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In observance of the Filipino Heritage Month, I am resuming this column, “America in My Heart” to tackle subjects close to the hearts and minds of Filipinos, especially those in America.

 

In a way, this “resurrection” is ignited by a news report about the Plaridel Awards of the Philippine American Press Club (PAPC) in which my lawyer friend, Rodel Rodis, recounted the history of PAPC in which  all those founders were named, except me, then one of the editors of Manila Bulletin on study leave in US and later editor in chief of Philippine Examiner, the Northern California edition of California Examiner of Southern California which for a time was managed by the triumvirate of Oscar Jornacion, Art Madlaing and Roger Oriel. The report states: “In honor of the founding members of PAPC, Atty. Rodel Rodis, narrated the start of the erstwhile press club in 1988. Founding members were Willie Jurado, Dave Baquirin, Al Repato, Quezon Mangawang, Prudencio Europa, Lilia Andolong, Art Madlaing, Art Padua, George Nervez, Angelo Castro Sr., Rodel Rodis and George Bernal.” Ironically, weeks before the event, Rodel and I had exchanges of messages about the beginnings of the club in which names cropped.

 

The reason I may have been missed in the list, apart from senior moments, is that I returned to Manila after one year leave in the Manila Bulletin. But if my memory serves me right, the initial meetings of the founders at Tito Rey’s were spearheaded by Lilia Rianzares Andolong (partner of former NPC president Nereo Andolong), among others, when she learned that a member of the National Press Club of the Philippines – that’s me -  was in town. So old members of the NPC were invited and originally planned to form an NPC chapter in the Bay Area. Just like in the NPC Bar in Manila, Willie, a former general manager of the Manila International Airport, who was then publishing the newspaper “The Eye,” was boisterous in those meetings like Lilia, who we fondly called “Tiger.” Former defense reporter Dave, though towering over Willie, was silent but active, especially in dishing out his column “Mail From Washington.” Angelo, who was my poker classmate in the Malacanang Press Corps during the Marcos years (his brother was a Chief Justice), and later a court interpreter when he migrated to San Francisco, was at his element in those meetings just like Manong Art of Liwayway Magazine and Quezon of Manila Bulletin. George, former business editor of Evening Express and business reporter of Daily Express, was there, too, representing the Filipino Guardian.

 

 Realizing much later that there are others who are non-NPC members who are potential members, the group became the Philippine American Press Club.

 

The formation of the press club clearly showed that the Filipino journalists are active and Filipino publishing vibrant in America. During those years, the information technology revolution was taking its roots. Internet was not yet popular then as it is today and the cellular mobile telephone (CMT) or cellphone was so expensive as they were very big (Diamond Tel, Mitsubishi) and so were overseas calls. So the main source of news were the old Manila newspapers brought in by Philippine Airlines. The US publishing industry was then also slowly shifting from typesetting using big and expensive photo-based equipment like the Compugraphics which galleys you produced will still have to be cut and pasted into pages to what is known today as personal computers (PCs) where typesetting and layouting or pagemaking can be done with ease.

 

We were much luckier though than the early Filipino journalists in America like Pangasinan native Victorio Velasco and his brother who were based in Seattle, Washington like my grandfather Carlos Bulosan using mimeograph machines and the dirty, messy and slow letterpress. (More on the Velascos and in the succeeding columns).

 

In 1999, 10 years after I left San Francisco, I returned now as president of the National Press Club (NPC) of the Philippines. On my way to Washington DC where I signed the first reciprocity agreement with the National Press Club in Washington, the most powerful and influential press club in the world, I installed the officers of affiliate clubs in Los Angeles and Southern California with Las Vegas, Chicago and the Midwest and San Francisco and Northern California. It was George Nervez of Filipino Guardian who headed the Philippine American Press Club officers who I inducted into office in the presence of seven other NPC officers and leaders like Melandrew Velasco, a book author and Philippines Today columnist. Then Consul General Amado Cortez was our guest of honor and speaker during that event.

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The elections in the United States is just around the corner and all candidates, especially those from the major parties, the Republicans and Democrats, are in the finishing touches in the campaign. In many areas, the races are close, influenced by the shifting of support and issues such as the economy and immigration reforms.

 

There are many candidates of Filipino roots who are in the running in various cities and states, some trying to make history. In California’s 14th district, Cristina Osmena, an active leader and columnist who belongs to the Osmena political clan, is in the running for US representative. In Texas’ 23rd congressional district, Democratic candidate Gina Ortiz-Jones, 37, a native of Pangasinan and a graduate of the University of the Philippines, is running against Republican incumbent Will Hurd and hopes to become the first member of the US Congress of Philippine descent. Dr. Jennifer Mijares-Zimmerman, a Democrat, is gunning for Florida’s first congressional district. Of course, US Rep. Bob Scott who is said to be of Filipino descent is running for reelection in Virginia.

 

In nearby Milpitas City, multiple term former Mayor Jose Estevez is trying to return as mayor while Council member Garry Barbadillo is also seeking reelection. Elsewhere, there are many other Filipino candidates.

 

There are now more than 4 million Filipinos and Filipino Americans in the United States, a potent force in any election. We hope that Filipinos and FilAms will unite and use this force and influence to send more of their countrymen to the US Congress and other key posts in America. Only when they succeed that the Americans can recognize and accept Filipino people empowerment, a dream of Filipinos for decades. So go to the polls this November and vote wisely.

 

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Amidst the problems of rising inflation, soaring prices of prime commodities and gasoline and services, election fever is heating up in the Philippines as the deadline for the filing of certificates of candidacy has been set for October 1 to 5 for national, congressional and local candidates. Proof of the heating election fever is the killing of many local officials and barangay leaders, most of whom are said to be aspiring for reelection or higher positions. Another proof is the frenzied selection by the major political parties of their senatorial and congressional candidates as well as the bets for provincial, city and municipal posts.

 

Pre-election positioning is also noticeable in radio and television advertising, especially by one Mindanao congressman eyeing to become a senator and a lady governor in the North who also wants to succeed her brother in the Senate. In Manila, pedicabs and jeepneys are seen covered with tarpaulins of candidates for mayor and vice mayor, including the possible tandem of reelectionist Mayor Joseph Estrada and his vice mayoralty candidate, former congressman Amado Bagatsing. Possibly in violation of election rules, Mayor Estrada bombarded with more than a dozen tarpaulins  the campus of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila proclaiming what he claimed he has done, using the taxpayers’ money, for the city university, even as Manilans and visitors are complaining everyday of heaps of uncollected garbage in city streets. Tarpaulins are also visible in other cities in the country while the more zavvy are all over the social media with their photos, videos, slogans, statements and even plans and programs.

 

Meantime, the Commission on Elections continue its preparations attending to the ballots and the registration of new voters, including overseas Filipinos, in the Comelec offices nationwide. Comelec wants to expand the registration sites to include the popular malls. The Comelec’s actions come amidst the assurance of President Duterte that the coming elections will be honest and credible. To ensure this, he has ordered that a limit to the number of bodyguards of politicians be reduced, among others. Earlier on, Mr. Duterte appointed the chairman and other commissioners of Comelec to fully constitute the body after the retirement of several commissioners. We support the initiative of the President but he and the Comelec cannot succeed without the full cooperation of all the candidates and the voters themselves. It behooves upon every citizen to be responsible voters for, after all, the people get the government that they deserve.

 

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When will Filipinos ever learn?

 

This poser is raised every time there is heavy downpour which comes with big floods in Metro Manila and other areas in the country. During the latest floodings, at least 15 were killed, thousands were evacuated, properties and crops, livestock and fishponds were destroyed. Then classes, offices, courts, flights are suspended for as long as floodwaters and rains threaten certain areas. Factories too are affected and so production is at stand still.

 

What is clearly visible during the last heavy rains in Metro Manila was the coming fast of water from the mountains going into Marikina, and the lower portion of the metropolis and areas near the mountains and hills. Then the water comes with mud and soil, indicating that the mountains in Rizal, Bulacan and Laguna and trees therein may have been wantonly destroyed.

 

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) should do something about this destruction of natural resources, especially by the profit-oriented and greedy subdivision developers, miners and builders of factories and the quarry operators. While the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) has initiated with the private water concessioners and civic groups the planting of trees in the mountains, especially in the watersheds near the water sources and reservoir, all citizens should take it upon themselves to join the initiative and report people and groups destroying the mountains which are among the best protection against floods.

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Former dancer and sexy star Margaux Mocha Uson, who has found her way into the graces of President Rodrigo Duterte as Assistant Secretary of the Presidential Communications Office after joining the then Davao City mayor in his presidential campaign, is again at the center of a controversy. This time, she posted on social media a video with a friend on their supposed tweak in support of the proposed government shift from unitary presidential system federalism. The video of Mocha, who touts with her 3 million followers on social media, has since gone viral as it showed blogger Drew Olivar, Mocha’s co-host in Good News Game Show, singing and dancing while making alleged vulgar gestures pointed to “pepe” and “dede” to raise awareness about federalism. "Pepe" is a Filipino word for the female reproductive organ while "dede" is a Filipino term for breast. In the same online show, Olivar read a script defining federalism and enumerating the countries that adopted it but some of them are not into federalism.

 

The song and dance number was roundly criticized by netizens, lawmakers, and even members of the Constitutional Commission which drafted the federal Constitution, particularly San Beda Graduate School of Law Dean Fr. Ranhilio Aquino for being “inappropriate.” Fr. Aquino said there was no need for “advertisers” of federalism but “mentors, pedagogues, instructors, tutors and lecturers” to explain it. Among the viral video’s critics were Senator Aquilino Pimentel III and Senator Panfilo Lacson who said the proposed Charter change to federalism “is just waiting to be cremated” and Rep. Edgar Erice who said Cha-cha is “dead,” thanks to Mocha Uson. One subordinate of Mocha, the chief of the Philippine Information Agency (PIA), even went on to say that Mocha should take a leave of absence.

 

Despite the storm of criticism, Mocha stood her ground pointing out that her video, which she claimed was not official but personal, saying there was not malice in it and, in fact, helped somehow in creating added awareness to the federalism proposal. While Mocha’s boss, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar readily disclaimed Mocha’s video, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Mocha may have had the best intentions but added that federalism should be explained in a more “serious” manner. Nonetheless, he said that although Malacanang did not agree with Mocha’s way, it is taking the controversial dance video on federalism as a challenge to “transform” new interest on federalism into explaining how this proposed system of government will benefit Filipinos.It should be seen as an opportunity to start discussions on the true meaning of this new system of government, he added.

 

Even President Rodrigo Duterte seemed to have shrugged off the criticisms on the viral video. "The President was very cool about it. He's, first and foremost, a believer in freedom of expression,” Roque said, adding that although federalism has been the talk of the town because of the "unconventional" video, Duterte agreed the information campaign should have a more serious tone. Whether you agree or not, every able Filipino citizen must join in the discussion to shape their own government and their destiny. The people, after all, gets the government that they deserve.

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A new spectacle at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City surprised the nation and UP itself over the weekend. It is the long queues of students wanting to take the UP admissions test or UPCAT, many taking them more than half a day under the heat of the sun or intermittent downpour, with at least  dozen fainting and some rushed to the clinic or hospitals. UP officials were reported to have been perplexed with what happened with some saying they never foresaw the long lines of senior high graduates in a mad rush to enlist for the UPCAT to be able to study in the American-created university which is now one of the best universities in Asia and the world. It was estimated that more than 10,000 youth joined the queues which, for one, also created monstrous traffic within the university compound.
 
The phenomenal mad rush could actually be easily explained and could have been easily projected by UP officials weeks or even months before had they prepared for them. The reason or reasons for the long queues is simple - UP started administering the UPCAT without any fee to be paid by the applicants and when they pass the rigid tests, they will be entitled toe enrol in UP without paying any single centavo for tuition fee or even miscellaneous fees. This is true not only in UP but in some 200 other state universities and colleges (SUCs) as well as local univerities and colleges (LUCs) all over the county. Some 800,000 to 1.2 million students were expected to enjoy the program starting this school year.
 
The free tertiary education program was one of the promises of President Rodrigo Duterte and this came to effect with the passage by Congress of the bill, Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education, providing for it and signed into law by Duterte as Republic Act 10931. The free tuition program actually started last year but this was expanded this year by providing free admission tests and free miscellaneous tests with allowances and scholarship for those deserving students.
 
 Free college education actually started in Manila initiated by the country's first "colorful" lawyer-mayor, Arsenio H. Lacson, in 1960. Mayor Lacson's untimely death allowed another lawyer mayor, Antonio J. Villegas, to pursue the program with the support of Congress which approved the creation of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM) and later signed into law, RA 4196, by then President Diosdado Macapagal. PLM bloomed into one of the top universities of the country. The thousands of students who are now provided the chance to study sans tuition and fees in all SUCs and LUCs should be thankful to Mr. Duterte for the opportunity. There is no other way to be thankful than to study well and graduate and become responsible citizens of the country.

 

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Upside by Cherie

Aurea Cruz concludes her 12-year service on the Commission on Aging with commendation from County Supervisor David Canep0, who also lauded  Sandra Lang (seated behind Cruz) for  her 12-year service.  (Photo by CHERIE M. QUEROL MORENO)

 



San Mateo County Commission on Aging, the board advising the Board of Supervisors on issues facing the county’s older residents, said goodbye to its longest serving Filipino American member last month.

Aurea Ocampo Cruz completed 12 years on the 17-member  volunteer body dedicated to addressing matters promoting the safety, dignity, inclusion and engagement of seniors. Among the topics regularly discussed at monthly general meetings and regular committee sessions are resource access, transportation, housing, health care and adult and dependent abuse.

“I joined the CoA in 2006 to give voice to our underserved residents, especially in North County, where I live,” said the resident of San Pedro Commons in Colma. “Adult abuse prevention is my passion and I’m honored to have contributed to the dissemination of information that has educated many about the different forms of hidden abuse, like neglect and economic control.”

Cruz, 86, brought her forthrightness to meetings, always speaking up to share observations from her community activities or to thank a guest speaker.

 

“I’ve been a commissioner through six chairpersons,” said the former head of the Human Resources Managers Association of the Philippines who rarely missed a meeting.  If she was absent from the second Monday gatherings at Room 100 of the San Mateo County Health Systems complex on 225 37th Avenue, she was most likely halfway around the world visiting family in the Philippines or her grandchildren in Australia.

“Ate Auring,” as protégées called her, modeled the self-sufficiency  her commission aims to inspire and foster. She would commute by Samtrans to and from meetings garbed in the latest fashion, accessories carefully picked to match.

She welcomed new commissioners, taking fellow Filipino Americans like Walter Batara, Elsa Agasid, and, before she resigned to return to full-time work, Marissa Robles, under her wing.

For her “dedication to help promote programs to vastly help the lives of older Americans,” County Supervisor David Canepa commended Cruz at her final meeting. Canepa also commended Commissioner Sandra Lang who completed 12 years of service as well.

“Don’t be surprised to see me at CoA meetings among public attendees,” Cruz told this writer. For sure she will take the mic and have a thought to expound.

Meanwhile she will continue presiding over the Legion of Mary at Holy Angels Parish in Daly City and assisting clergy and sisters to who she is a surrogate aunt.  She looks forward to spending quality time with her husband Ross.

 

Cruz and Lang’s retirement has opened vacancies on the CoA.  Applicants must live in San Mateo County, be at  least 21 years old and available to attend daytime meetings. To apply, visit https://bnc.smcgov.org/sites/bnc.smcgov.org/files/Vacancy%20Ntc.061418.pdf.

***
Cherie M. Querol Moreno is an award-winning journalist, community educator and volunteer.  She is in her third term as Commissioner on the San Mateo County Commission on Aging.

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Two days in a row, the lives of two mayors – Antonio Halili of Tanauan City, Batangas and Francisco Bote of Gen. Tinio in Nueva Ecija – were snuffed out. Mayor Halili was killed by a sniper’s bullet while he and other officials were singing the national anthem while Mayor Bote was gunned down as he left the NIA offices in Cabanatuan City.

 

According to reports, at least 14 mayors and vice mayors have been killed during the Duterte administration and  Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra immediately ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to conduct a thorough probe on the deaths of at least the latest two victims.

 

The killings of the mayors came after the killings of priests, prosecutors and judges and other personalities, even in broad daylight and in busy places, making some to conclude that President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-crime campaign is slowly becoming a failure as the criminals seem no longer afraid of the law enforcement authorities. Mr. Duterte himself has admitted he seemed helpless in the fight against drugs and crimes, so he hinted making a proclamation of national emergency throughout the land by way of pressing the campaign.

 

An anti-crime summit might be in order to address the situation. The participation of the people is also a must in the campaign. Peace and order is sine qua non to progress and development. So, the government should make the anti-crime campaign a priority.

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by Fidel Valdez Ramos

 

Throughout most of my life, I have been trained and schooled to be an officer and a gentleman who regards and respects woman as co-equals of men. 

 

The Philippine is blessed to have a society that puts premium on the Filipina as a warm, caring, sharing, and respected individual borne out by the strong regard for our mothers who are the main anchors of our homes and families.

 

With the first stirrings of nationhood kindled by Filipino propagandists in Madrid, Spain in the last quarter of the 19th century, the concept of Philippines as our motherland became a rallying cry.

 

Motherland was, and still is, the term that nurtures a sense of belonging to a homeland, and identity distinct from others, and a longing for our people to prosper to be free. 

 

This clarion call to love our motherland led to the birth of the Philippines as an independent nation. The idea still keeps millions of expatriate Filipinos and overseas workers across the globe attached enduringly, to the land of their birth.

 

In a larger context, the globe is more intimately known as Mother Earth. Environmentalist also refer to the earth as Mother Nature—which has deeper meanings that cherish roots, renewal, continuity, sustainability and survival.

 

All these concepts are rooted on the universal meaning of motherhood which intrinsically is our eternal umbilical cord to the future.

 

The intuitive respect that Filipinos hold for their mothers and their treatment of women folk as co-equals, augurs well for a nation like the Philippines that continues to search for sources of strength in order to attain a bountiful destiny.

 

The role of a mother in the life of every child is essential in the nurturing of one’s basic character and fulfillment. Unfortunately, a mother is almost always taken for granted until she is gone. 

A mother is usually there when she is needed most. She is always ready to make even the supreme sacrifice, and enduring trait that drives a Filipino mother in today’s modern world to work as domestic helper, caregiver or entertainer for the sake of her children.

 

Mothers go to great lengths to assure their children’s better future through their honest labor and devotion to duty. It is this deep sense of sacrifice and selflessness that many Filipino leaders, in and out of government, seem to have forgotten. 

 

Libraries have been filled with the heroic feats of great men, and few great women leaders. However, only a few have been written about the often-seen greatness of mothers. In 2004,  the Ramos Peace and Development Foundation (RPDEV) co-published with Media Touchstone Ventures, Inc. a commemorative book on Angela Valdez Ramos titled “In A Class of Her Own,’ authored by our family biographer Melandrew T. Velasco. It is also modest contribution to a handful of tributes to mothers and the Filipina as a person in her own rights as primus interpares among Filipinos.

 

Closer to home and family, my sisters, Letty and Glory, and I are supremely grateful to the Almighty for the gift and the advantage of having a mother like Angela Valdez Ramos. 

 

Our parents raised, nurtured and challenged us their children to value education, honesty, hard work and frugality. They also taught us to be respectful to elders and to those in authority to obey the law and to love God, country, neighbors, and nature.

 

In grateful remembrance of our mother, the Angela book was offered as a gift to others. Her roots, her upbringing, her role as wife to a public servant in a changing world, her caring motherhood under sometimes difficult circumstances, her selfless volunteerism as a civic worker in war and her exemplary life as practicing Christian – all these are encapsulated in this humble tribute.

 

Our loving mother we now know was in a class of her own among peers and contemporaries in generation. 

 

This is also our salute to the timeless caring, sharing and daring of the Filipino woman on the centennial of the Feminist Movement in the Philippines in 2004, and now in celebration of Mother’s Day.  

 

Mabuhay and Mga Kababaihang Filipina! Happy Mother’s Day!

 

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It pains us to see what is happening to our motherland, the Republic of the Philippines.

 

Last week, it was brought to the fore that the checks and balances that are part and parcel of a fully functioning democratic state are absent in the Philippines. This was seen in the hasty removal of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, not through impeachment but by a quo warranto petition that saw a small majority of the Supreme Court voting to disqualify her.

 

Numerous legal luminaries have pointed out one very clear fact: the Philippine Constitution states that the only way to remove a chief justice is through impeachment. Yet the majority of the justices blatantly ignored this, apparently bowing to the wishes of the president to remove Sereno from her post at all cost.

 

Sereno may have been removed, but the price to be paid will be heavy, so heavy in fact that democracy itself now stands on the precipice. At worst, it may not survive.

 

Consider that the Philippines has already rid itself of two presidents (Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada) via people power, and a chief justice via impeachment (Renato Corona). Now this.

 

The removal of Sereno is different in that it was both immoral and illegal.

 

The justices who voted to remove her did so out of personal spite. They did not like her because in their minds she was too young. Never mind that as chief justice, Sereno had been performing admirably.

 

But it was the illegal way that the good justices had Sereno removed that may have done permanent damage to the country’s judiciary. Perhaps sensing that impeaching Sereno would have been difficult, if not impossible, they recognized the quo warranto petition that was itself illegal. The time when Sereno could have been removed due to questions over her incomplete filing of requirements had long lapsed. Sereno had been accused of not filing her complete Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth, or SALN.

 

She later proved that she did, in fact, have the documents. But the SC justices ignored it. In truth, the lead justice who had long salivated for the post of chief justice and who admitted that she hated the guts of Sereno had herself failed to file her SALNs when she also applied for the position of chief justice.

 

Ah, but here was an incumbent president who had ordered the legislative branch to remove the independent-minded chief justice, and who had somehow been convinced that there were enough SC justices willing to play a part in the illegal and immoral act.

 

We will not hazard a guess as to the reasons the justices kowtowed to the wishes of the president.

 

Suffice it to say that in so doing, they have totally surrendered the independence of the judicial branch of government to the strongman president. And with both houses of Congress already subservient to Rodrigo Duterte, it has become clear that the Philippines is no longer a functioning democracy, but rather a flawed one.

 

Whether the damage can be undone or not remains to be seen, but for now we see no reason to be optimistic.

 

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