MANILA, Philippines—North Cotabato’s provincial board on Tuesday asked President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to reject the idea of inviting former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as an adviser in the Mindanao peace talks.
The conflict in the South is a purely internal issue that can be solved through dialogue among the stakeholders, said Vice Gov. Emmanuel F. Piñol in a statement.
Following a speech from Piñol, titled “Thank You, Mr. Tony Blair, But No Thanks!” the provincial board Tuesday passed a resolution asking the President to drop the idea of involving foreign intervenors in the peace process.
The government panel negotiating a peace agreement with the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front earlier suggested that an eminent persons group be created to advise the peace process, to include Blair and former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.
The suggestion was taken up by Malacañang which issued a statement the other day, following a meeting between the President and the visiting Blair, saying that Blair’s “charisma and charm that brought peace to Northern Ireland may be needed to put an end to the conflict in the Southern Philippines.”
“The statement that Blair’s charm and charisma could end the trouble in the South is a perfect example of the jaundiced perspective of our policy makers and peace negotiators of the true cause and root of the problem in Mindanao and the solutions that could bring an end to the conflict,” said a resolution from the 14-man provincial board.
“Signing a peace agreement with the MILF will not end the problem but addressing the roots of the problem that led to the birth of groups like the MNLF and the MILF will bring us true and lasting peace,” it said.
Piñol said the conflict in the South is a result of “deep-seated biases and prejudices between Christians and Muslims which can be healed through education, the failure of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to function, massive corruption in the region, absence of justice and the failure of government to address poverty, deprivation, the lack of opportunities and hopelessness.”
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. meanwhile said he did not believe Blair, who is now a Middle East peace envoy, would be of much help as the Mindanao conflict was not his field of expertise.
He said Blair should think twice about “coming into the picture” as he noted that the latter’s knowledge of the Mindanao conflict was “peripheral.”
He said Blair would be “overstretching” himself if he agrees to help mediate the Mindanao peace talks. With Christine Avendaño
Filipinos heeded the call of then President Delano Roosevelt to become defenders of democracy in the Pacific when he issued executive order on July 26, 1941, incorporating the Philippine Army into the USAFFE.
The late President Carlos P. Romulo, who served as Resident Commissioner of the Philippines to the United States Congress from 1944 to 1946, expressed disgust over the discriminatory act saying that the Philippine government stood by its position not to accept the appropriation.
Heavy cruiser HMAS Australia was first hit by kamikaze, a Japanese suicide plane, on October 21, 1944 during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, which is considered to be the largest naval battle with at least 850 ships involved.. It was repaired at New Hebrides, now Vanuatu, only to be hit again five times by kamikazes at Lingayen Gulf in January, 1945.
It was on January 9, 1945 when Les Kennedy of the Royal Australian Navy, arrived in the country onboard HMAS Manoora that was part of the 850-convoy that waged amphibious warfare against the Japanese during WWII.
There were more than 400,000 Filipino WWII veterans who were promised to receive the same military benefits given to American soldiers, including the disability compensation, full health care coverage, and survivors’ compensation from the US government when the First Supplemental Surplus Appropriation Rescission Act was approved by the US Congress in 1946 and stripped the veterans of their benefits for service rendered under the US flag.
It was on July 4, 1946 when the Philippines became an independent state.
US Department of Veterans Affairs verifies if those who applied were included in the list of the US Army Roster of WWII Filipino veterans stored at the US Army Archives in St. Louis, Missouri state or known as Missouri list of 1948, which makes the vets eligible for the US package.
This particular provision was successfully included in the Senate version by US Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii when the Stimulus Bill was introduced at the US Senate floor on February 2 this year.
At the wake of economic slowdown gripping the US and other rich economies, President Barack Obama signed the Stimulus Bill into law on February 17 in Denver.
US embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Thompson said so far, over 2, 500 Filipino veterans have applied since it started accepting applications on February 18, 2009.
“As of 11 a.m., February 24, the embassy allowed the veterans to mail their application because most of them are in their 80s and 90s. We do not want to give them unnecessary burden of lining up in this hot weather,” PVAO Claims Division Head Melinda Luna said.
In accordance with the new law, for an individual to be eligible for payment, the US Department of Veterans Affairs must receive the individual’s claim no later than February 16, 2010, which is one year from the date US President Barack Obama signed the historic legislation.
IN the few days since the signing of the veterans’ “stimulus bill” the discussion is all about the benefits: (1) if qualified dependents of veterans who died days after the bill became law can claim $ 9,000 (2) if veterans who are too ill and cannot write nor sign papers can still collect $ 9,000 through their dependents (3) if veterans who are “brain dead” (or on life-support) are qualified to receive full benefits, and (4) if application forms can be sent to claimants’ homes or hospital rooms.
Filling forms properly
Answering any of the above without full guidelines from the US Embassy may mean instant loss of benefits. The veteran, age 96, who “wrote X” shown on TV faces all the uncertainties/disqualifications.
In a previous article I ventured a guess that most living claimants fought the enemy forces in 1942 at age 18, and are now nearing 85 up. But officers born between 1910 and 1920 (89 to 99 years old) may not be alive anymore, except for very few exceptions in longevity.
Wheelchair, cane, etc.
Last week front-page pictures and news reports were about veterans limping their way asking questions about their fate. Some were on wheelchairs or leaning heavily on cheap aluminum canes and pretended to be strong and healthy.
In my town I know one qualified veteran, who is now 94 years old (born 1915, Frank Sinatra’s birth year). He taught in high school after 1945. He has no complaint except for body pains and aches common to old boys and girls in their late 80s or early 90s.
The waiting creditors/lenders
Most veterans who may get $ 9,000 expect to hold their check for a few hours/days before entrusting them to creditors (or Bombay-style lenders) who advanced cash for medicines, performance-enhancing vitamins, milk/chocolate, etc.
It is not expected that the dollar benefit will be added to their savings that don’t exist. It is doubtful that, with dozens of dependents expecting it, a large amount will be left for the remaining few years of the veteran’s misery.
Remembering their heroism?
Years ago our brave soldiers and freedom fighters stopped telling tales of bravery in battle or skirmishes between enemy and guerilla platoons. Bataan, Corregidor, Lingayen Gulf and the Leyte landing or invasion ceased to be important events or subjects as early as 30 or 40 years ago.
Only the officers of the various veterans legions, here and abroad, lobbied and waited with great expectations. But they knew the fading years and hope may end one day but not at age 80, 85, or 90.
No whistle of joy
The sick or sickly veterans who may benefit from the dollar lump-sum mostly are in dire need, but the time to whistle with joy may not come today or tomorrow. The passing years were too long to move them to “another show of gratitude” to the giver.
All the famous names who fought hard in Bataan were long gone – Napoleon Valeriano, Alfredo Santos, Carmelo Barbero were just three of the hundreds who died years ago.
Fighting under two flags
The one great trait of our veterans has a quality of its own: None of them ever complained of their suffering in total misery while waiting for any form of recompense from America. They knew they fought or died under two flags: Stars and stripes and Aguinaldo’s banner of the 1898 Republic.
The trek to 14 venues where claims are filed is just starting. It’s like “Death March” all over again.
Their one and last prayer? To live for one more year and get the final cash reward or symbol.
Those who are too infirm to remember their service to PI and America may wonder and ask: What’s the $ 9,000 for? (Comments are welcome at email@example.com)
By Atty. Romeo V. Pefianco
How much does it cost to kill a man? The late Bishop Fulton Sheen posed this question during a replayed 1968 episode of his internationally followed television series.
In the 1960s, Catholic schools used to assign pupils to watch Bishop Sheen’s TV show as homework. As a kid, I would have protested such homework which interferes with viewing my favorite programs.
Ironically, I find myself viewing Bishop Sheen replays these days on the two Catholic Cable TV Networks, EWTN and Familyland Network. It is not for the preaching of Catholic dogma that glues me to Bishop Sheen replays whenever I happen to chance upon it. It is for the timeless values he talked about in his show.
I was never keen on dogma, rituals and ceremonies that we see too much in the Catholic Church. Many times, I have called the Church hierarchy to task for being too “ceremonious” like the Pharisees Jesus Christ used to denounce and I’ve suggested to them to be more involved with the communities, especially the poorest of the poor.
I have always espoused that Filipinos need to overhaul their values if they are to move forward. This should be one of the top priorities of the Catholic Church — to help reform the values of the poor that conspire to keep them trapped in their station in life.
“How much does it cost to kill a man?” Bishop Sheen asked in that 1968 telecast. He proceeded to list the facts and figures that painted a grim picture of the destructive tendencies of man which, from Cain and Abel and up to this day and age, continue to be the darkest side of mankind.
Bishop Sheen explained that it needed Cain a mere branch of a tree to kill Abel. From this first murder (according to Christian faith), the concept of weaponry evolved — the sword, the arrow and the spear. Bishop Sheen presented what it cost warriors (based on 1968 value of money) through the centuries to kill their fellow man.
For Julius Caesar, it cost an estimated 75 cents. For Napoleon, to kill a man cost him US$700. In World War I, despite the existence of the capacity for wholesale killing, Bishop Sheen said it averaged to $21,000. In World War II, where more nations were involved and where even more deaths occurred, the cost to kill a man averaged $200,000. As of 1968 when the telecast was done, the US spent $1 million an hour in the Vietnam War, according to Bishop Sheen.
Of course, the cost in money terms is one aspect — the least mankind should be concerned with. Money can be recovered but not human lives. The toll in human lives and human misery must never be accepted as collateral for war.
But what mankind should worry about is the tracked tendency to engage in war even when times have improved in terms of economic standard of living, health and education. In many cases, of course, the more developed country adopts an imperial inclination and decides to make vassal States of the weak ones.
Bishop Sheen cited several periods of peace between wars that became shorter and shorter. Between the Napoleonic Wars and the Franco-Prussian War, Bishop Sheen said that there was an interval of 55 years. Between the Franco-Prussian War and World War I, there was a shorter interval of 43 years. Between World War I and World War II, the interval was only 21 years. Progress, it appears, increases instead of decreases the likelihood and incidence of war.
In the case of two European powers, Great Britain went to war 76 times during the last 100 years (note that reference point here is 1968). France went to war during the last 100 years — 16 times. Of course, after Napoleon, France became less imperial.
In 2007, US President George W. Bush asked for a Defense Appropriation of $493 billion, a 7% increase from that of 2006. At its height, the US spent an average of $40 billion a month in the Iraq invasion. These are monies that could easily go to health care, a thorny issue during the recently concluded US presidential election.
Let’s not go far from home. Over here, Dictator Ferdinand Marcos sent his First Lady, Imelda Marcos, to charm Muammar Khaddafi in Libya in order to seek a resolution to the Mindanao War. Marcos realized that the cost of the war could destabilize his martial law regime. The Tripoli Agreement resulted in that trip of Imelda Marcos and we had peace, albeit temporary.
If wide scale hostilities erupt anew in Mindanao, the Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo regime will find it extremely difficult to cope with the cost of a full scale war in addition to the economic crisis we are already encountering. A full scale Mindanao War could undo her just as World War I brought the end of the Romanov Tsars in Russia.
The sum of Bishop Sheen’s presentation is the dark side of man that is focused on using technology for things that can kill better and faster instead of using technology and resources to foster peace, harmony and development. After all, prosperity and development is the best insurance that a nation will not go to war.
Normally, a nation that is enjoying prosperity and peace will not willingly want to go to war. Japan today, an aggressor in World War II, is the best proof of that. The only reason why Japan is now rearming is because of signs of the US weakening and the looming threat of North Korea and China — both being Japan’s enemies in the past.
War as an instrument of foreign policy is too unpredictable. Who would imagine that a superpower like the US will run away from Vietnam with its tail between its legs? On the other hand, look at what the Great Depression created — the dawn of Fascist regimes in Spain, Italy and Germany under Franco, Mussolini and Hitler, respectively. Look at the casualties and devastated cities of Hitler’s World War II.
Invariably, the extreme income disparity in a society where many are miserably poor and too few are filthy rich proves to be the best promoter of conflict. A strong man emerges when there is a down trodden class in society, a big brother who promises to spread the wealth.
This is the reason why up to now we have not resolved our issues with our Communist rebels. Nothing promotes the ideas of Karl Marx better than a Wealth Gap such as the one that festers in our society.
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AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR
By William M. Esposo
Updated November 16, 2008 12:00 AM
MANILA, Philippines — Filipino World War II veterans vowed to press their fight for equal recognition with their American counterparts after they were awarded $198 million in lump sum payments.
Speaking for his fellow veterans in Malacañang on Monday, retired colonel Emmanuel de Ocampo said the lump sum, which was included in the US economic stimulus law, was a “small step” towards their goal.
A veterans’ equity bill, which will recognize the efforts of Filipino soldiers during World War II, has yet to be passed before the US Congress despite a sustained lobby by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
“We will strive for a goal of equal recognition and equal consideration, to fully restore to the Filipino soldiers [the] honor, pride and dignity which were damaged by the Rescission Act,” he said, referring to a 1946 law which stripped Filipino veterans of equal treatment with their American counterparts.
“What we have today does not fully meet these aspirations. However, the Filipino veterans have respectful and grateful appreciation to those [who] worked sincerely [for the inclusion of lump sum payments in the US stimulus package],” he said.
United States Ambassador Kristie Kenney presented to Arroyo and a group of veterans at the Palace on Monday a copy of the US economic stimulus bill, which includes the $198 million for the lump sum payments — $15,000 each for those living in the US and $9,000 each for those living in the Philippines.
Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the lump sum payments were a “first step” towards equal recognition for Filipino veterans.
Asked if a lobby for the veterans’ equity bill would continue, he said: “I’m very sure that representations will move on. If this thing took 62 years, siyempre ipagpatuloy na natin [of course we will press on].”
A number of media commentators went to town criticizing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for making a “useless trip” to the United States after the Davos Conference in Switzerland, as she didn’t get to meet President Obama, contrary to speculations. If there was a big letdown here about that non-meeting, it was the fault of Ms Arroyo’s staff, for the US trip was made to center on the supposed meeting, so that when it failed to materialize, due perhaps to Obama’s being so preoccupied with the economic stimulus package that was then still in limbo in the US Congress, the trip did seem useless. But it turns out that there were, to borrow a phrase from Dr. Anding Roces, a number of things to crow about. For instance, the media only later learned that President Arroyo played an important role in securing the long-awaited benefits due to Filipino World War II veterans.
Palace sources said Ms Arroyo, who was then attending the Davos Conference, was invited by the US Congress to the National Prayer Breakfast annually held in Washington DC. She was assigned a seat beside Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who later arranged for her to meet with key legislators on Capitol Hill, among them Sen. John Kerry, chair of the US Senate foreign relations committee, and the chair of that committee’s East Asia subcommittee, Sen. James Webb, and Ohio Rep. Steve Austria, the first Filipino-American to win a legislative seat on Capitol Hill. Palace sources said Ms Arroyo took advantage of her meetings with key legislators for one specific agenda: to push for the inclusion of the veterans’ benefits in the economic stimulus package recently passed by the US Congress.
* * *
In fact, on the day of President Arroyo’s visit, Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, a staunch advocate of Filipino war veterans, stood up on the Senate floor to sponsor an amendment to the economic stimulus package bill that would grant Filipino veterans befits totaling $198 million. Some of Inouye’s colleagues tried to block the amendment, preferring to corner the sums for their own needy constituents, but the crusty, old, physically challenged Hawaii lawmaker, a distinguished war veteran himself, stood his ground.
Over the years, Inouye has developed a solid friendship with Filipino leaders, with Ms Arroyo hosting various receptions in Malacañang during his visits. At the 100th anniversary celebration in Honolulu in 2006 of the arrival of Filipino plantation workers in Hawaii, Ms Arroyo and Inouye once again renewed their friendship.
On Capitol Hill, Ms Arroyo lobbied hard for inclusion of the benefits to Filipino war veterans in the Obama stimulus package, and found a dependable ally in Inouye.
The amendment paved the way for the realization of the dream harbored by Filipino veterans (their ranks now decimated by death, age and disease) for more than half a century: to be compensated for their heroism during the days of their youth. The benefits that will accrue to Filipino veterans will not only be in recognition of the sacrifices of those still living, albeit sickly and old but also in honor of the memory of their fallen comrades who never tasted the glory of recognition or the well-deserved material compensation.
* * *
In another part of the US at that time, former House speaker Jose de Venecia addressed the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC, and the Universal Peace Federation, proposing in well-received speeches that President Obama recognize a “Global Inter-Faith Summit” in the US, inasmuch as all the great religions of the world — Christianity, Catholicism, Protestantism, the Evangelicals, Islam (Sunnis and Shiites), Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Shintoism and Sikkhism — are represented in that nation in great numbers. They could, De Venecia argued, help bring about global and regional peace, isolate extremists and strengthen moderates, “and regain the high moral ground for America.”
It will be recalled that De Venecia successfully pushed the Inter-Religious Dialogues in 2006, first with President George W. Bush and then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, which was later affirmed by the United Nations in a resolution. By a twist of events, he found his advocacy being tested soon. Late last year, the former speaker was in Cambodia to receive an honorary doctorate degree for international relations from the University of Cambodia, when a pocket border war exploded between Thai and Cambodian troops over a historic Buddhist temple in an area being claimed by both countries.
Speaking with Cambodian Premier Hun Sen and his deputy, Soc An, De Venecia pointed out that the border dispute was a “Buddhist problem” that could be quietly solved not by governments but by representatives of the Thai and Cambodian kings, who are both Buddhists and much-loved by their peoples, and the disputed ancient place of worship has been a Buddhist temple through the centuries. Hun Sen and Soc An said there was no need for Asean intervention, as some worried neighbors in the region had proposed, and the conflict quietly subsided. This little episode didn’t make headlines, but it demonstrates that there’s no substitute for meaningful diplomacy.
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My brother Danny Olivares received a request from his Ateneo de Manila University classmate, Noel Trinidad, to help disseminate to the legion of friends of his brother, internationally renowned cartoonist Corky Trinidad, that the latter recently passed away after a lingering illness in Honolulu, Hawaii, where he had been a longtime resident. Noel said Corky had lived a “very full and meaningful 69 years on earth” adding, “We are proud of his achievements but even prouder of how he lived his life.”
Corky was the son of Lina Flor, famed columnist and creator of the highly popular “Gulong ng Palad” drama series, and Koko Trinidad, acknowledged as the father of radio broadcasting in the Philippines. The Honolulu Star Bulletin, where Corky did editorial cartooning, paid a glowing tribute to him, which I will reprint here. Our condolences to the Trinidad family.
THE benefits package approved by the United States Congress for the thousands of Filipino World War II veterans is an important victory. For many of the old men who’ve endured years of isolation in America in order to support their loved ones in the Philippines, the money would surely be a big boost in difficult times.
But there are those who see the approved bill as a sad, tragic compromise.
One of them is photographer Rick Rocamora who has spent nearly 20 years documenting the lives and struggles of the beteranos.
“As a photographer who has captured moments in the lives of the veterans during their early days in America, the funeral services of their passing and life in between, I also look forward to the day that our heroes will be given the full recognition as equal to US veterans,” he told me in an e-mail.
“While the monetary compensation will find its way to help the surviving beteranos and their relatives, being recognized as equals is more important,” he added. “For those who died waiting, I have been waiting for them. But we must not forget that it took many years for the US Congress to recognized and correct the injustice. We must credit the collective efforts of the Filipino community in America and their supporters to finally gain justice for our heroes.”
To the elderly Pinoys often seen hanging out on Powell Street near the Cable Car stop in downtown San Francisco, Rick “Totoy” Rocamora has been a friend and ally who helped preserve the memory of their gallant, but sad mission in America.
They’ve known him as the soft-spoken heavyset man with a mop top hairdo, who seemed always to have a fancy-looking camera around his neck. Totoy told in moving, vivid pictures the journey of the thousands of Filipino World War II veterans who arrived in the United States in the 1990s.
His work has been published in many magazines and newspaper articles, and put on exhibit throughout the world. Now, Rocamora’s impressive body of work has been collected in a newly-published book of photographs, “America’s Second-Class Veterans.”
Rocamora’s photographs helped spread the word on what has become a sad chapter in the history of US-Philippine relations. The Filipino veterans began arriving in the United States in the early 1990s after they were finally granted citizenship for fighting alongside American troops in the war against the Japanese forces in World War II. But many of the elderly men found themselves in a bind. While they fought bravely under US command during the war, they did not receive the same rights and benefits enjoyed by other American military veterans.
The beteranos came to America hoping to send money back to their families in the Philippines or to enable their loved ones to immigrate to the United States. But most of them were old and ailing. Some became vulnerable to abuse, falling victim to swindlers. Many of them lived in cramped and damp rooms in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District.
Rocamora began documenting their struggles almost as soon as the first veterans began to arrive. His work helped mobilize the Filipino American community in advocating for the elderly Pinoys. A few times, when one of his beterano friends became ill, Totoy brought him sinigang and kept him company.
Totoy’s photographs also helped inspire me to write my novel Mga Gerilya sa Powell Street (Guerrillas on Powell Street) which was adapted for the stage by the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Tanghalang Pilipino. His pictures also inspired prominent figures to support the fight for equity rights. One of them is Congressman Bob Filner, who has been the leading proponent for equity rights in Washington DC, and who wrote an introduction to the book.
“The photographs in Rocamora’s book and the words of the veterans next to the photos will not only bring tears to your eyes but also a firm resolve in your heart,” Filner writes. “Congress has officially granted the recognition as Veterans of World War II to these brave men, both living and dead.”
Totoy, Filner added, “has created a book with a powerful message, a book that should be in the homes and offices of every American.”
Totoy’s powerful images should be given even more prominence, as a reminder of the lonely struggle of the beteranos. As Totoy himself said, “Personally, I would like that my archive about the veterans will be housed appropriately in an institution where young Filipinos and Americans can look back on how much our heroes suffered waiting for full recognition.”
Copyright 2009 by Benjamin Pimentel