Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sub Par Performance of Filipino Students

The statistics were shocking for a culture that prizes education. The California Standardized Test scores for San Francisco public school students showed that Filipinos in the 6th, 7th and 8th grades have "the highest percentage of students below 'Basic' among other Asian groups and Whites in both English-language Arts and Math, ranging from 19% to 37%." It doesn't get any better. "In the 9th-11th grades, 42% of Filipino students fall in the 'Basic' and 'Below Basic' levels on the Star Math Test."

The report, culled from an analysis of the 2004-2005 test scores of 3,559 Filipino students in the San Francisco Unified School District , noted that "Filipino students also have one of the highest dropout rates for all ethnic groups in the School District ".

The report on San Francisco Filipino students, part of a study of Filipino students in 10 urban communities throughout the US, was presented at an education workshop at the national conference of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) held September 25-28, 2008 at the Westin Hotel in Seattle, Washington.

A study of the Seattle School District in 2006 found that "73% of Filipino students failed the science component and 55% failed the math component of the 10th grade WASL test that will be required for graduation."

In urban communities without hard statistical data, the group interviewed Filipino parents, teachers and administrators to get information about Filipino students. The interviews, in the case of Jersey City , New Jersey , showed that "89% of them perceived Filipino students ' academic performance to be very satisfactory" . Whether parental perceptions match the reality of the students in the trenches will never be known for sure.

The National Filipino Student Study Group, convened by NaFFAA and funded by Wells Fargo, was headed by Dr. Anthony Barretto Ogilvie, Executive Dean of the Seattle Central Community College . Over a 10 month period, the group studied the academic records of the Filipino students in urban communities and expressed concerns about the following areas:

1. Filipino youth unable to participate in higher level jobs with higher incomes.

2. Insufficient academic preparation for Filipinos in the workplace "diminishing their preparation for the national and global economies".

3. Structural and systemic deficiencies in the education system (lack of Filipino teachers, non-inclusion of Filipino content in the curriculum, absence of support for Filipino ESL students).

4. Minimum involvement of Filipino parents and community members in their local school systems.

5. Low numbers of Filipino students going on to higher education and graduating especially in the teacher education field.

6. The "colonial mentality" that still persists among Filipino adults and youth.

Among the recommendations of the NaFFAA study group to school administrators were:

1. Separate data by sub-ethnic groups.

2. Hire more Filipino administrators, teachers and counselors.

3. Add Filipino content to the curriculum.

4. Introduce educators to Filipino culture, history, practices and skills to work more effectively with their Filipino students.

5. Involve Filipino community members in their local school operations and programs.

6. Place Filipino teachers in leadership positions.

The NaFFAA study group urged Filipino parents to:

1. Learn how the American school system works and critically assess what their locals schools are doing or not doing for their children.

2. Increase their involvement in their local school's activities and programs.

3. Know where their kids are in terms of location and Internet use.

4. Encourage high academic performance in their kids and support them in times of difficulty and success outside of school.

5. Work with other ethnic parents to ensure that their school systems meet the needs of all students.

The study group identified 502,689 Filipino students enrolled in K-12 public schools nationally with the number of Filipino students enrolled in private schools unknown. Only California , Hawaii and Washington "disaggregate" their state's ethnic group population data and do so because of the immigration histories and high percentage of diverse Asian American populations.

The group shared the common perspective that "if Filipino communities are to ensure that their members do well in general, they must work together with their schools to provide an education system in which all Filipinos achieve academically. "

This study is a wake-up call for our community to understand that many of our Filipino students, especially in urban communities, are failing. Let’s wake up and do something about it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Vets' High Stakes Gamble

For the Filipino WW II veterans who were anxiously awaiting a vote on S.1315, September 22 was a roller coaster day on Capitol Hill. The word had gone out to the veterans the Friday before that the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill which had been incorporated in S.1315, the Veterans Benefits’ Enhancement Bill, would finally go for a vote on Monday, on the last week before Congress adjourned for the year. All the years of painstaking lobbying by these hardy octogenarian veterans would now culminate in the much anticipated vote.

They were grateful to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for delivering on her promise to bring S.1315 for a floor vote. As the veterans in the gallery watched, the motion was made to pass S.1315 by unanimous consent. It was seconded and the members voted. Unanimously.

This was absolutely incredible! A fairy tale ending? But how could it be this easy? There must be a catch somewhere. Sure enough, there was.

Before S.1315 could be voted on, Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA), the chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, had moved to amend the bill to exclude the Filipino Veterans Equity provision (Title IV) and the provision overruling the Hartness case which provided the funding mechanism for the bill under the House’s “Pay-Go” rule.

Other provisions of S.1315 which similarly required an overrule of Hartness were also stripped from S.1315 in order to overcome Republican opposition to the bill. Filner’s motion was seconded and approved without opposition.

After the unanimous vote on the amended S.1315, Filipino WW II veterans met with Filner at his House office to thank him for securing passage of S.1315. What? Why? The answer is a little complicated but it involves a political dance so sophisticated Fred Astaire would be impressed.

Eric Lachica, executive director of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans (ACFV), described the dance as taking one step back to move two steps forward.

Congressional supporters of Filipino Veterans Equity recognized the political reality that there were not enough votes in the House to pass the Filipino veterans equity bill. Primarily, this was because passage involved overruling the Hartness case which would mean depriving about 20,000 US veterans of the benefits they were receiving because a federal claims judge had issued a ruling that awarded disabled veterans more money than Congress intended.

Because Filner recognized that there was no chance of overruling Hartness in this election year, he decided to sponsor a bill that would bypass the “Pay-Go” House rule because it would not be a funded mandate. He crafted an alternative bill, HR 6897, which would establish a Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund that would award to Filipino WW II veterans a lump sum of $15,000 for eligible U.S. citizens and $9,000 for eligible non-citizens.

Filipino veterans and their supporters throughout the US who had viewed Filner as their champion in the House were confused and quickly denounced the Filner bill. Fred Gallardo of the Council of Pilipino American Organization (COPAO) organized a rally in Chula Vista , San Diego , California (Filner’s home district) to oppose Filner’s bill.

According to Gallardo, “the token benefits to be derived from HR 6897 denies the WW II veterans parity or equal benefits as other US servicemen of their era…This bill would forever foreclose any chance of overturning the shameful 1946 Rescission Act and shall constitute a complete release of any claim against the United States by reason of any service."

Gallardo’s sentiments were echoed by Filvets supporters in Washington , DC , New York , Los Angeles , Hawaii , San Jose , Virginia , Texas , Florida , Chicago , and New Jersey . "Philippine Ambassador Willy Gaa also expressed objections to Filner’s introduction of HR 6897," Gallardo said.

Despite the outcry from the Filipino community, Filner’s bill was approved unanimously by his veterans affairs committee after Steve Buyer (R-Indiana) amended it by including a provision that would end all claims for benefits by Filipino WW II veterans. Buyer’s amendment, according to vets supporter Sonny Sampayan, makes the bill "unjust and unfair for our WW II Filipino veterans."

"The $ 15,000 lump sum for Filipino veterans who are US citizens is too little, too late," he said. "If they receive this amount and they will be stripped off their annual $11,000 through Supplemental Security Income (SSI), it will be unconscionable," Gallardo said.

Not quite. If the veterans who receive the $15,000 lump sum payment gave all of it to their kids and left none for themselves, they would continue to be eligible for the SSI payments they are currently receiving.

Filner urged supporters of Filipino veterans equity to “be quiet for the next two days to allow us to do our work" alluding to the heavy criticism of his bill from members of the Filipino community.

On Tuesday, September 23, after the House had approved S.1315 the day before, the House voted on HR 6897. On a motion to suspend the rules (so that no amendments would be heard), the Filipino Veterans Equity Act (HR 6897) passed by a vote of 392 to 23. Among the 23 voting against the bill were 22 Republicans, including Rep. Buyer.

Filner explained that passage of his bill, together with passage of S.1315, was part of “an overall strategy that we hope will amount to the best for Filipino veterans to finally bring justice.” What was key to the strategy was that "S.1315" pass the House as well as a Filipino Veterans Equity Bill (HR 6897).

Because both bills passed the House, “the pressure now shifts to the conference committee” of House and Senate sponsors of S.1315, explained Ben de Guzman, executive director of the National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity.

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), the chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and chief sponsor of S.1315, and Rep. Bob Filner, chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and sponsor of HR 6897, will jointly preside over the conference committee that will craft a compromise bill that will be presented to the Senate and the House for a vote.

This high stakes game of political maneuvering is not for the faint of heart but this is the part of the dance that veterans believe will be the two steps forward.

Please contact your Senators (www.sen.gov) and your House Representatives (www.House.gov) to urge them to vote for the Senate version of S.1315 when the compromise bill emerges from the conference committee. Folks, we’re almost there.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Palin Effect on S.1315

Before Congress adjourned for its August recess, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi assured supporters of the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill that she would put S.1315, the Veterans Benefits Enhancement bill, to a vote when Congress resumed its regular session in September. It has been two weeks since then - with less than two weeks left to go before Congress adjourns - and there is still no word as to when, or if, the House will vote on S. 1315. What has happened since?

According to AsianWeek columnist Emil “Amok”Guillermo, what happened was the selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah “the Bridge to Nowhere” Palin.

“The Palin effect is so great that not only has it changed both the gender and the change issues in the race, but it has also impacted the Filipino vets issue,” Guillermo wrote. “With such a tight presidential race, the politics of protecting congressional seats is now a priority. What was a slam-dunk feel good vote in the Senate has now become a hot potato for House members up for re-election.”

Because S.1315 is about 40 votes short of the 218 needed to secure its passage in the House, there is widespread speculation that Speaker Pelosi is reluctant to bring the issue to a vote for fear that Democrats in close races would lose their seats if they voted for the bill and their Republican rivals point to this vote as an example of how the Democrats cared more about “foreign” veterans than “our own” American vets.

Instead of voting on the issue of whether Filipino veterans deserve to be properly compensated for their military service to the US during WW II, House Republican opponents of S. 1315, led by Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Indiana), have redefined the issue to now be whether the House should overturn the Hartness decision.

Hartness refers to a 2006 United States Court of Appeals veterans claims decision that overturned the Department of Veterans Affairs decision that denied an 86-year-old legally blind World War II veteran, Robert A. Hartness, a VA benefit called a special monthly pension. The court reversed the VA’s denial of benefits to Mr. Hartness, and required the VA to begin making those payments. During a floor debate
on the veterans bill last July 31, 2008, Buyer declared that “we are not going to repeal Hartness.”

Because the “Pay-Go” policy of the House requires Congress to determine where the money would come from for any bill requiring appropriations, Congressional supporters of S.1315 used the savings that would come from reversing the Hartness decision to finance the Filvets bill.

As Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) explained in his Senate speech on June 2, 2008, “Despite the fact that the purpose of the provision in S. 1315 which reverses the Hartness decision is to do nothing more than restore the clear intent of Congress, it has been mischaracterized by some as an attempt to withdraw benefits from deserving veterans in order to fund benefits to Filipino veterans. That is simply not the case. Such accusations fail to appreciate the facts of the matter that led the Senate to take corrective action.”

Despite Sen. Akaka’s clarification, there is still the fear that Republicans will run ads in the congressional races of vulnerable Democratic supporters of S.1315 accusing the Democrats of eliminating the veterans’ benefits of blind 86-year old American veterans like Robert Hartness just to pay 13,000 “foreign” Philippine-based veterans.

Perhaps the most outspoken veterans’ organization opposing S.1315 is the American Legion. While attending the Democratic National Convention in Denver, the “Amok” columnist had the opportunity to discuss the Filvets issue with Steve Robertson, director of the American Legion's National Legislative Commission.

Robertson, Guillermo learned, is not opposed to S.1315 and has in fact suggested “two sure-fire ways to bypass the fears of some congressmen all in a tizzy”.

Robertson’s suggestions: “First, Congress could simply waive the budget rules, which is done all the time. Second, it could attach S.1315 to an emergency supplemental bill or a continuing resolution, which do not fall under the provisions of the Balanced Budget Amendment.”

Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA), the chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, is prepared to introduce a bill this week that would give Filipino WW II veterans a lump sum amount, similar to what Japanese Americans received for their WW II internment. Filner’s bill would provide $15,000 for US-based veterans and $9,000 for vets in the Philippines. When Filner proposed this same amendment last July 31, it
prompted Speaker Pelosi to come down to the floor and assure Filner and other Filvets supporters that S.1315 will be brought to a vote. Based on that assurance, Filner withdrew his amendment.

But since S.1315 has not been brought to a vote, Filner iwill present the same lump sum proposal to draw Speaker Pelosi to address the issue of S.1315 again.

Whatever it takes. Just get it passed. The clock is ticking. We’re running out of time. Please email Speaker Nancy Pelosi at melissa.shannon@ mail.house. gov and ask her to bring S.1315 to a floor vote now.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Failure of Nationalism

While there was considerable discussion in cyberspace about the issue of a name change for the Philippines, it was generally limited only to the Filipino chattering class, those folks who regularly express their opinions in various blogs and e-list groups. Most Filipinos are apathetic to this issue partly because it would be at or near the bottom of their list of priorities and partly because of lack of information.

Do most Filipinos care that millions of their Moro brothers and sisters in Mindanao and Sulu have never considered themselves “Filipinos” because they successfully resisted Spanish colonial efforts to make them “Filipinos” (subjects of King Felipe)? Would not a new name that included and encompassed all the inhabitants of the 7,180 “Philippine” islands be a unifying move that would bring together those who were colonized by Spain and those who resisted colonial rule?

With indifference, we may never know. But could there be another reason for this seeming apathy? Do Filipinos possess a sense of “useful nationalism” that would make us concerned about the national interests?

An American writer for the Atlantic Monthly, James Fallows, visited the Philippines for six weeks in 1987 and wrote an article, A Damaged Culture, which, almost 21 years later, remains one of the most painfully incisive articles about Filipino culture.

Fallows found that “Filipinos pride themselves on their lifelong loyalty to family, schoolmates, compadres, members of the same tribe, residents of the same barangay... When observing Filipino friendships I thought often of the Mafia families portrayed in The Godfather: total devotion to those within the circle, total war on those outside. Because the boundaries of decent treatment are limited to the family or tribe, they exclude at least 90 percent of the people in the country. And because of this fragmentation--this lack of nationalism--people treat each other worse in the Philippines than in any other Asian country I have seen.”

After Fallows’s article appeared, Filipinos were quick to deny his allegations using the example of the People Power revolution that overthrew the Marcos Dictatorship in 1986 to refute his charge.

Fallows anticipated this defense when he wrote: “The EDSA revolution seems emotionally so important in the Philippines not only because it got rid of Marcos but also because it demonstrated a brave, national-minded spirit. I would like to agree with the Filipinos that those four days revealed the country's spiritual essence. To me, though, the episode seems an exception, even an aberration.”

In reviewing Philippine history, Fallows found that “the Spanish hammered home the idea of Filipino racial inferiority, discouraging the native indios from learning the Spanish language and refusing to consecrate them as priests. (The Spanish are also said to have forbidden the natives to wear tucked-in shirts, which is why the
national shirt, the barong tagalog, is now worn untucked, in a rare flash of national pride.) As in Latin America, the Spanish friars taught that religion was a matter of submission to doctrine and authority, rather than of independent thought or gentleness to strangers in daily life.”

After 330 years of Spanish rule, the Filipinos waged a revolutionary war for independence which was thwarted by the American occupation of the Philippines in 1899. “The United States quickly earned or bought the loyalty of the ilustrados, the educated upper class, making them into what we would call collaborationists if the Germans or Japanese had received their favors,” Fallows wrote.

The United States “rammed through a number of laws insisting on free "competition' between American and Philippine industries, at a time when Philippine industries were in no position to compete with anyone. The countries that have most successfully rebuilt their economies, including Japan and Korea, went through extremely protectionist infant-industry phases, with America's blessing; the United States never permitted the Philippines such a period. The Japanese and Koreans
now believe they can take on anybody; the confidence of Filipino industrialists seems to have been permanently destroyed,” observed Fallows.

More Fallows’ observations: “In deeper and more pernicious ways Filipinos seem to have absorbed the idea that America is the center and they are the periphery. Much local advertising plays to the idea that if it's American, it's better. "It's got that stateside taste!' one grinning blonde model says in a whiskey ad. An ad for Ban deodorant warns, "Hold It! Is your deodorant making your skin dark?' The most
glamorous figures on TV shows are generally light-skinned and sound as if they grew up in Los Angeles…This is a country where the national ambition is to change your nationality.”

Was Fallows attacking the character of Filipinos?

The author points out that the problems he observed were not caused by “any inherent defect in the people: outside this culture they thrive. Filipino immigrants to the United States are more successful than immigrants from many other countries.”

Fallows believes that the problem of the Philippines is cultural and “it should be thought of as a failure of nationalism.”

“Nationalism can of course be divisive, when it sets people of one country against another. But its absence can be even worse, if that leaves people in the grip of loyalties that are even narrower and more fragmented. When a country with extreme geographic, tribal, and social-class differences, like the Philippines, has only
a weak offsetting sense of national unity, its public life does become the war
of every man against every man.”

Don't shoot the messenger.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Reader response to my column about a name change for the Philippines was phenomenal. From Mindanao, Kauban M. wrote that Moros prefer Maharlika as “it is the name suited to our culture and character”. A local reader, Joseph Vizcarra, also liked Maharlika “because it pays honor to the advanced indigenous civilization we had before the coming of the Spaniards. It also betrays our Hindu roots as well as blood links with the rest of the Austronesian family. On top of this we would all be called Maharlikans!”

Many readers pointed out that our Moro brothers and sisters in Mindanao and Sulu despise the names “Philippines” and “Filipinos” because of their colonial stigma. Alunan C. Glang asserted that only those who were subjugated by Spain and who bowed to the authority of King Felipe II should be called “Filipinos”. Since the Moros were never Spanish subjects, they were never “Filipinos”. In fact, for 350 years, generations of Moros had spilled blood precisely to avoid becoming “Filipinos”. Those unable to resist becoming Filipinos were regularly subjected to "Moro Moro" plays with the Spaniards depicted as the heroes and the Moros as the dastardly villains.

While the Spaniards named their farthest-flung colony “Filipinas”, they did not call its inhabitants “Filipinos0, they were "indios” as all natives of Spanish colonies were called. In Las Islas Filipinas, those who were pure full-blooded Spaniards from Spain were called “peninsulares”. Those with even a 1% drop of native or non-Spanish blood were contemptuously referred to as “insulares” or “Filipinos”. “Filipino” was a pejoratrive then and even now, a “Filipina” in England and other countries is a “domestic helper”.

By the 18th century, a new Ilustrado class emerged, an aggrupation of upper class indios and lower class insulares, propelled by indio intermarriage with the Chinese. (The Spaniards decreed that no Chinese man could leave Parian, the Chinese community just outside Intramuros, unless he was married to an indio woman). The first documented use of the term Filipino to refer to indio was in a poem written by an 18-year old boy named Jose Rizal. In his 1879 poem, “A la Juventud Filipina”
(To the Filipino Youth), Rizal challenged the Filipino indio youth to be the hope of the motherland. Even though they were not “insulares”, Rizal and his classmates at the Ateneo still considered themselves “Filipinos”, what historian Ambeth Ocampo referred to as "little brown Spaniards".

When Rizal went to Spain to study in 1881, he exhorted his fellow ilustrados to take pride in being an “indio”. In fact, he called his group “Indios Bravos". Eventually, the Ilustrados in Spain would agree that “Filipino” should mean all people born in the islands, not just the insulares.

This position was not universally accepted. Andres Bonifacio, the founder of the Katipunan, called the people "tagalog" and referred to the country as “Katagalugan”. The Katipunan’s Cartilla, written and published in 1896, expressly stated: “The word tagalog means all those born in this archipelago; therefore, though visayan, ilocano, pampango, etc., they are all tagalogs.”

As Dr. Nathan Quimpo points out, “the Philippine Revolution of 1896 was a misnomer” as it really was the Katagalugan Revolution. “It became the Philippine Revolution only in 1897 when Emilio Aguinaldo, the former gobernadorcillo (mayor) of Kawit, ousted Bonifacio from the helm of the revolutionary movement and had him executed. Aguinaldo, who had continued all along to use Filipinas, dropped Katagalugan.”

At the Malolos Congress in October of 1898, Aguinaldo sought to establish a federation with the Moro sultanates of Mindanao and Sulu, an explicit recognition that they were not part of the nation that was being forged in Malolos.

After the US "annexed" the Philippines and captured Aguinaldo, members of the Katipunan loyal to Bonifacio established the Tagalog Republic in 1902 with Macario Sakay as president. This republic would last until 1906 when Sakay was captured by US troops and hanged as a bandit.

While in exile in Japan in 1913, Katipunan General Artemio Ricarte proposed that the Philippines be renamed “Rizaline Islands” and Filipinos, “Rizalines”. Ricarte called for the overthrow of the "foreign ghovernment" and drafted a constitution for the “revolutionary government of the Rizaline Republic”. Ricarte returned to the Philippines with the Japanese Imperial Army in 1942 but he could not change the name of the puppet republic.

There would be no serious effort to change the name of the country until a new constitution was drafted and ratified in 1971. Article XVI, Section 2 of the new constitution states that "The Congress, may by law, adopt a new name for the country…which shall be truly reflective and symbolic of the ideals, history, and traditions of the people.”

After Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972, he convened an Interim Batasang Pambansa to replace the Congress that he had abolished by presidential decree. One of the representatives appointed by Marcos was Eddie (“Kuya Eddie”) Ilarde, a popular TV-radio personality from the 60s and 70s, who sponsored a parliamentary bill on August 14, 1978 seeking to change the name of the Philippines to Maharlika.

Unfortunately for Ilarde, Maharlika was inexorably linked to Marcos who claimed that it was the name of the guerilla unit he formed and led in WW II. It turned out to be a hoax along with his claim that he was the most decorated soldier of WW II.

[Before his claim was exposed, Marcos' cronies had produced a Hollywood movie entitled “Maharlika” about his alleged war exploits. A Hollywood starlet named Dovie Beams played an American nurse who became the love interest of the fictional guerilla Marcos. What was supposed to only be in reel became real when “Lovey Dovie” became Marcos' mistress.]

The term “Filipino nationalism” is a contradiction in terms. To be a nationalist is to be anti-colonial as “nationalism,” declared Sen. Claro M. Recto, “is the natural antagonist of colonialism.” To be a Filipino is to be a subject of King Felipe II. To be a nationalist is to refuse to be a colonial subject. So how can one be a "Filipino nationalist"?

Whether it is Maharlika, Katagalugan or Bayanihan, the time has come to discard the name Philippines or Filipinas.