Obama courting Fil-Am votes through war vet benefits?

by Rodney Jaleco, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau

Posted at Oct 18 2012 11:54 PM | Updated as of Oct 20 2012 04:06 AM

WASHINGTON D.C. - With just three weeks left before the presidential elections, the White House announced it has formed a group to look into the plight of aging Filipino World War II veterans even as it speeds up the review of young undocumented Filipinos facing deportation.

Chris Lu, co-chair of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, announced through a blog the establishment of an ad-hoc group composed of officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Defense, Office of Management and Budget, and the National Archives and Record Administration that will review the application of about 24,000 Filipino World War II veterans who were denied their share of the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) Fund.

President Obama appears to have gone full circle on the Filipino veterans issue – a hot button subject for many Filipino American voters – after he signed the stimulus bill in January 2009 that also contained provisions for the FVEC. As a senator, he was one of the supporters of Filipino veterans equity legislation.

The law provided a one-time, lump sum payment of $15,000 for qualified Filipino veterans in the US and $9,000 for those in the Philippines. It turned out one those qualifications was being in the so-called Missouri List – a reconstructed roster after the original records were gutted by fire in the 1970s.

“We have heard from many Filipino veterans who have been impeded from filing claims or believe their claims were improperly denied,” Lu said.

The review group “will be tasked with analyzing the process faced by these Filipino veterans in demonstrating eligibility for compensation in order to ensure that all applications receive thorough and fair review," she added.

“President Obama recognizes the extraordinary contribution made by Filipino veterans,” Lu stressed.

Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. praised the White House decision, saying it was a “positive step that underscores the importance the United States places on the outstanding service rendered by Filipinos who fought under the American flag.”

According to retired Maj. Gen. Delfin Lorenzana, head of the Office of Veterans Affairs at the Philippine Embassy, the disqualified veterans account for 56 percent of the 43,083 surviving veterans who filed claims for the FVEC benefit.

The US has paid so far $223.7 million to 18,698 Filipino veterans from the $265 million allotted for the compensation fund.

Fil-Am 'DREAMer'

Meanwhile, lawyer J. T. Mallonga of the Filipino American Legal Defense & Education Fund (FALDEF) also revealed progress on efforts to block the deportation of Fil-Am “DREAMer” John Marknell Quidilla.

Quidilla lives in Plano, Texas and has been living in the US since 1999. He recently earned a Fine Arts degree from the University of Texas in Dallas.

His father, who entered and worked in the US on an L Visa passed away in 2008, leaving John to take care of his mother and three younger siblings.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has started background checks on Quidilla, which supporters expect him to pass with ease. Based on a President Obama administrative order, the DHS has been directed, in essence, to concentrate on hunting down and deporting undocumented aliens with warrants or criminal records or otherwise pose a menace to the community.

President Obama also enforced earlier this year a DHS policy of allowing young undocumented aliens to apply for documentation to stop possible deportation. To qualify, the individual should be between 15 and 30 years old, have not committed felony and lived continuously in the US for 5 years.

The President’s critics have accused him of creating his own “DREAM Act” – legislation that allows young undocumented people to earn a path to citizenship by going to college, serving in the military or rendering public service – that has gone nowhere in a deeply divided US Congress.

Quidilla is the 2nd  Filipino “DREAMer” whose deportation was blocked by FALDEF, Mallonga said, following 28-year-old Miguel Gulfin of New Jersey who was ordered deported last year. He was brought into the US by his parents on a tourist visa in 1991.

“Both the Quidilla and Gulfin cases have demonstrated beyond any iota of doubt that both FALDEF and the community -- through its organizations -- can in fact effectively work together on cases affecting the most disadvantaged of our kababayan,” Mallonga wrote in an email seen by ABS-CBN News.

As the race for the presidency draws nearer, so is the gap between Obama and contender, Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

Most pundits predict it will be a tight race and with a smaller slice of undecided voters this election cycle, support of Asian Americans – including Filipinos – could tip the scales.