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.