VETERANS  DAY  IN  SAN  DIEGO:  CELEBRATION  THRU FOOD, DANCE, FELLOWSHIP 

[PHOTO AT LEFT - Part of the huge crowd at the Veterans Day celebration at the Mira Mesa Seniors Center.]

MANILA, NOVEMBER 15, 2007 -  By ROMEO P. MARQUEZ Member, Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) and National Press Club of the Philippines-USA. 

PHILIPPINE VILLAGE VOICE - Redefining Community News BREAKING NEWS - Feature Issue No. 90 / News Without Fear or Favor / . . . . . A community service of San Diego's Philippine Village Voice (PhilVoiceNews@aol.com or at 619.265.0611) for the information and better understanding of the public. . . . . .

A way of easing the pain and suffering brought by years of injustice, these hardy Filipino veterans celebrated their day with music, dance and an overflow of food. For a moment at least, they set aside their epic struggle for equity rights and benefits and devoted a whole day to warm fellowship.

Wearing the most engaging smiles despite their disabilities, these hardy men --octogenarian all -- and their spouses and friends, took to the dance floor to the beat of the most mellow of Philippine music.

They have not lost their grit and the cheerfulness that made them survivors of war, and now of life.

Worn down physically but not in spirit, they ventured out today (Monday, November 12) from the quiet of their homes to enjoy this little bit of luxury - an abundance of food, fine music, sweet dancing and the warm fellowship of comrades and friends.

The pain and suffering of 61 years (and counting) of fighting for recognition and benefits snatched from them by the United States through the Rescission Act of 1946 have not totally rubbed off their enthusiasm to celebrate life and whatever's left of it in their declining years.

On this happy occasion at the packed Mira Mesa Seniors Center, members of the Filipino World War II Veterans Federation of San Diego and a community of supporters turned up for the whole-day commemoration of Veterans Day.

The melancholy tune of Filipino songs being played by the band wafted in the air, pushing the veterans off their seats and on to the dance floor. The urge to dance was irresistible.

It's sweet to see the old folks, unmindful of their disabilities, struggled with small steps, taking care not to fall, face and body close with their partners', eyes closed, hand in hand, their bodies flowing with the tempo.

I was reminded of my father, now 89 years old and retired, who frequented similar events on weekends until his natural gait became baby steps. He took the bus when nobody was available to drive him. Because he walked too uncomfortably slow with his cane, crossing the road was always a risky ordeal.

The veterans were all dressed in their Sunday's best, perfumed, coiffed, polished in language and demeanor. Some ambled with their canes, others came on motorized wheelchairs.

It must have been over a hundred people who sat in four long rows of chairs which formed a huge square, the middle part of which became the dance floor. Outside the building, many more watched quietly, just listening to the music as it blared through the wide doors.

The food line was longest when the lechon came and I thought that they momentarily forgot their bouts with cholesterol and high blood pressure.

But at an age range of between 80 to 90 where anything can happen, fat-rich food was not something to worry about. That must be the practical reason for it.

So they indulged. The festive atmosphere lent itself to merry-making. Conversations among the elders were high-pitched only because their sense of hearing has started to give up. Hearing aid tucked inside their ears was a familiar sight.

The politics of the day was over in less than an hour. First on the podium was Manny Doria, representing Congressman Bob Filner, who gave out citations and awards for some of those present.

Filner was in another veterans event in Imperial County two hours away and, according to Doria, he made it a point to alternate his presence year after year.

Then it was Col. Romy Monteyro, the federation's adviser, who did the part on behalf of another San Diego congressman, Darrell Issa. Monteyro stood out in his dark green uniform of an army colonel and the way he carried himself belied the advancing years.

I was there to get a story, take pictures and see how these hardy folks are managing.

Federation commander Manny Braga briefed me alright about the current situation, and the more he bared information the more it looked apparent that the campaign for veterans equity was nearing resolution in the US Congress.

Except that at this juncture, the two major veterans' groups in San Diego were still running parallel but separate ways. The unity prayed for for the longest time has yet to materialize.

It's full equity or none at all for the federation, and piece-meal benefits that can be readily available for another group identified with the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans.

Their differences were not really irreconcilable if only some would give in, the better for their plight.

I believe that many members of ACFV, however, are not too willing to take the possibility of losing some benefits, a position that's grounded on the practical reality of old age.

The veterans population dwindles by the hour and day and it won't be long before it's totally decimated by age and disease. That is the essence of the argument, I believe.

On the other hand, the FWWV stand is a simple "all or nothing", which makes more sense considering the wide-held belief that this group stands on solid legal ground to put forth the claim.

This is the position that enjoys the support of Congressman Filner, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

In July, Filner expressed his exasperation at the lack of cohesion in pursuing the goals of full benefits for the veterans.

His statement to this reporter denouncing a top official of ACFV for collecting money for a service Filner's office provides for free might have been intended to unfiy the veterans' ranks.

Despite one-sided news reports from Capitol Hill that quoted Filner as having denied my story, Filner himself never said a thing afterwards. Why he would not commit himself in paper to say my story was wrong is something left for speculation.

My feeling is that Filner was trying to get a sense of how meaningful the veterans are in following up their claims. It's a fight between convenience and principle and the latter is what Filner continues to uphold.

It's been all of four months since I broke the story. From reading Filipino newspapers, it looks like the object of Filner's ire is back again in circulation and happily pursuing the "bread crumbs" benefits for his particular group.

Too afraid to be inconvenienced that they are willing to succumb for what little can be dispensed to satisfy their hunger. That is what's appalling.

The ACFV guy made the promise to answer my questions from the time my story took shape. Several months later, he has yet to be heard from. In the meantime, his pictures are in the papers again and his image on television.

Well, I wasn't going to worry about it today. The veterans themselves didn't give a care. Everybody was enjoying this wonderful Monday respite from politics.

I sat in one of the benches and soon enough, my mind was off the veterans' issues. The band's rendition of old and pop Philippine music I hadn't heard in many years was too absorbing and too beautiful to miss.

(This Breaking News may be posted online, broadcast or reprinted, on condition that the author and the publication be properly credited. By Romeo P. Marquez, Editor, Philippine Village Voice, San Diego, California. Mailing address: P.O. Box 2118, La Jolla, CA. 92038. Issue no. 90, November 15, 2007).


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