Tuesday, August 24, 2010


The tragic hostage drama at the Luneta has triggered plenty of finger-pointing on who should be blamed for its deadly consequences.

From what we’ve read, the search for scapegoats appears to be focusing on the police and media.

University of the Philippines journalism professor Luis Teodoro called the blow-by-blow account of the deadly drama “careless”. There appears to be a growing consensus that media protocols were violated.

Media access – restricted only by the journalist’s own fear of being hit by stray bullets – allowed the broadcasting of sensitive events, especially the arrest of the hostage-taker’s brother, that is now believed to have pushed former police captain Rolando Mendoza to start executing his hostages.

Those media protocols were culled from many years of trial and error in live reporting of breaking news events.

The struggle to strike a balance between what media can report and the real-time concerns of people tasked to manage certain tumultuous events has been ongoing since media developed the capability to report live from the scene.

It appears that equilibrium has been broken again, and now another debate is raging to define the parameters of responsible journalism.

During the December 1989 coup attempt, a dear friend and colleague, Bing Formento of radio station dzRH, earned the ire of military officials who accused him of being a “forward observer” for rebel soldiers.

We were inside Camp Aguinaldo, reporting for the Philippine Star, as it came into range of rebel artillery.

A small group of us decided to take a break in what we thought was the quietest corner of the camp – near the 9th hole of Camp Aguinaldo greens – when a loud explosion and the sight of flying roof materials from just outside the camp wall forced us to retreat to the safety of the Press dug-out at the grandstand.

Bing immediately reported the explosion on air, and then a second explosion.

We didn’t know any better at the time, despite years of covering the military, that we were inadvertently helping the rebels “bracket” their target. They were trying to “zero” their mortars to the General Headquarters building and were using their initial rounds to locate the farthest and nearest points of an ever shrinking circle where they would concentrate their fire.

We were driven at the time by the impulse to tell events as they happen, to warn the public – especially those living near the military headquarters – so they can make correct decisions for their safety and wellbeing. But in retrospect we also couldn’t deny the fact that if rebels troops were indeed listening to Bing’s reports, they were getting the information they needed on a silver platter.

We are reminded of that incident because of the apparently unresolved conflict between the right of media to inform the public and its duty “not to make things worse”.

Bing was hounded out of the defense beat by a military deeply suspicious of his coverage of that coup attempt. He eventually found his way to San Francisco, California where he applied for asylum. He has since gone home and resumed his duties with dzRH.

Most of this is driven by the competitive pressure of a 24-hour news cycle. There are few opportunities for introspection when events are spinning out of control like what appears to have occurred in the last 90 minutes or so of the hostage crisis.

This is certainly not unique or peculiar to Philippine media.

But the fact that government, particularly the Manila local government and police, managed the situation so poorly appears to only aggravate that basic limitation of media.

Lord Reith, the first chairman of British Broadcasting (BBC), said that “He who prides himself on giving what he thinks the people want is creating a fictitious demand for lower standards, which he will then satisfy”.

The Philippine National Police has admitted to serious lapses in the botched police rescue. Watching the ABS-CBN News Channel from the comfort of our living room in Virginia, we’re heartened to see the media has begun its own self-examination. These two pillars of public service are certainly in search of a lot of questions and answers.

Monday, August 23, 2010


With American forces pulling out from Iraq, many immigrant soldiers are coming home with more than the feeling of accomplishment -- they would actually be “going home”.

Filipinos in the US Navy join comrades from a dozen other countries who will be sworn in as American citizens aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower this week in Norfolk, Virginia.

The Eisenhower itself is returning from a seven-month deployment in support of America’s wars overseas.

The Filipinos joined the navy shortly after arriving as immigrants in the US.

Immigrants usually wait an average of five years to establish residency before becoming eligible for naturalization.

However, after the Sept. 11 terror attacks the US allowed immigrants serving with the all-volunteer armed forces to become citizens much sooner.

The Filipinos are part of a group of 29 sailors from 13 countries deployed with the Eisenhower, the guided-missile destroyer USS Mitscher, the amphibious assault ships USS Kearsarge and Iwo Jima, or posted at the headquarters of the Atlantic Fleet in Norfolk.

They used to work as salesmen and waiters, construction workers and private security guards before they joined the US Navy, a Defense Department statement revealed.

There are about 65,000 immigrants serving in the US military today, approximately one-third of them not yet American citizens.

According to the Migrant Policy Institute, nearly 23 percent of them or nearly 15,000 were born Filipinos, making the Philippines the top source of recruits for the US military among the immigrant communities.

A majority of the foreign-born servicemen are in the US Navy (nearly 27,000), followed by about 15,000 in the army, 13,000 in the airforce and 10,000 in the marines.


President Obama has appointed Filipino-American Ma. Elizabeth (Maribeth) Raffinan as Associate Justice of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

She is the second Fil-Am to be nominated to a top judiciary post after California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger named Appellate Judge Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye to be the next Chief Justice of California last month.

“Throughout her career Maribeth Raffinan has shown a commitment to justice and public service,” President Obama declared when he announced her appointment.

Raffinan’s appointment now goes to the US Senate for confirmation. If she hurdles this, she will serve a 15-year term in the DC tribunal.

The Superior Court of DC consists of a chief judge and 61 associate judges who are assisted by 24 magistrate judges.

Maribeth is the daughter of Jun and Maria Raffinan, who are both physicians, from Tampa, Florida.

The couple is well known in the Fil-Am community because of their active participation in the Couples for Christ Movement as well as Gawad Kalinga.

Maribeth herself has shown a predilection for helping the needy much like her parents. She is supervising attorney in the Trial Division of the Public Defender Service of Washington DC. She has been defending indigent clients in criminal cases since 1999, according to reports.

In 2007 she co-charied the Deborah Creek Criminal Practice Institute which helps train criminal defense practitioners in DC.

She is also a member of the Superior Court Drug Court committee and taught at her alma mater, the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America.

Raffinan graduated with a bachelor in science degree at the Boston College, where she majored in political science and philosophy. She earned her law degree at Columbus School of Law.

She will replace Associate Justice Odessa Vincent in the Superior Court bench.
Raffinan is the second prominent US justice appointment in as many months. Earlier, Cantil-Sakauye became the first Asian and Fil-Am nominated to the top court of California.

She is the daughter of a Filipina mother and Filipino-Portuguese father who worked as farm workers in Hawaii’s sugar and pineapple plantations until they relocated to Sacramento, California.

Cantil-Sakauye has been a judge in the 3rd District Court of Appeals in Califonia since 2005.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


By his own account, the Pentagon brass who gave retired Brig. Gen. Victor Corpus’ book “America’s Dim Mak” a once-over were unimpressed.

Corpus said he warned them that if war breaks out with China, the US would be brought to its knees by “asymmetrical warfare” that ranged from crippling America’s computer network and energy grids to swarming missile attacks against American aircraft carriers and ultimately choking Pacific sea lanes.

“They thought I was crazy, akala nila maluwag ang turnilyo,” he says with a laugh.

Corpus was named special envoy for veterans affairs in Washington DC earlier this year. An Arroyo appointee, he didn’t wait to be recalled and relinquished the post shortly after the May national elections. The post remains vacant.

He published “America’s Dim Mak Points: Unrestricted Warfare in the 21st Century” in 2009.

Some US military officials were obviously curious about the book, and reportedly sought him out during his whirlwind posting at the Philippine Embassy.

Dim Mak is a Chinese martial art that translates, according to Corpus, to “meridian press”. The object is to deliver a blow to the “chi” or life force of a stronger, bigger opponent.

With the focus of US foreign policy in the South China Sea now apparently directed at containing what it perceives as a growing threat from China, it is remarkable how much of Corpus’ “crazy” ideas echo in the latest Pentagon assessment.

“If ever a major war erupts between superpower America and weaker nations like China, Russia or Iran, we can expect the weaker ones to resort to unrestricted warfare,” he wrote in “America’s Dim Mak Points”.

“It will not be confined to a mere shooting war. It will involve combat on land, sea, air, in outer space, cyberspace and even into the microbial realm.”

“The first rule of unrestricted warfare is that there are no rules. Rules are laid down by the strong to dominate the weak. To level the playing field, the weak has to break the rules, avoid the enemy’s strength and hit the strong side at its most vulnerable points,” he explained, quoting Qiao Liang, a colonel in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

He said the US should expect attacks on its “Dim Mak Points” – that he identified as America’s reliance on imported oil, the vulnerability of its information technology network, and dependence on satellites to dictate the battlefield, among others.

The Department of Defense released last Monday its annual assessment of Chinese military capabilities and strategy to the US Congress.

The Pentagon report stated, “In 2009, numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the US government, continued to be the target of intrusions that appear to have originated within the PRC (People’s Republic of China)”.

Corpus characterized them as “rehearsals”.

“The PLA has established information warfare units to develop viruses to attack enemy computer systems and networks. These units include elements of the militia, creating a linkage between PLA network operators and China’s civilian information technology.”

“The PLA is attempting the concurrent pursuit of mechanization (application of late 20th-century industrial technology to military operations) and informatization (application of information technology to military operations).”

“PLA theorists have developed a framework for doctrine-driven reform with the long-term goal of building a force capable of fighting and winning local wars under conditions of informatization.”

“PRC military writings highlight the seizure of electromagnetic dominance in the early phases of a campaign as among the foremost tasks to ensure battlefield success.”

Corpus believes China is building powerful rockets that can knock out satellites from the ground and sea.

The Pentagon report again, “PLA strategists see space as central to enabling modern informatized warfare…China is developing the ability to attack an adversary’s space assets, accelerating the militarization of space.”

“In January 2007, China successfully tested a direct-ascent ASAT (anti-satellite) weapon against a PRC weather satellite, demonstrating its ability to attack satellites in low-Earth orbit…China is developing other technologies and concepts for kinetic and directed energy (e.g., lasers, high-powered microwave and particle beam) weapons for ASAT missions.”

“PLA writings emphasize the necessity of destroying, damaging and interfering with the enemy’s reconnaissance and communications satellites, suggesting that such systems could be among initial targets of attack to blind and deafen the enemy.”

“China’s investment in advanced electronic warfare systems, counter-space weapons and computer network operations…reflect the emphasis and priority China’s leaders place on building capability for information advantage.”

Corpus, who understood and practiced Mao Zedong’s military tenets, culled from timeless Chinese philosophy, is convinced he has gotten a glimpse of the 21st century battlefield.

While he was here, he regaled friends with his marksmanship at Northern Virginia firing ranges. His aim was always true but the soft-spoken warrior-thinker never did refute how some of his American audience saw him. He realizes only time will validate or repudiate his vision.


Thousands of undocumented Filipinos in the United States, sometimes called TNTs (Tago Ng Tago, translated as "always hiding") voluntarily went home last year, avoiding possible detention and deportation, according to the US Department of Homeland Security.

The DHS published this week the Immigration Enforcement Actions report for 2009.

The report showed a total of 18,820 Filipinos were returned without a removal order.

“Each year, the Department of Homeland Security undertakes immigration enforcement actions involving hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals. These actions include the arrest, detention, return and removal from the United States of foreign nationals who violate US immigration law,” the report explained.

A “return” in DHS parlance is the confirmed movement of a deportable alien out of the US not based on an order of removal.

Thus, Filipinos comprised the third biggest group, next only to Mexicans (465,205) and Canadians (25,376) who went back to their home countries of their own volition.

There are an estimated four million Filipinos in the US and some experts say as many as one in four could be undocumented.

The DHS pegs the number of Pinoy TNTs at 270,000, a 33 percent increase since 2000 and representing about two percent of illegal immigrants in the US.

In contrast, over 60,000 Filipinos legally immigrated to the US last year, a slight increase over 2008 (54,030) but still lower than the 2007 numbers of 72,596.

The DHS also reported the arrest of over 613,000 foreign nationals, mostly from Mexico.

But among them were 457 Filipinos believed to be illegally living in the US.

Among Asians, nationals from China (2,363) and India (767) accounted for most of foreigners nabbed by immigration agents.

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the apprehensions happened in the US-Mexico border.

Most of the arrests were made in Arizona, which is pushing a controversial new law that compels the police to check on the immigrantion status of people they stop for other reasons. Activists say that would lead to racial profiling.

Despite Arizona officials' claims that federal agencies weren't doing enough to stem illegal immigration at the border, the DHS report shows that its Tucson, Arizona jurisdiction has consistently topped the number of apprehensions compared to any place in the US-Mexico border since 1998.

The DHS reported the deportation of 128,000 foreigners for criminal activities.

They included 681 Filipinos – 253 of whom already had criminal convictions.

Most of these cases involved illegal drug activity. But another interesting sidelight in the report was the revelation that as many illegal aliens run afoul with the law for traffic offenses, especially drunk driving, as immigration violations.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Barely a month before he’s scheduled to attend the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, President Aquino has yet to receive an official invitation from the United States government.

He is scheduled to be in New York on Sept. 20-22.

It appears only logical the next stop should be Washington DC – after all President Obama himself reportedly asked President Aquino to see him while he’s in the country, an invitation repeated by other ranking US officials visiting Manila.

Philippine Ambassador Willy Gaa told us today they still haven’t received the invitation from the State Department, which arranges the meetings of foreign leaders with top US officials, including President Obama.

“The meeting with President Obama will surely happen, we just don’t know when,” he explained.

That casts a cloud if President Aquino will even fly to the American capital.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo is reportedly on his way to Washington DC to thresh out a schedule.

But insiders say both sides will have to fix that schedule this week or President Aquino might as well fly back to Manila after the UN meet. The available time slots for a possible pow-wow in the White House is closing fast, we’re told.

President Aquino doesn’t need a US invitation to attend the General Assembly meeting.

The US can not stop world leaders, even the likes of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez from going to New York.

President Aquino is also slated to attend the signing of the $434 million Compact agreement with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and break bread with the top honchos of the powerful American Chamber of Commerce. Both institutions are based in Washington DC.

The President’s presence at the MCC is largely ceremonial because it will be Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima who will sign the accord on behalf of the Philippines. And US business leaders can always fly to New York if they really want to meet the new Philippine president.

Insiders say that if President Aquino travels to Washington DC, it would be the equivalent of a diplomatic slap-down if he can’t meet with President Obama – considering the close, historical ties between the two countries. There are also about four million Filipinos and Filipino-Americans in the US.

Officials blame President Obama’s tight schedule due to the mid-term elections here.

As the President’s Democratic Party faces the prospect of losing both chambers of Congress, he is under increasing pressure to help in the campaign. But this is coming at a time when his popularity is waning, according to various surveys.

He was travelling to Wisconsin and California today, capping the day with a star-studded fund raising dinner for the California Democractic Committee in Los Angeles. President Obama’s expected to do much of the same in the days leading to November.

“They are really focused on domestic issues right now,” Ambassador Gaa observed.

But other sources say a planned US-ASEAN summit in Washington DC was added complication to the visit.

The White House reportedly wants to make President Aquino’s visit part of that “engagement”.

President Obama had made the Philippines America’s “point-man” in dealings with the 10-nation alliance and now the State Department reportedly wants ASEAN to take a more concerted position against Chinese hegemony in the South China Sea – a stance the Philippines, based at least on recent declarations, is apparently hesitant to join.

The Philippines has the most obsolete military equipment in Southeast Asia – reason perhaps why the US is eager to sell them missiles. Without even the semblance of deterrence, Philippine external defense is anchored largely on being friendly with all the bullies in the yard, especially China.

Yet, the Philippines, Vietnam and China are the only countries with permanent outposts in the disputed Spratly Islands.

State Secretary Hillary Clinton’s remarks at the recent ASEAN summit in Hanoi offered a new tack at how the US sees the overlapping claims in the Spratly Islands, and the South China Sea in general.

The US has reportedly asked the Aquino administration to clarify its position vis-à-vis China.

Invitations can be tough, especially if you’re the president of a country that every powerful neighbor wants to pull their way. Makes one wonder if President Aquino should even take it at all.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Our “cover” was a “salu-salo” for the Manila Mail, now entering its second decade and thus, the oldest, longest-running Filipino-American newspaper in the Metro DC region.

But the gathering was actually a surprise birthday party for the paper’s editor, Bert Alfaro, who turned a fabulous 81.

Twenty years ago, Bert banded together with lawyer Wari Azarcon and Balikbayan Box pioneer Jimmy Carino to establish the Manila Mail. The rest, like they say, is history.

“Mang Bert” was among the first people we met when we first arrived here on a green card some years ago. For newcomers, everyone is a stranger.

I remember a popular Japanese proverb that counsels, “When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends”.

We quickly concluded Bert was alright. After all, he was my father’s friend.

It turned out he knew me much longer than I knew him. Bert and my father, Rey Sr. went back to the pre-Martial Law Manila Chronicle at the old Aduana.

We built many happy memories at the Manila Chronicle in Intramuros, where I and my brother used to run through its hallways, playing while waiting for my father to put the paper’s provincial page to bed. We probably first ran into Bert there.

Our “salu-salo” cum birthday party was hosted by the impeccably gracious pair of Oscar and Evelyn Bonoan.

They have a really beautiful love story but we’ll save that for another day.

They own and operate a small grocery specializing in Asian products along Lee Highway in Fairfax, Virginia. Not that they really need to work – both are retirees – Oca used to be an engineering contractor and Evelyn came from the World Bank.

Evelyn has found her 2nd wind in the kitchen. She writes a cooking column in the Manila Mail.

She’s taken to planting almost every conceivable herb in her front garden, including every Bicolano’s favorite – the “siling labuyo”.

Lito Katigbak, who’s settled in Northern Virginia with wife Minnie after years of crisscrossing the globe as a wire service correspondent, may have inadvertently thrown a dare on all the men at the dining table when he plucked one “sili” from the stem and chomped it down with one of Evelyn’ gastronomic delights.

It became a contest of who could eat the most peppers. Bill Branigin, himself a veteran journalist and currently Washington Post editor (who also happens to be Bing Branigin's "better half") was probably wise to stay away the "sili" contest.

Jon Melegrito and his wife Elvie arrived late because they watched two non-Filipino musicians perform Filipino kundimans in Maryland (we kind’a regret we didn’t do the same).

We told Jon he had some catching-up to do. Never to turn his back on a challenge, he plucked a bright red “sili”, put it in his mouth, took a swig at a Johnny Walker Blue and declared the pepper “hot”.

We all watched with awe and a bit of guilt because we forgot to tell him that he was supposed to cut the “sili” and mix it with the food – not eat the whole darn thing outright.

After stripping clean a second shrub of its hot fruit, we declared, with no objections, Jon the winner of our little dinner table contest.

We offered a toast to Bert on his birthday, and many good wishes for the Manila Mail.

Wari was among the founders of the Filipino American Republicans of Virginia (FARV). Jon worked his butt off, first for Hillary Clinton during the Democratic nomination race, and later for Barack Obama. It was inevitable at least some of the discussion would turn to politics and the November mid-term elections.

“Manila Mail is the only paper we can say conclusively where Filipinos from the left and the right, Republicans and Democrats, are on the same page,” Wari declared.

Wari and Jon write columns that share the opinion page of the Manila Mail.

We said our thanks and goodbyes and walked back into the night, elated that we needn’t look too far beyond the friendship to discover why some people and some things are really meant to last.

Friday, August 13, 2010


There’s more than one road leading to an international pageant crown, so over a dozen young Filipino Americans tried travelling that path through the land of their roots, the Philippines.

A pair of 20-year-olds were chosen last week as the fairest of 'em all in the Fil-Am communities of Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC and earned the right to join the Mutya ng Pilipinas pageant in Manila next year.

Madison Elliott and Heather Corner won the top two spots of the Mutya ng Amerika contest in Baltimore.

Pageant organizer Mary Ann Herrera tells us it’s too late for them to join the Mutya ng Pilipinas pageant that’s already started in the Philippines.

“It wouldn’t be fair to them because there would be no time to prepare them. They will get tired trying to catch up,” she explained.

The East Coast will be represented this year by 19-year-old lass from New Jersey. They would join other Fil-Am beauties from Canada, Northern and Southern California, Hawaii and the Midwest, according to Herrera.

Madison and Heather are slated to represent for the first time next year the Fil-Am community in the Mid-Atlantic region, Herrera added.

“We’ll just wait for 2011,” she added.

The Mutya ng Pilipinas appears to be luring more Fil-Ams after one of them, Mirium Chui, bagged the crown in 2002. Three years later, an expat Filipino candidate from Italy won the title and there have been winners from Filipino communities in Germany, Norway and Canada.

The winner of the Mutya ng Pilipinas represents the country in the Miss World pageant.

Madison is a daughter of Fermin and Melanie Elliott. The father traces his roots to Cebu.

He had no idea his daughter was part of the pageant, and found out only when he got to the Comfort Inn conference complex near the Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) Airport, where the contest was held.

Although she quit after high school, Madison indicated her desire to go to college to pursue a degree in psychology.

In contrast, Heather is finishing her marketing and international business major course at Drexel University and plans to fly to London next year to pursue a Masters degree.

Heather is a daughter of Fil-Am Ramiel Navarro, who hails from Southern Luzon, and Terri Corner who traces her roots to Eastern Europe.

Other winners of the Mutya ng Amerika include Diane Butler who will represent this region in the Miss Body Shots competition back home and Nerissa Lumban who is slated to join the 2011 Miss Philippines-Earth contest. Eighteen-year-old Samantha Salazar was chosen Mutya Philippine Migrant Heritage.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


The Fil-Am community mourned the death of one of its staunchest supporters on Capitol Hill.

Former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens died in a plane crash while on a fishing trip near Dillingham, Alaska last Monday.

“We are deeply saddened by the tragic death of former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens,” read a statement from the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations (NaFFAA).

“We remember the Senator as one of the strongest advocates for Filipino World War II veterans. During the debates in 2008, after the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act was introduced by Sen. Daniel Akaka, Sen. Stevens kept the faith with his comrades and staunchly defended the bill that would have provided special pensions to Filipinos veterans,” explained NaFFAA chair Greg Macabenta.

He recalled that Stevens once told his colleagues “I do not get excited too many times on this floor but this bill excites me” referring to the Filipino veterans bill.

Stevens was the longest sitting Republican in the Senate.

Stevens was the only senator Alaska has ever known (it formally became a state only in 1959).

After 40 years in the Senate, he lost his re-election bid in 2008 amid charges of corruption. He was accused of accepting gifts, including the renovation of his home. He was exonerated a year later after the judge found prosecutors guilty of misconduct.

Macabenta pointed out that Stevens was one of only five World War II veterans in the Senate – Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii; Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and John Warner of Virginia.

He piloted C-47 transport planes with the renown “Flying Tigers” in the China-Burma-India theater, often crossing Japanese-controlled airspace without fighter escorts. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his feats.

Macabenta said that courage was evident even when Stevens was a lawmaker after “fighting valiantly” for the Filipino veterans bill.

The bill drew only limited support from Republicans, but Stevens was convinced a terrible injustice was committed against Filipino veterans and publicly opposed party-mates who worked against them.

“We are talking about honor, the honor of the United States,” he famously declared.

The bill eventually passed albeit in a different, watered-down form, providing a lump sum payment for Filipino World War II veterans here and in the Philippines.

Nonetheless, Macabenta said Filipinos should be grateful for Stevens’ help in the Senate.

“In a significant way, he made it possible for our aging heroes to finally get the compensation and official recognition they richly deserve,” the NaFFAA said.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Violence from criminal syndicates and warring politicians is muddling the Philippine campaign against terror groups, the US State Department said, even as it heaped praised on the help it’s been getting from local agencies.

“This proactive partnership with the Philippine government has yielded solid results in combating terrorist elements,” the 2009 State Department counterterrorism country report (released last week) said.

But the November 23 massacre of 57 people – including 34 journalists – in Maguindanao and other high-profile crimes are indirectly aiding terrorists, the report indicated.

“Many kidnappings or other acts of violence that indiscriminately target innocent people go unsolved, and some shootings and bombings occur in the course of criminal activity unrelated to terrorism,” the report said.

Two people were killed and about two dozen other wounded in an explosion at the Zamboanga City airport last weekend.

Although it sparked fears of a fresh attack from the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), police investigators are saying it was likely politically motivated – allegedly an assassination attempt against Sulu Governor Sakur Tan.

If true, it would have been the second attempt on Tan’s life since last year when he survived another bomb blast in Sulu.

The ASG has a large presence in the province, where it has carried out kidnappings and bombings, and where they can more easily melt into the populace when the government pursues them.

US Special Operations troops maintain an outpost there, training and providing logistical and intelligence gathering support for Filipino troops.

“While not the activities of international terrorism, these developments are indicative of the instability and conflict in the southern Philippines that complicated the government’s efforts during 2009 to combat the terrorist groups harboring there,” the report said.

The US has kept the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and communist New People’s Army (NPA) in its terror list.

The State Department believes the NPA’s numbers have declined from 5,240 to about 4,700 last year, and the ASG from 400 to 390 men.

But even as it continued to post gains against these groups, the report noted that the Philippine government has found little use for a three-year-old law that was bruited to speed up the dismantling of terror networks in the country.

Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had pushed vigorously for the passage of Republic Act 9372, also known as the 2007 Human Security Act, even in the face of stiff opposition.

“Law enforcement authorities continued to make little use of the 2007 Human Security Act which provided additional counterterrorism tools for law enforcement,” the State Department observed.

That has led to questions whether the law was even needed in the first place.

The US and other nations prodded the Philippines to enact the measure.

The law grants sweeping powers to conduct surveillance, wire-tap suspects, allow police to detain anyone for 72 hours without a warrant, and empowers the government to look into bank records.

It looks draconian, but the report noted, the law is also restrictive.

The report suggested that one reason the government is reluctant to apply the full force of the law were provisions that penalizes misuse, including “stiff fines in cases where the suspect is later acquitted or the case dismissed.”

In many instances, it provides long jail terms for government agents who violate the law’s built-in safeguards.

But the US is hardly complaining, the report showed, as it lauded the cooperation it’s been getting from this “major non-NATO ally”. They’ve signaled unfettered access to suspects and witnesses, in one instance, quickly extraditing to the US a fugitive terrorist arrested abroad but who was transferred to Philippine custody.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is aiding the development of the Philippine Biometric Initiative (PBI) which collects fingerprints, photographs and other information on suspected terrorists that go to databases in the Philippines and US.

Monday, August 9, 2010


Ivy Rose’s maiden CD debut last Saturday turned into a family affair, typical perhaps for a rising all-girls band comprised of teenage Filipino-Americans.

Ivy Rose is composed of three sisters – Isabelle, Sarah and Kristine de Leon, and vocalist Martina San Diego.

They launched their new CD “This Adventure” in a rousing party at the Jaxx Club in Springfield, Virginia, attended by about 200 family members, friends, fans and classmates.

The CD features 11 original songs written and arranged by the girls themselves. The songs are also available on iTunes.

Ivy Rose is just a little over a year old, born in the basement studio of Tito de Leon, an engineer by training but now working almost full-time as the band’s manager (his wife Lynn is the band’s marketing manager).

If you happen to watch an Ivy Rose concert, Tito would be the one working feverishly before the show making sure all the microphones, music instruments and amplifiers are hooked up and ready to go.

The weekend launch party also featured three bands – another Fil-Am band, Apriori; the Baltimore-based Three Tree Experience; and the remarkable Mad Brenda that’s composed of Tom Foster and his two talented daughters Torie and Sam.

“We were established by our dedication to creating music,” Foster said, “We may not be the typical definition of a rock band but we certainly take pride in the fact that we are unique.”

Foster says Tito de Leon has often made them part of the line-up during Ivy Rose performances.

If there was an underlying theme that evening, it was music and family.

Incidentally, another common strand that binds the Ivy Rose girls – their mothers hail from Cebuano-speaking provinces back home.

A number of Fil-Am community leaders joined the CD launch party as a show of support although we did not exactly belong to the targeted demographic of the bands’ repertoire.

Ivy Rose caters to a young crowd who, gauging from the crowd’s response, have enthusiastically accepted their music.

Vocalist Marti (who also plays the rhythm guitar) is a high school sophomore and consistent honor student; she has been performing in front of audiences since she was 5.

Drummer Isabelle is already a member of the Cum Laude Society in her freshman year at the University of Maryland where she is pursuing a double major in Computer Science and Jazz Drums Performance.

Lead guitarist Sarah has been playing the guitar since she was 7; a high school junior, she is in the top 10 of her class.

Bass guitarist Kristine is a sophomore at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC where she a pursuing a major in architecture; she is also one of the leaders of CUA’s Filipino organization.

They say Ivy Rose has been influenced by groups like The Cranberries, Meg & Dia, Muse, and The Cure, among others.

They have spent their first year joining one competition after another. They topped the Quest Battle of the Bands in Damascus, Maryland this year and placed 2nd at a battle of upcoming bands in the 9:30 Club – considered the premier live-band destination in Washington DC. That earned them an opening spot at the Art Attack XXVIII that featured Ben Folds and Weezer.

They’re young, they’re hot and the road is wide open for Ivy Rose. Little wonder the Fil-Am community here is rooting for their break-out in the US market.

Friday, August 6, 2010


When the US occupied Japan at the end of World War II, it shipped back to Washington DC thousands of documents, many of them classified “Top Secret” that have provided fodder for researchers even today, nearly 74 years after the Pacific war ended.

A young research fellow from Yale University, Elizabeth Silliman, discovered this summer among the mountain of unsorted documents a map that she told us was folded into a square no bigger than a regular Post-It pad.

Since she specialized in Japanese studies, she quickly recognized it as a map showing American and Japanese forces on Leyte Island from October 20 to the middle of November, 1944.

The map was included in a special one-day exhibit of the Junior Fellows Summer Intern Program at the Library of Congress in Washington DC.

The map was hand drawn and titled in Japanese “Leyte Island Military Situation Sketch”.

Silliman surmised it must have been intended for some sort of high-level military briefing.

“The penciled notations on the map are quite interesting and one wonders how the Japanese were so precise in their intelligence gathering to know the number of divisions to be sent by member of the Allied forces serving with the Americans in the Philippine invasion,” wrote curator Reme Grefalda. Philippine specialist in the Asian Division of the Library of Congress.

The US and Japan waged the biggest naval battle in history in the waters off Leyte and Samar.

Both the Japanese and Americans saw the strategic importance of the Philippines. Arrayed against each other, the US deployed 34 aircraft carriers against Japan’s four; 12 battleships against Japan’s nine; and hundreds of cruisers, destroyers and submarines. The Japanese first used organized kamikaze attacks in the battle for Leyte.

It was part of a campaign to liberate Leyte to fulfill Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s promise to return to the Philippines after being driven out of Bataan and Corregidor three years earlier.

Following feinting attacks off Luzon, MacArthur chose Leyte because of its central location where he hoped to split Japanese forces in Luzon and Mindanao.

He adopted a leap-frogging strategy from Papua New Guinea, bypassing known Japanese strongholds, to get back to the Philippines and redeem what he saw as the loss of American pride and honor when the Japanese Imperial Army kicked them out of their Pacific colony.

The battle for Leyte was just the beginning of the liberation of the Philippines but it came at a cost of 3,500 Americans and 49,000 Japanese dead.

As the world marks the anniversary of the first atomic bomb attack in Hiroshima, it’s noteworthy that among the other documents discovered by Silliman were two original notebooks showing Japan’s attempts to build its own atomic bomb.

She also unearthed documents about epidemiological studies of diseases compiled by doctors in the notorious Unit 731 of the Japanese Kwanton Army.

Unit 731 was a covert biological and chemical warfare research and development unit in the Japanese Army. They performed horrific human experiments, mainly on Chinese civilians rounded up by the Kempeitai from 1937 to 1945. The bioweapons experiments reportedly killed as many as half a million people during that period.

Some accounts say Unit 731 physicians subjected men, women, children and even infants to unimaginable horrors, often operating on their subjects without anesthesia.

After the war, MacArthur reportedly offered some doctors in Unit 731 immunity in exchange for providing the US with their experiment notes and discoveries on developing bioweapons. Subsequent investigations showed some American survivors of the battles for Bataan and Corregidor may also have been used for human experiments.

Silliman told us there were many more documents just waiting to be discovered, possibly shedding more light on a chapter of history that is already overly illuminated with blood and gore.


The United States has given the young Aquino administration what the previous administration of President Arroyo had coveted for nearly two years and never got – a signal of trust and confidence – when it agreed yesterday to unlock $434 million in poverty- and corruption-fighting grants for the Philippines.

“Congratulations to the people and Government of the Philippines for tackling difficult challenges to create tangible opportunities for growth and prosperty,” declared Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) CEO Daniel Yohannes.

Ambassador Willy Gaa, who has nursed the Philippine’s quest for an MCC Compact, said it “reaffirms the Philippine’s high capacity as MCC partner”.

Earlier this year, the MCC Board headed by State Secretary Hillary Clinton, decided to defer approval of the Compact agreement until after the national elections held last May.

Yohannes said at the time they wanted to get a commitment from the new Philippine that it would abide with MCC policy objectives. He was apparently referring to the government’s worsening corruption problem, as soon in performance parameters the aid-giving body conducts every year for participating nations.

The Philippines became eligible for a Compact agreement as early as 2009. But the Arroyo administration continually flunked the corruption test, including the last one released for Fiscal 2010 (the US fiscal year starts in October).

On a median of zero, the Philippines scored a minus 0.20 or about 26 percent in the Control of Corruption parameter.

President Arroyo, according to Washington DC insiders, also sought the MCC Compact for political reasons, because it would provide a “seal of approval” for her administration. But as she became embroiled in one scandal after another, some involving her family, the MCC appeared to tighten the requirements for her to get the Compact agreement.

This time around, the MCC apparently didn’t want to wait for its regularly scheduled 4th quarter board meeting to act on the Philippine request – something sources here say sends a clear signal to the two-month old administration of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

President Aquino has worked to deliver on his campaign promise of “kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” (if no one is corrupt, no one is poor).

Diplomatic sources say that message resonates well in the US government, which apparently wants to encourage the young Aquino administration to sustain and intensify its efforts at curbing graft, ending impunity and ensuring resources reach the poor and needy.

"The Filipino have articulated a clear vision to improve the quality of their lives through a technically, environmentally and socially sound plan," Yohannes declared.

The MCC Compact grants will invest $54 million in computerizing and improving the tax collection activities of the Bureau of Internal Revenue; some $120 million will go to livelihood- and quality of life enhancing projects in the country’s poorest barangays; and $214 million will be spent for the construction and repair of 220 kilometers of roads that cut across the most marginalized communities of Samar Island and link it with the rest of archipelago.

The US Congress has already allocated the funds requested by the State Department to fund the Compact agreement with the Philippines.

The Compact agreement can be signed after a 15-day congressional notification period. Congress is on summer recess.

"I am confident that the country's ongoing commitment to positive reforms, accountability and transparency, and the timely implementation of the compact will deliver tangible results," Yohannes averred.

The agreement could be signed by President Aquino, who’s widely expected to visit the United States next month.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Filipino-Americans in the Metro Baltimore region may have their social calendars filled up all the way to winter, but a sports event last weekend was special for many of them.

Katipunan, the largest Fil-Am organization in the Baltimore area, held its third annual golf tournament at the Oakmont greens in Hampstead, Maryland.

It was a golfing tournament with a difference – tourney proceeds are destined for the families of Filipino journalists killed in the Maguindanao Massacre.

More than 30 journalists were herded like sheep then slaughtered in a deserted patch of Ampatuan town last Nov. 23. The Al Capone-type execution was allegedly ordered by the provincial governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and implemented by his son Andal Jr., who according to some accounts actually took part in the shooting.

That sent a shudder up the spine of at least one Katipunan member.

Retired police general Cris Maralit is a familiar face for those who’ve covered the police and military beat from the 1980s onward.

For decades he was the face and voice of, first the Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police (PC-INP) and later the Philippine National Police (PNP). He rose through the ranks after accepting a commission in the PC-INP and retired a general a few years back.

Before joining the police, he was actually working for a newspaper. He graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Santo Thomas in Manila.

Ask any journalist who covered the Camp Crame beat and they will tell you Cris was more a colleague than the designated propagandist for the police. He knew well the perils journalists face, sometimes at the hands of scalawag cops.

“Filipino journalists have always been the vanguard of Philippine democracy,” he averred.

Also an avid golfer (we’ve since lost track of his handicap), he convinced the Katipunan to dedicate their upcoming tournament for the slain Filipino scribes. He chaired and organized this year’s tournament.

Conrado Bautista clinched the men's division championship while Joanne Toledo topped the ladies' division.

Three Fil-Am doctors dominated the senior's division -- Dr. Ed Reyes submitted a 71, followed by Dr. Ray Magno with 74.5 net and Dr. Teody Paglinauan came third with a net 75.

Dr. Claro Pio Roda, a former Katipunan president from Baltimore, said supporting a noble cause “gives us a sense of commitment and solidarity with our countrymen, particularly the mediamen”.

“Hopefully, this will go a long way in helping the families of the slain journalists in their quest for justice,” he added.

Katipunan president Belle Owens said their group “recognizes the hard work and sacrifice of Filipino journalists to espouse truth and expose wrongdoings, and will always support the cause of press freedom in the Philippines.”

They may not be able to directly influence the prosecution of the murder trial in Manila, but Fil-Ams in Maryland want to make sure the struggle to protect Filipino journalists is sustained.

Proceeds of the tournament will go to a Press Freedom Fund for Slain Filipino Journalists to be dispensed through the National Press Club of the Philippines.

The Fund aims to provide legal assistance to the victims’ families and education benefits for their children.

Maralit noted the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) reported some 140 journalists have been killed since 1987 – 105 of them during the nine-year Gloria Arroyo administration.

The New York-based Committee to Project Journalists called the Maguindanao Massacre the “deadliest single attack on the press”. The Philippines is now regarded as the 2nd most dangerous place for journalists, next only to Iraq.

Monday, August 2, 2010


What is a Filipino-American?

Fil-Ams have often defied definition. They can be white, black or brown. Their looks are often confused with one or another race; they’re equally fluent in English as they are speaking any of a dozen Philippine dialects (some of which sound eerily like Spanish), and they’re equally adept in banks, laboratories and hospitals, as they are in America’s battlefields.

They are soldiers like retired Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, culinary artists like White House chef Cristeta Comerford, businesspersons and civic leaders like Loida Nicolas-Lewis, lawmakers like Ohio Congressman Steve Austria, bureaucrats like USAID executive Gloria Dino-Steele and inspirations like armless aviatrix Jessica Cox; they are scientists, accountants, engineers, journalists, entertainers, caregivers, nannies.

They are Americans who recognize and embrace their Filipino roots, celebrating it like what they did at last weekend’s 7th Asian Festival in Reston, Virginia.

The Philippines was the featured country this year.

The two-day festival is held in the summer under the auspices of the Thai Tennis Organization in America.

Obviously, it was established to promote tennis, but over the years, it’s become a mecca for the Asian-American community to showcase their culture in the Metro DC region, drawing as many as 20,000 visitors in a single day.

Ambassador Willy Gaa helped open the festival’s Philippine Village.

The Village featured a rich variety of Philippine arts and crafts, from fruit carvings by Paete food carvers to arnis demonstrations to folk dances like the tinikling and pandango sa ilaw.

Curiously, among the hottest selling items were the Manny Pacquiao and Cory Aquino T-shirts – faces that Fil-Ams have apparently chosen to become the emblem of Filipino aspirations.

Delegations from scores of Fil-Am organizations from as far north as New Jersey and as far south as Richmond, travelled hundreds of miles to join Northern Virginia’s largest Asian festival.

There were enough Fil-Am stage artists to fill two stages at the festival. After all, even before the exodus of nurses and teachers to America, there were the Filipino entertainers.

Alfa Garcia, a singer-songwriter from New York, was nine when her family immigrated to America.

She sings mostly about love and the pursuits of youth, but some of her songs delve on the struggles of a young Fil-Am searching for identity in the already diverse American landscape.

Indie rockers The Speaks has been recognized here as an Amercian band, even if it’s made up of Fil-Ams. They signed up with Warner Music (Asia) in 2005, and their video is often seen in MTV and MYX, among others.

Vocalist Raf Toledo put his spin on the Filipino rock anthem “Ang Himig Natin” (to see their performance, click here).

Stephanie Reese played Kim in the German production of Miss Saigon and portrayed Princess Tuptim in the King and I at the Palladium Theater in London’s West End.

The all-girls band Ivy Rose continues to leave its mark in the Metro DC entertainment scene.

Three members are sisters who learned to play musical instruments after their father, Tito, who like this writer is a product of the Salesian’s Don Bosco schools, transformed their basement into a makeshift music studio.

And they’re just a sampling of the pool of Fil-Am talents that weekend.

At the middle of the Philippine Village was a life-size plaster replica of the Philippine buffalo – the carabao.

In his "Our Town" column in the Manila Mail, community scribe Jon Melegrito wrote –

“Neglected for years after its much-heralded debut on Pennsylvania Avenue 12 years ago, it made a return engagement in 2003. Sporting a new look, it served as Philippine Festival Mascot for another two years, languishing thereafter in a Philippine Embassy basement.

“Hailed in the Philippines as “Pambansang hayop” (national animal) the slow-moving but gentle beast of burden performs like a 2,000-pound machine, forging through mud up to its belly and working continuously for years. Silent and docile, it never complains despite the oppressive heat.

“When my father moved our family to a farm in Davao in the 1950s, the first thing he did was to buy a carabao. He worked that beast all year round. Then one day he turned over the reins to me. At nine years old, I learned to plow the field the old fashioned way. I and the carabao bonded well.”

The carabao was resurrected and given a fresh coat of paint through the bayanihan efforts of Fil-Am stalwarts and volunteers from the Philippine Embassy.

It stands sturdy and strong, with a splash of colors that speaks as much about the Fil-Am community in America’s capital region.

But it has no name, and community leaders are hoping it will finally get one. Just like many Fil-Ams, it is searching for its unique identity.