Monday, June 17, 2013


Former Labor Undersecretary and migrant worker rights activist Susan “Toots” Ople is being honored this week by the State Department for her work in fighting trafficking in persons (TIP).

Every year, the State Department fetes individuals around the world who’ve devoted their lives to the fight against human trafficking. They work often in great peril to protect victims, punish offenders and raise awareness of criminal human trafficking activities.

Ople is the youngest daughter of former Senate President, longtime Labor Secretary and journalist Blas Ople.  She heads the labor advocacy organization named after him, writes for the tabloid Tempo and the Panorama weekend magazine, has a radio program on dwIZ station and serves as consultant for the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Manila.

She has been deeply involved in various campaigns to stop human trafficking and abuses by illegal recruiters, including the creation of an OFW Re-integration Council and improving the labor justice system in the Philippines (e.g., Ople has tirelessly denounced contractualization practices in the country that she views as one of the chief impediments against improving the lives of Filipino workers).

She finished grade school at St. Theresa’s College in Quezon City, secondary education at Sandusky High School in Michigan, and the University of Sto. Thomas where she earned a Communication Arts degree in 1984. She took post-graduate studies at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

The Philippines barely missed US sanctions for her seeming ambivalence to the problem of human trafficking. Two years ago, the country was removed from the Tier 2 watch list, after teetering on the verge of being demoted anew to Tier 3 where the US government would have been legally bound to stop giving aid to the Philippines.

Although the TIP campaign is described as gaining impetus, especially after President Aquino signed a law (RA 10364) last February to stiffen penalties and offer better protection for victims of human trafficking, the problem remains serious.

The Philippines, the 2012 State Department report said, “does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” but acknowledged “it is making significant efforts to do so.”

Vice President Jejomar Binay, former chairman of the Inter-Agency Council Against Human Trafficking (IACAT) which is credited with helping to turn the tide, blamed poverty, ignorance and crime as chief culprits of the TIP crisis in the Philippines. The country, he added, remains a source, destination and transit point of human trafficking.

“Men, women and children continue to be subjected to forced labor in factories, construction sites, fishing vessels, agricultural plantations, mines, quarries, and private homes, where many trafficked women and girls suffer sexual abuse, rape and physical violence,” Binay said recently.

The State Department’s decision to honor Ople apparently recognizes the growing role of non-government organizations (NGOs) in combating TIP. The Blas Ople Policy Center is one of the key civic groups that have been able to mount a global campaign while overcoming the domestic political, economic and religious barriers which usually make a nationally coordinated drive difficult.

At least 5 of the 29 TIP-related convictions reported last year were the result of cases filed or prosecuted by NGOs, the State Department noted. It also lamented the alleged lack of understanding of the country’s anti-trafficking labor network among “many judges, prosecutors, social service workers and law enforcement officials – a significant impediment to successful prosecutions.”

Meanwhile, the government has tightened the watch against recruitment agencies, seaports and airports to physically block movement of potential victims, but Ople is lobbying to push the war closer to the frontline. “What’s said is we rely on immigration as the last sentinel when it should be on the prevention side, in the barangays (where it starts),” she explained in one TV interview.

Despite the recent impressive economic strides, she believes many Filipinos – most of them the poorest of the poor, women and children – will remain vulnerable to traffickers. “Even if we say the economy is growing,” Ople averred, “The time it takes to cascade all these gains is so slow. Then you have these sweet-talking recruiters. All they need is the promise of a better life.”

Thursday, May 30, 2013


Two Filipinas, born on either side of the Pacific, were among this year’s graduates of the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., getting the rare honor of receiving their diplomas from President Obama, the American Command-in-Chief himself. 

Christine Layug shakes hand of President Obama at US Naval Academy graduation rites in Annapolis, Md.

Christine Joy Jiao Layug of Oakland, Ca. was one of several Filipino-American graduates, shining a light perhaps on one remarkable facet of the Filipinos’ long-running affinity with the US Navy. Joining the Navy has become a generational rite for many Filipinos – Christine Joy, for instance, has 10 uncles either actively serving or retired from the US Navy – not counting her father Roy and maternal grandfather (now both retired).

On the other hand, Chinna Louise Eulogio Salio was the only Filipino graduate in Annapolis Class 2013. Born in landlocked Mountain Province and studying to be a nurse, it was almost inevitable she would be drawn to nearby Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City but she too was pulled by the lure of the sea, choosing to go to Annapolis (where incidentally, her younger brother Kendrick is now a sophomore and when he graduates, they will become the first Filipino sister-brother alumni from the US Naval Academy).

Ever since President William McKinley signed an executive order in 1901 authorizing the recruitment of 500 Filipinos in the US Navy, it has been career pursued by Filipinos ever since. Aside from the stability and relative prosperity it offers, the US Navy also provided a gateway for thousands of immigrant families, fueling the growth of the large Fil-Am communities from San Diego, Ca. to Penscaola, Fl. to Norfolk, Va.

The US Navy still casts a long shadow in the Philippines, where its presence is largely seen as the country’s chief deterrent against the aggression and bullying of its more militarily powerful neighbors.

Although she already an ROTC scholarship, Layug said she chose to go to Annapolis because “no other university or college in the US gives the unique training, discipline and academic and physical challenges.” Her mom says Christine Joy has been dreaming of going to Annapolis since high school, likely drawing inspiration from her father and all the other relatives who served in the US Navy.

She was in the Dean’s list and graduated with honors in her Major – Applied Mathematics – eliciting little surprise when she opted for a sub-specialty in Operations Analysis. She’s also part of Catholic Daughters organization in the USNA campus, where she’s a cantor and according to one of the group’s leaders “had the voice of an angel.”

As may be typical of a Filipino “Navy family”, her graduation from the Academy last week was a great source of pride, perhaps made special because she got her diploma from her Commander-in-Chief himself. Her grandmothers – Emily Jiao and Gloria Layug led a tiny army of aunts, uncles and cousins who witnessed the event.

Layug’s next stop is basic flight school in Pensacola, Fl. but she also has ticket via a Burke Scholarship to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Ca. She sees a long and illustrious career in the US Navy, predicting she’ll be staying beyond the minimum 5 years after graduating from the Academy.

Chinna Salio was featured in an Associated Press story on women at the US Naval Academy (this photo was published in the Los Angeles Times)

Salio is the eldest in a brood of six. She was pursuing a nursing degree at the Benguet State University when she veered sharply to the PMA, passing the entrance examinations in 2008. On her sophomore year, she took the competitive tests for the US military service academies and became one of three who made it through (the others graduated last week from West Point and the US Air Force Academy in Colorado).

She is a champion marksman in her class, showing off her medals during a brief vacation at PMA earlier this year.

Salio has been an achiever for most of her life. She was a scholar at the Philippine Science High School (Cordillera campus). She proudly reveals that her younger brother Kendrick, whose passion includes sailing, is now a sophomore in Annapolis and his twin Kenneth is studying aircraft engineering in Canada.

After the graduation rites at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (which pays homage to famous naval and Marine battles including several in the Philippines), Salio was commissioned as an Ensign in the Philippine Navy by Capt. Elson Aguilar, the concurrent Defense and Naval attaché in Washington DC.

Salio is already on her way home to the Philippines where a warm welcome awaits her both at Navy Headquarters and from family in Baguio City. She wants to be a surface warfare officer because that’s where she sees she can put all the lessons learned from the world’s most advanced navy to good use.

Though their paths now diverge, each joining a navy that can’t be more polar apart, Layug and Salio bring a common denominator other than their roots – the drive to serve, to leave their mark and in the cusp of a long voyage, hope and the unshakeable excitement of the future beckoning.

Friday, May 24, 2013


Times are changing, says Washington DC special education teacher Marisol Angala, adding that the diversity that’s fueled much of the growth in places like the nation’s capital should be reflected in their workers unions as well.

Angala, a University of the Philippines-trained teacher at the Jefferson Academy Middle School for the past decade, has been outspoken and passionate about finding better ways to educate America’s school children. It’s driven her to an unprecedented campaign for the presidency of the 4,000-strong Washington Teachers Union (WTU).

She is one of hundreds of Filipino teachers – the vanguard of a foreign recruiting binge by US public schools – who were lured by the promise of better pay and a slice of the “American dream”.

They filled an acute teacher shortage especially in tough, troubled inner city schools that struggled to meet standards imposed by the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act. The Filipino mentors can be found virtually everywhere in America, from top-tier East Coast academies to sparse Indian reservations in the New Mexico desert.

“Times have changed,” Angala declared, “and public education has evolved.”

She wants to steer WTU towards her vision of the future. “There’s a battle being waged right now,” Angala averred, “It’s not about unions standing up for teachers; it’s about teachers standing up for themselves through their unions.”

“There are so many things happening right now at the local and national level which lead to frustration, anger and all those are harmful not only to the teachers but also to the children whose lives we continue to influence daily,” she said, adding that “when I empower, encourage and inspire teachers to do their best for the kids, I am impacting the lives of more than just the students in my classroom.”

Angala is a familiar face in the education protest scene of DC (something she attributes to years at UP where she says she learned stand up for what’s right). She was WTU’s vice president for special education from 2007-2010, a member of the Asian & Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), the Teacher Leaders Network and the Delta Kappa Gamma International Society for Key Women Educators.

She is board certified as an exceptional needs specialist and was named Outstanding Special Education Teacher (2008-2009) by the National Association for Special Education Teachers (NASET). She also has two blogs – “Digital Anthology” is the online extension of her classroom and “Teacher Sol” where she tackles education-related issues, including the plight of Filipino mentors in Maryland.

She says the “prospects are both exciting and frightening” as she cobbled a multicultural and multi-generational ticket which, she vowed, would bring "real" changes in the WTU. “We have exceptional candidates in our slate (4 of them are also Filipinos), who carry the promise of being real game-changers because of our diversity, problem solving skills and courage to speak on behalf of our teachers and students,” she explained.

They are pressing for an “objective and fair evaluation system and due process aligned with that system.” She sees the inordinate emphasis on high-stakes tests and the lack of support and resources to teachers as the biggest problems bedeviling the DC Public School system today.

“We should now be thinking how we can change our traditional practices to better reflect the tasks assigned to our schools, teachers and students,” she said, stressing that “teachers should be treated as partners in reforms.”

Her “platform” includes providing more resources to DC public school teachers, lower class sizes especially for schools in poverty-stricken communities, and building respect for teachers.

Unions, she added, are “only as good as their members. I believe we need to set higher expectations and standards for ourselves so we can inspire our students and encourage them to do what it takes to be successful in life. We need to take control of our actions and not sit by as others define effective teaching for us.”

If Angala sounds like she’s gearing for a fight, that’s probably because she’s been there before. A tireless advocate of change, she was part of the WTU panel that negotiated a “progressive” teachers’ contract which led to a 15 caseload limit for special education teachers, among other concessions.

She promised to “rebuild our teacher’s union and make great things happen” as WTU president. The ballots have been mailed out and should be back in the Post Office by June 7.

Her feisty attitude is stark contrast to the publicity that Filipino teachers have received lately – as hapless victims of illegal recruitment, from Prince George’s county in Maryland to the Baton Rouge parish in Louisiana. Angala offers the contrasting image of a fighter ready to pounce on behalf of her fellow teachers and perhaps more importantly, for the school kids.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Growing up on the fringes of the Dipolog city airport, Theodore Karl Quijano was bitten early by the lure of flight and that has taken him all the way to Colorado, where he graduates next week from the US Air Force Academy.

With the cost of college proving too much of a burden on his family, Quijano decided to apply at the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City, and later saw the opportunity to fulfill his childhood dream by competing for a slot in the USAFA.

“I grew up right next to the airport,” he revealed. “I saw planes land and take off every day and the sight made me dream to be able to fly those aircraft one day.”

He not only learned to fly, he soared in the Academy, achieving feats that should make Filipinos proud – he was given command of Cadet Squadron 10 last Fall after being assigned as Cadet Wing Chief of Standardization and Evaluation, said to be one of the highest positions in the Academy managing over 4,000 people, during the Summer. A year earlier, he was also made Superintendent of CS-10.

“God, family and country – it was clear to me that I was doing this for them, not for myself,” Quijano averred. “I wanted to work for something bigger than myself. This made me stand out in the Academy and drove others to have the same outlook.”

As part of the graduating class of 2013, he marches with honors at Falcon Field next Wednesday. He belongs to the Superintendent’s (overall excellence) and Dean’s (academic excellence) list. Quijano will also receive the Outstanding Basic Cadet Award from the Academy’s Commandant for finishing 1st in the class of 1,300 cadets for military excellence.

In addition he will get his Parachutist Badge, Space Wings (for completing the space operations program that taught him, among others, how to operate satellites), Glider Pilot Wings and the Powered Flight Wings.

Quijano ranked 2nd in athletics for his batch and is the only Filipino cadet (out of 15 who preceded him in the USAFA since 1956) to get a perfect physical fitness score in the Academy’s 500 Club.

The eldest in a brood of seven, he learned early on the challenges of being a leader in the family. “My father inspired me with stories about successful people both in the military and corporate worlds, and how I should work to be just like them when I grew up and help send my siblings to school.”

“But most of all I learned from my parents the value of living with honor, integrity and service to others,” Quijano said.

He spent three years at the University of the Philippines (UP) campus in Diliman, Quezon City but the expenses were taking a toll on the family finances, Quijano explained, so he grabbed the opportunity to enter the PMA where he not only got a free education, he also got a modest stipend and the guarantee of a good job after graduation.

He later took the tests to qualify for the United States Service Academies – one of the most rigorous examinations that allows only the brightest and strongest candidates from all over Southeast Asia to join West Point (Army), Annapolis (Navy and Marines) and the Air Force Academy (the Philippines used to have yearly slots reserved in these schools until the US closed its military bases in the country).

Life in USAFA wasn’t easy, Quijano conceded. There wasn’t much difference in training concept with PMA, he added, but it still took a heavy mental, physical and emotional toll partly because he was so far from home and family.

“I couldn’t let my American counterparts look me down; that’s why I strived to be better at everything I do every single day – whether it’s military, athletics or academics. It just so happened I excelled militarily and athletically. I had the right attitude which PMA equipped me with and it helped me get through the difficult times,” Quijano explained.

After the graduation ceremonies, the foreign cadets are usually ushered to a separate ceremony where they will get their officer’s commission from their respective countries. The Philippine Air Force’s DC-based military attaché, Col. Arnel Duco is expected to swear him in as a 2nd Lieutenant in the PAF.

“I intend to serve my country to the utmost of my abilities,” Quijano stressed. “I will use what I learned here to be an asset for change and innovation in the military. I will do what I can at my level to hopefully affect the bigger system.”

It’s been a long journey for the young man whose dreams were built watching the planes fly in and out of the runway close to their home. So, near the end of four years of study and toil, the newly-minted Philippine Air Force officer declared his most ardent wish, “I hope to fly the Philippine’s aircraft soon.”

Monday, May 20, 2013


The country’s top envoy in Washington DC appeared to shift the focus of maritime spats with neighbors from the Philippine’s northern frontier back to the west where a large Chinese fishing fleet was headed to the disputed Spratly islands.

“Over the past two years, the whole world has seen the increase in belligerent activity in the waters in our part of the world, particularly in the areas in and around the West Philippine Sea,” Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia told the annual meeting of the World Affairs Council of Greater Hampton Roads last Friday.

His press release over the weekend made no mention of the more immediate conflict with Taiwan which has stopped hiring Filipino workers, cut trade ties and carried out a much-publicized saber-rattling naval exercise after the Philippine Coast Guard killed a Taiwanese fishermen in waters they both claim as part of their territory.

“When another country stations its boats on a shoal that is a mere 120 miles from our mainland and more than 400 miles from theirs, the Philippine cannot just keep quiet,” he stressed. Adding to his China tirade, Cuisia said “When another country declares that it owns about 75 percent of what the Philippines owns as exclusive economic zone, we are duty bound to stand up and protect it.”

The BRP Ramon Alcaraz begins sea trials off the Carolina coast before making the long voyage home next month.

The part of the Balintang Channel where the shooting of the Taiwanese fishing boat occurred is claimed by both the Philippines and Taiwan as part of their exclusive economic zones. Efforts to define that maritime border and possibly craft a joint use agreement have been stymied by the Manila’s “one China policy” where it only recognizes the government in Beijing. 

The United States has expressed concern over the May 9 flare-up and called on both sides to lower the tension. The Philippines and Taiwan are longstanding American allies, crucial to its long-term designs to reign in China and ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea through which, Cuisia pointed out, $1.3 trillion-worth of US products flow through yearly.

Some officials here say the Philippines is eager to put the crisis with Taiwan behind them and focus on the South China Sea where China has actually, and in some instances, virtually occupied Philippine territory. They have built permanent structures on Mischief Reef just 130 miles off Palawan and last year, cordoned off Scarborough Shoal which lies 120 miles off Zambales in the main Luzon Island.

Two Chinese spy ships have reportedly dropped anchor last week about 6 miles west off the Philippine-occupied Ayungin Shoal, near Mischief Reef.

The Philippines has hauled China to a United Nations tribunal on the laws of the sea to have the latter’s claim, the so-called 9-dash-9, declared as invalid. China alleges that ancient maps assigned her ownership over virtually the entire South China Sea.

The Philippines has sought and received military assistance from the US, a treaty ally with which it has a mutual defence pact. “We are look at opportunities for assistance in training, capacity building and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” Cuisia averred.

As part of President Obama’s pivot to Asia, the US is stepping up its military presence in the region, including more frequent US Navy visits to the Philippines. Although Cuisia emphasized the American “rebalance” in Asia also entailed intensified economic and trade ties, there is no mistaking the security bias towards containing a militarily resurgent China and shielding America’s allies against her growing belligerence.

As if to emphasize that dimension of PH-US relations, Cuisia visited the USS Wasp, the Norfolk-based amphibious assault ship which is being prepared to accommodate the US Marines variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Aircraft. He was able to speak with the ship’s Filipino-American crew members during the brief visit.