Monday, September 19, 2011


When President Aquino makes a late morning visit to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, there’ll be one question likely to occupy his anticipated pitch for the SAVE Act – how hard are the 4 million Filipinos in the United States pushing the bill?

The SAVE Act pending in the US Congress will provide duty-free access to American textiles and Philippine apparel, promising to generate thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in export revenues on both sides of the Pacific.

Philippine Ambassador Jose Cuisia Jr. has focused on passage of the bill, personally meeting with American lawmakers and trade groups. He has lined up the support of about a dozen key legislators but has also been pressing the Fil-Am community to throw their support for the bill.

The SAVE Act is today the single biggest item in the Philippine agenda in Washington, next only to the World War II veterans issue.

“It is crucial that Filipino-Americans be heard by the US Congress to ensure SAVE’s passage this year,” he exhorted.

President Aquino will meet with the Fil-Am community here on Wednesday evening but his schedule does not include a Q & A portion that is almost a staple for visiting dignitaries from the Philippines.

Some community leaders believe he will likely spend as much time explaining his anti-corruption agenda as making a pitch for the SAVE Act.

Filipinos today comprise the 2nd biggest Asian American group, next only to the Chinese. The 2010 Census showed 2.5 million people identified themselves as “Filipino alone” – a 38% jump from a decade ago – but excludes “Mixed Race Filipino”. When taken together, the actual number could reach 3.5 million, according to the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations (NaFFAA).

There are hundreds of Fil-Am organizations spread across the nation, from Alabama to Wisconsin. They represent virtually all the regional groupings in the Philippines, sometimes multiplied several times over in one area. Some say this is a commentary of the Filipinos’ disunity and parochial interests.

And many of these organizations are nothing more than social clubs, mobilized for raising funds to help indigents or calamity victims in their respective provinces back home.

Very few are structured for advocacy or political action like the Chinese or Indian Americans.

Although less than half of Asian Americans cast their vote in the 2008 elections, Fil-Am organizations have lagged behind politically vis-à-vis their number.

“There’s so many of us,” says Helen Sadorra, president of the Baltimore-based Fil-Am group Katipunan, “it seems now is the time to unify.”

“It’s tough,” she added. And the irony is not lost especially among Americans.

“There are thousands of Filipino organizations but very few working together,” US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. remarked at a recent meeting with the Fil-Am community here.

“It’s great to have them but there’s very little coordination,” he added. Thomas drew a contrast with the Indian American community that works closely with the New Delhi government to influence policies in diaspora-destination countries like the US.

Lawyer Arnedo Valera, executive director of the Fairfax, Virginia-based Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC), said it was time for the Philippines to wean away from exporting its skilled workers to prop up the economy.

“MHC reiterates our call to focus at developing local industries by promoting science and research instead of relying on labor export to sustain the economy,” he said in a statement on the eve of President Aquino’s visit to Washington.

“The massive job termination of about 1,000 Filipino teachers in Prince George’s county in Maryland should be a wake-up call that labor export is not a sustainable paradigm,” he added.

The SAVE Act fits the MHC’s call because if passed, it could create or preserve as many as half a million jobs in the Philippines. If passed, it will be the first trade agreement between the Philippines and US in nearly 40 years.

Cuisia revealed that while the Fil-Am community’s response to the SAVE Act has been encouraging “there’s still much more that can be done”.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Director-General Nicanor Bartolome was the face of the Philippine National Police (PNP) even before President Aquino appointed him to the top post, a sign of media’s role in shaping careers in an organization plagued by a poor image.

“In the past no one wanted to lead the public information office,” said retired Chief Supt. Crescencio “Cris” Maralit, who occupied the post for several years and settled in the Baltimore area after his retirement. The office was largely dismissed as a dead-end for young aspiring officers.

He explained that perceptions of police corruption and incompetence coupled with the challenges of modern media now made the PIO an excellent training ground for future chiefs for not only the PNP but also the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Bartolome, a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy class 80, is only the 2nd former PIO chief to become Chief, PNP; the other was Director General Arturo Lomibao, PMA class 71.

A Pulse Asia survey earlier this year showed nearly 27% of Filipinos believe the PNP was the most corrupt agency (a small consolation for police leaders because the AFP fared worse at nearly 49%).

“The perception problem has been there ever since,” Maralit said, “Accomplishments no matter how significant were met with doubts.”

He said overcoming the police’s public image remains a major task for the PNP. “They’ve taken off but the improvement is not yet significant. They are on the right track and with Nick there, hopefully he can make the difference,” Maralit said of his one-time subordinate.

“Being the spokesman is a good stepping stone for higher responsibilities,” he averred, “because you get the pulse of both the police as an organization and the community it serves. He gets a good grasp of the political, economic and social issues.”

“All qualifications being equal, it’s great preparation for a future chief of the PNP,” he added.

And having friends in the press can’t hurt. “It’s a big help to be a friend of media, to be the darling of media but only to a certain extent,” he says bemusedly. Maralit believes being a former police spokesman boosts name-recognition not only within the PNP but also among key decision makers in and outside the government.

“In the criminal justice system, the community is the biggest component and being immersed in working with the community helps build a holistic appreciation of the organization,” he explained.

Maralit said the PNP only recently realized the “pervasive” effect of media not only in shaping public awareness and perceptions, but in the age of YouTube and Facebook, also a tool to reform a scandal-prone organization.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Tributes poured for Maria Mabilangan Haley, once the most influential Filipino American in the White House, who passed away Tuesday at age 70 after suffering a stroke last week.

Former President Bill Clinton called her a “great public servant, a wonderful person and friend for more than 30 years.”

“We mourn her passing,” the former president said in a statement, “we must also be very grateful for her life.”

Haley was the highest ranking Fil-Am in the Clinton administration, where she played a key role in forming the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders, according to the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA).

“Ms. Haley was a strong voice for Filipino American empowerment, providing much needed advice, assistance and encouragement to community leaders in their efforts to build a national presence in Washington DC in the mid-1990s,” the NaFFAA said in a statement.

“She was especially attentive to the needs of Filipino Americans who were seeking elected office or pursuing opportunities for public service,” they added.

“When I was Governor of Arkansas, Maria was invaluable in opening foreign markets to our products, recruiting foreign investment in our state and supporting my work in the National Governors Association,” Clinton revealed.

When Clinton became president, Haley was appointed to the US Export-Import Bank and served as presidential special assistant and deputy director of the Presidential Personnel Office that helped recruit and screen prospective presidential appointees.

“Thousands of people in Arkansas, throughout the United States and in the Philippines benefitted from Maria Haley’s life-long commitment to bring economic opportunities to more people,” Clinton said.

Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe said Haley “did more for the state than most people will ever know. Her tireless mission to create and keep jobs in Arkansas was a primary factor in our ability to ride out the recession. She will be dearly missed as a friend and colleague.”

“Maria was an inspiration to everyone she came into contact with,” said Arkansas Economic Development Commission Chairman Tom Kirk, “She was a woman of the world who brought a unique perspective to economic development…I want her family to know the important place she held in so many lives.”

“I am deeply saddened to learn about the passing of Maria Haley. Maria spent a lifetime building opportunities for others. I will miss Maria’s resolve, hard work and strong leadership,” said Senator Mark Pryor.

The former chief of Baldor Electric Company, John McFarland, described how Haley helped their company expand in Asia. “She came along and said, ‘Look, we’ll help you. You tell us who you want to meet and we’ll help you meet the’. At that point we were doing nothing in Asia, no contracts. Today, Baldor has offices throughout Asia and has tens of millions of dollars in sales there each year,” he recalled.

“She was just a nice person. She never lost what I call the common touch. You know some people go off to these big jobs in Washington and elsewhere and they lose that. She never did,” McFarland said.

Haley was born in the Philippines and educated in India, Pakistan, France and Spain. She was senior director for Asia with Kissinger McLarty Associates (2001-2007); board member of the Export-Import Bank of the United States (1994-1999); special assistant in the Presidential Personnel Office at the White House (1993-1994).

She also served as an adviser to former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2001-2002.

At the time of her death, Haley was executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

“We will always remember Ms. Haley’s kindness and generosity of spirit. She will always remain an inspiration to us all,” the NaFFAA said.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


It’s been 20 years since the Philippine Senate voted to close down the US Navy base in Subic Bay, marking the end of an era that helped define the intimate and often personal ties between Filipinos and Americans.

Arlington, Virginia resident Cathy Cox was a 16-year-old student at the George Dewey High School in the mid-70s. The school sits in front of where the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority building now stands.

“The school’s there but it’s in very, very bad shape and we’re hearing they’re doing other things with the area,” Cox said.

Thousands of Americans, children of US servicemen posted at Subic, went through that school, she revealed. They have an active alumni association that holds reunions every year, the last one in San Diego, California just last month.

When US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. visited Washington in August, Cox tearfully sought his help to rescue the steel globe at her high school alma mater.

“We’re asking them to preserve the globe because it’s a symbol. We want to see that globe restored and maintained because it has historical significance,” she told this reporter.

The globe, we learned, became a sort of rite of passage for the generations of young Americans who studied at George Dewey High School. They brushed a layer upon layer of peeling paint, and so doing, started a tradition that was passed on from one senior class to another.

“It’s very interesting,” remarked Washington-born Maurice Cayanan who went back to the Philippines to earn a mass communication degree at the University of the Philippines and intern at the old ABS-CBN in 1973 after it was taken over by Martial Law administrators.

“People think Filipinos are very sentimental but this is a reverse, where Americans are deeply sentimental about something of symbolic importance,” he explained.

For Cox and many others, that globe represented an important period in their lives. “I was in George Dewey High School in 75-76,” she revealed, “my father was with the NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigation Service) and we actually lived in Olongapo. We did not move right inside the base.”

“That was one of the most profound, life-changing experiences for me,” Cox enthused.

“This was my first chance to live overseas,” she continued, “and the Philippine people showed such generosity and kindness and hospitality that it was just a great experience living in town where we lost electricity and you had to carry water.”

“I rode jeepneys and tricycles. I got into a Victory Liner and went to Baguio. I did all those things and it was a wonderful experience and I think all my classmates feel that way too,” she declared.

Subic Naval Base used to be a major repair and logistics hub for the US Pacific Fleet, especially during the Vietnam War.

The George Dewey High School even earned a footnote in history when a joint inquiry was held at the school library after an Australian aircraft carrier collided with an American destroyer during war games in the South China Sea in 1969.

In June 1991, Mt. Pinatubo, just 20 miles from Subic Base, erupted and buried the naval installation in one-foot of volcanic ash.

Two girls, a 9-year-old American and a Filipino reportedly died after being trapped under a falling roof at the George Dewey High School. The families of servicemen were evacuated, first to Cebu and then to Guam; but by September, most of them were back on Subic Base.

On Sept. 16, 1991, the Philippine Senate voted to boot out US military bases in the country. In December of that year, then President Corazon Aquino, who had fought to retain the bases, issued the final notice giving the US one year to pack up.

But for Americans like Cox, the memories of their time in the Philippines live on. She continued to visit the Philippines, the last time in 1996. And as she champions the cause of a now-decrepit steel orb, her thoughts obviously still return to her old school across the Pacific.