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Home Columns Op-Ed Page War of the Sons of the Vets
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Columns - Op-Ed Page
Friday, 03 August 2007 02:04

By ROMEO P. MARQUEZ

CHICAGO -- The frenetic campaign being waged lately to secure full benefits for the remaining Filipino veterans of World War II may be reduced to a bruising word war among the most-passionate community advocates hereabouts.

From the regular forums for advocacies, the war of words has shifted to the internet -- cyberspace -- an arena so wide and limitless that it is impossible to escape minute scrutiny by those who watch from a distance.

Thus, a seemingly innocent statement let loose in one e-forum would reverberate in another and cause so much damage and hurt in persons and reputations. Perception, the general sense of everything, either makes or breaks the person who dares say things couched in euphemisms and gobbledygook.

The current campaign may be coming to an end, a decision Congress alone can decide this year or never.

If the lawmaking body upholds the more than six-decades old demand for benefits, then the issue stops grinding hostilities as much as rancor from the pretenders and from those who genuinely bleed from the way Filipino veterans have been maltreated.

Should that same demand be denied, I could already see how the fireworks of personal animosities would further deepen the divide among the advocates, including these sons of veterans who, because of their divergents views, are at each other's throats.

That there are at least three sons of veterans -- namely, Bobby Reyes of Los Angeles, Jon Melegrito of Maryland and Eric Lachica of Virginia -- espousing different tactics to win the benefits illustrates the basic conflict on how to approach the campaign.

Their differences might as well be viewed in the larger context of the institutional advocates like the National Federation of FIlipino American Associations (NaFFAA), the National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE), the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans (ACFV), the Filipino Veterans of World War II of San Diego and the various unaffiliated groups in California.

Looking at the three sons of veterans is like viewing the spectrum of advocacy. The light wave that passes through each of them serves only to illuminate that which fits their personalities; Reyes for the broad masses of veterans, Melegrito for what his NaFFAA and NAFVE would bless, and Lachica for the myopic, short-term happiness of a few in his ACFV.

Perhaps what these three represent is symptomatic of the ills besetting the campaign for benefits. The singular purpose of securing veterans' entitlements is diminished by personal interests evident in the positions of Melegrito and Lachica. Reyes, on the other hand, seems to bask in the glory of the controversy.

For instance, Col. Romy Monteyro, the silent and almost invisible "dancing partner" of Congressman Bob Filner in the campaign, is conveniently forgotten in the most recent press release by Melegrito. "I feel like I am not really a part of NAFVE anymore and just an outsider looking in," he says.

"You have done that a number of times in the past." says Monteyro, referring to Melegrito's omission. "It's only now that I realize that you were never sincere".

Indeed, Melegrito's subtle bashing of Monteyro is only noticeable to those who knew. Yet, of all the advocates in the NAFVE, it is Monteyro who has unfettered access to Filner, chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

What is Melegrito's motive in denigrating Monteyro before the veterans' community? Perhaps, it's a calculated gambit on Melegrito's part to make Monteyro look isolated within NAFVE the better to lose Filner's unequivocal support.

In the meantime, Lachica is waging a campaign of survival in his home bailiwick called ACFV. Exposed by Filner for the unaccounted monies he collects from veterans and from ACFV's 4,000 members, Lachica's presence in the campaign could prove embarrassing.

"He (Lachica) lives off these vulnerable people," stated Filner in an interview on July 5. It was during that same interview that the San Diego congressman complained about Lachica's modus operandi. "He's doing what I do for free; what the Department of Veterans Affairs does for free. It's ridiculous," Filner said.

Reyes' share of the controversy is probably the most contentious, since he takes on both Melegrito and Lachica and the entire structure of NaFFAA, ACFV and NAFVE. His oft-repeated demands from them to be as transparent and accountable have become a battlecry that has generated wide support.

What makes Reyes' advocacy popular is the constant pressure that he puts on his adversaries coupled with his relentless jousting of both the persons and the organizations they represent. It looks unnatural for Reyes to not call them crooks, for not to do so would take out the fire and spice of his attacks.

An example that's distinctly Reyes' : "Filipino-American community leaders and even Filipino diplomats just talked in whispers behind Mr. Lachica’s back but tolerated his rackets because all of them did not want to display dirty Filipino linen in public".

Another one: "There are still people of dubious character who have appointed themselves as committee chairpersons in the National Alliance for Veterans’ Equity (NAFVE). x x x at least three individuals (who) should not be members of the NAFVE leadership. The three are Jon Melegrito, Perry Diaz and Doy Heredia".

Then Reyes hurls a dare: "If the people mentioned x x x feel that they have been defamed, then they can sue me for libel."

The individual saga of these sons of veterans might be a distraction but they certainly provide a colorful background to the war of words only one of them -- Reyes -- could trigger.

Indeed, the more Reyes insists on his battlecry, the more he demystifies the veterans' campaign waged by a supposedly big alliance like NAFVE. Try to untangle it and it assumes another paper-huge acronym called NaFFAA. ###



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