Sunday, July 29, 2012


Filipino veterans assailed the alleged inaction of the Pentagon on an 8-month-old Obama directive to look into the possibility of using documents other than the so-called Missouri List that can make them eligible to get a one-time lump sum payment.

Filipino World War II veterans belonging to the American Coalition of Filipino Veterans (ACFV) led by its two top leaders – Patrick Ganio, 91 and Franco Arcebal, 86 – railed against the White House last July 26 to draw attention to their plight.

They called on President Obama to deliver on his promise to help the aging Filipino World War II veterans after thousands were turned away because their names could not be found in the official US Army roster in St. Louis, Missouri.

They complained that their petitions have largely been ignored by US Defense Undersecretary for Policy James Miller who was apparently tasked to look into President Obama’s directive last November to “update and simplify” procedures for recognizing Filipino World War II veterans.

Instead, the elderly veterans lamented, a US Army policy declaration last May 2 determined that Philippine Commonwealth military records at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis was deemed “not official”.

This appeared to contravene the spirit of the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation – tacked into the 2009 American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (aka stimulus bill) which had at least recognized the validity of the Missouri List, they noted.

The equity compensation provides $15,000 for Filipino World War II veterans living in the US and $9,000 for those in the Philippines. The amount was settlement for the 1946 Rescission Act that deprived Filipino soldiers and guerillas who served under US military command in World War II of veterans benefits, including those given to other American allies.

An initial amount of $198 million was set aside for the one-time lump payments for 18,000 veterans who were believed to be what was left of Filipino soldiers and guerillas who fought under American command during the Pacific War.

But it turned out the number was much bigger, prompting the US Congress to replenish the fund. Today, a total of $221 million have been paid out to Filipino veterans here and in the Philippines. There is still $44 million reportedly in the kitty.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs said they received a total of 42,713 applications but rejected 24,220 for various reasons. Only 4,430 of those applicants filed appeals and challenged the grounds for rejection.

Eric Lachica, ACFV executive director, and other veterans activists have blamed the VA’s rigid certification requirements for the large number of denials.

Of the thousands of cases now being looked into by the Board of Veterans Appeals, only 189 (about 4 percent) have been reopened.

They sent copies of letters to various US officials, including one from Nevada Sen. Dean Heller to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta dated July 18 to underscore how hard they’ve been trying to reach out to the Pentagon.

“We are working with the staff of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) and the White House Commission on Asian Pacific Americans to update this US Army policy. They look forward to your kind assistance and prompt action as commander-in-chief,” the letter said.


As Filipino Americans heed calls for Filipinos to unite against China, a ranking Philippine official cautioned against the boycott of Chinese-made goods lest it hurts Filipino business as well.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda stressed that the country’s differences with China, especially the clashing territorial claims in the South China Sea, will be resolved through diplomatic channels despite its recent aggressive slant.

“Despite the ‘air war’ there is still diplomacy especially now that Ambassador Sonia Brady, an old China hand, is there,” he told newsmen during a recent inWashington DC.

But the US Pinoys for Good Governance (USP4GG) has intensified the boycott China campaign. New York-based USP4GG executive Loida Nicolas Lewis went to San DiegoCalifornia not only to campaign for longtime Philippine supporter, Chula Vista Rep. Bob Filner but also to urge compatriots to join cause against China.

Last year, Fil-Am leaders in Washington DC silently launched a campaign to stop buying Chinese products. This campaign was launched long before the Philippine standoff with China over the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal and the Spratlys.

"I don't want war to break out and we can influence world opinion against China if we just stick together and send emails, Facebook, Twitter to all our friends, Filipinos or Americans, that they should boycott made in China goods because China is acting like a bully," Lewis said.

Upon learning of Lewis' call, Chinese netizens responded by calling for their own boycott against her 27 TLC Beatrice retail stores in China.

"I sold it all several years ago so I don't own it anymore. So it's a good thing they know our tiny little country can affect them," she countered.

Lacierda said the South China Sea spat is only one aspect of the Philippine-China relations. He revealed for instance that Filipino businesses invest twice as much as companies from China

“We invest more in China so that the balance of investments is actually in their favor. We invested about $3 billion (P125 billion) versus less than $1.5 billion from China. Very few people know that,” he argued.

He cited the popular snack maker Oishi owned by businessman Carlos Chan which opened “several” factories in China. Oishi is a virtual snack icon in thePhilippines and employs thousands there as well as in China.

Lacierda also cited Filipino multinationals like Metro Bank and SM that have substantial investments in China.

The USP4GG concedes an anti-China boycott would be difficult. One Fil-Am store owner in San Francisco said she could not join the boycott because all her products are made in China.  Those who agree to join the boycott said they will do so because Chinese-made goods are usually inferior in quality to those made in the US.

"I fully support the Filipino government in trying to make sure that they retain the sovereignty on those islands. We've been in communication with the state department and Secretary Clinton and a number of congressmen are trying to help the Philippines in this situation," Filner said.

Fil-Am leaders want to expand the boycott beyond the Fil-Am community. "We are already in touch with the Vietnamese and Taiwanese communities," San Francisco-based USP4GG leader and lawyer Rodel Rodis said.

He downplayed China’s threat to retaliate, noting China started the boycott route when it discouraged its tourists from visiting the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the Fil-Am boycott proponents said they will continue to hold prayer vigils and pickets outside China’s diplomatic outposts around the world to pressure them to stop encroaching on their neighbors.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


The mystery of a body fished out the Potomac River last July 6 was solved when it was finally identified as that of a 59-year-old Filipino from Maryland.

Grace Valera, co-executive directors of the Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC), identified the man as Rodolfo “Rudy” Concepcion, a long-time member of the Catholic charismatic group El Shaddai and a resident of Kensington, Maryland.

“His friends and family member got worried when he did not return home last July 4,” she said in an email appeal.

Concepcion reportedly survived a stroke 3 years ago that left him unable to find work. He turned instead to church work, spending more time with the El Shaddai.

In reportedly left his home alone on the evening of July 4 and was the last his relatives saw him.

Valera quoted police reports saying that his body was found floating naked on the Potomac River at 12:51 AM of July 6. It was towed to shore and recovered at 9:51 AM that same morning.

His car was found abandoned by State Police.

Valera said his friends and relatives were “shocked upon learning of the news, knowing that Rudy always goes home and always maintained a happy disposition.”

She said the police was still looking into Concepcion’s cause of death.

“Please pray for the repose of his soul,” she said in the email message.

His remains were brought to the Rendon Hale Funeral Homes along Annapolis Road in Lanham, MD.

“Rudy has been unemployed for the last 3 years and is therefore bereft of funds to meet repatriation expenses,” Valera appealed.

She explained that Concepcion’s wife is a domestic worker who did not have regular hours and was employed only intermittently.

Valera said repatriation to the Philippines costs from $10,000 to $15,000.


Statuesque American University freshman Iana Kozelsky dreams of being a journalist and perhaps winning another beauty title but for it now, it’s college.

Iana, 18, is this year’s Miss Teen Philippines-America, reportedly one of the longest-running pageants in the Metro DC region.

She also an interesting pedigree – her father Gerry Kozelsky, a Chief Executive Officer of a transportation company in Baltimore, is from the Czech Republic, and her mother Sara Amel who runs a day care, grew up in one of the most strife-prone villages in the Philippines.

Sara was born in Asturias, a barangay in Jolo, Sulu that has been the scene of periodic fighting triggered by everything from family feuds to the presence of Abu Sayyaf bandits.

It was the seat of the Muslim secessionist uprising in Mindanao and much of the town was torched by fleeing rebels after government troops landed there in the early 70s. The US deployed Special Forces in 2006 and helped drive out terrorists in the capital town the following year.

“It was okay, medyo magulo,” Sara shared with the Manila Mail. But then she soon left, studying at Notre Dame high school and then to Ateneo University in Zamboanga City, about a hour’s plane ride away.

She earned an accounting degree from Ateneo de Zamboanga, she revealed.

She travelled to Silver Spring, Maryland in 1986, met Gerry and they married in 1987.

Their life has revolved around Iana, their only child. They’re excited about her plans. “She’s a natural,” Gerry says about her plans to pursue a career in journalism. “That’s what she wants to do.”

“Every since I was about in high school I was into public speaking and speeches in class but in my last 2 years of high school, as part of the newspaper team in school, that got me into the news more and interested on what’s going on,” she told the Manila Mail.

She professed an interest in politics and entertainment – perhaps an impractical combination here but something that might find more relevance if she were working in the Philippines.

She was just 4 years old during her 1st and last visit to the Philippines.

Her father said he’s visited Jolo twice, the last time was back in 1998. He enjoyed the visit, Gerry insisted, and didn’t feel threatened. If there were dangers, he now recalls with a chuckle, “I didn’t know because nobody told me about it.”

Gerry and Sara vacationed there last September but only stayed in Zamboanga City which they now count as home away outside the US.

He says Iana wants to go back too but they just didn’t have the time, especially now that she’s starting college. “I want to see my family there because they don’t have a chance to visit us here, to visit Mindanao which I don’t remember much,” she explained.

Then, as if an after-thought, she wondered about another possible reason to visit the Philippines. “I heard there is a Miss Philippines pageant there; that would be kinda’ fun,” she said amusedly. 


Their love story was born in public service so, in a sense, every time this physician-couple go on a medical mission to the Philippines is just like reliving that romance.

“I met him a few years ago at a medical mission organized by his friends,” Falls Church, VA-based pediatrician Catherine Panlilio Arzadon revealed. She was talking about her husband, Dr. Joseph M. Arzadon.

Catherine was given the Most Outstanding Migrant Award in the Healthcare Profession at last month’s People’s Ball organized by the Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC).

“I promised to help so when they went to my province I helped out,” she told the Manila Mail. They were part of the Medical Mission of Mercy USA (MMOM) helping indigents in Pampanga.

“That’s how we met, stayed in touch and eventually got married in 2004 and moved to the US,” she added. She currently serves as assistant chief medical officer of MMOM (her husband is president and chief medical officer of this non-profit organization).

The pair also co-founded the Munting Ngiti Foundation Inc. (she actually established it in 1999 but was incorporated as a charitable organization in  2004) which provides free surgical services for indigents with cleft lip and palette.

“We started it with the Circulo Pampangueno then branched out to medical missions. That’s how the Medical Mission was born from a group of friends who just wanted to help,” she explained.

The MMOM has about a hundred members, Catherine said, and about 70 of them go to the Philippines every year – which makes them one of the largest Fil-Am medical missions helping the poor but needy patients in the Philippines.

“Not everyone can go but everyone helps – to raise money for the mission, pack supplies and other things,” she added.

“The majority are non-medical people, a lot of them hold high office or own businesses but when they’re on mission, it doesn’t really matter because there is no mister or general or doctor,” she stressed.

“There are no titles. They will do what they have to do to get the job done which is what we’re so proud of; there are no egos and everyone works well together,” Catherine said.

A native of San Fernando, Pampanga, she is a daughter of US-trained Dr. Ramon Panlilio and Shirley Temple Hughes, a registered nurse from Virginia.  She graduated from the University of Sto. Tomas in 1999.

She has always been involved with charity work. Aside from the MMOM, she has volunteered for Catholic Women’s League Free Clinics, Pampanga Medical Society and Philippine Pediatric Society.

“I feel blessed and there is such a need,” she says of her drive to help the needy.

“We try to stay in Region 3 (Central Luzon) but we have gone outside the region, to Romblon and Coron, Palawan,” she revealed.

They do mostly general surgery because of the cost on indigent patients. “Even in government hospitals there are costs that low-income and even some middle-income patients can’t afford,” Catherine explained.

“Before we used to offer medical consultations but now we’re streamlining more on surgery and dental procedures,” she added.

Many could say that the union of Drs. Catherine and Joseph Arzadon was not only a match made in heaven, they were also heaven-sent.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


 They play a rich repertoire of minted rock and jazz – this band named Mainspring. We reckoned they’re good enough to easily land gigs in town but we’re told they can’t. The World Bank wouldn’t allow it – after all, most of the band members work there.

Tonight, they were playing for charity at the “global reunion” of St. Paul College alumna who came from virtually every corner of North America and beyond – one even flying in from Manila.

“We made money, which is good news for the vigil house,” Virna Lisa Mananzan gushed to the Manila Mail. The “global reunion” was organized to help raise funds for retired nuns of St. Paul’s in the Philippines.

“When our sisters retire it is not like here in the United States where they have social security, Medicare, Medicaid. Back in the Philippines we have nothing,” explained Sister Mary Mortola, a former high school teacher. She revealed there are 70 retired nuns living in a “vigil house” in Antipolo and another 50 in Iloilo.

“We call them vigil houses because this is where we wait until we are called back by the Lord,” Sis. Mortola said.

Mananzan, who is one of the singers in the Mainspring band, said she was surprised by the enthusiastic response of the St. Paul alumna community (the reunion was featured in past editions of the Manila Mail). “It’s all about the cause,” she stressed.

And the “cause” found a welcome benefactor from the Mainspring band – which unknown to many in the crowd that night, represented perhaps the heaviest concentration of bankers per square foot.

Mananzan was a young aspiring singer when now Sen. Tito Sotto chose her to sing his song “Magkaisa” that became an anthem of the 1986 People Power revolt.

She’s joined in the band by Tony Lambino, perhaps better known for his stint in “Smokey Mountain” but also a part of the Ateneo University alumni choir that often performs in big masses in the Metro DC region. Together, they’re the only ones with experience working in the entertainment world.
But that doesn’t stop Mainspring from playing great music. The band was formed about 3 years ago by Ed Campos and Van Pulley.  “Ed is the band leader. He just got folks from his office together after he discovered one played the guitar, another the drums so he just put them together and he said I want strong singers so he invited me to sing; this was way back in 2009,” Mananzan explained.

Campos is with the World Bank Institute (WGI) and heads an office devoted to governance and leadership. He is reportedly considered one of the Bank’s experts on combating corruption (he actually wrote a book about this for the World Bank in 2006). Before joining the World Bank, he was a senior economist at the Asian Development Bank in Manila and spent 2 years as senior adviser on public sector reforms at the Department of Budget and Management (DBM). He’s the one on keyboard.

Pulley is vice president for corporate finance and risk management at the World Bank. He reportedly led the “greening” of the bank’s headquarters in Washington DC, drawing its 800 million kilowatt-per-hour electricity needs from wind power, as well as plugging security loopholes that resulted in the alleged debarment of erring Bank vendors.  

Lambino is a governance specialist also with the WGI. A former ABS-CBN News talent, he was part of a team dedicated to political communication, governance reform, public opinion and citizen engagement in Asia and Africa. He’s earned his Masters’ from the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard’s Kennedy School.

They are joined on the stage by realtor Christina Sison and Celeste Soliven who are familiar faces in Filipino church choirs in the region. If there is a thread that ties them all together, it is the sheer pleasure of playing music.

“They’re not allowed to get paid kasi they’re full time employees of the World Bank so everything we do is non-profit,” Mananzan explained.

From a duet of “Bakit Ngayon Ka Lang” to Sison’s solo of “Long Train Running” to a fun-filled “Last Dance” Mainspring takes charity to a higher note.

As the evening wore on, it didn’t take too much for the erstwhile “colegialas” to pry the nuns from their chairs and cut through the dance floor as the band played on. It was a sight to behold, thanks to a group of World Bank workers who just want to play great music. 


“This is a family business,” stressed Mariano F. Castro, the family patriarch who built Manila Forwarders Corp. (MFC), one of the leading consolidators in the East Coast. And now he worries the proliferation of small, fly-by-night operators is soiling the trade’s credibility and threatening to destroy decades of hard work.

From his warehouse office off Backlick Road in Lorton, Virginia, Mariano prefers to talk about how he launched MFC in 1993, contesting Alexandria, Virginia-based Forex that preceded them by 7 years.

It was his daughter Menchu, who has been running the business since 2004 that expounds on the challenges facing the industry. “It took us years to educate our customers,” she tells the Manila Mail.

“Now there are a lot of these individuals or small companies spreading like mushrooms and they can’t even tell you where their facilities are. They pick up boxes and just dump them with anywhere. They don’t have any accountability. When their customers complain, they would just change their company’s name or get a new phone. Our poor kababayans are left holding the proverbial empty bag,” she explained.

Menchu revealed Filipinos are often duped by the lure of cheaper rates. But she stressed this was often the first sign that something’s wrong.

“We know what the costs are, what the business conditions are today – the rising cost of fuel, the stronger peso compared to the dollar and what that all means. At the cut-throat rates some of these people are offering, we know those boxes will never get to the where they’re supposed to go,” she averred.

In 2010 for instance, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) intensified inspections of Philippine-bound containers. They charge $2,400 to inspect each container – a cost that has to be absorbed by consolidators and ultimately, customers.

That’s why, Menchu added, they’ve always respected their legitimate competitors. She cited Forex that’s left their rates basically unchanged. “We never had problems with them because they knew what they were doing, they understood the industry. Our frustration is with these fly-by-night operators,” she explained.

Mariano said that respect was anchored on a mutual appreciation of the business.

He was just 55 when he stepped down as Vice President for Administration & Finance of Proton Chemicals – a Filipino-Japanese joint venture that export coconut-based methyl ether – and immigrated here with his wife (she passed away last year) after they were petitioned by their children.

“I told them I will not work here. The companies here can not afford to give me the same pay that I got in the Philippines and there’s discrimination,” he explained, “So I decided to look for a business.”

He found it when he started taking boxes to Forex to ship to the Philippines. He still fondly recalls trying to send an extremely oversized box because at the time, Forex still hadn’t standardized the size of its “Balikbayan” boxes.

“You didn’t say how big the boxes have to be,” he argued but eventually relented and agreed to “pay extra” for his jumbo box.

And that’s how he got into the business. Forex settled for the 6 cubic “Pampers” box but later decided to reduce this to 4.5 cubic feet, Mariano said he waded into the trade by resurrecting the 6 cubic feet boxes.

There are no statistics to show just how many boxes are shipped by Filipinos from the US to the Philippines each year. But the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas says they sent home nearly $8.5 billion last year – nearly half of total overseas Filipino remittances during the period.

MFC has resisted so far the temptation to follow Forex’s lead even if it meant improving their margins (smaller boxes mean more boxes can be loaded into a container). 

But they have somehow remained competitive even with the bigger boxes. They have made up for it through other ways. “The more boxes you send, the more you can recoup your expenses,” Menchu explained.

A bigger box, competitive rates and reliability are strong incentives for customer loyalty, she averred.

It takes an average of 45 days from the time the container is sealed to the time it gets to the Philippines (the count down does not start when the customer drops off his box). The containers are usually loaded in Norfolk, Virginia and landed in either Hongkong or Kaoshung (Taiwan) where smaller “feeder ships” take them to Manila.

It takes an average of 3 days for the container to clear customs and eventually delivered to the MFC warehouse in Sucat, Paranaque that is managed by the eldest of the Castro brood. 

“Our customers know when the containers get to Manila it will be opened by my son so nothing gets lost,” Mariano declared. They’ve even asked their customers to put seals on their boxes and tell relatives in the Philippines to reject delivery if the seal is broken. “That is our guarantee,” he added.

And while she decries operators who’re only too willing to “dive” and offer impossibly low rates, Menchu said the only way to fight back for both customers and shippers is intensifying the education campaign.

Just as a suspiciously low price could be a warning sign, she stressed that customers also have the responsibility to check on the people they’re entrusting their boxes to. Many of the information customers need could be in the shipping papers they fill up.

She urged customers, for instance, to verify that the shipper or consolidator is a licensed Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier or NVOCC (if there is no license number in the shipping invoice, customers can still visit the Federal Maritime Commission website that carries a complete list of NVOCC-accredited service providers.

As a family enterprise, the Castro’s realize its future is inexorably tied to the welfare of their customers, and as they confront challenges ahead, their success will be determined by how well they teach them to be smart shippers


A Baltimore hospital that fired its 4 Filipino nurses and hospital worker for speaking Tagalog has agreed to pay an undisclosed amount to end the discrimination complaint filed by them.

“We’re almost one with it. We’ve signed the papers and it’s just a matter of paying us,” revealed Anna Rowena Rosales, one of 3 Filipino nurses (the 4th Filipino was part of the administrative staff) fired by the Bon Secours Hospital for speaking Tagalog during lunch breaks in 2010.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) decided last August that Bon Secours Hospital’s English-only regulations discriminated against Rosales, Corina Capunitan-Yap, Hachelle Natano and Jazziel Granada.

They accused the hospital management of singling them out because staff members belonging to other nationalities were not disciplined for speaking their own language.

Two years later, Rosales admitted to the Manila Mail that she still feels sad and slips in and out of depression over the ordeal they went through. “I feel different. Who would have thought that something like this would happen to us,” she said.

“But we have to move on. I have to take care of my family, not only here but also in the Philippines,” she declared.

She has since found a new job in a hospital in Sacramento, California. The change in environment may have helped speed the healing process and her recent purchase of new house there couldn’t have helped too.

Her family in Baltimore would soon be relocating to their new West Coast home.

Yap, Natano and Granada have opted to stay behind in Baltimore.

“Of course I’m happy because we won our case. There is fulfillment because the case is finally over. We have to continue working because we need to make a living,” Yap told the Manila Mail.

Their struggle has already shown signs of bearing fruit. “It’s so different in California where I work now. One hospital there that I won’t mention the name allows their nurses to speak their own language, where they are comfortable with,” Rosales disclosed.

In his Aug. 16, 2011 order, EEOC Baltimore field office Director Gerald Kiel said he found reasonable cause that Bon Secours Hospital subjected the Filipinos to unequal terms and conditions of employment, a hostile work environment, disciplinary action and discharge because of their national origins in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Other employees spoke Spanish and other languages contrary to the policies and were not disciplined,” Kiel pointed out. “In addition, it appears more serious infractions of work rules were not comparably punished.”

Kiel urged the hospital management to settle with the nurses. Failing to do so would have opened it to further litigation where the EEOC findings could have served as evidence to support the Filipinos’ allegations, explained their lawyer Arnedo Valera.

Yap said her new hospital employer is very different from the one that fired her. “They accept foreign nurses so it’s alright for us to speak Tagalog but of course, never in front of patients,” she revealed.

“In the nurses’ station, we’re allowed (to speak Tagalog). Something good has come out of it,” Yap concluded, “There is justice.” 


They promised warships and radars to help the Philippines stand up to China’s intimidation in the South China Sea; now the United States is offering to buy Philippine bananas that’s been hostage to the growing spat between the Asian neighbors.

Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. revealed the results of President Aquino’s recent White House meeting with President Obama at the 7th annual People’s Ball held last June 23 at the Wardman Marriott Hotel.

“I hope that not all you’ll remember about the President’s recent visit was that he met with President Obama and Jessica Sanchez,” the envoy teased the crowd.

Talking later with the Manila Mail, Cuisia described the presidential sortie as “very welcome and very successful” although a number of agreements were not ready by the time Presidents Aquino and Obama met at the Oval Office last June 8.

“Most of the objectives were achieved but there were some agreements that unfortunately we were not able to sign in time because there were on both sides some technicalities that were not able to work out,” he told the Manila Mail.

One of them was the food security and market access program that was published in the Federal Register last June 15, paving the way for Philippine banana exports to the US.

Philippine banana exports have been caught in the crossfire of tensions between the country and China over a smoldering territorial spat in the South China Sea.

China banned Philippine bananas last March as both countries racheted up a word war over competing claims in the Spratly Islands.

But the “banana war” gained prominence when tensions flared at Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal, about 120 miles west of the main Philippine island of Luzon and hundreds of miles north of the Spratlys.

China claimed they rejected the banana shipments because of they were infested by “mealy bugs”.  But many in the Philippines believe it was retaliation for the country’s assertion of sovereignty at Scarborough Shoal.

The stand-off started 2 months ago when a US-supplied patrol ship tried to arrest Chinese fishermen caught allegedly poaching there.

The Philippines recently withdrew its ships from the area – apparently part of a deal to defuse tension – but President Aquino announced he may order the ships back after suggesting China broke a deal to also withdraw its ships.  

Veteran China observers have noted that the Asian powerhouse has a habit of imposing economic sanctions against defiant neighbors. They cited a recent territorial spat with Japan where China withheld the export of “rare earth” metals crucial for the production of high-tech goods. They also singled for more stringent food safety rules salmon from Norway after the Oslo-based Nobel Peace Prize selected jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

A Washington Post report cited a 2010 study at German’s Gottingen University which found that from 1991 to 2008, countries whose leaders met with the exiled Tibetan Dalai Lama suffered a decline in exports to China.

When Filipinos organized protest actions against Chinese diplomatic outposts in the Philippines, United States and other countries, China encouraged its vacationing nationals to cancel reservations and planned tours in the Philippines.

The Chinese ban against Philippine bananas would reportedly hit about 200,000 farmers. Bananas comprise the 2nd biggest agricultural export for the Philippines.

But China insists linking politics with business.

The US imported about $1.4 billion worth of agricultural products from the Philippines in 2011 --  nearly half ($603 million) in the form of tropical oils. Fresh and processed fruits and vegetables imports amounted to about $260 million.

Cuisia declined to say whether the US offer to buy bananas from the Philippines was a response to what is widely seen and denounced as Chinese bullying tactics against countries that disagree with it.

He stressed that the establishment of a “national coast watch center” will boost “maritime domain awareness and security” although details of that project remain vague for now. It is unclear, for instance, who will actually operate the radars or just how extensive that network will be.

Coast Watch South, a string of radars jointly developed by the US and Australia, is largely manned by Filipinos but is focused more on sea lanes commonly used by smugglers and terrorists in Western Mindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) has shelved plans to acquire US-built F-16 “Falcons”. Earlier reports said they were interested in the state-of-the-art combat aircraft that carries a $12 million price tag.

However, an official told the Manila Mail that “it’s been decided that it is useless to spend that much for something we can only use for 5-6 years.”  Had the Philippines pushed through with the F-16 purchase, the supersonic jets would actually be hands-me-down.