Thursday, April 28, 2011


WASHINGTON D.C. The government will tighten the auditing of public funds, including the pork barrel of legislators to ensure they are being spent properly, newly-appointed Commission on Audit (COA) Commissioner Heidi Mendoza told World Bank officials today (April 28).

“We have started some public finance reforms. This is coupled with a partnership between the Department of Budget Management and civil society in order the open up the budget process because corruption really begins at the allocation of resources,” she said.

Mendoza was the special guest in a 2-hour talk on “Effective Auditing as the Bane of Grand Corruption” at the World Bank. The event was moderated by Sheila Coronel, director of the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University.

“The congressional insertion funds – the pork barrel has never been audited rightfully,” Mendoza said. She begged off from providing additional details, but indicated this was part of reforms the COA wanted to implement.

Mendoza led the team that ferreted out the diversion of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) funds meant for United Nations peacekeepers and soldiers joining the “Balikatan” war games with the United States. Her Senate testimony helped shed light on funding anomalies in the military that she insisted today, remains one of the most corrupt government organizations.

The World Bank was eager to hear Mendoza because corruption remains one of its key concerns all over the world. The WB pursues a 5-point anti-corruption strategy centered on increasing political accountability, strengthening civil society participation, creating a competitive private sector, institutional restraints on power and improving public sector management.

“One of the challenges in fighting corruption is to answer the question why are there people like Heidi,” said Rick Messick, senior operations officer of the World Bank’s Department of Institutional Integrity.

“It’s easy to see why (there’s corruption) in countries where there’s a lot of corruption and a government job is the difference between a middle class lifestyle and near starvation. I can understand the pressures. But what I don’t think we understand very well is why do people like Heidi who face circumstances like that continue to do the right thing. When we know what not makes people corrupt, what makes civil servants honest then I think we gave a shot,” Messick explained.

“The fact there was someone who actually found it, that they were able to publish the results bringing them to the attention of the public and senior officials and of course the really big step was something was done about it. That’s what makes the difference in the Philippines,” he declared.

Mendoza conceded, “Among Filipinos, it runs against our culture to blow the whistle on our neighbor or our relative that’s why we’re looking at the possibility of doing a community whistle-blowing.

She cited the example of parents associations that can blow the whistle on corrupt school or education officials.

“The kind of support we really need is community support,” Mendoza averred. Her supporters raised some money for an “integrity fund” to provide for her family’s financial needs but which Mendoza never used. She now wants to use the fund for future whistle-blowers.

She also wants to establish a legal defense fund for state auditors. Citing her own experience when she was forced to take out a bank loan to pay for a lawyer when one official she audited sued her. She noted hailing COA auditors to court was a favorite tactic of officials with skeletons to hide, and yet, Mendoza complained, there is no budget for the auditors’ legal defense.

The COA will push for a bill, about to be filed in the Senate that will strengthen the existing anti-money laundering law.

There were times when Mendoza’s tale brought her audience close to tears, as she related her early encounters with powerful government officials – once forcing her to flee a hotel with only a bath towel because a henchman had caught up with her when she was in the shower – to the toll her work took on her family.

But it was all worth it, she insisted. “I’ve been receiving a lot of letters from soldiers and even the wives of the foot soldiers are very happy, in fact they wanted to go to the Senate and thank (former AFP budget officer Col. George) Rabusa and me, and they also wanted to get back at some of the generals because they said while they were shopping in the US, we were borrowing money just to be able to cook some rice,” Mendoza revealed.

As school children, she disclosed, her father would put some money in an old can and leave it by the door. Each of the kids would take what they needed as they walked off to school. Mendoza said she never took more than what she needed because she realized doing so would mean one of her siblings won’t have lunch that day. That is a lesson Mendoza says, she never forgot.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


With about $63 billion in the coffers, Philippine Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima travelled to Washington DC and New York last week to convince credit managers the country now deserves a better deal.

Purisima and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Amando Tetangco Jr. led the country’s delegation to the spring meetings of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund April 16-17 in Washington DC .

But it was Purisima’s trip to New York that drew closer watch. Diplomatic sources told the Manila Mail he met top Wall Street executives, including Standard & Poor’s that only recently lowered America ’s long-term credit rating from “stable” to “negative”. The two other major rating agencies are Moody’s and Fitch Ratings.

Standard & Poor’s currently rates the Philippines ’ two notches below the coveted investment grade level. The Philippines is now lending to the IMF in sharp contrast to the 1980s when former strongman Ferdinand Marcos was forced to institute painful reforms that observers say, exacerbated his already precarious political situation.

Fitch Ratings rates the Philippines at BB, or two steps below investment grade. Moody’s maintains a BAA rating or three steps below investment grade although it raised the country’s outlook to “positive” last January.

A credit rating upgrade would provide the administration of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III a much-needed boost. It will almost right away, lower interest payments on the country’s loans. That would encourage more investments and produce the jobs that he’s made a centerpiece of his 6-year term.

It could also enhance the President’s political stock back home after a fumbling start that saw a botched hostage rescue and an ineffective jab against the country’s top court.

Purisima’s mission, according to The Wall Street Journal, “highlights the improving prospects of Asia’s fast-growing economies compared with the mounting debt worries in the US and some European nations.”

In contrast, the US dollar tumbled against major currencies and gold prices reached record highs of over $1,500 per ounce, as the fall-out over Standard & Poor’s downgrade continued to spread in America . The rating agency warned it could downgrade America ’s premium AAA rating if Democrats and Republicans fail to agree on a way to pare down the nation’s $14 trillion debt.

With signs the US economy is slowing down again because of weak job growth and rising gas prices, it is the US companies operating abroad that are actually faring better. That would open a window of opportunity for the Aquino administration if it can weather its own domestic challenges arising from higher fuel prices and the damaged economies of major trading partners like the US and Japan.

“If the negative outlook becomes an actual downgrade, more foreign capital inflows will go to emerging markets,” Wick Veloso, treasurer of the Hongkong Shanghai Banking Corporation in Manila predicted.

The Philippines reported foreign capital inflows of $4.6 billion last year, a whopping 1200 percent increase from 2009’s $388 million.

Experts blame the Federal Reserve’s near-zero interest rate policy and the decision of more countries to wean their currencies away from the US Dollar.

The BSP forecast a balance of payments surplus of $6.7 billion and a current account surplus of $5.6 billion by the end of 2011 that’s expected to further boost the Philippines ’ foreign exchange reserves to $70 billion, exceeding the country’s total external debt with change to spare.

President Aquino, an economist by training, has promised to stem corruption and go after tax evaders, something the US credit agencies have signaled they want.

Earlier this month, the Bureau of Internal Revenue sued Congressman Mikey Arroyo, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s eldest son, for unpaid taxes in connection with the solon’s houses in the US . The President’s allies in Congress also impeached Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who’s accused of shielding Mrs. Arroyo from corruption charges. That sparked a word war between the former and current occupants of Malacanang but President Aquino appeared unfazed and promised a relentless campaign


Radars paid for by American military aid are keeping a close watch on Philippine waters to help stem the movement of outlaws, contraband, weapons and terrorists into the country.

With a coastline twice as long as the United States , the Philippines has always been vulnerable from the sea. Umar Patek, a notorious leader of the Jemaa Islamiya, an Al-Qaeda affiliate responsible for the 2002 bombing in Bali , Indonesia fled to Mindanao and was spotted in Sulu in 2009. He was captured in Pakistan last February. It demonstrated how easy fugitives could move in and out of the country’s backdoor.

Coast Watch South (CWS), a string of radar stations in the country’s soft underbelly financed by the US and Australia , is now almost fully operational. Although US funding was coursed through the State Department, the money actually comes from a special fund of the Pentagon.

Based in Zamboanga City , CWS is a joint undertaking by the Philippine Navy, Coast Guard, National Police and the Bureaus of Immigration and Customs. It aims to provide “maritime domain awareness” over 7,600 miles of coastline and about 152,000 square miles of sea, from Palawan all the way to southeastern Mindanao.

The radar stations are located Zamboanga City and the islands of Balabac, Taganak, Lalutaya, Ayungin and Capul. Seven more platforms are under different stages of planning or construction, according to a report by Dr. Peter Chalk of RAND Corporation.

CWS is linked to Philippine Navy ships and planes that can intercept suspect watercrafts in the area. There is a growing demand for fast, hard-hitting patrol boats that can respond swiftly after being alerted by the radars.

The US is scheduled to turn over next month a Hamilton-class all-weather cutter that the Philippines will deploy to the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone and will almost certainly be part of the naval assets available for CWS.

Philippine Navy sources say they are looking for ships like the Hamilton-class that are capable of handling helicopters.

Although the Philippine Navy looks formidable in paper, many of its ships are slow and obsolete and it’s been pressed to look for “force multipliers” that will allow it to perform its varied missions without necessarily acquiring newer ships. Chalk indicated the CWS fits this requirement to a tee.

“The main benefit of CWS is that it provides a relatively cheap system of surveillance for a large expanse of territorial water,” he wrote, “It would be impossible for the Philippine Navy much less the Philippine Coast Guard which is totally bereft of assets to adequately patrol this area.”

President Aquino earlier this month approved P11 billion in new spending for military modernization. Part of that will reportedly go to acquiring new patrol boats for the Philippine Navy and about P40 million for additional CWS radar stations


Stringent rules for electronic passports have forced Philippine consular officials across America to travel greater distances and for longer periods to reach out to Filipinos.

The challenge is especially acute for the Washington DC jurisdiction because it spans tens of thousands of square miles south of the capital, from America ’s Sunbelt all the way to the Caribbean islands.

“Starting in 2007 when we started issuing machine-readable passports and 2009 when we started issuing electronic passports which both require personal appearances, we had to conduct more outreach services,” explained Washington DC Consul General Domingo “Ding” Nolasco.

The number of outreach events increased from 4 in 2006 to 11 last year. For the first three months of 2011, Nolasco said they’ve already done 5 outreach events in Virginia Beach; Montgomery , Alabama ; Buford , Georgia ; and Tampa , Florida . They’re scheduled to be in Havelock, North Carolina at the end of the month.

Unlike the old passports that can be filled out by mail, applicants for e-passports have to be physically present to have their photographs taken and for capturing biometric information. Just last week, Nolasco revealed, over a hundred applicants trooped to the Washington DC Consulate, setting a new record.

But when they go on outreach missions, work at the Consulate slows down because they have to bring along pieces of equipment for processing e-passports. Nolasco tells the Manila Mail that they have 2 portable sets that can capture data from up to 45 applicants within an 8-hour period. It takes 7 to 10 minutes to process each application.

However, server capacity that allows all that information to be fed instantaneously to Manila is limited. The e-passports are produced by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas printing office, the same facility that turns out the country’s money, and flown to the US by diplomatic pouch.

“The outreach is added load on our staff,” Nolasco explained. “They work from Monday to Friday and when there’s an outreach, they have to give up their weekends and time with their family.” That is why, he added, he insists staffers volunteer for the outreach work.

Outreaches always involve long road trips because the government can’t afford to pay for plane tickets. To get to Tampa , for instance, they had to drive more than 18 hours. “We used to take the plane to Florida but to save cost and ensure the safety of the machines and documents we carry, we’ve opted to travel by land instead,” Nolasco averred.

And getting to their destinations can sometimes be the least of their worries. “Community organizations that help us with the outreach sometimes insist on inserting their friends and relatives in the queue. Personally, I feel sorry that we can not accommodate all the people that come to the outreach sites,” he lamented.

He also rued about people who refuse to get in line or don’t even want to speak Tagalog or treat the consulate staff in a “condescending manner”.

Still, there are many advantages to outreach work, Nolasco admitted. “Aside from the consular service, we are able to register more Filipinos for overseas absentee voting, promote tourism in the Philippines and brief contract workers on their rights and privileges.”

More importantly, they get huge satisfaction from knowing they’ve somehow eased the burden of Filipinos who would otherwise have to make the trek to Washington DC .

Nolasco said the machines they have is sufficient for the meantime. “If we add more portable machines then we have to add more staff for weekend duty,” he explained.

“This is service beyond the call of duty for our staff,” he stressed


When aging World War II veterans from California trooped to Capitol Hill it was inevitable they’d get lost in the labyrinth. Inside an elevator, they decided to ask for directions from a man who, it turns out, was an Arizona solon and by the end of their brief encounter, netted their first Republican backer.

Rep. Trent Franks (2nd District, Arizona) is the only Republican so far to sign up for HR 210, the Filipino Veterans Fairness Act of 2011, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier (12th District, California).

“We were trying to get to another congressman’s office and one of our veterans decided to ask this gentleman in the elevator for directions. He turned out to be a congressman and he’s heard about our veterans from his wife who was Filipina,” recounted lawyer Arnedo Valera who was part of the group, mostly from California , lobbying for the bill.

At least 18 Democratic congressmen have co-sponsored the bill so far.

“We need 150 co-sponsors before a bill can be discussed, so constituents need to call on their representatives,” Speiers told the group.

Rep. Bob Filner (51st district, California ), the senior Democrat in the House veterans affairs committee, who had earlier engineered the passage laws for Filipino veterans, urged them to concentrate on wooing more Republicans.

“For now, forget about the Democrats and focus on our Republican friends. This bill must not be seen as something that concerns Filipinos alone. We’ve got to build bipartisan support,” he advised them.

They went door-to-door for two days and were able to complete 65 office visits, talking to both Democrats and Republicans. Perhaps a measure of her commitment, Speiers arranged for them to use one of the offices in Longworth Building and stocked it with coffee and pastries to encourage lawmakers or their staff to visit.

“Beyond restoring honor and dignity to Filipino veterans, we also look forward to the spiritual healing, as a people and nation, from 65 painful years of injustice and racial inequality,” declared Ago Pedalizo, coordinator of the Justice for Filipino-American Veterans (JFAV).

Most were lobbying for the first time, except for retired Maj. Gen. Delfin Lorenzana who worked for passage of the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) bill that provided lump sum compensation for Filipino WWII veterans here and in the Philippines .

Despite the Aquino administration’s focus on the SAVE Act (a bill providing for reciprocal tariff concessions for textiles and garments), he assured full support for this latest Filvets equity bill initiative.

“Almost everyone we talked to accept that the US has a moral obligation to our veterans, to do the right thing. Their only apprehension, including House veterans committee chairman Congressman Jeff Miller was the budget,” Valera explained.

This likely impediment was discussed by Jon Clark, a Miller staff member in the veterans panel. “Morally speaking, full equity is okay. It’s the cost that will be bothersome,” he was quoted telling the group.

Over $200 million in lump sum payments have been paid out to thousands of Filipino veterans in the US and Philippines under the FVEC. There is no estimate yet how much HR 210 will cost. But during the congressional deliberations leading up to the FVEC, US officials reckoned providing Filipino veterans the pension and benefits that American WWII veterans receive would cost nearly a billion dollars a year.

“I often hear politicians talk about supporting the troops. Don’t get me wrong,” Rep. Speiers averred, “words of thanks for those who served and continue to serve our nation uniform are important. But they are not enough. Our deeds must follow suit.”

But it’s not all about the benefits, they argued. The Speier bill will also direct the Department of Veterans Administration to accept proof other than the so-called Missouri List to establish the eligibility of veterans. Hundreds of veterans were turned away from getting the lump sum because they were not in the list.

The bill’s co-sponsors include Reps. Filner, Franks, Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois; Raul Grijalva of Arizona; Maurice Hinchey of New York; Judy Chu, Pete Stark, George Miller, Zoe Lofgren, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Lyn Woolsey, Linda Sanchez, Henry Waxman, Laura Richardson and Michael Honda of California; and Bobby Scott of Virginia

Friday, April 15, 2011


The Filipino-American community has wrapped itself around beleaguered Filipino teachers in Prince George’s public schools, rocked last week by a US Labor Department order penalizing them for illegally collecting fees from the Filipino teachers.

More teachers reportedly lost their jobs since the Manila Mail first reported the PG public schools decision to stop renewing work visas for “non-critical” foreign teachers – about 800 of them Filipinos – who were hired, beginning in 2005, to help the school district meet Bush-era No Child Left Behind standards.

The Philippine American Bar Association (PABA) of Metro DC has started looking at individual cases of Filipino teachers. Ludy Cabanas, PABA-DC president, fear they could be overwhelmed by the sheer number of cases and revealed a plan to set up a legal defense fund to draw in additional lawyers.

But Millet Panga of the Pilipino Educators Network (PEN) said they are working with the Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC) that is providing free legal services to the teachers. “We want to avail of pro bono services for our teachers first although they have the option to choose the lawyers of their choice,” she explained.

From PEN’s own reckoning, about 500 Filipino teachers’ jobs are in peril.

“We are still waiting for the (Maryland) Board of Education to meet with us,” Panga wrote the Manila Mail, lamenting “Time is not on our side”.

The teachers say that if workforce reductions are unavoidable due to the $155 million cut in the county’s school budget, they want the lay-offs based on seniority, qualifications and performance, and not because they are Filipinos.

“We decided to group them according to their needs and circumstances,” Cabanas told the Manila Mail, “Some are in different stages of their visa – some have H-1B visas expiring very soon, some have labor certification, others have filed for permanent residency.”

“One organization can not handle all of that,” she averred, but also stressed, “Definitely, the teachers have a good case.”

Cabanas said they are working closely with various Fil-Am groups as well as the labor attache’s office at the Philippine Embassy.

Filipino teachers also found a formidable ally in the million-strong American Federation of Teachers (AFT) which backed the federal government’s decision to fine the PG county public school system.

Meanwhile, PG public school administrators announced they’ve stopped hiring foreign teachers even as they appeal the Labor Department’s order.

The Labor Department’s Wage & Hour Division directed the school district to pay back $4.2 million illegally collected from foreign teachers and slapped another $1.7 million in penalties for the “willful nature” of their labor law violations.

The order said foreign teachers hired between 2005 and 2010 under the H-1B visa program were made to pay anywhere from $190 to $320 each for filing fees; $3,500 in placement fees; immigration attorney fees averaging $1,000; and about 700 of the affected teachers were required to pay the $500 anti-fraud filing fee. All that money was ordered returned to the teachers.

H-1B visa rules stipulate employers should pay the cost of bringing in skilled workers from abroad. The Labor Department estimated teachers lost $4,046 each from the illegal collection of fees.

“All employers, even school systems, are required to follow the law,” said Nancy Leppink, acting administrator of the Wage & Hour Division.

“It is appalling that a school district illegally and unfairly exploited workers who came from other countries to teach in American schools,” said Randi Weingarten, AFT president.

“This isn’t the first example of this type of abuse. A 2009 AFT report called attention to abuses in international teacher recruitment, and the AFT filed state and federal complaints last year on behalf of Filipino teachers working in Louisiana,” Weingarten added.

She revealed the AFT has been “actively pushing for legislation to regulate the recruitment industry, and is participating in a MacArthur Foundation-funded effort to develop a code of ethics for the international recruitment of teachers.”

“Our goal,” she stressed, “is to create a systemic fix to keep such abuses from happening again. If proactive regulations had been in place to stop the bad actors, Prince George’s County Public Schools would not be spending millions in back pay now.”

Maria Angala, of the Pinoy Teachers Network in Washington DC, thanked Weingarten for throwing her support behind Filipino teachers in PG public schools.

“The spirit of strength and solidarity is what was instilled to me by our union leaders who constantly remind me to be tough, to stand tall and to persevere amid the challenges we are currently facing in our profession,” Angala wrote.

The Labor Department order could open up other school districts that hire foreign teachers to the similar penalties. Anthony Japzon, president of the Baltimore-based Filipino Educators in Maryland, said district schools followed the same practices of PG county public schools.

Japzon said Filipino teachers willingly paid the fees and school officials may not have known they were breaking the law by collecting those fees from the foreign teachers.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Fil-Am grandmother Carmela dela Rosa will stay in jail after a Fairfax, Virginia judge refused to grant bail.

Dela Rosa, 50, is facing murder charges for throwing her 2-year-old granddaughter, Angelyn Ogdoc from a 5-storey walkway at a Tysons Corner mall on November 29. The girl later died in the hospital.

Dela Rosa has admitted tossing the toddler but couldn’t say why.

She is reportedly suffering from depression. Her family said she had been seeing a psychologist for 10 years but her behavior became more erratic in the months leading to the incident.

Neighbors reported how close she was with Angelyn and were shocked after learning of the toddler’s death.

Dela Rosa was with her husband and daughter Kathlyn – Angelyn’s mother – when the incident happened. Kathlyn testified in a grand jury hearing that she saw her mother lift Angelyn up and when she glanced towards them again, her hands were empty.

A public defender is representing Dela Rosa because she couldn’t afford her own lawyer.


“So far we’ve been lucky because we have generous people,” declared Pablito Alarcon, who helped establish the Feed the Hungry in 1993, as the recession takes its toll on charitable giving.

Feed the Hungry was formed nearly two decades ago by Pablito’s wife Tessie, a former president of the World Bank Group-IMF Filipino Staff Association, to feed street children in Manila during the Christmas holidays.

They’ve since branched out to helping build school classrooms and other educational help, donations in kind and gift-giving for indigents in the Philippines, among others. It has become one of the most enduring Fil-Am charity organizations in the Metro DC region.

“We tried harder because we know they (donations) are needed in the Philippines and so we hope our kababayans will be helping in one way or another,” he explained.

With the help of donations from Fil-Ams in the Metro DC region during the Typhoon Ondoc relief campaign in 2010, Alarcon said Feed the Hungry was able to fund the rehabilitation of this Industrial Arts Building at the Maulawin Elementary School in Pagsanjan, Laguna.

The wooden jalousies were replaced with glass and provided with iron grills for security.

“The bathroom was upgraded to Feed the Hungry standard of flushing toilet, wash basin, toilet paper and soap holder, ceramic tiles in the floor and walls; the whole building was given a new coat of paint,” Alarcon revealed.

“But the assistance to students can not stop there,” he added, “We found out that the room is very clean but empty. Students go there and listen to lectures on how to use tools without actually seeing or touching one.”

They were able to build 5 classrooms last year, and plan to complete 7 this year.

Each classroom costs about $8,000, he explained.

They plan to continue a feeding program that was done in Dolores, Eastern Samar last year.

They are also in the process of shipping donated dialysis machines to Davao.

Alarcon said one reason they’ve been able to expand their donor base despite the tough times is the yearly visits to these projects in the Philippines.

They conducted 45 missions last year.

“People are getting to know what we’re doing so we’re inviting people to join the missions so they can see themselves,” he said.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


President Aquino gave the country’s new ambassador to Washington DC his “marching orders” – pull in the investments that will create jobs for Filipinos.

Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. defined the “three pillars” of his mission as economic diplomacy, national security and protecting the interests of overseas Filipinos.

“The objective is to create jobs that will alleviate poverty,” he told the Fil-Am press at the Philippine Embassy.

“Trade and investments will be very important – not to say the two other pillars are not important – but we would like to generate more jobs for Filipinos so they don’t have to go abroad,” he explained.

“We can see what’s happening in the Middle East and North Africa. The President would really like to see us intensify efforts to attract investments, especially foreign direct investments,” Cuisia stressed.

“He sees the risks involved in countries experiencing conflict,” he averred.

“When you look at total direct investments, the US would be number 1 or number 2. American companies continue to be one of the biggest source of foreign direct investments and that’s very clear in his (President Aquino’s) instructions,” Cuisia disclosed.

The office of the US Trade Representative reported that US direct foreign investment in the Philippines reached $5.8 billion in 2009 – up from $5.6 billion in 2008 – mostly in the manufacturing sector. Bangko Sentral statistics showed US companies pumped an additional $201 million in 2010.

After spending decades in the rarefied world of high finance, his job as diplomat will be a first for Cuisia.

Born in Manila in July 1944, Cuisia graduated magna cum laude at the Dela Salle University and earned his Masters in Business Administration at the Wharton School in Pennsylvania.

He steered the Social Security System in 1986-1990; and spent the next three years as Governor of the Central Bank of the Philippines and Chairman of the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation.

He alternated between the government and private sector – Chairman of the Far East Bank & Trust Company (1994-2000), President and CEO of the Philippine American Life & Insurance Company (1993-2009) and Vice President for Life Insurance of the American International Group (1997-2009). He worked as Chairman or sat in the board of about a dozen other companies.

It was precisely this background that made him President Aquino’s top choice for Washington DC. This and of course, his deep personal ties with the Aquino family.

He was one of President Cory Aquino’s most trusted advisers and would eventually engineer financial reforms, laying the groundwork for the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

“I know a lot of people in the American Chamber (of Commerce), the US-ASEAN Business Council because I’ve dealt with them before. I know many of the past US ambassadors to the Philippines like Ambassador Frank Wisner who also actually worked with AIG as vice chairman for several years,” he revealed.

President Obama had sent Wisner to Egypt at the time the US was trying to broker the exit of President Hosni Mubarak. “He is a personal friend,” Cuisia said, ticking off more names of top US envoys that he’s developed friendships with.

“I hope to be able to tap my friends in business and political circles to be able to help us achieve our objectives,” Cuisia declared.

Cuisia spent just a week in Washington DC. He summoned the country’s consuls general in the US to assess the challenges and opportunities ahead.

He also offered his credentials at the State Department – signaling the official start of his work as Philippine Ambassador to the US. The State Department will arrange an appointment with President Obama for him to submit his credentials.

Although he appears ready for the Washington DC circuit, there may be two reasons making the move a little difficult – the grandchildren he’ll be leaving behind in Manila. “I hope they can visit during the school break,” wished the grandfather.

There’s a trade-off though – he has two daughters in New York – one of whom is getting married in September. Cuisia signaled he’s already looking forward to the date for a family reunion in the US.


When the “Dolley Madison” slipped out of the Gangplank Marina last April 2, it wasn’t only her maiden voyage – it also signaled the fruition of one Fil-Am’s vision for a better way of moving through the nation’s capital.

Shaun Guevarra just turned 30, but he already personifies the potential of an upcoming generation of Fil-Am entrepreneurs in the Metro DC region.

Guevarra is president of the American River Taxi (ART) which is the only water taxi service in Washington DC. The “Dolley Madison” – built in Florida – is their first boat.

He revealed that two bigger boats are under construction in New York and are scheduled to join the ART flotilla after June.

“We’re now just trying to get it known, to get the general ridership,” he tells the Manila Mail during their “soft launch”.

The Potomac River and its tributaries were the commercial and transport arteries for DC, Virginia and Maryland before freeways were built.

Today, Washington DC is spending billions to reinvigorate the waterfront, including the expansion of facilities to encourage greater use of river resources.

ART is Guevarra’s first business venture and he’s trying to cash in on the renewed focus on the Potomac River.

“You dive into something you really enjoy and are willing to explore, you put all the hard work in and you can see the fruit coming,” he stressed.

For now, the “Dolley Madison” has three stops: the SW Waterfront – now known as the Wharf; the Washington Harbor in Georgetown; and the Diamond Teague terminal (also known as the Navy Yard), the river access to Nationals Stadium.

“We’re the only water taxi operating in DC right now,” he declared. A large part of his business will come from Nat’s fans looking for a better way to take them to the ball game.

“We have 81 home games this year and for each game, we’re looking at how long it takes by car, bus or train. We’re definitely faster than Metro only because of the size of the crowd you’ll see on the subway,” Guevarra explained.

“At $9 hop-off, hop-on (the price of an ART ride), it’s a lot cheaper than driving to the stadium, parking and the hassle of finding a spot,” he added.

And he pointed out taking the water taxi allows patrons to see DC from a different perspective. “With the onset of summer, it’s a nicer way to see and move around DC,” he averred.

“This morning, on the way to Georgetown there was a sailboat race on the north end and our passengers got a chance to see the race,” he recounted their maiden voyage.

Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, the Guevarra family later moved to Orlando, Florida. His mother is Canadian and his father is from Tanauan, Batangas.

“If we want to make this work, it’s really up to us,” he said, adding “We could have hired more people but we preferred to be hands on so we can really learn all aspects of this business.”

He revealed that even as owner of the company, he sometimes does deck-handing chores. “It’s really tricky for the captain. He says ‘you’re the boss, you should just give me the command’,” Guevarra chuckles.

“I want to instill in the whole company that every person is really part of this family business,” he explained.

They are also trying to reach out to the community, including the Fil-Ams of Metro DC. Guevarra said they are working with street kids in the Earth Conservation Corps and will bring some of them for training as deck hands and staff members.

He says starting small is part of the plan but he’s confident his business will grow side by side with the community they strive to serve.


Twenty-one officers and men of the Philippine Navy are now training with the US Coast Guard in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean as part of the turn-over of a Hamilton-class cutter next month.

The Hamilton-class Weather High Endurance Cutter (WHEC) will be the biggest vessel acquired by the Philippine Navy since the 1980s. Philippine Navy chief Vice Adm. Alexander Pama said the ship will be deployed near the disputed Spratley Islands.

Philippine Embassy officials say the Filipino sailors have already sailed in three countries aboard the USCGC Boutwell, one of the US Coast Guard’s Hamilton-class ships.

“They are getting very good hands-on training and experience aboard a ship that is identical to what they’ll be manning,” the official disclosed to the Manila Mail.

Hamilton-class ships are 378 feet long, displace 3,250 tons, have dual diesel and gas turbine engines that give them a top speed of 29 knots and can remain at sea without refueling for 45 days. They have a crew of 167 officers and men.

They are armed with a rapid-firing 3-inch/76mm gun, a 20mm Phalanx and two 25mm Mk38 “Bushmaster” auto-cannons. But officials say some of those weapons might be removed before the turnover to the Philippine Navy.

The Hamilton-class cutters – that are on average about 40 years old – are being replaced by the sleeker, more sophisticated National Security Cutter. When the Philippine Navy finally gets the ship, she will still be one of the newest in the Philippine Fleet.

The ship has a retractable hangar and helicopter deck that will multiply its patrolling capabilities in the South China Sea.

The Philippines lodged a diplomatic protest with China last month after two of its patrol boats harassed a Philippine oceanographic ship at Reed Bank near the Spratley Islands which is being claimed by China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and Brunei.

Reed Island is just 200 miles from Palawan.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Oban said they have earmarked P8 billion (about $107 million) to beef up their presence in Palawan. The Philippines has the only runway in the disputed isles, at Kalayaan Island that is part of Palawan province that could be a prime target if shooting breaks out.

The US will turn over the Hamilton-class cutter on May 13.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Hundreds of Filipino teachers in Prince George’s county, MD could be sent packing following a decision not to renew their work visas.

The uncertainty sweeping Filipino teachers is already taking its toll – at a meeting with Philippine Embassy officials in Fairfax, VA, some sought psychological counseling for “shell-shocked” mentors.

“When we arrived here, the PG school system promised us ‘we will take care of you because we value what you are bringing to the County’ and now they’re telling us ‘sorry, you’re visa is expiring, you have to go home now’,” said Carlo Parapara, Pilipino Educators Network (PEN) president.

The PEN is an umbrella of about 800 Filipino teachers in PG County.

Millet Panga, another PEN officer, revealed that school officials summoned foreign teachers (about 90% of whom are Filipinos) to a series of meetings three weeks ago.

They were briefed on Administrative Procedure 4117 – issued only last Feb. 1 – that stipulated, among others, the PG County Public School system can withhold sponsorship of a foreign teacher “even in the case where an employee has received favorable recommendation or even if the teacher is in a hard-to-staff area.”

The teachers were reportedly told the school system won’t be renewing H-1B visas for “non-critical” positions.

Elementary grade, pre-K, music, media, language arts, home economics, physical education and social studies teachers all fall under the “non-critical” category – a distinction that teachers tell Manila Mail, wasn’t there before.

Dreading uncertainty

But in a position letter Parapara sent to the PG County Board of Education, he pointed out two Filipino teachers in “critical” subject areas were terminated recently.

“We dread this kind of uncertainty,” he wrote.

PG County Public School officials have publicly declared no one will be asked to leave until their visa expires. Since they were recruiting teachers in the Philippines as late as last year, the last H-1B visas would expire in 2014.

“During the four information sessions held they emphasized that this process had nothing to do with the budget,” Parapara told the Manila Mail.

But in a report in the Washington Post, PG County Public Schools human resources director Synthia Shilling was quoted saying the school system’s $155 million shortfall prompted the “review” of hiring procedures.

“If this is really about the budget, they have no choice but to resort to reduction in force,” Parapara declared.

“If it is a reduction in force, it has to cover everyone and it has to be by seniority, performance evaluation and tenure, and not the teacher’s nationality,” he stressed.

Filipino teachers singled out?

Lawyer Arnedo Valera, executive director of the Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC) who is aiding the teachers, said the PG County Public Schools could be guilty of discrimination because school officials were targeting only foreign teachers.

“They may be Filipinos but as H-1B visa holders they’re also classified as US workers,” he explained.

The PG County Public School system began recruiting teachers in the Philippines in 2004 to help it meet higher standards set under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Filipino teachers are present in nearly all 197 public schools in PG County.

“They were actively recruited in the Philippines. They created the impression that these people were uprooted with an element of permanence in their jobs and they know that an H-1B has immigrant intent,” Valera explained.

He believes Administrative Procedure 4117 “has the effect of actually discriminating against foreign teachers.”

“They do not have objective criteria for laying off their personnel aside of course from the fact that they are foreign teachers,” he said.

The Philippines government is closely monitoring what’s happening to teachers in PG County, Labor Attache Luzviminda Padilla told the Manila Mail.

“We are very concerned,” she acknowledged.

“We are clearly in support of the teachers. They can tell us the kind of help they think we can provide and we will give it,” Padilla assured.

Steady school improvements

PG County was one of 388 school districts nationwide (and one of only three in the Metro DC region) named in the Advanced Placement Achievement List in 2010.

The list is prepared by the College Board, a nonprofit that administers college-credit tests.

The Maryland State Assessments (MSA) noted improvements in teaching and learning in PG County Public Schools since 2006.

The irony is not lost among the Filipino teachers who face the prospect of uprooting their families all over again.

Many of the teachers have approved immigrant petitions and are just waiting for their “priority dates” – for some, that is just months away.

The teachers carry H-1B visas that have a maximum term of six years. The earlier batches of teachers have actually gotten their “green cards”.

The PEN conducted a survey of teachers who may be affected by the non-renewal of their work visas. Parapara said nearly 250 have responded although he believes the number could eventually rise to 500.

“Many have not yet come forward out of fear, some are embarrassed by their present condition and others simply don’t know what to do,” Parapara surmised.

He said many Filipino teachers are hurting. They are reaching out to anyone who can help them, especially the Fil-Am community.

It’s a plea for help from people who feel their dreams slowly crumbling.