Saturday, June 16, 2012


The United States and Philippines has forged a Joint Declaration on Migrant Worker Rights which aims to avoid a repetition of violations that led to the debarment of a Maryland public school system that victimized Filipino teachers.

Philippine Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. signed the Joint Declaration with US Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis last June 11. The US signed similar accords with representatives of Honduras and Peru.

The Labor Department slapped the Prince George’s County Public School system (PGCPS) last year with a 2-year debarment and $1.7 million fine for illegally collecting placement fees from international teachers, most of them from the Philippines.

They found PGCPS “willfully violated” the conditions of H-2B visas that allowed the Filipino teachers to work and bring their families to Maryland. Over 800 of them were lured from jobs in the Philippines and now face the unwelcome prospect of a reverse migration.

“We are sad for the teachers. They abandoned everything in the Philippines for the American dream,” Philippine Labor Attache Luz Padilla told the Manila Mail.

She revealed that Cuisia has already made arrangements with Philippine Education (DECS) Secretary Armand Luistro to employ teachers displaced from Prince George’s County.

“The DECS will assist Filipino teachers who have to return to the Philippines so they can be accommodated in Philippine schools,” she explained.

“I am sure if there are opportunities in private schools, DECS can also help,” she added.

Private schools usually offer better pay and benefits than their government counterparts, a more palatable option for many of the displaced teachers who were lured to the US primarily by the promise of a higher salary.

Work permits for the last – and biggest batch – of Filipino teachers in Prince George’s County will expire in September. A separate group from the Baltimore public school system is expected to suffer a similar fate as more Americans re-discover the teaching profession because of the tight labor market.

“We continue to monitor them,” Padilla said. She said they are working with the US Labor Department to ensure Filipino teachers in Prince George’s County receive their refund of the fees illegally collected from them.

The DOL had ordered the PGCPS to return some $4.2 million it unlawfully collected from the Filipino mentors.

Padilla said the DOL accord will go a long way to preventing a repetition of the Prince George’s County experience.

“We have enough regulations (in the Philippines) in place. They should not have paid excessive placement fees because that is prohibited by law then we found out that under US laws, they’re not supposed to pay that at all,” she explained.

“Information should have been provided to our teachers,” Padilla stressed. 


Two sailors asked visiting Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay what he thought about reopening American military bases in the country – barred by the Philippine Constitution – but a question that Filipinos in the United States appear to be asking more frequently.

“I think establishing a military base would really benefit both countries and Asia as well,” opined US Navy Logistics Specialist 2nd Class Marty Olayvar.

Olayvar, president of the Filipino American Association of Bethesda (FAAB), posed to question to Binay at a forum organized by the Philippine Embassy last month.

The FAAB is one the most active Fil-Am organizations in Maryland, composed mainly of young US Navy officers and enlisted personnel assigned to the sprawling military medical facility in Bethesda, Maryland.

There are about 65,000 immigrants now serving with the US armed forces – about 23 percent of them from the Philippines – and most are with the US Navy.

Filipinos have been serving with the US Navy since 1901. In 1915, Telesforo Trinidad of Imus, Cavite became the 1st Filipino in the US Navy to earn the coveted Congressional Medal of Honor for sacrificing his life to save fellow sailors following a boiler room explosion aboard the cruiser USS San Diego.  

Thousands of Filipinos have since served with the US Navy and has often become a generational bridge to the Navy’s latest recruits.

Commander Leopoldo Albea Jr. is skipper of the guided-missile Burke-class destroyer USS Wayne Meyer. His father, a native of Polangui, Albay, worked his way up the ranks from a US Navy steward to Command Master Chief by the time he retired in 1992, completing 28 years of service.

Albea, who was born in the US, was at the helm of the USS Meyer when it sailed into Philippine waters last February. At least 3 current US Navy Rear-Admirals have Filipino roots. 

Olayvar told the Manila Mail it is always a proud moment when Filipinos and Fil-Ams in the US Navy get to perform part of their duties in the Philippines. “It would be great to be home to serve both countries at the same time,” he admitted.

He was born in Cebu, just like his mother; his father hails from Davao. He was only 11 years old when the family moved to Ohio in 1992.

The Philippine Senate voted in 1991 to close the US Subic Naval Base in Olongapo, Zambales. The 1986 Constitution specifically prohibits the permanent posting of foreign troops in the Philippines. But after the 9/11 terror attack, the Philippines allowed US Special Operations troops to help hunt down the Abu Sayyaf, a local Al-Qaeda affiliate, in Sulu, Basilan and Mindanao.

With recent tensions in the disputed isles of the South China Sea, the Philippines has sought increased US military presence to counter China’s growing belligerence in the region.

Logistics Specialist Joseph Aceron, FAAB secretary, said he also welcomed being deployed to the Philippines where his father was a vice mayor who was killed under the tumultuous Marcos regime.

“I’m still a Filipino working on my American citizenship,” he revealed. He’s lived in New York since 1982 and joined the US Navy only 8 months ago.
“It was short term for me but now I’m thinking of staying a little longer,” Aceron said.

Commenting on the recent flare-up between the Philippines and China, he said he wasn’t surprised by China’s behavior there. “They’re pretty much, in my opinion, bullies. They bully the Taiwanese and now they’re picking on the Philippines.”


A Filipino-American curator at the Library of Congress has her eyes set on a rare 17th century Bible written in Ibanag, a language spoken by an ethnic minority in Northern Luzon, that has been put up for sale.

An excited Reme Grefalda, curator in the Asian Pacific Islander collection of the Library of Congress, said she is looking for benefactors who can cough up the $30,000 to purchase the Ibanag-language Bible on behalf of the Library of Congress.

“I have to justify why the Library should have this,” she told the Manila Mail.

“It’s an Ibanag Bible written by a friar who studied the Ibanag culture and language,” Grefalda explained.

“Aside from the Bible itself, it has comments there from the Ibanag people talking about the Bible,” she revealed.

The Ibanags (translated as “People of the River”) inhabit parts of Cagayan, Isabela and Nueva Vizcaya in Luzon’s northeast. They speak an indigenous language bearing the same name which, like much of their culture, facing the threat of being supplanted by the more dominant Ilocanos of Northwestern Luzon.

The Ibanag Bible was written by Fray Antonio Lobato de Santo Tomas in Tuguegarao, Cagayan in 1776-80, according to the online posting about the sale of the rare book.

“Only a handful of missionaries worked in the region of the northeastern Philippine provinces of Isabela and Cagayan, most notably in Tuguegarao City, Solana, Cabagan, and Ilagan, where the language is spoken; and not all mastered the tongue.

“Fray Antonio Lobato was one of those who did and it was he who took Fr. José Bugarin's Ibanag-Spanish dictionary, created in the previous century, and edited it to a usable work – though the result was not published until the 19th century, and apparently no other work was published in the language during the 16th, 17th, or 18th centuries,” according to the Philadelphia Rare Books and Manuscript Company website.

“This could be very significant in the study of how indigenous tribes interpreted the Christian Bible,” Grefalda stressed to the Manila Mail.

She pointed out that the Library of Congress already has several rare Bibles, including a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, the 1st major book produced on a printing press in the world in the 1450s. Only 48 copies reportedly exist today, and one is on permanent display at the Library of Congress. 


Filipino expatriates can recapture a sense of the old country by rekindling their Catholic roots and fulfill a missionary role in their adopted homes.

“When you move to another culture, you experience necessarily some sort of disconnect,” said Archbishop Luis Antonio “Chito” Tagle, shepherd to about 3 million Catholics in the Archdiocese of Manila.

He officiated masses in the district last month on his first pastoral visit to the United States. A mass held at the historic St. Matthews Cathedral on May 28 was followed by a dialogue organized by the Couples for Christ Foundation for Family & Life (CFCFFL).  

“The Catholic faith is not confined to only one culture. It can take shape in different cultures, taking into itself the beauty and even weaknesses of the different cultures,” he explained.

“The Filipino Catholic way is just one expression. Parents grew up as Catholics with our values, sentiments, mind-sets very much intertwined with the Catholic Church,” the prelate said.

Tagle said it was “normal” for Filipinos, especially the estimated 13 million-strong Filipino Diaspora, to feel alienated in their new environment. And yet the overseas Filipino has become the “face of globalization”.

“They are everywhere. Filipinos find it easy compared to other people to blend and harmonize with their receiving culture,” Tagle averred.

He recounted the words of Jesuit priest Horacio dela Costa who said “the true wealth of Filipinos are music and faith.”

“Filipinos may be poor but somehow in their poverty comes some kind of musicality. When we are sad, we hum a tune; when we are happy, we sing. We don’t need to rehearse, we just sing and there is harmony,” Tagle declared, drawing laughter from his audience.
He dismissed the notion that Filipinos remain poor because they are lazy or lack initiative. “We have seen so many difficult times as a people. Filipinos have suffered untold disasters even up to now. They plant and a typhoon comes to wipe out their crops. They have to start over and over again – but instead of despairing, they plant with a smile and hope the sun will rise again.”

Tagle suggested this trait is ingrained in all Filipinos. He pointed to the Vatican II that emphasized the importance of the nuclear family. “The family is a domestic church, meaning the family is the church in the home. Family is the first experience of church for all of us,” he explained.

Filipino-Americans, Tagle said, could intensify the feeling of church primarily in the homes. “When your children attend the masses, they can get a taste of the Filipino,” he expounded.

But Filipino Catholics also have the opportunity to carry out another mandate from the church.

“I know American parishes are very open to inter cultural realities so if Filipinos could be actively involved in the parishes then you could share the gift of the Filipino culture and Filipino faith expressions,” the Manila prelate said.

“Share with the US Church,” he appealed to Fil-Ams, reminding them about their strengths. Like the resolute farmer after a storm, Filipino Catholics can share their unbounded belief that “We are not alone and God will lead us to a brighter tomorrow.”