Sunday, March 18, 2012


With a gallon of regular gasoline climbing past $4 here, Filipino Americans across the nation are finding various ways to cope with the pain at the pump.

“Sobrang taas na (It’s too high already)” rued John Peter Nunez of Nottingham, Md. The price of regular gasoline in some areas of Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC broke through the $4 level (the last time it hit $4 a gallon was in July 2008).

But if Fil-Ams in the region think they have it bad, fuel prices in California – which has more strident pollution standards – was averaging $4.35 during the past week. The average in Hawaii, which has a large Fil-Am population as well, was more than $4.48 a gallon.

Analysts warned that gas supplies on the East Coast could get tighter following the closure of refineries in Philadelphia. Fuel prices in the Metro DC region could soar 50 cents higher than the national average, they said.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also reportedly implementing new rules that call for cleaner fuel, new blends of gasoline and low sulfur heating oil that could exert an upward pressure on fuel prices.

The Energy Department has boosted its pump price predictions for the peak driving season (April to September) to $3.92 for regular gasoline. It could hit an average of $5 by June, the same report indicated.

Cynthia Harris, spokesperson for the Automotive Association of America (AAA) explained that “During summertime, there’s a summer blend of gasoline that’s always more expensive to purchase than the winter blend…regardless of what’s happening in the world.”

Arsenio “Tito Al” Alpapara, one of the largest supplier and distributor of Philippine-brand goods in the East Coast, said they have not raised prices – yet. “The higher gas prices will start a chain reaction and if it doesn’t stop, like all businesses, we will have no choice,” he said.

But for Nunez, he has already hit that wall. “Sirang-sira na ang budget ko. Hindi ko na mahabol (My budget is in shambles. I can’t catch up),” he said, adding that he’s had to pass on the added cost of driving his F-150 to clients. He is in the construction business and the truck is essential to his job, Nunez explained.

“Minsan pinapatong ko na lang sa projects pero mahirap; imbes ng makakuja ng mas maraming projects, hindi na (Sometimes I pass the cost on to the projects but it’s difficult because I get fewer projects),” he said.

Jun Panlaqui runs two road bands from Virginia, the City Groove and Pulse Band. “Dati gasolina ko $40, ngayon $60 – that’s big money so naapektuhan ako (I used to spend $40 on gasoline, now it’s $60 so I’m affected),” he complained.

Some of their gigs take them 50 miles away from Metro DC, a round-trip of 100 miles that cuts into their income.

“Hindi mo naman mataasan ang budget nila kasi yung ibang organizations hindi naman nila napupuno ang parties so talagang higpitan na lang ng sinturon (We can’t demand for a higher budget because some of these organizations can’t sell out their parties so we just have to tighten our belts),” Panlaqui said.

The surging fuel prices come during an election year and the American economy showing signs of slowly climbing out of a stubborn recession.

Alpapara believes how fuel prices behave will have a major impact on both. “This is definitely going to affect the economic recovery,” he averred but also wondered why neither the White House nor Capitol Hill is digging deeper into the causes of spiking fuel prices.

Both the GOP and Democrats appear to be sharpening their respective positions on higher gas prices for the coming political campaign.

“It’s an election year and the oil companies are among the biggest contributors to the campaigns of these officials who are running for office,” he surmised.

Meanwhile, Panlaqui is getting ready with the car pool. “Ginagawa namin convoy na lang. Dati 5 o 6 na sasakyan kami para pagkatapos kanya-kanyang uwi na. Ngayon 2 sasakyan na lang gamit namin; mas-tipid (We are resorting to convoys. Before we used to take 5 or 6 cars so we can go home directly. Now we just ride in 2 cars; it’s cheaper),” he explained.


City mayors in the Philippines want to partner with their counterparts in the United States to boost people-to-people ties that could speed up exchanges and investments.

Alaminos, Pangasinan Mayor Hernani Braganza, Secretary General of the League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP) met last week with officials of the DC-based United States Conference of Mayors, including Mayor Vincent Gray.

“We will hold initial discussions with them for a possible formal relationship with the Conference of Mayors,” he explained.

He had come from Hawaii where city executives led by LCP president and San Fernando, Pampanga Mayor Oscar Rodriguez participated in a workshop that tackled disaster preparedness, tourism and juvenile justice, among others.

Dozens of Philippine cities, mostly the bigger population centers, already have sister city relationships with US cities. Braganza suggested it was time for the LCP to forge an arrangement at the level of the Conference of Mayors.

Many of the US cities that have ties to Philippine cities have significant Filipino American populations. The vast majority of them are in the West Coast, Braganza observed.

The LCP is an umbrella of 122 cities, representing over 40 million Filipinos. The Conference is composed of more than 1,200 US cities with a population of 30,000 or more.

The sister city relationship became especially relevant when flashfloods killed over 1,400 people in northern Mindanao last December. Among the hardest hit was Cagayan de Oro City and its sister city of Norfolk, Virginia was among the first to mobilize support for victims.

Makati Mayor Jejomar “Junjun” Binay Jr. explained during a visit here last year that they have received valuable help from their sister city of Los Angeles, especially in police and emergency services training.

That relationship could have added importance because Los Angeles, California Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is the current president of the Conference of Mayors.

Braganza, whose city has a sister city arrangement with West Sacramento, California said they are especially interested with the disaster and emergency response infrastructure in American cities. “The 911 system is something we want to study so we can come up with a common standard for all our cities,” he explained.

Alaminos, host to the famed Hundred Islands tourist spot, is building an airport that could make the city an air transport hub in the region. Braganza said they rescued the Hundred Islands from illegal fishing but face the mounting threat of global warming that’s being blamed for severe weather in much of the world.

“The US may be high-tech and well-prepared but in the case of Honolulu, which is a sister city of many cities in Pangasinan, they have only one major calamity a year; in the Philippines we have an average of 20, and that’s just the typhoons. We’re not even talking about earthquakes and floods,” Braganza noted.

“In Honolulu they have sirens all over to warn the people and certain software like the 911 that could make life easier; so if we can partner with US cities not only in terms of knowledge-sharing but also the transfer of software applications, we can set a national standard among Philippine cities,” he added.

Braganza said through these alliances, they can help Americans navigate the investment bureaucracy in Philippine cities.

That was precisely part of their agenda during a separate meeting with the ASEAN-US Business Council here.

“We explained the process of securing business permits; we briefed them about the regional development councils and how President Aquino has given mayors more power to discuss specific topics like investment opportunities, sharing the national budget especially for infrastructure,” he averred.

Braganza also met with California Reps. Laura Richardson (37th district), Judy Chu (32nd District) and Xavier Becerra (31st District); and Eni Faleomavaega (American Samoa).


The throng of worshippers, many lured by the promise of relief from their varied ailments and others curious to see a priest reputed to have a miraculous touch, filled every available space at the St. Anthony de Padua church marking the start of the Filipino-American community’s Lenten observance in Metro DC.

Fr. Fernando Suarez conducted three days of “healing masses” in Washington DC and Maryland, organized by the Virginia-based Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC). The “Misa ng Bayan” in Baltimore last March 3 was culmination of the healing sessions that drew easily over a thousand people from as far away as New Jersey in the north to Virginia Beach in the south.

Fr. Suarez, 45, is renowned for his alleged healing powers (that was reportedly first manifested when he was 16 years old in Taal, Batangas). He was ordained as a priest in 2002 under the religious order of the Companions of the Cross in Ontario, Canada.

In his 40-minute homily, he repeatedly stressed that he was merely a “vessel” and only people of deep faith can be healed, through prayers and strict obedience to Christ’s teachings.

Noting the huge crowd, he admonished them not to wait to be afflicted with disease or personal crisis to rediscover God, a message that struck the Lenten theme of penance and reconciliation. He warned the audience, half in jest, that they could get cancer from engaging in too much “tsismis” and “paninira”.

This was the 7th and biggest staging of the Misa ng Bayan, an annual event originally conceived to gather new immigrants from the Philippines and the Fil-Am community in Metro DC.

“Healing does not always work at the physical level,” MHC executive director Arnedo Valera said in a speech before the start of the Mass. “Sometimes it does not work at all because doubts and desperation. Some resign themselves to ailment without knowing they can have the power to overcome it with God.”

Organizers had tried to restrict the size of the crowd, installing a giant TV screen in the church’s basement, but they were nonetheless overwhelmed. Soon, even the middle aisle had to be partly filled with folding chairs to accommodate the elderly and sick who arrived late.

Fortunately, by the time the Baltimore police swung over apparently to check on fire code violation by the overflow crowd, the 3-hour Misa ng Bayan was finished.

Fr. Suarez continued his healing session in the church’s basement. Some mysteriously blacked out, an apparently common occurrence. Volunteers stood behind the echelon of people, catching those who collapse and gingerly laying them on the floor.

“Parang may ispiritu na pumasok – biglang tumalab,” (it’s as if a spirit entered my body and I immediately felt it), said Baltimore resident Bobby Factoran. The husband of a Filipino teacher from Cebu, he confided that he’s attended a similar session by another “healing priest” in the province.

“Pangalawang beses ko na ito. Yung una talagang tulog ako pero ito few seconds lang,” (This is my second time. The first one I was really knocked out but this time it was just a few seconds), he told the Manila Mail.

One man held a cellphone and asked Fr. Suarez to heal a relative who was listening on the phone.

But for Luis Florendo, a Baltimore community leader, it was the first time. “I told him I had a pain in my stomach and he touched it. I just felt being pushed, not by him but I just felt a force on my stomach and I fell down,” he recounted.

“I could hear everything that was going on around me but I just couldn’t move,” Florendo explained.

“There was a heaviness that made me lie down and when I got up I was fine. That’s the first time that’s ever happened to me,” he added, “I’ve never experienced a healing mass or the laying of the hands. It was a very nice experience.”

Even Dr. Reynaldo Lee-Llacer of Potomac, Maryland, who’s practiced medicine for more than half a century, could not give a logical explanation to what he witnessed. “There is no logic, only individual beliefs. I cannot explain the power of God,” he averred.

He recounted a recent episode when he was suddenly awakened by a premonition that something had happened to his son Manuel. He asked his wife to call their son who it turned out had just figured in a mishap near Richmond, Virginia.

“I cannot explain that. I’m a scientist, a physician but I cannot explain it,” Dr. Lee-Llacer said.

“There are a lot of things in this world that we cannot explain,” he added, “Faith is the belief of the impossible. I believe in the ultimate goodness of God.”


Tucked away in a quaint, quiet corner of Maple Avenue is a newly opened sweet shop that is introducing Americans to the tastes of popular Filipino-inspired desserts.

Manny Tagle and business partner Wilma Galang opened the Sweet City Desserts last November. It’s a curious time to be pursuing a 2-year-old dream because of the uncertain business climate and the fact that neither of them has ever run a bake shop or restaurant.

Tagle is a younger brother of Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle and a realtor by trade; Galang is a successful accountant although she has a college degree in nutrition from the Philippines.

He jokes that he takes after his father Manuel. “We both love to eat,” he said.

“I never thought of the economic crisis; just think positive and I think this is one way of going into business,” Tagle told the Manila Mail.

Sweet City Desserts has found a loyal clientele in Vienna, drawn by its unique, original concoctions. “The people of Vienna are very supportive,” he enthused, admitting that the bulk of his repeat customers are non-Asians.

Their biggest hits include the Calamansi Pie, Ube Cupcake, Mango Shooter and the Sans Rival.

“It’s only now that we’re getting a response from Filipinos,” Tagle intimated, thanks to people like community leader Mitzi Pickard who first wrote about her gastronomically gleeful experience in a blog. “Now they’re filling up the place,” he says cheerfully.

“Americans love our Calamansi Pie and Sans Rival; you won’t believe they’re the ones buying those products more than the Filipinos,” Tagle declared. “I guess Americans are really adventurous; they will try anything, especially the calamansi because they like Kee-Lime pie. That’s when we tell them about our native fruit, the calamansi, and they love it.”

He says they buy their calamansi and mangoes from a local supplier but have to import ube powder directly from the Philippines.

A Filipino-American pastry chef, Tristan Data, helped create the fast-selling sweets and is in the process of developing more Filipino-inspired products like the ensaymada and pandesal that could soon be part of the breakfast fare in Vienna and nearby communities.

“We regularly conduct mini-surveys with our repeat customers and they like the adobo. They know the adobo and so coming from that awareness, we’ll be coming out with an adobo roll, asado roll and even a menudo roll,” Tagle revealed.

Their success stems in part from a strategy of working with the community. They are active in the local business guild, bringing samples of their products to trade meetings and neighborhood gatherings. “Everywhere we go, the response has been very positive,” he enthused.

And unlike the standard Filipino pastry, their cakes and pastries are tasty but not too sweet. They have a fine balance of tart and sweetness that make patrons, even the health-conscious, bold enough to go for seconds.

And Tagle pointed out it’s all in the “plating and presentation”.

His success with Sweet City Desserts has apparently given him the confidence to venture into larger projects. Together with some investors from the Philippines, Tagle is scheduled to launch in May a Filipino bistro in the busy Shirlington commercial district that he’s naming “7107” referring to the number of islands in the Philippines.

“We don’t have any Filipino restaurants in the area and people are curious what Filipino food is,” he explained.

“Every time I have an American client in my real estate business, I can’t take them to a Filipino restaurant because there are none so I take them to a Vietnamese or Chinese,” Tagle averred. “They ask me, what is Filipino food?”

“I know there’s a market. It’s just the presentation. You cook it without too much grease because people here are health conscious,” he explained, “It will be typical Filipino with a twist, not too fusion.”

He said chefs from the Philippines will be arriving in late April to prep the new restaurant for what Tagle hopes will be a foothold for Filipino cuisine in the nation’s capital.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


The impeachment court in the Philippines is probably one of the few places where a duck isn’t a duck even if it walks and quacks like one.

The impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona has shifted to how prosecutors got records of his dollar deposits. Beyond the question of authenticity, the argument has meandered on to the role of the Central Bank and the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).

Senator-Judge Joker Arroyo was alarmed over the possibility either or both of those agencies had deliberately leaked the documents to prosecutors.

“If that is true,” declared impeachment court presiding senator-judge Juan Ponce Enrile, “they they’re not respecting the law anymore.”

The bank deposits, already acknowledged by Corona, purportedly show that he had short-changed his Statement of Assets, Liabilities & Net Worth (SALN) to the tune of several millions. The money, which Corona claimed was his wife’s, was withdrawn on the same day that the House of Representatives voted to impeach him.

Both the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and AMLC denied leaking Corona’s deposit.

There is of course huge legal ramifications if they were lying and they did or someone in their office in fact leaked the records that are protected by bank secrecy laws.

Right here, there is scandal brewing over leaked documents from the Chicago-based Heartland Institute that reportedly show it tried to influence school curriculum to downplay global warming.

The documents allegedly showed how it paid $100,000 to an Energy Department consultant for a curriculum to teach schoolchildren that global warming science is in dispute despite contrary to the findings of the federal government and most scientific organizations; how it paid global warming skeptics more than $300,000 a year; and how it planned to raise $88,000 for a former TV weatherman to set up a new temperature records website.

Only recently, Wikileaks exposed secrets of the US government by posting online copies of diplomatic cables and confidential reports that it argued, exposed informants and demonstrated the US cannot be trusted to keep secrets.

All that fiery argument in the Philippines over the source of Corona’s bank records is intended to preserve secrets. Mechanisms and laws have been put in place to keep all those secrets safe, away from prying eyes. These legal firewalls have become modern imperatives because I suspect, cheating pays and they’ve grown in clout and sophistication.

This is the same philosophy that perhaps emboldened former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to appoint Corona just days before she stepped down. Her husband being a lawyer, she felt warm and secure behind the majesty of the law.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize there’s something wrong with that picture.

President Aquino, in a speech before an anti-corruption workshop earlier this month, declared that “We cannot sustainably fight corruption unless we reintroduce a sense of accountability, a sense that if you commit a crime, you will be punished.”

There are secrets that protect, and there are secrets that bring reckoning. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then by golly no law should say it isn’t a duck, no matter how much we want to keep that a secret.


Filipino Americans infected by “Linsanity” – the stir created by New York Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin – say Filipinos are still a few years away from replicating the dramatic break-out of the first American NBA star of Taiwanese descent.

“The story of Jeremy Lin is an inspiration to everybody especially when you have the skills and the height to reach that level of play,” declared Ken Mendoza, president of the newly reconstituted Filipino American Basketball Association (FABA) in Metro DC. The group installed its new set of officers just last Feb. 17.

“There’s definitely added enthusiasm after “Linsanity”, chimed FABA board member Bo Asinero. Fellow board officer Dennis Tabligan predicted “it’s just a matter of time before one of our kids break ground too and it’s all because of him.”

“Now everybody looks at us where before they don’t pay attention because we’re Asians. Because of him we have a chance,” Tabligan added.

Jeremy Shu-How Lin broke out from obscurity after joining the reserves of the New York Knicks last December 27.

The former D-League player exploded with 25 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists in a 99-92 Knicks win over the New Jersey Nets, triggering a 7-game winning streak that rescued the franchise from imminent demise.

Anton Libot, an 18-year-old student at the Northern Virginia Community College, reckoned Filipinos have a “60 percent chance of playing in the NBA”.

“All we need is just some inspiration and a lot of practice, to be both good and smart,” he tells the Manila Mail. He said he’s been playing basketball “since birth”, joining school intramurals.

He immigrated here from Guagua, Pampanga 3 years ago but noticed how Filipinos seem to lose interest in playing basketball once they get here. “It’s all work. They dream of going to the US to work and their goal becomes helping their family in the Philippines,” Libot explained.

Not him, he quickly adds. He said he’ll continue playing basketball. “It’s something I just grew up with,” he averred.

John Paul Alacon, 24, works in the shipyards of Virginia Beach on weekdays so he can play basketball on weekends. “We’ve got a good chance if we just keep working hard. One of us is bound to make it to the NBA eventually,” he enthused.

“We’re already playing D-1 colleges. I feel we have a strong chance of making it to the NBA. But first we need to make it to the Olympics – show our talents to the world so everybody can see that Filipinos can play basketball,” Alacon stressed.

“There’re some tall Filipinos so hopefully one day there’s going to be one to get the chance to show what they can do,” he added. “We can play any position – we got some tall enough to play center – it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a big heart, you can play.”

The Filipinos’ talent for basketball is especially evident in age group competitions, Mendoza said.

“We got a lot of kids playing in high school teams, yung mga Filipino, they’re able to hang with them. But when they reach 17 or 18 years old, that’s when they grow in spurts. Napag-iiwanan na tayo. It’s hard to get a shot up kapag matatangkad ang kalaban unless you have exceptional speed,” he explained.

Giving Fil-Am children the chance to hone their skills was the key reason why over half of the officers and players of the Filipino Youth Basketball Association (FYBA) in Metro DC seceded to rejoin FABA, according to Asinero.

There are now 2 primary Fil-Am basketball associations in the Metro DC region. The dispute stemmed from a decision of the North American Basketball Association (NABA) to ban players who join “Team Philippines”, a road team composed mostly of recruits from Metro DC championship teams.

The FABA supports “Team Philippines”; the FYBA (which ironically, helped organize “Team Philippines”) does not, abiding with the NABA’s decision to ban its players.

The NABA ban prompted the FABA to pull out and join the rival Filipino Basketball Association of North America (FBANA). Both the NABA and FBANA hold huge inter-city tournaments, drawing hundreds of Fil-Ams from all over the US and Canada, during the Labor Day weekend.

Ironically, the NABA championship this year is hosted by Washington DC; the FBANA holds theirs in Toronto, Canada.

Meanwhile, “Team Philippines” has lined up participation in various age-group tournaments here and outside the US.

“Organizations help develop young players become the next Jeremy Lin and if you’re going to do what NABA is doing which is stopping the ability of kids to excel by experiencing international competition, we’re depriving these kids the experience to become the next Jeremy Lin,” argued Asinero.

“We don’t need politics. It has no place in our kids’ future and it’s stopping us from what we could be,” he stressed.


Domingo “Ding” Nolasco, the Philippine Deputy Chief of Mission and Consul General in Washington DC is leaving his post with the same modest professionalism that marked his work in the United States.

He relinquished his post exactly to the day 6 years after starting his job as Consul General in Washington DC. And over lunch at a quiet corner of the Tabard Inn, he shunned the limelight after being told of the outpouring of admiration and gratitude from the Fil-Am community.

“It’s an honor to know him,” enthused Tess Alarcon who helped establish Feed the Hungry, a DC-based charity that helps thousands of indigent Filipinos back home.

“I am saying this from the heart and I hope to be considered a friend. He has helped many times when I sought it, and for that I wish to personally thank him and express my undying gratitude and thanks,” she said.

“Please tell them, thank you very much for all the help and support they gave me,” he said before sheepishly imploring, “but wait until I’ve gone.”

“Ding Nolasco is totally unimpressed by his position and rank,” observed Mencie Hairston.

“He is efficient and effective,” Alarcon agreed. “Con-Gen Nolasco is full of compassion, guided by service, love for our kababayans and the country even beyond the call of duty.”

“For a Consul General, he has not lost the common touch. He is friendly and accessible and given to the sociable nature of Filipinos,” declared Fil-Am accountant and business leader Patrick Ferraren. “He readily associates with people, always attuned to the values of family and country.”

“He is one of the best diplomats, one who truly defines the meaning of diplomatic relations,” says insurance executive and Philippine American Chamber of Commerce leader John Cabrera.

Grace Valera, one of the co-executive directors of the Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC) and herself a former member of the Philippine diplomatic corps, said they’ve always had “very fruitful” relations with the Philippine Embassy thanks to Nolasco.

Nolasco is largely credited with pushing various programs, including the shift to electronic passports and registration of Filipinos in middle-eastern and southeastern states as well as the Caribbean region for Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV).

He also vigorously pursued the Philippine Embassy’s outreach in far-flung Filipino communities, promoting dual citizenship and inter-acting with kababayans eager for more information coming directly from an authoritative source. These dialogues became a facet of his visits.

He championed the rescue and renovation of the old vermin-infested Philippine chancery building just across from where the new Philippine Embassy stands along Massachusetts Avenue. It served as the seat of the Philippine government when the Japanese invaded the archipelago during World War II. The structure, close to being condemned by the city government, now houses the consular office.

But his most indelible mark perhaps was to imbibe in his staff the value of the “human touch” while carrying out their jobs. It was not uncommon to see him march out of his office to help out when the queue gets too long.

Nolasco’s personal touch was often reassuring for Filipino document-seekers, many of whom travelled hundreds of miles just to renew or apply for passports, register children born here or avail of any of a host of consular services.

“He’s succeeded at making our Philippine Embassy more service-oriented, friendly and welcoming,” Alarcon said.

“He’s at ease being a diplomat – with the requisite diplomacy and tact – as he is replacing a blown fuse at Romulo Hall in the midst of a community gathering or foregoing a coveted trip to Hawaii to represent the Ambassador at the 2011 Dakila Awards,” Hairston added.

Another community leader, Pablito Alarcon shared this anecdote:

“I was at the Consular Section of the Philippine Embassy two weeks ago, headed by DCM Domingo Nolasco, to renew a passport. I was very impressed with the passport renewal system that I was able to complete the process in less than 20 minutes.

“The lobby was very clean and spacious, provided with lots of chair and restrooms. A staff came out to the waiting room and distributed the necessary application form; another staff in another window received the processing fee and forwarded the paper to another staff who took the picture and fingerprints and that was it.

“All the staff was very courteous and smiling. ConGen Nolasco came out from his office and said hello to everyone in the waiting room.”

And the admiration goes beyond the professional. “His family is a model of propriety as well. His wife and kids are just superb examples of good behavior becoming of an emissary,” observed Ferraren.

Because he is one of the few diplomats who are leaving exactly on time, Nolasco and his daughter Jan are leaving at the end of February. His wife Cecil is staying behind until Nico, a senior, finishes high school in a few months.

Nolasco is from Camalig, Albay and graduated with an economics major degree from Ateneo de Manila University; a law degree from the University of the Philippines and a Masters in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Tufts University in Massachusetts.

He served as a consul at the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo, Japan from 1994 to 2002 and was assigned in Washington DC in February 2006. Nolasco said he was still waiting for word on his next assignment at the Manila head office.

“The Philippine Embassy was blessed to have this kind of man in their midst,” Tess Alarcon declared. “We will miss him but we hope that he will return to us someday.”


Some Filipino-American pro-life advocates warn that President Benigno Aquino III may be walking the same path that recently forced President Barack Obama to retreat from requiring church-run businesses to provide abortion and contraceptive services to their workers.

President Aquino supports passage of the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill pending in the Philippine Congress. President Obama’s own woes, leading to a clash with the influential Catholic bishops in the United States, stems from implementation of health insurance reforms that has been derisively called “Obamacare”.

“Both renders the mandatory and free distribution of contraceptives and abortifacient pills and aggressively allows the use of taxpayers’ money for funding,” Margi Paglinawan, a leader of the Couples for Christ Foundation for Family & Life (CFCFFL) in the Metro DC region.

President Obama backtracked from a Department of Health & Human Services mandate that would compel church-run schools, hospitals and charities to pay for abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization for their workers, if they wished to get them.

He instead lifted the mandate for faith-based entities but still ordered insurance companies covering these organizations to provide the service free of charge. “The administration’s proposal continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions,” wrote Cardinal Donald Wuerl in an opinion piece published by the Washington Post.

“Obama,” Paglinawan echoed, “did not really cave in to the demands of the Catholic Church or faith-based groups objecting to the mandatory inclusion of religious institutions in the Obamacare coverage for free contraception.”

“The problem is that its not really free because the employer religious institution still pays for his share of the insurance premium,” Paglinawan insisted.

“The accommodation that the president announce still presents grave moral concerns and continues to violate our constitutionally protected religious freedom,” Cardinal Wuerl declared.

Paglinawan said that both Presidents Aquino and Obama “are engaged in verbal engineering…by executive fiat Obama calls it preventive medical care, Aquino pursues it through congressional legislation as ‘essential medicines and supplies’.”

“Proponents say the RH bill does not include abortion yet it provides for post-abortion intervention. Most abortions in the Philippines are passed on as DNCs (dilation and curettage procedure for miscarriages),” she explained.

“The Obama fiat can be easily overturned if a Republican president assumes the White House in November,” Paglinawan added, “the proposed reproductive health legislation in the Philippines is driving us into the same slippery slope that the US brought itself into.”

“The American experience has gone almost 360 degrees. Meanwhile, the Philippines is being lured into a disaster,” she argued.

“We are grateful to President Obama for uniting the Catholics to not vote for him in November,” she added.

But a Reuters report showed that the bishops’ hardline stand has shined a light on the already existing schism between what the church preaches and what it practices. While the US Conference of Catholic Bishops vowed to fight the federal mandate, other Catholic groups including the Catholic Health Association have distanced itself and accepted President Obama’s compromise.

“The bishops have lost their monopoly on speaking,” Reuters quoted Georgetown University theologian Fr. Thomas Reese.

It was discovered in the heat of the religious uproar that several large Catholic institutions like Georgetown, Fordham and DePaul universities already covered contraception in employee insurance plans.

“We welcome increased debates on life issues here in the US as well as in the Philippines,” Paglinawan averred.

“It is constructive because we work closely with the Catholic Church on these issues. In Washington DC, we are directly collaborating with Christa Lopiccolo, executive director for life issues in the Archdiocese of Washington,” she explained.

“What we’ve observed is the more abortion debate gets heated, the more the cause of abortion weakens,” she alleged.

In the Philippines, the RH bill has made little progress despite several determined attempts to pass it in Congress. Catholic bishops have periodically fired broadsides against President Aquino for continuing to support the measure.

And here in the US, the abortion debate does not show any signs of subsiding even after President Obama’s compromise offer. Groups like the CFCFFL intend to turn it into a campaign issue for the Fall elections.

In 2008, President Obama won 54 percent of the Catholic vote.

Catholics comprise about a quarter of the US population and have significant presence in prospective 2012 battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.