Sunday, July 31, 2011


Teachers stood under an oppressive sun to carry press their protest against the overly heavy reliance on standardized tests instead of focusing more on school children’s educational needs.

About 8,000 teachers, parents, school officials and education activists, including Filipino mentors from Prince George’s County and their supporters, gathered at the Ellipse for the “Save Our Schools” action last Saturday.

“I don’t know where I would be today if my teachers’ job security was based on how I performed on some standardized test,” actor Matt Damon told the crowd (we missed him as we tried to get a head start to catch the teachers on their march past the White House).

Critics of this grassroots movement say the teachers are trying to preserve the status quo, to keep what they see as “bad teachers” in the classroom. But the teachers counter that is a blatant misrepresentation of their real grievance which is to give teachers due process.

About 800 Filipino teachers in PG County public schools risk losing their jobs – not because they did something wrong or failed to do their job – rather they fell victims twice over from their recruiters and the schools they served for the past 6.

They have endured risks and the difficulties of relocation to help Maryland public schools raise standards; but more importantly, educate American children when the schools could not find an American teacher to do it.

The Department of Labor “penalized” PG County public schools for deliberately hoodwinking Filipino and other international teachers. It imposed a 2-year debarment, effectively scrapping the teachers’ work permits as they expire.

About 200 Filipino teachers just lost their H-1B visas. Hundreds more will suffer the same fate in September unless the debarment is lifted and they’re allowed to renew their visas. The last teachers could lose their jobs by June next year.

Some of their supporters were aghast by comments from fellow Filipinos that the teachers just wanted to continue enjoying their life in America, while their colleagues struggle with teaching conditions back in the Philippines.

Such observations expose that even in the community, many are still ignorant of why or what the Filipino teachers are fighting for. At its very core, they fight for justice, fairness and due process.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


Even with the specter of an unprecedented default hanging over America, another evidence that despite its political troubles, it remains a battleground for ideas and principles.

Syrians in the United States, either supporting or opposing Syria’s beleaguered leader Bashar Assad, hurled slogans against each other in front of the White House, separated by a thin, yellow police tape stretched across Pennsylvania Avenue.

Assad’s bloody crackdown against his own people has drawn international condemnation. State Secretary Hillary Clinton bluntly declared the US has nothing invested in seeing him continue in power.

Clinton indicated that as far as the Obama administration is concerned, Assad is no different from Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, the subject of a NATO-led military offensive.

The Libyan civil war and unrest in Syria represent the bloodiest face of the so-called Arab Spring that removed overstaying leaders in Egypt and Tunisia. Democracy uprisings have also erupted in other parts of the Middle East, from the Arab Emirates to Yemen.

The anti-Assad group made their anger and hostility plain. They scooped some horse manure left by police mounts with Assad’s picture and left it to dry under the scorching heat.

The pro-Assad group carried their leader’s picture with pride and near reverence. They demanded the US keeps its hands off their conflict.

Metro DC has been suffering from a withering heat wave most of the week, with the mercury breaking the 100-degree mark just the day before.

“The US is broke!” yelled one bystander at the demonstrators. “You’re not even Americans!” he continued in rage.

The police watched almost amusedly as the two groups tried to out-shout each other, waving contrasting flags. The pro-Assad faction carried flags with the red-white-black combination; the anti-Assad group's flag was colored green-white-black.

Tourists continued to take souvenir shots in front of the White House. About a dozen men continued unperturbed their roller-skate hockey game near the White House's northeast gate.

The Syrian's acoustic contest stopped only when a police cruiser, sirens and flashers on, slowly drove by to create space for a larger group of protesting teachers who marched past the White House.

Being the perceived global epicenter of free speech sometimes make hot DC summers also noisier and certainly livelier.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Thousands of teachers and concerned parents will converge this weekend in Washington DC in what organizers call a “national call to action to put the public back in public schools”.

It couldn’t come at a more fortuitous time as the White House and Congress grapple with the debt and deficit issues ahead of August 2 when the Treasury Department says the US government will run out of money to pay its obligations, unless the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling is raised. In the struggle to trim the budget, President Obama has warned that precipitous cuts could harm schools and jeopardize the nation’s future.

They will be joined by hundreds of Filipino teachers from Maryland who face their own crisis arising from a Labor Department debarment order against Prince George’s County public schools. The schools were caught “willfully violating” H-1 visa rules by illegally collecting fees from the teachers.

The “Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action” is being convened (starting today, July 28) to rescue America’s education system and improve learning opportunities for the nation’s children. “As concerned citizens, we demand an end to the destructive policies and rhetoric that have eroded confidence in our public schools, demoralized teachers and reduced the education of too many of our children to nothing more than test preparation,” its website declared.

Marisol Angala, an officer of the DC teacher’s union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), has been urging Filipino teachers to also vent their frustrations there. The other major teachers union – the National Education Association – is supporting the Filipino teachers in PG County.

Meanwhile, the human rights group “Katarungan” has launched a petition campaign in support of the teachers. Katrina Abarcar said they aim to collect 5,000 signatures before August 5, when an administrative judge is expected to act on the agreement between the PG County Public Schools (PGCPS) and Department of Labor. The 2-year debarment order against PGCPS will not take effect until the judge ratifies the agreement.

You can visit the petition by clicking on

Saturday’s program – to be filled with speakers, poets, musicians and reportedly counting Hollywood star Matt Damon, among others – will center at the Ellipse fronting the White House’s south lawn.

“A well-educated society is essential to the future of the United States of America,” organizers said. “Our students must have access to a fully funded, world-class public education system, and it is our responsibility to hold our government accountable for providing the means to achieve it.”

The presence of Filipino teachers at the “Save Our Schools March” underlines their commitment to the US education system. They were recruited in the Philippines starting in 2003 to help troubled schools meet education standards. They were hired by schools that couldn’t attract American teachers, sometimes because they just didn’t feel safe enough to work there. The Filipino teachers filled the void, despite the risks and personal sacrifice of being uprooted from thousands of miles away.

If many are distraught by the debarment and the prospect of going home, it is not out of personal aggrandizement. Rather, these teachers feel invested in the schools they have worked with for the past several years, bonded to the community and the students they nurture. It is never easy to see one’s hard toil near fruition, to be suddenly told you can not join the harvest.

They can’t be too happy about going back to the same situation that pushed them to seek their fortunes across the seas in the first place.

And while the Fil-Am community has embraced the beleaguered mentors, we have to ask: what is the administration of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III doing to lift their plight? Why hasn’t the government gone after their recruiters – the people who pressured these teachers to fork out tens of thousands of pesos in fees that turn out, put them in hot water here?

Or what is President Aquino doing to improve life opportunities for teachers in the Philippines?

And what about Maryland school administrators who reportedly took junkets in the Philippines, sponsored by recruiters (in exchange for what?). Why hasn’t the US government looked into that?

A city that has been broiling from the summer heat and humidity as well as the politics, promises to get even hotter this weekend. Participants were enjoined to bring “lots and lots of water”.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Antonio Zulueta owns the Luciano Italian restaurants at Tyson’s Corner and in Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax. Like many Filipino-American businessmen, he’s dismayed and worried by the failure to hammer out a deal to lift the debt ceiling and cut the budget deficit.

“They’re playing chicken; naghihintay sila hanggang deadline para sa deal,” he tells the Manila Mail. Treasury officials warn the US could default on its loan obligations unless the debt ceiling is raised by August 2.

The Republican-dominated House of Representatives has insisted that raising the debt ceiling should be accompanied by an equivalent reduction in the budget. But negotiations stopped twice because President Obama was pushing for a “grand deal” composed of $3 billion in budget cuts, including entitlement reforms, and $1 billion in tax revenues.

Zulueta echoed observations that the US can not afford to default on its loans. “Malaki ang epekto sa businessmen. Credit natin maapektuhan; senior citizens will not get their social security benefits; maho-hold lahat ng payments,” he averred.

“Ganun ang mangyayari so why are they playing around with the lives of the American people?” he asked.

The major credit rating agencies have also warned that unless the debt and deficit issues are resolved convincingly, they may downgrade the US's gold-standard AAA rating, raising the prospect for higher interest rates on everything from credit cards to bank loans. That could impact on the recovery of the housing market whose meltdown fueled the worst US recession in over half a century.

“There will be hard times ahead,” predicted Aljo Gonzalez who describes himself as an employee and part-time businessman. “Operating capital will be more expensive so I don’t think it’s not something to look forward to,” he added.

Retiree Johnny Roque of Fairfax, VA said a balanced approach to addressing the budget cuts issue was needed to mitigate the adverse effects on needed government services. “We have to remember that we had a recession and two wars. We have to pay for all of these,” he noted.

“It has to be a balanced approach meaning we have to cut the deficit and at the same time raise revenues. We still have to spend money,” he opined.

They agreed that there was more than enough blame to spread around Washington DC. “It’s politics, pure politics,” Zulueta said deprecatingly.

A CBS News poll two weeks ago showed 58 percent of respondents disapproved of Democrats and 71 percent disapproved of Republicans in Congress.

President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner have blamed each other over the failure to find a compromise for lifting the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling. The White House and Congress are moving towards a fall-back proposal from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that was quickly embraced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Zulueta indicated that the White House and Congress can ill afford to play out the debt ceiling drama until the 11th hour. “The market is going crazy, everybody’s going crazy over what’s going to happen on Aug. 2,” he said.

Eileen Nadal, a purchasing manager and president of the La Salle Alumni Association, warned about the “trickle down” effect of any fall-out from a possible default or even a drawn-out stalemate on budget negotiations.

“If you don’t have enough funds for projects, there will be more unemployment; a lot of things won’t get done,” she explained, adding that may affect her employer which means she will eventually feel the pain as well.

“It will trickle down to the little people,” Nadal averred.

Another cautionary note, Zulueta said, is how the White House and Congress will craft a compromise. “We are so focused on a balanced budget and balanced approach, but to me the most important thing is jobs, jobs, jobs,” he declared.