Monday, July 30, 2007


"The Lord is my sheperd, there is nothing I shall want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. " Psalm 23

"In the garden, my soul is sunshine"

"In my garden there is a place for sentiment. My garden of flowers is also my garden of thoughts and dreams. The thoughts grow as freely as the flowers, and the dreams are as beautiful. " Abram Urban

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


I was taken aback somewhat that my report for ABS-CBN News on the State Department's intention to reduce military aid to the Philippines kicked up such controversy. All the data's in the State Department's website . It's been there for awhile. So why are officials in Manila acting so surprised?

The State Department Fiscal 2008 "State and Foreign Operations Budget" was approved by the US House of Representatives last June 22; the Senate appropriations committee approved it during a mark-up session a week later and is set to vote on the measure sometime soon (September would be the logical deadline since the US fiscal year starts in October).

Secondly, why are we so concerned whether the US increases or decreases military aid to the Philippines? The amount (from about $33 million to $13 million) is paltry by US standards, and a far cry from the hundreds of millions we used to get when the US still had Clark and Subic.

In 2003, the Philippines got about $115 million in military aid. We became the toast of Washington as a "major non-NATO ally". The following year, Iraqi militants abducted Filipino truck driver Angelo dela Cruz and as part of the bargain for his release, Pres. Arroyo opted to pull back our troops in Baghdad a month early than they were supposed to end their tour-of-duty. The White House didn't like that one bit and they showed it.

"We don't have any big ticket items in the pipeline anymore," one official told me recently, talking about pending deliveries of US military hardware to the Philippines. There's also a "crisis of continuity" plaguing the Armed Forces of the Philippines, he said. No sooner had a new commander set his vision, he was all ready to retire. They blame the "escalator system" prevailing in the military, few top commanders ever stay long enough in office to plan and pursue a decent long-term program. That includes planning for equipment acquisitions through the Pentagon's Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program. Anybody who's been inside the Pentagon knows it's a maze, physically and administratively. Long hallways can suddenly become a cul-de-sac. My source tells me that's exactly how you deal with the Pentagon -- you better know what you want exactly, where to go exactly, how to get there exactly. Or face a dead-end.

Last March, a panel of churchmen and human rights activists told the Senate sub-committee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs that the Arroyo administration was not doing enough to stop political killings in the country. With Democrats controlling Congress, America's predilection for promoting human rights around the globe, has become more pronounced.

And only recently, Secretary Condoleeza Rice decided to overhaul the way America doles out its help to the world. "In today's world," she declared, "America's security is linked to the capacity of foreign states to govern justly and effectively. Our foreign assistance must help people get results."

The new system was crafted in large by former USAID director Randall Tobias who managed to finish his template before being forced to resign from the State Department (his favorite masahista turned out to be part of an alleged high-class prostitution ring run by the so-called DC Madam). Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill have complained that the process has become overly centralized, with Secretary Rice wielding too much power over how foreign aid should be disbursed.

So, Secretary Ed Ermita shouldn't feel too bad. There's just too much going on. But the cuts (oh yes, they're coming notwithstanding those US Embassy assurances) do make the Arroyo administration look bad -- but only because they put too much into what the Americans say and do. Which is actually the sad part.

Friday, July 20, 2007


I was delighted to read an blog story on Fil-Am filmmaker Ramona Diaz's latest project. After her successful and critically acclaimed docu "Imelda", Diaz is reportedly near finishing a chronicle of Filipino teachers in the Baltimore area.

I've heard about her work from Marisol Angala of the Pinoy Teachers Network. Marisol was a noted "sp-ed" (special education) teacher in Manila before she moved with her young family to Washington DC.

But I knew her as that pretty, soft-haired lady who frequented the ABS-CBN Newsroom (usually straying no farther than the reception area), to fetch her husband Rainier, a field producer for one of the network's microwave newsgathering vans. We first bumbed into each other here at a Target outlet in Crystal City last year; I've since then seen more of Marisol during functions at the Philippine Embassy.

The Pinoy Teachers Network is a relatively new organization. I'm not sure, but I think it's based in Marisol's living room in her Downtown DC loft. It's that new. Which is not to say it hasn't already left a deep mark in the Pinoy community here. I see the Pinoy Teachers Network as a reflection of its members -- young, dynamic and idealistic. I was deeply impressed by what they were doing and more importantly, what they aim to do.

I heard about that teacher pushed to suicide by her depression -- a fatal brew of isolation, culture shock and a shattered relationship. Having arrived to work here just a little over a year ago, she had no one to help her except friends in the Pinoy Teachers Network who arranged to collect her body at the police morgue (where it was held for several weeks for an inquest) and fly it back to Manila.

They are briefed in Manila on what to expect here, but Marisol pointed out, that is always never enough. I've heard of two incidents of students assaulting their Pinoy teachers; both reportedly involving students barely in their teens. Many of the new teachers are posted in "challenged schools" -- places too dangerous or difficult they have to recruit non-Americans to fill vacancies. Newcomers also have to contend with the rigors of adjustment, homesickness, separation from friends and family, the weather -- starting life over in a foreign land.

That's why, Marisol explained, groups like the Pinoy Teachers Network are veritable "lifelines". They're not a social club, rather an important tool for survival. They gain strength from being together, from sharing their experiences and their dreams.

There are several hundred Pinoy teachers spread out in DC and Maryland. Their numbers swell in the hundreds every year since about 2005. Those that I've spoken with, confess a tinge of guilt at leaving the Motherland. But they had no choice. They went here for economic reasons.

The Pinoy Teachers Network recognizes that innate patriotism among teachers here. Marisol said they're already laying down projects to help colleagues left behind. When last we talked, everything was all still up in the air. That may include recognition and even some assistance for outstanding Pinoy teachers back home.

They're also toying with the concept of "reverse migration". Paving the way for the most experienced teachers to go back, spend some time teaching again in the Philippines. A little richer, lot more wiser, but still inspired by the promise of the future.

I can't wait to watch Diaz's latest opus. You should be too.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Win or lose, Filipino World War II veterans owe a lot to Congressman Bob Filner, one of two representatives of San Diego, California. He practically railroaded the Filipino veterans equity bill in last Tuesday's mark-up session -- demolishing the strident Republican opposition.

It was the most spirited committee meeting I have ever covered on Capitol Hill. I have to admit even I was stunned by the turn of events, and the way Filner steamrolled over Republican attempts to scuttle the bill. But I guess the opposition had it coming.

A thinly veiled amendment proposed by senior Republican member Steve Buyer of Indiana called for scrapping Section 3 -- the very heart of the equity bill that will provide pensions to about 18,000 remaining Filipino veterans of WW-2 in the US and Philippines. I thought the Buyer amendment demonstrated the GOP's contempt for our veterans. Very sad.

I could almost hear Digs Dilangalen shouting over the din of the Batasan's plenary hall, "Mr Chairman! Mr. Chairman!". As Filner forced a vote on the equity bill, Buyer adamantly demanded that their proposed amendments be tackled first -- and like Digs, his imperious calls fell on deaf ears. Filner knew he had the numbers, but he needed to force the vote and I thought it took great courage and commitment for him to do exactly that. Damn the torpedoes!

But like a pugilist after a particularly hard fight, I'm sure his political muscle must ache badly the morning after. Buyer had flatly threatened, "there will be consequences" and there was talk right after the vote, of Republicans hauling Filner to the House ethics committee.

But I'm more concerned that with both the House and Senate ready to vote on the equity bill, that incident at the House veterans affairs committee might galvanize voting along partisan lines. Pinoy lobbyists had wanted the bill to be a bipartisan product, but that appears elusive now. What started off as a "moral issue" has become a "political issue" that demands US lawmakers lock horns rather than vote on collective conscience.

I'm afraid Republicans, specially those who might see merit in helping our aging veterans, will vote against it because of party dictates. The House vote could come as early as next month. The Senate though is more preoccupied with Iraq. Abangan!

I'm still a miron-in-training of local politics here. I'm not sure if Filner's bravado on behalf of our veterans will give him the points he needs when he runs for re-election next year. The 51st district of California which he represents, includes Chula Vista and National City.

First time I saw National City, I thought I was back in the Philippines. There's a Chow King outlet (I miss my fave combination -- beef brisket rice, siomai and kangkong with bagoong), Jollibee and a statue of Rizal in front of a Chinese-run restaurant. Filipinos are second only to the Mexicans in numbers (partly because San Diego borders Mexico).

All politics are local, everyone says. I hope Filner gets his due reward. He's already proven he's ready to risk it all for Pinoy veterans. We'll always need someone like him in Congress and worse, I'd sure hate to see him on the "wrong side" of the political fence.

Monday, July 16, 2007


What to do on a lazy weekend...but indulge in my other passion.

Para sa mga kapwa kong mahilig, you can try this "experiment" of mine -- shrimp balls & Chinese broccoli.

Ingredients: a pack of shrimp balls, Chinese broccoli (of course!), about a cup of Portobello mushroom (sliced thin), 3/4 cup of thinly sliced white mushroom, one medium-size yellow onion (sliced), Knorr shrimp cube, tablespoon of chopped ginger, half a clove of garlic (crushed), about two tablespoons of cornstarch and a tablespoon of Oyster-flavor sauce, salt & pepper to taste.

For the sauce, just dissolve cornstarch in 3/4 cup of water; add Oyster sauce.

Fry the shrimp balls and set aside.

On a wok with moderate amount of canola oil, saute onion (until it appears translucent); add garlic and ginger; add the Chinese broccoli and mushrooms; add the shrimp cube (it will dissolve in the juice from the broccoli and mushrooms...reduce heat); add cooked shrimp balls.

Stir in sauce mixture until right consistency and finish with salt and pepper to taste. It took less than 15 minutes to cook.

Take picture...enjoy the dish!

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Exploring the recent news of record-low teenage pregnancies in America, I watched a doctor attribute this in part to the American youth’s sharper “vision of the future”.

The US National Center of Health Statistics revealed that fewer teens were having sex – 47% in 2005 compared to 54% in 1991. More kids are finishing high school and the risk of sexually transmitted diseases is lower, the report showed.

“Vision of the future”. That struck me as a very powerful phrase. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and why it seemed so elusive in our present world.

Envisioning the future, I think, is one of our biggest challenges. Looking at the “bigger picture” feels more difficult because our day-to-day existence has become more intricate and pressured, demanding more energy and imagination to “get by” and finally, diminishing our ability to focus on the “vision of the future”.

I believe “the vision of the future” requires courage (Churchill once said, courage is the most important of man’s qualities, because all others follow it), foresight, boldness of spirit (Kennedy’s “dream of things that never were”), purity of purpose and most importantly, the determination to carry it through.

It is the leader’s chief task to provide the “vision of the future” for his constituency. I believe that a leader is measured by the clarity and sincerity of his “vision of the future”. President Bush’s vision for America – particularly how he resolves the Iraq conflict and the war on terror – is cloudy and vague, as illustrated so succinctly in the docu-movie “Why We Fight”. And this extends to his domestic policies as well, including the obvious vacuum of leadership in the “immigration debate”.

The lack of a “vision of the future” is even more palpable in the case of our president. GMA talks about a “strong republic” but unashamedly mortgages the public trust for the sake of political survival. She reigns solely on instinct, not inspiration.

Soon, the government will unveil its much-ballyhooed terror law. As the world continues to grapple with the extremist threat, that should be welcome, happy news. But only a few think it is. Perhaps people already see through it (or her). She has no vision, sad to say, and if she did, it would certainly be a sham.

But if, assuming the doctor was right, and the youth have developed a collective “vision of the future”, why does it seem to elude our leaders, the people with the power and/or the mandate to lead? In the case of Bush & GMA, are they so distracted by political survival or has the burden of leadership become so heavy they can no longer see the horizon?

I suspect the man on the street is more capable of defining a “vision of the future”. Is it possible inspiration is inversely proportional to power? I guess this reflects the state of our political processes today…but that is another subject.

The eyes of children frolicking in Manila’s jumbled streets can be deceptive. The call for “the vision of the future” seems greater in the streets than they can are in the corridors of power. It is there that people should be convinced that “getting by”, that mere survival is unacceptable. They must see the bright future and embrace it…so all that is left to do is figuring out how to get there.

Friday, July 13, 2007


Just wanted to show off my new cellphone, called "The Wing". Quad-band. Windows Media Player (comes with stereo headset). 2.0 megapixel camera for still photos and video. Wi-Fi. Instant messaging, text and e-mail via either Yahoo or AOL. Boost your SD card to watch a movie.

Works with Microsoft Office Suite, Outlook on QWERTY keyboard. So far so good, although I noticed it's a juice guzzler. I'm a little apprehensive about straying too long away from a power socket. Reminds me of my old XDA. Not bad!
I wish though they'd put a lock to stop the face from sliding open at the slightest push.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Many denounce a new Prince William (Virginia) county ordinance allowing police to check residency papers of people they flag down for any infraction and deprive some basic services to suspected illegal aliens. The measure, said to target Hispanics (which now comprise 20% of Prince William's population), will presumably affect everyone speaking with an accent, looks like J-Lo or Antonio Banderas, and perhaps spells his surname C-R-U-Z instead of C-R-U-I-S-E. No wonder, a lot of people see the Kastila as the Negroes of 21st Century America.

And since we Pinoys share plenty with them, it's not farfetched to think we may suffer some "peripheral damage".

At the surface, I wonder at the uproar. Wouldn't it be logical for the police to ask someone he's pulled over for, say, speeding, if he had papers to stay legally in the US? After all, they say there's 12 million illegals today, nearly 60% of them from Mexico (but also add to that number an estimated 500,000 Pinoy TNTs). And doesn't the state have the right to refuse to feed, house or treat people who don't pay taxes?

Don't we do the same to those chinky-eyed merchants in Binondo whose sole medium of communication is a pocket calculator, or those turbaned money, umbrella-wielding, motorcycle-riding money-lenders?

The "frontliners" -- police and doctors -- are the first to protest the Prince William ordinance. They worry that illegals will stop reporting crimes or seek emergency medical treatment for fear of being arrested and deported. Others say, illegals either will go deeper underground or merely move to nearby towns.

"Now that Congress and the Bush administration have failed to act on comprehensive immigration reform, we can expect a range of policies to be put in place across the country by local and state government," the Center for American Progress declared. The Prince William experience is just the start. More cities with real or perceived illegal immigrant problems are expected to follow suit, each one setting its own standards and penalties. Inequality. Uneven playing field. That is the price of Congress' failure to enact immigration reforms.

The immigration debate is emotional, volatile. Having lived here only recently, I must admit, it scares me. It's so easy to blur distinctions between legal and illegal immigrant because, invariably, the first step to determining that is by looking at the color of someone's skin. Racial discrimination.

Hey, I can understand that if the United States was part of the Third World. I can understand that if over half a million Americans did not die in a civil war to emancipate the Negro slave. I can understand that if the United States did not have the legacy of a Martin Luther King.

I'd best start buying a lot of skin bleach and practice enunciating "apple" correctly -- not a-pol but ap-uhl. With an attitude.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Coming from the tropics is barely preparation for 100-degree days in Washington.

It's hot and sticky. Breathing's difficult, movement laborous. I'm not sure if the intense politicking in DC is adding a degree or two?

In Manila, when it's hot, you perspire, you feel the sweat falling down your cheeks. Not here. The humidity, it seems, sucks the moisture as soon as it peeks through your pores.

I throw my cigarette butts carefully, stomping on them to make sure they're dead before I walk off. In California dying embers spark forest fires. I was in LA during the summer, and I remember how brown it looked. Hot and dry in the day, breezy in the evenings. I thought it had everything to keep it dry. Rain was frontpage fodder for LA newspapers.

Thank God for the trees in Virginia. Their cool shade is a refuge in summer. A water bottle is essential, as indispensable as morning coffee or an iPod. Rehydrate, dehydrate, rehydrate. That seems to be the immutable cycle of summer life here.

Summer's just started but I'm starting to wish it were Fall already. Strange. Before, I just had two choices -- wishing it would rain, and wishing it'd stop. Very simple.

Monday, July 9, 2007


A study reported on the Washington Post over the weekend linked lead poisoning to crime. Economist Rick Nevin of Fairfax, VA said that in studies in nine countries “65 to 90 percent or more of substantial variation in violent crime was explained by lead”. Lead is prevalent in paint and leaded gasoline.

Nevin linked a nearly 60 percent drop in crimes in New York in 1994-2001 to federal policies to eliminate lead from gasoline and reduction of lead emissions in NY incinerators in 1970-1974.

The Post also cited a 2002 study by Herbert Needleman of the University of Pittsburgh that compared lead levels of 194 adolescents arrested by police with 146 high school adolescents. The arrested youths reportedly had lead levels that were four times higher.

Another example, a Chicago housing development built over a freeway where 150,000 cars passed each day. “Eighteen years after the (housing) project opened in 1962,” the Post wrote, “one study found its residents were 22 times more likely to be murderers than people living elsewhere in Chicago”.


Here’s another one that caught my eye.

Muses, Madmen and Prophets” by Daniel B. Smith (Penguin Press) claimed that 75% of schizophrenics report voices in their heads (they’re called auditory hallucinations). Smith traces history for famous people who “heard voices” including Socrates and Joan de Arc “who both obeyed their voices right up until their executions”.

I was just wondering if all the people who hear and heed voices in their head end up tragically? But Smith says some people find comfort in messages that they alone detect; and suggests voice-hearers will always be among us.

Friday, July 6, 2007


DC is abuzz with talks of expanding congressional scrutiny over the Philippines’ human rights record. The Senate appropriations committee passed late last month the 2008 foreign operations bill, setting aside $17.3 billion for economic assistance to various countries. It reportedly conditioned US aid to the Philippines on President Arroyo’s curbing extra-judicial killings, particularly those allegedly perpetrated by the police and military.

I covered the Senate sub-committee on East Asia and Pacific Affairs hearing last March. Filipino church leaders and human rights activists painted a bleak picture of human rights in the Philippines; over 800 people have fallen victim to political killings in the six years President Arroyo has been in office.

America gave over $200 million to the Philippines last year, mainly through the USAID – much smaller to what she used to get when the US still had Clark and Subic. Money is not the issue. Malacanang has already declared as much.

Also, the Philippine military stands to receive about $30 million in Foreign Military Funding (FMF); the total could be more if we add Foreign Military Sales (FMS) and the International Military Education & Training (IMET). There are no more “big ticket” items (e.g., refurbished Hueys or those 77-foot PCFs) in the pipeline. Most of the money will probably go to infantry weapons, night-vision equipment, radios, spares, etc. Basic stuff that soldiers need and the generals want. And everybody knows how PGMA is beholden to the army. Soldiers could get restive.

But what worries the Embassy people here – I’m guessing they’re just parroting concerns in Manila – is the deteriorating international image of the Philippines. After all, isn’t it a very Filipino trait that we are more concerned about how other people see us? Baka kung ano isipin sa atin is a very basic Filipino insecurity.

Well, PGMA has enough reason to worry, if what I hear is right. Complaints of human rights abuses back home are ringing ever more loudly on Capitol Hill. The abduction of Jonas Burgos, indications of complicity by security forces – and worse, the appearance of official stonewalling – will only weaken the government’s assertion it is acting resolutely to stop the killings.

Senators Barbara Boxer, who presided over that March hearing, Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) and the influential Patrick Leahy of Vermont (chairman, justice committee) are reportedly among those losing patience with PGMA. She’s not faring any better in the House. Ironically, these disgruntled solons are the same people pushing for the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill. I heard they just want to push the bill for a floor vote, before training their guns on the human rights issue.

Sadly I think, PGMA still doesn't get it. She still believes that "communist propaganda" is working better than her own substantial machinery. Everybody knows there's an insurgency war, there's a war against terror and she must fight off plots, Right and Left. President Arroyo refuses to see what is plainly in front of her, opts to coddle those accused of orchestrating the killings, and is either too timid or scared to act. It boils down to her recurring handicap -- lack of credibility.

The Democrats are in power and they don’t look too kindly on human rights violators as Republicans may be.

Thursday, July 5, 2007


Snapped this photo of fireworks show over DC (Washington Monument is barely visible near right foreground) from the Air Force Memorial in Arlington

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


Virginia Beach is a cool city, even at the peak of a sunny day. Wasn't too crowded (that may be a li'l difficult for the Guinness book's longest pleasure beach in the world...nasanay lang siguro sa Nasugbu). Sayang, didn't have time to try out fishing at the wharf (there's a fishing gear rental shop there); settled for "see-food". It's free and it's fun (wag ka lang pa-obvious, lalo na pag may bantay)!

Monday, July 2, 2007


Barak Obama raises $32 million in three months, beating Lady Hillary's $27 million. All that to fund the battle for the Democratic nomination...and for the victor, the "main event" next year. Jeez, where's all that money coming from? Of course, it's all transparent. Barak's camp says 154,000 donors contributed this quarter, up from 104,000 in the first quarter. And that's just for the two Democratic frontrunners; haven't counted the Republicans'. Big bucks for big stakes. For whom?

Reminds me of our own elections. It's a seasonal industry on its own...once every three to six years the economy perks up. Billions of pesos suddenly appear, like the Bacharach tune...this case, longing to be spent. For whom?

I had a "passing conversation" with Con-Gen Ariel Abadilla (he was quite literally passing through our DC Embassy when I chanced upon him) about this recently. The topic was elections and political campaigns, initial focus on the Philippine midterms, but it soon slid to Filipinos in America. Serving in a state that has the distinction of having the first Fil-Am Lt. Governor and Governor (Benjamin Cayetano: 1987, 1994-2002), first elected member in a state legislature (Peter Aduja, 1955) and first elected mayor (Eduardo Malapit, 1975 of Kauai, Hawaii) -- I asked why Filipinos appear slow to build on the initial political breakthroughs of their kababayans? I was talking about Fil-Ams all over the US.

He suggested culture and exigencies could be factors. The average (and more numerous) Filipino in the US is more preoccupied about earning a buck (to have enough to send back 2006, Fil-Ams sent about $8 billion to the Philippines -- more than half the total dollar remittances). Or they could be busy tending to family (walang "maid" o "yaya" dito). Or busy watching Wowowee on TFC. The men could be out fishing, the women in the mall. Fact is, politics -- American or Filipino variety -- is very low on the scale. They just don't care. Even if there's a kababayan on the ballot. Sad but on the whole, least from where I'm standing.

Pinoys/Fil-Ams already comprise 1 percent of the total US population, and yet according to the best reckoning less than a hundred are in elected positions -- that's about .000003% -- mostly in very localized offices. Jeez, I can get better odds playing lotto.

They're also saddled by a kind of political ambiguity. Although an exit poll during last year's US midterms indicated majority of Fil-Am voters are Democrats, the average Pinoy (yup, it's them again) see themselves either as "Republican Democrats" or "Democratic Republicans". As one Pinoy comedian pointed out, "dun tayo lagi sa panalo!".

ConGen Abadilla adds Pinoys have an entirely inverted view of politics (or could that be the other way around?). Back home, politicians give us, people give money to politicians. Could that be the meaning of "participatory democracy"? I'm not sure which works better. If you ask an American and a "kababayan" back home, they both feel they got fu...d by their elected leaders. So who cares?