Saturday, September 1, 2012


Filipino Americans in the Hampton Roads region of southern Virginia have vowed to come out in force and make their presence felt in the November elections.

“It’s all about building our political power as an ethnic community,” said Bert Dayao, Capital Region chairman of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA). “And that means translating our numbers in a way that they truly count.”

Political mobilization and empowerment were among the themes that emerged from the recent NaFFAA convention in Detroit, Mi.

The non-partisan voter mobilization project, dubbed “FilAm Vote Coalition of Hampton Roads” (FAVCOHR), aims to reach Filipino communities in Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach.

Filipinos in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area grew by 33 percent in 10 years, according to the 2010 Census – a rate of growth that has caught the attention of state and local elected officials and policy makers.
The region is home to nearly 40,000 Filipinos.

“The issues in this election – jobs and the economy, budget and taxes, education – directly affect our community,” said Virginia House Delegate Ron Villanueva.

“There are clear choices this year and we’re all looking forward for a clear direction. But we have to be engaged and understand the importance of registering people to vote,” he said.

Following Villanueva’s remarks, Gloria T. Caoile, former NaFFAA national vice chair and founding member of FilAm Vote, stressed that “we have an opportunity as Filipino Americans to shine in Virginia, a key, battleground state. Hampton Roads can make a difference. We will make it happen not only between now and November 6, but we will keep the fire alive after Election Day and continue to play an active role in this country’s political system.”

Caoile cited the example of Nevada where Filipinos grew by 146 percent in 10 years. “Politicians from both parties are heavily courting our votes and paying attention to our issues,” she revealed.

Gem Daus, an Asian American Studies adjunct professor at the University of Maryland, briefed those present about Census statistics, demographic data and recent findings by the Pew Research. “In addition to our growing numbers, we have a high rate of growth, high educational attainment, low poverty rates and income that’s higher than the national average,” he explained.

“But of the hundreds of community-based organizations in the country, there are only four that’s primarily organizing around political and civic engagement. It’s a deficit we need to correct.”

“There’s less than a hundred days before the elections,” observed Tracy Laguid, a member of the Filipino Young Professionals (FYP). 

“We need a lightning rod to move us into action,” she declared.

Nita Cacanindin, a board member of the Council of United Filipino Organizations of Tidewater (CUFOT) – the oldest and largest community organization in the area – also expressed support for the project and offered the use of the Filipino American Cultural Center to host voter outreach events.

“We may belong to different political parties,” she said, “but this non-partisan effort of everyone working together will make a long and lasting impact.”

Dr. Johnny Montero, a long-time community leader, agreed: “Our ethnic community badly needs this bipartisan FilVote public service. This is the key to our empowerment and I am glad to see much enthusiasm, especially our youth.”

Other organizations participating in the launching of the FilAm Vote Coalition are: Bicol Association, Filipino American Chamber of Commerce of South East Virginia, Filipino American Historical National Society (FAHNS), FilAm Civic Action Group (FilAmCAG), Fil-Am Friendship Committee and Ilocano Association.

Naomi Estaris, former CEO of Operation Smile and now COO, The Travel Outlet of Virginia, Inc. and Founding President of South East Virginia’s Fil Am Chamber of Commerce, was designated to head up FAVCOHR and run the day-to-day operations of the voter mobilization project. 

NaFFAA Capital Region Vice Chair Bing Branigin is overall coordinator, with Gloria T. Caoile as adviser. Funding was made possible from a grant from Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIA Vote), a national institution focused to encourage and promote civic participation of Asian Pacific Islander Americans in the electoral and public policy processes at the national, state and local levels.


He propped himself with a cane, breathing heavily from apparent exhaustion. At 95, Celestino Almeda valiantly works to remain visible – braving heat, sleet and snow – to remind the United States about her unfulfilled promises to an ally over half a century ago.

In California, a group of Filipino World War II veterans gave back their old uniforms and service medals in symbolic protest over America’s failure to grant the same benefits given to her allies at the end of the war.

But the US indicated it was also caring for the aging Filipino World War II veterans in other ways, pouring in $192 million (about P8 billion) in disability benefits for about 8,000 Filipino veterans or their family members this year.

President Obama signed in 2009 the stimulus package that contained the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC), providing a one-time lump sum payment ($15,000 for those in the US and $9,000 for those in the Philippines) for Filipino World War II veterans.

Paying the money – meant to make up for an injustice when Filipinos who served under the US Commonwealth Army and American-led guerilla forces during World War II were arbitrarily stripped of their benefits in the 1946 Rescission Law – is predicated on fulfilling stringent requirements.

Almeda, who earned American citizenship in 1996 by being a “bona-fide” US war veteran, is still fighting to get the lump-sum. “I had an appeal and 3 days before the hearing, I was able to get a record of my service at the NPRC (national personnel record center) in central Missouri, and the appellate judge remanded the case to the regional office in Manila for proper disposition,” he told the Manila Mail.

Since 2009, 18,350 Filipino war veterans or their survivors “have received a total of $221 million in one-time FVEC payments. This exceeds the 18,000 veterans estimated prior to the FVEC benefits becoming law,” according to the US Embassy in Manila.

But about 24,000 have had their applications rejected for various reasons. Some 4,389 have filed appeals, mostly to question the strident reliance on the NPRC, the so-called Missouri List.

“I don’t know why the appellate judge remanded the case to Manila because I got the record of my service at NPRC,” he added testily.

His tone turns sad, “That was 8 months ago now. I have not heard anything about it. I don’t know what will happen now.”

Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Manila reported that last year, the Department of Veterans Administration in Manila disbursed $187 million in compensation and pension payments; $15 million FVEC payments; nearly $11 million for medical services; and over $2 million for education and vocational programs.

The statement noted the funds had “sizeable economic impact on the Philippines and a significant positive impact on the thousands of veterans and beneficiaries it serves in the Philippines.”

But for aging veterans like Almeda, the wait – and the struggle – continues. Perhaps one of the most recognizable Filipino World War II veterans on Capitol Hill, he is present in most major Washington DC events for veterans, providing a face to America’s broken promises.


Filipino and Vietnamese Americans here have found common cause in pushing back against China’s belligerence in the South China Sea.

“We want to tell China that they need to observe international law but we need to do everything peacefully,” Ginie Nguyen, a spokesperson of the Viet-Am community told the Manila Mail at a prayer rally at the Martin Luther King monument last Aug. 21.

She said they are joining the Filipino-led boycott of Chinese goods.

“From the East Vietnamese Sea to the West Philippine Sea, China is creating problems in many places. Since we are a small country, we want to tell them the weak, poor and small people have ways to fight back peacefully,” she explained.

About 50 Viet-Am and Fil-Am activists participated in the prayer rally. Eric Lachica, one of the convenors of the anti-China movement, said this was just the start of mass actions across the globe to protest China’s “creeping invasion” in the South China Sea.

He said they plan to stage pickets during the visit of top Chinese government officials in Washington DC. Lachica told the Manila Mail they received reports that ranking Chinese leaders were scheduled to visit in the next few weeks.

“We’re going to give him a warm welcome,” Lachica promised.

But the Chinese may already be a step ahead.  A ranking Chinese military official flew in from Beijing unannounced to meet with US officials. Cai Yingting, deputy chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was the 2nd senior Chinese military official in visit the US in the last 3 months.

Neither China nor the US announced Cai’s visit. He reportedly discussed escalating tension between China and her neighbors, particularly Japan. The US and Japan is holding a month-long naval maneuvers in the western Pacific.

Japan-China ties have deteriorated over a territorial dispute in the Diaoyu Islands.

Nguyen said China’s neighbors are increasingly facing the same problem. “Today is the launch of boycott,” she averred, “we are doing this for the long term until we reach our goal to stop violence in the South China Sea, and for China to honor the code of conduct and observe the sovereignty of other countries.”

“Prayers are action events to get community leaders engaged,” Lachica argued.

But he feels that a boycott was something China can feel in more tangible terms. “This is going to be a long drawn out affair but if we can just make a 1 percent dent that would mean billions of dollars to the Chinese government.”


The Philippine Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) has suspended implementation of part of a recent order governing the activities of visiting foreign doctors, nurses and other professionals in the country.

The June 21, 2012 directive stipulates that foreign professionals – including Filipino-Americans conducting short-duration medical missions – must register and secure special permits and buy liability insurance, among others.

Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO Chair Imelda Nicolas said the PRC and Health Department Undersecretary Teodoro Herbosa have agreed to suspend at least two provisions of PRC Resolution 2012-668 involving the increased fees for special temporary permits and the requirement to buy liability insurance.

“You have expressed both to CFO and DOH your vehement objections to several provisions of the PRC resolution,” Nicolas said in her letter to the Fil-Am community.

“It was then a very pleasant surprise when during the meeting PRC announced through an authorized representative of PRC Chairperson Teresita Manzala that PRC is suspending immediately the implementation of Sections 5 and 17 of the PRC resolution,” she explained.

Nicolas added that because of this, guidelines covering these two sections reverted to a 2009 joint administrative order.

“Please to all of you, please do not cancel your scheduled medical missions to the Philippines,” she implored.

There was a strong backlash from the controversial PRC circular that actually set the implementing guidelines for a 12-year-old law that aimed to modernize and beef up the PRC.

Maryland-based Dr. Zorayda Lee-Llacer predicted fewer physicians would volunteer for medical missions. “To me this is R.I.P. to our enviable, proud tradition of giving back to our less fortunate countrymen,” lamented Dr. Juan Montero II of Virginia.

The rules covered foreign nationals in the Philippines through international treaty or agreements, including those working for foreign companies or aid organizations, and “former Filipino professionals”.

The special temporary permits are valid for only one year but can be extended. The permits can be obtained by paying a P3,000 ($73) application fee, P8,000 ($195) for the cost of the ID itself and the purchase of liability insurance.

Foreign doctors need to produce a copy of their passport, an authenticated copy of the professional license issued by their country of origin, proof of purchase of liability insurance in the Philippines and the Special Temporary Permit.

Various Fil-Am groups have postponed or cancelled scheduled medical-surgical missions to the Philippines early next year.

Every year, hundreds of Fil-Am doctors, nurses, engineers and other professionals visit their hometowns in the Philippines, partly for leisure and also to share the fruits of their success in America.

They go beyond playing tourists, spending much of the year in the US collecting medicines, surplus medical equipment and even food, toys and used clothes that they give away to the poor, usually in the weeks before and after the Christmas holidays.

Dr. Lee-Llacer says that while she agrees aggrieved families should be compensated for medical malpractice that could be a tempting target for opportunistic lawyers.

“Malpractice insurance is the red meat for tort lawyers. Haven't we learned that in US and guess what has happened to our unaffordable healthcare system?” Dr. Montero asked.

“When we go on surgical missions, we spend our own money for the air fare to the Philippines. We bring a significant amount of surgical supplies that we give to the hospital. We spend our valuable time collecting and packing these supplies. We spend money from our own pockets to ship these supplies. This is a labor of love,” Dr. Lee-Llacer stressed.

She added that proof of a valid license especially those issued in the US should suffice to establish the competence of visiting Fil-Am professionals. “Those are not easy to get,” she argued, “The US requires many proofs of training and specialty certifications. All states monitor the practice of every physician.”

Nicolas, who received an earful from Fil-Am doctors at the recent NaFFAA convention, said the DOH will continue to oversee the implementation of foreign surgical and medical missions in the Philippines.

They urged the PRC to convene in October, together with the CFO, DOH and the Interior and Local Government Department a “multi-stakeholders’ strategic workshop” to discuss the growing field of surgical and medical missions in the Philippines.

“We would like to thank PRC and DOH for helping us resolve this issue, and all of you for speaking out and for having the patience to wait for the results of this process,” Nicolas said.