Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Even as the roomful of Asian-American community leaders feted his recent victory, Virginia’s new governor Bob McDonnell was sending his own congratulations to the first Asian-American in the Commonwealth’s House of Delegates, Filipino-American Ron Villanueva.

McDonnell is one of the rising stars in the Republican Party.

He was selected to deliver the GOP rebuttal to tonight's State of the Union address of President Obama.

The new governor was formerly Virginia Attorney General, and hails from the Virginia Beach region that has a large Fil-Am community.

Villanueva survived a recount after last November’s canvass showed a 14-vote lead against Democratic rival Bobby Mathieson in the race for the 21st district. That set the stage for a recount.

The recount showed Villanueva actually had a 16-vote lead.

“We’re thrilled that he won,” McDonnell enthused.

“I helped him in the recount, to make sure he had the funds he needed to compete and we’re ecstatic that Ron Villenueva, my old friend from my own home town of Virginia Beach, is the first Filipino American to be elected in the House of Delegates,” he declared.

Villanueva led a spirited campaign to push McDonnell’s candidacy in the large Fil-Am community of Norfolk and Virginia Beach.

A large chunk of the 60,000 Fil-Ams, mostly retired servicemen and US Navy personnel, live in the 21st district.

“Filipinos have been successful in other endeavors as professionals but they really have yet to make a big dent in the political arena. Ron Villanueva is the first and I’m hoping there will be more,” said lawyer Wari Azarcon, one of the founding members of the Filipino American Republicans of Virginia (FARV).

Ed Pabalan, FARV president, said Villanueva’s win was “very big”.

“He’s first the Filipino American to be elected as state delegate in the history of Virginia following the footsteps of Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson. It’s very historical,” Pabalan stressed.

Virginia is about the size of Luzon, Bicol and Samar Island combined; has a population about one-tenth that of the Philippines; but produces about $70 billion more than the total Philippine Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2008.

Next only to New York, Virginia has produced more US Presidents than any other state, including Thomas Jefferson.

Although government statistics show Asian-Americans comprise only about five percent of total population, they are the fastest growing group in some key districts of the Commonwealth.

“I think Asian Americans voted overwhelmingly Republican this time, particularly the Chinese, Korean, Indian and Filipino community but I don’t want to take anything for granted as I continue to talk about small business development,” he explained.

He noted that 70 percent of Virginia’s economy is composed of small, mom-and-pop type businesses.

President Obama won Virginia in 2008, the first Democratic presidential bet to carry the Commonwealth in over 40 years.

“I said during the campaign that I want the road to the resurgence of the Republican party to come through Virginia and New Jersey,” McDonnell told reporters.

The new governor predicted Republicans will fare well in the Fall midterm elections, where 37 governors, 34 senators and 435 congressmen are up for elections.

“I want to say thanks to all my friends in the Filipino American community with their tremendous help. They gave me so many great festivals with lumpia and pancit, and learning a lot of Filipino American traditions,” he said.

“He (Villanueva) will serve well. He’ll do a great job representing Virginia Beach,” he predicted.

“He will have to show the citizenry in Virginia that Filipinos can deliver, that the hopes and aspirations of Filipino Americans are no different from the hopes and aspirations of the rest of the populace,” Azarcon averred.

“If he is successful, and I have no doubt that he will be, that would demonstrate to the rest of Virginia and the rest of the country that Filipinos deserve a big place in the American politics,” Azarcon declared.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Some Fil-Am activists worry that Scott Brown’s Senate race victory in Massachusetts last Tuesday will change the complexion of immigration reforms, just as it’s poised to do for health care reforms.

Brown’s upset win erased the Democrat’s “super majority” in the Senate.

The National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE) said comprehensive immigration reform is the next major legislative battle.

Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez filed last month (with 93 co-sponsors) the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 (CIR-ASAP 09, also known as HR-4321).

CIR-ASAP 09 “includes the Filipino World War II Veterans Family Reunification Bill, which will allow our veterans to petition their adult children in an expedited manner.”

Lawyer Arnedo Valera believes Brown’s victory will make it difficult to pass immigration reforms.

The bill faces opposition from labor (over 15 million Americans are jobless – some say, the real number is 30 million) and national security groups, among others.

It's will get support from the Latino bloc (and groups like the Catholic Church) and employers relying on migrant labor.

President Obama has acknowledged that immigration is a potential minefield. He also said he will push immigration reforms, but not before work to pass health care reforms is finished.

Aside from the provision for Filipino veterans families, CIR-ASAP 09 builds on previously failed bids, for instance, encouraging undocumented aliens who entered the US before Dec. 15,2009 to register in exchange for a future path to residency and citizenship; and expanding protection for illegal immigrants facing deportation, including opportunity to apply for legalization after paying a $500 fine.

The Department of Homeland Security estimates there are 300,000 undocumented Filipino immigrants but Professor Peter Chua wrote in "Ang Ating Kalagayan" the number is closer to one million.


The Filipino-American community in Baltimore raised $1,000 for Haiti relief efforts.

Retired police general Cris Maralit, a spokesman of Katipunan, the largest and oldest Fil-Am organization in Baltimore, said the Haiti earthquake “provided an opportunity to transcend race and share what we have with those in need.”

An estimated 100,000 people, including six Filipinos, perished in the killer quake.

Half the amount was given to the American Red Cross and the other half to Catholic Relief Services.

Katipunan is also holding a “Streetscape of the Philippines” festival on February 28, the day after the much-awaited “As 1” concert of Gary Valenciano and Martin Nievera at the DC Armory in Washington DC.

The “Streetscape of the Philippines” will be held at the American Legion Parkville Post 183, 2301 Putty Hill Avenue, Baltimore.

Belle Owens, Katipunan president, said the festival will feature Philippine street food, dancing, games and a concert by “livePH”, a Baltimore-based Fil-Am band.

Friday, January 22, 2010


The Human Rights Watch 2010 World Report scored both President Obama and State Secretary Hillary Clinton for not raising the problem of extrajudicial killings when they met with President Arroyo last year.

“The United States is the most influential ally....neither she (Clinton) nor Obama pressed Arroyo to address continuing impunity for extrajudicial killings,” the report concluded.

President Arroyo met with both President Obama and Secretary Clinton during a working visit to Washington DC last year.

Mrs. Clinton later visited Manila during a side-trip of the APEC Leaders Summit in Singapore.

“Every government is at times tempted to violate human rights. To encourage governments to resist that temptation, the human rights movement seeks to raise the price of abuse – to shift the cost-benefit calculus behind a government’s action,” said Kenneth Roth in the Introduction of the 2010 World Report.

“Certain abusive governments are engaged in an intense round of attacks on human rights defenders, organizations and institutions. The aim is to silence the messenger, to deflect the pressure, to lessen the cost of committing human rights violations,” Roth added.

The Human Rights Watch report on the Philippines said, “UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions Philip Alston observed that while the government has taken some steps to address extrajudicial killings, it fails to implement needed reforms such as institutionalizing the principle of command responsibility.

“He also noted that the military has not changed its counterinsurgency methods to eliminate the likelihood of unlawful killings.”

The report added, “Optimism over Supreme Court writs to compel military and other government officials to release information on people in their custody was dampened by difficulty in enforcing the writs of amparo and habeas data.”

It cited the cases of Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan where the court failed to enforce the writs.

The report likewise criticized death squads that target petty criminals, drug dealers, gang members and street children.

More than 900 were killed by Davao City death squads since 1998, the report said, but courts “faced obstructions and unnecessary bureaucratic delays”.

Human Rights Watch called attention to the plight of overseas Filipino workers.

“While the Philippine government has made some efforts to support and protect migrant domestic workers, many women continue to experience abuses abroad including unpaid wages, food deprivation, forced confinement in the workplace, and physical and sexual abuse.”


The White House referred the complaint filed on behalf of Fil-Am activist Melissa Roxas to the Department of Justice.

Roxas’ lawyer, Arnedo Valera, Esq., furnished this writer a copy of the letter, signed by Teresa McHenry, chief of the Domestic Security Section, Criminal Division, Department of Justice dated Jan. 19, 2010.

The letter acknowledges receipt of the complaint from the White House.

Roxas accused Philippine security agents of abducting and torturing her during a visit to Tarlac in May 2009.

Roxas, 32, was born in Manila but grew up in the Los Angeles, CA area.

McHenry assured Atty Valera that “we will carefully examine the information that you provided”.

“Pursuing justice against the perpetrators of torture and other acts of violence is a mission of the highest importance for the Department of Justice,” she said.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


A ranking State Department official indicated the United States will continue to play the role of policeman in the Asia Pacific region.

“For the last half century, the United States and its allies in the region – Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia, the Philippines and Thailand – have maintained security and stability in East Asia and the Pacific,” Assistant State Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs on Jan. 21.

“Our alliances remain the bedrock of our engagement in the region, and the Obama administration is committed to strengthening those alliances to address both continuing and emerging challenges.

“The United States, therefore, must maintain a forward-deployed military presence in the region that both reassures friends and reminds others that the United States will remain the ultimate guarantor of regional peace and stability (emphasis mine).

“There should be no mistake: the United States is firm in its resolve to uphold its treaty commitments regarding the defense of its allies,” Campbell said.

“As the Asia-Pacific century emerges, defining the new international environment, the United States must enhance and deepen its strategic engagement and leadership role in the region,” he stressed.

Campbell outlined the various Obama administration initiatives, from ensuring free trade to improved environmental cooperation to promoting human rights.

“We need to ensure that the United States is a resident power and not just a visitor, because what happens in the region has a direct effect on our security and economic well-being.

“Over the course of the next few decades climate change, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and widespread poverty will pose the most significant challenges to the United States and the rest of the region,” Campbell said.

“The United States will continue to speak for those on the margins of society…

“The freedom to speak your mind and choose your leaders, the ability to access information and worship how you please are the basis of stability. We need to let our partners in the region know that we will always stand on the side of those who pursue those rights,” Campbell said.


A Filipino Marine general with a distinguished military pedigree and who once commanded President Arroyo’s guard battalion will take over the United Nations peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights, the Philippine Mission to the United Nations announced last night.

Maj. Gen. Natalio Ecarma III was appointed as the new Force Commander and Head of Mission of the 1,050-man United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights.

The UNDOF enforces a buffer between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights – a strategic region that’s crucial to the defense of both countries. Because of its location and elevation, whoever controls the Heights achieves a big military advantage and is often the first place warring armies fight for.

“The Philippines is honored to have been given the responsibility of helping oversee the peace in that part of the Middle East,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo was quoted as remarking in Manila.

Ecarma replaces Maj. Gen. Wolfgang Jilke of Austria.

The UNDOF is composed of troops from Austria, Canada, Croatia, India, Japan and the Philippines.

Ecarma comes from a family of soldiers, products of the Philippine Military Academy. His grandfather Col. Natalio Ecarma joined the Philippine Constabulary in 1923; his father, Air Force Brig. Gen. Rodolfo Ecarma graduated from PMA in 1954; an uncle, Brig. Gen. Renato Ecarma belongs to PMA Class ’55.

Ecarma himself belongs to PMA Class 81, among the first in his batch to earn star-rank.

He is presently Deputy Commandant of the Philippine Marine Corps and concurrently commander of Marine Forces Southern Philippines.

He helped train and lead the Marines’ first Reconnaissance Battalion – considered the cutting edge of the Philippine military’s special operations forces. Ecarma is largely seen in the military as a “soldier’s soldier”, tough and competent.

He commanded the 3rd Marine Brigade in Mindanao and the Presidential Guards Battalion, the main operating unit of the Presidential Security Group.

He graduated from the Philippine Army Scout Ranger course, Special Forces Operations course, US Ranger course in Fort Benning, GA; a Masters degree in Military Studies from the US Marines school in Quatico, VA; a Masters in National Security Administration; and a PHD from a Taiwanese institution.

Ecarma is also an active proponent of the extreme martial of Pekiti Tirsia, a system developed by Muslim chieftains using local swords or disarming sword-wielding opponents.

The last Filipino to lead a UN force was Maj. Gen. Jaime delos Santos in East Timor. The first Philippine peacekeeping contingent deployed under the UN was in 1963 in Congo.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


The DC-based Heritage Foundation revealed the 16th Index of Economic Freedom that was topped again by Asia -- by perennial leaders Hongkong and Singapore.

The United States fell to 8th place.

The Philippines was ranked 109th freest in the world, a decline of 0.4 points from 2009.

This report was shared by Nick Zahn, Asian Communications Associate of the Heritage Foundation and Director of the Washington Roundtable for the Asia-Pacific Press.

The Philippine index of 56.3 (100 being the best score) lumped it in the “mostly unfree” economies category (the cluster is broken down to “free”, “mostly free”, “moderately free”, “mostly unfree” and “repressed”).

The Philippines was ranked 20th in the high-performing Asian-Pacific region.

Of the 179 countries graded this year, only seven scored 80 or higher, that would place them in the “free” category.

“Our confidence is economic freedom is being tested,” said Edwin Feulner, Heritage Foundation president.

The survey authors said, “Regrettably, attacks on the free market, fueled by the economic slowdown and the political appeal of quick interventionist remedies, gained strong momentum in some countries with far-reaching effects.”

They stressed that economies classified as “free” or “mostly free” do a “much better job promoting human development, reducing poverty and protecting the environment.”

The Philippine scored above the world average in half of the 10 economic freedoms, the index findings showed.

They noted structural reforms to improve the entrepreneurial environment and develop a stronger private sector that generates more robust job growth.

“Overall progress has been mixed but some fiscal reforms have been accomplished,” the authors said.

But they added, “The Philippines is weak in business freedom, investment freedom, property rights and freedom from corruption.”

The report said the perception of corruption is “pervasive”, adding the enforcement of anti-corruption laws is inconsistent.

They noted that the country continued to rely too much on remittances from overseas Filipinos that comprise about 10 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.