Friday, December 1, 2006

Sen. Akaka authors legislation to provide special immigrant status to sons and daughters of Filipino WW II veterans

Vows priority for S. 4070 in next Congress

U.S.Senator Daniel Akaka, principal author of the legislation to amend the Senate immigration bill to provide special immigrant status to sons and daughters of Filipino WW II veterans, greets Commander Amador Montero of the Seattle-based Filipino War Veterans of Washington (FWVW) and other Filipino WW II veterans. He was main spreaker with U.S. Rep. Bob Filner at the planning conference hosted by the Philippine Embassy and the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations (NaFFAA) in Washington D.C. Looking on are Ambassador Will Gaa, FWVW Historian Greg Garcia, and IDIC Executive Director and veterans' advocate Sluggo Rigor.

WWII Maj. Albert Bacani (ret.), 96, of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans, greets Sen. Daniel Akaka, incoming chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee as Ms. Loida Nicolas-Lewis looks on.

Veterans at the planning conference pose with U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, author of S. 4070 (seated center). ACFV veterans led by Pat Ganio, 86, Franco Arcebal, 83, Amador Montero, 89, are shown with with NaFFAA leaders Ernie Ramos, National Chair Alma Kern, Armando Heredia and Philippine Ambassador Willy Gaa. (E. Lachica photo)

WWII vets: Regino Nacua (SF), Joaquin Tejada (DC) and Simplicio Yoma (SF) and Loida Nicolas-Lewis prepare to meet with Sen. Charles Schumer's aide in his Hart Senate office to discuss the Family Reunification and Equity bills.

ACFV Photos from the Dec. 6, 2006 Embassy-NaFFAA Planning Conference


New books for Dolores Elementary School in Abra

School children of the Dolores Elementary School happily hold up the books that were donated to by Minnesota couple Joy and Don Martodam through the assistance of Seattle-based educator Dolly Castillo and Dolores, Abra civic leaders Jay and Susan Timbreza. In the back are school Principal Pedrito Testado and a classsroom teacher who helped distribute the books.


Veterans Agonize Over Long Wait

Veterans’ Survey Completes 1st Leg

The state-funded survey of Filipino World War II veterans who are appealing for their families to rejoin them in the U.S. completes this month the first segment of data-gathering with a total of fifty-three (53) aging respondents submitting information and data to a Survey Task Force based in South Seattle. Initially designed to count the number of Filipino WW II veterans who have filed immigration petitions for their families, the survey—begun in August---also intends to determine the veterans’ living conditions, service credentials, the number of petitioned kin and their professions, if any, and their provincial or regional origins. The 53 veterans have pending petitions for 323 dependents that are living in the Philippines.

Respondents sought out by the survey are specifically Filipino veterans and recognized guerillas who were awarded U.S. citizenship through the 1990 Immigration Reform Act signed into law by then President George H. Bush. Arriving in the U.S. in the mid 1990s, the veterans were already in their 70s, mostly unemployable, and without their spouses or children. It is believed that there were about 14,000 veterans who availed of the citizenship offer and came to live in the U.S. Majority of them landed in Hawaii and California. In Washington State, about 250 are reported to have arrived as early as 1992. Many have had to file formal petitions so that their spouses could rejoin them. For spouses, it took an average of 2 to 5 years’ wait. But petitions for married children, due to a quota system imposed on visas issued for countries like the Philippines, waiting time is from 15 to 18 years.

Photo: Seattle, San Francisco, and Houston veterans, their spouses, and advocates visited the National WWII Memorial in Washington DC on December 8, 2006, the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. The Filipino War Veterans of Washington (FWVW) were led by Commander Amador M. Montero and wife Proserpina; FWVW Historian Greg Garcia and wife Rosita; IDIC Executive Director Sluggo Rigor and wife Marivic; while Major (ret.) Urbano Quijance and Ms. Fanny Sumaoang represented the Seattle-based Bataan-Corregidor Surviviors Association (BCSA).The San Francisco veterans were Regino Nacua and Simplicio Yoma. Joe Gonzales represented the Houston ACFV chapter. Philippine Embassy VA head, Maj. Gen. Delfin Lorenzana, and ACFV Executive Director Eric Lachica escorted the delegation.

Of the total 53 Filipino veterans surveyed, all have petitioned their adult children and grandchildren. On average, they have been waiting for more than ten years. Some have been waiting for as long as 14 years.

Among the significant findings of the survey are that the veterans’ dependents are professionally able and ready to transition into the U.S. Forty-one percent of the respondents in Washington State live on supplemental income. All are in their mid or late 80s.

Unprecedented in scope, the survey of Filipino WW II veterans was managed and administered by the International Drop-In Center (IDIC) in close collaboration with the Filipino War Veterans of Washington (FWVW), a 14-year old organization of veterans who had come to live in the State in the wake of the 1990 Immigration Act. Twenty-two community organizations all over the state were asked to assist as Survey Information Points (SIPs) with student-volunteers from the University of Washington helping in the gathering and compiling of survey data. An independent public affairs outfit, Lachman & Laing Associates, was appointed as counsel to the survey.

The project is supported by State Governor Christine Gregoire, State Senator Margarita Prentice, Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs (CAPAA) Executive Director Ellen Abellera, Department of Veterans Affairs Director John Lee, Washington D.C.-based American Coalition of Filipino Veterans (ACFV), and Filipino veterans’ organizations and socio-civic groups in the local community.

“The survey will be the basis for studying possible community-based programs that will be in place when the U.S. Congress finally passes the Family Reunification Bill in the 110th Congress as committed by Senators Daniel Akaka, Daniel Inouye, Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray, Rep. Bob Filner, and scores of other leading supporters in Washington D.C.,” FWVW Commander Amador Montero shared.

The 89-year old veteran leader referred to the plan drawn up two years ago by his group and veterans’ advocates in the state asking Olympia to extend support to an integrated Filipino WW II Veterans Family Resettlement Program that will include workable transport of families from the Philippines, acculturation courses, transitional housing, schooling and job search. The program would be the first of its kind in the U.S. and would be an ideal format for similar undertakings in other states, Montero added.

From an original 200 members of the Seattle-based Filipino War Veterans of Washington (FWVW) in 1994, membership has dwindled to less than one-half. Thirty-one veterans residing in Washington State have filed petitions for their adult children and grand children. Those who have not yet filed have not done so because of the increased cost of filing fees. Commander Montero had expressed concern over expensive fees during courtesy calls made to the offices of Hawaii Senators Akaka, Inouye, Washington State Senators Cantwell and Murray in Washington D.C. earlier this month.

In a letter to the Bulletin, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell wrote in part: “Please be assured that as the 110th Congress begins in January 2007, I will work with my colleagues on behalf of Filipino World War II veterans to ensure that their families may join them in the United States.” She is a co-sponsor of the legislation introduced on November 16th by Sen. Akaka, S. 4070, that would expedite the family-sponsored immigrant visa for adult children of Filipino WW II veterans who wish to be reunited with their parents.

“Because there is overwhelming support in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate on the passage of a justifiable, do-able and affordable legislation like Family Reunification, it is widely anticipated that S. 4070 will be processed faster on committee levels and voted on the floor earlier than other bills regarding Filipino war veterans,” veteran Greg Garcia of the FWVW disclosed. This optimism was also shared by officials of the Arlington-based ACFV whose lobbying experience in Washington D.C. spans more than 12 years.

“These positive developments are reasons why we in Washington State are excited and ready to move on to the next level to extend much-needed, time-sensitive help to our gallant WW II Filipino soldiers. Any issue about family togetherness is critical and we are blessed to have the support and understanding of our Governor and the State Legislature,” CAPAA Executive Director Ellen Abellera added. It was the CAPAA chief who had flown to Washington D.C. in May to personally push for the Family Reunification Bill. That provision was unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate for inclusion in the controversial Immigration Reform Act. Early last year, Ms. Abellera had also hand-carried a personal note from Governor Gregoire to President Gloria M. Arroyo to appraise the Philippine President about the Veterans Family Reunification initiatives being undertaken in Washington State.

Together with veterans’ advocates from all over the U.S. and staff members of leading U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators, Ms. Abellera is reported to be actively assisting in the early re-introduction and passage in the next Congress of Sen. Akaka’s “stand-alone bill,” S. 4070.


Christmas Cheer

The singing, jolly Donut Boys livened up the Third Annual Christmas Choral Concert held at the Filipino Community Center in South Seattle on December 4th. The group, directed and accompanied on the electric guitar by Tacoma-based musician Eddie Artugue, is noted for their cheerful and bouncy tunes. They are shown here rendering one of their fun numbers in their smart blue jackets.

Choral singers composed of youngsters from various Church groups rendered lilting Christmas carols at the Third Annual Christmas Choral Concert December 4th at the Filipino Community Center in South Seattle. The group was led by community advocate John Araucto who sang with the group. Also conducting was Realtor Vallie Pavino.


Movements & Currents: Snowbound

by Greg Castilla

Christmas songs have slowly filled the air. Christmas shoppers have started their yearly ritual of looking for the best buy. Our neighbors have started to decorate their homes with colorful and blinking lights. Christmas cards have started coming in. Best of all, my daughter Mutya, who is studying at Regis University in Denver, will be home for the holidays in two weeks. Our family will be complete this Christmas.

But despite the festive mood that’s beginning to blanket my surroundings, the recent death of James Kim has not gotten off my mind yet. And I did not even know the man. It must be the circumstances of his death. It must be that we both have two daughters. It must be that at 35, he was too young to die. I think of how his wife Kati and their two young daughters Penelope, 4, and Sabine, 7 months, will be spending the Christmas season.

Kim was the San Francisco native who, in a desperate attempt to save his family trapped in snowy Oregon Mountains, left his family in their car to look for help one week after being stranded.

Two days after Kim left his family, rescuers found Kati and the children.

Four days after Kim’s Herculean trek in search for help, his lifeless body was found not far from where he had left his family. A victim of hypothermia.

The Kims spent Thanksgiving in Seattle and were on their way back to San Francisco when they missed the turnoff and ended in a slightly traveled road amidst heavy snow. To keep warm, they ran the engine of their car to power the heater. When they ran out of gas, they burned the tires. When the little food they had was gone, Kati breastfed her two children.

The discovery of Kim’s body marked the end of a saga that was closely followed by the print and broadcast media in the Pacific Northwest. Now the media hardly mention the Kims. The “news” is over. But not for me.

No doubt, James’ only intention was to protect and save his family. People have commented that had he not left his family, he would have been still alive today. That’s true. But life is not a 20/20 vision. We don’t live by hindsight. We make decisions based on what we perceive is the right thing to do at the moment.

I still think of the Kim family. I wonder if Christmas means anything to Kati and the two daughters. At 7 months old, Sabine probably does not have much recollection of her dad. But what about Penelope? Is she going to be happy this Christmas? I wonder if Kati is even thinking of buying a Christmas tree. She will probably buy gifts for her children, but deep in her heart someone is missing in her life. Christmas is supposed to be joyous. I doubt if Kati is in the mood to celebrate.

When my family and relatives gather on Christmas Eve to exchange gifts, sing carols, and partake in the traditional “Noche Buena,” Penelope and Sabine will probably also be opening gifts and enjoying a sumptuous dinner prepared by their mom.

Sad but true, this Christmas will be poignant for the Kims. That so many of us in the Pacific Northwest have been touched by the heroism displayed by James should give the family solace and renewed hope.


Carpe Diem – 2006 Person of the Year

by Bob Friedlander

Time magazine since 1927 has been choosing the Person of the Year usually a figure who for good or evil dominates the world news. It is an event closely watched by the world. Good guys like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Harry Truman , Martin Luther King, Jack Kennedy, and Cory Aquino are some of the good persons selected. On the other hand fanatics and tyrants like Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Ayatollah Khomeini also made it. One thing they all had in common is, they dominated the world stage for better or for worse for that year.

Congratulations to YOU as Time has chosen for 2006 all of us individually and collectively as persons who dominated the world and will continue to do so because of the wired world web. It is pure People Power once again demonstrated in the world. The explosive influence and growth of the information age has shown that we can make the difference for change for better or for worse. The world has shrunk as you can communicate and help influence events instantly. First you had email, then the websites, followed by blogs, my space and lately the Youtube generation. If you are not familiar with these cyberspace semantics it is time for you to talk to your teenage sons and daughters. News is even faster than the traditional media we have been accustomed to. Just to illustrate the power of Youtube, a Presidential timber for the Republican Party was shredded to a Presidential toothpick with an expose’ of his Makaka remark, a racially offensive term. It was not the traditional media who caught this it was a person who used the power of the web to show one and all the hypocrisy of some candidates. Disturbing emails of a gay Congressman from Florida had his political career ended. It is claimed that the reason why the Republicans lost Congress and the Senate is the power of the youth who came out in droves to vote for the Democratic Party candidates with fresh images of the Iraq war contradicting the we are winning the war claim of the Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld trio and similar incidents mentioned earlier.

On a personal note my high school class of Ateneo and Army brats who lived in the former Fort McKinley set up it own yahoo groups. Lo and behold boyhood friends of forty, fifty years ago instantly renew memories and friendship as if the missing years did not interrupt the relationship. Our reunion was a smashing success because of the power of the internet.

In marketing we have seen how Amazon and EBay have become great Channels of distribution and source of sales in many industries. Travel, car sales, membership clubs and a growing number of industries are using the internet for commerce. Even sports are great adventure in the internet. In the last Pacquiao fight I was unwilling to dish out $55 for the fight. A young daughter of mind told me to connect to a certain website and to my pleasant surprise I watched the fight live and saw Manny knockout El Terrible. The quality of the video was not excellent but fair enough to enjoy the exciting match. Movies are heavily promoted in the internet

The trend is the same for fund raising activities. Even the dreaded Al Qaeda has become an astute user of the web using it for propaganda and a tool for terror as well as recruitment of followers.

The advent of this powerful technology has given the individuals a tool for change. What do we do about it? Shall we ignore this development, be indifferent or embrace and use it for the good of society. It is our choice to be different, to be man for others or to be used for the aggrandizement of self. This is your choice. Seize the moment!


Letter from New York: Citizenship Test

by Mart Martell

DECEMBER EVENTS -- December 7, 1941: At 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time [10 p.m. Manila time], a Japanese dive bomber bearing the red symbol of the Rising Sun of Japan on its wings appears out of the clouds above the island of Oahu. A swarm of 360 Japanese warplanes followed, descending on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in a ferocious assault. The surprise attack struck a critical blow against the U.S. Pacific fleet and drew the United States irrevocably into World War II. We in Manila received the news on morning of December 8, a Monday. I remember my first reaction, was that (whoopee!) we didn’t have to go to school. And since the Japanese, according to my father’s American friends, won’t last a week in a war against America, we might as well enjoy this unexpected vacation. A month later, these same Americans were internees in the Santo Tomas University – for the next 3 years.

*** December 8, 1980: John Lennon is killed by an obsessed fan in New York City. The 40-year-old Beatle was entering his luxury Manhattan apartment building when Mark David Chapman shot him four times at close range with a .38-caliber revolver. Lennon, bleeding profusely, was rushed to the hospital but died en route. Chapman had received an autograph from Lennon earlier in the day and voluntarily remained at the scene of the shooting until he was arrested by police. Lennon was considered the intellectual Beatle and was the most outspoken of the four. He caused a major controversy in 1966 when he declared that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus," prompting mass burnings of Beatles' records in the American Bible Belt. Which perhaps shouldn’t be surprising: it’s been reported that there were more voters for the American Idol show than for the last presidential elections here.

*** December 10, 1898: In France, the Treaty of Paris is signed, formally ending the Spanish-American War and granting the United States its first overseas empire. Which meant that the American colonization of the Philippines began. Filipinos who thought that the Americans were there to help them against the Spaniards turned their guns against the new occupiers, and 10 times more U.S. troops died suppressing the Philippines than in defeating Spain. The Americans paid 20-million dollars to Spain as part of the Philippine sale. Cuba, Guam and Puerto Rico were also part of the settlement.

*** December 24, 1865: In Pulaski, Tennessee, a group of Confederate veterans meets to form a secret society that they christen the "Ku Klux Klan." The KKK rapidly grew from a secret social fraternity to a paramilitary force bent on reversing the federal government's progressive Reconstruction Era activities in the South, especially policies that elevated the rights of the local African-American population. The Klan employed violence as a means of pushing back Reconstruction and its enfranchisement of African- Americans. And if you think this claim to racial superiority has already disappeared in these United States, just read or watch the local news.

*** December 25, 4 A.D.: This day is supposed to be the day that Jesus Christ was born, although few in the first two Christian centuries claimed any knowledge of the exact day or year in which he was born. The oldest existing record of a Christmas celebration is found in a Roman almanac that tells of a Christ's Nativity festival led by the church of Rome in 336 A.D. The precise reason why Christmas came to be celebrated on December 25 remains obscure, but most researchers believe that Christmas originated as a Christian substitute for pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. In the early fourth century, church leaders had to contend with a popular Roman pagan holiday commemorating the "birthday of the unconquered sun" (natalis solis invicti)--the Roman name for the winter solstice. To rationalize the celebration of Jesus’s birthday in late December, church leaders may have argued that since the world was allegedly created on the spring equinox (late March), so too would Jesus have been conceived by God on that date. The Virgin Mary, pregnant with the Son of God, would therefore have given birth to Jesus nine months later on the winter solstice.

*** December 30, 1898: Jose Rizal is executed in what is now Luneta. This begs a question: Have we had any real heroes since then? Men and women who fought, lived and died for a vision or an ideal that would inspire Filipinos to action and sacrifice? And looking at the situation in the Philippines today: There’s a lot of criticism and hue and cry about Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. But the question is: Sino naman ang ipapalit sa kanya? If this were a basketball team, it seems we don’t have a very deep bench. Or maybe there’s no bench at all.

GENUINE CUISINE? – You are vacationing in Rome, having a delicious dinner of “authentic” Italian cuisine -- a delicious dinner of pasta with meat sauce and grated Parmesan. Add a salad of fresh mozzarella and Roman tomatoes sprinkled with Tuscan olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Maybe you'll wash it down with some Amaretto liqueur. All those Italian names. But there's a catch: none of this food was actually made in Italy. Foods that look or sound Italian but are produced elsewhere amount to $66 billion in annual sales — nearly half the $135.5 billion worth of real Italian food that is sold worldwide in a year, says Coldiretti, Italy's farmers association. This situation is quite pervasive and actually misleading. I am reminded of some Pinoy eateries that call themselves Pampangueño in their advertising but actually are not; they just trade on the reputation of Pampango cuisine as delicious. I am amused and resentful of this, as a Pampangueño on my mother’s side. I once went to eat in a so-called Pampanga restaurant; and when I tried to engage the folks there in Kapampangan, nobody knew the language. Anyway, in this day and age, is there anything like genuine regional Pinoy cooking? Like pinakbet, papait, or kari-kari or sinugba? And I wonder if the second-generation younger Pinoys here in the States care one way or the other.

THE ALL-IMPORTANT REMOTE -- The police in Mussidan in Aquitaine, France said that while a retired man was at their station reporting the theft of his television, the thief returned to the man’s house, where alert neighbors tipped them off and they caught him red-handed. “He came back to take the remote control,” a police spokesman said.

CITIZENSHIP TESTS – Those of our kababayans who applied for citzenship will remember the tests they had to prepare for. They had to know the answers to “How many stripes are there in the flag?”; “What color are the stripes on the flag?”; '”What do the stripes on the flag represent?” and the obvious, '”What are the colors of our flag?” Not anymore. The federal government rolled out a new citizenship test Thursday to replace an exam that critics say has encouraged prospective Americans simply to memorize facts, rather than fully understand the principles of a democracy. There will be 144 questions on civics and history, including 57 rephrased questions from the current exam. [All the questions are available on the agency's Web site,]. I guess this will be something like the difference between a True-False test where you can bluff and guess your way around, and an essay test. [No more guessing!] The new test will include questions like: Name one important idea found in the Declaration of Independence. What type of economic system does the United States have? Why do we have three branches of government? Name one example of checks and balances. It also occurs to me that if you asked some Americans these same questions they wouldn’t know the answers. And I’d dare say that there’s still many of them who couldn’t sing the Star-Spangled Banner correctly and completely, if at all.


Between the Lines: December 2006

We’re at the tail-end of another year. As we look back on the calendar, there have been many developments in our community that should make us happy and thankful. Adding a dimension of cheer is that it is Christmastime again, too. Several issues come to mind: the heightened sense of community in our Seattle village has re-awakened us against injustices done to our aging WW II veterans and their families, the reported unfair practices of local employers, and the goodwill and compassion that continue to be exhibited by donors to worthy causes. It has largely been a year of virtues, vigilance, productive endeavors and good cheer. Let’s sustain that momentum for the coming year.

We were in Washington DC recently with several WW II veterans to attend an invitational planning conference organized by the Philippine Embassy and NaFFAA. Conference speakers included Philippine Secretary of Local Government Ronnie Puno and Veterans Federation of the Philippines (VFP) officials from Manila. But the high point of the conference was easily the inspired speeches delivered by American legislators, Senator Daniel Akaka (HI-D) and Rep. Bob Filner (CA-D). The two are staunch supporters of the aging Filipino warriors who have long been waging an uphill battle. Now there is hope, they told the veterans and their advocates. The two have been designated Chairmen in their respective branches’ Veterans’ Affairs Committees. During the conference, fellow-advocate Perry Diaz asked permission to borrow our coined words “gathering of warriors” and “Debt March” in his next write-up regarding the conference. Indeed, as Perry and most of the delegates had observed, it was a historic gathering at the seat of power in the Free World’s most powerful nation. Throughout the three-day get-together, there was an unmistakable air of tension mixed with high expectations amongst conference delegates. Maybe Washington DC generates such a feeling? Veterans Franco Arcebal and Pat Ganio, who were quite outspoken about issues close to their hearts, were joined by their comrades from Seattle, Amador Montero, Greg Garcia, retired Maj. Urbano Quijance, about twenty-five other WW II veterans-leaders from Texas, Hawaii, Florida, Illinois and New Jersey. Banded together, a majority were there as affiliates of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans (ACFV) led by long-time Arlington-based lobbyist, former journalist and veteran’s son Eric Lachica.

* *

Senator Akaka’s impassioned speech focused on the bill he had filed a few days before the conference, S. 4070. This is a bill that would speed up the coming of the veterans’ children and grandchildren to America. The Hawaiian legislator demonstrated his deep understanding of family and what that means to every aging veteran deprived of this important support system. He revealed that two of his children are married to Filipinos and he is aware how closely-knit Filipinos are as family units. The aging veterans stood up, clapped and cheered lustily at every sentence he spoke on his determination to push and re-file S.4070 as “a priority bill” when the next session of Congress opens next month. To the veterans assembled at the conference, this was the best Christmas gift ever in a long, long while. There is hope at last. It is great, exciting news that they can tell their children on this season of grace.

At the conclusion of the conference there was an agreement reached by all following some emotional episodes, that there would be a single-minded resolution to push only for the long-pending, nearly seven decades-old Filipino Veterans Equity Bill. As a compromise move, a separate resolution would be made for the Filipino Veterans Family Reunification bill. In the conference’s last hour, gathered on center-stage to whip up “appropriate language” for the final resolution, were NaFFAA’s indefatigable chief Alma Kern, Jon Melegrito, and Ernie Ramos on one side; the Embassy’s amicable General Delfin Lorenzana like a referee in the middle; and ACFV’s hard-working Eric Lachica, veterans Pat Ganio, and the fiery Frank Arcebal on the opposing side. It was a picture to behold: the nation’s key Filipino community leaders, the aging soldiers and their advocates deeply immersed in a moment of impassioned discussion. The scene revealed how important and desperate an issue the Filipino WW II veterans’ cause had become. Participation from the engaged floor included opinions voiced out by veterans Maj. Quijance, Commander Amador Montero, Greg Garcia, Capt. Joe Gonzales formerly from Honolulu and now Houston, former Philippine Constabulary (PC) officer Col. Monteyro of San Diego, union organizer Gloria Caoile and other veterans’ advocates and supporters including this writer.

* *

There is word circulating about the possible re-opening of the Philippine Consulate in Seattle. This is a most welcome development if it happens. We are, however, a bit skeptical after learning that the move would be coursed via legislation introduced in the Philippine Congress by some congressmen-businessmen who came a-visiting to the U.S. Reason why we’re doubtful is that diplomatic service is a government function that is under the Executive branch. Correct us if we’re wrong, but if that is not so and legislation will work, then we are all for that. Washington State is such a vital place where world-caliber corporations abound. Its ports are the closest to the region where the homeland is and we are puzzled at the indifference displayed by the Philippine government when it shut down in 1990 the Philippine Consulate General in Seattle. Ironically, the reason given then was economics.


Thank You

Greg S. Castilla

I started writing for the Filipino-American Bulletin November of 1989. If my math is correct, it’s seventeen years of writing this November of 2006. Previous to that, I regularly contributed articles to The International Examiner for five years. Over a year ago, I started writing for the Bayanihan News in Sydney. My articles vary from sports to politics, from overly critical to honestly neutral, and from serious to not too serious.

I don’t know how many read my articles. But I do know people read them because I continue to get some feedback from the readers. They read my articles to get a different view of life, to know how I think on certain issues, to take a glimpse at the latest outrage or bias in my mind, to acquire new insights, to get some information to throw back at me, to reinforce their opinions, and probably because they have nothing else to read.

While I’m essentially a thoughtful person, not once have I publicly thanked these readers. Some of them might not like what I write. Others might have been offended by my frankness. But they deserve my thanks for taking a few minutes of their time to know what my perspectives are.

No matter if my articles are criticized, admired, agreed with, dissected, as long as they are read, the efforts of these readers are very much appreciated.

I spend a few precious hours writing articles. The prep work includes a lot of reflection. Sometimes it helps if I’m familiar with the topic I want to write about. At times, I look for topics to write about in newspapers, in casual conversations with friends, in talking to my wife, in what I observe around me or in watching TV. If I’m inspired, ideas come out freely and it does not take that long to sit in front of my computer and come out with a decent article. But unlike many professional writers, writing for me is ninety percent perspiration and ten percent inspiration. Inspiration sometimes comes in the form of a reminder from my editor (thanks to you, too).

It would be very disappointing if my effort is ignored and does not impact the readers whether negatively or positively. Certainly, the worst that could happen is if I find out that no one reads me anymore. Thus, special thanks to those who go out of their way to give me feedback.

I would be negligent if I thank my readers but fail to be grateful for the many blessings that have come my way this year. Despite pulling my hamstring for two consecutive Sundays while playing basketball, I remain relatively healthy. To be 57 years old and still be able to play competitive basketball, with no major illness, is a gift that is worth thanking for.

I’m eternally grateful to my wife, daughters, relatives and friends who are always there for me. They continue to be my sources of inspiration, strength, comfort and support. Just like my readers, they’ve tried to understand my views. But unlike my readers, they’ve wished me nothing but the best. Thank you to all of you on this Thanksgiving Day!


Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Between the Lines: A Matter of Honor

There was an enterprising and astute Filipino expatriate based in Washington DC who once cooked up a yearly ego-boosting project based on one’s perceived public image in exchange for “donations.” For about four years, the fellow succeeded in “honoring” unsuspecting and naïve community folks from all over the U.S. by doing superficial research on them, dropping names of dignitaries, and asking them to fly to DC to accept an award. Every year there would be about seventeen to twenty-five awardees from different states. The formal reception, according to one honoree, was complete with printed magazine-souvenir programs that appeared sleazy and amateurish. One look at the invitation and publication put out by the enterprising dude would astonish any professional PR practitioner at how utterly delusional some people are. Reminds us of those mailed invites for list-up in “Who’s Who in Wonderland.” Such clever come-ons are often spiked to make you part with hard-earned bucks. Either the acceptors are just gullible souls acutely hungry for attention or are obsessed by any form of ego-tripping. What is outrageous is the barefaced demand for money as a prerequisite to receiving honors. This counts among the more scandalous acts crossing our radar screen. Money asked in the guise of a donation, a veteran strongly voiced out, cheapens any form of tribute-giving. Which sadly throws a monkey wrench on well-meaning gestures by those not steeped in dealing with tender sensibilities. It is a matter of honor and not the amount asked, the aging soldier insists—referring to a particular situation. Well, we ought to know better next time. Maybe protocol (or is it propriety?) should first be studied before we honor people. How about that fellow in DC? We learn he no longer runs his yearly image pakulo. You’ll probably guess why.

Among the blessings and abstracts we receive, the not-so-obvious always catches our fancy. For instance, we cherish written bits and pieces of wisdom that come our way. We share a gem that we’ve treasured through the years. You could say that it is a roadmap that has guided us well. Written anonymously, it is entitled “Anyway.”

People are often unreasonable, illogical
and self-centered: Forgive them anyway;
If you are kind, people may accuse you of
selfish, ulterior motives: Be kind anyway;
If you are honest and frank, people may
cheat you: Be honest anyway;
If you spend years building, someone may
try to destroy overnight: Build anyway;
If you find serenity and happiness, they may
be jealous: Be happy anyway;
The good you do today, people will often
forget tomorrow: Do good anyway;
You see, in the final analysis, it is between
you and God; it was never between you
and them, anyway.


I would say that in about three more years, the World War II veterans you see today could fade away and belong to history. Now in their mid or late 80s, these gallant warriors of freedom, in case you are not aware, are sending out faint but profound signals. They need help. In this month of November when we mark Veterans Day, let us say a prayer for them. Their signals are directed at those who can do something about their plight. We do not mean only the old Filipino-American WW II veterans living in the U.S. but their counterparts who are in the Philippines and rapidly dwindling in numbers. The veterans here need their immediate families to rejoin them in the U.S. to be their main support system. Back in the Philippines, the veterans there need economic and medical benefits as they grow old. For over sixty years, too much lip service has been said about the compelling war veterans issue. Analyzed to the bone these past few years, the benefits due the frail and aging soldiers have been parceled out in trickles. Certainly better than nothing. Thanks to the lobbying of earnest groups like the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans (ACFV) led by former journalist and veteran’s son Eric Lachica, the veterans can look forward to some concessions like conditional medical and burial benefits. But that is like band-aid on an amputated joint. The infamous Rescission Act of 1946 had cut off the Filipino soldier from his military service benefits and he is suffering. Analysts say that after the mid-term election win by Democrats in the U.S. Congress, there is hope. In early December, Senators Inouye and Akaka, hopefully to be joined by Washington state Senators Murray and Cantwell, will file what will be known as the “Stand Alone” bill to accelerate the coming to this country of the veterans’ immediate families. If you have access to a PC, please send letters to your U.S. Congressional representatives to support pending bills that will benefit these aging soldiers. In our state of Washington, the outlook since two years ago has been optimistic. Through the help of the Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs (CAPAA), the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the International Drop-In Center (IDIC), local WW II veterans are being surveyed to determine the actual number of families petitioned more than twelve years or so ago. No less than Governor Christine Gregoire and State Senator Margarita Prentice have demonstrated uncommon support for the aging Fil-Am veterans. Also in December we hope we can accompany local veterans’ leaders to Washington DC for an invitational conference to address issues surrounding pending benefits and to craft a unified front as a community. Realistically, that meeting in the nation’s seat of power could be the old soldiers’ last chance to voice out their appeal. On the national level, the Philippine Embassy in DC and the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations (NaFFAA) have re-charged their efforts to help the fast-fading old soldiers. The veterans will take slow, painful strides in DC in what one advocate grimly calls a “Debt March.” By now everyone realizes that their cause has turned into an issue of conscience. And it is everyone’s hope that all the concerted attention being beamed on the old soldiers and their families will soon come to a crescendo of fulfillment. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that the veterans live a little longer so they can taste the fruits of any hard-earned triumph.


Friday, September 1, 2006

Ferdinand Marcos: Forever My President

by Gloria Y. Adams, NCC; M.Ed.

As a statesman and leader, President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos had always fascinated me. He has been my idol from the glorious beginning of his public career as a pressured and celebrated young student who topped the national lawyers exam to his bitter end in exile. I have often been misunderstood by those who profess to “know” FM well. I nonetheless reply that I have idolized FM since he became a lawyer, a war hero and then an elected official in the homeland. His sharp mind, based on the many writings and speeches he had authored and delivered, could transform any serious researcher into an instant follower. More so if one reads and researches as extensively and intensely as I do. To the detractors of the late Ilocano leader, I say: Judge me not for I do not make any rash judgments on anyone’s ideology or belief. I believe in democracy, fair play and just rewards. I likewise practice a philosophy learned from revered forefathers that credit should always be giventowhere it is due. My conclusions, I daresay, are as fair as any focused citizen can possibly put together.

For a start, because he had served longest as president, it is a fact that countless people benefited from President Marcos. Sad but true, they discarded him both as a person and as a leader when he no longer wielded power. Like many die-hard followers, I have remained loyal. I have not yet found his fabled mental strength and intellectual power in anyone who has succeeded him. I own a vast collection of Marcosiana collected in the Philippines, books written by him and about him. These enable me to objectively discuss, argue and express admiration for the man. Unfortunately I cannot yet share it with anyone who wants to read them. For those whose views and words are bitter to swallow, I ask: Have you read at least one of FM’s books and books written about him---pros and cons, one or two perhaps?

I realize that after observing and reading about the presidents who had succeeded him, President Marcos, in my opinion, still towers dominantly as the best president the Philippines has ever produced. I state this without hesitation, with a chest full of pride and conviction. Marcos will always be my president.

For me, President Marcos’ leadership is unsurpassed. It was suited for the temperament of a developing Southeast Asian Christian country whose culture had been violated and crossed with those of western conquerors. As a striving economy in the so-called Third World, FM was able to harness the best minds of foremost ward leaders and industry managers in the country like Carlos Romulo for foreign affairs (after he became a top United Nations official); Rafael Salas as executive secretary who later earned prominence in global population management; Cesar Virata as prime minister; Vicente Paterno for industry and investment; Roberto Ongpin, Leonides Virata and Jaime Laya for finance and fiscal management; Jose Aspiras for tourism, Blas Ople for labor, Arturo Tangco for agriculture; Juan Ponce Enrile for defense; Andres Castillo for banking, Ramon Farolan for customs, and many other young turks and rising technocrats of that era who had recognized the dynamic ways of genuine leadership. Although many were concerned at first, he declared martial law because the situation had required it. But he infused discipline into the national consciousness that no Filipino leader had ever attempted. Today, many Filipinos agree that national discipline is what the country needs badly. What succeeding presidents are addressing and doing now are mostly the legacy of the visionary Marcos—infrastructures, highways and bridges, green revolution, miracle rice, industrial investments, development of energy resources and rural electrification, land reform, housing systems, the Cultural Center, to name only a few. The expressways of North and South Luzon all the way to San Juanico Bridge in Samar and Leyte were started under the Marcos administration. The reclamation of lands along Manila Bay was FM’s pet project. Pride in Tagalog and other native songs and literature, in national costumes and performing arts culminated in the Cultural Center. The Philippine Heart Center, the Kidney Center, the Philippine Science High School, the Atomic Center, the nationwide Barangays, a revitalized tourism industry, the export processing zones in Subic, Cebu, Zamboanga, Davao and Baguio were some high profile vital economic programs that bore sweet fruits under his powerful stewardship.

On the personal family level, few families would have produced a provincial governor and a congresswoman at the same time. This only means that in his home province of Ilocos Norte and the northern Luzon region, FM’s legacy lives on.

After the reigns of other contemporary Philippine presidents are reviewed, President Marcos will live forever in the hearts of many Filipinos as the president who did more for his country and people. Now appreciated, though silently and hesitatingly by the unsure many when he is long gone from power, FM has come back to haunt those who have been disloyal and ungrateful. Imbued with a deep sense of history, the great man—who was gravely ill by then—would never have wanted to leave the Philippines in such a tragic manner. No leader would like to go that way. I am also sure that he never expected those around him to cut away after they had no longer any use for him. Even after he had given them the best favors in their careers. Looking at the state of the country after FM and observing the kind of leadership in Southeast Asian nations that now proudly gallop in progress, I venture to say: It is a moment for Filipinos to pause and review their past. In my own biased but intensely patriotic view, I clearly see FM in the leaders of today’s Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea, and even progressive Indonesia. All are strong men, leaders with determination who wield power mainly for their nation’s good. It is so ironic that the brilliant but misunderstood Ferdinand Marcos was way, way ahead of most of these notable Asian leaders. As fate would have it, FM was too early for his own good. And the people, when deprived of able leaders, will suffer.

One day soon Filipinos may yet begin to understand lessons that Philippine history imparts about patriots of destiny. That true greatness (FM had promised Filipinos: “This country can be great again.”) can be easily erased without regret by misplaced envy and masterful political intrigue.


Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Between the Lines: A Son’s Tale

by Sluggo Rigor

My father’s contemporaries tell me he was an authentic war hero---with emphasis on the word ‘authentic.’ This of course makes us in the family genuinely and silently proud. But I often wonder why there are lesser stories told about victories earned by Filipino soldiers during the last world war. Were they not also key players who belonged to the triumphant Allied Forces of World War II in the Pacific theater? Except for the overplayed MacArthur U-turn to the archipelago, contemporary history seems to lean towards defeats and infamy like Bataan, Corregidor, and the Death March. We commemorate these woeful events of subjugation every year but hardly mark those where the Filipino soldier had dutifully helped defeat the enemy.

In one crucial and bloody military operation towards the end of World War II, my father had led three all-Filipino battalions of the 121st Infantry, USAFIP-NL. Reinforced by gritty bolomen from Abra, they assaulted Bessang Pass in the rugged mountains of North Luzon. It was Dad’s unit that broke through a formidable enemy defense line entrenched within the mountainous terrain. That hard-fought battle that lasted six weeks led to the surrender of the feared Tiger of Malaya, General Tomoyuki Yamashita, and other high-ranking Japanese Imperial Army and Naval flag officers who had come from nearby Asian cities hoping that the fabled Tiger could protect them. Among them was a known Admiral who had led the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor years earlier.

My father, “Daddy” to us his nine children and to our mother, Erlinda, was not much of a talker. He was the quiet, self-effacing-to-a-fault type. In intimate circles of friends, he was noted more as an upright, ram-rod-honest soldier-scholar, a poet, artist and writer. Close friends and associates called him “CB” or Condring. In his writings, he had paid homage to poets E.E. Cummings and Jose Garcia Villa when he studied philosophy and letters as a government scholar at the Columbia U in New York right after the war. He took up courses there with the then Col. Dwight (Ike) Eisenhower. After a three-year stint in the U.S., he returned to the Philippines to help establish what is now a military institution, the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) in Loakan, Baguio.

Throughout his forty-six abbreviated years on this planet, he rarely spoke about his wartime exploits. But his comrades-in-arms had recognized his dedication to the cause of the veterans when he was unanimously chosen to be the first secretary general of what is now the Veterans Federation of the Philippines (VFP), an organization that he had helped to found so that there would be voice and substance to the peacetime campaigns of the forgotten Filipino soldier.

His comrades-in-arms (who later on became distinguished personages) like Fred Ruiz Castro, Macario Peralta, Carmelo Z. Barbero, Pilar Normandy, Ernesto Rodriguez Jr., Francisco Bautista, Roberto Reyes, Eulogio Balao, Simeon Valdez, Cris De Vera, Jose Crisol, Nicanor Jimenez, Jose Banzon, Arnulfo Banez, Amador Daguio…to name a few…would recount what he had accomplished that fateful day in June of 1944 when the morning sun was hidden by the clouds in the rugged ridges of Bessang Pass.

What Dad had dubbed in his post-war writings as “The Battle of the Clouds” is said to have marked the official end of hostilities in the Philippines after General Yamashita and his staff were escorted down the foot trails of the Cordilleras to Camp Spencer in La Union. From there the popular Japanese General was taken to Manila for his celebrated military trial and eventual execution as a war criminal in Los Banos, Laguna.

Dad in his journal writings pointed to the battle in Bessang Pass as an “engagement of redemption,” coming full circle after “the shame and ignominy that was Bataan.” His colorful lines about the battle at Bessang would later be used rather extensively by then Senator Ferdinand Marcos when he campaigned for the highest office of the land in 1966. A wordsmith at heart, Daddy had unwittingly laid out through his after-battle reports and writings a clear path for the ambitious Senator Marcos to tread. The politician from Ilocos Norte and his apple-polishers created in the process the impression that the dreaded General Yamashita had surrendered to him---when in reality he was safely tucked away as staff in an obscure military personnel office. He had supposedly feigned sickness 85 kilometers away from the site of the bloody battle. Asked by one of Dad’s officers why he was not in the frontlines that day, the then Maj. Marcos, who was in bed at Camp Spencer’s dispensary, replied wryly, “I am not in the mood for heroics.”

Barely twenty three years later, after stints as a congressman of Ilocos Norte and later as a senator, Ferdinand Marcos would create a big controversy because of a film story and campaign line, “For every tear, a victory,” the very lines Dad had written about Bessang Pass in post-war published articles. Shortly after Dad suddenly died in May of 1960 at the age of 46 due to asthma complications (and because of indifference by military medical staffers at the V. Luna Medical Center in Quezon City), his writings, files, records and journals all vanished. According to my mother, she had turned them over to some of Dad’s comrades-in-arms to be used in recording the USAPIP-NL’s role in World War II. As if the trauma of Dad’s passing away was not enough to his still-in-shock family, a devastating storm and flood two weeks after he was laid to rest nearly washed away the brand new home that he had lovingly built in Little Baguio, San Juan. Wet, torn and muddied, all of his library books, records, journals and files were damaged beyond repair. Whatever remained in his library about “The Battle of the Clouds” were lost forever. Only in the writings, recollections and testimonies of those who had fought with him would remain. Only the tamper-free World War II files of the United States military would now reflect the names and the true roles of Filipino fighting men in the benighted peninsula of Bataan, the infamy that was Corregidor, the Death March and then the shining redemption and gallantry that was Bessang Pass. But many still wonder to this day whether bias, envy and prejudice that lurked in the hearts of those who had recorded these historic military episodes would forever diminish the glory of the brave Filipino soldiers who fought a war that was hardly theirs.

The book written by a communications officer and dear friend of Daddy, Ernest Rodriguez Jr., organizer and first president of the College Editors’ Guild, now a prestige-laden organization of young Filipino academics, entitled “The Bad Guerillas of North Luzon,” is considered by historians as a factual chronicle of the complicated military campaign in that region during World War II. The book chronicles the day-to-day pursuit of Yamashita’s retreating army by the Filipino soldiers who were under the telegraphic command of Col. Russel Volkmann of the United States Armed Forces in the Philippines-North Luzon (USAFIP-NL). The desperate Japanese Imperial Army had ravaged Manila and parts of Central Luzon as they retreated northward.

In a rare storytelling episode on our way to Dolores, Abra for a visit one summer in the early 50s, when we kids were all still in grades school, Dad pointed to us the mountain ranges in the distance where he had fought side-by-side with brave Filipino soldiers as they pursued well-entrenched Japanese forces. He said that many of those who were fighting against his troops as the war was ending were Korean boys not more than 15 years old. Frightened, hungry and sick, these young Koreans were really prisoners of war who were forced by Yamashita to wear ill-fitting Japanese uniforms and fight against the Filipinos. Many of them ran from their battle trenches to surrender to Dad’s men.


About two decades after Dad was buried at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani in Fort Bonifacio, I met up with several of his old comrades-in-arms who had fought side-by-side with him in Bessang. Each one of them expressed not a little amount of dismay about that epic battle that could have been the highest glory hour of the Filipino soldier of WW II. The surrender of the highest-ranking, most feared Japanese Imperial Army General to a gritty battalion of Filipino military officers and supported only by a band of barefoot and spunky Ilocano bolo men from the provinces of Abra and the Mountain Province was all but erased. Why? Because the American officers behind the battle lines—far away in La Union----upon learning of the break through in the tough Yamasita lines by the USAPI-NL’s 121st Bn., ordered the Filipino detachment in Bessang not to announce the victory “until further orders.” Only after two days when the Americans hurriedly arrived in Bessang that the announcement of Yamashita’s surrender was bannered to the whole world. Dad’s comrades today can only shake their heads in silent dismay. One outspoken officer commented: “Well…the ‘I Shall Return’ PR campaign had to have a glorious spin to it and Bessang Pass was it.” And, like that proverbial imagery goes, Dad and his brave comrades “just faded away…”


Saturday, July 1, 2006

Between the Lines: Summer’s Super Treat

Three weeks in Manila to attend the Jubilee Year celebration of my college fraternity during a season of monsoon rains happily brought back fond memories of childhood. With jet lag and all, the quaint patter of a downpour on the roof was just right for deep, undisturbed slumber. I dreamt I was again a carefree kid enjoying tampisaw in the rain, floating paper boats on swollen canals.

Metro Manila is changing. Giant malls and condos all over the place are transforming the skyline. Within these super structures called malls, aside from countless retailers, are restaurants with recipes so cooked and elegantly presented you’d think you were in a five-star joint in the U.S. Add-ons are the balikbayan-friendly prices and the ever-smiling service people.

If only traffic rules are enforced and the festering squatter shanties, ugly giant billboards, unruly jeepneys and buses are placed under control by authorities, Manila would give major Asian destinations stiff competition. Other drawbacks that we experienced first hand during this visit: (a) Manila’s international airport appears backward compared to stop-over ports of, say, Taiwan or Inchon. When we left on a wet Monday morning, the ceiling at the Manila airport’s departure area was pitifully leaking for all to see; airport toilets---although clean—appear shabby and badly in need of refurbishing; (b) Taxicabs entering the international airport bearing tourists are subjected to petty harassment at the main gate by security guards who are said to be protecting “authorized” cabs. (One such character on the early morning of July 24 had “F. Tayag” on his nameplate. Stern-looking and insisting on seeing the license of the cab driver, the IDs of passengers and asking all sorts of questions, he was clearly asserting power over a narrow turf. After ten minutes of explaining and pleas from cab passengers, gate guard F. Tayag arrogantly warns the cab driver not to go through that airport gate again.) Wow! How in the name of King Jeffrox would any unsuspecting tourist trying to catch a flight, navigating through Asia’s worst traffic mess, know which blessed cab in the city is authorized or not by gate guard F. Tayag? (c) Maintenance of buildings and general surroundings along main streets is almost non-existent. Structures and street signs along EDSA, Metro Manila’s main road, are unkempt if not dilapidated since we visited three years ago. Mayors of cities along EDSA should do some serious house cleaning. As if to add misery to the scenery, abusive, dangerous passenger buses plying EDSA run wild day and night—stopping wherever and whenever they please. If these buses cannot be disciplined they should be pulled out from main thoroughfares.

What we say here of course is easier said than done. Before anything moves at all in Pilipinas nating mahal, bureaucracy and red tape—if not politics—get in the way. Even the simple act of boarding a plane out of the international airport requires documents to be filled out, checked and re-checked, stickers that mar luggage are freely stuck on, security checks in three (repeat: three!) sections along the departure route are done by scores of airport employees, airline personnel and government hacks. No wonder, Manila’s premier airport, compared to those abroad, is always full of people. Observe closely. Bureaucrats and plain istambays (on stand-by) easily outnumber transient passengers any time of the day or night.

Some local critics we spoke to in the course of our stay shared interesting insights about the country’s present woes. To indulge in inflammatory topics makes it easy to slide into a complaining, critical mode about the homeland these days. But we certainly do not wish to come across whining and sounding all-knowing. I hasten to add that there also exist redeeming items worthy of mention in Metro Manila these days—things that were not readily seen when we last visited. Some that stand out: (a) Taxi cab service all over the city has vastly improved. For a little over a dollar (average PhP65-75 even with heavy traffic) one can go anywhere within the city on clean, air-conditioned cabs that operate with tamper-proof meters and courteous drivers in regulation white shirts. One feels secure unlike in the old days when scary dilapidated cabs were driven by operators that looked like thugs; (b) Food, always a key element in our culture, is now even better in Manila. Restaurant food, experts assert, is among the finest in the Southeast Asian region--and at quite reasonable prices. If you are a balikbayan with some baon dollars to spare, try hanging out at premium Metro Manila spots like Shangri-la Makati or the one on EDSA. Try their buffet. Or ask to be brought to La Tienda, Via Marre, Vizu, Bacolod Inasar, Razon, Dads, Dencio, Ardi’s, or Gloria Maris to name just a few memorable eating experiences. Buffet fare, in colorful splendor any gourmet would delight in, topped with warm, patented Filipino hospitality, are supposedly prepared only by world-caliber chefs; (c) Shopping—ask any woman---is at its finest. The tiangge at Greenhills in San Juan, the stupendously modern, newly-opened Mall of Asia in Pasay City and the mega malls of Makati, Mandaluyong and Quezon City have become favorite destinations of shoppers from all over the world. Visiting these places, we were always amused to overhear Europeans and Americans commenting on how they were enjoying the rich variety of jewelry, trinkets, garment, dry goods at prices they say they would never find in Bangkok, Hongkong or Singapore; (d) If restaurants have improved, so have world-class hotels and hostels with daily rates that are hard to beat. Ask around before booking and you will see that even top-season rates are quite affordable-- with terrific breakfast buffets tossed in as bonus; (e) Medical tourism is beginning to pick up. For those who want affordable cosmetic dentistry, facial or body make-over, tattoos, skin work, there are convenient package plans now available for balikbayans that include airfare, hotels, clinics, even trips to relaxing recovery spas for those who want holistic treatment. Ask your travel agent. These new travel packages target weary and overworked expatriate Filipinos from all over the world; (f) Nightlife? Well—Manila is still among the tops in Asia’s fun-seekers’ paradise. Connect with ‘knowledgeable locals’—and there are legions in Manila (if you do not wish to consult relatives or nose-y friends)---for safe, clean, memorable night life in the city and you too will want to work harder, save up more, stay fit and healthy so that you can return again and again and again. After staying 10,000 miles away in the last two decades, I now understand why Douglas was so determined to return.

Then there is this curious TV program called “Bahala si Bitag” (translation: Dragnet Takes Care) hosted by one more media crusader surnamed Tulfo. I caught two shows where the feisty mustachioed host scuffled with stubborn shotgun-wielding security guards, brought to the police station kotong (bribe-taking) barangay road traffic officers, monitored a food processing plant that was spilling and polluting Pasig River with harmful chemicals, and then showing the extent of fish farms set up by private interests apparently without enough supervision by the Laguna Lake Authority. Almost all of once-pristine Laguna Lake is now fenced-over by destructive fish farms that are reportedly owned by powerful ex-military and public officials. The producers of Bitag, IBC-UNTV Channel 13, display uncommon courage by accepting tips from the public. Tulfo and company are also living proof that there is hope after all. Downside is the disturbing number of journalists and broadcasters that are being “salvaged” by shadowy entities. As of last count, there were 48 media people all over the country that were ‘rubbed out’ for courageously exposing anomalous issues. Pundits say that the country owns one of the best-framed sets of laws in all of the free world as embodied in the Philippine Constitution. But it is clearly in enforcement of the law where authorities fail miserably. Root word here is “force.” Does that suggest that the country needs another strong man to instill discipline? It could well be an opportune time for the highly-touted law enforcers of the Philippines to demonstrate to the citizenry whether they are worth the taxes they are paid. If you are observant take a look at today’s governance: on the saddle is a lady who is supposed to be a housekeeper-economist per her bio-data; most in her cabinet are ex-military—from the executive secretary to the trade, public works, energy, and major enforcement portfolios. And her numero uno adviser-consultant-apologist is a former president who is also ex-military. With a team of powerful players like that, every Juan and naïve observers like me wonder: Where could the hitch be?

The statewide survey of Filipino World War II veterans is set to be launched this August with the final blessings of Olympia led by the Governor, the Veterans Administration Office, and the Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs (CAPAA). Community leaders all over Washington state are being asked to please help in this effort to reach aging Filipino veterans who are going to benefit (or wish to benefit) from the Family Reunification. It will be part of the Immigration Reform Law that is being presently debated and lobbied at the U.S. Congress. In June, a provision sponsored by Senators from Washington State and Hawaii was unanimously passed by the U.S. Senate. A call for assistance is being issued by the Seattle-based Filipino War Veterans of Washington (FWVW) and the International Drop-In Center (IDIC).

Our condolences go to two dear friends who had passed away recently. Manila Reyes Paz, noted Ilongga Filipino folk dance instructor and cultural arts advocate, succumbed to diabetes on July 7. Tito de Santos, a beloved fraternity man of North California, passed away suddenly while visiting Manila for a reunion with fraternity brothers. He had led a successful medical mission to Davao.

World champion young female softball players from Bacolod are arriving again this August to play in the World Series in Kirkland. Kuya Bert Caoili and educator Roy Flores are spearheading the support group. Find time to show your support for these spunky Filipina champions who easily beat teams from industrial nations.

For pure fun, entertainment and sheer delight, no one comes close today to stage performer Willie Nepomuceno. This guy is destined for Las Vegas if his cards are played right. He performs for the first time in Seattle 7 PM, Saturday, August 26 at the U.W. Kane Hall. Bring the whole family. Tell friends. Witness how truly talented a Filipino can be if he is of Willie’s unique caliber. Sample: He mimics Nat and Natalie Cole in one unforgettable piece. If there’s a show worth your time this summer, it is Willie Nep. It’s the season’s super treat. Be there or you’ll be sorry. (By the way, Willie’s show will also honor Seattle’s aging Filipino WW II veterans).

Our Proverb for the Month:
Evaluate yourself by your own standards, not someone else’s.


FIL-AM Achievers Honored by Filipinas Magazine

"The best, the brightest, the boldest, the bravest. The pride of Filipinos worldwide."

This is how the recipients of the annual Filipinas Magazine Achievement Awards have been described in the eight years that the event has been held. On June 24, Saturday, at the 9th staging of what is considered the most prestigious recognition of outstanding Filipino-Americans, 10 achievers in various professions and fields of endeavor will be honored at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

Filipinas Magazine publisher-editor Greg B. Macabenta announced the following awardees and their respective sponsors:

· Manuel Rodriguez, Sr., artist and print-maker, for Arts & Culture, sponsored by Catholic Health Care West;

· Gene Marcial, Business Week columnist and Wall Street sage, for Communication, sponsored by GMA Pinoy TV;

· Reuben Seguritan, New York-based immigration lawyer and community advocate, for Community Service, sponsored by Genentech;

· Maria Luisa Mabilangan Haley, senior director of Kissinger McLarty Associates and former aide of President Bill Clinton, for Corporate Leadership, sponsored by Wells Fargo;

· Mark Dacascos, martial arts expert and star of the TV show, “Iron Chef America,” for Entertainment, sponsored by Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc.;

· Daniel Moran, president of Red Ribbon Bakeshop, for Entrepreneurship, sponsored by Merrill Lynch;

· Alex Esclamado, founding chairman of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) and former publisher-editor of Philippine News, for Lifetime Achievement, sponsored by AARP California;

· Dr. Lupo T. Carlota, Jr., president of the Medical Acupuncture Research Institute of America (MARIA) and foremost practitioner of scientific acupuncture, for Medicine, sponsored by Seton Health Services Foundation;

· Hawaii State Senator Ron Menor for Public Affairs, sponsored by AAA of Northern California, Nevada and Utah; and

· Jennifer Punsalan Wood, president of the Undergraduate Student Associate Council at the University of California, Los Angeles, for Youth Leadership, sponsored by State Farm Insurance.

The program will start at 4:00 p.m. with a Barrio Fiesta reception at which, for the first time, a Gallery of Achievers, featuring all past Filipinas awardees, will be displayed. There will also be promotional booths for sponsors and musical entertainment. The second part of the program will be the formal awards presentation.

Attending the awards for GMA Pinoy TV, are prime time star Ding-Dong Dantes, Master Showman German Moreno, and John Nite. Performing at the event are pop diva Miriam Pantig, the Sinag-Tala Performing Arts group and the Filipino Veterans Rondalla headed by George Gange.

Reception sponsors of the Filipinas Magazine Achievement Awards are California Transplant Donor Network, Charles Schwab, PG&E and GP Homes, Inc., with Citibank, Hotel Rex, Southwest Airlines, Western Union, Fortune Management Company and Lollicup Coffee & Tea as patrons.

Past Filipinas Magazine Achievement Awards recipients include Hollywood stars Lou Diamond Philips, Rob Schneider and Tia Carrere; Dean Devlin, producer of the hit movie, “Independence Day;” Columbia Tri-Star Home Video senior VP Fritz Friedman; business tycoon Loida Nicolas-Lewis; former Hawaii Governor Ben Cayetano; U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Edward Soriano; Silicon Valley entrepreneur and pioneer Dado Banatao; Broadway star Lea Salonga; Pulitzer prize-winning journalists Byron Acohido and Alex Tizon; novelist Jessica Hagedorn; and Fred and Dorothy Cordova, founders of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS).


Sunday, January 1, 2006

The Fading Veterans: Let’s Listen to Them

While there’s still time…
Let’s Listen to Them

by Sluggo Rigor

The mortality rate of the generation that has been billed as the Greatest Generation by inspired writers of that era has now reached a critical stage. Reports from the Philippines and from cities across the United States where there are pockets of Filipino World War II veterans indicate that these old soldiers are fading away at an alarming rate of twenty per month. From what was then a conservative count of 14,000 Filipino WW II veterans who arrived in the mainland U.S. in 1990, the count is down to 6,900. Before then President George H. Bush signed into law the Immigration Act of 1990 that triggered a mini-exodus of 70-year old soldiers to the U.S., there was a total count of 55,000 still-living war veterans residing in various parts of the Philippines. Military sources say that reliable data can only be ascertained by official documents of the United States Armed Forces in the Philippines (USAFIP) and the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) that are securely filed in the U.S. Military Archives in St. Louis, Missouri. Philippine military historians estimate that there were 230,000 Filipino soldiers who fought on the side of the G.I. Joes against the Japanese in the last world war.

From the estimated 14,000 that had elected American citizenship and had come to the U.S. under the 1990 immigration law, more than one-half have passed away and others have returned to the homeland. Many had hoped to be part of a concerted campaign to lobby for the Equity Bill, an initiative in the U.S. Congress that would erase the painful provisions of the Rescission Act of 1946. That single act signed into law by then President Harry Truman took away service benefits promised the Filipinos when they were enlisted to fight the enemy. Frustrated and angry these aging soldiers, who are now U.S. citizens, accepted what they consider “dole out” civilian money through Social Security ranging from $220 to $300 a month. After securing the meager amount, many returned home to live out their final days there.

At the International Drop-In Center (IDIC) in South Seattle where most of these old soldiers congregate as members, they recount heart-rending tales.

Greg Garcia is in his early 80s. He fought in the infamous battle of Bessang Pass where the feared Tiger of Malaya, General Tomoyuki Yamashita, had surrendered to Filipino bolo men led by young ROTC-trained officers. Garcia lives with his wife Rosing in a tiny apartment in Seattle’s International District. Like other veterans who had elected American citizenship fifteen years ago, Garcia patiently waits for his children to join them in the U.S.

“I have filed petitions 14 years ago but it is a slow, agonizing process…and we are growing old,” Garcia recounts. He adds that he often checks on his children via overseas calls. “My wife and I realize how hard life has become economically for our children in the Philippines. Through helplessness and tears, we can only pray.” It is a typical fragmented-family-story of Filipino war veterans who arrived in the U.S. in 1990.

At an average of seventy-five years old when they came---culture-shocked, hardly able to express themselves in American English and practically without any safety net---they were not even employable. They have yearned for their immediate family members, their main support system, to join them. But, alas, the 1990 Immigration Law is quite specific: citizenship is granted only to the aging soldier and does not include even his spouse. When petition rules required them to produce affidavits-of-support, they were shocked and frustrated because their only means of livelihood is the measly sum from Social Security. Many have dropped the idea of petitioning their immediate families especially when filing fees keep rising. It now costs $390 per person. Computing the budget needed to bring over a family member—including re-settlement in the U.S.---a frustrated veteran cried, “How in the world can we afford that?” Meanwhile, their children place calls on week-ends tearfully asking: “Itay…when can we join you there?”

A case that begs for attention and compassion is that of a genuine Filipino World War II hero, retired USSAFE Lt. Benito Valdez of Nueva Ecija. He is one of only three living Filipino soldiers residing in the U.S. who had figured in the most daring rescue operation during the war to free 600 American and Canadian prisoners of war from an enemy garrison in Cabanatuan, a Central Luzon province. A full-length movie, “The Great Raid,” was recently made by Miramar Films depicting the drama of the heroic episode that Valdez’s unit helped to carry out. Now in his late 80s, Valdez is sickly, having gone through a heart operation recently. His situation, sympathetic comrades say, is a case of monumental irony.

Reserved and not given to talking unless asked, Valdez says this about his dilemma: “I see entire families of refugees from other countries afforded free passage and resettlement programs and I cannot help but compare our situation with them. We who risked all for this country have been forgotten,” Valdez laments. What the aging hero hopes for is that a benefactor in U.S. federal or state government can come forward to find a way how he could have his immediate family rejoin him in Seattle. A daughter, Flor, who has been in Seattle for the past two years under a visitor’s visa that expires in a few weeks, is Lt. Valdez’s main support. “When she leaves, I do not know how I can carry on,” the old soldier murmurs. A widower, Valdez has filed petitions for his children to come to America. He has been waiting for the last fourteen years.

After a series of meetings with state officials at the IDIC and courtesy calls on State Senator Margarita Prentice, Lt. Governor Brad Owen, Veterans Administration Office Director John Lee, the ever helpful Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs (CAPAA) Executive Director Ellen Abellera, and high-ranking officials of both Democratic and Republican parties, Governor Christine Gregoire has taken interest in the compelling cases of the aging Filipino soldiers of Washington state. Mainly due to the tireless work of CAPAA, a survey of Filipino war veterans residing in the state may now be possible.

In other meetings conducted in past months to identify the needs of marginalized veterans, it has been determined that there are different varieties of war veterans among Filipinos in the U.S. The Philippine Scouts, retired Navy, Army, Coast Guards, Marines and veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars all fall under distinctly separate categories. It is the aging Filipino soldier of WW II who came to this country on or after 1990 that must be identified, his current situation verified and recorded. Their association, the Filipino War Veterans of Washington (FWVW), was organized in the mid-90s for their own common interest.

Six decades have passed since the Filipino soldier had begun fighting for the passage of the Equity Bill in the U.S. Congress. Passage would restore rightful benefits denied him after fighting a war that was not his. But one that he had helped win. Many veterans in Seattle want the Equity Bill to be passed but, collectively, they believe that it will never be within their lifetime. This dim view is emotionally expressed by former FWVW Commander Julio Joaquin: “This country is at war and funds for old soldiers are not the priority of government!” Pessimistic as it sounds, Joaquin echoes what is in the minds of silently suffering veterans.

Officials of the IDIC have supported the veterans’ desire to “do something practical, reasonable and viable” if only to prove a point to Uncle Sam. An initiative started in Seattle by the veterans and their advocates called the Filipino Veterans’ Family Re-unification Program appeals to a broad field when explained in its proper context.

In the final analysis, it is imperative that we seize the limited time these old warriors of freedom have. This writer remembers his own father, a war veteran himself who fought at Bessang Pass in North Luzon. He had been the first Secretary General of the Veterans Federation of the Philippines (VFP), the umbrella organization of all recognized veterans’ groups. I used to read his files, journals and interesting after-battle reports.

Having had the privilege and opportunity to be exposed to veterans practically all my life, I urge the younger generation of Filipinos in America to consider doing the following:

1. Ask state and federal legislators through major Filipino advocacy organizations to pass a law that would not nullify the petitions of war veterans for their immediate families even if they should pass away.

2. Granting that such a compelling law is enacted, Filipino veterans in the U.S. today live on marginal income and may not be able to afford sending for those they petition. A program in each locality in the U.S. to meet this contingency must be drawn up.

3. Ask for federal legislation that would separate the veterans’ family petitions from ordinary petitioners in order to accelerate their visa processing. The petitioners are aging fast and they need a support system that their families can supply. Each veteran, after all, deserves whatever accelerated benefits Uncle Sam can offer at this late stage.

4. Ask that federal legislation be enacted for the veterans so that even if they pass away, the benefits due them under the long-pending Equity Bill can go to their immediate families.

5. Mount a lobby addressed to the Philippine government to once and for all review, audit and update the roster of World War II veterans and recognized guerillas. The VFP had long noted this as a vulnerable point because it is easily tampered with. Uncle Sam will not negotiate with a questionable roster. Let us nag the Veterans Affairs Office in the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC to study and compare the Philippine List to official files in the archives of St. Louis, Missouri.

6. Whatever we do in the U.S. for the veterans who are now American citizens, let us not overlook their counterparts in the Philippines. They, too, need all the help they can get. Public awareness about the plight of all aging Filipino veterans, wherever they are today, must be kept high.
As a veteran’s son, I share this acquired teaching: That it would be a shame, a massive issue of conscience, if our generation fails to grasp the sad truth about the injustice done to a generation of heroes. If we care enough, their cause must be ours, too. While there is time, let us talk to all aging Filipino soldiers within reach. Let us better understand what they want at this stage in their lives. Before they fade away, perhaps we can do something worthwhile for them and for those they love.