Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Last year, my daughter Ynez gifted her mom the keys to a condo unit near the outskirts of Metro Manila that she’s been paying off for the past 5 years.

My wife went home last September to fix up our new home and witness the birth of our 2nd grandson. They became compelling reasons for me to take my first vacation back home in 6 years, and our first Christmas together as a family in nearly a decade.

It would be a special homecoming for sure. My father, who turned 84 on Christmas Day, is hearty for his age despite the stroke he suffered about a decade ago. His memory is beginning to fade.

The last time I held my elder grandson Prince, he was barely a year old. He would sometimes call me at work in Alexandria just to say goodnight and we would greet each other on Skype on weekends. I promised him a tight, humongous hug when we finally meet again.

We arrived in time to attend the baptism of Prince’s younger brother Rafael Paulo whom he nicknamed Race. My parents and siblings didn’t know we’d be there – a surprise hatched by Ynez.

Our vacation, abbreviated though it may be, was a voyage of rediscovery.

I resumed my affair with sweet Philippine coffee, taking it with cream when I usually took it black and bland back in Virginia.

Struggling to shake off the jet lag, I was up at the crack of dawn, awakened by the crowing of fighting cocks and hymns from a still uncompleted church just outside the condo's walls.

When it wasn’t raining, I would watch the sun rise from the outline of the Sierra Madre mountain range and despite the smog, the view was breath-taking. There was no mistaking – I was home.

We celebrated my sister Bingle’s 45th birthday on Dec. 21 with lunch at a restaurant that I picked only because it carried “kare-kare” and “crispy pata” and “ginataang kuhol” in its menu; I had a chance to catch up with my brother Bing who remarried earlier this year. We visited my younger brother Bimbot’s grave at Loyola Marikina, offering candles and flowers and a stick of Marlboro I’d been saving for him.

We visited our “lola madre” – Sor Asuncion Jamerlan – my mother’s aunt who at over 90 years old retained her sharp wit and unshakeable faith. She lives at the Daughters of Charity retirement home in Paranaque. She asked if I prayed the Rosary, to which I could only respond with a sheepish smile.

When it was time to say our farewells, she seemed hesitant to let me go. She waved my parents off but motioned for me to hug her, again and again. Although I saw her only intermittently even before we moved to the US, I sensed that she was always well-versed about goings-on in my life.

There was no sadness in her eyes. Trust in God, she told me finally and as I kissed her a last time, she smiled and assured that she was praying for me. I was sure she knew.

As I watched TV news reports of the tragedy in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities, I couldn’t help marveling at the resilience of people who survived a truly harrowing ordeal.

Many suffered indescribable loss, spending Christmas Day burying loved ones. But the images that stuck in my mind were of survivors picking up pieces of debris wood and corrugated steel or plastic sheets to build makeshift shelters. They were trying to rush them so their family – whatever’s left of them – can have a place to gather and spend Christmas together.

To me that was reaffirmation that the best gift we can ever receive is the gift of home and family; that both in good times and through life’s frequent trials, they are a source of strength and the well that drives us forward.

This was the richest Christmas I’ve ever had.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


A chemical engineer who helped write literature on the use of umbilical cord blood to harvest stem cells, a multi-awarded poet, and the only newspaperman to become a police general are among this year’s outstanding “Thomasians” recognized by the University of Santo Tomas Alumni Association in America (USTAAA).

The achievement awards were handed out Dec. 3 at the association’s 1st Anniversary and Quadricentennial Celebration Year-End Ball in Arlington, Virginia.

The UST, founded in 1611, is one of the oldest universities and predates Harvard, America’s oldest university by about 25 years. It is also one of the largest Catholic schools in terms of enrolment in a single campus.

Philippine national hero Jose Rizal is perhaps its most famous alumni, but they also include 4 Philippine presidents – Manuel L. Quezon, Sergio Osmena, Jose P. Laurel and Diosdado Macapagal – and 6 Chief Justices of the Philippine Supreme Court.

This year’s crop of achievers include retired police general Crescencio “Cris” Maralit (AB Journalism ’68), who has the distinction of being the 1st and only newspaperman to reach star-rank. He co-authored the book “Constabulary Story” and received 47 medals and awards, including 3 Bronze Cross Medals, 3 Distinguished Service Medals and 6 Military Merit Medals, among others.

Maralit also finished courses at the Command & General Staff College in the Philippines, psychological operations at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and senior crisis management in California, among others.

Now a Baltimore resident, he helped organize a benefit golf tournament last year to benefit victims of the Maguindanao Massacre and other murdered journalists.

Educator Vickie Salera Lopez (BS Electronics and Communications Engineering ’77) travelled over 25,000 miles to help beleaguered Filipino teachers in Maryland find new jobs in schools as far away as Arizona and New Mexico.

She is a certified Math teacher in Maryland and a member of the Maryland Educators for the Gifted and Talented. In the Philippines, Lopez designed the “Bayani sa Loob ng Tahanan” which combines adult and 1st grade education, helping parents to teach their children reading, writing and arithmetic.

She spent almost 2 decades setting up new departments, Total Quality programs and managing lay-offs for semiconductor and telecommunication companies in the Philippines. Lopez also taught at the UST College of Engineering and College of Architecture, and part-time in San Beda College Alabang.

Amy Pascual-Quinto (Fine Arts ’74) designed the UST commemorative tags for Maryland vehicles, the 1st time this privilege was bestowed to a Philippine university. She is a member of the Rockville Art League.
She had lived in Spain, France and Germany where she helped establish Tipanan, a weekend home for distressed Filipino domestic workers in Madrid that spared them the ordeal of having to sleep in the streets.

Dr. Wilhelmina Gardose Camina has previously been named one of the Twenty Outstanding Filipinos Abroad (2007) and received the Women of Achievement Award from the United Cultural Convention in 2010, among others.

Luz Bagtas Ricafort (BS Chemical Engineering ’63) is a multi-awarded medical technologist in the US and co-authored papers on the use of umbilical cord blood as a source of stem cells in patients afflicted with diabetes, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson;s and other neurological disorders. She was one of the first members of the International Society of Cord Blood Transplantation.

Ike Santos (AB English, Pre-Law ’63) is one of the most active civic leaders in the Metro Baltimore area (he is president and chairman of the Taytay Association of America, Inc.). He had founded or managed various non-profits that help raise funds for community and livelihood projects in the Philippines. He is currently involved with First Act Inc. that aims to harness and develop Filipino American artists through workshops and staging shows for the visual and performing arts.

Susana Bonifacio Felizardo (Literature and BS Education) is a multi-awarded poet and 2-time winner of the Una Chapman Cox Award (in 1990 and 2010), the highest award given for a Language and Culture Instructor.

She is a certified Tagalog tester and language examiner at the State Department’s National Foreign Affairs Training Center – the premier training ground for foreign service officers being posted overseas. Felizardo is also a Tagalog translator at the State Department’s Office of Language Service and interpreter/transcriber with DC, Maryland and Virginia courts.

Dr. Catherine Panlilio Arzadon (BS Medical Technology ’89 and Medicine ’93) started her practice as a pediatrician in her home town of San Fernando, Pampanga. Even while studying at UST, Arzadon was already an active volunteer and launched in 1999 Project MuntingNgiti that was transformed into a foundation 5 years later. She is assistant chief medical officer of Medical Mission of Mercy USA, a non-profit that provides free medical, dental and optometric services to indigents in the Philippines.

Belan Woo-Siy (College of Architecture & Fine Arts ’74) has successfully mounted several exhibits in Texas since 1988. She has won awards in art competitions for her paintings but has also worked with ceramics. She also contributed a short story to the book Transforming Non-Fiction to Fiction.

Greg Abella is this year’s USTAAA president. A retired US Navy Chief Petty Officer, he spent over 22 years in the uniform and is now Director of the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration School, facilitator of Total Quality Leadership and Management, and a Master Training Specialist.

Fernando Mendez (Fine Arts ’74) is an advertising man. He was art editor of The Varsitarian, the official publication of UST, and has won various awards for poster design, illustration, painting and photography; aside from 30 other excellence awards in advertising, logo design and art direction. He worked for some of the biggest ad agencies in Manila, including as Art Director handling multinational accounts like Scott Tissues, San Miguel and Marlboro.

He immigrated to the US in 1982, continued to work for different companies and established a decade later Special Edition Press Inc. in New York City. In 1997 he launched Philippine Fiesta USA Inc. that holds one of the biggest Filipino cultural festival and trade exhibit in the East Coast.

Claudio Pedery (Liberal Arts) is a logistics engineer, system analyst and decorated US Navy officer. He serves as or has worked as human relations commissioner in Prince George’s County, Maryland; President of Grace Dagdag Foundation; member of the Philippine Centennial Commission coordinating committee in Washington DC; President of the National Asian Pacific American Heritage Council; Department Commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars District of Columbia and Commander of VFW Post 5471, among many others.

Manny Tan (BS Commerce ’66) was cited for his role in the Growling Tigers, the UST basketball team, that made it to the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) championship in 1963, and under coach Caloy Loyzaga, a back to back reprise in 1964 and 1965. He migrated to the US and 1982 and set up the Balikbayan Travel & Tours Inc.

Parents recognition awards were given to Rechilda Lumauig-Uy (Education ’64) whose husband, a doctor, and two children are all Thomasians, and Elisa Quintana, who ran a canteen near the Administration building and sent all 6 of his children to UST.

Special awards were also given to Eric David (Fine Arts ’74), CEO of Art Enrico Graphix; Bombie Reyes, an engineer with VR Group; and Manila Mail editor and ABS-CBN Washington DC correspondent Rodney Jaleco.