World War II. The economic part of the bill should be incidental to the principle behind full equity.”

This is the meat of the conflict which has divided the Filipino community on the veterans issue from the outset. Tancinco and the VEC and SAVE believe, as the Baldonado letter unequivocally enunciated, that "We cannot waiver in our position or tolerate any deviation from equal treatment for all of our Filipino WW II veterans.”

SAVE’s website,, states its fundamental principle is “Commitment and support to fight for nothing less than FULL EQUITY for Filipino WWII Veterans “

Since S.1315 only provides $300 a month for the 12,000 Filipino veterans in the Philippines, instead of $900 a month, then it is much less than full equity and Atty. Tancinco, Recio and their groups will simply not accept the compromise even if S.1315 is the “last best chance” to get a Filipino veterans equity bill to pass the US Congress.

While I respect that Atty. Tancinco and many others in VEC and SAVE believe this out of genuine principle, I question the motives of Roy Recio and his band of true believers. It is well-known in San Francisco that Recio is an outspoken and active member of Bayan USA (, an organization that supports the New People’s Army (NPA) in the Philippines.

I believe that Recio and his group will be greatly disappointed if S.1315 passes because they will be deprived of an ideological issue with which to organize the masses. The Rescission Act has been a perfect issue for them because it shows the US as betraying its promise and causing the elderly veterans to needlessly suffer. To Recio, the veterans serve a useful political purpose.

But many older activists like Lillian Galedo, national co-chair of the National Network for Veterans Equity (NNVE), with which VEC and SAVE are affiliated, wholeheartedly believe that we must do everything we can to pass S.1315 now. In an email sent out to various egroups on June 6, 2008, Galedo attached my most recent column (“Unequivocal Support for S. 1315 needed”) and wrote:

“For the people organizing on the ground, it is absolutely clear that we have unequivocal support among the long-time advocates and those who have more recently taken up the cause to restore U.S. veterans status to Filipino WWII veterans. Our center of attention should be focused on getting the final 50 or so votes to pass the House version of S. 1315, in the House of Representatives.”

I am running for re-election to the SF Community College Board this November. I fully expect Recio and his group to actively oppose me which is why their press release highlighted the fact that I am a College Board Trustee. I would appreciate any financial contribution to my campaign ($500 max). Please send your check made out to "Reelect Rodis, College Board" to 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Unequivocal Support for S.1315 Needed

Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), the national vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s "point man" on the Filipino veterans equity issue, expressed great disappointment at news of the lack of unity in the Filipino community’s support for S. 1315, which he described as the “last best chance” to get a Filipino veterans equity bill to pass the US Congress.

“I can understand the sentiments of those who support full equity,” Rep. Honda told me in a telephone conversation on May 28, “I support full equity myself. But it just won’t happen.” There are major political and fiscal reasons why a bill that would grant approximately $900 a month to 18,000 Filipino WW II veterans will have no chance whatsoever of being passed by the US Congress and signed into law by Pres. George W. Bush.

A “full equity” bill would cost about $194-M a year and almost $2-B over 10 years. Even the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill (HR 760) sponsored by Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA), stoutly supported by proponents of full equity, only provided $500 a month for Filipino veterans in the Philippines.

S.1315, the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Bill, which passed the US Senate with an overwhelming 96-1 vote on April 24, 2008, provides $250-$300-M over 10 years for the Filipino WW II veterans.

Under the bill, which would take effect on April 1, 2009 if passed, about $50-M would be allocated for Filipino veterans in the first year and would steadily diminish over a 10 year period ($46-M year 2, $42-M year 3, etc).

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which prepared the estimate, took into consideration the fact that many of the Filipino veterans living in California (4,000out of the total of 6,000 vets in the US) may elect to keep the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) that they are currently receiving about $650 a month plus $200 from the state of California rather than the $900 a month they would receive as US VA pension because the veteran and his spouse would receive a higher monthly total SSI benefit of $1,500. They would not be entitled to combine both.

Because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi adopted the “Pay Go” (Pay as you go) rule, no bill appropriating any amount could be passed unless the sponsors of the bill identified the source of the funds. The sponsors of S.1315 identified the source of the funds which has been fodder for Republican opponents of the bill.

According to a memo distributed by Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Indiana), the ranking Republican on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, S.1315 “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.”

Riding on the anti-immigrant sentiment among Republicans, Buyer alleged that the benefits that would be cut from “those elderly, poor, disabled U.S. veterans” would be awarded instead to “non-citizen, non-resident World War II Filipino veterans.. (which) will put their average annual income 1400% above of the poverty rate in the Philippines…Sending this over-generous benefit to non-American citizens is not the best use of American taxpayer dollars in this time of economic downturn.”

To get S.1315 to pass the House, Speaker Pelosi will need all 230 House Democrats to support it and at least 60 House Republicans to reach the magic number of 290 (2/3rd of the 435 total number of House members) in order to call for a Suspension of the Rules that would avoid killer amendments that would delay, if not altogether kill the bill.

While the majority of House Republicans will accept Buyer’s recommendation and vote to oppose S.1315, there is hope that Rep. Darryl Issa (R-CA) can gather enough Republicans to join the Democrats in reaching the number of 290.

But to get all 230 House Democrats to support S.1315, there must be unprecedented unity in the Filipino community behind the bill. This is the cause of the general consternation about the letter that was sent to Speaker Pelosi by Veterans Equity Center (VEC) board member Regalado Baldonado where he thrashed S.1315 as “woefully insufficient” and asserted that "we cannot waiver in our position or tolerate any deviation from equal treatment for all of our Filipino WW II veterans.”

S.1315 is admittedly a “deviation from equal treatment” (just as the Filner bill was) as it would pay $900 a month to veterans in the US and $300 a month to veterans in the Philippines. “But it’s the best that we can get,” explained Rep. Honda. The realities of US politics require us to “tolerate” a bill that would discriminate on the basis of residence.

But it is not just the realities of US politics, it is also the reality of life and the cost of living. It is simply easier to live in the Philippines with one’s family in one’s home on a monthly pension of $300 a month (12000 pesos) plus 5000 pesos veterans’ monthly pension from the Philippine government than to live in the US on $900 a month.

Rep. Honda told me that supporters of “full equity” like the VEC can focus their attention, after S.1315 is passed and signed into law, into pushing for a subsequent bill that would seek to “compress” the 10 years of the pension allocation for Philippine-based veterans into 5 years. The actuarial reality for most of the veterans who are now 88 years (if they were 21 at the outset of the war in 1941) is that they will likely live for less than 5 years. “Compressing” the bill from 10 to 5 would allow Philippine veterans the opportunity to receive $600 a month over a 5 year period rather than $300 a month over 10 years.

These are incredibly difficult times now for the 12,000 veterans in the Philippines who are all eagerly awaiting passage of S.1315 to help them cope with skyrocketing food and fuel costs. While the young activist members of the VEC and the Student Action for Veterans Equity (SAVE) should be admired for sticking to their principles, the veterans in the Philippines know that they cannot eat their principles or fill their gas tanks with them.

When Major General Antonio Taguba (ret.), one of the highest-ranking Filipinos in the U.S. military and internationally known for his scathing report on Abu Ghraib, met in San Francisco with members of the Filipino community including members of the VEC, he urged them to be united in getting S.1315 passed and not to just dwell on the issue of “full equity”.

“Don’t make it a bumper sticker. Why do we have an East Coast set of circumstances and a West Coast set of circumstances?” asked Gen. Taguba. “It makes us look like we’re divided on the issue. What is our position today? To get this legislation passed through, that’s our only position.”

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: