Tuesday, November 30, 2010


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

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

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

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

The family reportedly has Filipino roots.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 27, 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Most widows were disqualified, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Turkey and all the trimmings, family gathered around the dinner table, pancit and crispy pata – a typical Thanksgiving feast? Yes, if you’re a typical Fil-Am family.

Historians still debate how Thanksgiving – celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November in the United States and on the 2nd Monday in October in Canada – all began.

But conventional thought places it in Plymouth , Massachusetts in 1621.

It started off as a harvest festival to express gratitude for God’s blessings.

Lizette Udquim of Lorton , Virginia said they prepare the traditional turkey feast but add crispy pata that she says is a little sour, Philippine-style. They also add pancit bihon and lasagna, fruit salad and cassava cake.

Gene Chu of Laurel , Maryland revealed she lays out a feast of turkey and greens, spaghetti, puto and biko.

Over the years, Filipinos have injected traditions and rituals from the Philippines to this favorite American holiday.

They’re almost sure to add some noodle or pasta dish because they are associated with good health and long life.

Sticky sweets have connotations of joy in family unity and togetherness.

Some like Udquim add rich pork dishes like crispy pata or lechon because they are usually seen as more representative of success and progress than poultry’s reputation of “isang kahig-isang tuka”.

Food is obviously the center of any Thanksgiving celebration.

But Mitzi Pickard, who’s single, has a different take on all those gastronomic predilections.

“I’m tired of feeding myself so I’d like to feed others,” she told the Manila Mail.

She will spend Thanksgiving helping out in a food line for homeless people, and was touching base with Thelma Billing, another Fil-Am civic leader, to look for a church to volunteer in.

Perhaps the only really universal facet of Thanksgiving is the gathering of family.

Chu revealed they have their Thanksgiving feast at noon, and then move to the Macalinao’s home in Silver Spring , Maryland for a birthday celebration – a ritual they have followed through the years.

This will be followed of course by that other American tradition – the Black Friday shopping rush.

It’s that time of the year when stores offer their biggest discounts, especially the “door-buster deals” and “early bird specials” – one family that camped outside a large department store chain in St. Petersburg , Florida a full week ahead of Black Friday was rewarded by the store with a free i-Pad.

Udquim said she’s staying off the queue this time. “No more shopping for me. I used to do that before when I was younger and stronger,” she says with a grin.

There are just some Thanksgiving rituals Fil-Ams can’t change.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Commodore George Dewey’s flagship in the Battle of Manila Bay, the USS Olympia, got a reprieve from being turned into a veritable “talabahan”.

The 344-foot battle cruiser, built in 1892, was in danger of being scrapped or sunk and turned into an artificial reef due to disrepair.

Moored at the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia’s Penn’s Landing, caretakers were scheduled to close her down next week.

One of the US Navy's latest cruisers on Penn's Landing along the Delaware River that took part in last July's Independence Day festivities

They need $10 million to dry-dock and restore the Olympia, and another $10 million to establish a trust fund for her upkeep.

They raised an undisclosed amount to make basic repairs and keep the ship open to the public.

The Olympia was the flagship of Dewey’s Asiatic Squadron that demolished the Spanish flotilla in Manila Bay, and paved the way for the US occupation of the Philippines in 1898.

She was armed with twin 8-inch guns fore and aft, ten 5-inch guns, fourteen 6-pound mortars, four Gatling guns and six torpedo tubes.

When the US declared war against Spain in April 1898, it dispatched the Squadron to the Philippines.

The Olympia and eight other cruisers, gunboats and transport ships arrived at Subic Bay in the evening of April 30, 1898.

They raced into Manila Bay the following morning, sparking a one-sided fight that decimated the outgunned, obsolete, slower Spanish armada commanded by Admiral Patricio Montojo.

Spain had seven cruisers and five gunboats.

They were protected by six shore batteries – Fort Abad (where the present Philippine Navy headquarters is located) and Malate in Manila; Fort San Felipe, Sangley Point and Canacao in where Cavite City stands today; and Corregidor, Caballo and El Fraile islands.

The Spanish forces lost all their cruisers and suffered 161 dead and 210 wounded.

After destroying the Spanish ships, the Olympia joined the USS Baltimore and USS Boston in bombarding Sangley Point. On May 2, Dewey landed the Marines in Cavite.

Wreck of the Reina Cristina at Battle of Manila Bay

American forces lost only one man, chief engineer Francis Randall, who died from a heart attack aboard the support ship USS McCulloch, which didn’t join the actual fight.

As a footnote, the McCulloch was dispatched to Hongkong to fetch Emilio Aguinaldo, who arrived in Cavite on May 19 to resume command of Filipino revolutionaries.

The USS Olympia today has the distinction of being the oldest steel warship still afloat, although it’s still uncertain for how long.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Some key supporters on Capitol Hill have expressed their displeasure over reports Filipino World War II veterans, spurned from receiving lump sum payments, are suing the government.

Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye, appropriations committee chair and one of the chief architects of the Filipino veterans equity compensation fund was “hurt”, according to at least two Fil-Am lobbyists who met with the solon.

“He was hurt by the criticisms. That wasn’t the reaction he was expecting from the Fil-Am community after all he did to help our veterans,” explained one.

Jon Melegrito, co-chair of the National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE), declined to discuss the reported falling-out with Inouye but admitted they too were “disappointed” by the lawsuit that challenged key provisions of the Filipino veterans equity compensation bill approved with the stimulus bill in 2009.

Actually, two separate lawsuits were filed last month in California on behalf of veterans whose applications for the lump sum were rejected -- many because their names were not in the roster at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO. – the so-called Missouri List.

More than 2,800 lump sum claims were still pending as of Oct. 1, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA).

A total of 21,417 applications were rejected. The DVA does not give a breakdown of reasons for the applications they turned down.

Over $207 million has been paid out to Filipino veterans.

Both suits asked the federal courts in California to compel the DVA to accept proof other than the Missouri List.

That was as far San Francisco-based lawyer Lou Tancinco’s suit went.

Romeo Fernandez, 91, survived the Death March and was imprisoned at the Camp O’Donnell concentration camp in Tarlac.

He was decorated with the American Defense Service Medal, Distinguished Unit Badge, Philippine Liberation Ribbon, among others. He won US citizenship partly because of his wartime exploits but his application was rejected because he wasn’t in the Missouri List.


The 2nd law suit filed on behalf of 27 plaintiffs also sought the inclusion of veterans’ widows to receive the lump sum payments, invalidate the quit claim contained in the equity compensation bill, and asked that veterans living in the Philippine get the same amount as their comrades in the US ($9,000 vs $15,000).

Lawyer Arnedo Valera, one of the lawyers behind the 2nd law suit, doesn’t believe the court proceedings are adversarial to what has already been won or may still be won in Congress.

“They should look at the courts as an avenue to secure the rights of our veterans,” he urged.

Melegrito told the Manila Mail it was “unfair” because it created the “assumption that nothing good can come out of Congress” and “does not appreciate what Senators Inouye or (Daniel) Akaka or Congressmen (Bob) Filner or (Mike) Honda worked for.”

He said some of the people behind the law suits weren't involved with lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill and were unfamiliar with the peculiar dynamics of lawmaking, where compromise is often the norm.

But Valera stressed they are united by the desire to give aging veterans the justice and recognition they deserve even if they choose to take different paths.

“We have to use the law in the quest for equity,” he insisted.

Valera said it might be time to test the law because the equity compensation bill also recognized, albeit belatedly, the veteran status of Filipino WWII soldiers and guerillas.

“As veterans of the US Armed Forces during World War II, they are entitled to the same benefits given to other veterans recognized by the US government and they can petition the courts to get what’s due them,” he told the Manila Mail.


They agree that much more needs to be done for aging Filipino veterans.

They are hoping to pass the Filipino veterans family reunification bill during the few weeks left in Congress’ lame-duck session.

Ben de Guzman, NAFVE national coordinator, explained they are working closely with the DVA to ensure the successful implementation of the equity compensation bill.

“We seek to bridge the conversations in Washington DC to those that are happening in the community,” he said.

“We support the broader needs of our veterans and the equity compensation payments are only the tip of the iceberg,” declared Rozita Lee, NAFVE Executive Committee member and vice chair of the umbrella National Federation of Filipino-American Associations (NAFFAA).

Melegrito said they have talked to supporters on Capitol Hill, to assuage those who might have been turned off by the law suits.

He also assured the Fil-Am community that they remain committed to addressing the needs of the widows and children of veterans.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Despite the hard times, Filipinos in America sent home nearly $6 billion in the first nine months of 2010, according to statistics from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

They remitted more than $5.8 billion – an 8.6 percent jump over the same period last year.

Remittances from the United States actually shrank by 6.4 percent last year – from $7.8 billion in 2008 to $7.3 billion in 2009 – that’s largely blamed on the economic recession.

That was the first time remittance from the US posted a negative growth rate – a stark contrast to as recent as 2005 when remittance from the US grew by a whopping 31 percent.

But with the three most active months for sending dollars home still to come, US-based Pinoys have a shot at matching or even exceeding the 2009 level.

If the unprecedented dip in remittance in 2008-2009 is a gauge, the modest growth in remittance in the first three quarters could be seen as a sign the worst of the US economic crisis may be behind us.

However, BSP Deputy Governor Diwa Gunigundo had warned earlier that dollar remittances may have peaked, auguring an era of diminishing or zero growth.

Gunigundo surmised that as more Pinoy immigrants retire, succeeding Fil-Am generations may not be as motivated to send money home.

Dollars from Pinoys and Fil-Ams is important because they account for over 40 percent of the gross remittance to the Philippines.

Total remittances from overseas Filipinos around the world hit $13.8 billion in the first three quarters of 2010 – a 7.8 percent increase from the same period last year.

The BSP partly attributed the continued growth in dollar remittances to the “expanding international remittance transfer of bank and non-bank channels”.

BSP statistics show that the number of bank branches and remittance centers increased to nearly 4,400 from the 3,730 operating at the end of 2009.

Remittance from overseas Filipinos represents 10-15 percent of the Philippine Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The bulk of the growth in dollar remittances from the US could be traced to sea-based Filipinos including mariners aboard US-owned ships and service workers and entertainers on cruise ships in the US and Caribbean region.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Nearly half a century later, retired US Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba revealed his father, a Death March survivor, has yet to tell him what happened during those dark days of World War II.

Taguba, who’s been fighting for recognition and benefits for Filipino World War II veterans, wants to draw attention to war-borne post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

HBO recently showed its latest documentary – “Wartorn” – that explored PTSD from the American Civil War to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Shell shock” was a common term to describe this condition during World War II. Some afflicted with PTSD were accused of cowardice; and it was manifested in many ways ranging from suicides to paralysis.

Taguba said the world is only starting to understand the deep scars that soldiers take back with them after war.

“He still hasn’t talked about the war,” he said about his father Tomas.

His father was a soldier in the 45th Infantry Regiment of the Philippine Scouts. He survived the Battle of Bataan and the infamous Death March, and became a prisoner of war (POW).

“He just sits there. He talks about everything except the war,” Taguba revealed.

He indicated that people owe it to the soldiers who fought to preserve their freedom and way of life to know and understand.

The war loomed large in their upbringing. He recalled how his mother Maria would cook “lugaw” to show them what it was like.

“We hated it,” he confessed amusedly. “If we were lucky, we’d have a sliver of chicken.”

There are 23 million veterans in the US. But he noted that only 2.2 million actually avail of benefits provided by the government.

Very few people know, for instance, that Filipino World War II veterans are already eligible for 17 different kinds of benefits, Taguba explained.

The benefits range from service-connected disability to medical care; from clothing allowances to small business loans. Some are restricted to US residents; still others are open to those in the Philippines.

As the son of a Filipino war veteran, Taguba is driven by a deep desire to win the recognition and benefits befitting their courage, suffering and sacrifices.

“I’m still waiting for him to tell his story,” he says of his father, “maybe someday he will.”

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Manny Pacquiao dazzled millions of fans when he pummeled Mexican Antonio Margarito in last night’s fight in Arlington, Texas.

In our Alexandria, Virginia apartment complex, the front desk people bent their towing curfew rules by allowing guests of Pinoy residents to stay past midnight so they can watch the fight and celebrate Pacquiao’s win.

“I’m sure Pacquiao will win,” said Lynn, the front desk in our building, assuring my nephew and his mom.

The Pacman’s popularity has grown beyond being the Philippine’s pride or even that of the boxing world; he’s become a kitchen name among many Americans.

Earlier in the day, some Fil-Am friends complained they couldn’t find anyone willing to take a wager against Pacquiao, even among Mexicans.

Sure, we’ve become accustomed to his lightning speed, flurried punches, impossible angles and fighting heart.

But 31-year-old Pacquiao, the rags-to-riches hero to many, seems to leave added dimensions after every fight.

He clearly dominated Margarito from the get-go, carving a unanimous victory on the judges’ scorecards (120-108, 119-109 and 118-110).

Pacquiao captured his eighth title in as many weight divisions.

“It was a virtuoso performance,” wrote Tim Dahlberg of the Associated Press.

“Pacquiao was magnificent and this was a masterclass,” blogger Gareth Davies wrote on Telegraph.co.uk.

Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated paid homage to the Pinoy pugilist’s “indomitable force”.

CBS correspondent Bob Simon noted in his report that Pacquiao “has a global influence now that extends far beyond the borders of his beloved homeland.”

“For Floyd Mayweather Jr. who has already given every indication he wants no part of a Pacquiao fight, Margarito’s condition is another nightmare reminder of the fear keeping him up at night,” declared Lance Pugmire of Chicago Breaking Sports.

Near the end of the 12-rounder, my sister-in-law Emma asked if Pacquiao would not take pithy on Margarito, perhaps expressing her own concern while watching close-up shots of the Mexican boxer’s corner working feverishly to close a big cut below his right eye.

We laughed her off of course. This was boxing, perhaps the most violent sport. There’s a reason it’s called a “blood sport”.

But Pacquiao appear to bear her out on the penultimate round.

He seemed to be carrying Margarito, holding back, and throwing only enough to ensure he won the last round as well.

When they held each other in the middle of the ring for what felt like a long time in Round 11, we imagined Pacquiao telling Margarito he’s fought gallantly but it was over, and there would be no indignity if he didn’t answer the bell for the last round.

“Look at his eyes, look at his cuts,” Pacquiao was quoted as imploring the referee.

"I did not want to damage him permanently,” Pacquiao later explained, “That's not what boxing is about."

Wrote Kevin Mitchell on The Guardian, “In the final round, Pacquiao, maybe for the only time in his career, went through the motions, unwilling to inflict further punishment, just doing enough to secure the win.”

He echoed our own sentiments. We knew Pacquiao could have rearranged his opponent’s face even more, a deserved payback perhaps for the way Margarito and his retinue disrespected him and coach Freddy Roach before the fight.
But he did not.

“It was an act of subtle compassion,” Mitchell added, “He is a great champion, perhaps an even greater human being.”

And so Manny Pacquiao in beating Antonio Margarito showed another, perhaps more laudable and inspiring dimension to an already storied boxing career.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


At 74 Ernie Cordero says all he has a lot of time on his hands.

He’s going home for good next week to spend time with friends and relatives, many of whom he’s not seen since he flew to America in 1957.

Cordero is well known in the Fil-Am community of Metro DC.

The Philippine American Foundation for Charities (PAFC) threw him a “pasasalamat” brunch this morning in Vienna, Virginia.

He came to the United States on a college scholarship and graduated with a Radio & TV Communications degree from the American University.

But he never got to practice this degree because he got sidetracked into the construction industry. He worked as a self-employed contractor for the next three decades.

He has either led or joined Ilocano, Pampangueno, Tagalog, Zambales and about half a dozen other Fil-Am organizations here (he actually traces his roots to Pasuquin, Ilocos Norte).

Cordero has been divorced since 1991. He was going back home “for some rest and reproduction,” he joked.

On a serious note, he explained that he’s been going back to the Philippines at least once a year for the past several years.

“Everytime I go home, I fall in a love with the country again,” he averred.

He observes that the Philippines “is a land of disasters and calamities” so she needs all the help she can get.

“I am really touched by the children, seeing how they struggle from day to day,” he said.

Living off his pension, Cordero said he will continue what he’s been doing here – doing his share helping organizations that help the Philippines.

He added he might act as a conduit for Metro DC-based organizations like the PAFC that have year-round projects to help Filipinos back home.

So, bon voyage Ernie and may you find more meaning in your new life back home.

(P.S. Cordero promised to visit in May and June next year, to help out as he's always done for the Fil-Am Ilocano association beauty pageant and celebration of Philippine Independence Day in the US capital)

Friday, November 12, 2010


(These are excerpts from an article for Manila Mail's Nov. 15 edition, which also marks the Metro DC-based Fil-Am paper's 20th anniversary)

The new political landscape in Washington DC is prodding Fil-Am leaders to search for new and old allies among the incoming lawmakers of the 112th Congress.

“There are usually shifts in power following midterm elections,” explained Jon Melegrito, a veteran Democratic Party campaigner, “but the magnitude of losses in this one was unexpected”.

Although Democrats kept their Senate majority, Republicans picked up over 60 seats, wrestling control of the House of Representatives – the biggest GOP gain since the 1938 midterm elections when they picked up 80 seats.

“Politics is a pendulum,” says lawyer Wari Azarcon, one of the founding members of the Filipino American Republicans of Virginia (FARV), “and it has swung from the left to the right.”

They both admit the new balance of power in Congress will determine what and how activists push the Fil-Am agenda on Capitol Hill.

Azarcon predicts the emerging power structure will be felt all the way to Manila .

Immigration reforms that address the problem of undocumented workers and the huge backlog of family visa petitions, and equity and full recognition for Filipino World War II veterans remain the top concerns for the Fil-Am community.

Eric Lachica, a longtime veterans’ rights activist, sees a Congress hypersensitive to any kind of deficit spending so he plans to propose measures for veterans that could actually generate savings for the government.


Congressman Steve Austria, the 1st first-generation Fil-Am elected to the House of Representatives, breezed through the race in Ohio ’s 7th District, winning over 60% of the votes.

Lachica said Austria had acted in the past as a “go-between” with Republican colleagues on behalf of Filipino veterans.

That role could become more significant as the GOP takes control of the House, and the fact the next likely Speaker of the House, John Boehner, is a representative of Ohio ’s 8th district, next to Austria ’s 7th district.

Kris Valderrama retained her seat in the 26th District in the Maryland House of Delegates.

Fil-Am jurist Tani Cantil-Sakauye won the vote as California Supreme Court Chief Justice, the 1st Fil-Am to ever hold such a lofty court position.

Donna Kim was re-elected as a State Senator of Hawaii, along with Della Belatti, Kymberly Marcos Pine and Rida Arakawa in the State House of Representatives.

In all, more than two dozen Fil-Ams won various posts in the midterm polls.

Fil-Am voters also helped tip the balance for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada .

Pinoy boxing icon Manny Pacquiao broke training to fly to Nevada to publicly endorse Reid.

“He did make a difference in that really tight election,” Melegrito said, quoting reports from Virginia-based Reid volunteer Gloria Caoile.

Longtime supporter Congressman Bob Filner won re-election in his San Diego , CA district but following the Democrats’ House debacle will lose the veterans affairs committee chair next year.

Lachica revealed they’ve already met with Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns (6th District, Florida ) who’s rumored to take over Filner’s committee post.

“He’s accessible and easy to talk with,” Lachica tells the Manila Mail.

Stearns intimated there were many Filipino doctors and nurses in his district which includes the central Florida cities of Ocala and Gainesville .

“This is the time for relationship building,” Lachica stressed.

When the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations (NaFFAA) meet in San Francisco, CA later this month, among the topics of discussion will be the establishment of a Filipino American Political Action Committee, Melegrito revealed.

The Fil-Am community is trailing other Asian Americans such as the Chinese, Indian and Vietnamese communities that already have their own PACs.

“This has to be a major initiative,” Melegrito stressed.


The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are looking into the possible misuse of H-2B visas to illegally traffic workers from the Philippines.

The probe stems from the case of 11 Filipino workers who said they escaped from hotel jobs in Biloxi, Mississippi, partly out of fear for their safety. They have sought refuge in Los Angeles, California where they have been interviewed by the FBI.

One of the Pinoy workers, Norman Paul Yaranon, confirmed through text message they were cooperating with the FBI.

“Sorry, the FBI gave us advice that we can not tell anything about our case anymore,” the message read in response to a request from Manila Mail for an interview.

However, the Manila Mail obtained a copy his statement, describing their ordeal.

They were recruited in Manila by Adman Human Resources Placement & Promotions Inc. allegedly for Philadelphia-based Aramark.

An Aramark executive denied recruiting the Filpino workers, claiming signatures were forged.

They alleged Adman required them to pay from $6,000 to $6,500 each as “processing fees” for jobs that promised wages of up to $1,200 a month.

They entered the United States through Reagan Airport in Washington DC, expecting to be welcomed by a representative from Aramark.

No one met them at the airport and they were instructed instead by Adman executive Gemma Durante to take a Greyhound to Biloxi.

They were told to report to a certain Arthur Grigoryan of Royal Hospitality Services LLC, who allegedly asked them to sign a new contract with his firm that threw out the $8.75 hourly pay promised them in Manila and replaced that with a “per piece rate” of $4.75 for every room they clean.

Aside from Yaranon, the other workers who made it to Los Angeles were identified as Rufino de Guzman, Arlene Dorotan, Eutopria Velasco, Imelda Nosa, Khalid Velasco, Ronilo Cruz, Ricardo Jabagat, Mario Abaday, Vuenas dela Puerta and Manuel Jusayan.

Labor Attache Luzviminda Padilla explained they are part of a larger group of 30 OFWs hired for hotel jobs in Gulf Port, Mississippi and New Orleans, Louisiana.

Through the help of Mississippi-based Fil-Am lawyer Elaine Carr, Padilla said they are closely watching the current conditions of the workers who opted to continue working there.

“So far we have not received any complaints,” she told the Manila Mail. But Padilla admits they are forced to rely on concerned Fil-Ams because there is no Philippine diplomatic post for hundreds of miles from the Pinoys’ work sites.

Padilla herself has come under fire from Yaranon who accused her of trying to convince them to go back to their old jobs.

“We received a letter which expressed the desire of the Labor Attache of the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC. The letter said that instead of spending for our request for shelter and aid, it would be better for us to go back to Mississippi or go back to the Philippines,” Yaranon’s statement read.

He questioned whether Padilla was a friend or foe.

“I am not forcing anyone,” Padilla retorted.

She revealed she met with an official of the US Department of Labor on Nov. 5 to discuss, among others, possible assistance for the Filipino victims.

They could be given U or T visas – which are usually issued to victims or witnesses of crimes being prosecuted in the US – because the Filipinos’ H-2B visas are deemed invalid because they fled their jobs.

Yaranon said they first decided to go public to warn their countrymen against unscrupulous recruiters promising jobs in the US.

This is not the first time Filipinos have been recruited for non-existent jobs in the US. The Filipino Channel’s Balitang America has reported at least two instances where groups of Filipino teachers who paid illegal placement fees, arrived in America only to find out they didn’t have jobs to go to.

Overseas Worker Welfare Administration (OWWA) representative in Los Angeles Alberto Duero, who’s directly involved with assisting the affected Filipino workers, said charging or collecting any fees for the filing and processing of an H-2B visa is unlawful.

Officials say enforcing protections for US-bound workers needs to be intensified by both the Philippines and the US, which earlier this year placed the Philippines in the Tier 2 human trafficking watch list.

Padilla indicated some recruiters continuously probe for weaknesses in the issuance of H-2B visas, which is governed by yearly quotas.

Duero reported that this month alone, his office has received 18 complaints of human trafficking. He fears this was only the “tip of the iceberg” because many more Filipino workers may have decided to suffer in silence rather than losing their jobs and being forced to return to the Philippines.

(This is an article written for the Manila Mail's Nov. 15 edition, which also marks the Metro DC-based Fil-Am paper's 20th anniversary)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Filipino World War II veterans and their supporters are opening a two-pronged offensive to win additional benefits and full recognition from the United States government.

Pinoy veterans join their American comrades marking Veterans Day tomorrow (Nov. 11).

(President & Mrs. Obama with Filipino veterans Guillermo Rumingan and Amadeo Urbano in last year's Veterans Day Breakfast at the White House -- photo courtesy of Eric Lachica, ACFV)

Eric Lachica, executive director of the Virginia-based American Coalition of Filipino Veterans (ACFV), said he and 93-year-old veteran Celestino Almeda have been invited to the traditional Veterans Day Breakfast at the White House.

Since President Obama is attending a leaders’ summit in Seoul, South Korea, Vice Pres. Biden will be standing in for him at the breakfast and the commemoration ceremonies at the Arlington National Cemetery.

ACFV president Patrick Ganio Sr., 89, will serve as Filipino veteran marshal at the Jacksonville, Florida Veterans Day parade tomorrow.

Ganio, a Purple Heart Medal recipient, will lead 50 Filipino US Navy veterans at the parade, Lachica disclosed.

Ganio and other former Prisoners of War (POWs) will be honored at the Jacksonville Jaguars-Houston Texans football game at EverBank Field on Sunday.

On Friday evening, the Filipino American Veterans of Nevada will host a “Salute to Veterans” dinner that will feature, among others, the book launching of Frank Cedula, 87, another Purple Heart Medal awardee in World War II.


In Los Angeles, California the Justice for Filipino American Veterans (JFAV) is leading a protest march on behalf of Filipino veterans and widows who’ve been excluded from benefits, including the $198 million “veterans equity compensation” payments.

The JFAV and other Filvet advocacy groups recently filed a class suit against the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

More than 40,000 applied for lump sums of $15,000 each for Filipino veterans in the US and $9,000 for those in the Philippines.

Over 8,000 applications were denied, according to VA records.

The class suit filed by lawyers led by Arnedo Valera aims to compel the VA to accept “secondary evidence” for veterans who were turned down, and allow widows of deceased veterans who would have otherwise qualified for the lump sum to collect the benefit.

The legal offensive is just one of a two-faceted approach to winning for the aging Pinoy veterans the benefits that were arbitrarily deprived them in 1946.


Groups like the ACFV and National Federation for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE) are mounting the other leg of the campaign – passage of Senate 2757 or the Military Families Act during the six-week lame-duck session on Capitol Hill.

The bill incorporates the Filipino Veterans Family Reunification bill that would expedite the granting of “green cards” to immediate family members of Fil-Am veterans.

Lachica said they are cognizant of new directions on Capitol Hill, particularly with the incoming Republican-dominated House of Representatives.

He said they are readying new proposals that could appeal to the fiscally conservative GOP congressmen, including changes that will allow Fil-Am veterans or their widows to take their social security benefits to the Philippines; and expand the availability of medicare services overseas.

They could generate millions of dollars in savings, Lachica averred.

It will also directly benefit hospitals and hospice care facilities in the Philippines, provided they meet US-set standards.

Lachica explained this is already being done at top Metro Manila hospitals like St. Lukes, where medicare patients in Guam are diverted because the Philippines is closer than getting the needed treatments in the US Mainland.

“The US should globalize the solutions” to the growing cost of caring for America’s veterans and elderly, Lachica said, noting there are 6 million Americans living overseas.

Monday, November 8, 2010


There was the familiar voice – which won fans ahead of the face and a storied broadcast career. “Magandang gabi, bayan” Noli de Castro bid his trademark farewell at the end of the “new” TV Patrol.

“Kabayan” Noli said goodbye to the Philippine broadcast world once before, after being drawn to the world of national politics.

We are familiar with his humble roots because he would occasionally intersperse the morning story conferences at ABS-CBN’s dzMM conference room with childhood tales from where the sea met the rice fields in Pola, Mindoro Oriental.

He told us about his beginnings in radio, hanging around the studio, trying mightily to be useful by running errands or making coffee for the station’s bosses. He would later apprentice with broadcast icon Johnny de Leon.

Such were the rites of passage for journalists of that era. They didn’t only have to prove they knew the job – more importantly, they had to prove just how badly they wanted the job.

He earned the “Kabayan” because the “masa” identified with him. Through the years, they also learned to trust him.

Of all the journalist’s attributes, trust is perhaps the most difficult to win and also the easiest to lose.

For many, hearing him bid the audience “Magandang gabi, bayan” is like telling them that they’ve seen all they need to see; they now knew everything they needed to know; the day is almost finished and there was a new day coming.

That became the trademark sign off for TV Patrol, a pioneering newscast known for hard-hitting news, popular advocacies and public service. It defined perhaps more than any other show, the public image of ABS-CBN after it was resurrected by the 1986 People Power revolt that toppled the Marcos dictatorship.

Sign offs are simple one-liners that usually convey a belief or virtue.

It can be as simple as John McLaughlin’s “bye bye”.

Or something as iconic as Walter Cronkite signature, definitive sign-off “And that’s the way it is”.

Those words perhaps carried no greater weight the evening he told the world about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

“Good night and good luck,” Edward R. Murrow would always end his broadcasts.

They speak about the power of words, and the people who speak those words.

We expect “Kabayan” to pick up where he left off, as he leads a news program that we understand, is being pitted against a game show in a rising broadcast station.

We never did understand the game of programming and counter-programming that purported broadcast gurus play against each other, but we’ve always believed that no reality show can trump the real-life drama of people in the news.

“Magandang gabi, bayan” is more than an “extro”. It is associated with “Kabayan” Noli de Castro and possibly offer a foil against the temptation to tailor down news programs, to make them “softer” to compete with a new rival. After all, "Magandang gabi, bayan" also tells of a virtue.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


From immigration reforms to addressing the clamor of World War II veterans, the Nov. 2 midterm elections promises to shape the future of Fil-Am legislative efforts on Capitol Hill for years to come.

Fil-Ams are immersed in the campaign, from California to South Carolina .

The group KAYA: Filipino Americans for Progress has endorsed a slate of candidates, mostly for local positions in California , but it also includes Kris Valderrama who’s running for a 2nd term in the Maryland House of Delegates.

Virginia Fil-Am leader Gloria Caoile has joined hands with presidential adviser and NAFFAA vice chair Rozita Lee to mobilize the Filipino vote for embattled incumbent Nevada Senator Harry Reid.

A veteran of the Clinton and Obama political campaigns in 2008, Jon Melegrito travelled to Philadelphia to help campaign for Democratic candidates.

Doctors Rey and Zorayda Lee-Llacer are reaching out to the Fil-Am community for fellow physician Eric Wargotz, running for the first time for a Senate seat in Maryland . Their daughter is married to Dr. Wargotz.

Businesswoman Zenaida Frasier has taken leave from running the family business in Rockville , MD to campaign for husband Ben Frasier, a retired Washington DC cop running for the first time as the Democratic candidate in the 1st District of South Carolina.

All these candidates have assured support in one way or another, to Fil-Am causes on Capitol Hill as well as on the state and district levels.

But community leader Mencie Hairston echoes the maxim “all politics is local”.

Hairston, who describes herself as a “Reagan Democrat”, declared support for re-electionist Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley – primarily because of his success in keeping state tuition fees down.

She is also backing Dr. Wargotz’ opponent, incumbent Sen. Barbara Mikulski because, she averred “we are so much alike”.

Caoile noted that before 2008 only about 37% of Asian American adults vote, compared to 73% of Whites and 68% of Blacks. Some have attributed this to the difficulty of Asian American voters to latch on or identify with burning campaign issues.

Vellie Dietrich Hall, who was recently appointed vice chair of the Virginia state commission on volunteerism and national service, is convinced that won’t be a handicap this midterm elections.

“Whether we’re Koreans, Chinese or Filipino Americans, the reality is we’ve lost millions of jobs and everyone’s worried about how to make ends meet,” she tells the Manila Mail.

The Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund conducted an exit poll during the 2006 midterm elections, which revealed that jobs and the economy were the most important issues for Fil-Am voters.

Six years later, those concerns may have been magnified a hundredfold because of the recession and mortgage mess that left thousands of Fil-Ams jobless and driven by foreclosures from their homes.

That same poll showed that 24% or nearly a quarter of Fil-Am voters don’t have any party affiliation, and could be considered as independents.

There are 37 seats up for grabs in the Senate and all 435 seats in the House of Representatives.

Of the 37 Senate seats in play, 19 are held by Democrats and 18 by Republicans. Various political poll organizations say more Democratic House seats are in jeopardy than Republican seats.

Dietrich Hall is convinced the GOP will wrestle control of both chambers of Congress.

Manila Mail national editor Bing Branigin said Fil-Am leaders are worried by the prospect that key supporters on Capitol Hill might lose their races.

A defeat for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would be a big blow, she claimed. The Nevada incumbent is in a tight race with Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle.

The Fil-Am community has lost some of its strongest backers in the Senate – Chris Dodd (D) of Connecticut, Evan Bayh (D) of Indiana and Kit Bond (R) of Missouri who are retiring; and Arlen Specter (D) of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski (R) of Alaska who’ve lost their primary races.

(Note: Murkowski decided to pursue her campaign as an independent and is in a tight contest with Tea party favorite Joe Miller).

“Losing our key supporters in Congress could set us back 20 years,” Branigin claimed, “because it took us that long to learn the ropes of lobbying and these are the lawmakers who already know Fil-Ams very well.”

Known Fil-Am Senate supporters on the ballot include longtime Fil-Am champion Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, Barbara Boxer of California, Chuck Schumer of New York, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, John McCain of Arizona, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Mikulski of Maryland and Reid of Nevada.

In the House, California Congressmen Bob Filner and Mike Honda are reportedly leading in their districts.

The 1st first-generation Fil-Am congressman, Steve Austria is reportedly sailing to an apparent victory in the GOP-leaning 7th district of Ohio.

Dietrich-Hall allays the fear a Republican-controlled Congress could derail the Fil-Am legislative agenda on Capitol Hill.

“It’s a matter of working together,” she insisted.

She said the Fil-Am community should continue to fight for recognition and benefits for surviving Filipino World War II veterans, immigration reforms and even the SAVE Act (the proposed textiles and garments trade bill) that Dietrich-Hall believes will get a sympathetic ear from the GOP because of its potential to generate jobs.

“In the Philippines , the Marcos dictatorship deprived my right to vote, so I wasn’t able to vote there. But now that I’ve acquired the ability to vote, I see this as a holy obligation,” she explained.

“In a representative democracy, one man can effect change in various ways,” Dr. Lee Llaser averred.

Hairston says she’s less concerned about which party Fil-Ams support so long as they cast their vote on Nov. 2.

(This is an article written for Manila Mail's Oct. 30 edition)