Monday, November 28, 2011


(This article appears in the Nov. 30, 2011 edition of Manila Mail, the longest running Fil-Am newspaper in the Metro DC region)

A full-blown melee has erupted between what is reputedly the biggest Filipino-American basketball league and members of a local hoops association that is hosting the championship in Washington DC next year.

The North American Basketball Association (NABA) has threatened to expel anyone playing for “Team Philippines” – a newly-formed group that aims to recruit young but talented Fil-Ams for international tournaments playing under the Philippine flag.

Russell Casapao, president of the DC-based Filipino Youth Basketball Association (FYBA), pitched for the establishment of “Team Philippines” reportedly without the knowledge of his board. But after the controversy broke-out, the FYBA members have come out to assail the threatened expulsions.

“The unity and harmonious relationship enjoyed by NABA members for the past 24 years has been challenged by the introduction of a new group, they call themselves Team Philippines,” Detroit-based NABA Commissioner Dr. Ron Damasco wrote in a letter to members posted in its website last month.

“The idea caused some confusion to some basketball players of NABA that started joining (Team Philippines). Their actions jeopardize the preparations of Washington DC franchise as host for the 2012 NABA tournament.

“I don’t have any other alternative but to enforce a directive to all NABA members that any city, team, player and coach that will join Team Philippines and any league other than NABA will be dealt accordingly with possible suspension or most likely expulsion,” Damasco warned.

In a letter by “The FYBA Organization” they announced that they will ask Dr. Damasco to reconsider his directive. “We are doing this to protect our players, coaches and more importantly the parents, to clear any misconception and confusion brought about by the establishment of Team Philippines and its impact to FYBA’s hosting of the 2012 NABA Inter-City tournament.”

The nucleus of “Team Philippines” reportedly come from the Metro DC region but also come from as far away as Florida.

The NABA has been holding yearly tournaments since 1986. The championships are held during the Labor Day weekend in either the US or Canada. With close to 2 dozen member cities from North America with 115 teams and over 1,700 athletes, the NABA tournament is perhaps the biggest Fil-Am sports event.

The FYBA is celebrating its 5th year (and NABA’s 25th anniversary) by hosting the Labor Day championship in Washington DC next year. That could be in jeopardy because many of the sponsors for next year’s tournament are parents of Fil-Am children in “Team Philippines”.

In a follow-up letter Nov. 18, Dr. Damasco said that “A member joining Team Philippines is not only committing conflict of interest but he is also at risk of developing a feeling of dejection, sadness and misery that could lead to his losing interest in basketball if in the end he is selected as member of Team Philippines.”

In a petition by about 40 parents of kids who’ve joined Team Philippines, they countered that “We believe that no child should be denied a chance to join any basketball organization and participate in their respective tournaments.”

“Parent should be able to freely exercise their right to choose whatever sports organization they believe will offer the best sports experience for their child. Whether it is Team Philippines, AAU or any school-sponsored sports program, the right to participate should be open to all who are qualified,” they stressed.

“Denying a child to play in an organization designed to promote pride in their heritage and to establish camaraderie among their fellow Filipino-American and Filipino-Canadian players across the nation and internationally is simply wrong and we will do everything within our power to correct this injustice,” the parents declared.

The Manila Mail learned that some are already contemplating a discrimination suit against NABA, threatening to blow the controversy even wider.

Meanwhile, they are also incensed that some ranking FYBA officers have refused or are unwilling to take the cudgels for their children. They are especially critical of Casapao whom Manila Mail sources say face his own “expulsion” by being pressured out of his presidency.

The group supporting Team Philippines has already met with NABA’s executive adviser Larry Albano in New York to apologize for the confusion arising from the group’s sudden appearance. “It is our hope that we can find and agree on a resolution that is fair to the players and their family who are currently supporting both organizations,” they reported.

But this attempt to mend fences apparently fell on deaf ears after Dr. Damasco issued his expulsion threat. “NABA is a self-governing, self-reliant and self-supporting association whose primary concern is the well being of every member,” he stressed.

Friday, November 25, 2011


Thousands of Filipino World War II veterans are hanging by a piece of paper that could spell the difference whether they receive compensation for a 6-decade-old injustice.

Eric Lachica, executive director of the American Coalition of Filipino Veterans (ACFV), said the problem of more than 4,000 veterans whose applications for the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) fund were rejected is no longer within the purview of the Department of Veterans Administration (VA) to resolve.

In a chance meeting with US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta during a Veterans Day breakfast event at the White House, Lachica said they sought his help to help arrange a meeting with Secretary of the Army John McHugh.

He said Panetta was aware of the Filipino veterans “especially the Philippine Scouts, there’s so many of them in California” but did not know about the plight of those left out of FVEC benefits.

ACFV executive director Eric Lachica with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at the recent Veterans Day breakfast at the White House. Photo courtesy of Eric Lachica.

“He said he’ll look into it,” Lachica told the Manila Mail.

In a letter addressed to President Obama, ACFV president Patrick Ganio Sr. pointed out “All are in their 80s and 90s and are in frail health. Many are United States citizens. Most reside in the Philippines and are cared for by family members. Sadly, many have died and their surviving spouses have tirelessly pursued their claims under the FVEC law.”

Lachica said he handed the letter to the President’s military aide.

McHugh has control over the US Army personnel records, including those presumably destroyed by a fire at their main repository in St. Louis, Missouri in 1973. The National Personnel Record Center (NPRC) contains service information for US military personnel who served after World War I.

The fire destroyed about 80 percent of the records for US Army personnel discharged between 1912 and 1960. According to its website, they have not yet determined “exactly what was lost in the fire because there were no indices to the blocks of records involved”.

An estimated quarter of a million Filipino soldiers and guerillas who served and fought under the US Armed Forces during World War II were disenfranchised by an act of Congress in 1946. They have been fighting for recognition ever since.

“We are pursuing the appeals,” Lachica said, “the Secretary of Veterans Affairs has told us the problem lies in the recognition of these veterans and that will depend on the US Army confirming that they actually served.

As of Oct. 1, the VA said 42,713 applications were processed. Of these 9,334 were approved for Filipino veterans in the Philippines and 9,165 for Filipino veterans in the US. A total of 24,214 applications were rejected.

Philippine-based veterans were entitled to a single lump sum payment of $9,000 while those in the US stood to receive $15,000. The VA reported that $221 million from the FVEC has been paid out already.

Some 4,389 of those rejected have filed notices of disagreement (NODs) but of this number, only 193 cases have been reopened. After lodging a NOD, a claimant will be provided a hearing either through video conference or face-to-face meeting.

Lachica revealed that retired Maj. Gen. Delfin Lorenzana, head of the Philippine veterans office at the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC, has been pressing the NPRC for whatever records they could find to help the veterans.

He cited the case of Virginia-based Celestino Almeda, 94, who had original copies of his discharge papers and payroll records from the US Commonwealth Philippine Army but was still turned down because his name did not appear in the so-called Missouri List.

Almeda used those same documents to acquire US citizenship in the 1990s.

Lachica there is still about $44 million in the FVEC fund that could be used to pay the veterans. “That’s why we have to make sure the appeal process is resolved for most of our veterans who believe they are legitimate US veterans,” Lachica declared.

“We want to meet with the Secretary of the Army or his staff to ask them to review individually, case-by-case the paperwork of these 4,000 because if the Secretary of the Army will release a paper certifying they served based on the records, they will get the equity compensation,” he explained.

In addition, they continue to lobby for passage of the family reunification bill to speed up immigrant petitions filed by veterans for their children to join them in the US, and “medical portability” that will allow aging veterans to “carry” their Medicare benefits back to the Philippines if they wished to spend their remaining years there.

“They all go hand in hand,” Lachica said, conceding “We have our hands full”.


Young Filipino-American supporters of President Obama have begun mobilizing to work for his re-election bid next year.

“We have been rebuilding our base, reconnecting with Filipinos,” Ben de Guzman revealed. He said they’ve been knocking on doors in New Jersey and are planning a large campaign kick-off in December to convince Fil-Ams to register and vote in 2012.

Jason Lagria, national co-chairman of Kaya Filipino Americans for Progress, told the Manila Mail that they’ve started identifying “key targeters” in the community who can serve as volunteers. “We’re making sure the infrastructure is in place so we’re launching Filipinos for Obama 2012 in December and have our first events by January,” he explained.

Veterans of the Filipinos for Obama campaign in 2008 are reunited at the recent Dakila Awards ceremonies in Arlington, VA. From left, Marita Etcubanez, Irene Bueno, Vida Benavides, Jon Melegrito, Ben de Guzman, Charmaine Manansala and Jason Lagria. Photo by Bing Branigin.

They concede that with the tough economic times, they have their work cut out for them. “The political climate is obviously very different. The environment is more polarized now which is why it’s important for people to be out there and have the conversation person to person,” De Guzman told the Manila Mail.

“You just really have to engage the people whether you agree with them or not and that’s part of what we’re doing,” he added.

Lagria said one advantage is that they are able to mobilize earlier than they did in 2008. “It’s a year out right now and we’re already planning,” he said, “In 2008 the nomination for president wasn’t even done until December but now we have a whole year and we’re going to make sure the entire Asian American community is working together and every Asian American will be voting.”

The Filipino American Journal conducted a poll of its readers last month and concluded that “Obama is in trouble”. It quoted Professor Albert Celoza, head of the Liberal Arts department at the Phoenix Colleges, as predicting “voters’ frustration will work against his chances of being re-elected.”

Celoza said he voted for Obama in 2008 but is still undecided for 2012.

“It’s the hard economic times,” Lagria explained, “obviously we’re going to be aggressive. We believe the job plan Obama has for the economy and the country is the right way for us; it’s going to make sure all Americans are going to prosper in this economy and not just for some people.”

A pre-election survey by the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) and Federation of Philippine-American Chambers of Commerce (FPACC) in 2008 revealed that 36 percent of the Fil-Am respondents favored then Sen. Obama while 30 percent was inclined to swing for his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain. The breakdown revealed that a significant portion – about a third – were undecided a week before the last presidential elections.

“I think Filipinos, like any other Asian group, are the quintessential movable middle. We have higher rates to decline party affiliations so if you make the argument for us, we will vote our conscience and not necessarily based on party but on what’s right,” De Guzman averred.

Lagria argued that Pres. Obama has been good to Asian Americans. “Look at his record on diversity – he’s nominated 8 Asian-Americans to federal courts when there were just 7 ever before that. He’s basically doubled the number of Asian Americans in the judiciary and he’s done the same thing in his Cabinet and throughout his administration.”

“We should always make sure that our leaders are thinking about everybody. I especially believe he’s thinking of all Asian Americans and Filipino Americans,” Lagria said.