Friday, December 28, 2007

Don't Stop Believing

If Terri Hatcher’s character on Desperate Housewives ever slips and falls on Wisteria Lane and breaks her spinal column, she would be fortunate to be sent to the Memorial Hermann Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR) at the University of Texas Hospital in Houston for treatment. If she’s really lucky, she would be treated by Dr. Teodoro Castillo, the attending physician of the TIRR Spinal Cord Injury Program and a graduate of “…some med school in the Philippines”.

Last week, on the Sunday morning before Christmas, Dr. Castillo was interviewed on ABC about Buffalo Bills football player Kevin Everett who suffered a life-threatening dislocation and fracture of his cervical spine during a home game with the Denver Broncos on September 27. After surgeons operated and repaired a break between the third and fourth vertebrae of his spinal cord, they announced that chances were slim that Everett would ever walk again.

But to everyone's surprise, on December 23, Everett appeared at the locker room of the Buffalo Bills players to greet them and wish them luck just before they were to play the New York Giants. The players were absolutely stunned that Everett was even able to stand up. That he was walking without any assistance was a miracle, they said.

Everett gave credit to his spinal cord physician at TIRR, Dr. Teodoro Castillo, for his recovery from an injury that would have otherwise rendered him a quadriplegic.

ABC News' TV reporter Dan Harris asked Dr. Castillo whether he thought Everett would ever walk again. Dr Castillo responded: “When I first met him, I knew he had the movement in the legs, and he showed me he had good recovery just from the time he had the surgery to the time he got to our facility, so I knew he was going to walk again. But the type of walking, the quality of walking, that remained to be seen.”

When asked about Everett’s determination, Dr. Castillo said that Everett’s mother told him that “he's always followed a rigorous training schedule and with that attitude, with his determination, family support, which he really has, and the team of clinicians he has to guide him and optimize his recovery, I think he will be successful… The key to Kevin's success is the determination he's had, and the family support and a team of clinicians to guide him through - he has all the necessary ingredients to guide him to a good outcome.”

Dr. Castillo received his medical degree from the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center in the Philippines. He completed his transitional year medicine internship at the Seton Hall Program in St. Michael's Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey. He is board certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Spinal Cord Injury Medicine. He is concurrently a Clinical Assistant Professor at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston and Adjunct Assistant Professor of PM&R, Baylor College of Medicine.

Kevin Everett never stopped believing in himself and Dr. Castillo never stopped believing in him.


"Don’t stop believing", the title of the hit song of 70s era rock band Journey, was played at the last scene of the final episode of the HBO hit, The Sopranos. The airplay revived interest in the band which had been performing without its frontman, Steve Perry, since the mid-90s when he quit. Journey’s journey back to the big time would be complete if they could only find a new lead singer.

It was difficult for the band to find a replacement for Steve Perry. “Those anthemic Journey power ballads, sung by Perry in his operatic tenor, have been known to shred vocal chords, and it takes an extraordinary talent to be able to sing them,” reported Paul Liberatore from Medianews.

After months of auditioning prospects without any luck, Journey’s Neal Schon tried the Internet. “I went on YouTube for a couple of days and just sat on it for hours. I was starting to think I was never going to find anybody.” That is until he chanced upon a video of Filipino singer Arnel Pineda singing Journey’s hit “Faithfully” with a Filipino cover band called the Zoo.

“After watching the videos over and over again, I had to walk away from the computer and let what I’d heard sink in because it sounded too good to be true,” he said. “I thought, ‘He can’t be that good.’”

He was that good. Before Pineda knew it, Journey had obtained a work visa for him and had flown him in to San Francisco to audition with the band in Marin. After a few songs, the band members were unanimous that they had found their lead singer at long last. The official announcement was made on December 5 after Pineda returned to record 11 new songs of Journey that will be released in the spring of 2008.

In his blog, Journey record producer Kevin Shirley wrote "Just got back from Vegas last night, after mixing seven new Journey songs. They are outstanding... For the record, I think Arnel is 'the business!' - the guy can really sing! He handles the ballads with SO much heart, and belts the rockers as hard, and melodically, as anyone I have heard. The songs are sensational - wonderfully crafted and deep, and so focused, you may wonder where they all came from."

A news article about Pineda reported that since English is his second language, he was provided with an accent reduction coach to work on his phrasing and diction. This was no problem for Arnel but he also had to deal with racism. “When there were rumors about me joining Journey, there was a lot of that,” Pineda told Liberatore. “One of the worst things I read on a fan message board said that Journey is an all-American band and it should stay like that. But I don’t care. I just say, ‘Hey, grow up.’”

“We’ve become a world band,” Journey keyboardist Jonathan Cain said in reply. “We’re international now. We’re not about one color. I kind of like the whole idea of having a singer like him. It’s exotic.”

Don't stop believing in yourself. Have a happy exotic new year.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Grinch Who Stole the Vets' Christmas

When I went to Washington DC last February to join Filipino WW II veterans lobby congressional representatives to support the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill, I sensed a feeling of giddiness and excitement among the veterans and their supporters that this would be the year. At long last, after 17 years of persistent lobbying, Congress was finally poised to vote to rescind the infamous Rescission Act of 1946 that deprived Filipino veterans of the benefits they were promised when they were incorporated into the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) in 1941.

The two principal sponsors of the bill in the Senate and in the House, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Bob Filner (D-California), were now the respective chairs of their Veterans committees thanks to the Democratic sweep in the November 2006 elections.

By April of 2007, both Sen. Akaka and Rep. Filner had held hearings on their respective equity bills and had garnered their committees’ approval. It had never advanced to this stage before as previous veterans committees in both chambers had never brought the bill to a vote in their committees. But other congressional committees would also have to review the bill and approve it before it could be brought to a floor vote in the senate and House.

The sticking point was how much US Army-certified Filipino WW II veterans (“Filvets”) would receive in monthly benefits. Previous proposals had distinguished between the 5,000 Filvets in the US and the 15,000 Filvets in the Philippines.

Because of the difference in the costs of living, it was believed that Filvets in the US should receive $800 a month while Filvets in the Philippines would get $100 a month pension. But many Filvets supporters opposed the proposal on the basic principle that there should be no difference in pension based on geography.

A significant compromise was reached when the veterans and their supporters agreed that all Filvets should receive the same amount – a minimum of $200 a month. Filvets in the US receive about $800 a month in SSI benefits which would not be affected by the additional $200 pension while Filvets in the Philippines would receive the average monthly salary there.

Under Akaka’s guidance, the Filvets bill (S.57) was tacked on to an omnibus veterans bill (S.1315) that would cover other veterans issues. Akaka stressed that “as a matter of fundamental fairness and justice, Filipino veterans' benefits should be similar to those of other veterans.”

"S-1315 would fix a historical wrong,” Akaka said, “Filipino veterans served under the command of the US military during World War II. They were considered by the Veterans' Administration, the predecessor of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, to be veterans of the US military, naval and air service until that status was revoked by the Rescission Acts of 1946.”

When the Senate hearing took place last April, the principal Senate opponent of the bill was Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), the former chair of the Senate Veterans Committee. He calculated the price tag of the Filvets bill to be almost $1 billion over ten years which he believes the government cannot afford to pay when “there are other pressing bills pending before the Committee especially benefits for veterans of the War on Terror.”

The US Department Of Veterans Affairs under then Secretary Jim Nicholson also opposed the bill based on an assessment that additional benefit costs including medical and memorial benefits of $510 million in the first year would total more than $4 billion over ten years.

Craig was the front man for the opposition to the equity bill. If he dropped his objections or if he resigned, then perhaps the bill could pass. But what are the chances of that happening?

On June 11 of this year, while passing through the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Sen. Craig went to the men’s room and did something there that led to his arrest by an undercover officer for lewd and lascivious conduct . On August 1, Craig pled guilty to a reduced misdemeanor charge hoping no one would notice. When news of the scandal broke and his conduct described as “unforgivable” by Senate Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, Craig announced his resignation from the US Senate effective September 30.

Unfortunately, Craig reneged on his promise to resign and announced that he would stay on until his term expires next year. On December 12, when a critical vote on S.1315 was needed to pass it before the Senate adjourned for the year, Sen. Craig rose in opposition to the Filvets provision in the bill, killing any chance that the bill would pass this year.

Incorporating the anti-immigrant, anti-foreigner sentiment of many in his party, Craig spoke against providing benefits to Filvets in the Philippines. "First of all, they do not live in this country, they are not US citizens. They are taking money away from our veterans. That is the 'Robin Hood in reverse' effect. At least Robin Hood, when he took money, left it in Nottingham. He spread it out amongst his own. Here we are taking money from our own and sending it all the way to the Philippines," Craig said.

Six of the grandsons of these “Robin Hoods” have died in Iraq and Afghanistan in the service of the United States just in the last six months: Army Pfc. Victor M. Fontanilla, 23, Stockton, CA (5/17/07), Army Spc. Mark R. C. Caguioa, 21, Stockton, CA ( 5/24/07), Army Sgt. Richard V. Correa, 25, Honolulu, HI (5/29/07), Army Staff Sgt. Greg P. Gagarin, 38, Los Angeles, CA (6/3/07), Marine Sgt. Michael E. Tayaotao, 27,Sunnyvale, CA (8/9/07), Army Pfc. Paulomarko U. Pacificador, 24,Shirley, NY (8/13/07), and Army Specialist Lester Roque, 23, Carson, CA (11/10/07).

Sen. Craig should be reminded of what George Washington said in 1789: "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation."

Sen. Craig was the grinch who stole the Filvets’ Christmas.

Filipino veterans who turned 21 at the outbreak of the war in 1941 would now be about 87 years old. How many more Bataan Death Marches do they have left in them? How many more of these “Robin Hoods” will be around next year?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Santa's Home Is Melting

Santa Claus will have more problems delivering gifts to kids all over the world this Christmas because his home in the North Pole is melting away and his worker elves are all virtually homeless. According to a new scientific study, the frozen sea ice within the Arctic Circle could disappear entirely by 2040.

It is getting hotter in the arctic regions and colder in the tropical zones. This is the phenomenon known as climate change.

Despite the Bush administration’s repeated insistence that climate change is "unproven conjecture" (the position of the oil industry which produced George W. Bush and Dick Cheney), more than 10,000 delegates from some 190 countries around the world gathered in Bali, Indonesia for two weeks in early December of 2007 to discuss the reality of climate change.

Even before the Bali Conference began, scientists from all over the world, including the US, were already unified in their view that climate change is indeed taking place and that the world needs to act now before its too late and that technologies are available and affordable to tackle the problem.

The conference venue was significant because, as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman noted, “Indonesia is now losing tropical forests the size of Maryland every year, and the carbon released by the cutting and clearing — much of it from illegal logging — has made Indonesia the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, after the United States and China. Deforestation actually accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars and trucks in the world, an issue the Bali conference finally addressed.”

Friedman interviewed Barnabas Suebu, the governor of Papua, home to some of Indonesia’s richest forests, who explained that his villagers cannot earn anything close to what they get from chopping down a tree and selling it to smugglers, who will ship it to Malaysia or China to be made into furniture for Americans or Europeans.

This is the same problem in the Philippines where virgin forests are being continuously raped by illegal loggers with connections to Philippine military and government officials. In last week’s column, I wrote about Ensign Philip Pestano who, according to a 1997 Philippine Senate report, was murdered in 1995 because he objected to his Philippine Navy vessel being used to load illegal timber from Tawi-Tawi and to off-load them in Cavite. That timber probably wound its way to China for products that were then exported to Wal-Mart stores all over the US.

International agreements that would seek to limit greenhouse emissions which cause holes in the earth's ozone layer (which create climatic changes) have long been opposed by the Bush administration which believes the limits would hamper American competitiveness with countries like China. Using China as an excuse is ironic because China’s rapid economic development has been largely fueled by American consumers’ insatiable demand for its goods. Net exports from China to the US accounted for 23 percent of Chinese greenhouse gas emissions.

The Philipppines was a major source of discussion at the Bali Conference after the environmental group, Germanwatch, released a report citing the Philippines as the world's top climate change victim in 2006 for the strong typhoons which caused the Legazpi Mudslide and the Southern Leyte Landslide. They were the world's 2nd and 3rd deadliest disasters of 2006 claiming the lives of 2,511 people and rendering almost 800,000 families homeless.

The natural disasters inflicted on the Philippines were always exacerbated by man-made disasters like the illegal logging which deprive the country of valuable forest trees that could stop the rain waters from flooding the lowland areas.

The Bali Conference delegates called on the Philippines to pass the Renewable Energy Bill, sponsored by Sen. Dick Gordon, which has in various forms languished in the Philippine Congress for almost 10 years. The bill will actively promote the development of renewable energy sources abundant in the country like solar, wind, tidal and geothermal and setting time-bound renewable energy targets. It will ensure that the Philippines will wean away from overdependence on power generated through fossil fuels like oil and coal which have been identified as major contributors to climate change.

Passage of the Renewable Energy bill is especially critical because of the rising price of oil which now costs more than a US$100 a barrel. “With the RE Bill,” Jasper Inventor of Greenpeace said, “the country will utilize its massive renewable energy potential. The Philippines' wind energy potential alone reaches up to more than 70,000 MW. Solar power is abundant in the country and is capable of producing 1500 hours of power annually at 5 kilowatt hours per square meter per day."

There is very little time left. Pass the Renewable Energy Bill now!


On a personal note, I would like to express my condolences to the family of Charles Mosser, a philanthropist and environmentalist who died in the Philippines on October 17, 2007 at the age of 82. Charles and his wife, Annabelle Indemne Mosser, amassed a fortune in San Francisco real estate, a part of which they used to invest in Annabelle’s home province of Negros. They bought or leased more than 20,000 denuded hectares of mountain land and funded the planting there of their goal of 18-M trees of which 2-M have already been planted.

In 2005, the Philippine Congress granted Charles Mosser the Philippine citizenship he had long sought.

On that note, I wish you all the happiest of holidays.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Justice for a Philippine Hero

Before Lt. Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV allowed the 11 million votes he received in the last senatorial elections to infect him with delusions of grandeur, he and his band of Magdalo mutineers raised legitimate issues about corruption in the military. Unfortunately, the messenger’s megalomania obscured the message. Fortunately, a day after the Manila Pen farce, Fr. James Reuter wrote an article that refocused the people’s attention on the message, more effectively than Trillanes ever could.

Entitled “Justice at 3 A.M.”, Fr. Reuter wrote about Phillip Andrew Pestaño, a graduate of the Ateneo de Manila High School in 1989, who entered the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), and graduated as an Ensign in the Philippine Navy in 1993, when he was then assigned as cargo master on a Navy ship.

Sometime in 1995, Pestaño discovered (according to Fr. Reuter) that “the cargo being loaded onto his vessel included logs that were cut down illegally, were carried to the ship illegally, and were destined to be sold, illegally… Then there were 50 sacks of flour, which were not flour, but shabu (methamphetamine) - worth billions. Literally, billions ... And there were military weapons which were destined for sale to the Abu Sayyaf.”

As cargo master of the ship, Pestaño refused to approve the illegal cargo despite orders from his superior officers that he do so.

According to Fr. Reuter, “Pestaño’s parents received two phone calls, saying: "Get your son off that ship! He is going to be killed!" When Phillip was given leave at home, his family begged him not to go back. Their efforts at persuasion continued until his last night at home, when Phillip was already in bed.”

”His father came to him and said: "Please, son, resign your commission. Give up your military career. Don't go back. We want you alive. If you go back to that ship, it will be the end of you!" But Phillip said to his father: "Kawawa ang bayan! (Pity the country)" And he went back to the ship.”

”The scheduled trip was very brief - from Cavite to Roxas Boulevard - it usually took only 45 minutes. But on September 27, 1995, it took one hour and a half. When the ship arrived at Roxas Boulevard , Ensign Pestaño was dead.”

Within a day, the Navy ruled that Pestaño had committed suicide because a “suicide note” was found in his cabin. But the note was not in his handwriting and he was an honor student at Ateneo, and engaged to be married in a few months, his family protested.

A Philippine Senate investigation on the Pestaño death was conducted in 1997 on a resolution sponsored by then Sen. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. In the course of the investigation, witnesses testified that before he died, Pestaño refused to authorize the loading of 14,000 board feet of illegal hardwood logs in Tawi-Tawi even though its governor, Gerry Matba, had a gift for his good friend, Admiral Pio Carranza.

Despite Pestaño’s objections, the logs were off-loaded in Cavite before the ship sailed for Manila in what would normally be a 45 minute trip. The trip lasted more than 1 ½ hours.

After hearing from numerous witnesses, the Senate Report (#800) concluded: “Pestaño did not kill himself aboard the BRP Bacolod City… He was bludgeoned unconscious and then shot to death somewhere else in the vessel. His body was moved and laid on the bed where it was found.”

“The clear absence of blood spatters, bone fragments or other human tissues is physical evidence more eloquent than a hundred witnesses,” the Senate report observed. “It is impossible for a person who has just sustained a fatal head injury to walk from some other place in his room, lie on his bed and drop dead…”

“He was killed by an assailant, necessarily aboard the BRP Bacolod City”, before it docked at the Navy HQ on Roxas Boulevard. The attempt to make it appear Pestano killed himself inside his stateroom was so deliberate and elaborate that one person could not have accomplished it by himself.”

But who killed Pestaño?

In a privilege speech several years later, Sen. Fred Lim, now mayor of Manila, named Lt. Carlito Amoroso (PMA class 1994), a close-in security for Admiral Carranza who was not a crew member of the ship, as the possible gunman.

Sen. Lim also linked Ensign Joselito Colico to the crime as he admitted before the Senate that he removed the magazine from the .45 caliber pistol and wiped off fingerprints. Calico was never charged even with tampering with the evidence.

Lim also spoke of Petty 0fficer (PO2) Zosimo Villanueva who was the officer who tipped Pestaño on the presence of illegal cargo pn the ship, specifically about “the concealed bulk of illegal drugs (hidden) in the more than 20 sacks of rice cargoes aboard the ship,” Lim revealed. A week after Pestaño’s murder, Villanueva was sent on mission where he mysteriously “washed away in a sea mishap”.

There was also Ensign Alvin Parone who was apparently the officer who called Pestaño’s parents to warn them of plans to kill their son. He was also killed, Sen. Lim said, “a victim of another unsolved murder.”

Also missing and presumed dead is Petty Officer (PO3) Fidel Tagaytay who was the duty officer on board Pestaño’s ship. When he was summoned to testify before the senate, he disappeared. His wife, Leonila, has been desperately searching for him, begging the authorities to investigate his disappearance. He is “absent without leave” is all the Navy brass will tell her.

No one has yet been charged with the murders of Pestaño and the other officers who could abide the corruption they witnessed. The whitewash has continued.

Fr. Reuter wrote: “Some military men are killed in battle. They are given a hero's burial. But Phillip died for a much deeper cause - he was trying to preserve the integrity of our Armed Forces. He died out of loyalty to the Philippines, in an effort to keep the oath that he made when he graduated from the Philippine Military Academy.”

”Graft and corruption are the curse of this nation. But when they take root in the heart of our Armed Forces, they threaten our existence as an independent, democratic country.”

Let us all demand JUSTICE for Phillip Pestaño, a genuine Philippine hero.

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Monday, December 3, 2007

The Caricature Coup

The 1986 People Power revolution that brought down the Marcos Dictatorship was instigated by the foiled coup attempt of a group of soldiers called the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) led by an ambitious young colonel named Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan. Although the RAM coup attempt failed, the government’s subsequent move to crush it resulted in the People Power overthrow of the Marcos Dictatorship.

Because the Philippines is a nation of copycats, young “idealistic” military officers have since sought to copy the RAM example. Including the last one on November 29, 2007, there have been at least thirteen abortive coups since 1986: nine against President Cory Aquino from 1986 to 1989 and four (so far) against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo since 2001.

The most serious coup attempt was the one that nearly toppled Aquino in December of 1989 and it involved the military occupation of several hotels in Makati’s financial district. Led by Col. Honasan, who has been involved in virtually every coup attempt against the government, it included then Major (now General) Danilo Lim.

In 2003, a group of young junior officers and soldiers led by Lt. Antonio V. Trillanes IV mounted what has been called the “Oakwood Mutiny” after the plush hotel they occupied with high-powered weapons and explosives. The 60 “Magdalo” rebels, as they called themselves, surrendered after their 4-day siege failed to garner support from the Philippine military. The mutineers were charged with rebellion and are still going through legal proceedings.

What all these coup plotters forgot is that the 1986 RAM coup attempt against Marcos was effectively crushed before it could get started. In that ironic sense, though, all the 13 military coup attempts that sought to emulate the RAM example succeeded because they all failed.

In that ironic sense then, the latest coup attempt of Lt. Trillanes and Gen. Lim, staged at the Manila Peninsula Hotel last week, was a roaring success.

It was not intended to be a spontaneous coup, however, as it was seriously pre-planned. Both Trillanes and Lim had criminal hearings scheduled for November 29 at a courtroom in Makati when they left the courtroom, along with most of their guards, and marched on to the Manila Peninsula Hotel a few blocks away. While they were still en route to the hotel, their Magdalo group’s website, SUNDALO, was already announcing news of their “constitutional rescue” of the country and of their call on the people to rally behind them. Gen. Lim informed the press that other officers and soldiers from military camps all over the Philippines would soon join them as planned.

But they knew they could not succeed militarily, that much they learned from Trillanes’ disastrous 2003 Oakwood Mutiny and from Lim’s 1989 putschist adventure. They could only succeed politically but only if they were able to replicate and recreate the 1986 People Power revolution. In place of the charismatic Cardinal Jaime Sin, they had Bishop Antonio Tobias from Novaliches and Bishop Julio Labayen from Quezon. Instead of Cory Aquino, they had former Vice President Teofisto Guingona. To represent civil society, they had former UP President Francisco Nemenzo. And they had the entire Philippine media covering their grievances against the “corrupt”, “vicious” and “illegitimate” government of President Arroyo.

If they could just hold on for another day, then the massive rallies already scheduled for Bonifacio Day, November 30, would surely converge at the Manila Peninsula Hotel to support them and People Power 3 would be on its way, with military commanders from all over the Philippines announcing their withdrawal of allegiance to the Arroyo government and political leaders pledging their support for the new government.

While Trillanes and Lim learned something from history, so did the government. Marcos and Estrada were ousted by People Power because they waited too long to crush the rebellion. This time, there would be no such hesitation and there would be no negotiations as were held during the Oakwood Mutiny. A Marine battalion was quickly dispatched to the Manila Peninsula Hotel with orders to quash the Magdalo rebellion immediately, which they accomplished with no loss of life.

In staging their rebellion, Trillanes and Lim presented themselves as the new Bonifacios of the Philippines while strangely invoking the name of a group with a dubious historical legacy. In his senatorial campaign literature, Trillanes explained that "the name 'Magdalo' is homage to Emilio Aguinaldo’s faction of the Katipunan Chapter in Cavite that supported and pushed for a revolutionary government as a replacement for the Katipunan.”

The Katipunan was the revolutionary organization founded by Supremo Andres Bonifacio which launched the revolution against Spain in 1896. In the course of that revolution, two Katipunan factions emerged in Cavite province, the Magdiwang, which was loyal to Bonifacio, and the Magdalo of Gen. Aguinaldo, which believed that the Katipunan was obsolete and needed to be replaced by a revolutionary government.

To unite the warring factions, a reconciliation meeting was held in Tejeros, Cavite but the meeting soon turned into a presidential convention with snap elections. While the Katipunan had chapters in at least eight provinces, the voters at the Tejeros convention were mostly Cavitenos, like Aguinaldo.

Gen. Aguinaldo was predictably elected president of the new revolutionary government that replaced the Katipunan and Bonifacio was elected Secretary of the Interior, perhaps as a gesture of unity. But one of Aguinaldo’s men, Daniel Tirona, questioned Bonifacio’s credentials because he was not a lawyer. This brazen insult to Bonifacio caused him to walk out of the convention and to declare the elections null and void because they were "fraudulent".

Before Bonifacio and his men could leave Cavite, however, “President” Aguinaldo ordered their arrest for treason. After a mock trial, Bonifacio and his brother were found guilty and sentenced to death. They were executed in Mt. Buntis by Gen. Lazaro Makapagal (another irony).

After Bonifacio’s execution, the tide of the revolution turned against Aguinaldo, who then negotiated his surrender to the Spaniards in the Pact of Biak-na-Bato. In exchange for P200,000 pesos, Aguinaldo and his men agreed to go into exile in Hongkong in December of 1897.

While George Santayana is famous for his line that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, he also wrote that “the world is a perpetual caricature of itself; at every moment it is the mockery and the contradiction of what it is pretending to be.”

Pretending to be the new Bonifacio of the Philippines, Trillanes emulates the name of the very group that executed his hero and that sold out the Philippine revolution, a mockery and contradiction all in one.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Servano Family Nightmare

On Thanksgiving Day last week, Dr. Pedro Servano and his wife, Salvacion, gathered family and friends together at their home in Selinsgrove , Pennsylvania for what may be the last time they will celebrate this American holiday together in the United States . A few days later, on November 26, the Servano couple voluntarily turned themselves in to US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) authorities who were set to deport them back to the Philippines . Instead of detaining them, however, the DHS allowed the Servanos to return home after their lawyers obtained a last-minute reprieve.

Dr. Servano is a prominent Filipino physician serving approximately 2,000 patients in an underserved section of Central Pennsylvania . His wife, Salvacion, a registered nurse, operates a grocery store and a bakery in the town of Sunbury , just outside Harrisburg . They are proud parents of four US-born children: Shappine and Steven, both graduates of Temple University ; a younger son, Peter, in 10th grade; and the youngest, Phoebe (13) in middle school.

Their saga began in 1982 when Salvacion immigrated to the United States after she had been petitioned by her immigrant mother in 1978. Pedro followed in 1984 after he was petitioned by his mother also in 1978. When they were petitioned, they were single. By the time they immigrated to the US , however, they had already been married since 1980.

They settled in Philadelphia where Pedro completed his residency in medicine while Salvacion obtained her nursing degree. In the course of a few years, they had a home, children and were on their way to living the American Dream.

In 1990, after they moved to San Diego , they applied for US citizenships, choosing to do it themselves without the assistance of an immigration attorney. They disclosed in their applications that they were married when they immigrated to the US .

Their naturalization applications were denied and they were placed in deportation proceedings charged with misrepresenting their status when they entered the US as they were not entitled to the immigrant visas that were issued to them as “unmarried” immigrants.

They could have applied for “suspension of deportation” as they had been in the US for at least 7 years, had been of good moral character during that period, and could have easily shown extreme hardship with their four US citizen children. But their lawyer apparently only argued that they did not intend to violate US laws as they were not aware they had to be unmarried until they arrived in the US .

The immigration judge did not accept their argument and found them deportable. Their lawyer appealed their case to the Board of Immigration Appeals which subsequently affirmed the decision of the immigration judge. The matter was then brought up to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which denied their appeal. It was a legal process that took 15 years while the Servanos went about their lives, moving back to Philadelphia in 1992 before settling down in Selinsgrove three years later.

The bombshell news came on October 25, 2007 when they received their “bag and baggage letter” from the DHS instructing them to report to homeland security officers on November 26, bringing with them no more than 80 pounds of luggage each, to be processed for deportation. DHS spokesman Michael Gilhooly told reporters that the Servanos had their due process and ultimately must go.

After receiving the DHS letter, the Servanos sought legal counsel from Gregg Cotler and Ann Ruben from Philadelphia, and Gregory Graig from Washington, D.C. who are all making last-ditch efforts to contact the DHS directly.

Perhaps the only chance the Servanos have of remaining in the US is if one of their Pennsylvania senators, Arlen Specter or Robert Casey, sponsors a US senate bill that would allow them to remain in the US . To get a US senator to sponsor such a bill would require the endorsement and support of organizations like the Association of Philippine Physicians in America (APPA), the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) or the newly-formed Filipino American Leadership Council (FALCON).

An online petition has been initiated ( and letters of support ( have come from patients, local officials and even from a surprising source, DHS counterterrorism operative Bill Schweigert.

In a letter obtained by the Daily Item of Sunbury, Schweigert wrote: "I fervently believe in the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) mission. However, the Servanos did not sneak into this country illegally, they have broken no laws, and they have not been a burden to the economy. They pose no threat. I cannot fathom how deporting the Servanos fulfills any portion of the ICE mission. In fact, I would argue the action runs counter to it."

In a letter to the DHS, immigration attorney Ann Ruben requested that their deportation be deferred for humanitarian considerations.

“The extraordinary lives of the Servanos and the evidence of their deep dedication and commitment to this country during their nearly 25 years in the US,” Ruben wrote, “ is borne out by the tremendous outpouring of letters of support and petitions containing innumerable signatures from throughout the United States and from a variety of disciplines.”

The outpouring of public support caused the DHS to grant a temporary reprieve. Whether that reprieve will be permanent will depend on the extent of that support.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Not So Impossible Dream

Alex Esclamado may have been looking forward to blissful retirement and to writing his memoirs when I invited him to travel with me to New York in April of 1997. I had been invited to speak at the regional conference of the Filipino Intercollegiate Networking for Dialogue (FIND) to be held at the State University of New York in Long Island when I unexpectedly received a round-trip ticket from the Filipino student group after I had already purchased a discounted “buddy pass” ticket to go there.

So, with an extra plane ticket in hand, I asked Alex if he would be free to join me. By then, Alex had a lot of free time as he had just sold Philippine News to his good friend, Ed Espiritu. For the first time since 1961 when he and his wife, Luly, started publishing the weekly newspaper from the garage of their home in the Sunset District of San Francisco, Alex did not have a weekly editorial to write, a newspaper to edit.

Alex said yes and off we flew to New York. En route, I had told Alex that the National Filipino American Council (NFAC) which he worked so hard to organize in 1987 just wasn’t working. We recounted how, after People Power ousted the Marcos Dictatorship, we had set about to unite the Filipino American community which had been bitterly divided between the proponents and opponents of martial rule.

Back then, Alex had traveled the country to invite community leaders to meet in Anaheim, California in August of 1987 to form an organization that would work to empower the community. In Anaheim, 1500 delegates from around the US met and formed the NFAC. They had all agreed that martial law was a thing of the past and that we should now look forward to being Americans and fighting for our place at the table. Alex had succeeded but not quite.

When the time came to electing a chair who would guide the organization forward, a majority of the delegates voted against Alex because they believed he was too partisan a Democrat. They elected, instead, a Republican from San Francisco, Dennis Normandy (now a declared Independent), a corporate executive who did not share Alex’s vision of chartered chapters in Filipino communities throughout the US. His “spokes in a wheel” model envisioned a more modest growth.

On the flight to New York, I told Alex that after 10 years of NFAC, we needed to form another organization that would be true to his vision at Anaheim. I told him that with what remained of the NFAC, a decision was made in Salinas in January of 1997 to call for a summit of Filipino community organizations to meet in August in Washington DC. I was going to the FIND conference to invite the members to join us in DC.

When we arrived in New York, Alex and I were met by a FIND member who took us to his home in Brooklyn where he put us up for the night. It was not a hotel but Alex did not mind. If he had sold his newspaper in 1977 when the Dictator Ferdinand Marcos offered to purchase it for $10 million, to silence him, Alex would be a very rich man and he could fly first class and be billeted at a suite at the Ritz Carlton.

But though Alex needed the money as he had borrowed heavily to keep his newspaper afloat in the face of iron-fisted pressure on advertisers applied by the Marcos government, he rejected the tempting offer, declaring that his principles were not for sale.

When we woke up the following morning, we learned that we did not have to be in Long Island until that evening so we had a day to spare. I called up my friend, Michael Dadap, a classical guitarist and conductor of the Children’s Orchestra Society of New York, and asked him to join us. Within minutes, as he lived nearby, Michael was there with his car to take us around New York.

We decided to call up Loida Nicolas Lewis, the Chief Executive Officer of the TLC Beatrice conglomerate and a personal friend of all three of us. By happenstance, when we called her, she was in town and she invited us for lunch at a restaurant across from her downtown Manhattan office.

Over lunch, we shared with Loida our plans to organize a national federation of Filipino American associations, although we had not decided on the name yet. In concept, we wanted the organization to have a national presence in Washington DC to lobby for the community’s interests on matters like the Filipino WW II veterans issue, on immigration and institutionalized discrimination. In short, we needed an NAACP for the Filipino community.

Loida was excited about this project and gave it her full enthusiastic support. With Loida’s backing, Alex was energized once again. In 1966, he had organized the Filipino American Political Association (FAPA) but although it had 29 chapters at one point, it was only based in California and it folded when martial law was declared in 1972, with members divided between those supporting and opposing Marcos. Before Alex’s dream for the NFAC could take off, he was taken off the driver’s seat because of division over American political parties.

Alex would give it one more try, the third time’s the charm, they say. With Loida's backing, he traveled the length and breath of the country, once more into the breach, contacting leaders from every city and every state, inviting one and all to come to Washington DC to organize the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA).

Some 1200 delegates, including about 200 students from FIND, formed the NaFFAA and elected Alex as the national chair, a post he held until 2002, when he was then succeeded by Loida Nicolas Lewis. Loida was in turn succeeded in 2006 by Alma Kern from Seattle.

Now, NaFFAA has working chapters in virtually every major city in the US where there is a significant Filipino presence and witha national office in Washington DC advocating for the WW II veterans and other community issues. For more information about NaFFAA, please log on to

Happy Thanksgiving to all and especially to Alex Esclamado for empowering the Filipino American community. Your “impossible dream” was not so impossible after all.

Monday, November 12, 2007

What Happens in Vegas

All roads led to Las Vegas on November 10 for Filipino medical professionals and community leaders seeking a common strategy to pressure ABC-Disney to rectify the Desperate Housewives’ anti-Filipino slur that appeared in its season premier episode on September 30.

Dubbed the “Summit Meeting of Fil-Am Leaders”, the conference at the Caesar’s Palace hosted by the UST Medical Alumni Association of America (USTMAAA) and organized by a core group composed of Dr. Stella Evangelista, Dr. Eustaquio Abay, Dr. Joe Evangelista, Dr. Primo Andres and Dr. Dante Gapultos, drew 98 delegates representing at least 12 medical associations and community groups who presented their position statements.

Although ABC issued a public apology after more than 100,000 people signed an online petition demanding it, the delegates believed the apology to be insincere as it did not admit that a grievous mistake had been committed and that steps would be undertaken to correct the mistake. As Dr. Nelson Bocar from Oklahoma City explained, “Without a meaningful apology and the correction of a slur, what ABC is offering still reeks not so much of ignorance now but of arrogance still.”

In her greetings to the delegates, Los Angeles Philippine Consul-General Mary Jo Aragon acknowledged that “many Filipino-American associations remain unconvinced and unsatisfied with the steps taken by ABC/Walt Disney Co. to rectify the situation.”

Rozita Lee, the Vice-Chair of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), expressed the NaFFAA view that “ABC acted in good faith by issuing the network’s apology immediately and promptly deleting the offensive remark” and by committing “to building a relationship with the Filipino American community that will open doors to Filipino talent.”

In a position statement entitled “Engaging Corporate Media” which was distributed to all the delegates, NaFFAA spokesman Jon Melegrito described his meetings with ABC including the last one on November 6 in Burbank, California with Steve MacPherson, ABC President of Prime Time Entertainment, who admitted that the joke was “a terrible mistake” and who assured NaFFAA that “such jokes would not happen again.”

Despite the fact that no commitment was extracted nor offered by ABC about any on air apology, which Melegrito believes to be an unrealistic goal, he nonetheless urged the Filipino community to “see the big picture” and accept what ABC has offered.

But the delegates would not be easily placated. Dr. Lee Llacer from the Philippine Medical Association in Washington DC reported that he attended a meeting of NaFFAA officers with ABC Vice President for Diversity Robert Mendez on October 9 to discuss ABC’s initiatives. “I went to that meeting to talk about ABC kicking the dog,” Dr. Llacer said, “and I felt that everybody left the meeting getting what they wanted except the dog.”

What the delegates felt was that a poisonous idea was disseminated to 25 million viewers that Philippine educated physicians are inferior. What ABC agreed to do was delete the scene to stop this poison from being spread to future viewers of the episode. But what should be done to undo the subliminal damage caused by the airing of the “joke”? And how do we get ABC to do what's right?

The position statement of the host organization presented 4 proposals to ABC-Disney: air a sincere, genuine apology as soon as possible; involve ABC personnel in sensitivity training and cultural awareness; present TV medical shows that depict a true representation of the medical personnel in most hospitals; and recognize and acknowledge the positive impact and huge contributions of Filipino medical practitioners in the US.

The delegates then heard strategies about how to pressure ABC/Disney to accept their proposals.
Robert Gnaizda, general counsel of the Greenlining Institute and lead counsel in over 100 class action court and administrative cases focusing on minority economic empowerment and civil rights, proposed that the group (“on behalf of 3.5 million Filipino Americans and 110 million minorities who are stereotyped and disparaged by the TV networks”) send letters to the CEOs of all the TV sponsors of “Desperate Housewives” to arrange personal meetings with them to discuss their sponsorships of Desperate Housewives.

The Filipino Anti-Defamation Coalition (FADC) called for a national boycott of all Disney Stores, asking our community, especially the 22,000 Filipino physicians in the US, to boycott the Disney Stores during the upcoming holiday season and to encourage their patients to do the same. The targeting of one company can be more effective that a generalized boycott of all Disney companies, and all the Desperate Housewives’ sponsors. [When asked why the Disney Stores, the answer should be that “it’s because ABC issued a Mickey Mouse apology.”]

The National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) and the Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC), jointly represented by Atty. Arnedo Valera, joined the call for a boycott denouncing ABC-Disney for giving “encouragement to the racial profiling of Filipinos.” Valera also called for the Council to take the lead in the campaign as it is a "defining moment for Filipino American empowerment".

Two attorneys, Roman Mosqueda from Los Angeles, and Ted Laguatan from San Francisco, presented the case for filing a class action lawsuit against ABC. Both had mailed “retractory” letters to ABC within the 20 days required by statute in order to be able to obtain punitive damages in the event of litigation. Although both acknowledged the legal minefield (anti-Slapp and Blatty) that will face any actual lawsuit against ABC, they nonetheless urged the group to keep the legal option on the table as added pressure on ABC.

Mel Avanzado, a NaFFAA adviser and noted FilAm Entertainment Law specialist, said that litigation against ABC would be useless and counterproductive. But he also berated NaFFAA for being “unprepared” in its meeting with MacPherson. Accepting ABC’s offer to “develop an outreach brochure for ABC/Disney programs (funded by the company) specifically targeting the FilAm community, and to get the word out through NaFFAA about the Network’s various diversity programs” was not good enough. Had he been consulted by NaFFAA, Avanzado said he would have suggested a more productive strategy for the meeting.

Dr. Fred Quevedo, a representative of the Association of Practicing Physicians in America (APPA), disagreed with Avanzado's dour assessment and reported a more upbeat evaluation of the meeting with MacPherson which he attended at the invitation of NaFFAA.

In the Plenary Session/Open Forum that followed, various resolutions were adopted.

The group unanimously approved a motion by Dr. Philip Chua to form a new national organization called the Filipino American Leadership Council (FALC) and unanimously elected Dr. Primo Andres, a cardiologist from Terre Haute, Indiana and president of the USTMAA Foundation, as its national president, with the Summit attendees as charter members. Dr. Philip Chua was elected national vice-president and Dr. Stella Evangelista as Secretary.

The Council also voted to call for a national boycott of Disney Stores and to send letters to all the DH sponsors asking for a face-to-face meeting with them. The Council voted to table a motion on the litigation strategy and approved a resolution (by Faith Bautista of the Mabuhay Alliance) asking NaFFAA to defer to the Council in future negotiations with ABC.

Dr. Rena Nora from the Nevada Physicians Group and a vice-chair of NaFFAA for the Nevada Region captured the enthusiasm of the delegates when she said “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas except for what we resolved to do today.”

[At my request, the Summit adjourned the conference in the memory of Dulce Quitans-Saguisag, the sister of Alma Quitans-Kern, NaFFAA National Chair, who was killed in a roadside accident in the Philippines on November 6.]

Monday, November 5, 2007

Uncommon Justice

Dr. Noel Chua from his cell in Camden County, Georgia and Renato Hughes from his cell in Lake County, California share an uncannily uncommon misfortune. Both are Filipino Americans who were charged with murder under a seldom-used legal doctrine that dates back to the common law rule in 12th century England, which ironically banned it in 1957.

Under this peculiar doctrine, a person can be charged with murder, instead of just manslaughter, when a victim dies accidentally or without specific intent in the course of the commission of an applicable felony. It makes any participant in such a felony criminally liable for any deaths that occur during that felony.

This law was abolished in England and most western countries which considered it unjust and unduly harsh to require no finding of any intent to kill or do bodily harm for someone to be found guilty of murder and sentenced to death or life imprisonment. The United States remains the only western country where this 12th century anachronism is still in active use.

Dr. Noel Chua was charged with violating Georgia’s Controlled Substance Act, and thereby causing the death of his patient, Jamie Carter III. According to the District Attorney, at least 10 drugs were found in Carter’s system, some of which were prescribed by Dr. Chua who, the D.A. charged, “ignored information in medical records from other physicians indicating Carter may have had a drug problem.”

Dr. Chua, an internal medicine specialist, said that Carter had a “long history of severe migraines and had to be hospitalized twice under my care for that condition. His past medical history reveals extensive work-up and numerous hospitalizations and ER visits for the same condition.”

Unfortunately, Carter “took a combination of pain medication”, some of which were prescribed by Dr. Chua and others by physicians (including a drug rehab doctor) that Carter went to before he went to Dr. Chua . The combination of drugs led to his death.

Carter died on December 15, 2005 but Dr. Chua was not arrested until September of 2006 and was still kept in jail for some time before formal charges were actually filed. The District Attorney then charged him with two murder counts and a racketeering count that allowed the DA the power to seize all of Dr. Chua’s assets. “It’s obviously a dirty, sleazy trick to grab all my money and properties so I will not be able to afford any defense on my part,” Dr. Chua charged.

With his properties in receivership (and with a receiver charging $12,000 a month to manage the estate), Dr. Chua was unable to post bail and remained in jail until his trial began on October 15. In the course of the 5-day trial, District Attorney Stephen Kelley introduced inflammatory testimony about a homosexual relationship between Dr, Chua and Carter, which was irrelevant to the charge of felony murder.

But it was effective, as the virtually all-white jury returned a verdict of guilty against Dr. Chua, a verdict which resulted in a sentence of "life imprisonment plus five years”.

In the same month that Carter died in December of 2005, Renato Hughes and his friend, Christian Foster, went to visit their old friend, Rashad Williams, who was living in Clear Lake with his grandmother. After the three pals got together, they decided to buy some marijuana, according to Rashad’s mother. They then went to the home of Shannon Edmonds, who, according to police records, is a known marijuana grower and drug dealer.

While Renato was waiting outside, Rashad and Christian went inside the house to talk to Edmonds. It is not clear what happened to cause Edmonds to get his shotgun and kill both Rashad and Christian. Some of his earlier statements indicated that a free-for-all altercation occurred.

But the official version he gave the police was that the boys invaded his home to steal his marijuana and that he shot them in self-defense with his 9mm semiautomatic Browning. He shot Rashad twice in the back and Christian five times in the back as well. When police arrived at the scene, they found Rashad lying in the middle of 11th Street, dead, and Christian dying in bushes about 20 yards away.

Two days after the killings, District Attorney Jon Hopkins accepted Edmonds’ version entirely and charged Renato Hughes with the double murder of his friends under the felony murder doctrine as their deaths, according to the D.A., occurred while in the course of committing a felony, an armed home invasion, with special circumstance punishable by death, if convicted.

Kenneth Block, a track and field coach at Balboa High School in San Francisco who knew all three boys personally, is furious that Edmonds was not the one charged with murder. “He took two boys’ lives and now he wants to take the third one. Where is justice in that? That doesn’t make any sense. They were fleeing the scene. They were murdered! This is a case of “double murder, double standard,” he said.

According to Renato’s attorney, Stephen Carter, “it's unclear whether Edmonds' place was invaded, whether a robbery occurred, or whether the three were merely hoping to buy marijuana -- and that no evidence indicates Renato Hughes was even in the house.”

"When you shoot someone who is fleeing, it's not self-defense," Carter said. "It's an execution."

While this case has attracted widespread attention in the African American community because Renato is half-Black, it has received no coverage in the Filipino American community even though Renato is half-Filipino.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Nope! Nope! Nope!

When Malacanang announced a week ago on October 24, 2007 that it would conduct a “national survey to get a feel of the public pulse on the issue”, I couldn’t wait for this column to appear to express my opinion on the proposed presidential pardon for convicted plunderer Joseph “Erap” Estrada.

But would President Arroyo wait at least a week before she announced her decision? There was hope. The day before the national survey plan was announced, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno (who held the same post under Estrada), informed the press that he expected Estrada to be pardoned and sent home before Christmas. Estrada himself had expressed the belief that he would be pardoned before November 7, the date he would begin his sentence in the New Bilibid Prison.

So there would be time, time for NOPE, the NO to Pardon for Estrada movement, to gather momentum, to prevent this “mockery of justice” from occurring. Well, not quite. Barely two days after she made the announcement, Pres. Arroyo granted “absolute presidential pardon” to Estrada citing his age (70), his “confinement” for 6 ½ years at his Tanay villa, and the need for “national reconciliation” as reasons for her decision.

It was laughable to consider Estrada’s stay at his Tanay Graceland “confinement”. With the funds he plundered, he built an extravagant mansion in Tanay, complete with several lagoons, a waterfall, a presidential museum, a film library, a mini-theater, a garage for 20 cars, a stable for horses, a riding park, an FPJ cowboy bar, a fishing village, a Muslim hall and a presidential mausoleum. It was described as “a veritable theme park worthy of Disneyland.”

The pardon had the full support of the Iglesia ni Kristo (INK) and influential members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). It had the full backing of former President Cory Aquino who said she was "happy" about the pardon. "I pray that as a free man, former president Estrada will harness the lessons he had learned from the sufferings he had endured, and continue to serve our less fortunate brothers and sisters." [Cory, just exactly what “sufferings” did he endure and what “lessons” did he learn?]

Unlike Cory, Estrada’s champion in the CBCP, Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, at least had the decency to ask that before Estrada is pardoned, he “must first acknowledge his sins, seek forgiveness and make amends for damages done.”

Estrada would do no such thing. At the celebration at his Polk Street mansion in San Juan after his official release, he defiantly declared: “I may have committed mistakes in my career in public service, but I assure you that corruption is not one of them.”

Estrada has always narrowly defined corruption (like Pres. Bush redefining “torture”) as directly stealing from the nation’s coffers. Thus, receiving billions of pesos in “Jueteng” (illegal gambling) payoffs was not corruption by his definition and neither was collecting a 10% commission (P180-M) from pressuring two government corporations (GSI and SSS) to buy P2-B pesos worth of Belle Corporation stocks, which are now worthless.

Dennis Villa-Ignacio, the Philippine Special Prosecutor who spent 6 ½ years building the case against Estrada, claimed that the pardon was done with “indecent” haste, lacked transparency, deviated from procedures and overlooked a constitutional provision. The Philippine Constitution provides for presidential pardons “except in cases of impeachment” (Article 7, Section 19).

Villa-Ignacio and his team of low-paid government lawyers were pitted against the most expensive lawyers Estrada could buy, yet they prevailed in the end (well, not quite)…

Supporters of Pres. Arroyo's pardon of Estrada argued that it would neutralize his supporters, not realizing that while his supporters may be a mile wide, they are only an inch deep. Just before the Estrada verdict was to be announced, followers of Estrada claimed that they would draw hundreds of thousands of people to protest a guilty verdict. When the guilty verdict was announced, there was barely a whimper of protest.

Estrada’s supporters in the Senate are not likely to back down from going after Arroyo. Estrada’s son, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, declared that notwithstanding the pardon, he would still continue to address the president as “Mrs. Arroyo” because she is not a legitimate ruler, he said.
Far from appeasing her enemies, she has instead alienated her allies. Former President Fidel Ramos predicted that the pardon could lead to Mrs. Arroyo’s own downfall. He said the pardon was “a terrible calamity to the great, great, great majority of the Filipino people who have suffered from the plunder.”

One of her few supporters in the Senate, Sen. Dick Gordon, described the pardon as a choice “to survive rather than be right, rather than be just. It's not even a question of mercy. It's a question of survival for her. It's transactional leadership at its purest form.” Her other Senate ally, Sen. Joker Arroyo, lamented the President's "lightning and tasteless haste" in pardoning Estrada.

When Malacanang asked for the people’s “pulse” on the issue, the low-paid teachers of Miriam College (formerly Maryknoll) drafted and sent a letter to Malacanang: “For political expediency, legislators and Malacañang offered pardon for the unrepentant and arrogant convict; one who shamelessly plundered and disgraced our beloved nation has been absolved of his crime by President Macapagal-Arroyo who herself is hounded by so many scandals.

"Miriam College stands for truth, justice, peace and integrity. Truth was impartially bared with the Sandiganbayan decision. Justice will not be served if Estrada escapes his sentence. And peace will be a long time coming because with this precedent, grafters will continue to rob our country, unafraid of the full force of the law; and socioeconomic disparities in our country will worsen.

"Education is extremely difficult when the school teaches good citizenship while the country’s leaders make a mockery of it. For the sake of our children and our future, pardon should not be given without Estrada (not his lawyers) apologizing to the Filipino people and without justice being rendered first.”

Nope! Nope! Nope!

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Disconnect

If the question posed by AOL to its Internet users - whether there was “good reason for some to be offended by this (Desperate Housewives) joke”- had been asked of Filipino American and Philippine commentators, their answers would have been markedly different.

Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Conrado deQuiros wrote that his first reaction was “to laugh out loud (lol). Hatcher’s remark is funny, though the kind that hurts only when you laugh. It’s so because like the truly most laughable things on earth, it has much truth in it.”

Philippine Star columnist William C. Esposo wrote, “in typical Filipino fashion, we've over-reacted once again over what can be considered as nothing more than one issue in long line of misinformed racial slurs that are commonplace on US television.”

Another Philippine Star columnist, Barbara C. Gonzales, believed that “we have lost our sense of humor…That was just meant to be funny. Now we are outraged, protesting, demanding an apology.”

Their “get over it” attitude contrasts with that of Telltale Signs reader Purita Guinto who wrote a response typical of the views of many in the US: “I felt those who dismissed it did not feel the sting of that crude ABC joke, in contrast to those or us from the Fil-Am community who raged against it the instant we knew about it. Remember the thousands among us who signed that petition within a few days after it appeared on the Internet?”

At a hearing of the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Commission on October 16, where a resolution condemning the “Desperate” slur was discussed, I was asked by an Israeli-born commissioner why Filipinos were taking this matter too seriously. “There are anti-Semitic remarks in the Al-Jazeera cable channel all the time and we don’t complain about it,” he said.

There is a huge gap in the differing portrayals of Jews and Filipinos in the media, I replied. On any given night, you can view scores of Jewish Americans on network television as lead actors and actresses in TV sitcoms (“Seinfeld,” for example). “But how many Filipinos do you see on TV every night?” I asked him.

Except for Cheryl Burke (Dancing with the Stars), whom most Americans wouldn’t know is a Filipina, you don’t see Filipinos even as doctors or nurses in medical TV shows (Gray’s Anatomy, ER, House, etc). When someone utters an anti-Semitic joke, people would generally regard it as a bigoted rant and dismiss it in the same way that Michael Richards’ racist rants against African Americans were disregarded. A ‘dumb blonde” joke would have no effect when prominent blondes like Dianne Sawyer, Barbara Walters or Hillary Clinton appear regularly on TV, belying the stereotype.

It was context that made the “Desperate” slur sting. Because of the absence of any counterweighing positive reference on network TV, any negative Filipino reference is therefore magnified. In this vacuum, any remark that questions the quality and competence of doctors with diplomas from “some med school in the Philippines” acquires instant credibility in the absence of TV evidence suggesting otherwise.

In contrast, Philippine commentators get to watch Filipinos on TV every night, in various roles both positive and negative. So when they hear a negative reference to Filipino doctors, they don’t see what the “big deal” is as they see Philippine doctors in a positive light regularly, in reel and real life.Many of them, like Esposo, also asked: “Doesn’t the recent Nursing Exams Leak Scandal logically create the likely impression that we produce sub-standard medical professionals? Doesn’t the reputation of the Philippines as a diploma mill justify that impression too?”

But the unfortunate reality is that Filipinos are so far removed from the radar screens of Hollywood producers and screen writers that it would give them too much credit to assume that they have any interest in knowing anything at all about the Philippine educational system. They couldn't care a whit about us.

The other reality that escapes “the truth hurts” proponents is that Filipino doctors have to pass three medical exams before they can practice in the US: the Philippine medical exams, the Educational Council for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) exams, and the Medical License Examinations (MLE), the only exam that holders of US diplomas have to take. It's not as easy as buying up a diploma from a sidewalk vendor.

But there is also another context that informs the attitudes of Philippine commentators. Philippine television is generally not subject to the same “fairness” standards that American TV networks are subject to.

When I was in Manila last year, I was shocked to watch a Philippine game show called “Game ka na ba?” (Are you game already?), hosted by presidential daughter Kris Aquino, where the contestants were all “little people” (derisively referred to as ‘dwarfs”). The TV audience laughed at them the entire show. That kind of mockery of people with disabilities would never appear on American game shows like Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune.

In the Philippines, it seems every disability is fair game for abuse in politics and on network TV where there are no limits to what or who you can mock. When opposition politicians like Sen. Panfilo Lacson can refer to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as “Dwendita” (little dwarf) because of her vertically challenged height, one can only imagine what people can say about anyone else.

Because the Philippine media culture has numbed them to feeling any sense of outrage at the utterance of degrading insults, many of these commentators just can’t understand why we’re making such a “big deal” about a "four second joke.”

The disconnect between Filipino American and Philippine commentators is evident in historian Ambeth Ocampo’s observation of the “Division” (the title of his recent column in the Inquirer) among Filipinos in America. “I’m not a sociologist, so I don’t know the answer to the question,” he asks. “What is it in our nature that makes expatriate Filipinos divide rather than unite? The answer will come in handy not just abroad but back home where every day is an exercise in forming a nation.”

From our vantage point, “expatriate” Filipinos have united on this “Desperate” issue more than any other issue in recent memory. It’s a unity that our community can build on to address other pressing issues (like the FilVets issue which needs our doctors' support). While not quite an exercise in forming a nation, it is boldly empowering a community.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Breaking Our Stereotype

NEWS STORIES in the mainstream press about the negative reaction of Filipinos to the “Desperate Housewives” denigration of physicians with diplomas from “med schools in the Philippines” caused AOL to conduct a nationwide poll and ask its Internet users whether there was “good reason for some to be offended by this joke” (AOL already presumed it was just a "joke").

Surprisingly, notwithstanding the bias of the question, 27% of those polled agreed with the view that “it has racial implications.” This percentage is the same statistic as the number of Americans who still support President Bush’s handling of the Iraq War, according to recent surveys. The AOL poll also asked what ABC and “Desperate Housewives” should do about the outrage that Filipinos have expressed towards the episode. They “should not worry about it” garnered 69% while “apologize” received 31% of the vote.

If any TV show receives 31% of the total TV viewing audience on any given night, it would top the Nielsen ratings for that week. It is an incredibly significant percentage considering that the 3 million Filipinos in the US constitute only 1% of the total US population.

While the AOL poll was encouraging, the report of Asianweek columnist Emil Guillermo about the inaction of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) on this issue was downright dismaying.

MANAA’s mission is to educate the public and the media about “what persons of Asian Pacific descent find racially offensive, stereotypical, and/or inaccurate and why it is harmful.” Towards this end, in 2003, MANAA organized a nationwide protest action against a FOX TV show called “Banzai” which depicted Asians in a negative manner. MANAA successfully persuaded advertisers to pull their ads from the show which was soon removed from the network.

MANAA regularly monitors TV shows and movies to make sure that anti-Asian racial slurs like "chink," "Chinaman," "Jap," "Nip," "gook," "slope," "slant-eye," and "wog" are removed from TV/movie scripts or, if retained, that they are properly “contextualized as negative and insulting.”

But racial slurs and epithets have generally lost their power to hurt. Their use now reflects more on the hateful bigotry of the user than any shame or pain it may inflict on the subject of the verbal attack. If Terri Hatcher’s character had merely referred to Filipinos as “dumb Flips”, the anti-Filipino pejorative commonly used in the 1930s, it would not have been nearly as pernicious and damaging as the bigoted inference that doctors from the Philippines have sub-standard and inferior education, subliminally suggesting to American patients to avoid them or be wary of them.

Surely this anti-Filipino insult would have drawn MANAA’s attention. You think?

Emil Guillermo e-mailed Guy Aoki, the head of MANAA, to inquire as to what action his group took on the “Desperate” slur. Aoki e-mailed back: "You'll probably hate me for saying this, but we didn't think it was a big deal. If they mention any foreign country, people descended from that country are going to be upset. We have no idea about the caliber of doctors from the Philippines, only that there are a lot of Filipino nurses. Besides, we don't usually get involved when foreign countries are involved."

What? The insult to the 22,000 Filipino doctors practicing in the US did not meet MANAA’s standards for what is “racially offensive, stereotypical, or inaccurate”? As Guillermo observed, “To many, Filipinos still don't rate on the "offend-o-meter."

MANAA’s ignorance of how the “Desperate” remark severely wounded our integrity as a people and our pride in the quality of the medical education in the Philippines was shocking but understandable.

When Dianne Feinstein was mayor of San Francisco, she told her close friends that the Filipino community was her favorite. While other ethnic groups would demand that she appoint their people to various major commissions and funding for their community programs, Filipinos were content to simply having their photos taken with her. The other ethnic groups got what they demanded and were empowered. The Filipinos got the photo-ops but received appointments only to minor commissions and virtually no funding for our community programs.

The fury of the Filipino community’s reaction to the "Desperate" slur caused ABC to dispatch Robert Mendez, their "Vice President for Diversity" to take care of the problem. After all, that's what they created his job title for. Anytime ABC has problems with any minority group, it's Mendez Time.

So when a Filipino community leader suggested to Mendez that ABC "agree to explore a program that might help increase opportunities for Filipinos at ABC", Mendez quickly accepted the proposal. After all, what would it cost ABC to simply "explore a program"? The proposal wouldn't even require that it actually result in increased opportunities for Filipinos at ABC, it was enough that it "might help increase" it.

But creating a larger “talent pool” of Filipinos for ABC is totally useless if ABC doesn’t even care to use the Filipino talent pool it already has. Sumi Sevilla Haru, a veteran Filipino-American actress, received an audition call for the “Desperate Housewives” episode with the hateful “med schools” remark.

“On Monday, July 30, I was to have an audition for the episode in question at Universal Studios,” Sumi wrote. “The part was for an older Asian woman with her daughter. In the scene in the waiting room, I was to assure Hatcher that the doctor was competent. At 10:30 a.m. just as I was to drive into the gate, I received a call from my agent that the part was written out. I suspect it was a last minute change, possibly to save paying two actors, or possibly to write in the joke about the doctor's credentials.”

Despite requests from certain leaders to tone down the rhetoric and activism, the Filipino community in the US is finally waking up to the realization that if you ask for little, you get exactly what you ask for, little.

Because of the community's agitation, ABC caved in to the community's demand that it remove the offending scene from the episode so that the show will not continue to inflict its pain on future viewers. That was a good start. But what about dealing with the 25 million viewers who watched the September 30 episode and whose minds were subliminally poisoned by it?

More needs to be done and will be done if the Filipino community continues to advocate for them. A public service announcement (PSA) on the show itself honoring Filipino physicians (like former White House physician Dr. Connie Mariano) as part of Filipino American History Month is one proposal that will show ABC's good faith.

But more leverage is needed. The threat of a class action defamation lawsuit against ABC and the call for a nationwide boycott of ABC and Disney may push ABC to grant further concessions.

These calls do carry the risk that if we succeed, we may no longer be considered for the top spot in the show “ABC’s Favorite Ethnic Community.”

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Desperate Apologies

WHEN Terri Hatcher’s character in “Desperate Housewives” flippantly inferred in the September 30 episode of the hit TV show that all physicians who receive their diplomas from “some med school in the Philippines” are quacks, it exposed not just the anti-Filipino bigotry of the producers, scriptwriters and cast of that ABC show but the total absence of the Filipino community’s clout in Hollywood.

Certain groups in Hollywood have clout. If the “Desperate” writer had used Israel instead of the Philippines, he would have been immediately denounced as anti-Semitic and his offending script dumped in the garbage along with him. If the script attacked the integrity of African-Americans, the writer would have received the Don Imus “nappy-headed hos” award and would disappear in a New York minute.

If the script had denigrated someone’s sexual orientation, the writer would get the Isaiah Washington treatment named for the actor who used the “F” word in a confrontation with fellow actor T.R. Knight in “Grey’s Anatomy”. The producers of the ABC hit show compelled Washington to publicly apologize for the homophobic slur and to take anger management classes. After complying with all that was asked of him, Washington was fired from the show by ABC.

The offending "med school" script of “Desperate Housewives” was probably written about 10 months ago after which it went through a vetting process with the writers, producers and the director of the show, as well as the cast, working on the final script before shooting of the episode was completed around April or May. After editing, it was then shown to the ABC executives who approved it and readied it for showing on September 30.

Throughout this whole 10-month process, not one person in the ABC chain said “Wait a minute, folks, this isn’t right. We’re maligning every Philippine-educated physician in the US. What are we saying here? That they’re all quacks who can’t be trusted to make a proper medical diagnosis about menopause?”

Not one of them even sought to show the script to Alec Mapa, a Filipino-American actor who has a recurring role in the series, to get his reaction. If they did, he would have said, as he did after it aired: "It's unfortunate that the Philippines was used as a punch line. My family is filled with doctors and medical professionals. I know first hand from them, that the medical schools in the Philippines are top notch.”

After the offending episode was shown, ABC was besieged with angry phone calls, e-mails and letters from Filipino-American viewers throughout the US. An online petition drafted by Kevin Nadal drew 30,000 signatures in 48 hours (130,000 in five days). Philippine government elected and appointed officials went ballistic in expressing outrage.

In response, ABC's publicity department issued a boilerplate apology: "The producers of `Desperate Housewives' and ABC Studios offer our sincere apologies for any offense caused by the brief reference in the season premiere. There was no intent to disparage the integrity of any aspect of the medical community in the Philippines," the ABC statement said.

The PR person’s apology showed incredible ignorance of the issue. It wasn't the integrity of the “medical community in the Philippines” that was disparaged (Filipino patients don't care that their physicians were educated there), it was the Filipino “medical community in the US” that was defamed by the “brief reference” to their quack credentials.

Manila-based columnist Conrado de Quiros explained the significance of the offense: “It doesn’t just cast aspersion on—or worse doubts, which affect employment opportunities of—Filipino doctors, it does so on Filipino professionals generally. What applies to the diplomas of Filipino doctors applies as well to the diplomas of Filipino engineers, accountants and lawyers. Left unprotested, a single line like that in a hugely popular TV series can do more harm by the incalculable power of suggestion than whole reams or airtime of diatribe in a newspaper or talk show.”

What kind of harm can this show that is watched by more than 125 million viewers in more than 75 countries do?

One US-based physician, Dr. Arsenio Martin, a pulmonary and critical care specialist who has a diploma from “some med school in the Philippines”, wrote to say that he regularly sees terminal patients and knows that family members try to get the best specialist they could find to treat his patients.

“If that patient dies because of his or her terminal illness, the family members will either accept it or second guess themselves… If you try to inject negative things in their minds, like what Terry Hatcher did, then they will forever torture themselves wishing they had called another physician or, worst case scenario, they will file suit against that Filipino doctor.”

When ABC’s anemic apology failed to mollify the Filipino community, ABC dispatched Robert Mendez, its Senior Vice President for Diversity, to “reach out” to the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA). According to NaFFAA’s Jon Melegrito, Mendez wanted “to assure the Filipino American community that ABC takes our concerns seriously and is taking the necessary steps to make amends.”

After just one telephone conversation with Mendez, Melegrito was ready to assure the Filipino community that “ABC is making a good faith effort to seriously make amends, and that Mr. Mendez is sincere in wanting to open a dialogue with us.”

But others were not so quick to accept ABC’s "good faith effort" as they recalled a similar promise made by ABC in the past over an episode of Frasier where Filipino women were referred to as “mail order brides from the Philippines.” Filipino community protests resulted in a similar public apology by ABC and a similar promise to remove the offending dialogue from the episode. ABC reneged on the promise and the offensive episode has remained intact in the DVDs and in the syndicated reruns of Frasier.

Over the past week, pickets by Filipino-American groups in Burbank, California and in New York and Washington DC caused Mendez to arrange a face-to-face meeting with Filipino community leaders in New York on October 5. In that meeting, Rico Foz, a spokesperson for the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (Nafcon), asked ABC to broadcast its public apology during the show’s next episode. “It will be tough,” Mendez said (“In your dreams” is what he meant).

Foz also demanded that Mendez arrange a meeting with Marc Cherry, the producer of “Desperate Housewives”, to discuss their concerns and to obtain an explanation on how the bigoted remarks in the episode got past everyone. He wanted ABC to initiate cultural sensitivity training for its network writers and producers and for ABC to produce shows that depict Filipinos and other minority groups as "prominent, positive role models." Mendez promised to discuss these demands with the network management.

To ensure that ABC follows through on its promises, continuous pressure by the Filipino community must be applied. Pickets of ABC offices and a boycott of Disney products will ensure that ABC will live up to its promises. We will not be naively fooled again.

Please send letters of protest to Mr.. Mark Pedowitz, President; ABC Television Network; 500 S. Buena Vista Street Burbank, CA 91521-4551; email: or sign the online petition ( Attend the Filipino community meeting at the Philippine Consulate Social Hall in San Francisco on Tuesday, October 9, at 6 PM.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Joyce Tempongco Remembered

On October 22, 2000, seven years ago, Claire Joyce Tempongco was having dinner with a friend when her ex-boy friend, Tari Ramirez, called her on her cell phone. As he had done in numerous calls before, Tari begged for another chance to get back together again. If she didn’t say yes, he would kill her, he promised. Joyce said no, no more please, as she had pleaded with him many times before.

Later in the evening, when Joyce returned with her two children to her 22nd Avenue home in San Francisco’s Richmond District, she saw Tari was waiting for her inside the apartment he had broken into. She quickly ran for the phone to call the police but Tari ripped the phone off her hands and smashed it. Then, in front of Joyce’s children, Tari stabbed her in the breast with a kitchen knife.

Joyce may still be alive today if the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) had done its job. Joyce had called 911 at least six times to report Tari’s numerous acts of violence against her but her pleas for help seemingly fell on deaf ears.

The first time she called the police, in April of 1999, she had reported that Tari broke a window to get back into the apartment, grabbed her by the hair and dragged her to the hallway where he beat her up savagely before leaving the scene. When the police officers arrived, Joyce narrated a long history of abuse that reached a point the week before, when she broke off with him and asked him to leave her apartment. She told the police that Tari's violence was escalating and that she seriously feared for her life and for her children.

Later that evening, Tari was picked up by the police for unrelated drunk driving and hit and run charges. While in the police car, however, he told the police that he got drunk after beating up Joyce. San Francisco police officers were clearly aware from their first encounter with him that Tari Ramirez was a very violent man. But District Attorney Terrence Hallinan chose to file only drunk driving charges against him, not domestic violence, not breaking and entering, not making terrorist threats.

The police knew that Ramirez had injured Joyce Tempongco and terrified her and her children, and yet no domestic violence charges were brought against him. The police did not even bother to obtain a restraining order to protect Joyce.

After his release on the drunk-driving charge, Tari Ramirez continued to harass and abuse Joyce. When the police was called a second time, the police reported it as dog barking incident because the officers were too lazy to write a full police report. Finally, on the third 911 call after another savage beating two months later, the police arrested Ramirez and charged him with five felony counts of spousal abuse, assault with a deadly weapon, terrorist threats, false imprisonment and kidnapping.

Unfortunately, the District Attorney’s office plea bargained the five charges into just one count of domestic violence for which Tari was sentenced to probation and counseling. He did not even have to spend time in jail for beating up Joyce. After that conviction, whenever Joyce called the police to report that Tari had abused her again, he was simply charged with violating his probation and his probation term was routinely extended.

On September 1, 2000, when police officers responded to Joyce’s sixth 911 call they found her lying in bed with her kids, shaking and terrified with fright. There was blood on her mouth and red marks around her neck and face. Tari had strangled her until she momentarily lost consciousness when he finally let go of her neck. “I opened my eyes and I was still alive,” she later told her brother, Leo.

Tari should have been arrested and charged with attempted murder. Instead, when the case went to Sgt. Al Lum, the chief investigator of the domestic violence unit of the SFPD, he decided to process it, once again, as a simple probation violation and to send it over to the probation department. Tari was again charged with probation violation.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Sgt. Lum explained that he decided not to file new charges against Tari because Joyce had been drinking, had not been hospitalized and had not called the police to inquire about the progress of the case. “It’s up to her to call or come in for a follow-up,” Sgt. Lum explained, “She didn’t call, so we couldn’t do a work-up.”

Joyce’s mother, Clara, believes that perhaps it was because they are Filipino, the police did not take Joyce seriously before she was killed. Even after her murder, the police did not seem to care too much about capturing Tari.

The family had suggested to police officers that because Tari stole Joyce’s cell phone, they could track the calls made from the cell phone and interview the people he spoke with, to determine his whereabouts. The police ignored this suggestion. Joyce’s family members knew Tari’s hangouts, where his relatives live, but the police didn’t care to find out. It took months for them to produce a wanted poster for Tari Ramirez and though it had his photo, it misidentified his race as “W” and even omitted mention of an identifying tattoo.

It also took four months for the police to visit the school of Joyce’s children to counsel them about what they should do if Tari showed up, especially since they were witnesses to their mother’s murder. In a press conference on the Tempongco murder, District Attorney Hallinan lamented Joyce Tempongco’s failure to follow up on the prosecution of Tari and opined that this was “an example of the ideology of the disease.”

Hallinan was blaming the victim and calling domestic violence a disease, not a crime, and a disease of the victim, and not of the murderer. When Hallinan ran for reelection in 2003, he was soundly defeated by his chief opponent, Kamala Harris, who made Joyce Tempongco’s murder a crusade and a campaign issue.

In January of this year, Tari Ramirez was captured in Cancun, Mexico and extradited to San Francisco where he was charged with first degree murder. At his arraignment on April 18, 2007, District Attorney Kamala Harris said that the Tempongco tragedy provided a necessary “wake-up call” that helped San Francisco become more responsive to victims of domestic violence.

According to the statistics compiled by the Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse (CORA), every nine seconds in the US, a woman is abused. Anywhere from 3 -10 million children witness domestic violence every year. Each year, upwards of 1-M incidents of domestic violence occur. A third of all Americans know a woman whose husband or boy friend has physically abused her in the past year.

Most shocking statistic of all: more than three women are murdered by their former or current husbands or boy friends daily. Claire Joyce Tempongco was one of them.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Sacramento Tragedy

As a community activist dealing with the Filipino American youth for more than 30 years, Ben Menor has attended the funerals of many young Filipino Americans who died from suicide, homicide, disease or accidents. But no funeral in the past could match the emotionally-charged sight he witnessed on Wednesday, September 19, in Sacramento, California: a single coffin holding a 21-year old father and his 8-month old infant son.

It was only a few days before, on September 14, that young athletic Sean Paul Aquitania, Sr. buckled his son, Sean Jr., in a car seat and drove to visit a friend in southeast Sacramento county. When he got to the house, Sean Paul parked his car in front and left his son in the car as he would be away for only a few seconds. He walked to the door and pressed the doorbell. When the door was opened by two men, two other men quickly ran up the house and forced their way inside in what police believe was a drug-related home invasion robbery.

A scuffle occurred and Sean Paul was shot and killed by the intruders. As the killers fled the house, they saw Sean Paul’s parked car with the baby in the car seat. One of the men opened the car door and shot Sean Jr. in the head, killing him instantly with the same gun that had been used to kill his father.

Police authorities who arrived at the scene interviewed the two residents of the house who witnessed the murder of Sean Paul. They were not cooperative, the police said, as they did not provide the police with information about the gunmen other than their description as two young males, one African American wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and the other a Latino wearing a green shirt and a green Oakland A’s cap.

Before that fateful day, Sean Paul had been working at the local Cash & Carry store, but wanted a better life for his son and his fiancée, his son’s mother, 19-year old Monique De La Cruz. He was studying for his GED (a high school equivalent diploma) so that he could go to college and become a correctional officer.

Friends recalled the time when Sean Paul was 14 and his mother enrolled him in a boxing class offered by the Shotgun Boxing Crew in his Elk Grove neighborhood. According to his friend and trainer, Daniel Palpalatoc, Sean showed an early talent for boxing. When he turned 17, Sean had become proficient enough to participate in a Junior Olympic boxing tournament and win a bronze medal. “He was somebody,” Boxing Crew owner Benito Garcia said.

At a Sacramento press conference held on September 18, the mothers of Sean Sr. and Sean Jr. held back their tears as they spoke of Sean Paul’s love for and total devotion to Sean Jr. Sarah Aquitania, mother of Sean Paul, pleaded for anyone with information about the identity of the killers to call the police with the information. "Come forward. I beg you," she said. Please call the Sheriff's Department at (916) 874-5115 or Crime Alert at (916) 443-HELP. Callers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward.

Monique Dela Cruz spoke of her child with tears streaking down her face. "The smile on my baby's face was so precious. To think that someone could ..." She was overwhelmed with emotion that she could not finish her sentence.

At the Wednesday night funeral service, about 300 relatives, friends and leaders of the Filipino community came to pay their respects. They could only see the face of Sean Paul Sr. who was dressed in a burgundy red shirt. They could not view the face of Sean Jr. which was covered with a baseball cap.

Friends and relatives spoke at the funeral service about the deep love between Monique and Sean Paul. Monique’s aunt, Louise De La Cruz, shared her knowledge of their close relationship:

"They were the happiest couple I know. These two never fought, never squabbled and never disrespected each other. What they did do was laugh an awful lot. They -- maturely in their young years -- had an unwavering devotion to one another and somehow knew the key to life: 'As long as we have each other, we can be happy.' And they were."

The following morning, more than 700 people attended the funeral Mass at St. Rose Catholic Church, with hundreds joining the procession to St. Mary's Cemetery for the burial. After the funeral Thursday, family members thanked everyone for their outpouring of support and repeated their plea for people to provide information that would lead to the arrest of the killers.

In the meantime, family members have set up a Sean Aquitania Jr. Memorial Fund, c/o Bank of America, 940 Florin Road, Sacramento, CA 95831. Please contribute to support this devastated family.

Members of the Northern California Regional Chapter of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) plan to discuss the Aquitania tragedy and the senseless deaths of young Fil-Ams at the NaFFAA Region 8 Conference set for November 10 at the Bayanihan Community Center on Mission Street in San Francisco. For more information about attending this conference, please email: