Monday, March 21, 2011

WOODBRIDGE FIL-AM KILLED WHILE VACATIONING IN PH HOMETOWN




What was supposed to be a joyous homecoming for one Woodbridge, VA resident turned inexplicably tragic after she was shot dead by an assailant in the Philippines.

Remedios “Remy” Saure, former president of the Prince William County-based Kababayan Inc., sustained a single gunshot wound in the head, police reports said.

Her remains will be buried here, according to a bulletin from Bambi Michael of Kababayan Inc.

She was vacationing in her hometown of Bgy. Namuco, Rosario, Batangas.

Sr. Supt. Alberto Supapo, Batangas police chief, said she was walking with a friend – identified as Esther Cua – near the town’s market when an unidentified man shot her with a 38-caliber handgun.

He didn’t offer any motive for the killing, saying they were still hunting down the culprit who escaped aboard a motorcycle.

Robbery can appear to be ruled out since the assailant didn’t take anything from the victim, according to reports.

The Philippines, especially in the Metro Manila area, has been beset by “riding in tandem” gangs – who can be anything from purse snatchers to hired killers – relying on motorcycles to flee the crime scene.

“We were holding hands and laughing when I suddenly heard a gunshot,” accounts from Manila quoted the victim’s companion Cua.

“But before I could even ask her about the gunshot, I felt her grip loosen and saw her fall to the ground,” she added.

Cua was unhurt in the March 11 attack.

Saure was scheduled to be interred at the Stafford Memorial Park in Virginia following a wake in Dale City and mass at Our Lady of Angels church in Woodbridge.

Michael said the US Embassy in Manila is looking into the incident.

Saure was 59 years old.

D-H-S INTRODUCES "SELF CHECK" FOR IMMIGRANT WORKERS






Beginning this month, immigrant workers in Virginia and Washington DC can check their employment authorization status online through the E-Verify Self Check service.

The voluntary and free online service is an offshoot of a partnership between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Social Security Administration (SSA).

For now, the service is only available for residents of Arizona, Idaho, Colorado, Mississippi, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

The DHS assured the results of the Self Check query will not be shared with the individual’s current or prospective employer, will not affect his credit score, and employers are barred from making it a requirement for employment.

“Individuals can not be required to use E-Verify Self Check to prove work authorization,” the DHS announcement said, adding that individuals who feel they have been discriminated against because of Self Check should notify the Department of Justice’s Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (1-800-255-7688).

The agency said Self Check could reduce the number of data mismatches employers experience when using E-Verify, which shows whether a worker is legally qualified to gain employment in the US.

More significantly, Self Check provides an opportunity to submit corrections to DHS and SSA records, especially for victims of identity theft, before applying for jobs.

The US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) said they expect to have up to a million Self Check queries in the first year, and up to 8 million queries a year by the time they expand the online service to 16 states in 2012.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

92-YEAR-OLD FILVET TO LEAD CHARGE ON D-C FOR WW-2 VETERANS EQUITY






Living up the adage about old soldiers, a 92-year-old Filipino veteran is leading the charge to Washington DC to press for full equity for World War II veterans.

Felino Punsalan will lead a delegation of other veterans, widows and Fil-Am community leaders from San Francisco and Los Angeles, California; New York; and the Metro DC region who will lobby Capitol Hill and the White House on April 13-14.

“I am never too old to demand justice from the government I defended,” Punsalan said at press conference in San Francisco.

They are pushing for House Resolution 210 sponsored by Congresswoman Jackie Speier (12th district, CA).

Arturo Garcia, national coordinator of the Justice for Filipino-American Veterans (JFAV), said the proposed “Filipino Veterans Fairness Act of 2011” aims to provide the same benefits to Filipino WWII veterans, widows and children given to their American counterparts, including the $1,500 “lifeline pension” given to American veterans.

“This is our collective right as American veterans,” Punsalan explained.

Garcia claims the Speier proposal has received the backing of California Reps. Anna Eshoo (14th district), Mike Honda (15th district), Linda Sanchez (39th district) and Henry Waxman (30th district); and Illinois Reps. Jan Shakowsky (9th district) and Mike Quigley (5th district).

“We are going to meet our Representatives not to ask for entitlements, but for recognition and benefits for veterans that will restore their honor and dignity,” he explained.

“It is time for U.S. Congress to rectify the mistakes of the past,” he stressed.

Congress had passed in 2009 the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) that set aside $198 million to pay a one-time lump-sum settlement to about 18,000 surviving Filipino WWII veterans in the U.S. and Philippines.

That amount was later increased to about $213 million to pay all claims.

Of the 41,234 applications received by the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), more than 23,000 were subsequently rejected for various reasons – many because their names couldn’t be found in US Army records kept in St. Louis, Missouri.

Two law suits have been filed – by lawyer Lou Tancinco and another by a coalition that includes the JFAV – that want the courts to order the DVA to accept other proof of military service other than the so-called Missouri List.

Garcia said the Speier bill also seeks to broaden the “basis of eligibility to include all military records” since the Missouri List was unreliable because the original records was destroyed by a fire in 1973.

It will also expand benefits to cover widows and children of deceased veterans who were excluded in the FVEC.

Garcia pointed out there are an estimated 50,000 surviving Filipino WWII veterans, over three times the number that was used during congressional deliberations on the FVEC.

In February, members of the California Assembly introduced Joint Resolution 6 that called on the U.S. Congress and President Obama to support HR 210.

PINOY RECRUITMENT VICTIMS WANT TO STAY



A dozen Filipinos have accused a New York-based medical research company of duping them and are seeking special visas so they can legally stay in the United States while they pursue their complaint.

“It was so inviting to get engaged with this clinical research company,” admitted Cleandra Oncines, one of the alleged victims and the group’s spokesperson.

Lawyer Arnedo Valera said the New York Attorney General’s Office is already investigating Care Worldwide Inc. for possible violation of state labor and penal laws.

In its website, Care Worldwide Inc. describes itself as an “international site management organization whose sole purpose is clinical selection, clinical and nonclinical team recruitment to support the successful outcome of clinical trials for the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device industries.”

But Valera said the company collected thousands of dollars from job applicants who were convinced to get additional training, allegedly on the assurance it will help them land jobs.

Oncines, who worked as an auditor for 14 years in the Philippines, was offered a job as clinical associate.



“I’m not a nurse, I have no medical background but based on my experience, I could qualify as a quality assurance manager,” she explained.

“This company promised to process our work visas to get a job. The ultimate goal is to get a green card,” Oncines added.

She got an H-1B visa in March 2010 – even though she didn’t have a job.

The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa which allows employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations.

“There is clear fraudulent transaction involving immigration laws. They were enticed to apply for positions and pay the fees for non-existent jobs,” Valera declared.

“There was a clear violation of H-1B visa regulations,” he stressed.


He explained that during the recruitment, Care Worldwide Inc executives had offered applicants with a company training package for a $3,000 fee.

“That should have been a red flag that there was no legitimate job offer. Those who got H-1B visas were even asked to pay the company which then gave the money back to make it appear they were paid wages and taxes deducted,” Valera charged.

He said the Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) is also looking into possible H-1B visa abuse.

The Filipinos are part of about 40 people (mostly Indian and Nepalese nationals) allegedly victimized by Care Worldwide Inc.

Valera said the New York Attorney General’s Office has taken the cudgels for the alleged victims.

In the meantime, he is helping the Filipino victims secure U visas.

“These victims of labor trafficking should be given temporary relief such as the non-immigrant U visa provided they qualify and cooperate with law enforcement agencies, and should have lawful non-immigrant status while waiting for the pending investigation,” he explained.

While most labor trafficking cases involve Filipinos recruited in the Philippines, this is one of the rare exceptions because this group was recruited while they were already in the US.

Oncines said the company offered to return her money but she refused. She realized that the H-1B visa she was holding wasn't worth the paper it was printed on until she gets a real job.

PINAY CAREGIVER DIES IN TOLL ROAD PILE-UP





A 50-year-old Filipina caregiver was killed in a fatal pile-up near a toll plaza of the Dulles Toll Road in Virginia on Friday evening.

The woman was identified as Marieta Rafanan Abejon, a native of Sta. Catalina, Ilocos Sur, according to Grace Valera of the Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC).

Abejon was a frequent volunteer in MHC’s free health clinics, Valera said.

Police reports say Abejon was sitting at the backseat of a car with four female companions when it abruptly stopped as they were crossing an E-Z pass lane of the Dulles Toll Road near Tysons Corner.

Valera said the group was enroute to Sterling, VA.

Their car was hit by a 2nd and then a 3rd car. The incident happened about 8:20 pm of March 18.

Investigators said the driver of the 2nd car pulled over after the collision but the 3rd car hit Abejon’s vehicle that was still stopped in the traffic lane.

The impact of the third car caused the most damage, the report showed.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority police arrested an unidentified male driver of the 2nd car involved in the mishap.

Rescue teams had to pull Abejon from the wreck. She was dead on arrival at the Inova Fairfax Hospital.

Five of those injured were also hospitalized for non-life-threating wounds.

Valera said Abejon was an active member of the El Shaddai Catholic charismatic group in the St. Stephen parish of Washington DC.

She was a full time nurse of the late Carmen Guevara, who was named one of the MHC’s 2009 Outstanding Migrant Awardee.

Valera said Abejon’s family in the Philippines has been given the tragic news.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

HEEDING LESSONS FROM JAPAN, EXPERTS KEEP EYE ON METRO MANILA FAULT


The heartbreaking images of lives and property devastated by the cruel one-two punch of a Magnitude 9 earthquake and 30-foot tsunami has spread fear across both sides of the Pacific.

It prompted President Aquino to order a review of Philippine earthquake contingency plans.

The calamity in Japan – the worst crisis since World War II according to Prime Minister Naoto Kan – provides a stark lesson that a worst-case scenario may not be the worst at all.

And as the world is flooded with pictures of nature’s fearsome wrath, there are questions in the Philippines – as much as any country – what they could do when faced with such unprecedented destruction.

The Philippines is easily one of the most disaster-prone countries, straddling the Pacific “Ring of Fire” and a route for typhoons.

The tragedy in Japan has fueled a closer look at the West Valley Fault that runs through much of eastern Metro Manila.

“Recent studies show that the West Valley Fault has moved 4 times and generated strong earthquakes within the last 1400 years,” one study revealed, “The approximate return period of these earthquakes is less than 500 years and no event along the West Valley Fault is known after the 17th century.”

“It’s ready for a major movement. We can’t say when this will happen,” said deputy chief seismologist Bartolome Baustista.

Japan helped fund an Earthquake Impact Reduction study for Metro Manila in 2002-2004.

The study built 18 “earthquake scenarios” that measured the possible effect of an Intensity 7 earthquake triggered by the West Valley Fault on the capital region’s 10 million residents.

The worst-case scenario – the so-called Model 8 – predicted such an earthquake happening during the early evening rush hour will immediately kill 34,000 people and injure over 100,000 as the intense shaking topples 40% of structures in Metro Manila.

An additional 18,000 could be killed in fires triggered by leaking LPG tanks and short-circuits.

Nearly half a million houses will be destroyed or damaged.

Electricity will be cut off except for those with generators. The MRT and LRT will survive the tremor but no trains are running. Survivors will flock to basketball courts and other open spaces, too afraid to seek shelter indoors. Confusion will be aggravated by the collapse of cellphone as well as regular phone services.

It would probably take a week before any large-scale response can be mounted – aided in large part by foreign governments and international aid agencies.

The study, completed nearly 7 years ago, was aimed at developing a “road map” to mitigate the destruction from an earthquake in the most heavily populated area of the Philippines.

It identified six goals – “developing a national system resistant to earthquake impact, improving Metro Manila’s urban structures, effective risk management system, increasing community resilience, formulating reconstruction systems and promoting research for reducing the impact of earthquakes”.

The study proposed 105 “priority action plans” – 40 of them deemed urgent. Perhaps not surprisingly, many of them appear to have gone nowhere.

The recommendations include reorganizing city and barangay disaster response councils, constructing a northern shore uploading facility on Laguna de Bay, inculcating a “disaster mitigation culture” for young students, strictly enforcing building codes, and even encouraging homeowners to tie down LPG tanks so they don’t come loose during an earthquake.

Experts say the newer structures were built with greater protection against earthquakes but the vast majority of structures in Metro Manila are old and often neglected by city inspectors.

A military exercise conducted three weeks before Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana, Sept. 2009) dumped neck-high deep floodwaters on Metro Manila, pointed to serious deficiencies in training and logistics that could hamper their ability to respond to disasters in the capital.

Contingency plans, the military admitted, were “outdated and not responsive”.

Because the different major military headquarters are located in Metro Manila, they could become early casualties of a powerful earthquake – and with them, the national government’s ability to communicate with the rest of the archipelago.

It’s imperative the government infrastructure survive the initial impact of an earthquake, and yet there is scant evidence that will happen with certainty.

Here, there is emphasis on ensuring critical personnel, especially doctors and paramedics, are able to make it to hospitals and trauma centers during a crisis.

Another lesson to be drawn from recent crises, from Libya to Japan – Filipinos will, more than anything else, demand action from President Aquino and his government, from rescuing them in some isolated desert oil refinery to free plane tickets to escape the threat of radioactive contamination.

That could be a persuasive political motivation for the government to plug existing deficiencies in its capability to respond to a worst-case disaster. The events in Japan shows, you can never prepare enough -- and falling short could be the greater disaster of all.

Monday, March 14, 2011

DIVERSITY IN JUSTICE: JUDGE RAFFINAN AIMS TO BE FAIR JUDGE





Washington DC Superior Court Associate Justice Maribeth Raffinan is convinced her Filipino roots will help make her a good judge.

She is the first and highest ranking Fil-Am in a federal-administered court.

“It’s important for the judiciary to have a lot of diversity in the bench because it brings a lot of different values and perspectives,” she told us.

“It’s important to think about where you came from and as a Filipino-American I think that’s what’s important to me,” she stressed.

Judge Raffinan was appointed by President Obama last July and was confirmed by the US Senate on Sept. 30. She will serve a 15-year term.






She spoke before members of the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce and Philippine American Bar Association of Metro DC over the weekend.

It quickly became a celebration of “Filipino-ness”.

John Cabrera, president of the Metro DC PACC, said he chose the venue – the East Street CafĂ© – because unknown to most Fil-Ams who take the Amtrak or travel through Union Station, the restaurant is Filipino-owned.

Judge Raffinan said she accepted the PACC and PABA invite because “I want to make sure Filipino-Americans know that I’m here to support them and that I’m proud to be Filipino-American.”

Born Maria Elizabeth Raffinan, she joked that her mother got tired of writing her full name when she started going to school, so she became known simply as Maribeth to friends.

Her parents are Drs. Jun and Maria Raffinan of Cebu province.

The family first settled near Cincinnati, Ohio.

“We started in the small town of Hillsboro which had a population of 6,000 people but there were 5 Filipino families there and I can tell you this – we dominated that town – for good and for bad,” she intimated, drawing laughter from her audience.

“I think it was because we really saw all 5 families as a unit. We stayed in each other’s house, we ate dinner at each other’s home, and that was where I also first saw the 8-track karaoke machine,” she continued.

“We sang together, we ate together and we of course went to Mass together,” Raffinan averred.



She’s visited the Philippines 6 times and says with pride, has ridden one of those notorious provincial buses to visit her mother’s hometown outside Cebu City.

The family later moved to the Tampa region in Florida where her parents built a successful practice.

The Raffinans are well-known there, mainly because of her parent’s philanthropic work.

She would attend Boston College in Massachusetts, graduating in 1992. She then pursued a law degree at the Columbus School of Law in the Catholic University of America in Washington DC.

Judge Raffinan spent 11 years with the District’s Public Defenders Office, defending indigent suspects who would occasionally throw some racial slurs at the young lawyer.

It was tough, she confessed, but her experience there became one of the central themes of her message to Fil-Ams – the need to slog it out, to be strong and endure.

When she applied for the Superior Court position, she got the backing of the PABA.




“When I reached out to Asian Bar they may not have immediately jumped to endorse me but the first people who came to me and said we are here for you – tell us about who you are and what you need – was the Philippine American Bar Association,” Judge Raffinan said.

But her true pillar of strength is her family.

“I have an amazing husband who supports me both with the kids and my work,” she declares proudly.

Husband Efrem Levy enthused he was smitten the first time he saw Judge Raffinan. They were introduced by colleagues working with the Public Defenders Office who were Levy’s chums from law school.

They have two kids – 4-year-old Leah and 19-month-old Jonah.

“The kids are so proud of their mom and we’re having fun,” he tells us when asked if they’ve adjusted to life with a newly-appointed judge.

“It’s been terrific,” he added.

“I feel very honored and privileged that I have this opportunity to serve in this kind of public service,” Judge Raffinan said.

“The most important thing is to be certain that as a judge I serve the DC community, to be fair and impartial to everyone who comes before me. I hope to be known as a fair judge,” she stressed.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

MANCAO LAWYER LOSING HOPE DACER-CORBITO WILL GET JUSTICE UNDER P-NOY




The Virginia-based lawyer of former police Supt. Cezar Mancao is losing hope the Dacer and Corbito families will win justice under the administration of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

Lawyer Arnedo Valera criticized the recent appellate court decision reversing a decision to prosecute Senator Panfilo Lacson for the November 2000 kidnapping and murder of PR practitioner Bubby Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito.

“At the rate Senator Lacson is being coddled, I don’t think this murder case will be solved under this administration,” he tells this writer.

Senator Lacson had actively campaigned for President Aquino in last year's elections.

“Whoever is protecting Senator Lacson is very powerful,” Valera stressed.

The Court of Appeals 6th Division quashed last month the arrest warrant issued by Manila Regional Trial Court against Senator Lacson, saying there was no basis to file the double murder case against him.

It also dismissed Mancao’s testimony, which pointed to Senator Lacson as the mastermind of the kidnap-slayings.

The 80-page decision was penned by Associate Justice Ramon Bato Jr.

Valera said Bato should have inhibited himself from hearing the case.

“We learned that the one who wrote the decision was recommended by Senator Lacson, even the wife is beholden to Senator Lacson,” he alleged.

Valera added that there are conflicting forces at play in the case.




“Secretary of Justice Leila de Lima has said there is probable cause, that Senator Lacson should have his day in court,” he averred.

“But the process has been cut, the investigation is gone. So we have to go to the Supreme Court but knowing Senator Lacson’s contributions to the present dispensation, he will move heaven and earth for this not to go to trial,” Valera said.

Despite the CA ruling, Senator Lacson has refused to surface.

“We don’t know why he continues to hide when the political atmosphere is already in his favor,” he continued.

He revealed that he is working with California-based lawyer Rodel Rodis to file civil proceedings against Senator Lacson’s alleged properties and bank accounts in the US.

Lacson has denied he has any assets stashed in the US.

When he was still chief of the military Intelligence Service (ISAFP), Brig. Gen. Victor Corpus said they unearthed Lacson’s secret bank accounts in two California banks.

Valera said if they can confirm these bank deposits as well as alleged real estate properties, they can initiate civil proceedings for damages on behalf of the Dacer and Corbito families.

He explained that if this materializes, the court could summon Senator Lacson and raises the possibility his alleged US assets would be seized to pay for any settlement.

But if there is a ray of hope Valera sees, it’s the unwavering stance of Secretary De Lima.

“Whether the case is dismissed against Senator Lacson or if the prosecution proceeds, the fact remains that a heinous crime was committed. Dacer was murdered, Corbito was murdered and this has been going on for several years in a never-ending cycle of investigations that now appears to depend on who is in power in government,” he declared.

FIL-AM GROUP: MEDICARE PORTABILITY TO CUT COSTS, HELP STAVE OFF BANKRUPTCY





As the White House and Capitol Hill struggle to find ways to tame the budget deficit, Filipino groups here and in the Philippines see an opportunity to push an initiative that will allow overseas Americans to receive medical care in Philippine hospitals.

This is tied to the larger debate of Medicare entitlement reforms and ideally offering medical portability for an estimated 6 million Americans living abroad – about 250,000 of them in the Philippines.

“If President Obama wants to save Medicare and Medicaid from bankruptcy, the portability of US health insurance benefits should be part of the debate,” Nora Van Horssen said in a 2007 paper.

Studies, some dating back to 2004, predict Medicare could become insolvent in 8 years.

“We are in the grassroots organizing stage,” said Eric Lachica.

He revealed they are talking with other interested groups, including the Philippine Nurses Association in the US and Association of American Residents Overseas, among others, to make medical portability one of the hot-button issues in April when the nation marks Overseas Americans Week.

Lachica said they want President Obama to issue an executive order to authorize a feasibility study for implementing a Medicare portability program.

“We need the buy-in of the administration and some key members of Congress for this to really push forward,” he explained.

Medicare provides health insurance coverage to US citizens 65 or older, and others with certain medical conditions (e.g., patients with end-stage renal disease).

The program covers hospital and medical costs, drug prescriptions and health plans by Medicare-accredited private insurance companies.

2011 will be critical for Medicare because it will be the first time expenses will equal income.

When it was created in 1965, Medicare was predicted to cost $26 billion in 2003 – the actual cost reached $245 billion.

Total Medicare pay-outs reached $462 billion in 2008 and $484 billion in 2009.

Congress is debating various proposals for entitlement reforms to stave off a Medicare bankruptcy without dragging the American economy down with it.

Lachica believes that medical portability is both timely and beneficial to all stakeholders – from the government to the individual Medicare beneficiaries.

He pointed to a 2005 study which showed that Medicare spent an average $7,000 per beneficiary who received medical services in the US.

But the study, Lachica added, showed that average payment dropped to about $3,000 when beneficiaries received medical services in Mexico and other countries.

Philippine hospitals already have a toehold on this program – Medicare already allows US citizens in Guam to be treated in Philippine hospitals because they are nearer than those in the North American mainland.

And obviously, the cost of medical care is much cheaper in the Philippines.

The Medical City hospital system in Manila has already treated over a thousand US Medicare beneficiaries, Lachica revealed,

The Philippine medical tourism sector has emerged as a $350 million enterprise, bolstering the country’s position to meet the future needs of American patients.

Lachica declared that the US can potentially save billions of dollars by embracing Medicare portability.

It will also redound to the benefit of hundreds of thousands of Filipino-Americans entering their twilight years who wish to retire in the Philippines.

They can continue to enjoy their medical benefits even while they live in the Philippines if Medicare portability is carried to fruition.

SPRING FEVER: FIL-AM ENGINEERS TEE OFF WITH GOLF FOR A CAUSE


A sure sign Spring is upon us, the Philippine Association of Metropolitan Washington Engineers (PAMWE) is teeing off with a golf tournament in Sterling, VA. on April 30.

Pepito Solis said proceeds of the tournament will go to maintaining “perpetual scholarships” in the Philippines. Part of it will also pay for scholarships of deserving engineering students at the University of Maryland.

“This is something that we’ve been doing for about two decades to help poor but deserving students,” Solis said.

The PAMWE was established in March 1980 by a group of Pinoy engineers led by Mapua graduate Carlos Albano, a mechanical engineer who’s now retired after working with the Internal Revenue Service.

According to their charter, PAMWE is dedicated to helping Filipino immigrant engineers who just arrived in the Metro DC region and granting engineering scholarships to deserving students.

They have over 150 people in their roster, Solis revealed.

By fate or coincidence, many of them are also avid golf players so it was just a matter of time they started mixing leisure with their social agenda.

After countless strokes and playing several times over through most of the golf courses in Northern Virginia, Washington DC and Maryland, PAMWE was able to build a trust fund that now sustains year-round scholarships in various colleges of engineering.

Among them are the University of the Philippines, Cebu Institute of Technology, Dela Salle University, St. Louis University (Baguio), Mapua Institute of Technology, Don Bosco Vocational School, the AMA Computer College and in the region, the University of Maryland.

PAMWE has reportedly granted over a hundred scholarships in the Philippines and US.

Solis said the coming golf tournament – to be held at the Algonkian Park Golf Course in Sterling, VA – is open to everyone and will follow the Calloway system that virtually guarantees a fun day at the greens.

He added they will be giving out a special “pogi prize” and “most promising prize” although they still weren’t sure how one would qualify for them.

Solis is also active in Feed the Hungry and he revealed they’ll be holding their own benefit golf tournament in July – where part of the proceeds will go to building classrooms in Cagayan de Oro and water systems in Sorsogon.

Another group of golfers, calling themselves, Hindi Pa Laos Golf Club (composed mainly of retired Fil-Ams) have kicked off their regular Monday sessions.

Solis explained they put bets in a kitty and despite their very informal set-up, were already on their third year of feeding impoverished families in Samar.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

PEACE CORPS AT 50: SERVICE, ONE VOLUNTEER AT A TIME


Growing up, our first glimpse of “real Americans” (aside of course from Vic Morrow or Ric Jason in the TV series “Combat”) were Mormon missionaries and Peace Corps volunteers.

The Peace Corps marks its 50th anniversary today.

It’s a remarkable institution born in the heat of the Cold War, a tool to win hearts and minds in the world’s impoverished backwoods, offering perhaps the most benign projection of American global ambitions in the pre-globalization era.

President Kennedy is widely credited with creating the Peace Corps although the idea had percolated for much longer. He talked about it while campaigning for the White House in 1960.

On March 1, 1961 he signed an executive order establishing the Peace Corps “to promote world peace and friendship”.

About six months later, the first Peace Corps volunteers arrived in the Philippines to teach English, mathematics and science in far-flung barrios.

At a sortie in a remote Sagada, Mountain Province barangay many years ago, we were astonished to find tots speaking impeccable English, much better we thought, than kids in Manila’s exclusive schools.

Blame it on the Peace Corps.

More than 8,000 Peace Corps volunteers – the most in any country – have served in the Philippines over the past 50 years.

The Philippines is such a favorite destination that there is even a “Peace Corps Wiki” site that provides a “packing list for the Philippines”.

It urges female volunteers to pack 5-8 bras which they “must wear”, reminding them that larger-sized bras may be difficult to find in rural stores.

It also recommended “modest” one-piece bathing suits.

A Swiss Army knife is a “necessity” and suggested they bring pictures of their family or pets to have something to talk about with their new-found Pinoy pals (it also urges them to bring American-made hard candies because they are apparently a favorite “pasalubong” or welcome gift).

We’ve heard countless anecdotes about the work of the Peace Corps especially in our home province of Iloilo, where they apparently had an extensive presence.

Their work is felt more profoundly in the countrysides where the lack of services often leave them the only real catalysts for progress.

Their only real protection is the affection and gratitude of the people they help. Of the three most serious incidents, no Peace Corps volunteer was harmed in the communities they served.

Sixteen Peace Corps volunteers have died while in service in the Philippines.

In April 2007, Fairfax, Virginia resident Julia Campbell was killed in a botched robbery in the mountain town of Batad, Ifugao. She was playing tourist to see the famed Ifugao rice terraces.

In August 1998, aquaculture and fisheries expert Robert Bock of Chincoteague, Virginia was killed by heavily armed highway robbers in Iloilo. He was travelling with nine other jeepney passengers.

The Peace Corps suspended its Philippine operations in June 1990 after New People’s Army rebels abducted Timothy Swanson of Cheyenne, Wyoming in Negros Island.

He was released unharmed after 50 days.

But their tales of horror are easily outnumbered by the stories Peace Corps volunteers take back Stateside.

We ran into the story of Lynn Kennedy who spent two years in the Philippines. She related to Cleveland .com writer Brian Albrecht how she fought off a snatcher with her umbrella.

But she believes “the Philippines has the most wonderful, friendliest and kindest people I’ve ever encountered.”

“I saw people with absolutely nothing and yet I found them to be content and so happy.”