FIL-AM VETS' LOBBYIST SLAMS RP EMBASSY IN WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON, OCTOBER 31, 2003  (STAR) By Jose Katigbak  - Veterans Affairs chief Jesus Adevoso has been recalled to Manila after less than a year in Washington after he quarreled with Ambassador Albert del Rosario over the Philippine lobby for benefits for Filipino World War II veterans.

Adevoso has supposedly been offered the job of Veterans Federation of the Philippines administrator vice Col. Wilfredo Pabalan, who is resigning to help in President Arroyo’s election campaign.

"The papers are being processed even as we speak," Adevoso told The STAR, lamenting the way the Philippine embassy is pursuing the interests of Filipino World War II veterans.

"The veterans issue in not a top priority for the embassy. They have higher priorities. For me there can be no higher priority than the veterans issue. But of course the embassy’s point of view is different and that’s where the problem lies," Adevoso said.

He said he asked to be recalled because he was not getting enough money to support his family, pay his staff at the Office of Veterans Affairs and lobby for full equity for all Filipino veterans. Adevoso blamed the embassy for his financial woes.

He said the OVA’s annual budget was $81,000. To supplement this "measly budget" he asked Malacañang for an extra $1.2 to $1.3 million over an 18-month period which was approved.

He got a first advance of $70,000 before the extra funds were frozen, he said, at the prompting of the ambassador who disagreed with his campaign for full equity in favor of a piecemeal approach.

Adevoso said the fact that Malacanang initially approved his request for extra funds showed the extent the President was willing to go to push for full equity.

"But then some people in the embassy told her the full equity approach was not the way to go and she listened to them."

Del Rosario was on a visit to San Francisco and could not be reached for his side of the story. Deputy chief of mission Evan Garcia did not return a call to The STAR seeking comment.

In an interview with The STAR last month, del Rosario said at a time of budget restraints in the US "a bird in hand is better than five in the bush."

Legislation is currently pending in the US Congress which seeks to extend health care benefits to 8,000 Filipino veterans residing legally in the United States but ignores the plight of 21,000 veterans living in the Philippines.

Adevoso says the bills are discriminatory and Filvets, as veterans in the Philippines are known, will never accept the blatant insinuation that they are second-class compared to their compatriots in the United States, widely referred to as Fil-Am vets.

Del Rosario’s strategy, backed by the Washington-based American Coalition for Filipino Veterans, is to get as much as possible now and to work for full equity for Filvets later.

Adevoso told the STAR he wrote defense attaché Maj. Gen. Delfin Lorenzana, his nominal boss, a memo about his reassignment to Manila "but he knew I was going back beforehand and said he was happy for me."

As special presidential representative and head of the Office of Veterans Affairs in Washington, Adevoso originally reported directly to Malacanang until he was ordered to report to the Department of National Defense.

In his interview with the STAR Adevoso said he had a meeting with President Arroyo on Oct. 17 during which he briefed her on the veterans issue.

He declined to elaborate on their discussions but a copy of his memo obtained by the STAR, indicated Adevoso told Arroyo of "the lack of budgets at the OVA/embassy, and the unfavorable working climate unfortunately created for myself, the OVA and the Filipino veterans cause."

"Her reaction was to re-assign me to a higher veterans office in Manila and to begin the process for my new appointment, which she instructed me to undertake. This I initiated while I was still in Manila, and it is being followed up by friends and associates in the veterans sector," the memo said.

Adevoso in the interview made clear he did not lobby for Col. Pabalan‘s job. "He’s my very good friend. It was only when I arrived in Manila that I was told about the job ," he said.

The House of Representatives in mid-year passed a bill seeking to provide health care for Filipino veterans residing in the United States at an annual cost of $11.5 million. A Senate version which increases the benefits to $19.3 million is expected to be approved soon.

A conference committee will reconcile the differing Senate and House bills before it is presented to Bush for his signature hopefully by Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

Adevoso said there might not be enough time for a conference committee to do its work before congress goes on recess. If so implementation of the bill may be delayed by one more year.

He said the veterans federation of the Philippines since its creation in 1960 has been for full equity. "This is what the Filipino veterans want and this is what I am trying to get for them."

As soon as the current bills before Congress are signed by Bush, Ambassador del Rosario has said he will press for full equity for all veterans – the adoption of House Bill 677 at an annual cost of $238 million which among other things will provide World War II veterans residing in the Philippines with a monthly $100 pension.

There is greater urgency than ever for passage of full equity because most of the veterans are in their 70s and 80s and dying at a faster rate.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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