Sunday, October 31, 2010


Funnymen Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have proven once more that “if you build it, they will come”.

At the start of the show Colbert said he was hiding in a “fear bunker” afraid no one would show up to Saturday’s “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” at the National Mall.

The crowd stretched from the foot of Capitol Hill to almost the Washington Monument.

Since the DC police and National Park service (which runs the Mall) stopped giving crowd estimates decades ago, they found another way of sizing up the event.

They asked people to carry a wave from the front rows to where the throng ended. The tsunami of raised hands and shouts rocketed through the Mall for almost a minute – perhaps offering a new form of measurement.

They also installed a seismograph and asked people to jump at the same time. We recalled an old belief that if China’s billions jumped together at the same time, they’d be able to simulate an earthquake.

The “minute-long” sized crowd jumped but experts say they “created” a tremor that was “200,000 weaker than a car colliding with a wall”. Well, so much for the China human earthquake theory.

The rally was very lighthearted, and most carried their own signs that tried to be creative, clever or funny – with “tried” mostly the operative word.

The rally called on Americans to turn their backs on hate and return to good old-fashioned civility – that seemed lost in the highly toxic political campaign season.

“This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith or people of activism…or to suggest that times are not difficult and we have nothing to fear,” Stewart said.

“They are and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times,” he stressed, laying the theme of the day’s event.

It was a star-studded event that featured Sheryl Crow, John Legend, Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) and Ozzy Osbourne, Kareem Abdul Jabar and R2D2, among others.

It looked like organizers and police underestimated the number of people attending the rally. There were not enough giant projectors or “Jumbotrons”, and speakers could not reach the crowd at the edges of the Mall.

People climbed up trees and lamp posts just to get a glimpse of, not the stage, but the “Jumbotrons”.

Many were evidently early Halloween revelers; others went to the rally to drive home a point.

They were just tired of the shouting matches that seemed to dominate the debate in America since they elected the nation’s first black president.

“The country’s 24-hour politico pundit perpetual panic conflictinator” did not cause America’s problemas, Stewart said, “but makes solving them that much harder.”

“If we amplify everything, we hear nothing,” he declared.

Most Americans, he added, don’t live as Republicans or Democrats but as “people who are just a little bit late for something, often something they do not want to do…but the truth is, we work together to get things done every damn day.”

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Some Fil-Ams are worried about the campaign rhetoric against business outsourcing the days leading up to next week’s midterm elections that could hurt countries like the Philippines.

“This should be a source of concern for Filipinos,” admitted lawyer Wari Azarcon, one of the founding members of the Filipino American Republicans of Virginia (FARV).

President Obama and the Democratic Party have made the issue of business outsourcing one of their key campaign issues. The President has vowed to slap stiffer levies on American companies that ship jobs overseas.

That tack hasn’t been as visible in the Metro DC region, with its large immigrant population, but in Ohio and the President’s home state of Illinois, at least one influential group of Asian Americans have reportedly poured millions to the campaign kitty of Republican candidates who are open to employment outsourcing.

Americans troop to polling stations on Nov. 2 to elect their senators, congressmen, governors and key state and local officials.

The Wall Street Journal said Democratic attacks against outsourcing were alienating erstwhile supporters in the Indian American community.

For the first time, the Wall Street Journal revealed, the Indian-American political action committee (USINPAC) has began spending on GOP candidates because of the outsourcing issue.

Last July, a group of Fil-Ams lobbied Capitol Hill against a bill by Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York, that would impose a 25-cent tax on each call made from an overseas call center to US customers.

“We are for free trade,” Azarcon averred, “and while personally I am committed to the exercise of my power as a consumer to defend the US economy, American companies must have that option to resort to outsourcing if this is the way to be competitive and survive.”

The US is the world’s biggest off-shoring client.

The Philippines is reportedly the 3rd largest business process outsourcing (BPO) destination next only to India (37%) and Canada (27%).

Philippine officials and industry leaders estimate the number of people employed by BPOs will grow from over 400,000 today to 700,000 by 2011. The Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPAP) said Philippine-based BPOs could generate 1.3 million jobs and $25 billion in revenues by 2016.

The Philippine outsourcing sector offers various services, from the dominant call centers to finance, animation, engineering computer-assisted design (CAD), medical transcription and architectural services.

When US banks were forced to temporarily suspend millions of home foreclosures following reports bank officials allegedly didn’t even read the foreclosure papers they were signing, there were suggestions some of those documents may have actually been processed in the Philippines.

Azarcon said American corporations have an obligation to stakeholders and cracking down on US outsourcing contracts could ultimately hurt the economy.

“If these companies go bankrupt because they can not compete in the market, the impact will be more devastating,” he warned.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Even during summer, you can only fly to Baguio City, the Philippine’s most popular mountain resort city, at the right time of the day – too early or too late, Loakan’s short runway would likely be shrouded by clouds.

We made one such flight accompanying then military chief Gen. Lisandro Abadia on one of his speaking engagements.

The event was at an old, wooden hotel along Kennon Road, at the edge of town.

Visitors were welcomed by a massive painting of an eerie hallway, faded with age and marked by what appeared to be like short streaks of light which at first glance, we thought were scratches on the canvass. The wooden floor creaked in exertion, and despite the number of people attending the convention, the hotel seemed hauntingly sad and empty.

Near the end of the general’s speech, we went off looking for the restroom, which turned out to be at the very end of a narrow corridor. I felt an odd, unexplainable sensation. I was sure I was alone, then not. Walking back to the ballroom, I felt my hair stand, the skin on my face and hands tingling. I couldn’t wait to get out of that hotel. And on the way out, I noticed that that painting hanging on the lobby was of the hallway with the restroom.

Baguio City is well-known for ghosts. Many friends who went there as unbelievers have returned convinced spirits roamed there.

A dear colleague, Bobby Burgos, then president of the Philippine National Police Press Corps, was so sure ghost tales are meant for children that he kept casting a scary web on the group’s younger female reporters, warning about “visitors” coming in their rooms at Teachers Camp that night.

He consented to be left behind at Teachers Camp, saying he needed a nap, as we left to explore Session Road. We thought it hilarious that a group of journalists covering coup attempts and local wars felt the need to stay close together because of some old wives’ tales.

Bobby got his nap but was roused because he thought we were back. He was upset thinking someone was playing tricks on him. Known to regularly pack a pistol, he demanded that the “culprit” show himself. As he was brushing his teeth, he saw someone walk past behind him through the bathroom mirror. There was no one. It happened several more times.

When we got back to Teachers Camp Bobby was sitting forlornly on a bench at the gate. We’ve never seen him happier to see us. From his tale, we learned it’s wrong to try scaring a ghost.

Even before Americans introduced their version of Halloween in the Philippines, young kids especially in the Tagalog-speaking regions, were already engaged in “nangaluluwa” – serenading homes and pretending to be wandering spirits.

For many, nothing is scarier than death or angry spirits. But as my elders are wont to say, “don’t be scared of the dead, it’s the living you should be more scared of”.

Fear is a powerful tool to influence, control people. Many here live with the dread of losing jobs or homes, of seeing Muslims aboard planes or walking into New York buildings. They’re afraid of blacks swimming in public pools, of Latinos “invading” their communities or government telling people what to do. The list could be endless, limited only by our forebodings and insecurities.

So like the pagans we celebrate Halloween because nothing overcomes fear more potently than humor and gaiety. That’s why I’m going to be at the National Mall this weekend to join Stephen Colbert’s Keep the Fear Alive (that’ll be held simultaneously with Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity).

There’s something inherently funny about people trying to feed on our fears, deliberately offering no solutions except pointing to people they say should be blamed for our misery.

We all have our phantoms – my hair still stands recalling the encounters in Baguio – but that doesn’t mean we can’t laugh and have fun at their expense.

Friday, October 22, 2010


Joshua Kurlantzick, a Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) wrote, “The best way for Washington to respond, in the context of Southeast Asia, is to hide”.

“Not to hide from China,” he hastens to add, “but in some ways to hide America’s response behind the Southeast Asians, who have serious concerns about China’s new assertiveness.”

The question about how to deal with China is perhaps the biggest foreign policy question for the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, as it does with most Southeast Asian leaders.

This will be in everyone’s mind in next week’s East Asia Summit in Hanoi, Vietnam that President Aquino is attending, only his 2nd foreign trip since moving to Malacanang.

When US State Secretary Hillary Clinton was last in Vietnam, her declaration on America’s commitment for the peaceful resolution of overlapping claims in the South China Sea drew angry reactions from Beijing.

China has declared the South China Sea as part of her “core interests” – the same phrase she uses for Taiwan and Tibet.

There are signs of growing nervousness on both sides.

Growing Nervousness

Rick Rozoff, writing for the Centre for Research on Globalization, noted the increased military activity in the region.

He listed the first joint exercise between the US and Vietnam last August, that featured the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington (a 2nd battle group led by another nuclear-powered aircraft carrier the USS Abraham Lincoln is reportedly in the region as well); in June, Malaysia and Thailand joined the US-led Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercise along with Australia, Canada, France, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and other countries; and earlier this month, the US and Philippines simultaneously held the PHIBLEX joint amphibious exercise and Cooperation Afloat Readiness & Training (CARAT) involving 3,000 American troops and six warships.

Kurlantzick also cited data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) to argue that there is an ongoing “arms race” in the region.

Weapons purchases nearly doubled from 2005 to 2009, he explained, with Vietnam recently paying $2.4 billion for Russian submarines and fighter aircraft, and Malaysia buying its own submarines for $1 billion.

“This arms race has proceeded despite the fact most Southeast Asian nations have no obvious near enemies and if they are involved in conflicts, they tend to be local insurgencies that hardly require the kid of sophisticated air, sea and missile weaponry,” he averred.

In Search of A Superpower “Padrino”

So where does this leave the Philippines, with virtually no external defense capability and a promised but nonexistent military modernization program.

Philippine defense spending as a percentage of GDP has been cut by half in the past three decades from about 1.6% in 1988.

It has over 100,000 troops, about 80% of them ground forces.

Unfortunately, the Philippines is situated in a region that is the 2nd biggest buyer of weapons, next only to the Middle East (according to SIPRI, China is also the 2nd biggest arms spender, next to the US).

With practically no navy and air force, the Philippine has lagged so far behind its neighbors for so long that it will be nearly impossible for her to even build some semblance of parity even if the nation’s defense budget quadruples for say, the next decade.

The Philippines will have to rely on the security umbrella provided by others, particularly the US.

RP security tied to arbiter’s role

But the Philippines will still have a role to play in the power dynamics between the US and China. It has no choice, because the country will be in the frontline of any possible conflict. It was the Philippines that alerted the world on Chinese encroachment in the South China Sea, when the military discovered permanent Chinese structures on Mischief Reef.

President Obama had earlier made the Philippines the US’s “point-man” in Southeast Asia.

“Hiding behind the Southeast Asians will be more effective with China,” Kurlantzick argues in CFR’s “Expert’s Roundup”.

“China expects relatively confrontational behavior from Washington but over the past decade it has spent significant resources trying to upgrade its tires with Southeast Asia, and warnings from the Southeast Asians do carry real weight in Beijing,” Kurlantzick wrote.

“Washington,” he averred, “ should whenever possible, enlist Southeast Asian leaders like Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Philippine President Benigno Aquino to help make its claims for continued American roles in the region.”

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Will one of my favorite comedians, Steve Carell, get to see our mother country when he works on a big-screen adaptation of a documentary about an American songwriter elevated to the status of a rock star by performing, not in the United States, but in the Philippines?

There was a time when you mentioned Dennis Lambert in America and all you’d get was a blank stare.

Well, Lambert wrote “Rhinestone Cowboy”, “Ain’t No Woman Like The One I’ve Got”, “We Built This City”, “Baby Come Back” and a few of my all-time favorite tunes, “Of All The Things” and “Ashes To Ashes”, among others (he’s wrote over 600 songs). Ring a bell now?

Those songs were recorded by such famous artists and groups as The Commodores, The Righteous Brothers, Glen Campbell, Tavares, Natalie Cole and The Four Tops but fame and the big bucks eluded Lambert himself.

In 1972, he released his solo album and it flopped everywhere (that is, everywhere except the Philippines).

So in the 1990s, he retreated from New York City and settled into a job selling mini-mansions in Boca Raton, Florida.

That was where he got an offer to do a music tour in the Philippines.

It turned out he was more famous in Manila than Memphis.

His son Jody followed his father around in the Philippines with a camera and crafted the documentary Of All the Things, that Carell is now transforming into a full length feature film.

Lambert came to the Philippines with Paul Williams (“Rainbow Connection”, “Evergreen”, and for Ally McBeal fans “I Know Him By Heart”, etc.) and performed before a packed crowd for a Valentine’s Day concert at the Araneta Coliseum in 2007.

They also performed at the Waterfront Hotel in Cebu City, the Central Bank auditorium in Davao City; the Limketkai Atrium in Cagayan de Oro City; and the Central Philippine University auditorium in Iloilo City.

Of All the Things has been described as hilarious and heartwarming and the story itself, fascinating – attributes that may have attracted Carell to the project. “Lambert’s a mensch who gets to be a rock star for a couple of weeks,” said the website Creative Loafing.

His Philippine concert tour, he said, “remains a bright spot in my heart and in my mind.”

Carell (The Office, Dan in Real Life) seems comfortable in both comedy and drama, leading some Hollywood columnists to speculate the film might be turned into a “dramedy”.

Reeling him into this movie almost guarantees box-office success here – but even it doesn’t, I know at least one place where it will be – good old Philippines, where the people have proven they know their music.

Monday, October 18, 2010


We can’t blame Democratic congressional candidate Ben Frasier for promising to support bills for Filipino World War II veterans if he wins on Nov. 2.

But Frasier, who’s vying for the 1st District of South Carolina, is no stranger to Filipinos – after all, he’s been married to one for the past 28 years.

Zenaida Frasier, a native of San Antonio, Nueva Ecija, Zenaida runs the family business – a detective agency, driving school and limousine service in Rockville, Maryland.

She is also one of his biggest fund-raisers. She claims to have raised a significant amount from Fil-Ams in the Metro DC region, although Frasier is running in South Carolina’s historic Charleston region where there are very few Fil-Ams.

“It’s always been his dream to serve his people,” Zenaida says of her husband’s maiden foray in national politics. “He’s also committed to helping Filipinos, by opening more job opportunities, working on immigration reforms and giving justice to Filipino veterans,” she explained.

Filvets still hot button issue

The plight of Filipino World War II veterans remains a hot button issue for the Fil-Am community.

Before it adjourned last month for the campaign season, the US Senate passed a resolution recognizing October as Filipino American History Month.

“Filipino American servicemen and servicewomen have a longstanding history serving in the Armed Services, from the Civil War to the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, including the 250,000 Filipinos who fought under the United States flag during World War II to protect and defend this country,” the resolution read.

The Senate acknowledged that the “roles of Filipino Americans and other people of color have been overlooked” by American history.

Historic contribution: Pinoy war heroes

The resolution cited, for instance, that nine Filipino Americans have won the Congressional Medal of Honor – America’s highest award for valor.

They include Pvt. Jose Nisperos of San Fernando, La Union, a soldier in the 34th Company of the Philippine Scouts, who became the first Asian American to win the coveted medal; Navy Fireman 2nd Class Telesforo Trinidad of Aklan who continues to hold the distinction of being the only Asian American sailor to receive the Medal of Honor during peacetime; and Sgt. Jose Calugas of Leon, Iloilo who earned the medal during the battle at Culis, Bataan on Jan. 16, 1942.

It resolved to “renew efforts toward the research and examination of history and culture to provide an opportunity for all people in the United States to learn and appreciate more about Filipino Americans and their historic contributions to the Nation”.

In fact, those “historic contributions” are still questioned by even some in Congress who have blocked full equity and recognition for surviving Filipino World War II veterans.

The government granted last year a one-time lump sum payment for Filipino veterans in the US and the Philippines.

The Department of Veterans Administration (DVA) reported that as of Sept. 1, 2010, they have received a total 41,562 applications for the lump sum -- $9,000 for those in the Philippines and $15,000 for those living in the US.

More veterans denied

More applications have been rejected than granted (49% vs 41%). The DVA denied the applications of 20,492 veterans. Over 4,000 more applications are pending.

A group of veterans and veterans’ widows filed recently a class suit to compel the government to accept other evidence as proof a veteran served with the US Armed Forces in World War II, as well as allow widows to collect payments for deceased but qualified veterans.

Ben de Guzman, executive director of the National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE), revealed that in a meeting of the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders with Deputy Director Christina Lagdameo, “we made it clear that our veterans continues to be a priority for the Filipino American community.”

Despite the lack of progress on immigration reforms, De Guzman said they were encouraged that the Filipino World War II Veterans Reunification Bill was included in S-3932, the latest immigration reform measure introduced by Sen. Bob Menendez.

On various fronts, it’s clear the Filipino veterans issue remains a top concern for Fil-Ams.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

NONOY MENDOZA (April 16, 1935-Oct. 16, 2010)

Veteran public relations practitioner and journalist Nonoy Mendoza, who helped conceptualize the Balikbayan program and adviser to American presidents and legislators, passed away Saturday in Fairfax, Virginia.

Mendoza ran the Twenty Outstanding Filipino Abroad (TOFA), one of the oldest Fil-Am award giving bodies in the United States, and the online news service

He was in frail health since suffering a series of heart attacks earlier this year. We last saw him at the TOFA awards gala in Washington DC last month.

He suffered another attack last week and had been confined at the Virginia Hospital Center until his demise early Saturday morning. He had a history of heart ailments. He was 75.

Ambassador Willy Gaa said he was saddened by the news, noting that “Nonoy used his talents to promote the Philippines and the interests of Filipinos and the larger Asian community in the United States for many years.”

The last time we got a chance to shoot the breeze was at a dinner he tendered for Ben Cal, an old friend and comrade in the Defense Press Corps (DPC) which he covers for the Philippine News Agency (PNA).

He was among the first Fil-Am community leaders we met in Washington DC. Nonoy and my father worked in the pre-Martial Law Manila Chronicle, where he was Pacific Northwest and Canada bureau chief in 1960-65.

Over a slow, leisurely supper overlooking the Potomac River marina, he pressed on the need to highlight the positive aspects of Filipinos and the Philippines.

He prided himself as a journalist (he’s been a member of the National Press Club since 1993) although much of his accomplishments revolved around thinking up ways to boost Filipinos as well as the Asian-Pacific Islander community.

He revealed how he first broached the concept for a “Balikbayan” program to then Tourism Secretary Jose Aspiras as a way to entice Filipinos, especially those who’ve done well in the US, to go back, relax and enjoy, rediscover their roots, and more importantly perhaps, to see how they could help the Philippines.

The government formally launched the Balikbayan program in 1989. It provides incentives for all Filipinos who have been out of the country for a year or longer, including those naturalized in another country.

Nonoy was appointed to then President Gerald Ford’s advisory board on Asian-American affairs; served as public relations assistant to then Congressmen Matthew Martinez of California and Ben Blas of Guam. DC Mayor Marion Barry Jr. appointed him to the Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs in 1996. And he served as an Asian American specialist in the 1984 Reagan-Bush presidential campaign.

He established the TOFA in 1990 after surviving his first heart attack, convinced God had spared his life for a purpose. The roster of TOFA awardees is a virtual who’s who of outstanding Filipinos in the US and Canada.

More recently, he started PinoyGlobal to practice his concept of positive reporting, convinced that news should be a source of information as well as inspiration.

“That is something our people yearn for, especially for those who’ve been away for so long. Living in a different country, we want to be proud of the country of our birth, and I know there is plenty that we can be proud of,” Nonoy declared.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


We could barely make out our one-time basketball idols at the Sandburg Middle School gym in Alexandria, Virginia.

They included Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) stars Yoyoy Villamin and Billy Ray Bates of the fabled Crispa Redmanizers; Eddieboy Mendoza and Manny Victorino of Great Taste; Tim Coloso of Anejo Rum; Rickey Relosa of Alaska; Ricky Magallanes of San Miguel Beer; Richard Bognot of U-Tex; Alwin Espiritu of Talk Tex; and Ato Morano who played for Coke.

The event was organized by PBA alumni Ricky Magallanes, who's settled in Northern Virginia. The one-time coach of the Philippine and Vietnamese national teams is also the founder of Edge Basketball Sports Management and Training which conducts basketball clinics here.

Most of the former PBA stars settled in the East Coast, particularly in New York and New Jersey.

Perhaps the newest arrival was Victorino who still counts the length of his stay in Rahway, New Jersey by the months.

“We still get together to play basketball when we have the time, especially during weekends like today,” Villamin told us, adding he was now engaged in the construction trade in New Jersey.

“Life’s alright so long as you’re not too picky about work,” the former Redmanizer explained.

Generations of Pinoys, myself included, rely on their favorite PBA stars as a point of reference in their lives.

There was a tinge of nostalgia watching them play against “select seniors” of the Fil-Am Youth Basketball Association (FYBA) which promotes the sport among Fil-Am school-age kids in Metro DC.

The Crispa-Meralco rivalry, for instance, looms largely in the memories of my grade school years that was later supplanted by the Crispa-Toyota rivalry when we stepped up to high school. There’s much I’d prefer to forget about that era (if I hadn’t already), but those basketball games – especially Crispa’s grand slam campaigns – wasn’t one of them.

Playing 3x3 or with a full-court complement, we pretended to have the point-making accuracy of an Atoy Co or Bogs Adornado, or aerial acrobatics of Freddie Hubalde (certainly the cause of one sprain too many) or the blocking prowess of a Philip Cesar. It was as irrational as a people nursing dreams of world titles by crashing bodies with 7-foot behemoths.

Basketball’s pervasive influence on Filipinos piqued the interest of a young journalist from New York, Rafe Bartholomew, who joined us in Virginia.

He told us his book “Pacific Rims” (published by NAL Hardcover and released last June) was the product of more than three years of research, although the actual writing took him 8 months.

He said a Sports Illustrated article on how basketball was played in different countries, including the Philippines, was the germ of his book.

He hanged out with PBA players, politicians, the neighborhood “tambays” and even played some games in rural fiestas, in a quest to understand the Filipinos’ deep-rooted affinity to the sport.

Bartholomew spent so much time in the Philippines, he conversed with Victorino in grammatically impeccable Pilipino with an American twang.

Chicago Sun Times columnist Rick Telander said Bartholomew “turns the Philippines into a hoops carnival, teaching us as much about this complex nation as any history book.”

Book author James McBride (The Color of Water, Miracle at St. Anna, etc.) said Pacific Rims “is more than a front row seat to a body-twisting, triple-clutching, no-look passing basketball world in flip-flops.”

We asked Bartholomew if he’s figured out, in his years of immersion in Philippine basketball, why we love it so much? He just smiled.