Tuesday, July 1, 2008


About 21 years ago, I wrote a short fable about the Filipino crab which I adapted from a Latino vrsion I heard. The tale was about a man who sold live crabs from his wicker basket at a local open market. As he was answering questions from a customer one day, his crabs began to pile up, one on top of the other, until several were poised to jump off. Although the customer called his attention to what his crabs were doing, the man did not bother to look at his crabs. “I don’t worry about those crabs," he assured his customer, "because they’re Filipino crabs. As soon as one of them is about to take off, the others will pull him down.”

In an updated version of this tale, I can imagine Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Indiana) assuring his GOP colleagues that they need not worry about the passage of S.1315 (the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Bill that will provide pension benefits to Filipino WW II veterans). “It will never pass the House,” he would say, “because Filipinos will find some way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. After all, they're Filipinos. It's their nature."

Sure enough, just when S.1315 was poised to be voted on in the House, after passing the Senate with a whopping 96-1 vote, the united front of the Filipino community cracked. A Filipino group in San Francisco sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House Democrats urging them not to pass S.1315, which was denounced as being “woefully insufficient.” The letter was signed by Regalado Baldonado, a Filipino WW II veteran and a board member of the Veterans Equity Center (VEC).

When the Washington DC veterans read a copy of the letter, they immediately contacted Baldonado to ask him why he wrote it. Baldonado told them it was not written by him but by members of the VEC and the Student Action for Veterans Equity (SAVE).

Dismayed by the Baldonado letter, the DC veterans led by Patrick Ganio and Guillermo Rumingan faxed me a copy of the letter and asked me to write about it, which I did (“Filvets Equity Bill Vote Delayed” May 24, 2008).

In response to my article, members of SAVE and VEC issued a press release, purportedly in the name of 30 Filipino American student organizations throughout the US, calling on me to apologize to them (“Call for Apology and Retraction After City College Trustee Rodel Rodis Attacks Student Coalition,” June 6, 2008).

The press release concedes that the Baldonado letter was “drafted and circulated by SAVE’s organizations” but nevertheless insists that the letter was not against S.1315 but in favor of full equity. The problem is that S.1315 is a compromise measure that provides partial equity for the 12,000 Filipino veterans in the Philippines ($300 a month) and full equity for the 6,000 Filipino veterans in the US ($900 a month). You can’t be for something if you’re against it. You can’t speak from both sides of your mouth.

These organizations know that the Veterans Federation of the Philippines (VFP), which represents the veterans in the Philippines , wholeheartedly endorses the compromise which they know is the "last best chance" to get an equity bill passed by the US Congress. In fact, everyone in the Filipino community is on board S.1315 except VEC and SAVE members, who continue to insist that they “will not tolerate any deviation” from full equity.

The VEC and SAVE press release contended, however, that it was not the Baldonado letter that derailed the Filvets equity vote but rather a memo sent out by Rep. Buyer to his GOP colleagues that “blindsided” the vets. The only problem with their theory is that Rep. Buyer has always opposed Filipino veterans equity. When he was chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee under GOP Speaker Dennis Hastert, Buyer consistently refused to even hold a committee hearing on the Filvets bill. Blindsided?

The press release was written by VEC leader Roy Recio who has been personally vilifying me in online letters to the editor over the years, often employing coarse and vulgar language, I had generally ignored his petty personal attacks until he crossed the line on S.1315. My personal frustration with Recio and his drove me to write my column (“Conflicted on the Vets”, June 9, 2008) which included a charge that Recio had ideological motives for opposing S.1315.

I wrote that Recio is a member of BayanUSA because he is a close political associate of the Secretary-General of BayanUSA. In his reply to my column, an uncharacteristically subdued Recio denied being a member of BayanUSA, and that organization wrote to confirm that Recio is not a member (I guess even BayanUSA has membership standards). Regardless of his organizational affiliation, however, my point was that Recio’s extreme left politics informs and guides his opposition to S.1315.

This controversy has provided Recio with an excuse to personally go after me. At the regular meeting of the Board of Trustees of City College last June 26, Recio and his “band of true believers” distributed leaflets denouncing me, and used the open forum portion of the public meeting to charge me with “unethical behavior” and to demand that I be “censured” by the Board.

The Board was moved by the presence of several Filipino veterans who attended the meeting to support me. It was very touching to see these 88-year old defenders of Bataan - Filemon Mordeno (President of the Filipino WW II Veterans, Spouses, Widows, Sons and Daughters, Inc.), Gomercindo Bondat, Simplicio Yoma and Nestor Palma - show up on a cold night to defend me.

In a confrontation in the parking lot outside the Board meeting that evening, Mr. Bondat asked Jaymee Sagisi of SAVE why her group wrote the Baldonado letter. Sagisi insisted the letter was personally written by Baldonado but the veterans told the students that they know Baldonado is incapable of writing such a letter in English. The confrontation of the vets with the students was caught on tape by a Balitang America cameraman and shown in The Filipino Channel.

A few days after the Board meeting, Recio sent me email copies of his emails to the San Francisco Labor Council and to the local Democratic clubs urging them not to endorse me in the November elections. He wants me to know that his group will be actively gunning for me to ensure my defeat.

That’s the bad news for me, though I don’t believe they will succeed. The good news is that Recio and his cohorts have been so preoccupied with personally attacking me, they’ve stopped drafting and sending Baldonado-signed letters to Speaker Pelosi and members of Congress urging the defeat of S.1315. Perhaps now we have a decent shot at getting it passed.

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