Tuesday, January 31, 2012


The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) ordered on Jan. 20 money remittance firms to disclose upfront all fees they charge customers – one in a slew of new rules to oversee the multi-billion money transfer business.

The rules won’t be enforced until next year but will have a major impact on Filipinos in the United States who sent back home nearly $8 billion (about P330 billion) in 2011, posting one of the most robust increases in decades.

"With these new protections, international money transfers will be more reliable,” the bureau’s newly appointed director Richard Cordray explained. “Consumers will know the costs ahead of time and be able to compare prices. Transfer providers will also be held accountable for errors that occur in the process."

The Manila Mail observed that most of the money remittance companies that have predominantly Filipino clients already followed the new rules.

"People sending money to their loved ones in another country should not have to worry about hidden fees," Cordray said.

The new rules require money remittance companies to reveal to customers any fees, the exchange rate and the amount that will be paid to the recipient in local currency. They also stipulate that customers must be given 30 minutes to cancel a transaction.

In addition, money remittance companies are bound to investigate all complaints, such as funds not reaching recipients.

Western Union spokesman Tom Fitzgerald said the company plans to be compliant with the rules by the effective date. He said the company already provides customers with disclosures on fees, exchange rates and payouts.

"We agree that consumers will benefit if all remittance providers are held to the same requirements," he said.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) reported that total dollar remittances from overseas Filipinos reached $18.3 billion from January to November 2011, a 7.31 percent rise over the same period in 2010.

Of that amount, $7.7 billion came from Filipinos in the US, a 7.46 percent increase. The November figure nearly matches total remittances from the US for the whole of 2010 which reached $7.8 billion. Remittances back to the Philippines usually peak during the Christmas holidays.

Bank officials in Manila said more remittances allow for greater consumer spending that makes up partly for poor exports. Foreign remittances account for about 10 percent of the Philippine economy.

The CFPB was created as part of financial reforms following the Wall Street crisis in 2008. Cordray was appointed the bureau’s first director earlier this month, a move that drew criticisms from Republican members of Congress opposed to the CFPB.

Republican lawmakers fear the agency would be too powerful but with very little accountability.

International money transfers have never been subject to federal consumer regulations until this month.


If you’ve visited enough Filipino homes, one feature will stand out – the family altar. And among the many different religious images you may see, chances you will find one of the Infant Jesus, the Sto. Nino, the patron of countless Filipinos.

“They say the Sto. Nino is miraculous,” said Noel Padua, “and he has given us many. He brought us here to America.”

January is the feast month of the Sto. Nino. The original icon is reputedly the oldest in the Philippines, a gift from the explorer Ferdinand Magellan to Rajah Humabon in 1521. Believed to be crafted in Belgium, it earned its venerated standing after surviving a large fire 1565. It is the only religious image protected by bulletproof glass in the Basilica of Cebu City.

Pope Innocent XIII designated in the early 18th century the third Sunday of January as the feast of the Sto. Nino so it doesn’t conflict with the 40-day celebration of Easter.

Few religious icons can rival the Filipinos’ reverence to the Sto. Nino. Norma Simmons has had her Sto. Nino since she arrived in the United States in 1969. She bought the image in Divisoria, Simmons recalled.

“We have the Sto. Nino so God is always with us, to give us health and keep the people we love,” she told the Manila Mail.

A native of Cuyapo, Nueva Ecija, Simmons ascribe many “miracles” in her life to the image of the Infant Jesus and another favorite patron, St. Peter, including meeting her husband, who was then with the US Air Force.

“When you travel, you need a guide to watch over you,” she said. “Morning, noon and night, I see Nino and he gives me good spirit. I feel God and the angels are watching over me.”

She lived for 32 years in the Metro DC area and 8 years in Sta. Clarita, California with her father, now 90 years old. “I have a son here and a granddaughter so I had to go back,” he explained, adding they are building a house in Woodbridge, Virginia.

“Ever since we were kids, we already had the Sto. Nino in our home,” Padua revealed.

“We’re used to having him at home,” pointing to his family’s foot-and-a-half tall “Ninong gala” (roughly translated as the “roving child”) – the version ascribed with the most childlike qualities.

The typical Sto. Nino image is small and adorned in gold-encrusted robes. The “Ninong gala” is usually dressed in more casual attire, often in boy’s clothes although some dress them to show their professions – policemen, nurses, engineers – or identity like an image garbed in Barong Tagalog.

“We dress him up every now and then, about every month especially when there are special occasions like this,” he explained. One accessory that helps distinguish the “Ninong gala” is the pouch he usually carries.

“There’s money inside,” explained Padua’s wife Virginia with some amusement, “just in case he needs some candies”.

It’s not unusual for owners to have a seemingly personal relationship with their Sto. Nino image. Padua’s mother, Anita said it was her wish to bring her two sons to the US. “If I request anything from him, he grants it,” she revealed.

She said she’s almost blind “but when I ask for his help, my eyesight brightens up a bit.”

Anita admits she may be just imagining her Sto. Nino’s healing power but she believes her prayers have staved off going totally blind. “My devotion has made me strong,” she stressed.

“Here I am. I’m now 78 years old and I am often all alone at home, just me and the Sto. Nino so we take care of each other,” she said.


The jobs of hundreds of Filipino teachers in Baltimore public schools are hanging on the results of a “market test” that will show whether they’re still needed in the next school year.

Manila Mail sources revealed the Baltimore public school system will rely on the “market test” to gauge teaching needs, especially where and what subjects teacher shortages may occur. That would be the time they will decide whether to renew the Filipino mentors’ work permits, one teacher said.

The number of Filipinos in Baltimore public schools has dropped from a peak of about 700 to only 500, according to one teacher’s estimate. Many have gone back to the Philippines.

Just last week, a Filipino teacher returned to the Philippines after being hospitalized for cancer for over 2 months. “She was a doctor back home but worked as a special education (SPED) teacher in Baltimore after getting certified. She went home because her husband, who’s still there, is also a doctor,” one teacher shared with the Manila Mail.

That seemed to underline the sacrifices made by these Filipinos to help American schoolchildren. Most of them arrived between 2005 and 2007 to fill positions in some of Maryland’s toughest schools – so difficult that they scared off many native teachers, one Filipino mentor declared.

The Baltimore Sun reported a meeting last month between Filipino teachers and school system officials. Supporters of the Filipino teachers also spoke out. “They’re devoted, they work hard and they stay,” the paper quoted teacher Bill Bleich.

“We asked them to come. I do believe we have people who care about the kids, so let’s care about the teachers,” a teacher coordinator, Margot Young, was also quoted by the Baltimore Sun.

Some Filipino teachers are not waiting for the axe to fall. One source revealed that a number of them have gone to Arizona and even outside the United States where their skills are needed. “They talk so when one of them finds a job, they tell their friends and they follow wherever that may be,” she told the Manila Mail.

This has prompted Baltimore public school officials to fire off a warning to the other international teachers not to leave their jobs in the middle of the school season.

School authorities stressed that under H-1B visa rules, they have to prove foreign teachers are still needed and more importantly, hiring them will not deprive jobs to American educators.

According to the Baltimore Sun, the city’s public schools chief executive Andres Alonso reported a surplus of 100 teachers. That’s in contrast to the shortage of 200 teachers they reported in 2005.

A more stringent application of H-1B visa rules is attributed to the experience of the Prince George’s County public schools that was levied a huge fine and barred from hiring foreign teachers for 2 years after they admitted illegally collecting placement fees from their Filipino teachers.

The Department of Labor, which imposed the penalties, appears unlikely to reverse its decision and appeals from Filipino teachers have turned to litigation as some fight to stay in the US.

The misunderstanding stems in part to promises allegedly made to teachers when they were recruited in the Philippines that the school system would help them get a “green card”. But it turned out both the Baltimore and Prince George’s County public schools were ill-equipped to shepherd the Filipino mentors through the immigration maze.

“This has been unbelievably complex,” Alonso was quoted saying, “It has been a messy process.”

In the meantime, the anxiety of Filipino educators just keeps growing.


Ben Aquino says he writes songs to inspire fellow Filipinos to be better citizens, to carry their share of the burden for nation-building. It’s just coincidence, he adds, that the country’s President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III is a close relative.

He produced an album late last year entitled “Tuwid na Landas” (Straight Path) that is coincidentally enough, the battle cry of 2nd degree cousin President Aquino. He is working to dismantle the web of high-level corruption that his administration blames for the poverty and culture of impunity.

“I wanted to help not for the government but because Filipinos relate to music,” Aquino, a Gaithersburg, MD resident, told the Manila Mail. At the same time, he also wanted to give talented Filipino artists a break in the entertainment world.

He conducted an audition last August to select 6 relative unknowns – an arranger and 5 singers – to record his songs. “Tuwid na Landas” features singers Ybeth Garcia, Almira Cercado, Rafael Gutierez, Carl Trazo, Jakob Rodriguez; and arranger Raphael Balagot.

“The first 3 are patriotic, nationalistic songs for overseas Filipinos,” he explained. With titles like “Bagong Pilipino” and “Manggagawang Pilipino”, Aquino hopes that hearing them, the 6-million-strong overseas Filipino community would realize the virtues of citizenship and why they have to be “good Filipinos”.

“That would really make me happy,” he averred.

The rest of the album appears to be personal musings of love, hope and the nostalgia of youthful days.

Aquino said he ended up in America to escape the fate of being an Aquino from Concepcion, Tarlac. He entered the United States on a tourist visa in 1979. His uncle, former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., was the chief nemesis of President Ferdinand Marcos who declared Martial Law 7 years earlier. He decided against taking his family back and applied for asylum.

When Ninoy lived in exile in Boston, Massachusetts, he would serve as his chauffeur whenever he went to Washington DC. He would sometimes visit them in Boston and remembered how Ninoy’s wife, the future President Corazon “Cory” Cojuangco-Aquino, was content the let her husband dominate conversations.

His father, Claudio, was a 1st cousin of Ninoy.

He wasn’t especially close to his cousin Noynoy, he confessed, and preferred to hang out with Ninoy who was closer his age. His uncle was assassinated when he returned to Manila in 1983.

Ben went back to the Philippines when the widowed Corazon Aquino became president but returned to Maryland after her term. “I missed the place and more importantly, my children were here,” he said.

He describes himself as a businessman with a computer and marketing background. “Computers are stressful,” he explained amusedly, “but I got into the framing business when a friend taught me how to do it; over the phone, long-distance from the Philippines.”

“You can work at your own pace. When I feel tired, I rest,” he confessed. “I’m getting old and I don’t want to be stressed anymore.”

The flexible schedule has allowed him to toy around with entertainment promotions and production, forming the McLean-based BennyRey Inc. as a platform.

He still dreams of retiring one day in the Philippines. He, like most overseas Filipinos sharing that dream, is banking on his cousin delivering his promises. “He is trying his best. He wants to leave a legacy that his father and mother have planted and they can be proud of. But he’s just one man,” Ben says of his cousin in Malacanang.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


For a quarter of a century a small group of former seminarians and other devout Christians, including a number of Filipino-Americans, have quietly fed the poor of Manila during the Christmas season.

“We started this program when I was still in the seminary together with friends and fellow seminarians,” revealed Virginia-based bank executive Ramon Llamas.

Last month, they conducted the 25th year celebration of “Tunay na Diwa ng Pasko party for beggars”. In this group were Fr. Soc Montealto, Atong Lamsen, Boy Bandoles, Dandy Bastillo, Noel Licono, the Tarcisian Adorers and young volunteers from the parish of Our Lady of Sorrows in Pasay City.

“Though it’s a once a year occasion and definitely would not alleviate their poverty, the celebration prays to give them hope and encouragement that there are people who do respect and care for them,” Llamas explained.

The Tunay na Diwa ng Pasko party is done every Dec. 28 where the guests are street beggars from Pasay City, the Quiapo and Sta. Cruz districts in Manila, Makati and other places.

“We invite about a hundred of them but this year we were able to serve about 160 of the poorest of the poor,” Llamas revealed.

And the ranks of the poor in the Philippines are growing, according to recent reports. The World Bank noted that in spite of remarkable economic growth over nearly a decade, progress appears to bypass the poor – poverty has worsened from nearly 25 percent of the population in 2003 to about 27 percent in 2010.

The government National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) said over 23 million Filipinos are still subsisting on less than $2 (about 85 pesos) a day – one of the worst in Southeast Asia.

“Our nation is in an explosive situation,” warned Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma. “Streets are teeming with beggars and dislocated indigenous peoples. The children wake up to poverty, eat poverty for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and sleep poverty – without understanding why.”

Leonor Magtolis-Briones of the advocacy group Social Watch Philippines said that as long as unemployment remains high, people won’t be able to escape from poverty.

The National Statistics Office (NSO) estimated close to 3 million Filipinos are jobless with another 7 million suffering from underemployment. The International Labor Organization’s country director in Manila Lawrence Johnson said many of those lucky enough to have jobs remain vulnerable because they don’t have social security, health insurance and other benefits.

The Tunay na Diwa ng Pasko party may seem like a drop in a very vast sea but it aims to reassure their constituents they are not alone. “We are all poor in the eyes of the Lord,” Llamas stressed.

Rather than be paralyzed by the enormity of the problem, this group is also driven by an abiding faith that they can see God’s face in the smiles of the poor they serve.


The Filipino-American community in Metro DC was saddened by news that Congressman Steve Austria would not be seeking a 3rd term in November after losing his bailiwick under the state’s new congressional map crafted largely by fellow Republicans, reportedly with the blessings of House Speaker and fellow Ohio lawmaker John Boehner.

“I am not seeking another term to Congress at least for this term,” Austria declared earlier this month. The Middletown Journal said he was facing a potentially contentious primary with Rep. Mike Turner, who faces 2 other rivals in the Republican primary on March 6.

Austria was also critical of Boehner, according to the Politico, for supporting Ohio’s redistricting that apparently doomed his re-election bid. The new congressional map merged tracts of Austria’s old 7th district with that of Turner, losing areas that he had represented since he was elected to the state legislature in 1998.

The majority of the new 10th district of Ohio belongs to Turner’s 3rd district. Austria’s district was carved into 3 parts and his residence actually became part of the newly established 10th district, the Middletown Journal said. Boehner himself will get a county that used to be part of Austria’s district.

“I am not going to run for Congress next term as a result of the redistricting map,” the Fil-Am solon said. He was first elected in 2008 and handily won re-election last year, after taking over the old seat of Republican Rep. David Hobson.

The state lost 2 of its 18 seats in Congress due to population loss over the past decade.

“It is of course sad when we lose one of ours from the public realm,” Jon Melegrito said, referring to Austria’s Filipino roots, “not necessarily because he or she lost an election but because of redistricting.”

“Since the redistricting process began, it has been done in secrecy and with closed-door deals. I join my constituents, who are frustrated and disappointed about the new maps forced upon them and the fact that they didn’t have a voice in the process,” Austria complained in a statement.

“This was drawn by a few people behind closed doors,” Austria told the Politico. “Why the lines were drawn that way, I don’t know.”

“Had there been a significant Filipino American population in Austria’s old district, Boehner and his allies would probably have thought twice about their actions. But fearing no pushback or backlash from an outraged constituency, politicians can brazenly resort to these political maneuvers and get away with it,” Melegrito added.

Lawyer Arnedo Valera said the new Ohio congressional map was “typical gerrymandering” and urged Austria to challenge it by running for office. “He is a good and honorable legislator. A great supporter of HR 210, the proposed Filipino Veterans Fairness Act,” he added.

“Sadly, many good legislators are being forced to retire early because of a double-edged sword called redistricting,” Melegrito observed.

Bing Branigin noted that “redistricting is both bad and good for both Republicans and Democrats”.

Meanwhile, Ohio Republicans and Tea Party leaders praised Austria’s decision to give way because it would have diverted resources and attention from the fight to fend off the Democratic challenger. “He’s made the best choice, a graceful exit with integrity and honor,” Hobson was quoted as saying.

Austria is only the 3rd person with Filipino lineage to serve in the US Congress after Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia and former Sen. John Ensign of Nevada.

But Austria is the 1st first-generation Fil-Am to be elected in Congress. He was born in Cincinnati to nurse Jean Brockman and Dr. Clement Austria, originally from Tiaong, Quezon. The Austria family was once heralded “Ohio Family of the Year” and later presented one of 9 “Great American Family” awards by First Lady Nancy Reagan.

He is considered an ally of the Fil-Am community in Congress although he first won national prominence with little backing from the mainstream Fil-Am community.

Branigin noted that Republican Austria has historically voted along party lines in the US House of Representatives. “Unfortunately, he did not vote for the passage of the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation bill,” she rued, referring to the historic measure providing a one-time lump-sum payment for thousands of Filipino World War II veterans both here and in the Philippines.

Austria is a member of the influential House appropriations committee.

He was not even part of the bipartisan caucus of Asian-American lawmakers in Congress, Branigin added.

“That’s why we should encourage more Filipino Americans to get involved in politics by hosting and donating to candidates, registering and voting,” she stressed.

“The latest US census showed there was in increase in the number of Filipinos and Filipino Americans in the US, but we are not recognized as a power block because only a handful participate in political exercises,” Branigin averred.

He has signaled he is serving out his 2nd term until December and did not rule out another run for Congress in the future.


Contingency plans are in place to quickly evacuate thousands of Filipinos if Israel is attacked, assured the country’s chief envoy to Israel Generoso Calonge.

He gave the assurance in the face of mounting tension in the region as the United States and key European allies ready potentially crippling sanctions to pressure Iran to abandon its alleged development of nuclear weapons.

Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, passage for 20 percent of the world's oil; and one of Iran's top nuclear scientists was assassinated earlier this month, prompting the US and Israel to postpone a missile exercise.

Calonge, who was Consul General in Washington DC until 2002 but still has ties to the region, was appointed Philippine Ambassador to Israel last year. He submitted his credentials on Oct. 6.

His last posting was senior special assistant for the Foreign Affairs Undersecretary on Political Affairs in Manila . His last foreign assignment was Consul General in Dubai . Israel is his first ambassadorial appointment.

Calonge revealed there are 41,000 Filipinos in Israel although some sectors say the actual number could be as high as 100,000 because many are undocumented. He said about 80 to 90 percent of Filipinos there work as caregivers.

Israel is considered a critical assignment for any diplomat. A large number of Filipinos live in the big cities like Tel Aviv, Haifa and Ashkelon that are under constant threat of rocket attacks and terror bombings. The country also shares a border with Syria , on the verge of civil war, and could be a possible evacuation route for the estimated 10,000 Filipinos working there. Iran ’s nuclear ambitions also appear to be directed primarily against the Jewish state.

“The vortex of the peace process is right there, all tied to the resolution of the Palestinian conflict and Israeli-Palestinian relations,” Calonge explained.

“There are many challenges,” he stressed.

They have launched a mapping initiative to register Filipinos and establish a link that is the cornerstone of the government’s contingency plan. Calonge said the mapping project is voluntary and about 1,000 have already done it. “I hope they will all register,” he declared.

Ambassador Genoroso Calonge with former colleague and Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC) executive director Grace Valera at a recent function in McLean, Virginia

“The purpose of mapping is just in case we need to implement contingency measures we would know who and where they are, and how we can direct and give instructions to them for an orderly evacuation if it comes to that,” Calonge said.

In addition, the Philippines has an army battalion assigned with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights . About 350 Filipino soldiers serve as part of a buffer force in the mountainous region contested by Israel and Syria .

The most viable evacuation routes, he suggested, would be through the Mediterranean Sea or Jordan .

The Philippines and Israel have longstanding relations. The Philippines is reportedly the only Asian nation to vote for creating the state of Israel in the United Nations in 1947 although full diplomatic ties did not happen until a decade later.

“There is intense people to people relations between the two countries because of the Philippine’s Judeo-Christian tradition,” Calonge averred.

“People call us – those belonging to the 3 major religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam – the people of the book. We have Holy Books that we believe in and the early parts of those books are closely aligned with each other,” he added.

Meanwhile, Calonge said Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario has asked him to concentrate on bolstering economic relations with Israel , particularly trade and investments.

With a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $245 billion, Israel is the world’s 49th biggest economy. Trade (as of the 1st semester of 2011) amounted to $250 million, 75 percent of which comprise of Israeli exports to the Philippines .

Friday, January 13, 2012


Former Republican presidential candidate John McCain, one of the Philippine’s staunchest supporters on Capitol Hill, will lead a group American lawmakers in a visit to Manila after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday even as both nations are set to hold the 2nd instalment of a “strategic dialogue” that aims to define future relations.

McCain will be accompanied by a close friend and colleague in the Senate Armed Services committee Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, chairman of the Subcommittee on Seapower.

McCain had spoken out last year against China’s growing military assertiveness in the mineral rich but disputed Spratly Islands that are claimed in part or in whole by China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

He said the US should make it clear which claims it recognizes and what actions it was ready to support, particularly from treaty ally Philippines.

McCain lost to then Senator Barack Obama in 2008. He recently came out to endorse presidential aspirant Mitt Romney, now locked in a battle to be GOP standard bearer.

The Philippines has special significance for the Arizona solon. A Navy combat pilot, he was shot down during a bombing sortie over Hanoi (Vietnam) in 1967, captured and tortured. When he was finally released in 1973, his first stop was Clark Air Base in Pampanga.

Sources say the US lawmakers will “consult” top Philippine officials over a wide array of subjects. Their itinerary is being finalized by the US Embassy in Manila, and could include a call with President Aquino.

Their visit, to be followed by another delegation of congressmen, comes days before the 2nd Philippine-US Strategic Dialogue is convened here. The meeting will pursue agreements forged during the first dialogue last January in Manila.

Sources say both sides are still firming up the composition of the panels, but likely would be made up of second-tier officials. The first dialogue was attended by Philippine Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino and Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio; and US Asst. Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and Deputy Asst. Secretary of Defense Derek Mitchell.

According to a government communiqué, this meeting discussed “evolving regional architecture in the Asia-Pacific and regional challenges; nuclear non-proliferation; disaster response and climate change; trafficking in persons; promotion of human rights and the rule of law; trade and economic cooperation; combating terrorism; peace and development in Mindanao; and global peacekeeping and multilateral cooperation.”

For the 2nd round of talks, the Philippines is expected to press its request for military assistance, including the acquisition of another Hamilton-class cutter and efforts to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership that could open bigger trade and investment opportunities for the country.

“With a changing regional and global environment, the Philippines and the US are now looking forward to shifting the partnership into higher gear at a time when our ties have become broad-based, modern, mature and resilient,” Foreign Affairs Sec. Albert del Rosario said following the initial meeting.

US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. said the strategic dialogues “affirm our commitment to our longstanding alliance and to continuing our work as equal partners, discuss current challenges and identify new areas for cooperation.”

Thursday, January 12, 2012


They are the “power sisters” from Maryland, two rising Filipino-American women whose feats herald a nearly limitless potential for the future.

“Though many people expect greatness because of her, I’m willing to rise to her level of excellence,” gushed Angela Lagdameo, one of the recipients of this year’s Dakila Awards in Virginia. She was talking of course about her elder sister Cristina, deputy director for the White House Initiative for Asian-Americans.

Angela is a senior analyst at Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s office of policy where is mainly involved in education.

“Our state is numbr 1 in education and I have the privilege of being able to work on education policy and yes, it’s a big responsibility,” she tells the Manila Mail.

“I’m looking at students’ trajectory from pre-school all the way up to the first 5 years of the work force,” she explained.

Both Angela and Cristina were campus activists at the University of Maryland. They were the moving force for the establishment of the school’s Asian American Studies program in the late 1990s while they were both students.

“She was the forerunner who passed on the torch when I came in as a freshman in 1998,” recalls Angela, “and it was an automatic understanding, whether I liked it or not.”

The University of Maryland’s Asian American Studies program is considered one of the best in the United States, focusing on the identities and experiences of Asian Americans that today comprise about 15 percent of the school’s undergraduate population.

Her role was to “ensure that the entire community held to its word to the establishment of the certificate program and hiring new tenured professors.”

The university officially launched the Asian American Studies program in January 2000 by appointing a part-time director, instructors and student staff. In the winter of 2001, they had enough to hire 2 full-time professors, paving the way for expanding courses and research. In 2006, the school finally hired its first permanent director, Dr. Larry Shinagawa and approved the minor in Asian American Studies soon after.

Angela’s proud of what she and her sister have done for the university that remains a big part of their lives. “I’m proud Terrapin alum and I support in many different ways to contribute back to the university,” Angela declared.

“They’re very much involved in activism but I don’t really know where they got that from,” the girls’ father Bobby says amusedly.

“They got the beauty from me,” chimes in their mother Fe, laughing.

“I think that was an initiative on their part because they saw a lot of things needed to be done,” their dad explained. Cristina would become involved in fighting for women abused and victimized in the sex trade even as Angela devoted herself to the Asian American Studies program, he said.

But activism is in their DNA, it turns out. Fe’s father was a student leader together with Manuel L. Quezon who would later be the Philippine Commonwealth’s wartime president (1935 to his death in 1944). She is also related on her mother’s side to former Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice Fred Ruiz Castro (noted Filipino broadcaster and former ABS-CBN News executive Angelo Castro Jr. is a cousin).

“They really had a free hand and our support was primarily in the background. We just okay go ahead and we’ll be here to support it,” Bobby averred.

He came here as a student in 1963 and never left. When he met Fe, who stopped over in Washington DC with her mother and a sister bound for studies in Spain, he didn’t let go. They got married and settled in Boie, MD where Fe has relatives.

Cristina and Angela are the only girls in their brood of 5, but their parents stressed that they are very proud of all their children.


Nothing in the life experiences of Arsenio “Tito Al” Alpapara can be considered as incidental. From a Major in the now-defunct Philippine Constabulary to Pennsylvania factory hand, he’s built on these lessons to become one of the most successful Filipino-American businessmen in the United States, overseeing a food distributorship that stretches from the nation’s capital to Chicago, New York, Florida and more recently, San Francisco, California.

Alpapara established 2A Marketing Center LLC as a 2-man operation in 1985. He’s perhaps best known for “Tito Al Chicharones” which was his first product and symbolic of his business philosophy that emphasizes quality, continuous improvement and unrelenting fealty to his suppliers and the consumers they serve.

“Hilig ko talaga to be a military guy because I wanted to serve the country,” he revealed to the Manila Mail. He joined the PC right after college and rose through the ranks until in 1969 he got an offer from Dole Pineapple. “When they told me my pay would be 3 times more than what I was earning from the military, I decided to go,” he confessed.

Without any training or experience in sales, he believes Dole wanted him for the discipline, sense of responsibility and leadership skills he acquired in the PC. “They hired me because of those qualities,” he averred, “and I started in the Dole rank and file but was soon promoted to regional manager.”

“Prior to that wala akong experience sa marketing. Zero! But that’s where I learned sales and marketing,” Alpapara explained.

Although they had a stable and relatively comfortable life in Manila (his wife was then a nurse at the Makati Medical Center), his family decided to immigrate to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania where his in-laws had a flourishing medical practice.

“When I got there in 1979 wala ako trabaho so I started working as a factory helper,” he intimated. He later found a job as a route salesman for Snyder Company of Hanover, Pennsylvania.

His shift started at 4 o’clock in the morning. “I wasn’t used to the cold weather but I had to get up at 3 to get to work on time,” he said, a bit amused recalling those days. He was 34 years old at the time and admits it was hardly a walk in the park.

Reading the classified ads on his break time, he stumbled on a wanted ad for salesmen in a potato chip and pretzel company, Nibbles Inc. He decided to change jobs because he said, “I wanted to grow”.

“I still had to wake up at 3 o’clock driving my truck all the way to DC but it was the kind of job that I wanted to grow with the company,” he said. It entailed practicing the marketing and merchandizing skills he picked up working with Dole Philippines and he was soon promoted to supervisor then regional manager, leapfrogging co-workers who’d been working there for many years longer.

“Nainggit sila pero alam mo hard work lang yan at alam ko kasi ang negosyo,” he explained.

He was able to build contacts in the Metro DC region. “I wanted to have close touch with the Filipino community so I would stop by para kamustahin sila,” he said. It was in one of these visits to a Filipino-owned store that someone planted the germ of his business.

“Sabi niya why not put up your own business since nobody was doing it at may experience na ako dito,” Alpapara explained, “Sabi ko that’s a good idea so I decided to resign and put up my business in 1985.”

How the “chicharon” became his maiden offering has a story behind it too. A pork rind manufacturer from New York tried to convince Nibbles Inc. to hawk its product but it was initially shot down by the owner. Alpapara tried to talk his boss into changing his mind, sensing the “chicharon’s” vast potential in the large African-American population of Metro DC. Out of gratitude, the New York manufacturer asked Alpapara how they could pay back the favor so when he decided to strike out on his own, he asked them if they could also supply his new business. And that’s how “Tito Al’s Chicharones” was born.

“I started with Filipino stores only,” he revealed, “there were only 10 of them at that time in the Metro DC area. They saw how I did it, how I merchandize and how I brought to their stores whatever they wanted.”

He said he delivered only what the stores could sell on a weekly basis because he wanted to ensure that his wares were always fresh. “I don’t like storing left-overs in the warehouse,” he explained.

Alpapara gradually added more variety to his products, introducing pancit canton and pancit bihon noodles that he bought from Chicago. “Before that, they had to go to New York to buy those products. Now they didn’t have to go to New York because I can deliver to them directly,” he declared.

“Nung nakita nila gumaganda ang sales because Filipinos were going to their stores kasi marami na sila mabibili doon, that’s when the Filipino stores started to multiply,” he said. 2A Marketing now has clientele of over 200 stores in the Metro DC area, most of them Filipino and Asian establishments.

It was a symbiotic relationship, he conceded. “As they multiplied, lumaki ng lumaki din ako,” he noted.

And along with his business, Alpapara’s reputation also began spreading, especially the attention he gives to his products and the fact that he took good care of his suppliers. “I see to it that whatever money I get, I pay all obligations to my suppliers first. Binabayaran ko muna sila before I even think about buying nice cars or a nice house or taking long vacations,” he stressed.

“That’s the reason suppliers appointed me exclusive distributor; on time ako magbayad,” he added, “And I’m the only person na kaya ipagmalaki that I have the experience of increasing the number of stores in my area from 10 to 200.”

His company has exclusive distribution rights to Selecta Ice Cream, Magnolia tropical drinks and ice cream, Oriental Kitchen (siopao, sausages and dry and frozen foods), Rosan Dry & Frozen Foods, Silver Swan Soy Sauce, Mama Sita sauces and mixes, Mang Tomas sauces and roasts, Jufran banana catsup, Datu Puti vinegar, UFC (noodles, fruit preserves, banana catsup, soy and fish sauce), Excellent Flour Sticks and Ramar Food Products.

In addition, 2A Marketing is also involved in the import-export, manufacturing, sales and distribution of his “Tito Al” brand that has grown from the original “chicharones” to sausages and tocino, noodles, frozen vegetables, fruit preserves, soy and lechon sauce, banana catsup, popcorn, “kropeck” and pork and chicken siopao.

Although some of his products have already penetrated mainstream stores like the Giant grocery chain in Metro DC, Alpapara stressed that his “heart is still Asian. We should first help the small businesses.”

“The key really in this business is my background in the military where I got the discipline, responsibility and leadership; then from Dole where I got the sales and marketing expertise. Pinagsama ko lahat iyan. The bottom line from more the 22 years of business experience is you will grow basta naka-focus ka sa business and you enjoy what you are doing,” he explained.

“But my heart is still with the Philippines,” he confessed. He revealed that 98 percent of his products are made by Filipinos – the remaining 2 percent is composed of Thai rice that he points out, was actually developed in the Philippines – at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Laguna province.

“I really want to help the Philippine economy. Every time I’m in a convention in the Philippines, I keep telling manufacturers: please, give us a clean product. Kasi minsan kapag volume na, hindi na pinapansin ang quality so what happens hindi makalusot sa FDA (the US Food & Drug Administration). Nasisira ang mga produkto natin, hindi na makapasok,” Alpapara says sadly.

“Established na ako, I’m just maintaining it now,” he humbly declares. Looking down the road, he sees more of his products being sold in many more places in the US.