Thursday, February 24, 2011


The police found the decomposing body of a Filipino-American woman inside her Washington DC apartment after friends and neighbors reported they hadn’t seen her for the past two months.

Grace Valera, executive director of the Virginia-based Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC), identified the woman as Xenia Castillo, said to be a naturalized American citizen.

She lived alone in a condominium apartment at the 5400 block of Connecticut Ave. NW.

Valera said the police found Castillo seated in a sofa chair and indications point she died of natural causes although an investigation is still ongoing.

Although the city has been largely spared the heavy snow that marked last year’s winter, DC has nevertheless been gripped by weeks of bitter cold.

The police investigation is trying to determine the exact cause of death.

Valera quoted Castillo’s Fil-Am neighbors as saying that they tried to check on her whereabouts but could not convince the building manager to open her apartment.

A friend who recently arrived from Manila held a duplicate key but they discovered that Castillo had changed her locks, prompting authorities to finally call in the police last week.

They are reportedly trying to contact Castillo’s mother who works in London.

Valera described Castillo as in her 50s and often shied away from Fil-Am gatherings.

“If you know of Filipino friends or neighbors who live alone, it would be good to reach out to them once in a while,” Valera appealed, “Most of them may have chosen to be on their own but a little encouragement for people to reach out could save lives.”


The tragic tale of a grandma who threw her only "apo" to her death continues after a Fairfax, Virginia judge decided there was enough evidence to send the case of Carmela dela Rosa to a grand jury.

The grand jury will decide whether to try the 50-year-old Fil-Am for murdering her 2-year-old granddaughter last Nov. 29.

The case has already drawn wide interest, with the top Commonwealth Attorney in Fairfax leading the prosecution.

Unable to pay for a lawyer, Dela Rosa is relying on public defender Dawn Butorac who is reportedly also a top-notch defense attorney.

A preliminary hearing held last Friday determined probable cause that a crime has been committed. Dela Rosa was initially charged with malicious wounding but it was upgraded to murder after the child died in the hospital.

At least 30 family members were present at the preliminary hearing, reports said.

Dela Rosa has allegedly admitted throwing Angelyn Ogdoc, the only child of her daughter Kathlyn Dela Rosa-Ogdoc, from a 5th floor skybridge connecting the Tyson’s Corner mall with a parking garage.

“Yes, I did it. I threw the baby off,” she was quoted as telling Fairfax County Police officer Anthony Stancampiano who was among the first at the scene.

Various accounts from neighbors and friends said Dela Rosa doted on her “apo” and that two were inseparable.

Kathlyn said the family went to Tyson’s Corner for dinner. Her husband works at a Starbucks there where co-workers say they always looked forward to Angelyn’s visits.

Dela Rosa has been rushed to a hospital at least once for a condition, family members say, is an offshoot of severe depression. She has been seeing a psychologist for the past 10 years, Butorac revealed.

Kathlyn herself admitted she kept a close eye when her mother was with Angelyn because Dela Rosa had previously tried to commit suicide.

Prosecutor Ray Morrogh acknowledged this was a difficult, heart-tugging case but vowed to “do our best to see that justice is done.”

Butorac is reportedly exploring an insanity defense.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


“We were ready to die,” Brig. Gen. Cesar Yano, the new defense attaché told us at a welcome dinner tendered for him by Bill and Bing Branigin in their Virginia home last weekend.

He sat beside retired Maj. Gen. Delfin Lorenzana, the nation’s special envoy for veterans affairs.

Twenty-five years ago, they stood on opposing camps.

Yano was a 26-year-old lieutenant with the 1st Security Battalion of strongman Ferdinand Marcos’ Presidential Security Command.

Lorenzana was a major at the Philippine Army headquarters in Fort Bonifacio.

When a group of disgruntled colonels led by then Defense Minister (now Senator) Juan Ponce Enrile launched a failed coup to oust President Marcos, both men braced for the worst.

The mutiny provided the spark for a bloodless People Power revolt, drawing millions of unarmed Filipinos on EDSA – Metro Manila’s main north-south road artery, and in the process offered a peaceful alternative for people struggling to restore democracy in their own lands, from Poland to Egypt.

Yano explained that their mission was to protect the President and they were ready to fulfill that task at all costs.

Lorenzana said there was no hesitation when he rushed to Camp Crame to join forces with then national police chief (later President) Fidel V. Ramos. He was simply fed up with the way Marcos prostituted the military to keep him in power.

Bill Branigin was Washington Post bureau chief for Southeast Asia at the time. He was dispatched to Manila to report on the Feb. 7, 1986 “snap elections” that pitted widowed housewife Corazon Aquino against Marcos.

“We got a call that Enrile and Ramos were at Camp Crame so we went there and there was a sort of marathon press conference. It became clear they were playing for time, trying to gather support from the rest of the military,” he recalled.

In Malacanang, Yano was summoned by his commander, Col. Arsenio Tecson who asked him if he was ready to do his duty. Without asking what that “duty” was, he replied yes.

He heaved a sigh of relief upon his mission was to secure Marcos until he left Malacanang.

"A time of confusion"

Yano said they never got an order to attack the mutineers or the crowd gathering outside the presidential palace.

“I remember going to a press conference in Malacanang where President Marcos was asked what he was doing about this and Gen. (Fabian) Ver interrupted him. He was asking for permission to fire on the mutineers. It was hard to tell whether that was all staged or what was going on,” Branigin averred.

“A confusing time,” he remembered.

Losing the support of the national police and with the faction of the army still loyal to Marcos moving excruciatingly slow, Marine commandant Brig. Gen. Artemio Tadiar was ordered to detach two battalions from the Malacanang perimeter and move the troops with their leviathan amphibious tanks to Camp Crame.

They were stopped by nuns holding rosaries at the intersection of EDSA and Ortigas Avenue (where the EDSA Shrine now stands).

Yano said they were surprised by how poorly Malacanang was defended.

On the 2nd day of the revolt, Marcos ordered Airforce Col. Antonio Sotelo, commander of the Cavite-based 15th Strike Wing, to attack the parked rebel helicopters at Camp Crame.

We remember the anxiety when news bulletins reported gunships had taken off from Sangley Base, intentions unknown, and finally hearing the drone of approaching aircraft. There was a thunderous cheer when the choppers touched down at Camp Crame.

A rebel gunship was soon firing a rocket salvo at Malacanang, Yano recalled, and met no resistance.

“We always thought there were some anti-aircraft guns or missiles hidden somewhere. It turned out there was none,” Yano now remembers amusedly.

The US government moved swiftly to grapple with the rapidly developing crisis. State Secretary George Shultz gathered his top Philippine experts including former Ambassador to Manila Michael Armacost.

Jon Melegrito said he started fighting the Marcos dictatorship after he imposed Martial Law in 1972.

"Cut and cut cleanly"

A small group of Filipino activists in Metro DC held regular pickets in front of the old Philippine Embassy building along Massachusetts Avenue NW (in front of where the current Embassy stands).

“We were monitoring what was happening in the Philippines,” Melegrito told us.

They learned that unprecedented crowds continued to surge on EDSA.

Early morning of Feb. 25, Marcos talked to US Senator Paul Laxalt, perhaps grabbing his last lifeline, and was told to “cut and cut cleanly”.

Hours later, four helicopters parked at the US Embassy, took off and headed for the Presidential Guards headquarters just across the Pasig River from the Palace and picked up Marcos, his family and close aides for the short hop to Clark Air Base and onto Hickam Air Base in Hawaii.

“Before the departure of the then president, I had mixed emotions because of what could happen to us after the new regime takes over,” Yano confessed.

But they were relieved when Marcos finally left and discovered their earlier fears were unfounded. They were ordered to assemble at the grandstand of the PSG headquarters.

“The new regime turned out to be very friendly. We were told to continue working so there will be a good transition,” he said.

“When we learned Marcos left Malacanang it was 3 o’clock in the morning here,” Melegrito recalled.

“We called everyone to go to the Embassy. We were exhilarated because we never thought Marcos would leave,” he said.

They already had an inkling the end was near because a day earlier, they spied Embassy staffers taking out boxes.

“The Embassy was deserted but the celebrations started and it would go on the whole morning and throughout the day, till the evening,” he added.

“What surprised us were the motorists and passers-by in front of the Philippine Embassy. They had heard that People Power won in the Philippines so they brought beer and champagne,” Melegrito chuckled, adding “there was really a big party.”

EDSA People Power was such a momentous event that every Filipino old enough has a tale to tell about what they were doing those four days in February 1986.

It preceded the age of SMS, Tweeter and Facebook.

“It did become a template,” said Branigin, “of a largely peaceful uprising. Some other countries did try to emulate, more recently Egypt although I don’t think it drew directly from the experience in the Philippines. Still, they try to pursue the same goal of having a peaceful revolution.”

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Ambassador Willy C. Gaa closes an eventful tour-of-duty in the United States at the end of the month.

He will be replaced by former Central Bank governor Jose Cuisia.

Gaa was feted over the past weeks by friends in Washington DC, including a farewell party tendered by the State Department at historic Blair House last week.

He has left his mark in Washington DC – ranging from the approval of a $434 million Compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to passage of the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) fund in Congress.

He presided over one of the most prodigious chapters in PH-US relations.

He became only the 2nd career diplomat to be appointed Philippine ambassador to the United States in 2006.

Before that, Gaa served as ambassador to Libya (1992-1997), Australia (2002-2003) and China (2003-2006).

He also worked in various capacities in the Philippine consulates in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.

In the time we’ve known him, we witnessed a quiet but steely resolve to get the work down, no matter how difficult they may appear.

Even in the face of critical reports, Gaa was always welcoming and candid with the media.

We always thought these were traits of a man who rose through his own labors, a diplomat whether he dealt with foreign governments or compatriots doing business at the Philippine Embassy.

In fact, his official residence along DC’s famed Embassy Row has become a sort of home-away-from-home for visitors from Manila or from out of state.

It was the scene of one storied “duel” when Gary Valenciano and Martin Nievera visited the capital for a one-night concert.

The Ambassador and Mrs. Linda Gaa hosted dinner that inevitably gravitated to their tastefully adorned living room.

From there, it was a short hop to the piano and one of Gaa’s passions – singing.

He belted out “Kahit Isang Saglit” – one of Nievera’s trademark songs and with the multi-awarded Louie Ocampo on the piano, they made one unforgettable evening in DC.

His penchant for song proved infectious, recruiting some Capitol Hill VIPs that included California Congressman Mike Honda.

Another “passion” is golf. That completed the “Gaa touch” in DC’s large diplomatic community – singing, golf and sumptuous home-cooked meals courtesy of Mrs. Gaa.

He told me he tries to consume more vegetable than meat.

He used to suffer from high blood pressure but when he was posted to the Middle East, he was forced to forego pork and beef and discovered his BP dropped even without maintenance drugs.

Because he doesn’t smoke and being a health buff (at the height of the winter “Snowmaggedon” last year, he was seen shoveling snow himself), news he has lung cancer came as a terrible shock for many in DC.

He is undergoing chemotherapy in New York.

When he took over the DC post from another popular envoy, former Ambassador Albert del Rosario, some doubted whether he could fill his shoes.

Gaa proved his critics wrong, allowing his accomplishments and quiet efficiency to establish his credentials.

He now faces perhaps the greatest challenge of his life but the Pinoy and Fil-Am community in Metro DC is rooting and praying that like all the other hurdles he’s faced before, he will overcome this too.

American author Richard Bach says farewells are part of life – they are “necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.”

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


If politics is the art of crafting and wielding influence, Manny Pacquiao has grown to be an astute politician.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid extolled the Filipino boxing champion and later toured him on the Senate floor – a rarely-bestowed honor.

At a press briefing in the Capitol building’s Mike Mansfield Room, Reid acknowledged Pacquiao’s last-minute contribution to his re-election bid in last year’s midterm elections.

Reid was locked in a tight contest with Tea Party favorite Sharon Angle in Nevada until the final weeks of the campaign.

When asked whether he thought Pacquiao’s endorsement put him over the top, Reid replied “sure”.

“I don’t usually bother the President,” Reid added, but he insisted that he meet Pacquiao whose unique life history – born to an impoverished family, a former street peddler pushed into boxing to feed his family and rising to become the only champion to win titles in eight different boxing weight divisions – makes him an inspiration and worthy role model to the youth, American or not.

Pacquiao and his wife Jinky got the invitation that some Philippine presidents have tried but failed to get – a private, closed-door meeting with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo cut short a Middle East trip in 2009 to make an unscheduled appearance at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC – President Obama’s first public event after his inauguration.

Philippine diplomatic officials were so surprised that Ambassador Willy Gaa had to fly back hastily from California to welcome President Arroyo in DC.

It was widely believed Mrs. Arroyo was angling for a “photo-op” with the new US president after she had similarly failed to meet with then candidate Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.

President Noynoy Aquino had planned to visit Washington DC after attending the opening of the United Nations General Assembly last year.

But Malacanang and White House aides couldn’t find a mutually agreeable time for Aquino and Obama to meet. President Aquino got all of 7 minutes talk time with President Obama at the sidelines of a US-ASEAN summit in New York.

So Manny Pacquiao, a newly-minted congressman from a largely backwoods province in Mindanao, takes a train from New York where he was promoting an upcoming fight in Las Vegas, and arrives in the US capital where he is not only feted on Capitol Hill but is also getting a chance to break bread with the leader of the free world.

“A lot of that is the enthusiasm Manny created when Sharon Angle who was running against Senator Reid elected to have at her final rally (Senator and former GOP presidential candidate) John McCain,” promoter Bob Arum told reporters.

“I don’t know what you think of John McCain but he’s no contest against Manny Pacquiao,” he remarked.

However, the political realities in Washington DC is that President Obama is poised to fight one of the defining battles leading up to the 2012 presidential elections – pushing a budget that will cut the deficit while creating jobs.

Reid has publicly opposed President Obama’s promise to end congressional earmarks – more derisively known as pork barrel – and could block his most recent initiatives to reduce or cut spending altogether for some social programs dear to Democrats.

The fact that Vice President Biden, who is the de-facto Senate President – was attending the meeting with Pacquiao – appears to suggest this afternoon’s lunch was not going to be free.

But that’s evident to everyone, perhaps even to Pacquiao.

Earlier in the morning, Pacquiao met with Philippine Consul General Domingo “Ding” Nolasco where he briefed the People’s Champ on the SAVE Act – a bill pending on Capitol Hill that would provide reciprocal tariff exemptions for US textiles and Philippine garments.

Pacquiao reportedly promised to bring that up when he gets the opportunity with President Obama.

Reid himself pointed out that Pacquiao was being honored in DC not only because he is “the greatest boxer in the world” but also because he is Filipino and a success story worthy of emulation by the world.

He reminded Americans about the rich, historic ties between the US and Philippines going back to World War II when Filipino soldiers – then part of a US Commonwealth army – “continued to fight even after we left”. Reid pointed to efforts to help surviving Filipino veterans arbitrarily disenfranchised by the US Congress 65 years ago this month.

Reid also talked about the millions of Filipino Americans, including many in his home state of Nevada, who’ve contributed to enriching American national life.

That it takes a Manny Pacquiao to remind Americans about that heritage should be a credit to him.

For a multi-dimensional fighter, Pacquiao is demonstrating a new and interesting facet of his chosen 2nd profession – Pacquiao the politician.

When asked whether he would also endorse President Obama when he comes up for re-election next year, Pacquiao replied with his trademark impish grin.

“Huwag na muna natin pag-usapan yan,” he responded coyly, in the fashion of a smart politician.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Senator Daniel Inouye, appropriations committee chairman and long-time champion of Filipino World War II veterans, is filing a bill that will allow the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) to accept proof other than the Missouri List so disqualified veterans can receive lump sum payments.

Retired Maj. Gen. Delfin Lorenzana, special envoy for veterans affairs, revealed this latest development that would address the biggest wrinkle in the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) bill.

It comes a week before Filipino veterans group mark the 65th anniversary of the Rescission Act (Feb. 18) that arbitrarily withdrew recognition and benefits to about 200,000 soldiers and guerillas who served under US military command in World War II.

The FVEC was passed in 2009 to assuage the anger and resentment from surviving Filipino veterans but it still fell short of equity with American World War II veterans.

It provides a one-time lump sum payment of $9,000 for Filipino veterans living in the Philippines and $15,000 for those in the US.

Over a thousand FVEC claims are still pending with the DVA.

A total of 41.234 applications have been processed as of Dec. 23, 2010 – 17,792 were approved for Filipino veterans in the US and the Philippines.

The US paid out a total of $213 million so far (about $80 million or more than P3.4 billion were paid out in the Philippines).

On the other hand, the DVA rejected a total of 23,442 applications – a significant number because the veteran’s name couldn’t be found in the US Army’s National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri.

Under existing DVA regulations, only the NPRC can verify US military service in these cases.

This, despite the fact, the original records for the Philippine Army Group was destroyed by fire in the 1970s and the existing list is actually a reconstruction.

Ben de Guzman, one of the key veterans activist on Capitol Hill, believes almost all of the applications have been processed and the DVA is working on the remaining appeals.

The DVA has not provided a breakdown of the reasons why applications were rejected. However, the DVA’s regional office in Manila has received over 3,600 challenges to their rejections.

Two law suits have been filed – by lawyer Lou Tancinco and a coalition of veterans groups that include the Virginia-based Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC) – to compel the DVA to accept “secondary evidence” other than the Missouri List as proof a Filipino veteran served with US forces and thus qualified to receive the lump sum payment.

Senator Inouye had actually filed a similar measure in 2007 but overtaken by the FVEC.

Senate 66 would have provided a 2-year window for Filipino veterans, their widows or children to provide evidence of wartime service to the Secretary of the Army. It stipulated that “in making a determination, the Secretary shall consider all information and evidence available to the Secretary, including information and evidence submitted by applicant.”

The certification from the Secretary of the Army could have then qualified as evidence for veterans applying for benefits with the DVA, if the bill passed.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


We’d just settled on the sofa to watch the day’s TV Patrol when Bing Branigin called, sounding agitated. “This has got to stop,” she told me before breaking the news about Gen. Angelo Reyes’ suicide.

We first met “Sir Angie” when he took over the military Civil Relations Service (CRS) in Camp Aguinaldo.

“You watch him, he’s going to be the chief of staff someday,” an officer whispered to me.

He carried the rank of colonel at the time but friends explained he was assigned to the CRS, which is the psychological warfare arm of the Armed Forces, so he could get his first star – which he did after only a few months.

Reyes was obviously one of the “fair haired boys” in the military – “ang mga pinagpala” as some officers say.

He led the best combat battalions, sent to the best schools and given plum headquarters postings that guaranteed his climb to the top.

We remember him as the man who liked to look you in the eye, always had a firm handshake and wont to accentuate his tales with a laugh that reverberated like artillery blasting away.

As far as we could tell, his men adored him and he in turn cared for them deeply. He cut a fatherly figure among the young officers at the CRS and his subsequent commands (Southern Command, Philippine Army).

Although he carried himself with a huge dose of bravado, we knew him to have a soft heart, especially for junior officers. But he did have a fiery temper and as rarely as we’ve witnessed it, those officers knew how to get out of the way.

Some say he played favorites with his officers. But we remember he rarely brought his old staff to new postings like other commanders, building instead a fresh corps of officers whom he would eventually win over.

He was a crack shot in the practical shooting range. What he gave up in agility, he made up with accuracy.

Reyes was a man who seemed averse to the slog of combat, preferring instead to win his enemies over through reason and persuasion.

On the eve of EDSA Dos – the People Power revolt that overthrew President Joseph Estrada – civil society leaders questioned whether Reyes, as AFP chief, would turn the military against their Commander-in-Chief.

He did, and he would later tell, he just wanted to keep the military intact.

But that decision, consciously or not, also thrust him into the world of politics. It was a world that seemed to fascinate him.

He had invited a few of us to dinner along Tomas Morato one evening when he was already Secretary of National Defense and he appeared to be sounding us out about his prospects for an elective office. We assured him we’d help but urged him to stay off politics. It was just too dirty.

Watching news clips of Col. George Rabusa’s expose in the Senate – that Reyes had pocketed P50 million as “pabaon” or a farewell gift when he retired from the military in 2001 – it was evident he was caught completely by surprise.

He was being questioned by the senator-son of the man he helped oust a decade ago and another senator who was jailed for helping lead a mutiny against a government that he protected.

They are hardly impartial jurors in the quest for justice for about 200,000 Filipino soldiers and sailors, and millions of Filipinos who are the true victims here.

The soldiers we’ve spoken to here in Washington DC quietly applaud the revelations about the financial shenanigans of some key officers of the AFP. But just as they have become distrustful of some of their superiors, they have an even lower appreciation of politicians bent on piling “pogi points” at the expense of the military as in institution.

The congressional investigation is a necessary process for cleaning up the military. It will benefit the AFP and the country in the long-term but there are also perils in sensationalizing this purge for the short-term.

In the end, these soldiers will be looking for solutions, not more air time on TV.

And so we grieve the passing of a man, mortal and imperfect. He chose death over shame.

How many times have we wished other government officials would place equal value on their own sense of honor and reputation?

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Two men seemed to prefer standing in the shadows at Vice President Jejomar Binay’s four-day visit in Washington DC last week.

Henry Sy Jr. is the scion of the multi-billion SM retail chain empire. He is also president and CEO of the equally expansive National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) that owns the power lines in the country.

Dr. Jack Arroyo owns the American Eye Center that specializes in Lasik procedures. He also sits as director of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth) that administers the country’s national health insurance program.

Henry Sy Jr. with business buddy Dr. Jack Arroyo

Sy is CEO of SM Development Corporation which is responsible for real estate acquisitions, including the construction of condominiums that he says targets the Pinoy middle class market.

They are only starting to tap the overseas Filipino market.

“I’m a relative late-comer,” he told this writer, “I did not know too much about the international market.”

This, from someone who helps run 40 malls – 7 of them overseas (6 in China and one in Guam).

“Real estate is very big business,” he stressed. They’re investing P22 billion to build 10,000 affordable housing units.

They’re on a building binge designed to provide added value to their malls.

Not surprisingly, their hottest selling “My Place” properties are in Makati and another one adjacent the Mall of Asia in Pasay City.

“It’s near almost everything any Filipino needs – a view, hospitals, access to transportation, churches and yes, a mall,” Sy averred.

He emphasized the affordability of their units – priced mostly below P2.5 million (about $58,000) – that he said would exempt them from the Value Added Tax.

Overseas Filipinos comprise about 15% of their market but Sy added, they want to increase this to 20-25%.

Their OFW customers come mostly from the Middle East and Europe.

Sy conceded they haven’t fully tapped the Fil-Am market because of the real estate crash that’s fueled the worst recession in the US since the Great Depression.

“It depends on the US economy but there are signs it is picking up,” he said.

Dr. Arroyo is also eyeing the Fil-Am market to expand the Philhealth, claiming the Philippines’ health insurance system was superior cost-wise to the American system.

He cited his experience with Lasik, a technology developed by Americans in the 1990s, but where they’re now lagging behind practitioners like those in the Philippines.

“The FDA became restrictive, they’ve become more afraid” Arroyo told this writer, adding “America’s troubles with health insurance all boils down to a break down of trust, of patients with their doctors and doctors with their patients.”

He said Fil-Ams who may be reluctant to undergo Lasik in the US, often go home to get the procedure.

“America has become a throw-away society,” Arroyo concluded.

He said they’ve treated over 35,000 persons already, including many past US ambassadors to Manila.

He said about 80% of Filipinos are now covered by Philhealth.

But he lamented not too many overseas Filipinos have heard about the insurance agency’s achievements.

Arroyo revealed OFWs can enroll themselves or a member of their family for P1,200 (about $28) a year.

They cover both in-patient and out-patient coverages as well as special packages for normal birth delivery, newborn care and TB treatment, among others.

“Here in America a large part of the cost of health insurance is the astronomical cost of malpractice insurance,” Arroyo averred.

“And that’s why in the Philippines we can manage on just P1,200 a year,” he said.


Makati Mayor Junjun Binay has asked the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) to help train the city’s police.

He met with Los Angeles, California Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on the way to joining his father, Vice President Jejomar Binay, in Washington DC.

“We sent him a formal invitation. Since he already planned to visit Asia this year, we also invited him to pass by Makati,” he told this writer.

Makati and Los Angeles have a sister city agreement that goes way back to the administration of Mayor Tom Bradley (1973-1993), Binay revealed.

“We are reviving that,” he explained.

About 16 percent of Filipino immigrants in the United States live in the greater Los Angeles region.

Binay said they want the LAPD’s help for training Makati cops on the latest special weapons & tactics (SWAT), explosives & ordnance (EOD), investigation and other fields of police work.

“If we get help from the city of Los Angeles, it will be a big help in curbing incidents just like the recent bus bombing,” he explained.

Five persons were killed and 14 others wounded when a bomb ripped through an air-conditioned passenger bus in Makati on Jan. 25.

A separate bus bombing killed three persons and wounded 50 others on Valentine’s Day in 2005 near the same stretch of EDSA where the latest bombing occurred.

Meanwhile, the elder Binay downplayed the effects of the bus bombing, pointing out the stock market’s continued robust performance is proof “the trust is there and everyone knows that was an isolated incident.”

Briefing newsmen at the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC, the vice president outlined steps being taken to protect commuters along EDSA, including posting police check points on bus stops, adding more bus marshals, and installing video cameras on buses.

The LAPD has a counter terrorism and special operations bureau that has its own air support division, K-9 unit and SWAT platoon.

Aside from being the country’s financial capital, Makati also hosts the most number of diplomatic offices in the country.

Friday, February 4, 2011


Brig. Gen. Cesar Yano assumed this week his post as defense attaché in Washington DC to work for the timely delivery of much-needed American military hardware for the Philippine armed forces (AFP).

Yano is a younger brother of former AFP chief Gen. Alexander Yano.

He graduated from the Philippine Military Academy in 1980.

Prior to his appointment to Washington DC, he headed the AFP Office of Legislative Affairs.

As defense attaché he will be working closely with the Pentagon for the acquisition of excess defense articles (EDAs) for a military anxious to modernize.

As a major non-NATO ally, the Philippines can bid for the American military’s EDA stockpiles.

On the pipeline are a C-130 Hercules cargo being refurbished at a facility in California’s Mojave Desert and overhaul of Allison engines for all of the Philippine Air Force’s MG-250 “Defender” gunships; the turn-over of a Hamilton-class patrol ship for the Philippine Navy; and night-vision goggles for the Philippine Army.

Officials say the Hercules could be delivered in the next two months, joining two other C-130s already with the PAF.

The Philippine Navy is expected to take control of a Hamilton-class all-weather cutter (WHEC) that’s being decommissioned by the US Coast Guard in March.

The USCG is replacing all 12 of its Hamilton-class cutters with the newer Legend-class cutters.

We were told the Hamilton-class cutter will first sail to a drydock for refurbishing before crossing the Pacific to begin service with the Philippine Navy.

With a length of 378 feet and top speed of 29 knots, she will be the biggest and fastest patrol ship in the Philippine Fleet although she will be about 45 years old by then.

The cost of refurbishing all these assets is being sourced from the Foreign Military Fund (FMF) for the Philippines.

The Philippines got close to $100 million in military assistance from the US during the past three years.

But the AFP needs more – sources say they may try to acquire some 110-foot Island-class patrol cutters that are said to be just what a coastal or “brown navy” needs for anti-terror, anti-smuggling, fisheries enforcement and search and rescue (SAR) operations.

There is keen competition among America’s allies for EDAs, especially the big-ticket items like ships and planes.

Yano will be the AFP’s “point man” and he appears well-equipped for the job.

Yano’s rise in the AFP hierarchy resulted from a cross of combat and administrative duties – starting as a platoon and later, as company commander in Sulu.

He served as operations chief of the Philippine Army in Fort Bonifacio before he was given command of the 302nd Infantry Brigade in Tanjay, Negros Oriental in 2008.

Perhaps a measure of his work, he was one of only 7 AFP officers singled out for capture by the New People’s Army last year.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Ambassador Luis Cdebaca made sure Vice President Jejomar Binay realized how much in a bind the Philippines is for wallowing in the State Department’s human trafficking Tier 2 watch list for the past two years.

“Sobra sobra”, Binay told this writer, while shaking his head, when asked if Cdebaca had expressed the State Department’s concern.

A mid-morning 45-minute meeting at the Philippine Embassy ran to over an hour as both sides discussed the looming crisis.

Binay is head of an inter-agency council on human trafficking and presidential adviser for overseas Filipinos (aside from his role as housing czar).

The Philippines could easily fall to Tier 3 by virtue of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2008.

The law strengthens federal efforts to combat both international and domestic human trafficking, but it also stipulated that for Tier 2 countries like the Philippines, working hard enough from falling won’t be enough.

Because the Philippines has been in the Tier 2 watch list for two straight years, it will have to get out of the watch list or more ideally, move to Tier 1. If it doesn’t, the Wilberforce Act says the Philippines would automatically drop to Tier 3.

“They’re worried because we might get into a situation when they can no longer help us,” Binay explained.

Falling to Tier 3 could have far-ranging repercussions.

A likely first casualty would be the $434 million in anti-poverty and corruption-fighting grants from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).

The agreement signed in the presence of President Aquino in New York last year, carried pro-forma provisions that barred the MCC from doing business with Tier 3 countries.

Other US aid programs could also be imperiled.

Cdebaca reportedly told Philippine officials the country had enough good laws for combating human trafficking, but the government lagged on enforcement.

“The government,” the 2010 State Department report stated, “demonstrated some progress in convicting sex trafficking offenders but failed to convict any offenders of labor trafficking.”

It noted that of 228 human trafficking cases filed last year, 206 cases were actually prosecuted by the courts that led to only 8 people convicted in 5 sex trafficking cases.

Some questioned why not a single labor trafficker has been convicted despite numerous complaints from foreign-bound Filipino workers.

The Migrant Heritage Commission presented an open letter during a Fil-Am community dialogue with Binay last Wednesday evening.

“We are earnestly requesting the Vice President to support seeking to create a Magna Carta for Immigrants Workers Rights,” the statement read.

“This measure should include verification of legitimacy of employers abroad, providing stiffer penalties for human traffickers and establishment of legal help centers in countries where Filipinos are working.”

There are about 12 million Filipinos living or working overseas.

According to international watchdogs the Philippines successfully prevented the departure or off-loading of 21,000 potential human trafficking victims in 2010.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) also reported a 65 percent decline in the trafficking of women and 18 percent of children.

Binay said there was a need to improve coordination among the various agencies directly or indirectly involved in the fight against human traffickers.

“He (Cdebaca) said he hopes we have zero problem so I told him, just watch us,” Binay declared.

“We are going to do a lot of things and we will produce results,” he assured.

He may have struck the right notes in the meeting with Cdebaca, but the official said he’s taking up Binay’s challenge.

“The Vice President cares very much about this,” Cdebaca told us, “with his leadership in the ministerial task force, we’re hoping to see a lot of results this coming year.”

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Media groups are furious over a plan by authorities to ban reporters inside the country’s international airports.

Former Airforce Maj. Gen. Angel Honrado, Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) general manager, wants to keep reporters restricted to the airport’s lobby.

Honrado, once a close-in aide of then President Corazon Aquino, argued this was needed to tighten security at the country’s gateway to millions of visitors as well as Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).

The MIAA runs the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and the two other terminals that service international travelers.

“Full access to these airports is indispensable to the work of airport newsmen if only to perform their legal, social and moral duties to the public and exercise inviolable press freedom,” National Press Club of the Philippines president Jerry Yap wrote in a letter to Transportation & Communications Secretary Jose “Ping” de Jesus.

“The airports are vital installations where thousands of public interest events are taking place every day and affecting the development of a country,” he stressed.

For reporters, the airport is a virtual gold mine of stories.

Just recently, immigration agents foiled an attempt by six women to slip out of the country by dressing up and pretending to be nuns.

Last December, a vacationing Fil-Am US Navy officer died under mysterious circumstances while in the custody of airport police.

Most news events transpire and the officials who can shed light on them are inside the airport, not at the lobby, reporters pointed out.

Veteran airport journalist Raoul Esperas asked this writer, “What kind of pictures can you get from the lobby? When Ninoy Aquino was assassinated, wasn’t it media that first carried the cudgels? Who will report about the Jun Lozada’s or the Jocjoc Bolante's when the public has no eyes and ears that the press provides.”

Lozada, who blew the whistle on an anomalous deal involving members of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's family and lieutenants, was taken by government agents as he stepped off a plane and he's attributed media's vigilance to foiling an alleged attempt to silence him.

Bolante, implicated in a multi-million-peso fertilizer scam, managed to slip out the country before he could be pinned down. The United States deported him back in 2008.

The MIAA is also a chief source of flight travel information that obviously needs to be disseminated swiftly to the public.

It has accredited reporters assigned to the NAIA which allowed them to more thoroughly check their background.

But they also allow unaccredited reporters who are required to submit written requests from their editors or news managers that at times prove cumbersome when there are breaking news events.

Yap suggested the presence of newsmen deter abuses from the gamut of government agents working at airports, from the airport police to immigration and customs agencies.

“The best and conclusive argument to this is the fact that full access has been enjoyed by airport newsmen for more than five decades without any form of breach of security,” Yap said.

More importantly, he added, banning reporters inside the airport violates the Philippine Constitution that assure, “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of the press.”

Yap said that if the ban is not withdrawn, they will seek a court order to stop its enforcement.