Friday, December 1, 2006

Between the Lines: December 2006

We’re at the tail-end of another year. As we look back on the calendar, there have been many developments in our community that should make us happy and thankful. Adding a dimension of cheer is that it is Christmastime again, too. Several issues come to mind: the heightened sense of community in our Seattle village has re-awakened us against injustices done to our aging WW II veterans and their families, the reported unfair practices of local employers, and the goodwill and compassion that continue to be exhibited by donors to worthy causes. It has largely been a year of virtues, vigilance, productive endeavors and good cheer. Let’s sustain that momentum for the coming year.

We were in Washington DC recently with several WW II veterans to attend an invitational planning conference organized by the Philippine Embassy and NaFFAA. Conference speakers included Philippine Secretary of Local Government Ronnie Puno and Veterans Federation of the Philippines (VFP) officials from Manila. But the high point of the conference was easily the inspired speeches delivered by American legislators, Senator Daniel Akaka (HI-D) and Rep. Bob Filner (CA-D). The two are staunch supporters of the aging Filipino warriors who have long been waging an uphill battle. Now there is hope, they told the veterans and their advocates. The two have been designated Chairmen in their respective branches’ Veterans’ Affairs Committees. During the conference, fellow-advocate Perry Diaz asked permission to borrow our coined words “gathering of warriors” and “Debt March” in his next write-up regarding the conference. Indeed, as Perry and most of the delegates had observed, it was a historic gathering at the seat of power in the Free World’s most powerful nation. Throughout the three-day get-together, there was an unmistakable air of tension mixed with high expectations amongst conference delegates. Maybe Washington DC generates such a feeling? Veterans Franco Arcebal and Pat Ganio, who were quite outspoken about issues close to their hearts, were joined by their comrades from Seattle, Amador Montero, Greg Garcia, retired Maj. Urbano Quijance, about twenty-five other WW II veterans-leaders from Texas, Hawaii, Florida, Illinois and New Jersey. Banded together, a majority were there as affiliates of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans (ACFV) led by long-time Arlington-based lobbyist, former journalist and veteran’s son Eric Lachica.

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Senator Akaka’s impassioned speech focused on the bill he had filed a few days before the conference, S. 4070. This is a bill that would speed up the coming of the veterans’ children and grandchildren to America. The Hawaiian legislator demonstrated his deep understanding of family and what that means to every aging veteran deprived of this important support system. He revealed that two of his children are married to Filipinos and he is aware how closely-knit Filipinos are as family units. The aging veterans stood up, clapped and cheered lustily at every sentence he spoke on his determination to push and re-file S.4070 as “a priority bill” when the next session of Congress opens next month. To the veterans assembled at the conference, this was the best Christmas gift ever in a long, long while. There is hope at last. It is great, exciting news that they can tell their children on this season of grace.

At the conclusion of the conference there was an agreement reached by all following some emotional episodes, that there would be a single-minded resolution to push only for the long-pending, nearly seven decades-old Filipino Veterans Equity Bill. As a compromise move, a separate resolution would be made for the Filipino Veterans Family Reunification bill. In the conference’s last hour, gathered on center-stage to whip up “appropriate language” for the final resolution, were NaFFAA’s indefatigable chief Alma Kern, Jon Melegrito, and Ernie Ramos on one side; the Embassy’s amicable General Delfin Lorenzana like a referee in the middle; and ACFV’s hard-working Eric Lachica, veterans Pat Ganio, and the fiery Frank Arcebal on the opposing side. It was a picture to behold: the nation’s key Filipino community leaders, the aging soldiers and their advocates deeply immersed in a moment of impassioned discussion. The scene revealed how important and desperate an issue the Filipino WW II veterans’ cause had become. Participation from the engaged floor included opinions voiced out by veterans Maj. Quijance, Commander Amador Montero, Greg Garcia, Capt. Joe Gonzales formerly from Honolulu and now Houston, former Philippine Constabulary (PC) officer Col. Monteyro of San Diego, union organizer Gloria Caoile and other veterans’ advocates and supporters including this writer.

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There is word circulating about the possible re-opening of the Philippine Consulate in Seattle. This is a most welcome development if it happens. We are, however, a bit skeptical after learning that the move would be coursed via legislation introduced in the Philippine Congress by some congressmen-businessmen who came a-visiting to the U.S. Reason why we’re doubtful is that diplomatic service is a government function that is under the Executive branch. Correct us if we’re wrong, but if that is not so and legislation will work, then we are all for that. Washington State is such a vital place where world-caliber corporations abound. Its ports are the closest to the region where the homeland is and we are puzzled at the indifference displayed by the Philippine government when it shut down in 1990 the Philippine Consulate General in Seattle. Ironically, the reason given then was economics.