Sunday, December 26, 2010

2010 YEAR OF THE PINAY

2010 could be the year of Fil-Am women. They made massive strides in politics, the judiciary and public service.

They’ve worked relentlessly to advance their causes, overcoming barriers that have stopped lesser mortals.

Bicolana Fe Niosco Lastrella travelled to Capitol Hill to tell lawmakers about her anguish after losing her daughter, son, son-in-law and granddaughter from a runaway Toyota Lexus in San Diego in August 2009.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held hearings in February to investigate the mystery of run-away Toyota cars.




Toyota said Lastrella’s loved ones died from a freak accident. But she never relented, insisting Toyota is to blame and through her congressional testimony, provided a human face to the tragedy.

“We now know that the terrifying deaths of this family were not caused by a freak accident,” Rep. Edolphus Towns (10th district NY) declared.

Toyota Motor president Akio Toyoda apologized to her family.

Just before Christmas, Toyota agreed to pay $10 million to settle the law suit filed by the Lastrella’s and son-in-law Mark Saylor, a decorated California Highway Patrol officer.

Tani Cantil-Sakauye was one of the big winners in last month’s midterm elections and was sworn in as California’s first Fil-Am and Asian-American to win the post of Supreme Court Chief Justice.

Before being nominated by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, she was an Associate Justice of the California 3rd District Court of Appeal.

She was born and grew up is Sacramento, CA.




After graduating with a baccalaureate degree from the University of California at Davis, she took a year off to live in the Philippines, returning in 1981 to enter law school.

Her Filipina mother and Filipino-Portuguese father came to America to work in Hawaii’s sugar and pineapple plantations until they relocated to Sacramento.

She is married to police lieutanent Mark Sakauye and is active in Fil-Am and Asian-American activities. She was named Sacramento’s Filipina of the Year in 2003.

Closer to home, Kriselda “Kris” Valderrama won a 2nd term as one of three representatives in the 26th district of the Maryland House of Delegates.

The district encompasses one of the fastest growing areas of Prince George’s County, including the Fil-Am enclaves in Fort Washington and Oxon Hill, where she grew up.



“The Filipino-American vote is very significant in the district. We definitely have an effect on the outcome of elections,” she told us in a pre-election interview.

She is the daughter of former Maryland Delegate David Valderrama, who was the first Fil-Am to be elected in a mainland US state legislature about two decades ago.

With a BS Respiratory Therapy degree from Salisbury State University, Valderrama also works with the 1.4 million-strong American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) where she specialized in child care, home care and health care organizing.

In August, President Obama appointed Fil-Am Ma. Elizabeth “Maribeth” Raffinan as Associate Justice of the Superior Court of Washington DC.

“Throughout her career, Maribeth Raffinan has shown a commitment to justice and public service,” President Obama said in a statement.

She is the daughter of Drs. Jun and Maria Raffinan, a couple well-known in Tampa, Florida for their community and charity work.

Another Pinay who made a splash in 2010 was Jessica Cox, the armless inspiration who we met at the 20th anniversary celebration of the landmark American with Disabilities Act held in the White House last July.

Cox is a licensed sports pilot. President Obama thanked the 27-year-old Fil-Am for serving as an inspiration for about 54 million Americans who suffer from some form of disability.

She drives her own car. In school, she was a swimmer, gymnast, tap dancer and even earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.




She was born to Filipina mother Inez Cox and American father William Cox, a retired teacher.

She writes in her blog, “It is her unrepentant regard for herself a whole person, her high degree of self-acceptance that gives her the freedom and power to insist that society accept her too, just as she is.”

Cox travels around the world as an inspirational speaker, where her mere presence is enough to challenge audiences to greater heights.

Gloria Steele became the first Fil-Am to be appointed country director of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in the Philippines.




Before her new assignment, she was Senior Deputy Administrator of the USAID’s Global Health Bureau.

She was born and grew up in the Philippines, earning her Business Administration degree at Maryknoll College in Quezon City, and worked in 1974-80 as a consultant at the Marcos-era Ministry of Agriculture.

When President Obama appointed Hector Vargas Jr. and Rozita Villanueva Lee as members of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Lee told us that was an opportunity for the Fil-Am community to raise their most pressing concerns to the President’s attention.

Lee was born in Maui, Hawaii but traces her roots directly to San Manuel, Pangasinan.




She eventually settled in Las Vegas, Nevada with her late husband Dr. Clifford Lee, where she became a tireless advocate of Fil-Am issues, including the decades-old struggle for Filipino World War II veterans rights.

She is National Vice Chair of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) and has been named as among the 100 most influential Filipinas in the US by the Filipina Women’s Network..

A former broadcaster and producer, Lee has made it a virtual crusade for Fil-Ams to become more politically active and make their presence felt in America.

Friday, December 24, 2010

COUNTING DOWN PINOYS' TOP 12 NEWSMAKERS

As the curtain starts to fall on 2010, we look back at the momentous events that made us proud; that made us laugh and made us weep.

They are capsules of time filled with heroes and villains, celebrations and tragedies, success and failures. They are mostly tied by the common thread of Filipinos taking destiny in their hands, and carving their niche in history.

We’ve counted down the top 12 newsmakers of 2010 that have left their mark with Filipinos in the Metro DC region and across the world.

12. Supreme Court acquits Vizconde Massacre suspects (December). The Supreme Court ordered the release of Hubert Webb and six other suspects from the National Bilibid Prisons, saying they were convicted with weak evidence.

“The prosecution filed to prove beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of the accused,” the high tribunal said. They were earlier found guilty by a Paranaque court – a verdict affirmed by the Court of Appeal – for the murders of Estrellita Vizconde, 47, and daughters Carmela, 18 and Jennifer, 7, in June 1991.

Once described the “trial of the century” the acquittal has fueled public distrust of the Philippine justice system – why it took 15 years for the Supreme Court to resolve the case; and why the suspects were convicted if the evidence was insufficient?

Following the furor, the Justice Department is reinvestigating the case but concede they can’t touch Webb and his co-accused under the principles of double jeopardy.




11. US Congress votes more funds for Filipino veterans (June). Lawmakers approve the use of $67 million from Department of Veterans Administration (DVA) savings to replenish the $198 million Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund.

It provides for a one-time, lump-sum payment of $9,000 for Filipino World War II veterans in the Philippines and $15,000 for those living in the US.

The original sum was computed in the belief there were only 18,000 surviving veterans; as of October 1, the DVA reported that it has paid out $207 million, with 2,800 veterans claims still pending.

10. Charice makes it to Glee (June). The 18-year-old singing sensation was cast as “Sunshine Corazon” in Glee, Fox’s top-rating musical show. The diminutive singing sensation is clearly on a roll – her debut album “Pyramid” certified a “gold album”.



Last May, she appeared with Justin Bieber in the Oprah Winfrey Show. Charice’s expected to reprise her role in Glee’s 2011 season. According to reports, Charice will be launching her own line of perfumes in January.

9. Senate votes down DREAM Act (December). After hurdling the House of Representatives, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act – better known as the DREAM Act – met a brick wall from Senate Republicans.

President Obama said it was his “biggest disappointment” in an otherwise prodigious lame-duck session.

Hundreds of young undocumented Filipino students would have benefitted from its passage, according to the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA).

“Although we fell short of the required number of votes in the Senate, the fight for justice will continue,” said NaFFAA legislative director Jerry Clarito.

8. Snowmaggedon (February). It’s a word thrown into popular lexicon by President Obama to describe the blizzard that shut down the nation’s capital for three days.




It was actually preceded by another storm, a “Nor’easter” just days earlier, producing a double whammy that dumped up to 6 feet of snow in some areas (75 inches at Dulles Airport).

A week later, many roads were still impassable and it took as long to restore power to many areas of Northern Virginia, DC and Maryland.

7. “Lola” throws “apo” to her death (November). What triggered Fairfax, VA resident Carmela dela Rosa, 50, to throw her 2-year-old granddaughter Angelyn Ondoc from a 5-storey walkway at Tysons Corner is still unclear.



From most accounts, Dela Rosa doted on her 1st grandchild. But her court-appointed lawyer revealed that she was also struggling with depression, apparently so severe that she once had to be rushed by ambulance from her home, but left largely untreated.

She is being held without bail on murder charges and is set to appear in court January 4.

6. Pinoy nurses protest hospitals’ English-only rule (June). Filipino nurses Hacelle Natano, Corina Capunitan-Yap and Anna Rowena Rosales, and Fil-Am staffer Jazziel Granada are suing the Bon Secours Hospital in Baltimore after they were fired last April for speaking Tagalog during a snack break.

Months later, a larger group of 52 Filipino nurses sued Delano Regional Medical Center in California for pressuring them to resign allegedly because they spoke English with a Filipino accent.

Both groups charged discrimination, prompting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to launch an investigation.

More hospitals are adopting the English-only rule and these cases could impact the thousands of Filipino nurses in US healthcare institutions.

5. Ex-cop, 8 Hong Kong tourists killed in Luneta hostage drama (August). Dismissed police major Rolando Mendoza took a bus-load of tourists from Hong Kong, and held off Manila policemen for 10 hours in front of historic Quirino Grandstand.

When Mendoza started shooting some hostages, the police mounted a botched rescue seen around the world and roundly criticized by the public.




The incident strained relations with China, prompting the government to launch an investigation led by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. The probe body blamed the Manila police chief, the Mayor and Vice Mayor of Manila, the lone hostage negotiator and many others, including reporters and broadcast stations that aired events live, which Mendoza apparently watched during the crucial moments of negotiations for his surrender.

4. Filipino teachers win $1.8-M suit in Louisiana (April). About 200 Filipino teachers in Baton Rouge county won a suit against a California-based recruiter who collected thousands of dollars in illegal fees and holding them in virtual servitude.



Administrative Judge Shelley Dick also said Fil-Am recruiter Lourdes Navarro of Universal Placement International (UPI) was not licensed to conduct business in Louisiana.

At least two of the victims in Caddo Parish are waiting for resolution of a similar complaint from Metro DC. In all, some 360 Filipino teachers were allegedly victimized by UPI.

In July, the DC-based American Federation of Teachers gave the teachers its coveted Democracy Award for courageously standing against UPI.

3. Filipino WWII veterans, widows sue gov’t for exclusion in lump sum benefits (June & October). Two separate law suits were filed in California claiming the federal government discriminated against some Filipino veterans, widows and their dependents after thousands of applications for the $198 million Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund (FVEC) were rejected because their names couldn’t be found in the official US Army roster, the so-called Missouri List.



The law establishing the fund also excluded widows and dependents of veterans who have died but otherwise could have qualified to receive the payments.

The fund sets aside $15,000 for veterans in the US and $9,000 for those in the Philippines.

2. Pacquiao pummels Margarito enroute to record 8th title (November). Pound for pound king Manny Pacquiao outclassed a bigger, heavier Antonio Margarito enroute to winning his 8th world title in as many weight categories at the Cowboys Stadium in Texas.

The man Filipinos dubbed “the people’s champion” improved his record to 52-3-2, 38 of them by knock-outs.

Perhaps more significant, the victory unleashed a sea of euphoria among Filipinos all over the world, and reinforced Pacquiao’s standing as one of the greatest boxers of all time. Based on his fight purse, he is considered today’s top boxing draw.



In recognition of his achievements, he was given the Philippine Congress’ top award. He said he will devote the time before his next bout serving as congressman of Sarangani. His priority – building the province’s first national hospital.

He is scheduled to face Shane Mosley for the WBO Welterweight title in Las Vegas in May.

1. Noynoy Aquino wins landslide in PH’s 1st automated polls (May). Millions of Filipino voters all over the world gave Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III – the only son of democracy icons Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino and former President Corazon “Cory” – a clear mandate in largely peaceful elections.









Filipino-Americans mounted a spirited campaign for the former senator, who was not even recognized as a contender until his mother passed away from cancer – the ensuing grief quickly transforming into a protest against the unpopular and scandal-ridden President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

It was also the country’s first automated elections. It was preceded by widespread fears that Mrs. Arroyo would try to derail or tamper with the polls.

The White House and State Secretary Hillary Clinton reportedly sent signals warning against any tampering of the elections.

Filipino voters came in droves to school precints and most results were known within hours instead of the days they usually took counting votes manually. The outcome was quickly embraced by the electorate, aided in part by the relatively quick concession of Aquino rivals.

The election was as much a victory of President Aquino as it was of the Filipino people who placed their trust on a democratic, peaceful transition of power.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

MRS ASIA-USA TO WORK FOR PINOY CHILDREN, MIGRANT WORKERS

Mrs. Asia-USA Janet Pichon Hixson will add her voice in the cause of Filipino migrant rights, in addition to her other advocacies.

Hixson became the first Filipina to win the title at the Mrs. Asia-USA pageant in La Miranda, CA last August.



She visited Washington DC to pursue her commitment to draw attention to the plight of migrant Filipino workers who’ve been victimized by illegal recruiters or abusive employers.

With husband Richard and their two children in tow, they joined the Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC) Christmas party at the St. Michael the Archangel church in Silver Spring, MD.




They later called on Ambassador Willy Gaa and she briefed him on another of her concerns, as newly appointed Director of Lead a Life Foundation’s Regional Carolinas Office.

Janet explained the foundation aims to support the growth of children by providing them with access to good parenting, food, education and health care.

She plans to introduce the foundation in Davao City this March, where they will donate a scholarship to the Miss Davao City beauty pageant and launch a school supplies donation campaign for city schools.




She also champions the Street Foundation that is dedicated to providing skills for impoverished Filipino children.

Janet immigrated to America in 1999. Janet’s parents are Edgar and Elma Pichon of Davao City.

At the Mrs. Asia-USA pageant, Janet bested 12 other finalists from Cambodia, China, India and Vietnam.

The pageant aims to showcase Asian beauty and talent, and heighten awareness of the many contributions of Asians in the US.

The Hixsons live in Charlotte, NC where Janet splits her time as a housewife and home-maker, and a dental science student.

WHY NOT AN IMPUNITY COMMISSION?

Instead of a Truth Commission, why not an Impunity Commission?

The Supreme Court shot down President Noynoy Aquino’s Proclamation 1 setting up the Truth Commission because it ostensibly violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

It was illegal, the court said, for the present administration to go after the sins of its predecessor exclusively.

If this was the bone magistrates chose to pick, the President’s men argued, they can revise Proclamation 1 and empower the Commission to look at top-level malfeasance all the way back to Emilio Aguinaldo’s revolutionary republic.

That raises some questions about the purpose of a Truth Commission. Is it really after the truth? Without prosecutorial or punitive powers, what will it do with its findings?

Instead of linearly extending the powers of the Truth Commission, why not spatially enlarge it to encompass the vital issues affecting millions of Filipinos at home and abroad.

Why not a transform the Truth Commission into an independent investigative body to look at the culture of impunity in the country that is the root of many evils, including the administration of former Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and finds ways to avoid repeating our mistakes (mind you, we committed the mistakes, not her...she just worked with a system that was already in place)?

Ultimately, Mrs. Arroyo’s key talent was thriving in the culture of impunity already existing, working it to her advantage and in the process, strengthening it further.

P-Noy can reprise Tita Glo and, assuming his lawyers don’t work like fumbling fools, likely will get away with it, perhaps more.

No, if P-Noy is serious in reforms as he says he is, he must attack the problem at the roots.

“The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption,” the State Department noted, but they were not used effectively leading to “officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity”.

Lawyer Harry Roque, commenting on the Supreme Court acquittal of the Vizconde Massacre suspects and fugitive Senator Ping Lacson, declared “the Philippine justice system is an absolute failure”.

There’s always been a chorus of disgruntled Pinoys who, because they can’t understand why crooks get away, sometimes fall to the temptation of being one themselves. It’s easy enough and everybody’s doing it, even the rich and powerful, their argument goes.

“The law provides for an independent judiciary,” the State Department human rights report said, “however, the judicial system suffered from corruption and inefficiency. Personal ties and sometimes bribery resulted in impunity for some wealthy or influential offenders and contributed to widespread skepticism that the judicial process could ensure due process and equal justice.”

An impunity commission will not overlap with the constitutionally mandated graft agencies like the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) whose job is to recover ill-gotten wealth; or the Ombudsman, mandated to prosecute erring state officials.

An impunity commission – similar to the one in Guatemala – can investigate, gather evidence and recommend the filing of cases or propose legislation to address the problem of impunity in the Philippines.

More importantly, it should generate grassroots support to stop impunity by educating the public, ensuring transparency and the full accountability of public officials as well as private individuals and organizations.

Sure, such an impunity commission can delve into GMA’s “Seven Deadly Deals” as outlined by the investigate journal Newsbreak, focusing on how “public funds were wasted and misused”.

Working on the premise set by Dr. Martin Luther King that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, an impunity commission can also look into the murder of journalists, peasant leaders, priests and union organizers – and more importantly, why no one’s been punished for them; continued operation of illegal recruiters preying on overseas-bound Filipino workers; the existence of over a hundred well-armed private armies in the country; why half of Philippine businesses paid bribes to win government contracts or half of lawyers said judges received bribes but only 8% said they reported it, according to separate Social Weather Station surveys.

Forget Hubert Webb, General Garcia or Senator Lacson for a while.

Why has the Ombudsman done nothing to prosecute 44 cases of extrajudicial killings blamed on soldiers and policemen since 2006 even after the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions pointed this out?

Whatever happened to officials of PEA executives, who according to a 1998 Senate investigation, pocketed P1.7 billion in “commissions” in exchange for approving a deal for the Italian-Filipino joint venture Amari to acquire three reclaimed islands in Manila Bay?

Why did 9 out of 10 people prosecuted by the Ombudsman go scot free in the first four months of 2010?

Why do only about a third of Philippines businesses issue receipts and only 11% say they pay the right taxes, based on a 2003 SWS Enterprise survey?

Why is there a dismally low number of cases (938 from 2003-2009 with only 8 convictions as of July 2010) filed for trafficking and illegal recruitment – which victimized about 3,000 Filipinos, mostly women – this year alone, according to the TUCP, and after the Philippines was put in a US Tier 2 watch-list for the 2nd year in a row?

P-Noy really needs to get his act together; otherwise impunity will run roughshod all over his dream of a “tuwid na daan”.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

FORMER ABU SAYYAF NO. 2 MAN SENTENCED TO 23 YEARS BY U-S COURT


United States federal court Judge Richard Roberts sentenced today a top leader of the Abu Sayyaf terror group (ASG) to 23 years in jail for abducting 16 people, including 4 US citizens, in Mindanao in 1995.

Madhatta Asagal Haipe, 48, perhaps better known as Abu Aziz, was meted the prison term after a plea bargain.

He is the first member of the ASG to be convicted by an American court under its international terror statutes.

Haipe admitted leading a 40-man Abu Sayyaf band in kidnapping the vacationing Filipino-Americans and their friends and relatives in Trankini Falls in the resort town of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato on Dec. 27, 1995.

They released three of the female victims to raise the ransom a day later, and the rest of the group was released four days later after Haipe received the P1.5 million in ransom.

Haipe was arrested in Malaysia in June 2006 and extradited to the Philippines in May 2009. He was then extradited to the US in August 2009 to face a 2000 federal indictment for the abduction of US citizens.

He did not contest his extradition to America.

Haipe was reportedly one of nine “charter members” of the Al-Harakat Al-Islamiyah, also known as the Abu Sayyaf Group. He was the 2nd highest leader as the ASG Secretary General and also acted as its treasurer.

He occupied a position next only to Abdurajak Janjalani who formed the ASG after fighting with the mujahedeen in Afghanistan, where he reportedly got millions of dollars from Al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden.

Before helping form the ASG in 1991, Haipe was a professor of Islamic Studies at the Mindanao State University.

A Philippine intelligence official who accompanied the Filipino victims here said Haipe and Janjalani met in Sulu through Radullan Sahiron, another top ASG commander.

Thirteen of his 16 victims flew in from the Bay Area in California and the Philippines and made a highly emotional plea to Judge Roberts to mete the maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

“Fifteen years ago in the southern Philippines, the Abu Sayyaf’s second-in-comman threatened the lives of 16 innocent men, women and children,” said US Attorney Ronald Machen Jr.

“It was incredibly gratifying that so many of those victims were able to stand today in an American courtroom and watch the terrorist who held them hostage sent to prison for his crimes,” he declared.

The victims were shielded from the press by US Marshalls. Only the US nationals were identified by name in court; the Filipinos were identified only by initials of their names for security reasons.

They told us that they feared reprisals from the ASG. The Filipino victims live in areas where the ASG is known to operate; some of the Fil-Ams said they still go back to the Philippines regularly for missionary and aid work.

One the victims told this reporter the ASG even had the audacity to see him weeks after his release to ask for an article for a video camera the kidnappers took from one of his fellow kidnap victims.

One by one, they addressed Haipe and told him about the long-term psychological damage inflicted on them and their families.

Many of the victims underwent extensive treatment – some say they are still under medication – to overcome the trauma they suffered.

“I was afraid to look at you but I did because I was thinking of a day like today when I can testify against you,” said one victim.

Another victim, who was only 11 at the time the abduction, angrily told Haipe that she still has nightmares and the “4 days of terror will take me a lifetime to undo”.

“If I should have to live with it (the trauma) the rest of my life, then you should too,” another victim told Haipe.

Haipe responded to each victim with a nod.

Before Judge Roberts gave his sentence, Haipe was allowed to speak on his behalf.

He apologized to the victims and said the ASG’s kidnapping campaign was “morally wrong and tactically counter-productive”.

Haipe told the court he left the ASG in 1997 and tried to start a new life in Malaysia.

He pointed out that he’s been in one jail or another in Malaysia, the Philippines and the US for over three years and asked that that be counted in any prison term he may get.

The prosecution was handled by Asst. US Attorneys Gregg Maisel and Anthony Asuncion who happened to be also a Fil-Am.

Maisel told the court the conviction sent a clear message that the US will pursue anyone or any group that abducts its citizens wherever it may happen and no matter how long it takes.

In addition to his 23-year prison term, Judge Roberts ordered Haipe to spend 5 more years of supervised release and will be deported back to the Philippines.

Monday, December 13, 2010

LAWYER ASKS: "PRESIDENT'S MEN" CODDLING LACSON?


Virginia-based lawyer Arnedo Valera believes people close to President Aquino are protecting fugitive Senator Panfilo Lacson to pay a political debt for the latter’s support in the last presidential campaign.

“They can refute what I’m saying pero nakikita ko mas mataas ang pag-coddle kay Senator Lacson,” he declared.

Valera is counsel for former police colonel Cesar Mancao, the principal witness against Lacson in the murders of public relations practitioner Bubby Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito in 2000.

Returning recently from a Manila visit, Valera said he sensed that the President’s political allies, including some who’ve been given or about to be given sensitive positions in government, don’t want to see Lacson behind bars.

“I feel may mga political favors siya na most likely malaki ang naitulong ni Senator Lacson,” he added.

It’s no secret that Lacson campaigned for the President, he pointed out.

But just how high or how far the President’s men are willing to go to spare the Cavite lawmaker is open to question.

“Hindi yan maganda kasi napakalaki ng credibility ni President Aquino, hindi lang sa Philippines kundi sa international community and can you imagine in your first 100 days sa pagluklok mo, isyu na kaagad ng double standard of justice,” Valera asked.

“Malinaw na all they have to do is enforce the warrant,” he stressed.

“Hindi siya (President Aquino) puwedeng maghugas kamay,” Valera told this writer.

Department of Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III was quoted Dec. 9 on GMANews.TV as saying “There are some former and incumbent politicians na baka pinoprotektahan si Senator Lacson”. He did not elaborate.

NBI spokesman Cecilio Zamora was also quoted as saying, “If we arrest the senator and we’ll be able to know his protectors, the latter will also be charged.”

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte denied the Palace was soft on Lacson.

The President has already said he will not comment on Sen. Lacson.

Valera reiterated his call for Lacson to surrender and submit himself to the justice system, saying that if the solon feared being railroaded by former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, he can now expect fair treatment under the Aquino administration.

“Alam mo meron kang favors, may gratitude diyan, dapat hindi siya maging fearful under the new administration. Dapat magkaroon siya ng faith sa justice system under President Aquino kasi meron siya naitulong dun sa election ni President Aquino.

“Yung kinatatakutan niya nuong una na hindi siya mabibigyan ng tamang araw at due process, this is it, eto na yun so dapat mas malakas ang loob niya,” Valera averred.

Sen. Lacson had issued a statement that he would prefer to die than go to jail.

Valera believes the solon is buying time for his allies to win an order to reinvestigate the case, even after the Court of Appeals junked Lacson’s petition for an injunction, which paves the way for Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 18 to hear the double murder case and enforce the warrant arrest it issued against the lawmaker.

He said they were heartened by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s commitment to reject a reinvestigation, and called on Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo, who backs a reinvestigation, to back off.

“We’re not saying pagbibigyan yang debt of gratitude but this is a test of political will for the present dispensation,” Valera said.

FIL-AM COUPLE SENTENCED TO PRISON FOR ENSLAVING 39 OFWs IN FLORIDA

A Fil-Am couple in Florida were meted long prison sentences for conspiring to hold 39 overseas Filipino workers to work in virtual slavery in country clubs and hotels in Southeast Florida, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in a statement released today.

Excerpts:

“Sophia Manuel and Alfonso Baldonado Jr., owners of Quality Staffing Services Corporation, a labor contracting service, were sentenced Friday in West Palm Beach for conspiring to hold approximately 39 Filipino nations in forced service.

“Manuel was also sentenced for making false statements on an application she filed with the US Department of Labor to obtain foreign labor certifications and visas under the federal H2B guest worker program.

“Manuel was sentenced to 78 months (6 ½ years) in federal prison and Baldonado to 51 months (4 years & 3 months) in prison.

“Manuel and Baldonado previously pleaded guilty to conspiring to obtain a cheap, compliant and readily available labor pool by making false promises to entice the victims to incur debts to pay up-front recruitment fees.

“Defendants then compelled the victims’ labor and services through threats to have the workers arrested and deported, knowing the workers faced serious economic harm and possible incarceration for nonpayment of debts in the Philippines.

“’Human traffickers target vulnerable victims, including minors, who desire a better life and end up being lured into a situation where they are deprived of their basic human rights, ‘ said ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Director John Morton.

’These deplorable conditions will not be tolerated in this country and ICE will continue its commitment to rescue victims of this form of modern day slavery and arrest the traffickers that exploit them.

“’These defendants exploited vulnerable individuals for their own financial gain, depriving the victims of their civil rights’, said Thomas Perez, assistant attorney generation for the Civil Rights Division.

“’The Department of Justice will continue to vigorously prosecute cases of forced labor where victims have been robbed of their freedom and dignity.’

“US Attorney Wilfredo Ferrer stated, ‘Today’s sentencing reminds us that America remains a land of freedom and opportunity for immigrants, not servitude and fear. Forced labor is illegal and we will enforce the laws that protect our immigrant communities from abuse.”

This conviction can be a legal precedent for other pending cases of labor abuse and exploitation, including those involving scores of Filipino teachers in Louisiana and more recently, Filipino workers who fled jobs in Mississippi after they were exploited by their recruiters and employers -- these could be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

More on this when we discuss in this blog the proposed enactment of a Magna Carta for Overseas Filipino Workers.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

FRANK REDONDO, PIONEERING PINOY ILLUSTRATOR SUCCUMBS TO CANCER


Frank Redondo was one of the pioneering Filipino illustrators who penetrated the American comics scene in the 1970s. He passed away this afternoon at age 68.



(At left, Frank Redondo)



He was the last of the Redondo brothers who made their mark as world-class illustrators and helped blaze a trail for hundreds of Filipino artists now employed by the cartoon and animation outsourcing industry.

“Hilig na niya talaga mag-drawing,” recounts his widow Aurora.

“He was a runner for his brother so I think it was inevitable he would take up the pen as well,” she explained.



Frank was drawn into the trade by his older brother Nestor who was an illustrator for Liwayway and Bulaklak, two competing Tagalog magazines that featured serialized comics.

Their family hails from Candon, Ilocos Sur and Tuguegarao, Cagayan.

It turns out I shared some threads with Frank.

I just learned Frank’s brother was also a colleague in my days as a reporter for the Philippine Star.

Dando Redondo was a tabloid reporter and longtime member of the Defense Press Corps (DPC), and we would often pound our stories side-by-side on those old manual typewriters

Frank also drew many of the “Sgt. Rock” comics that I grew up with, a constant companion while following “Combat” when TV shows were still in black and white.

Through his elder brothers, he got a chance to work as a penciller and inker for DC Comics.



Aside from “Sgt. Rock”, Frank also worked on hundreds of editions of “Ghosts”, “Ragman”, “House of Mystery” and “Witching Hour”, among others. His name is enshrined in the roster of DC Comics artists.

“He was being paid in dollars,” Aurora says about those early days drawing for DC Comics in Manila, which perhaps prompted them to go on an "adventure" settling in Virginia in the early 90s.

“We wanted to see how it feels like living in America because everybody was saying how nice it was here,” she explained.

His brothers Nestor and Virgil had earlier immigrated to California.

After they arrived in the US, Aurora would rib Frank’s use of his nickname. “Tawag ko sa kanya Kiko. Biro ko, nandito ka lang sa America, Frank ka na,” she recounts affectionately.

Frank would sometimes sign his works “Quico”, a humorous retort to her teasing.

His sense of humor was one of his most endearing traits, Aurora said.

Frank had earlier suffered from congestive heart failure and aneurysm, she revealed.

He may have been in frail health but he didn’t show it. He was cracking jokes as usual at last month’s 20th anniversary celebration of Manila Mail, where he helped with advertising sales.

Aurora said he checked into the Inova Hospital in Alexandria last Thursday but they were surprised to learn he had advanced lung cancer, succumbing to the killer disease within days.

It was his wish, Aurora says, for his body to be brought home to the Philippines to be buried next to his brothers and mother.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

R-P GROUP TO BENEFIT FROM CORRUPTION SETTLEMENT WITH WORLD BANK


German conglomerate Siemens AG will give the Makati Business Club close to P50 million to start up anti-corruption programs in the Philippines.

The amount is part of a $100 million fund created by Siemens to settle a corruption case with the World Bank after it was found bribing officials in Africa.

The World Bank-Siemens comprehensive settlement was signed in July last year.

An initial tranche of $40 million will be distributed to more than 20 countries, including the Philippines, and will fund 30 anti-corruption projects.

About 300 nonprofit organizations from 66 countries applied for the funding.

The Makati Business Club is a private nonprofit established in 1981 and now has over 800 members belonging to the top 400 corporations in the Philippines.

A source in the World Bank said the MBC will get about P50 million from the Siemens fund.

“Together with the World Bank Group, we want to promote integrity and fair competition worldwide,” Peter Solmssen, a board member and Siemens general counsel said.

“We welcome the company’s initiative and clear commitment to the principle that only clean business is good, sustainable business,” responded World Bank Integrity Vice President Leonard McCarthy.

“Together with the World Bank, we want to promote integrity and fair competition worldwide,” Solmssen added.

“Corruption steals from the poor and it can only be tackled on a joint basis,” McCarthy said, “the projects of the Siemens Integrity Initiative will help strengthen the will to combat corruption worldwide and improve conditions for everyone.”

Part of the money will also go the Vienna-based International Anti-Corruption Academy that will train anti-corruption experts from around the world.

Aside from the Philippines, the fund will also finance projects in Angola, Brazil, China, Egypt, Hungary India, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, the Slovak Republic, South Africa, the Czech Republic, the United States, Vietnam and various Middle East nations, the Siemens statement read.

World Bank president Robert Zoellick underlined the need to confront transnational corruption in this week’s International Corruption Hunters Alliance meeting in Washington DC.

The World Bank has signed agreements with four regional multilateral development banks to ban companies and individuals from winning contracts funded by these institutions.

“The agreement sends a clear message: cheat and steal from one of us, and you will be punished by all,” he declared.

Over a thousand corrupt entities have been banned in the last decade, Zoellick disclosed.

At least nine of these are Filipino nationals or companies.

As part of the settlement with Siemens, the World Bank will be allowed to audit the use of the money and can veto the selection by Siemens of anti-corruption groups receiving funds.

The Bank explained this is aimed at achieving a balance in the regional distribution of funds.

This is the largest settlement of its kind yet and sets a precedent for other erring multinationals.

“Siemens is now setting a global example,” said Theo Waigel, the company’s Independent Compliance monitor.

Siemens had admitted past misconduct in its global business.

Zoellick added the World Bank was joining hands with the United Nations to launch the Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative (StAR) to help developing nations recover looted funds.

He explained StAR helps countries file international mutual legal assistance requests; implement effective confiscation measures including confiscation legislation where there is proof of criminal activity even without an actual conviction; strengthening anti-corruption agencies; form quick response teams to help investigate cases; and monitor recovered funds if requested.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A TASTE OF HOME FROM PASKONG PINOY



Tiny parol lights beckoned from the 2nd floor window panes as favorite Pinoy carols drifted from the Pryzbyla University Center of the Catholic University of America campus in Washington DC – ushering what Paskong Pinoy organizers declared the season of unity and compassion for Filipino-Americans in the region.





The wind chill sent the mercury falling but it didn’t stop Fil-Ams from joining the festivities.

“This is the biggest Christmas gathering for Fil-Ams in our area,” explained Bobby Tamayo.






















Much of the legwork – including teens shivering in the cold holding signs directing people to the Christmas concert – was done by young students belonging to the Filipino Organization of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).



The Paskong Pinoy, virtually a Fil-Am institution in the Metro DC area, is a yearly project of the Philippine American Foundation for Charities (PAFC) and the Philippine Embassy.

They are supported by groups like the Catholic University of America, Tau Gamma Phi and the Alpha Phi Omega alumni association in Washington DC (APODCAA).

Ambassador Willy Gaa said Paskong Pinoy was a way to keep Pinoys in the American capital region connected with their roots, as well as keep the “Old Country” traditions alive for succeeding generations.



Some American students watched the show to learn a little more about their Fil-Am classmates.

Ambassador Constancio Pinto of East Timor, the only other predominantly Christian nation in the Western Pacific aside from the Philippines, brought his son to the show.




A total of 11 artists and groups performed in this year’s Paskong Pinoy – from soloists Ernest Zalamea, an opera performance sophomore in CUA, and Elisabeth Carlton of Richmond to a children and teens vocal and dance ensemble that easily stole the show by gamely finishing their rendition of Pasko na Naman even after the canned musical accompaniment conked out.





“Isn’t it the case that our children do what their parents wanted to do but didn’t get a chance,” Dr. Jun Quion asked, as he and wife Nathalie, also a physician, beamed after the performance of the Quion Quintet.

All their children – Justin Michael, Alexander Philip, Christopher James, Patrick Anthony and Katherine Michelle, ages 10-17 – performed a cut from Tchaikovksy’s Nutcracker Suite on violin and cello.

The Filipino Ministry Choir of St. Columba sang Simbang Gabi while the Young Adults Choir of St. Columba did their version of Light of a Million Mornings and the Jingle Bells Calypso.



The Medical Mission of Mercy USA Choral Group sang a medley of Namamasko, Kami Po’y Paskuhan and Noche Buena.

Members belong to the Philippine-American Medical Mission of Washington DC that conduct yearly free medical work in the Philippines at their own expense.

Not to be outdone, the Filipino Teachers Choir, composed of Filipino educators in Prince George’s County and the Washington DC school districts, delivered their version of You Raise Me Up and Pastol, Pastol Gumising.

The Showpow rendered their version of Carol of the Bells and Season of Love. The group spun out of YO-YO Inc. and is made up mostly of 2nd and 3rd generation Fil-Ams who say they're bound by a common passion to preserve Philippine culture through the performing arts.



The Northern Virginia Rondalla, which opened the show, has been a fixture in Paskong Pinoy since 2005.

Although it originated in medieval Spain, the Philippine rondalla is considered unique partly because of the use of locally crafted stringed instruments like the shorter-necked Philippine bandurria.



The Tanghalang Pilipino and Friends Angklung Ensemble performed Himig Pasko, Pasko na Sinto Ko and Kling, Kling, Kling through a combination of song and playing the angklung, a bamboo-based instrument indigenous to Southeast Asia.

The Tanghalang Pilipino was formed in 1984, performing to mainstream audiences to pursue their goal to pass along the rich Filipino heritage to future generations.

Friday, December 3, 2010

NEW R-P ENVOY TO WASHINGTON THIS MONTH?



Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said President Aquino could name a new envoy to the United States before the end of the month.

“Washington is one of the premier posts,” he explained, adding that there were many vying for the position.

“We have filled up the Tokyo post with Manolo Lopez, we have filled up the China post, we have filled up the Spanish so all these will be completed in due time,” Romulo averred.

He added they wanted to finish the appointments before Congress adjourns “so we can have all the wannabes confirmed”.

At least three names have been floated for the Washington DC assignment.

They include former Trade Secretary Juan Santos who was part of the so-called Hyatt 10 that broke away from then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo following the “Hello Garci” scandal.

However, reports suggest he was actually eyeing the top Foreign Affairs post that was given to Romulo, and when he didn’t get it, reportedly took himself out of the running for Washington DC.

Former Finance Secretary Roberto de Ocampo, who very recently visited Washington DC to meet with top diplomats, hasn’t concealed his interest in the position.

He served as chairman of the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) during the administration of then President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino and as finance chief during the administration of former President Fidel V. Ramos.

The third and, according to some accounts, the strongest contender is former Central Bank Governor Jose Cuisia Jr., a top lieutenant of the President’s mother who was also former administrator of the Social Security System (SSS), chairman of Far East Bank and CEO of insurance giant Philam Life.

Ambassador Willy Gaa is only the 2nd career diplomat to win the Washington DC post.



The soft-spoken but hard-working envoy presided over some major gains in PH-US relations – helping win the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation bill that granted lump-sum payments for thousands of elderly World War II veterans here and in the Philippines; the $434 million Compact Agreement with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC); and the continued close security cooperation between the two nations, among others.

Before his US assignment, Gaa was ambassador to Australia in 2002-2003 and to China in 2003-2006. He was then moved to serve as consul general in Los Angeles, California before being appointed ambassador to the US in July 2006.

“There is a term for ambassadors,” Romulo explained.

Gaa has been assigned abroad for over eight years, which is two years longer than the usual length of an ambassador’s tour of duty.

Another reason perhaps why Romulo wants to complete the changes soon is the report Romulo himself may be moving to another post.

He is rumored to take over the constitutional agency Commission on Audit (COA). If that happens, he will likely be replaced by Albert del Rosario, a former ambassador to the US.

But he tried to douse that speculation.

“My future is secure,” Romulo declared, “As a Cabinet member we serve at the pleasure of the President.”

“It’s only when you’re elected (that you’re exempted) so perhaps I’ll run for the Senate. That’s always a possibility,” he said.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

PINOY TEACHERS SURVIVE MARYLAND SCHOOL LAY-OFFS

Filipino teachers in Prince George’s County have largely escaped deep budget cuts that have led to the lay-off of hundreds of teachers and school support staff.

“There has been some cost-cutting, and yes some Filipino teachers were affected but they have been minimal,” explained Dr. Carlo Parapara, president of the Maryland-based Pilipino Educators Network (PEN) and Special Education (SPED) teacher in Upper Marlboro.

PG County has been hiring teachers from the Philippines since 2004. There are now over 600 of them, not counting their family members.

The PEN was formed only last February and swore-in the maiden set of officers three weeks ago.

Parapara explained that PEN aims to be the public voice of Filipino teachers in PG County.



Their objectives include uniting Filipino educators in the county for mutual assistance; help them understand their rights and responsibilities; facilitate professional development; and help promote Philippine culture and traditions.

Parapara said Filipino teachers in PG County are flourishing despite the economic recession.

Grace Genova, an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teacher, concurred with his assessment.

They attributed this to the fact that the vast majority of Filipino teachers have kept their certifications current and performed well in their jobs.

The PG County Board of Education had eliminated hundreds of jobs – 300 of them teaching positions – slashed bus service and expanded class sizes to cope with budget cuts.

The $1.66 billion budget approved at the start of the 2010-2011 school year represented a 2.6 percent reduction from the previous year.

Parapara said they only get to know of a Filipino teacher who’s been laid off or transferred to another school through the grapevine or if the affected mentor goes to them for help.

He explained they arrange for legal advise for those who want them.

Based on that, he said the number of displaced Filipino teachers has been minimal.

He said they are more concerned with the reduction in training opportunities.

This appears to be one of the secrets of Filipino educators in making themselves recession-proof.

“Most of our teachers are pursuing higher studies,” Parapara averred.

Most of them entered the United States on an H-1B visa which is valid for three years and can be extended for another three years.

The first batches of Filipino educators are near the end of the H-1B visa validity but even here, they’re not worried.

Parapara said 95 percent of the Batch 2005 mentors – to which he belongs – have already received their immigrant visa, the so-called green card.

He said he plans to stay five more years in PG County before embarking on a major career move.

The majority of Filipino teachers have expressed the desire to stick it out in PG County although some plan to move “to a less difficult” school, he said.

“There’s a reason they hired teachers from the Philippines,” Parapara explained, “No one here wanted to fill the positions. So, some of our teachers also want to try other schools or even schools in other states.”

But even as they continue to plot their future, Filipino teachers are confident they have found a home in Prince George’s County.

ROMULO NOT WORRIED BY LEAKED CABLES

Honesty is still the best policy – be they in personal dealings or world diplomacy – but nations still need their secrets, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said in response to the leak of thousands of confidential State Department documents in the WikiLeaks website.

“We have been transparent,” he stressed, “what we say to them (the US government) is what we say to our people.”

According to WikiLeaks, a total of 1,796 diplomatic cables out of the more than 251,000 documents posted now or in the weeks ahead emanated from the US Embassy in Manila. Nearly all were sent between January 2005 and February 2010.

WikiLeaks has not yet posted the Manila cables.

“Everybody laments the leaks that happened but since it’s already out there, we have to confront it,” Romulo said.

The DFA chief was in Washington DC to hand-carry a personal letter from President Aquino to key congressional leaders on Capitol Hill.



Last night, he presided over the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the renovated Philippine Chancery along Massachusetts Avenue, just across the Philippine Embassy that now houses the consular section where the new Philippine e-Passports are processed and issued.

Romulo admitted no one from the State Department has reached out to him to give advance warning of what could be in the cables from Manila.

The US already briefed leaders around the world about potentially embarrassing and sensitive information that may become public because of the so-called “cablegate”.

According to the United Kingdom’s The Guardian newspaper, the bulk of the documents from Manila were “unclassified” and only 65 were marked “secret”.

The Philippines has close – some might say, cozy – relations with the US since the Philippines was granted independence in 1946.

However, there were two significant events that seemed to test that relationship during the period 2005-2010 – the crisis spawned by allegations of fraud in the 2004 national elections and the trial and detention of US Marine Cpl. Daniel Smith who was convicted of rape in December 2006.





Smith spent much of his detention – even after his conviction – in US-controlled facilities.

That sparked public indignation and fueled calls for a review, if not the cancellation of the PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

“Both our countries have agreed to the review,” Romulo said, suggesting that the 11-year-old agreement may have become outdated because of intervening events not only in the Philippines but across the world.

But he signaled they were not ready to scrap the VFA outright. “A review is a review,” the DFA chief averred, conceding that the issue of who should get custody of erring US servicemen will be one of the topics on the agenda.

Romulo indicated he was not especially worried about what could be in the cables.

“In my case, what I say to them and what I say in public is the same,” he averred.

Still, he hastened to add, “there is such a thing as confidentiality in diplomatic relations.”

“Instead of confiding in each other there will be reticence or even constraint,” he explained.

Romulo will be in town for a few more days as he meets with congressional leaders to push for the SAVE Act.

He’s already met with Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye, one of the Philippine’s most avid supporters on Capitol Hill and chairman of the influential appropriations committee.

Inouye, a prime backer of Filipino World War II legislation in Congress, was reportedly smarting from law suits filed against the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) bill that granted lump sum payments to veterans in the US and Philippines, but what some groups say fell short of granting full recognition and benefits to Filipino veterans, including their widows and children.

“He knows; he’s been in politics for a long time,” Romulo explained.

President Aquino has personally invited Inouye to revisit the Philippines, something that Romulo said the lawmaker was looking forward to.

Romulo said he will continue to push for the SAVE Act (granting duty-free access for US textiles to the Philippines, and Philippine garments to the US) because “it will be good for both countries because both countries need jobs.”

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

23 YOUNG FIL-AMS CHOSEN FOR 2010 RIZAL AWARDS


What is Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippine national hero, to young Filipino-Americans who grew up here, surrounded by American heroes and the values they extol?

For Jaena Marie Chu, 14, and Hanna Michelle Montoro, 17, he was a man who fought against injustice, raising his people through peaceful protest much like American civil rights heroes Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King.

“They were extraordinary people who did small things, like riding in a bus, which had a big impact on the people around them,” Montoro said of her essay on Rizal and Parks.



Chu and Montoro were part of 23 young Fil-Ams chosen for the 2010 Dr. Jose Rizal Awards.

The Awards is now on its 18th year.

Launched on June 19, 1993 – Rizal’s birthday – it became part of the annual Philippine Festival timed with the celebration of Philippine Independence. It was slowly pushed back to the Fall fit into the Fil-Am community’s busy calendar events.

“You have Rizal’s blood in your veins,” Roberto “Bobby” Tamayo, chairman of the Rizal Awards committee, reminded the awardees.

Joel Vazquez, 16, who goes to Bowie High School in Maryland, said he admires Rizal for the way he fought for equality for Filipinos when they were oppressed.

“I hope that I too will find the courage when that time comes,” he declared.

This year was an impressive crop.




Kelvin Moncera, 18, couldn’t attend the awarding rites (his father Jensen stood in for him) because he was busy tutoring other students at the University of Maryland-College Park, where he is biochemistry freshman. He graduated as class valedictorian at Oxon Hill Science & Technology High School. Kelvin is completing his investigation of the invasive properties of Madin Darby Canine Kidney Cells (MDCK) at the John Hopkins University. He will be UMD’s exchange medical scholar to the University of Kingston in Britain next year



4th grader Jacob Filon of Claremont Immersion School in Arlington, VA won this year’s National Geographic Bee in his school and helped raise over $2,000 for Habitat for Humanity and the Lego Building Block Blitz.

7th grader Bernadette Ferrer of Lake Braddock Middle School in Burke, VA is part of the National Junior Honor Society and volunteers as a piano and violin musician in nursing homes.



The roster of awardees are Katherine & Kayla Argente, daughters of Liezl & Leon Argente of Beltsville, MD; Nariella Fernandez, daughter of Noel & Monica Fernandez of McLean, VA; Eliza Buan, daughter of Paul & Angelina Buan of Bowie, MD; Jacob Filon, son of Peter & Suzanne Solis Filon of Arlington, VA; Mavis Joy & Marc Daniel Manaloto, children of Noli & Manolisa Cornel Manaloto of Fairfax, VA;




Jenelle Virginia & Jaena Marie Chu, daughters of James & Gene Chu of Laurel, MD; Natalia Fernandez, daughter of Noel & Monica Fernandez of Beltsville, MD; Joseph McHenry Cajayon Chavez, son of JM & Tita Chavez of Annandale, VA; Bernadette Ferrer, daughter of Sifrino & Marian Ferrer of Burke, VA; Alfred-Enberg & Krizia Ivana Tan Udquim, children of Jose & Lizette Udquim of Lorton, VA;




Mark & Michael Ramada, sons of Drs. Antonio Ramada & Melinda Sebastian of Annandale, VA; Joel James Vazquez, son of Larry & Cynthia Vazquez of Bowie, MD; Tatiana Lozano, daughter of Butch & Ma. Theresa Lozano of Leesburg, VA; Hanna Michelle Montoro, daughter of Emmanuel & Asuncion Montoro of Woodbridge, VA; Kelvin Jens Moncera, son of Jensen & Gloria Moncera of Fort Washington, MD; Ruth Joy Relador, daughter of Ronaldo & Grace Mary Relador; and Amanda Andrei, daughter of Codin & the late Mercedes Tira Andrei of Leesburg, VA.

Tamayo expressed the hope that the 250 young Fil-Ams who’ve received the award would “continue the legacy of celebrating young talent, and that when your time comes in the future, that you will be here, standing like me, to confer honors upon the young.”

PACQUIAO FOR PRESIDENT?

SOME D-C FIL-AMS ASK, WHY NOT?


Manny Pacquiao’s convincing shellacking of Antonio Margarito and a budding political career in the Philippine Congress have sparked speculations he could become President in the future.

“Oh my gosh!” exclaimed Roberto Tamayo, vice president of the Philippine American Foundation for Charities (PAFC) and chair of the recently concluded 2010 Dr. Jose Rizal Youth Awards, in mocked shock.

He doesn’t think the 8-division boxing champion should run for the presidency.
Talk of a presidential run was fueled in part by Bob Arum, Pacquiao’s promoter, who predicted the boxing icon could be Philippine president soon.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile suggested talks of Pacquiao for President “devalues the presidency”.

“I’m not saying he’s not qualified. Anybody is qualified to be president but I doubt whether he can really handle the job,” he explained.

“Mas okay siya sa local government,” opined Bong Pangilinan, head of the UP Alumni Association in the Metro DC region.

Aiming for the presidency, he said, requires a much broader knowledge of the country.

“He must be in-tune not only with people like him, but other people as well,” he explained.

But Julie Yap Daza, writing in her column “Medium Rare” noted – “We’ve tried everything, mechanic, lawyer, housewife, general, actor, economist – why not a boxer?”



Pacquiao's aunt and Arlington resident "Mommy Lilia" with die-hard fan Patrick Ferraren at a Fil-Am gala in Washington DC last June








At age 32, Pacquiao is still too young even to run for senator (at least 35 years old), much less as president. Under the Philippine Constitution, he will need to be at least 40 to qualify for the top office of the land.

Though he still has a long way to go, Pacquiao’s already got one vote from accountant Patrick Ferraren, an unabashed Pacquiao fan.

“If an actor like Erap Estrada can be president, what more of Pacquiao?” he asked.

“There are a lot of lessons we can learn from him. His definition of boxing is hard work. People with similar talent don’t work as hard and he has a fierce determination to succeed. He has integrity, his work ethic is unequalled, he is a family man and spiritual stalwart and these are the qualities the nation needs,” Ferraren averred.

To say that Pacquiao has a large following in the Metro DC region might be superfluous, but he has personal ties here as well.

His Aunt Lilia, reportedly a sister of his mother Dionesia Dapidran Pacquiao, is an Arlington, Virginia resident.

Ferraren said he started to be a Pacquiao fan after he won his grudge match with Erik Morales in Las Vegas in 2006.

All the talk about a possible presidential run stems in part from Pacquiao’s multi-faceted interests outside the ring.

Aside from being a neophyte politician, he has canned several movies, has at least two platinum music albums, performed to sold-out concerts and is one of the hottest commercial endorsers today.

His next fight won’t come until the summer, according to Pacquiao himself.

In his audience with President Benigno Aquino III, he gushed with joy after receiving the President’s support for what appears to be his pet project as congressman – building Sarangani’s first provincial hospital.

Just as Filipinos welcomed their hero home, Arum started negotiations for Pacquiao’s next fight, meeting with representatives of WBC welterweight champion Andre Berto and Shane Mosley.

Notably absent was mention of champion-in-hiding Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Fil-Ams say they’re not concerned who the “People’s Champ” will fight next, confident he’ll demolish anyone pitted against him.

“He should stand his ground,” declared Pangilinan, “he is not only the Philippine champion, he is the world champion and he should set the ground rules.”

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

GRANDMA CHARGED FOR THROWING TODDLER TO DEATH

Fil-Ams are struggling to come to grips with the tragic death of a 2-year-old girl who was allegedly thrown from a 6-storey walkway by her own grandmother at the Tysons Corner shopping complex Monday evening.

Toddler Angelyn Ogdoc died from injuries she suffered from the fall.

Fairfax, Virginia police arrested her grandmother, Carmela Dela Rosa and is holding her without bail at the County Adult Detention Center. She has been charged with murder.

The Associated Press quoted Fairfax County Police spokeswoman Tawny Wright as saying that Dela Rosa was leaving the mall with the toddler and two other adult relatives when she suddenly picked up Angelyn and threw her over the railing.

The family reportedly has Filipino roots.

The tragedy sent chills up the spine of Northern Virginia residents. It’s drawing wide media attention, partly because of questions about what triggered the tragedy.

The girl’s father, James Ogdoc works at a Starbucks store in Tysons Galleria which is where the family was reportedly coming from crossing the walkway to the garage building.

James is also a student at the George Mason University where he is pursuing a psychology degree.

Co-workers tell us Angelyn would sometimes visit her father at work, and although they know the girl’s mother, they can’t remember seeing the grandmother there.

They described Angelyn as well-behaved and quiet. “She would always smile when she looks at her father,” one co-worker said.

Carmela Dela Rosa lived with her husband and son in a Fairfax home.

Dela Rosa’s neighbor, Russell Jackson described them as a “happy family”.

He often saw Angelyn there (James and his family live in Falls Church) where Carmela reportedly left the window blinds open so Carmela and Angelyn could wave at passersby.

“She would encourage the toddler to throw kisses to her neighbors,” Jackson told the Associated Press.

Some Fil-Ams still find it difficult to believe the reports and appeal to the public to withhold condemnation of the grandmother until the entire facts are established, and a credible answer can be given to that most troubling question – why?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

FILVET WIDOWS PRESS RIGHTS, BACK LAWSUITS


“The lawsuits were borne out of the deep frustration, anger and longing of veterans and families to seek recognition and justice. The US Congress failed to deliver justice and so people have the right to seek the power of the courts to tell Congress to do its job.”

That was the response sent by three veterans groups to this writer’s blog last Nov. 17 that discussed the repercussions of lawsuits filed by Filipino World War II veterans, their widows and supporters on Capitol Hill.

The rejoinder bore the names of Dolly Castillo, Coordinator of the Filipino-American WWII Veterans’ Widows of Washington in Seattle, WA; Maria Galang, President of the Association of Widows, Advocates and Relatives for Equality (AWARE) in San Francisco, CA; and Jovy Alejandrino, Vice President of the Senior Pilipino-Americans for Community Empowerment (SPACE) in Los Angeles, CA.

In our blog, we reported how some key supporters on Capitol Hill, principally Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye, chairman of the influential appropriations committee, were hurt by the lawsuits that appeared to criticize shortcomings in the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) bill which provided a single lump-sum payment for surviving veterans here and in the Philippines.

When we learned about that (from two separate sources), we asked Jon Melegrito, co-chair of the National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE) and communications director of the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations (NaFFAA), whether he too heard about the lawmakers’ sentiments.

There were two lawsuits filed in California last month, he explained.

Melegrito said they supported the suits – principally that filed by San Francisco lawyer Lou Tancinco, a tireless presence in Congress during the veterans lobby – as far as they would compel the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) to accept evidence other than the so-called Missouri List to establish the eligibility of a veteran for the lump sum (over $207 million has been paid out; after the original $198 million budget was expended with thousands more applications to be processed, Senator Inouye quietly got additional money for the Filipino veterans approved in a rider).

According to the DVA, 21,417 applications have been rejected as of October 1, 2010. Hundreds were reportedly turned away because they were not in the Missouri List; some of them joined the lawsuits. The DVA says 2,800 claims were still pending.

But Melegrito expressed concern with the 2nd lawsuit that went further by challenging FVEC provisions.

Here is the rejoinder sent to us (courtesy of Ago Pedalizo):

“For the purpose of educating the public and the politicians in the US and the Philippines including President Benigno Aquino III who promised to “study” the case, we would like to clarify issues, if only to see the merits of lawsuits and how they complement lobby efforts for full recognition and full equity for Filipino WW II veterans, their widows and children:

“The lawsuits were borne out of the deep frustration, anger and longing of veterans and families to seek recognition and justice. The US Congress failed to deliver justice and so people have the right to seek the power of the courts to tell Congress to do its job.

“The FVEC disqualified 21,417 applicants since most of them were not in the 'Missouri List' deemed as 'official' and the only 'legitimate basis' of eligibility.

“Most widows were disqualified, too.

“To make things worse, there was a disparity of lump sum between US citizens and non-US citizens; and that acceptance of lump sum came at a price of waiver of future claims for benefits. Like what one veteran said, ‘The lump sum came too late, too little.’

“But to be more precise, the FVEC was discriminatory, incomplete and unfair. To be “disappointed” over FVEC is an understatement of the sentiment of the Filipino-American community.

“Proponents of lawsuits never made any statements against specific legislators. In fact, many veterans and widows agree that before the FVEC, there were many congressional victories on partial benefits because of the support of people like Sen. Inouye and Reps. Filner and Honda.

“Lawsuits directly complement the lobby efforts in Congress since any favorable decision of the courts further validates demand for full recognition and adds political pressure to act on full equity with a sense of urgency—now that most veterans are on their twilight years.

“The Japanese-American WW II internees sought the power of the courts to advance their right for restitution. They won both in court and in Congress. The Iraq and Afghanistan veterans on the issue of health benefits filed a class lawsuit in court. Why would the Filipino-American veterans not use the same avenue if only to seek justice after 64 years?

“No individual lobbyists, leaders or lawyers can arrogate to themselves a social movement of veterans, widows, students and advocates that dates all the way back in 1984 before forming a lobby group in 1987.

“Long before Melegrito became lobbyist in Capitol Hill, many veterans and advocates were already lobbying either in Congress or in the communities.

“The whole point of seeking full equity is to seek justice not compromise. Non-veteran US legislators upon reaching age 65 deserve full pension for their work and patriotism--without experiencing the trauma of combat, disease and starvation in their lifetime.

“Then why would one denies the same benefits to people who shared the same patriotism in defending this great country?

“A ‘lobbyist’ to be truly a ‘lobbyist’ must not succumb to “compromise” but instead, articulate, defend and advance the rights of the very people that one seeks to represent and lobby for.

“The FVEC abandoned the rights of the deceased veterans as represented by their widows or their children. The law disqualified those who became widows before the enactment of the law, thus depriving families of deceased veterans—many of whom were lobbying for full equity when they were still alive—to claim for benefits.

“Groups like the Association of Widows, Advocates and Relatives for Equality (AWARE), were formed in order to defend and advance the rights of legal heirs. This is also the rationale why there is a need for another lawsuit to be filed that will highlight the right of the widows and orphans as separate category, to claim for full benefits in lieu of deceased veterans. The third lawsuit will be filed in Seattle next year in time for the Martin Luther King Day.

“The fight for full equity is a fight of all Americans.

“In the words of Rep. Jackie Speier- CA-D, ‘We cannot afford to have half-Americans.’ The Filipino WWII veterans are full Americans who defended an American territory. They deserve nothing less than full recognition, full benefits and full equity.”

Just two footnotes: The authors of the widows' statement said they were clarifying their position in honor of Franco Mejia Fernandez, who suffered a stroke after receiving a letter of denial from the DVA. Ironically, he passed away yesterday, Thanksgiving Day. He was 83.

The NaFFAA elected a new set of officers in San Francisco last week, where Melegrito said they vowed to continue supporting comprehensive immigration reform and equity benefits for the spouses and widows of Filipino World War II veterans.

“We are grateful to our champions in Congress, like Sen. Daniel Inouye, Sen. Daniel Akaka, and Rep. Bob Filner for securing the long-awaited official recognition of our veterans and the one-time compensation,” said newly-elected NaFFAA chairman Eduardo Navarra.

“But their widows, and their sons and daughters, also deserve a measure of justice,” he stressed.