Thursday, September 30, 2010


Lawyer Arnedo Valera concedes they face a tough, uphill fight to win additional benefits for thousands of Filipino World War II veterans.

He’s scheduled to be in San Francisco next week, Oct. 8, to file before the District Court of Northern California the first of three suits against the United States government on behalf of Filipino WWII veterans.

Similar suits will be filed before the Eastern District Court of Virginia and the Seattle District Court in Washington.

“Mabigat ang laban,” he told us today.

Some 20 aging Filipino World War II veterans and widows of deceased veterans are signatories in the suit to be filed in San Francisco.

They are seeking a writ of mandamus with declaratory relief on behalf of not only the petitioners, but also thousands of WWII veterans in the US and Philippines.

Valera explained the suits aim to compel the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) to accept “secondary evidence” so more Filipino veterans can avail of the lump sum payment; question the validity of paying different amounts to veterans living in the US and the Philippines; declare the right of widows to collect the benefits of deceased veterans; and direct the US government to provide the same benefits to Filipino World War II veterans that’s already given to their American counterparts - in other words, full equity.

The law establishing the one-time $198 million Philippine Veterans Equity Compensation Fund (aka lump sum payment) reckoned there were only 18,000 surviving veterans in the US and Philippines.

It provided for a single payment of $15,000 for WWII veterans living in the US, and $9,000 for those in the Philippines.

But more than 40,000 applied for the lump sum.

Over 8,000 applications were rejected outright. About half of them reportedly because they were not in the official US Army roster, the so-called Missouri List.

The bill’s language also excluded widows and other survivors of deceased veterans who would otherwise be eligible for the lump sum.

Valera said they are optimistic about compelling the DVA to accept pieces of evidence other than the Missouri List to prove a veteran really served with US forces during World War II.

He cited precedents – cases he handled where some Filipino veterans were denied DVA benefits even though they earned American citizenship because of their veterans’ credentials.

It’s puzzling but Valera insists such mix-ups happen.

That could be in part because the Missouri List is a reconstructed list; most of the records of Filipino WWII veterans were destroyed by a fire in the St. Louis repository.

Valera said the DVA’s reliance on the Missouri List forecloses the rights of Filipino veterans.

He explained the legal offensive will complement efforts to win full equity for Filipino veterans in the US Congress.

It’s not as if full equity or recognizing the rights of war widows weren’t discussed and debated in the 63-year fight - at times with extreme passions by opposing camps in the House and Senate - that eventually led to the passage of the equity compensation fund.

They were opposed by Republicans and even when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress that was as far Filipino WWII veterans could get.

Fil-Am activists from Washington DC to Nevada to California and Hawaii toiled and poured everything for our aging “manongs” but in the end, they had to contend with the realities of how US politics and lawmaking works.

Now Valera is echoing the clamor for full equity. So the work begins anew. Nothing is lost in the attempt.

We are reminded of Sir Winston Churchill’s words that “There will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.”

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Do Filipinos complain too much they’re not getting enough from the taxes they pay or, worse, that it’s being wasted by incompetent, corrupt officials? Not really – at least not as much as people from other countries including the United States – according to a recent survey by GlobeScan Inc,, the Program on International Policy Attiutudes (PIPA) and the BBC World Service.

Slightly more than half of Filipinos polled in the survey said government wasn’t spending their tax money wisely – compare that to 74% of Columbians or 69% of Pakistanis.

In contrast, only 34% of Spaniards, 40% of Indonesians and 42% of Egyptians believe their taxes are misspent.

That puts disenchanted Filipinos right about in the middle.

In the US, 55% of Americans think their tax dollars are not going where they’re supposed to go.

The worldwide survey was done in 22 countries, some through the phones, others, like the one conducted in the Philippines, through face-to-face interviews.

“The poll of more than 22,000 people conducted by GlobeScan/PIPA found that people estimated on average that 52% of the money they pay in tax is not used in ways that serve the interests and values of the people and their country,” the report noted.

“Beliefs that the government misspends public moneys may arise from perceptions of corrupt government officials, from perceptions of special interests having undue influence, or from repeatedly hearing opposition parties assert that the party in power is wasting their money,” explained PIPA director Steven Kull.

In the Philippines, some reports suggests as much as 30% of the government budget is lost to corruption.

Despite this, the survey showed a majority of Filipinos, 53% favor increased government spending to address the country’s needs.

The global sentiment appears to defy 1st and 3rd World differentiation.

58% of Americans believe this was a bad idea. It’s the opposite in the United Kingdom where 54% of the people support stimulus spending. Egyptians appear the biggest fans of the economic stimulus – 91% of the people said they support higher government spending.

73% of Filipinos strongly support more government spending for food subsidies – the same as Indonesia and just slightly lower than the 77% of Egyptians and 75% of Colombians. As might be expected, the figures are lower for richer nations – 26% for Americans and Canadians, 29% for the French and 20% for Germans -- because more people have money to buy food.

But here’s the rub – if faced with the choice, more Filipinos are willing to get less from government than giving more in the form of added taxes.

Only 7% of Filipino respondents said they’d support more taxes to reduce a budget deficit. 81% said they prefer cutting services.

That’s in contrast to 16% in China who would opt for higher taxes, or the 20% in Nigeria, 29% in Mexico and 23% in the US because they don't want any disruption in government services.

The only other countries in the survey with equal or greater aversion to higher taxes are Brazil, Colombia and Kenya.

Still, more Filipinos are optimistic about the future than many countries in the survey. 43% believe there are better days ahead for the Philippines, at least in the next 12 months – much higher than the 35% of Indonesians, 22% of Spaniards and Germans, 13% of Americans, 11% of Mexicans, 9% of French and 6% of Brits.

The discrepancy grows even bigger over the 5-year future where 51% of Filipinos think good times lay ahead – compared to 38% of Indonesians, 26% of Canadians, 18% of Americans, 19% of Germans and Russians, 14% of the French and 12% of Brits.

The survey in the Philippines was conducted last July 2-17.

Blame it on the air or the water, or even the euphoria of the new Aquino administration but the global survey suggests it’ll take more than a few calamities and corrupt officials to throw Filipinos in the doldrums.

Monday, September 27, 2010


“I’d rather have thin hair,” President Aquino said in San Jose, “than have a thick face”, using a Pinoy idiom for arrogance or callousness.

“Kapal ng mukha” is so widely used, it’s even earned the ultimate Pinoy compliment – the slang, “kapalmuks” that virtually cements a place in the Filipino vernacular.

President Aquino is back from a week-long visit to the United States, bandying a $2.8 billion “pasalubong” and the promise of thousands of new jobs.

He addressed the United Nations General Assembly, met with top US business executives, sat next to President Obama at a meeting with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), mingled with Fil-Ams in New York and California, and fielded questions from Pinoys around the world in a televised town hall meeting at The Filipino Channel (TFC) studios in Redwood Shores, just outside San Francisco.

Oh yes, he also chomped on a hotdog (which is as much a New York fixture as Times Square at the corner of Sixth Avenue and West 45th Street, talked with President Obama for all of 7 minutes (more or less), and didn’t notice the inverted Philippine flag.

President Aquino’s US sortie had all the trappings of a well-planned, heavily packed business trip. Without an official White House invitation, it was all it could be.

Despite the wide gamut of RP-US relations, there were very few subjects Presidents Aquino and Obama could have tackled seriously amid the highly charged political environment of Washington DC.

Even a side trip to Capitol Hill would have been nothing more than a photo-opportunity (something a certain former Philippine president was wont to do) because lawmakers are in a hurry to finish their business and get back home to campaign for the November midterm elections.

He witnessed the signing of the $434 million Compact agreement with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). He didn’t have to be there, but he did get the chance to hear an unusually candid State Secretary Hillary Clinton.

“I’m not sure there’s any group of people anywhere in the world that work harder than Filipinos. Too many of them feel that they cannot progress in their own country…there’s not much room for someone who’s hardworking, but not connected. Too many of them believe that even if they get the best education they can, that there won’t be an opportunity for them, and so they take that education and help build someone else’s economy, very often here in the United States,” she declared.

President Aquino had correctly set his agenda in the US and realized his goals – raising only those expectations he could deliver, steering clear of controversy – a no-frills, no-nonsense maiden foray in the world of international diplomacy and business.

I’d give his US trip a grade of 90 percent.

We’re not sure if there wasn’t a side, albeit undeclared, agenda to President Aquino’s US trip.

The hotdogs, the lean delegation, the tack of a nation “open for business” appeared aimed at delivering the message change has come to the Philippines.

It was stark contrast to bloated delegations laden with politicians prone to scandalous dinners. That’s one reason why “kapalmuks” gained so much currency back home.

There were no self-serving platitudes in the brief encounter with President Obama; instead, they talked about how the US can clean up the ordnance it left behind on Corregidor over half a century ago.

He obliquely reminded America it had responsibilities in the Philippines; that Filipinos face serious problems but ready to work themselves out of the hole, with a little from friends; that the Philippines is a land of opportunities.

He tried to show the “kapalmuks” regime is over and there’s a new management in the Philippines. The President comported himself like a typical businessman out to close a good deal.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


The Republican senatorial bet in Maryland for November’s mid-term elections is asking Filipino-Americans to vote for him.

Eric Wargotz is a physician by trade, and also the top commissioner of Queen Anne county, Maryland. He is also married to Fil-Am Cheryl Ann Llacer.

Cheryl Ann is the only daughter of Drs. Rey and Zorayda Lee-Llacer of Potomac, Maryland. He originally hailed from Masbate and she from Manila. The couple earned their degrees from the University of Sto Tomas.

Rey tells us that his daughter actually met her future husband because of their common medical work.

Cheryl Ann is an economist educated at the University of Maryland and Georgetown University in Washington DC.

Eric and Cheryl Ann have been married 15 years and have three children.

Wargotz won the Sept. 13 Republican nomination race in Maryland. The state has two seats in the US Senate.

He is running against incumbent Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who according to the latest Rasmussen polls, is leading the race 54 percent to Wargotz’s 38 percent. The GOP is the minority political party in Maryland.

“Fil-Ams will have a true friend if he makes it to the Senate,” Wargotz’s father in law stressed.

Wargotz is campaigning as a “Washington outsider” who promises to bring “realistic, common-sense solutions to the tough challenges facing us.”

Rey said they are courting Fil-Am support because of their close-knit network of family and friends, which he believes will boost Wargotz’s chances in November.

He added that his son-in-law is a pro-life activist who believes in traditional marriage and secure borders. He described Wargotz as a “moderate Republican”.

He insists Wargotz shares the same set of values and principles that many Filipinos live by.

“It will be as if we had a Filipino in the US Senate,” Rey enthused.


Rozita Lee, one of President Obama’s newly appointed Asian-American advisers, vows to take the concerns of Filipino-Americans to the White House.

Lee, vice chairperson of the umbrella National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), is one of two Fil-Ams named to the Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

The other Fil-Am was Hector Vargas Jr., executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association.

“Through this commission, I as your representative and Hector Vargas as your representative in the Filipino community will be sure that we get the information to the President whatever issues you may have,” she told us after the oath-taking ceremonies on Capitol Hill on Tuesday (Sept. 21).

First established in the late 90s, the advisory body serves as a bridge between the various Asian American communities and the White House.

It was largely forgotten in the waning years of the Bush administration.

The Obama administration decided to reinvigorate the commission after the Gulf oil spill because many victims were immigrants from Southeast Asia.

The White House initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is administered by the Departments of Commerce and Education.

The decision to focus on the plight of Asian Americans also comes six weeks before the mid-term elections.

President Obama won the Asian-American vote, except for Vietnamese-Americans, in the last national polls.

However, it also can not be denied that Asian Americans are reeling from the effects of the economic downturn. Reports show less than 1 percent of Asian Americans have taken advantage of federal medical grants for instance.

The commission reckoned that as many as 180,000 Fil-Ams live on or below the poverty line. More than half of them are currently jobless.

“President Obama wants to be sure that everybody has the opportunity to avail of the many things being offered,” Lee explained.

“Many people don’t know the federal government has many grants, many things that they can partake of and as of today, I know that in the Filipino community they don’t know about these,” she averred.

She urged Fil-Ams to take advantage of these opportunities.

The Small Business Administration for example assists socially and economically disadvantaged groups like Fil-Am-owned companies, to win federal contracts. The SBA provides training and access to capital to help these firms compete for government contracts.

The Department of Education also offers funds for projects to boost its capacity to deliver science, technology and health education to Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans.

They are just a sampling of the facilities available for Asian Americans, particularly Fil-Ams.

“There are many issues we’re working on – civil rights, healthcare, education. We know that in the Filipino community there are things people don’t know about or like President Obama to know about,” Lee explained.

She said the commission plays an important role in ensuring this flow of information flows freely and becomes increasingly robust.

Friday, September 24, 2010


State Secretary Hillary Clinton urged the administration of President Benigno Aquino III to work harder to create better living opportunities so Filipinos don’t have to go abroad to have a better life.

“I know how smart the Filipino are. I know how hard they work,” Secretary Clinton said at the signing ceremonies for the $434 million Compact agreement with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York last night.

But she noted “Too many of them feel that they can not progress in their own country. Too many of them feel that the elite in business and politics basically call the shots.”

“There’s not much room for someone who’s hardworking but not connected. Too many of them believe that even if they get the best education they can, that there won’t be an opportunity for them and so they take that education and help build someone else’s economy, very often here in the United States,” Secretary Clinton observed.

President Aquino said the MCC Compact grant – intended to fight poverty and corruption in the Philippines – was “no ordinary aid agreement.”

He described it as “a solemn agreement covenanted by its two entities in a common objective.”

The $434 million will be spent for three projects to build a modern highway that would cut through the poorest villages of Eastern Visayas; boost a barangay-based self-help program to provide livelihood in depressed communities across the archipelago; and enhance the capabilities of the Bureau of Internal Revenue to identify and prosecute tax cheats.

“All the aid, all the assistance in the world would be meaningless if it ended up stolen or misspent,” President Aquino admitted.


The Compact agreement with the Philippines has been ready since late last year but the MCC decided to wait for the outcome of last May’s elections.

They made it clear they wanted the new administration to commit first to MCC goals, especially after the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo flunked the all-important corruption test year after year.

“If the American people through their government can commit resources to their friends; their friend, owe it to those pledging assistance and to themselves to be worthy stewards of what they will receive,” President Aquino declared.

Secretary Clinton said the Compact grant “has the potential for assisting in the transformation that President Aquino has spoken of”.

“My visit to the United States has a key objective – to inform investors that the Philippines is indeed open for business – not the under-the-table kind, but the legitimate kind; not the kind of business that thrives in corrupt deal-making, but which thrives because of sensible and enforceable and fair contracts,” President Aquino averred.

He stressed his administration is “committed to not just a fair, but a square deal for all”.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


A three-day immigration dragnet in San Diego, California led to the arrest of 39 “criminal aliens” that included an undetermined number of Filipinos, the US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) revealed yesterday.

Twenty-six out of the 39 arrested had outstanding orders of deportation. They had prior arrests and convictions for various crimes including domestic violence, indecent exposure, theft, fraud and drunk driving.

Those that already have orders of deportation will be removed from the US immediately, the agency said.

This group is composed of 29 males and 10 females from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Somalia and the Philippines.

The report did not break the numbers down by countries of origin.

Earlier this month, the ICE deported 66 Filipinos who either had criminal convictions or were living illegally in the US or both.

The Department of Homeland Security said a total of 18,820 undocumented Filipinos voluntarily returned to the Philippines in 2009 to avoid arrest and detention.

Of the 681 Filipinos who were actually deported last year – 253 had criminal convictions.

The San Diego round-up was conducted under the ICE’s Fugitive Operations Program, which aims to find, arrest and deport criminal aliens and immigration fugitives. The program prioritizes cases involving aliens who pose a threat to national security and public safety, including members of transnational street gangs and child sex offenders.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


If President Aquino can’t come to Washington DC, then Filipino-American supporters will go to New York for a chance to see and meet the man they helped into office.

President Aquino didn’t get an invitation to meet President Obama in the White House.

They will meet instead at the United Nations in New York, where a separate meeting with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is scheduled.

America usually rolls out the red carpet for newly elected Philippine presidents, a way of courting support from a former vassal who’s remained a steadfast ally in a dynamic yet increasingly dangerous corner of the world.

Officials told us they couldn’t fix a schedule for a White House welcome.

The US president simply doesn’t have the time to host his Philippine counterpart in the American capital.

President Aquino is coming at a really bad time for the Obama administration.

There are about 8 million jobless Americans. The economic recovery is sputtering despite the $787 billion stimulus package.

And there’s the midterm elections in November, where there’s a big chance Democrats could lose control of the House of Representatives and possibly, even the Senate.

That would certainly imperil President Obama’s legislative agenda – including comprehensive immigration reform that is supported by the Fil-Am community – in the last two years of his administration.

A recent CBS News poll showed 6 out of 10 Americans don’t believe President Obama has made a dent on fixing the economy. A Fox News survey showed 52 percent of Americans disapprove the way he’s running the country.

President Obama’s calendar is booked solid with fund-raising, barnstorming and speaking engagements across the country until November.

In a sense, his political fortunes – if he seeks a 2nd term – is intertwined with Democratic allies running in November.

If the US chief executive had to struggle on his promises when the Democrats held the majority in both chambers of Congress, what more if he loses it?

President Obama is also facing an America that’s increasingly moving to the right – an America that disdains big government, huge spending, high taxes and skeptical of the political establishment.

President Aquino has set the goals of his 6-day US sortie. Winning more aid and more jobs for Filipinos are his objectives.

“We are conscious of the fact that we are in a debt hole. We can only begin to climb out if we strictly implement austerity measures and cut down on unnecessary spending,” said Malacanang aide Paquito Ochoa.

He could have been talking about America and no one would know the difference.

President Aquino will witness the signing of the $434 million Compact agreement with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and meet with executives of top US multinationals like JP Morgan, IBM and Hewlett Packard, among others.

With American domestic political concerns shifting the focus away from Washington DC, President Aquino should take this an opportunity to spend more of his time speaking with as many of the 4 million Filipinos and Filipino-Americans in the US.

They pumped $7.32 billion to the Philippine economy in 2009 – roughly half of total overseas Filipino dollar remittances.

There is a deep desire by Fil-Ams to help the Philippines, but they have been largely ignored by the government in Manila or turned off by corruption and crime.

There is no deliberate, concerted effort by Philippine officials to mobilize this potent expat community for nation-building, something akin perhaps to how American Jews helped build Israel or how American Koreans and American Indians are directly intervening in the economic and technological development of their mother countries.

In a way, President Aquino is right to forget about DC. It's quite toxic right now anyway. There are bigger stakes in the US.

Friday, September 17, 2010


President Obama has appointed two prominent Filipino-Americans as White House advisers on Asian American issues.

Rozita Villanueva Lee, a familiar face on Capitol Hill during the fight for Filipino World War II veterans rights, and Hector Vargas Jr., a well-known gays rights activist, were named as new members of the Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Lee is national vice chairperson of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), an umbrella of various Fil-Am organizations across the United States.

Vargas is executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GMLA), which claims to have a membership of over 2,000 medical professionals spread over 50 states and 12 countries.

Lee helped establish the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce as well as the Asian Pacific Forum.

She vigorously campaigned for President Obama in the last elections and has strong ties to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the senior Democrat from Nevada.

Lee was instrumental in prodding the Senate to take up the Filipino veterans equity bill which was eventually folded into the 2009 stimulus bill, granting $198 million in lump-sum payments to about 18,000 aging Filipino World War II veterans.

NaFFAA chairman Greg Macabenta cited her “leadership of FilVote that has been instrumental in bringing thousands of Filipino Americans to register and participate in this country’s political process”.

“With energy and enthusiasm, she has drawn upon her coalition building and networking skills to help move our community’s empowerment goals forward,” he added.

A proud grandma, Lee had produced and hosted a TV program for the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) in Las Vegas that focused on the Asian American community. She also runs the entertainment company RVL Inc.

The San Francisco-based Vargas has served as GLMA director since June. He was previously deputy director of the Education and Public Affairs Department of Lambda Legal, the largest national legal organization dedicated to the recognition of civil rights for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those suffering from HIV.

He was also assistant director with the American Bar Association and national student organizing director with the National Association for Public Interest Law.

“At the NaFFAA’s founding in 1997 and in subsequent national conferences, Hector worked diligently with community leaders to ensure that NaFFAA would be inclusive of the LGBT community,” Macabenta said.

Beyond the prestige the advisory posts carry, they will have the opportunity to influence White House policy as it affects Asian Americans in general, and Filipino-Americans in particular. For people like Vargas, the post could be an added avenue to push for his LGBT advocacy.

“We are extremely proud of Rozita Lee and Hector Vargas,” the NaFFAA statement read, “We know they will be strong voices and a dynamic presence in this commission”.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


The euphoria over Fil-Am Kris Valderrama’s Democratic primary victory in Maryland’s 26th district refuses to die down even as she solidified her hold on the Democratic primary ticket.

Valderrama said she was “humbled” by the support she got from Metro DC’s Fil-Am community.

But little did people know that she wielded a secret weapon during her campaign.

There are hundreds of Filipino teachers in Prince George’s county. Many joined her campaign as volunteers.

No strangers to the rudiments of electoral exercises – after all, they are always on the frontlines of elections back home – they could not vote so they helped in other ways.

“It’s the bayanihan spirit in action,” said Bing Branigin, a Valderrama volunteer.

For a community that’s mostly ambivalent to politics (even when the candidate is one of our own) the sight of Pinoy mentors pounding the streets, knocking on doors and engaging complete strangers, working the telephones – urging everyone willing to listen to vote for their “kababayan” – was truly inspiring.

Perhaps it was the fact that Valderrama was dumped by fellow Democratic incumbents that stirred Pinoys into action. She appeared to be “inaapi” by her own party.

That's the impression we got when Jon Melegrito first told us about it during the "surprise" birthday party for Manila Manila head honcho Bert Alfaro several weeks back.

Filipinos love to root for the underdog, and for a time, the soft-spoken and well-mannered Kris looked like she was going to have to wage her biggest political fight yet all alone.

Perhaps it was this aversion to leaving a compatriot on a lurch that drove many to volunteer time and toil to the Valderrama campaign.

For whatever reason, Pinoys got together and they made a difference in the primary contest in the 26th District, which many say, is the real mid-term elections.

And with the help of veterans of the 2009 Hillary Clinton primary campaign like Melegrito and many other Fil-Ams, Valderrama was able to make a serious stab for retaining her House of Delegate seat.

To be sure, it was the collective effort of Valderrama supporters, not only among the Pinoy community, that carried the day for Kris.

She has found a template for future campaigns.

But even as the Valderrama phone brigade swung into action, we were told that many Fil-Ams were unwilling to spend a few minutes of their time to visit the voting precints, even after they were told their “kababayan” needed them. What a shame!

Which makes the Pinoy teachers’ role even more significant. They are not citizens, yet. They have no stake in the outcome of elections here. They don’t stand to get anything for all they put into the Valderrama campaign, except perhaps the gratitude of the Valderrama family.

And yet they gave what they could. It was indeed “bayanihan”.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Young Filipino artist Mikas Matsuzawa’s picture of a young boy walking on a pot-marked dirt road carrying a red “parol” was chosen as one of the winners in the State Department’s Democracy Photo Challenge.

The State Department launched the contest to highlight the International Day of Democracy.

The Photo Challenge asked people around the world to complete the phrase “Democracy is…” in an image.

Matsuzawa chose what could be a typical Philippine countryside image to deliver his theme that “Democracy is…accessible and quality education for all. It is education as a right”.

The other winners are Kaylene George of South Africa; Mike Mitchell of Benin; Venkatesh Hamyanaik of Australia; Mehman Huseynov of Azerbaijan; dino Peric of Bosnia & Herzegovina; Kaveh Baghdadchi of Iran; Mohamed Kaouche of Algeria; Mustafa Kia of Afghanistan; Jun Krishna Joshi of Nepal; Ian Cunningham of the United States; and Wladia Drummond of Brazil.

The winning photos were put on display in the South Lobby of the United Nations today.

They were selected from nearly 3,000 entries from 131 countries.

The State Department release said an independent jury narrowed the submissions to 36 finalists representing each region of the world.

The online public then voted for their favorites. The State Department said more than half a million people took part in the voting.

“The State Department established the ‘Democracy is…’ initiative to engage people around the world in a global conversation on democracy. The initiative’s goal is to empower a global audience to share views on democracy,” the statement read.

The winning pictures can be viewed here.


We just got great news – Fil-Am Kris Valderrama is running a strong third in today’s tally of Tuesday’s Democratic primaries in the 26th District of Maryland with more than 89 percent of the voting precints accounted for.

Despite being dropped from the Democratic incumbent ticket, Valderrama captured over 19% of the vote compared to fourth-placer Ollie Anderson’s 14.8 %.

Based on this partial, unofficial tally, Valderrama fared better than her last campaign four years ago.

Valderrama is the only Filipino-American and one of only four Asian-Americans in the 188-member Maryland General Assembly (the state’s legislative arm).

If her 1,000-vote lead holds, as most now see, she will retain one of three seats for the 26th District in the Maryland House of Delegates.

The 26th District, which is part of Prince George’s County and encompasses the large Fil-Am communities in Fort Washington and Oxon Hill, is predominantly Democratic so last Tuesday’s nomination race is widely seen as the real contest for the November midterm elections.

Kris’ father, David Valderrama, had held the same seat from 1991 till 2003. His daughter recaptured the post in 2007.

Valderrama’s fellow incumbents Veronica Turner garnered 25% of the votes and Jay Walker, nearly 23% of the votes – which appears to send the message that Democratic voters in the 26th District are satisfied with their representation in Annapolis.

On the eve of the primaries, she allowed us an interview at her home in Fort Washington where she stressed the importance of Fil-Ams getting out to vote and having a voice in the Maryland legislature (see preceding article).

Aside from the large Fil-Am population, Prince George’s county is also one of the fastest growing and economically dynamic regions in Metro DC, and is one of the top employers of Filipino teachers and professionals here.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Kris Valderrama is waging an uphill fight to keep her seat in the Maryland House of Delegates.

She is the only Filipino-American and one of our four Asian Americans in the bicameral Maryland General Assembly.

The lawmaking General Assembly has 47 senators and 141 delegates elected from 47 districts.

Valderrama is one of three delegates for the 26th district. It was a post held by her father David before she took over in 2007.

But for unknown reasons, she was dropped from the Democratic incumbent slate in the legislative district, and despite being an incumbent is now left to struggle to nail one of the three seats up for grabs in Tuesday’s party nomination contest.

“I’m fighting an uphill battle this time around,” Valderrama concedes, “so I’m running this campaign as it were my first one.”

Fil-Am groups from Northern Virginia and Washington DC have responded to the call by pounding the streets and working the phones to boost her campaign.

The 26th district has been historically dominated by Democrats. Thus, many see the nomination race as the real elections.

An indication perhaps of how tightly Democrats control the district, there is reportedly only one Republican running for a district seat in the November midterm elections.

The 26th district covers one of the fastest growing regions of Prince George’s County that includes the large Fil-Am enclaves in Fort Washington and Oxon Hill.

“The Filipino American vote is very significant in the district,” Valderrama averred.

“We definitely have an effect on the outcome of elections,” she adds.

But their numbers have never really translated into votes and the political clout that emanates from them.

Valderrama recounted how during the last elections, she captured the third and last delegate seat with a 90-vote margin. But an estimated one thousand Fil-Ams who were eligible to vote failed to cast their ballots, she revealed.

“I think a lot of this is because of the fact people are not as familiar with the voting process here for whatever reason,” she explained.

Most Fil-Ams are reportedly anxious about registering to vote for fear they may be called for jury duty. The older Fil-Ams, Valderrama surmised, are turned off by their experience with Philippine politics, believing politicians here or back home are birds of the same feather. Many are simply too busy to vote (voting days here are regular working days).

“I live and represent a predominantly African-American community but it’s pretty diverse and now we’re getting an increased population of Hispanics.

“Some in the African-American community feel I only help the Filipino community then on the other side of the spectrum I have a Filipino community who think I don’t help them enough.

“You can never please everyone and I don’t try to,” Valderrama stressed.

“Who ever is their representative it’s their job to represent everyone in their constituency whether you’re black, white, Asian or Hispanic,” she explained.

“If there is any hesitation for whatever reason they don’t want me to be representative, they should realize who better to look out for their (Fil-Ams’) issues than another Filipina or Filipino,” she told us.

Driving the obvious, Valderrama declared “the Filipino American community has an advantage because I know and I understand the issues they’re confronting.”

Tuesday’s primaries will show whether that realization has sunk in among Maryland Fil-Ams.


She was the most sought after leading lady of my generation but we almost missed her at this weekend’s TOFA (20 Outstanding Filipinos Abroad) awards gala in Washington DC.

There she was sitting in an obscure corner of the J.W. Marriott ballroom, with husband Dr. Oscar Ortiz.

They had driven from Toms River, New Jersey (near the more famous Jersey Shore) to root for a friend, the World Bank’s Solita Wakefield who was named one of the TOFA awardees.

They told us they were introduced by a common friend, a chance encounter five years ago that almost didn't happen because Marianne was already set to fly back to the Philippines. The rest, they say, is a love story.

At the time, Marianne shuttled between Manila and New Jersey on a “green-card” visa to visit her two daughters with estranged husband Ronald Corveau.

Dr. Ortiz went to New York for advance studies in 1987 but moved to New Jersey a decade later to open a private practice. He is an endocrinologist specializing in diabetes and metabolism.

“She’s a perfect wife and mother,” he proudly declares.

For her part, Marianne insists she doesn’t miss showbiz and is “perfectly contented” with her new role as housewife.

Discovered by Pitoy Moreno when she was only 16, Marianne has appeared in over 50 movies and “telenobelas”, the last a TV version of “Panday” made by ABS-CBN in 2005, where she reprised a role she portrayed in “Panday IV” 21 years earlier.

Marianne played leading lady to Fernando Poe Jr. more than any other actress.
She joined the cast of such classics as “Dekada 70” (which won over 13 major awards), “Mayor Latigo” (1991), “Delima Gang” (1989), “Isang Bala Ka Lang” (1983), “Ang Leon at Ang Daga” (1975).

She was also memorable on the small screen with “Anghel na Walang Langit” (2005) and “Basta’t Kasama Kita” (2002), among many others.

It’s always good to see a familiar face here, if not of old friends then of people who became part of our past without even knowing about it.

My family liked Marianne because she’s beautiful and steered clear of controversy that often seems part of showbiz life.

It was obvious she’s found what she’s been looking for in the arms of her man and her new home.

But the joy of finally meeting a famous actress was dampened by the sight of TOFA founder Nonoy Mendoza, who gave everyone a big scare, just days earlier when he was rushed to the hospital.

He established the TOFA after surviving a heart attack over two decades ago. He said he saw that event as a “sign from God” and so formed the awards-giving body to encourage achievement among overseas Filipinos.

Although he looked frail, we're glad Nonoy was up and leading the awards rites.

This year’s crop came from all over the US and Canada.

Among them were Jesse Gatchalian, one of the executive directors of the Virginia-based Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC) and tireless community leader and engineer Pablito Alarcon.

Friday, September 10, 2010


We had just come from dinner at the cafeteria when we noticed a commotion at the ABS-CBN newsroom.

Everyone was glued to the TV monitor hanging in one corner of room, close to Atty. Dong Puno’s office. CNN was showing one of the World Trade Center towers covered in a thick plume of smoke.

People looked at each other, confused. We hadn’t yet grasped its significance and we kept asking, to ourselves as well as colleagues around us – what’s happening? Someone told us a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. What went wrong?

Then, suddenly, we saw a jetliner hit the second tower, propelling flames and debris into the gray sky. There was an anguished gasp, some cursed, and then a deafening silence. Even the CNN anchors’ annotation seemed to drown from the enormity of what we just witnessed.

The terror attack in New York and the Pentagon in Washington DC spawned two wars and a deadly conflict that rages even today.

That was nine years ago to the day. It feels distant, especially for someone who witnessed the carnage from thousands of miles away.

One of my first obsessions after settling here was finding the spot where the third hijacked jetliner crashed into the Pentagon.

The Pentagon is a major public transport hub so it’s easy to get there. Seeing the edifice for the first time, our immediate impression was how huge and formidable it appears.

Through the years, we’ve met people who, around this time of the year, recall September 11 as if it was yesterday. The area around the Pentagon is often filled with planes taking off and landing at the Reagan Airport just across the Potomac River. People are so accustomed to their sight and noise, few bother to look up.

Only after the attack did people remember one plane in particular because it flew so low.

We interviewed for The Filipino Channel some years back, a Fil-Am woman from Manassas who survived the attack on the Pentagon. She worked there and was trapped in the rubble.

She appeared alright until we asked her about that day. Her voice wandered off, her hands seem to tremble and her eyes appear to fix to some distant space where not even her husband could follow.

Yet her message was clear, she’s grateful to be alive.

Longtime Fil-Ams would describe to me how it was like here before and after September 11, as if it was some clear demarcation in time – how easy it was, for instance, to get a Virginia driver’s license (some of the 9-11 plotters got their licenses here).

The changes seem to become part of routine and what was extraordinary right after September 11 has become as ordinary today as taking your shoes off for inspection at the airport.

Coming from a country still wracked by bloody strife, we are amazed at how life here seems – on the surface at least -- unchanged, unyielding. People have stopped looking up at the planes. People laze in parks, reading books or playing baseball or lacrosse. DC residents may balk when the Secret Service close off the streets, but many are resigned this was a price for living in the nation’s capital.

“Survival” is the default setting for most Americans, with or without al-Qaeda.

Obviously, Americans have their soldiers to thank for chasing the nation’s enemies far from its borders, carrying the war to places like Iraq and Afghanistan and Somalia and even the Philippines.

How much has America changed?

The US has elected a president who’s embraced the Islamic world like no other. And yet there are some who want to burn the Quran.

The country is in the grip of a stubborn recession and millions are unemployed. Those are problems Americans can hardly blame on al-Qaeda. Perhaps they are added proof of just how inutile the al-Qaeda grand strategy to “force America to its knees”.

We’ve come to the conclusion the only people who can actually defeat America, are the Americans themselves.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


We’ve always been intrigued how a single act by one man can wreak on the world around him.

The Rev. Terry Jones, leader of a fringe Christian church in Florida, planned to burn the Quran to mark the 9th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks in the United States.

Today, he announced that he won’t be pushing through with the Quran burning because the New York imam who wanted to build a mosque near Ground Zero had ostensibly agreed to either move it farther away or scrap the plan altogether.

But Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who has served as an US emissary of moderation in the Muslim world, was surprised by Jones’ assertion.

He praised Rev. Jones’ decision not to burn the Muslim Holy Book but explained deferring the construction of the mosque would send the wrong message to the Islamic world.

“We are not going to toy with our religion or any other. Nor are we going to barter. We are here to extend our hands to build peace and harmony,” Rauf declared.

A loud chorus of government and religious leaders from around the world have urged Jones not to push through with the Quran burning.

The number of people who’ve denounced Jones’ plan to burn the Quran have exceeded his church’s 30 members several hundred times over.

President Obama described Jones’ plan a “recruitment bonanza for al-Qaeda”.

Interpol today issued a global alert involving 188 countries, including the Philippines, about a “strong likelihood” of violent attacks if Jones burns the Quran.

US embassies in Algeria, Indonesia, Jordan and Syria have issued “warden messages”.

“All our embassies worldwide have convened emergency action committee meetings to assess the possible threat,” said deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

All these precautions because of one man’s convoluted vision to espouse the supremacy of his religious beliefs.

Rev. Jones, officials here stressed, is not reflective of America or Americans.

This reminds us of another man whose acts led to the shaming of a nation.

We doubt whether former police Capt. Rolando Mendoza realized where his decision to hostage a bus-load of Hongkong tourists would lead to.

He probably woke up, donned his fatigues and motored to Fort Santiago bent on forcing the government to reinstate him to the police force. He seemed lucid enough during the early hours of the hostage crisis to presume he didn’t plan to die that day.

But it is unnerving how easily such desperate measures unravel and spin out of control at the smallest miscalculation.

Rev. Jones demonstrates the same measure of desperation in his desire to burn the Quran to "remember" the Sept. 11 attacks.

He is also a hostage taker. His victim is America and his weapon is the very constitutional protections that ensure the freedom to worship all Faiths.

Pundits say this is America’s “silly season”. Midterm elections are barely two months away and some people or groups are eager to tap into the anger and insecurities borne by a stubborn recession and widespread joblessness.

In this atmosphere of fear-mongering, some have found a convenient target in one of America’s minority religions.

This goes beyond religious differences. This shows it's not really a good time to be a minority in America today.

State Secretary Hillary Clinton has urged the media to ignore Rev. Jones.

To a large extent, publicity is the fuel that stokes desperate acts. In the same measure, public opinion can extinguish them.

Perhaps it's apt in this instance to use counsel from the Quran, “Show forgiveness, speak for justice and avoid the ignorant.” But it's really hard if the ignorant will not leave us be.

Friday, September 3, 2010


Over 60 Filipinos, some convicted with crimes in the United States, were deported back to the Philippines aboard a chartered jet from Seattle, Washington, officials announced today.

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said they were part of 98 Asians repatriated to their home countries for immigration violations.

The group consisted of 66 Filipinos, 18 Indonesians, five Cambodians, four Malaysians, two Japanese and one Vietnamese.

ICE said they were comprised of 79 males and 17 females.

They were locked up earlier in various parts of the US and transferred to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington for the flight back to Asia. The chartered jet left last Tuesday.

The 66 deportees had been convicted of criminal offenses while living in the US that ranged from homicide to drug trafficking to rape and other sex crimes.

“This year, ICE expects to remove a record number of criminal aliens from the country. The United States welcomes law-abiding immigrants but foreign nationals who violate our laws and commit crimes in our communities should be on notice that ICE is going to use all its resources to find you and send you home,” said ICE Director John Morton.

The Department of Homeland Security, which has supervision over ICE, said a total of 18,820 Filipinos who are illegally living in the US voluntarily returned to the Philippines in 2009 – making them the third biggest group next only to Mexicans and Canadians who went back to their home countries of their own volition.

The DHS deported 681 Filipinos last year – 253 of whom had criminal convictions.

Most of the 128,000 foreigners deported in 2009 were convicted for drug trafficking.

The ICE reported that as of August this year, they have removed more than 350,000 people from the US – nearly half of them because they had criminal convictions.


When can you say that you’ve shed enough tears? When is heartfelt sorrow enough to prove remorse, or the resolve to fix things that need fixing?

Former police officer Rolando Mendoza’s act of taking hostages and later executing eight of them was cruel and contemptible.

The ala-Keystone Cops hostage “rescue” by the Manila SWAT and how the whole crisis was managed by people and groups with power to influence the outcome are equally condemnable.

The police, media and even President Aquino have all acknowledged their faults and acted to avoid a repetition of the tragic event.

But how many times do we have to apologize to the Chinese in Hongkong and the Mainland?

“The fact is President Aquino has more than bent over backwards to try to ease the pain of the Chinese people,” Billy Esposo wrote in his column in the Philippine Star.

Senator Kiko Pangilinan added, “We ask for China’s understanding in that we live under different systems, and what may be prohibited and banned in their nation may not be so in ours”.

The US State Department released earlier this week the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

“China’s human rights record is dismal and not improving,” noted Walter Lohman and Nicholas Hamisevicz of The Heritage Foundation.

The Aquino administration has demonstrated time and again just how new and inexperienced it is (others, less generous, say its incompetence) in dealing with major crisis.

It may not be as evident as several decades ago, but the Philippines lives in a tough neighborhood.

The Maguindanao Massacre was not simply an act of political violence. Coupled with the five-decade-old communist insurgency and Islamic secessionism in Mindanao – they undermine the fabric of Philippine sovereignty – the supreme and independent authority possessed or claimed by a state.

Add to that Mendoza’s brazen presumption that he could actually force the government to review his dismissal for being a “kotong” or “hulidap” policeman by taking foreign hostages, with the objective of winning back his old job.

The Philippines is surrounded by powers much greater than her.

The country still has to shake off the reputation of being the “sick man of Asia”. This only adds to the already serious institutional weaknesses that have stopped her from addressing the larger concerns of poverty and corruption.

Power loves a vacuum. It is drawn to it like flies on rotting meat. And since the Philippines has so little of it, the void could be filled from outside.

Perhaps that is why when a dismissed cop mows down eight Chinese tourists (some with dual British and Canadian citizenships), we seem to weep much harder and feel the indignation more than when active-duty policemen herd off about four dozen Filipinos on a lonely road, mow them down with Armalites, crushing some inside their cars with a payloader.

Isolated incidents, true. But isn’t it time the government, specifically the fledgling Aquino administration, proves it can get the job done?

In 1976, Israel raided the Entebbe airport in Uganda to rescue 248 Jews taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists. In 2009, France sent troops to rescue its nationals aboard a yacht held by pirates off the Somali coast.

Even as the Philippine government makes amends, it’s time to tell the Chinese we’ve finished with our apologies, to let them do their job. We live in a tough neighborhood – the Chinese know that only too well, and Filipinos should do too.