Monday, January 31, 2011
Many Filipinos are avid fans of the Oscar Awards because it draws the crème of American cinema and somehow provides an opportunity to validate their own choices.
But the coming 83rd Academy Awards has an added edge for Pinoy audiences as two compatriots vie for top awards in their respective categories.
Hailee Steinfeld is nominated for best supporting actress for her performance in True Grit.
Matthew Libatique is nominated for best cinematography for his work in Black Swan.
Steinfeld is the 14-year-old daughter of Cheri and Peter Steinfeld of Tarzana, Los Angeles in California.
Cheri, an interior designer by profession, is Filipina.
Libatique, 42, is the son of Georgina and Justiniano Libatique – his father hails from Dagupan, Pangasinan and mother is from Lucena, Quezon.
He grew up at Elmhurst in Queens, New York.
Although the ceremonies are still to take place February 27 at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, many Filipinos already count Steinfeld and Libatique as winners.
Perhaps a measure of their contributions, both Black Swan and True Grit are seen as strong contenders for best picture.
If she wins, Steinfeld will be only the 3rd supporting actress to take home an Oscar before her 16th birthday – Tatum O’Neal was 10 when she won for her role in Paper Moon and Anna Paquin was just a year older when she got her Oscar for The Piano.
She plays the character of Mattie Ross who hires Rooster Cogburn, played by Jeff Bridges, to avenge her father’s death.
Her co-star Matt Damon described her as a “young Jodie Foster”.
She was chosen near the end of a nationwide search. Some accounts suggested she won the producers over when she auditioned in a 1800s Western outfit sewn by her mother Cheri from clothes bought at a charity store.
Not a bad start for the Fil-Am teenager – earning an Oscar nomination on her first major feature film.
But Libatique is no newcomer to Hollywood. His credits are long as they are impressive.
He worked on both Iron Man movies with director Jon Favreau and Black Swan reunites him with his American Film Institute classmate and the movie’s director Darren Aronofsky. They last collaborated on The Fountain.
Libatique has worked with Spike Lee on Miracle at St. Anna and Inside Man, among others; and Joel Schumacher in Tigerland and Phone Booth that featured Collin Farrell.
He said he got hooked on photography the day his father gave him his first camera.
Libatique’s already annexed the best cinematography awards from Los Angeles and New York film critics for Black Swan.
Natalie Portman is nominated for best actress in Black Swan, a surreal tale of a ballerina unraveling on her way to a starring role in Tchaivoksky's Swan Lake.
He shot much of it with a Super 16mm but also used even less obtrusive cameras to capture New York subway and street scenes.
Through Libatique’s lens Aronofsky was able achieve his goal of blurring the lines between reality and inner tumult of Portman’s character Nina Sayers, producing what one critic described as a “weird, wired, wild energy teetering on the brink of madness”.
All that from a man who once delivered lechon as a teen, and someone Aronofsky swears cooks a mean chicken adobo.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
Philippine and American officials led by Assistant State Secretary Kurt Campbell were holding their first-ever strategic dialogue just as a growing corruption scandal involving the country’s former military chiefs was swirling in Manila.
Campbell assured US help to boost the Philippine’s territorial defense and maritime security capability.
The meetings took place as former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) budget officer, Lt. Col. George Rabusa, revealed in Congress the practice of giving hundreds of millions of pesos as “pabaon” or farewell gift to retiring AFP Chiefs of Staff.
Congress was looking into the suspicious plea bargain agreement between former AFP comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia and prosecutors in the Office of the Ombudsman.
A former state auditor, Heidi Mendoza, broke her silence to protest the Garcia plea bargain.
She was one of six members of a Commission on Audit (COA) team that investigated Garcia’s financial transactions in 2004-2006 and divulged in a report by Ellen Tordesilla and Yvonne Chua of VERA Files, how he managed to divert P200 million from the UN fund.
Mendoza indicated, in a separate interview with ABS-CBN’s Ces Drilon that Garcia also dipped his fingers into funds for the Balikatan, the yearly PH-US military exercise.
The US has committed $45 million for the multi-year Philippine Defense Reform (PDR) program that aims to minimize corruption and make the military’s financial dealings more transparent, among others.
Started in 2000, the PDR was supposed to be fully in place by 2011. “The basis of the reform should be laid in stone in 2010. It stops from being a reform and starts being a normal process,” then Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said.
Military officials have admitted fund diversions routinely happen in the cash-strapped military.
It’s uncertain how this will affect future US assistance – critical for a military long dependent on foreign help.
Under the PDR, the AFP plans to spend about $125 million a year for modernization.
Philippine Navy chief, Rear Admiral Alexander Pama, revealed plans to acquire a Hamilton-class cutter from the US, possibly through the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.
The Hamilton-class is a 3,250-ton, weather high endurance cutter (WHEC) with a range of 14,000 miles and top speed of 29 knots. It has a flight deck with retractable hangar and its main weapon is an Otobreda 76mm gun that can fire 85 rounds per minute.
If the acquisition pushes through, she will be the newest and biggest ship in the Philippine Navy.
The US has sold, donated or leased over 40 warships and scores more of smaller patrol crafts to the Philippine Navy since the early 1950s. Many were acquired third-hand after the Vietnamese and Cambodian navies escaped the communist takeover by sailing to Subic Bay.
The Philippine Fleet is composed of one frigate (Cannon-class), the flagship Rajah Humabon that was built in 1943; 13 corvettes, 59 patrol crafts and 8 transport ships.
The PN acquired three Peacock-class fast patrol boats when Britain relinquished control of Hongkong to China in 1997.
Among its more recent acquisitions from the US were a Cyclone-class patrol boat, the Mariano Alvarez; two Besson-class logistic support vessels (LSVs); and 24 Halter-Marine 78-foot fast patrol crafts (PCFs) that were procured as part of US rent payments for Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base, before the Philippine Senate voted to close them down.
PN officials say only half of their total ships are operational (only 2 of their transport ships – a critical component for an archipelago – can actually put out to sea).
The renewed US interest in strengthening the Philippine Navy stems in part to a March 2009 incident involving the USNS Impeccable that was harassed in the South China Sea, which China claims as part of its exclusive economic zone, according to a paper written by Renato de Castro and Walter Lohman of the Heritage Foundation.
“The AFP needs new defense materiel to execute territorial security operations,” they wrote, adding the military is in a “sensitive transition phase from internal security priority to territorial defense.”
They pointed out that US help is needed to “erode the inertia against changes in the Philippine military”.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Vice President Jejomar Binay jumps the gun on his boss, trekking to Washington DC in the first week of February to meet with diplomatic officials and the Fil-Am community.
Plans are afoot for President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III to visit the US capital in the summer after a planned White House meeting with President Obama last year fizzled out because it could not fit in the two leaders’ busy calendars.
They did get some face time (7 minutes long) at the 2nd US-ASEAN Leaders Summit which followed the opening of the 65th UN General Assembly last September that they both addressed.
Binay is no stranger to the Metro DC community.
He has occasionally graced major functions of the local Alpha Phi Omega (APO) alumni association in northern Virginia but this will be his first trip here after winning the May 2010 elections.
His visit will come just a week after US State Asst. Secretary for East Asia & Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell leads a delegation for the first RP-US Bilateral Strategic Dialogue in Manila.
Campbell will be the highest US official to visit the Philippines this year.
The Strategic Dialogue discusses “a broad range of bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest”.
Campbell himself will meet with Philippine officials and business leaders on “intensifying economic engagement with the Philippines”.
The meeting with the Fil-Am community in Metro DC is expected to be the highlight of Binay’s visit to the region.
He holds concurrently the position of Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers and Chairman, Housing & Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC).
The Virginia-based Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC) is trying to push for the enactment of a “Magna Carta for OFWs”.
Lawyer Arnedo Valera, MHC executive director, revealed he has won commitments from House Speaker Sonny Belmonte and Senators T.G. Guingona and Gregorio Honasan to sponsor the bill in the Philippine Congress.
“There is a need to eliminate visa fraud so there has to be close coordination with receiving countries, integrate existing laws on recruitment and give added protection for OFWs,” he averred.
Valera has been appointed as Representative for Migration and Human Rights by the Foundation for the Support of the United Nations (FSUN) that allows him to push for the OFW agenda within the UN ambit.
Binay’s support for the OFW bill will be crucial.
Over 40 bills ranging from the establishment of an OFW hospital to shuttering recruitment firms victimizing minors to addressing the human trafficking problem in the US are languishing in the House committee on overseas workers affairs.
The Aquino administration is courting US censure after the Philippines was included for a 2nd straight year in the Tier 2 human trafficking watch list in 2010.
So even if Binay has no obvious official business with the US government, his presence here could pave the way for President Aquino’s eventual visit to Washington DC.
Friday, January 21, 2011
There are few institutions that can match the University of Santo Tomas (UST) – Asia’s oldest university, renown for its doctors and artists, steep in history.
It kicks off a year-long quadricentennial celebration this month.
Last month, a small group of alumni led by husband-and-wife Thomasians, Drs. Rey and Zorayda Lee-Llacer, formally launched the UST Alumni Association in America (USTAAA) in the DC suburb of Arlington, Virginia to time with the celebrations.
The Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas (named in honor of its patron, St. Thomas Aquinas) was established on April 28, 1611.
That’s antedated, according to some accounts, by the death of Manila Archbishop Miguel de Buenavides in 1605 who bequeathed his personal property for the establishment of an institution of higher earning; but the process of getting King Phillip III's blessings for the new college and bringing his royal decree back to Manila took 6 years.
The sprawling campus seems to have shrunk over the years as more structures were constructed – it is one of the largest universities in terms of enrolment (about 38,000).
Her teeming community is perhaps more representative of Filipino society – not as elitist as UP or as exclusive as DLSU or as proletarian as UE, perhaps.
The UST community is, for the lack of a better definition – middle class. It’s a microcosm of the Filipino youth.
In my brief stint there, we studied under the belief that UST somehow drew “average” students and turned them into outstanding professionals.
It has produced four presidents (Manuel L. Quezon, Sergio Osmena, Jose P. Laurel and Diosdado Macapagal); six Supreme Court Chief Justices; countless doctors and nurses; 18 national artists in architecture, literature, music, theater and visual arts (and one national scientist); newsmen and pundits; bankers and athletes; and yes, nine saints.
There was something about UST that leaves the impression – at least where we were concerned – that one would get a truly rounded education.
The campus is self-contained with a choice of fast-food establishments, stores and even boasts of one of Manila’s top-notch hospitals.
But for students on evening classes, the lure of watering holes and aroma of grilling barbecue along Dapitan and its lively side streets sometimes prove more powerful than the Dominican’s admonition against doomed souls and we find ourselves on an entirely different kind of discovery.
The UST campus is uniquely situated in the heart of Manila.
We subscribe to the belief you are not a bona fide Thomasian unless you’ve experienced wading through the flood waters along Espana or Dapitan or Gov. Forbes.
Or tried slowly walking the top floor of the main building after the lights have been switched off and past the cadavers medical students use for their anatomy lessons.
During World War II, the Japanese converted the campus into a concentration camp where they reportedly abused, tortured and occasionally executed their prisoners. Hunting for ghosts was a virtual rite of passage for freshmen, at least when we were there.
Sadly, we never got to share in the glory of the Growling Tigers. In our time, they were likely still cubs.
There are plans to open satellite campuses in Santa Rosa, Laguna and General Santos City in Mindanao.
It will be a grand 400th year birthday celebration for this unique learning institution.
For those who’ve walked her quiet sidewalks, drew valuable lessons in and out her classrooms or just lounged under the shade of that old tree outside the ArtLets building, UST leaves a lot of good memories.
Monday, January 17, 2011
From Maryland to Virginia, Filipino-Americans celebrated the feast of the Santo Nino – the image of the Infant Jesus.
The Aklan Ati-Atihan of Virginia (AAAV) got a head-start marking the feast on Jan. 8 at the Chesapeake Conference Center in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. It was also an occasion to swear in the group’s new executives, led by incoming president Joy Asban who will serve from 2011 to 2013.
The Ati-Atihan commemorates the Panay (one of the major islands in the Central Philippines) barter in the 13th century.
Malay datus from Borneo established a settlement in Panay with the consent of the Ati’s, the indigenous Negrito community.
When Spanish conquistadors arrived in the area, they replaced the pagan rituals with Christian meaning, assigning the image of the Infant Jesus as the natives’ patron – transforming it as a religious festival.
The highlight of the festival is a parade dictated by the cadence of rhythmic drums, participants divided into “tribes” and carrying different images of the Santo Nino. Dancers are covered in soot to mimic the Ati’s appearance.
Variations have emerged over the years, prompting organizers to schedule the events – the Ati-Atihan goes first in Kalibo, Aklan, followed by the Sinulog festival in Cebu and the Dinagyang in Iloilo.
The festivals were developed into a year-long mardi gras tourist attraction; though less religiously inclined the Binirayan festival in Antique held in April and the week-long MassKara festival held in October draws heavily on the influence of the Ati-Atihan.
In Maryland, the Mother Butler’s Guild of St. Mary marked the 11th Fiesta ng Santo Nino on Jan. 16 at the St. Mary’s Church in Rockville. The 2:00 PM mass was capped by an early evening dinner dance.
The Lord is my Shepherd Charismatic Group held a Filipino mass in honor of the Santo Nino at the Christ the King Church in Silver Spring, MD.
The feast fell on the regular 3rd Sunday Filipino mass at St. Michael’s Church in Silver Spring on Jan. 16. The mass was officiated by Msgr. Mariano Balbago Jr.
This too was followed by a dinner dance held partly in honor of January birthday celebrants.
The celebration was organized by the Fil-Am Ministry of St. Michael and the Migrant Heritage Commission, and featured the Cebu Sinulog Dancers of Metro DC as well as the Ati-Atihan of Maryland.
Through the years, the Ati-Atihan has become a distinguishing facet of the Fil-Am community in the Metro DC region, keeping a presence in some major American events like the 4th of July parade in Washington DC.
The Fil-Am community, predominantly Catholic, is again lending its voice in the anti-abortion, anti-euthanasia March for Life rallies in Washington DC on Jan. 24.
Hundreds of Fil-Ams from as far away as California, Florida and Illinois are expected to join what organizers believe will be the biggest March for Life event yet.
Ado Paglinawan, northeast regional coordinator for the Couples for Christ Foundation for Family & Life, revealed they are helping arrange bus transportation for Fil-Ams from New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia Beach, VA joining the march.
“The March for Life swelled last year as many life issues have become part of the social environment of Catholics,” he said.
He said about 250,000 joined the March for Life last year, double that in 2009, and they expect to top that number again next week with half a million participants.
The March for Life had been held in Washington DC since 1974 on the anniversary of Roe vs Wade, the US Supreme Court decision that paved the way for legalized abortion.
According to a 2008 Guttmacher Institute report, about 1.2 million abortions were performed in the US in 2005, the lowest level since 1976.
Paglinawan admitted the current pro-life debate has been flavored by politics because of President Obama’s liberal policies.
Next week's pro-life focus is expected to again test the call for greater civility in political discourse after the House vote on the President's health care law because of the highly emotional debate on legalized abortion.
“A day after he was sworn into office, President Obama signed an executive order that reversed the Bush-era doctrine that no federal funds be used to finance abortions abroad,” he averred.
He opined the implications of President Obama’s order has weighed as far away as the Philippine’s controversial Reproductive Health bill debate, which Paglinawan said, could get substantial US funding if approved.
“There’s a socio-political flavor because the executive order has worked up Catholics to stand up for life and stop remaining in the peripheries,” he averred.
Tea party leader Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who's one of the loudest voices against abortion on Capitol Hill, will deliver the keynote address at the 2011 Rose Dinner that usually caps the yearly event.
In addition, Pope Benedict XVI created last year a pontifical office for the re-evangelization of “areas previously Christian that may have entered a post-Christian era” that include Europe and North America.
Paglinawan said Catholics see greater vigor in the pro-life movement as part of this increased papal emphasis on re-evangelization of the US.
The March for Life is organized by the non-sectarian March for Life Education and Defense Fund, but is backed by the American Catholic Bishops Conference.
Paglinawan said Fil-Ams will be joining two youth rallies starting at 7:00 AM at the Verizon Center and the DC Armory that together can seat up to 35,000 people.
Washington DC’s recently-ordained Donald Cardinal Wuerl will officiate mass at the Verizon Center.
Paglinawan revealed that he will be joining the adult event at the St. Matthews Cathedral in downtown DC where Dr. Tony Bruchalski, who runs the Teteyac pre-natal clinic in Maryland.
Catholic churches in DC, Virginia and Maryland are also holding morning masses and offer buses to ferry parishioners to the March for Life.
The march itself begins at noon and will pass by Capitol Hill and the Supreme Court.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Officials here want to make sure Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki includes Manila in his itinerary when he visits US veterans facilities in the Pacific region this year.
“He said he might be touring the Philippines in 2011 so we’re trying to follow-up his plan for this year – if he can make the Philippines part of his itinerary,” explained retired Maj. Gen. Delfin Lorenzana, head of the Office of Veterans Affairs at the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC.
In his last visit to Washington DC in 2009, Philippine Defense Undersecretary Ernesto Carolina invited Shinseki to visit the Philippines after President Obama signed the bill establishing the $198 million Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) fund.
“They have veterans facilities in Korea, Japan and Guam and we would like to anticipate (his visit) para kung saka-sakali maganda ang dalaw niya dun,” Lorenzana averred.
As of Dec. 23, 2010, a total of 8,878 Filipino World War II veterans living in the Philippines have each received the $9,000 lump sum, equivalent to about P3.4 billion.
The VA's had a fully-staffed regional office in Manila since 1921, which oversees about a dozen benefits for WWII veterans in the country – disability compensation, spousal support, clothing allowance, burial and funeral allowance, and dependents’ educational aid, among others.
The VA has also invested over $20 million since the 1960s to help maintain and occasionally upgrade treatment capabilities at the Veteran Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City.
Shinseki, a retired four-star US Army general, has worked closely with Capitol Hill to ensure the FVEC's full implementation – when the original $198 million "lump sum" fund was about to be depleted, he convinced lawmakers to use part of his agency’s savings to replenish the fund.
As of Dec. 23, 2010, there were still 1,366 FVEC claims pending.
A total of 41,234 applications have been processed – 23,442 of them were subsequently disapproved.
A total of 8,914 Filipino WWII veterans living in the US have received the lump sum payments.
As of Dec. 23, 2010, the DVA revealed a total of $213 million have been paid out under the FVEC.
Obviously, Lorenzana and other Philippine veterans officials are eager to keep Shinseki on their side. Two bills have reportedly been filed in the current Congress – the refiling of the Filipino Veterans Family Reunification bill and another measure sponsored by California Rep. Jackie Speier that aims to amend the 1946 Rescission Act.
“Hindi natin masabi pero ganyan naman talaga sa Kongreso, we won’t know what will happen to the bills until they are deliberated in the (veterans affairs) committee,” Lorenzana explained.
That committee is now controlled by Republicans.
“Anything can happen, marami naman tayong mga kaibigan na mga Republicans na mabait sa mga Filipino,” he added, citing the support of California Rep. Darryl Issa, a co-chairman of the bipartisan, bicameral US-Philippine Friendship Caucus on Capitol Hill.
“He’s been very friendly with us in the past and I don’t think that’s going the change,” he averred.
An official of the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) urged Filipino-American business owners to get certified as a minority business enterprise (MBE).
Antonio Cabanas, who supervises the Maryland MBE, spoke about the process of being certified by the MDOT at a talk organized by the Filipino-American Institute of Accountants of Metro DC (FAIA) and Philippine American Bar Association (PABA) at the Acacia Federal Savings Bank in Falls Church, VA on Jan. 14.
Of the nearly 23 million privately-owned companies operating in the US in 2002, over 1.1 million were owned by Asian-Americans, generating $327 billion in income.
Of these companies, 17% had 5-9 employees; 50% had 1-4 employees; and 17% had 5-9 employees – clearly, most of them were not only minority owned but also small-scale.
Patrick Ferraren said 3 million small and minority businesses in the US employ about 5 million Americans.
Cabanas revealed that of the 5,128 MBEs certified in Maryland last year, 262 were owned by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders – and of this number, less than 30 were owned by Filipino-Americans.
John Cabrera, president of the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce of Washington DC, said he wasn’t surprised by the relatively low number of Fil-Am certified firms.
To be eligible for an MBE certification, the business should be at least 51% owned and controlled by the socially and economically disadvantaged – African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans and women.
The MDOT’s Office of MBE is the certification agency for Maryland (in Virginia, it’s the Virginia Dept. of Transportation and in DC, it’s the Office of the Minority Business Enterprise).
Certification as an MBE (or its twin program, the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program) opens new and wider business opportunities for the certified firm.
In Maryland, state agencies are required to source at least 25% of their procurement contracts from MBE firms.
Cabrera was among the Fil-Am businessmen who attended the FAIA-PABA seminar.
“The important reason for my insurance company to be certified is to get mote opportunities for government contracts,” he said.
He explained that government contracts “are more stable, more long term that will give our company growth”.
Cabrera declared that as head of the Fil-Am business chamber in Metro DC, he encourages more Fil-Ams, especially those who may have lost their jobs due to the recession, to start their own business.
“Filipinos by nature and by our culture are not entrepreneurs. More are professionals and so when they move here a lot of them are not thinking about going into business,” he averred.
“We were raised to go to school, get a good education, get a good job, work for a good company then retire,” Cabrera added.
That affords a greater measure of security especially for newly arrived immigrants but he said owning your own business has its rewards.
“Part of it is different when you’re your own boss. The more you work, the more you earn; you have control on who you want to help and how you grow your business,” he declared.
Saturday, January 8, 2011
It was a gathering of “blue bloods” – not the regal variety – but the hundred-strong Ateneo alumni organization in Metro DC who with President Benigno Aquino III and many of their classmates at the helm back home, can't be blamed if they feel they’re pretty close to being political royalty in the Philippines.
They gathered last Jan. 8 for their yearly New Year’s party in Virginia, the discussion gravitating between latest goings on here and the classmates who’ve joined the Aquino administration.
Perhaps most prominent among them is Executive Secretary Paquito “Jojo” Ochoa (Ateneo Law ’86), who’s recruited many of the Ateneans now in government.
The “Little President” was former Quezon City administrator under then Mayor and now House Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte.
Ochoa’s father, former Pulilan, Bulacan Mayor Paquito Ochoa Sr., was an ally of the President’s father, the martyred Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Jr.
According to various accounts, the elder Aquino was attending Paquito Sr.’s birthday party in Bulacan during the Plaza Miranda bombing on Aug. 21, 1971.
Jose Amor Amorado (Ateneo Law ’86) is Senior Deputy Executive Secretary. His specialization is said to be litigation and labor and maritime law.
Former Tagaytay City Mayor Francis Tolentino (Ateneo Law ’84) is head of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) that helps oversee the Philippine capital region.
Former Agrarian Reform and Education Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad (Ateneo Law ’85) now heads the Department of Budget & Management.
Julia Abad (Ateneo AB Communications ’00), the President’s former chief of staff in the Senate, now manages the Presidential Management Staff.
Jose Almendras (Ateneo BS Business Mgmt ’81) is Secretary of Energy and fellow Ateneans Jose de Jesus and Gregorio Domingo lead the Departments of Transportation and Trade, respectively.
When he reconstituted the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), the President appointed young but very qualified Ateneans to the post – Chairman Juan Andres Bautista (Ateneo Law ’90), Gerard Mosquera (Ateneo Law ’92), Richard Amurao (Ateneo ’92) and Ma. Teresa Chan-Gonzaga (Ateneo Law ’02).
The current Philippine Amusement & Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) chief Cristino Naguiat was the President’s college classmate (Ateneo Economics ’81), and so is the new National Housing Authority (NHA) General Manager Chito Cruz.
The President’s circle of Ateneo chums extend even to the legislature that include Sen. Teofisto “TG” Guingona III (Ateneo Law ’84).
Appointing school mates to top positions is nothing new in governance.
US President John F. Kennedy was known to favor Harvard classmates; Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has reportedly surrounded himself with a “civiliki” network of law scholars from the Leningrad State University, especially in the judiciary.
The Japanese coined a word for it – “gakubatsu” – translated as “school cliques” that dominate segments of their society, especially the business world.
A research written by Harvard University professor Mark Ramseyer on Japanese “school cliques” observed that “in the world beyond the university, the graduates of elite schools look out for their own. They talk with each other. They mentor. They help. They lobby their employer to hire still more graduates.”
The President’s supporters argue that if he was appointing a disproportionate number of school mates, that was secondary to their inherent qualifications to fill sensitive positions in government.
This seems to be affirmed by the resume of “blue bloods” in the President’s management team, where graduating from Ateneo often appears incidental to their other academic accomplishments or work experience.
While most Ateneans celebrate the successes of school mates in today’s Philippines – particularly within the Aquino administration – they should also acknowledge they run the risk of reducing the urgent task of governance to the level of a “barkadahan”.
Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA 12th District) delivers on a promise to file a bill to reversing the 1946 Rescission Law and amending a 2009 law to expand equity compensation to widows and children of Filipino World War II veterans.
Rep. Speier – who won a 2nd term last November – is fulfilling a campaign promise made to Fil-Ams in San Mateo County and southwestern San Francisco, California last June (she’s one of a few US lawmakers with a Tagalog version in her website).
“The Filipino WWII veterans are full Americans who defended an American territory,” Rep. Speier said, stressing “They deserve nothing less than full recognition, full benefits and full equity.”
The proposed bill, tentatively called the “World War II Filipino Veterans Fairness Act of 2011” will virtually repeal parts of Title 38 of the United States Code – also known as the Rescission Act – that stripped recognition for about a quarter of a million Filipino soldiers and guerillas who served under the US Armed Forces during World War II.
It will also amend Section 1002 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that provides for the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) to include widows and children of deceased veterans who would have qualified to get the lump sum payments -- $15,000 for those living in the US and $9,000 for those in the Philippines.
Over 21,000 applications for the lump sum payments were rejected by the Department of Veterans Administration (DVA) – many because their names couldn’t be found in the reconstructed US Army roster – the so-called Missouri List (the original list was destroyed by fire in the 1970s).
As a result, some Fil-Am groups and advocates have sued the DVA in federal courts in California and Washington State.
The proposed Speier bill will authorize the DVA to accept “alternative documentation other than the Missouri List that the Secretary determines relevant.”
As expected, the proposed bill was lauded by Fil-Ams from California all the way to Virginia.
But lawyer Arnedo Valera, who helped file one of two suits against the government, said they will pursue the court cases.
“Eto na yung talagang fight for full equity and recognition,” he averred.
“The law suits were intended to secure the rights of our veterans so there is no contradiction with the lobby work that’s been done. It merely adds pressure,” Valera explained.
If passed by Congress and signed by the President, the Speier bill will qualify Filipino WWII veterans to receive the same DVA benefits given to Americans and foreign allies (the Rescission Act stripped recognition only for Filipino veterans).
It throws the Filipino veterans’ struggle for full equity back to square one.
Various bills have gone through this route in one form or another for half a century until the FVEC – the closest supporters got to full equity and recognition – was passed in 2009.
CLIMBING UP "THE HILL"
It’s uncertain our Rep. Speier’s bill will fare in the House of Representatives – now dominated by Republicans who're bent on cutting spending and had previously opposed the grant of full equity.
Advocates will also have to find a lawmaker willing to sponsor a companion bill in the Senate.
Filipino veterans supporters on Capitol Hill have been working on a "family reunification bill" to expedite the granting of visas to children of veterans living in the US.
They had hoped to pass the measure in last month's lame-duck session; failing that, they're expected to refile the bill in the 112th Congress.
Democrats enjoy a majority in the Senate, albeit slimmer than the one they enjoyed when the FVEC was approved.
Valera conceded a vigorous lobby will be key to passage of the bill.
“Alam natin mabigat ang laban dito but we’re optimistic the Fil-Am community will back this all the way,” he said.
Monday, January 3, 2011
Saving the “SAVE Act” is going to be one of the top lobbying priorities of the Philippines in the 112th Congress.
The “SAVE Act” – Senate 3170 and House Resolution 3039 – was filed in the 111th Congress to give preferential treatment for Philippine garments made from American textiles.
The bills enjoyed partisan support in the past Congress – introduced in the House by Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington, it has drawn support from Republican Reps. Brian Bilbray and David Dreier of California, and Judy Biggert of Illinois, among others.
In the Senate, the bill was jointly sponsored by Republican Sens. Christopher Bond of Missouri and John Ensign of Nevada; and Hawaii Democratic Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye.
Philippine officials tried to have the bills approved during the lame-duck session but failed.
The lobby will have to continue under a very different Congress, with spending-conscious Republicans now controlling the House and traditionally sympathetic Democrats enjoying a thinner majority in the Senate.
For one, supporters will have to look for new GOP champions after both Bond and Ensign retired from the Senate.
Proponents say the “SAVE Act” is backed by major US textile mills, apparel trade associations, clothing manufacturers and wholesalers like Ann Taylor, Avon, Columbia Sportswear, Liz Clairborne, Natori, Polo, Ralph Lauren and Urban Apparel.
The bills’ rationale was to expand the market for US yarn and textiles by allowing tariff-free access to the Philippines, generating local demand and ultimately, creating as many as 3,000 new American jobs.
Under this scenario the lower cost of raw materials will help Philippine garments compete with bargain-priced but lower quality Chinese apparel in America as well as the Asian market that US wholesalers have been eyeing for a long time.
The demand for cotton is rising even amid higher production, leading to the commodity’s highest prices in over a decade.
New York cotton futures prices reached 150 cents per pound in early November before settling down to 112 cents per pound. The website said the 75 cents per pound trading range in the New York futures market is the highest since the 1995-96 crop season.
Of the 4.6 million metric tons of cotton produced in the US in the 2010-11 season, 3.4 million tons will be exported and 800,000 metric tons will be consumed by US textile mills.
Higher raw materials could adversely affect textiles producers in the US and the rest of the world.
The US textiles sector is already facing stiff competition from countries like China and Vietnam where textile and garments exports are projected to top $11 billion this year making it the 2nd largest textile exporter to America.
From 1997 to June this year, a total of 1,298 textile mills have been shuttered according to the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO).
Most of these factories are located in North and South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia.
There is a significant Fil-Am population in three of these four states.
Allen Gant, vice chair of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, estimated that the US textile and apparel sector has lost 323,000 jobs even before the recession flared in late 2008.
Clearly, there are challenges and opportunities for the renewed Philippine lobby in Congress.
The campaign can be waged on several levels – the Philippine’s “comparative advantage” isn’t necessarily limited to the nuances of garments-making, but also to the larger politico-economic concerns of concerned vested interests, power blocs and lawmakers promoting their constituent’s agenda.
A vigorous education and information campaign is critical to this effort.
The Fil-Am community, especially in the states that stand to benefit most from the “SAVE Act” will be crucial.
But the bill’s supporters should continue to reach out to the rest of America, especially those people and groups who can amplify the message that America needs the “SAVE Act” just as much as Filipinos.
Unless this predicate of mutual need and benefit is firmly established, we fear this bill will go nowhere.