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 MalacaƱang 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.