Daily Archives: February 26, 2008

A FilAm in the US Congress

by Cynthia De Castro/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES — Fifteen years ago, on November 1992, Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott was elected to the US House of Representatives.  By winning in that election, Rep. Scott made history by becoming the first African American elected to Congress from Virginia for over 100 years, next only to  John Mercer Langston who is the Father of Black Politics by virtue of being the first African American ever elected to office in America.

There is a little known fact about Rep. Bobby Scott – his lolo (grandfather) on his mother’s side is Pinoy. This also gives the Congressman from Virginia the distinction of being the first American with Filipino heritage to serve in the United States Congress.

Overcoming the odds, being a trendsetter and making history are traits that Congressman Scott inherited from his Filipino grandfather, Valentin Cortez. As a boy in the Philippines, Valentin wanted to escape the hardships in his hometown and seek greener pastures  whatever the cost.

Eventually, he stowed away in a ship bound for the United States. The ship’s Captain Hamlin, an American, discovered the young lad and decided to adopt him.

Valentin went home with his adoptive father to North Carolina where he grew up and got a good education. Taking the name of the captain, he became known as Valentin Cortez Hamlin. Valentin became a pharmacist and married an African American. His daughter, Mae Hamlin Scott, is the Congressman’s mother.

Born on April 30, 1947 in Washington, DC, Congressman Scott grew up in Newport News, Virginia.  He is a graduate of Harvard University and Boston College Law School.  After graduating from law school, he returned to Newport News and practiced law from 1973 to 1991.  He also served in the Massachusetts National Guard and the United States Army Reserve.

While practicing law in Newport News, Scott served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1978 to 1983 and in the Senate of Virginia from 1983 to 1993.

During his tenure in the Virginia General Assembly, Rep. Scott successfully sponsored laws that are critical to Virginians in healthcare, education, employment, economic development, crime prevention, social services and consumer protection.  His legislative successes included laws that improved healthcare benefits for infants and children, increased the Virginia minimum wage and created the Governor’s Employment and Training Council.

His outstanding performance in Virginia was not unnoticed by the State, which has been electing Scott to serve in the US House of Representatives for eight consecutive terms now.

Rep. Scott currently serves as the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, and is a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor and the House Committee on Budget.

In his 15 years in Congress, Rep. Scott has become known as a champion of the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights, fighting to protect the rights and civil liberties of all Americans.  In 1997, Rep. Scott fought to protect the rights of all children with disabilities to obtain a free and appropriate education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Rep. Scott is currently a leading opponent of efforts to permit employment discrimination based on race or religion in federally funded programs. He is a leading advocate for improving and increasing funding for veterans’ benefits and health care; for the enactment of legislation to reduce high school dropout rates and increase access to a college education for all students with the Every Student Counts Act.  Scott is also a strong supporter of universal health care and has sponsored the All Healthy Children Act that would ensure that the 9 million uninsured children in the United States have access to quality health care.

(www.asianjournal.com)

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RP Gov’t Contests NYC’s Win on Tax Dispute

by Momar Visaya/Asianjournal.com

NEW YORK — The Philippine government is going to contest the ruling of a New York City judge last week saying that the city can collect millions of dollars in real estate taxes on the Fifth Avenue building owned by the government of the Philippines, Consul General Cecilia Rebong told local media Wednesday.

“We will bring the recommendations of our legal counsel to Ambassador Willy Gaa, who is the chairman of the Philippine Center Management Board, and submit it to the judge along with new computations from our legal officer,” ConGen Rebong said.

US District Judge Jed Rakoff ruled that diplomatic privileges and niceties don’t exempt the countries from having to pay at least some local taxes on the buildings that house staff and offices for their missions to the United Nations.

Under international treaties, consulates and embassies are generally tax-exempt. Their status as sovereign territory often puts them outside the reach of US law.

But in New York’s case, the city argued that it had a right to collect taxes on portions of the structures used for non-diplomatic purposes.

Judge Rakoff said that the Philippines was not required to pay taxes on Maharlika, a restaurant that used to operate in the building.

“We had a very good presentation during the hearings. We won the case for the Maharlika restaurant. The judge did not side with us on the issue of PNB, which occupied the space occupied formerly by Maharlika and the one-room office of PAL,” ConGen Rebong said.

The Philippines’ building, on a prime stretch of Fifth Avenue, has had a variety of commercial tenants, including a restaurant (Maharlika), a bank (Philippine National Bank) and an airline office (Philippine Airlines).

“Back then, PAL and PNB were government entities and were used to promote the Philippines. Maharlika, as a restaurant at the Philippine Center, was used to promote Philippine culture through our cuisine,” ConGen Rebong said.

In a statement obtained by the Asian Journal, Ambassador Gaa said, “The Court has found tax liabilities on the portions previously used by PNB which primarily served the official transactions of the Philippine Consulate General and the Philippine Government in the United States and also on the office used by PAL, a government-controlled corporation at that time, that was officially mandated to promote tourism to the Philippines.”

“These findings appear inconsistent with the spirit of international law that we expected in our customary dealings with foreign nations,” the statement added.

India & Mongolia, Too

It all began in April 2003 when the city filed suits seeking unpaid real estate taxes against four countries. Aside from the Philippines, the city is also running after India and Mongolia. The city settled with Turkey in 2003 for $5.05 million in real estate taxes and interest.

India’s 26-story tower on East 43rd Street near the U.N. holds 20 floors worth of apartments, all occupied by diplomatic employees. According to the city, the Indian government owes $39.4 million as of September 2007. Mongolia’s six-story building on East 77th Street, which has two floors that serve as staff residences, owes $4.2 million.

For years, the three countries refused to pay their New York City tax bills, but the legal tide turned in the city’s favor when the Supreme Court ruled in June that the nations could, indeed, be sued over the matter in US courts.

For ConGen Rebong, it was not that they were ignoring the tax bills but it was a matter of principle.

“These foreign missions should not have been brought to court in the first place. We should not be taxed. We’re not supposed to pay the tax,” Rebong said, citing the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which gives tax exemptions for the residences of ambassadors and properties used to conduct diplomacy.

The city had been arguing that the Philippines owed $19 million, as of 2005, but that amount is likely to change since Judge Rakoff said the law didn’t require the country to pay taxes on a restaurant that once operated on the site.

The original assessment was that the Philippine government owed the city of New York $823,000. It ballooned to $19 million in 2005. The amount reached $37 million last year including interests and penalties.

“It is now down to $10 million, $400,000 of which represent the principal while the rest is accrued interest,” Consul Leandro Lachica said during the press briefing.

The long-running legal dispute had attracted attention from the US Department of State, which had sided with the foreign countries against the city. State Department officials had warned that if New York City won, the US might be forced to pay millions of dollars in taxes on various properties it controls abroad.

“It is good to note that the State Department shares our position but the case is between us and the city. Kailangan nating ipaglaban ito,” Rebong said.

Calls made to Robert A. Kandell, the lawyer representing the Philippines in the lawsuit were not returned as of press time.

(AJ with AP wire reports)

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City Atty. Delgadillo Sues HealthNet

By Rene Villaroman/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo filed a civil law enforcement action against HealthNet, Inc, and two of its subsidiaries for engaging in unlawful and deceptive practices. These subsequently led to the denial or delay of authorization of claims or canceling coverage after initially issuing a policy.

The civil complaint, filed on Wednesday, February 20, in the Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges that HealthNet, Inc., HealthNet of California, and HealthNet Life Insurance Co. engaged in unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practices and unfair, deceptive, untrue and misleading advertising in violation of California’s Unfair Competition (Business and Professional Code 17200) and False Advertising (Business and Professionals Code 17500) laws.

In the complaint, the City Attorney alleges that HealthNet purposefully used false and misleading marketing in an effort to gain more members. HealthNet collected applicants’ medical history using intentionally misleading forms that called for the applicant to make educated medical judgments. Submitted applications were generally accepted by HealthNet without any meaningful review of the accuracy of responses, informed investigation into the medical history of applicants or confirmation that consumers understood the application.

Only after policy holders submitted claims for medical services did HealthNet retroactively conduct investigations into their medical history in order to find discrepancies in the application to allow for a delay in payment or cancellation of coverage. “This practice of post-claims policy cancellation is unlawful, unfair and fraudulent,” Delgadillo claimed in the suit.

HealthNet went as far as creating a secret unit to cancel policies. The company routinely provided benchmarks – including goals for number of rescissions per year and dollars in claims denied – as well as economic incentives to individuals responsible for post-claims rescissions, with bonus payments for reaching company goals. The division met or exceeded its goals every year, denying more than $35 million in claims between 2003 and 2006, the suit alleged.

“Countless Californians who believe they have insurance actually have policies that aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. At a patient’s most vulnerable moment, the insurance company won’t pay for care, or will cancel the policy altogether,” said Delgadillo. “Industry schemes to maximize profits at the expense of patients are unfair and unlawful, and they must be stopped,” he added.

The City Attorney also announced at a press conference at City Attorney’s Office in downtown LA that, based upon evidence developed in the course of his HealthNet investigation, he is initiating a criminal investigation of individuals associated with HealthNet’s illegal bonus payment program for cancellations in violation of California’s Knox-Keene Act (Health and Safety Code Sec. 1340 et esq.), and others who may have made false statements to the California Department of Managed Health Care regarding these payments, in violation of Penal Code Section 131.

The civil suit seeks to enjoin HealthNet and its agent from engaging in the illegal activities outlined in the complaint and order HealthNet to comply fully with the law. In addition, the suit asks the court to assess civil penalties of $2,500 for each violation of the Unfair Competition Law and False Advertising Law as well as an additional $2,500 penalty for each Unfair Competition violation that victimized any senior citizen or disabled person. Delgadillo also seeks to have wrongfully canceled policies reinstated and full restitution to all victims of the alleged practices by HealthNet.

“This lawsuit is an important step towards holding health insurance companies accountable for their anti-patient practices,” said California Medical Association President Richard Frankenstein, M.D. “Health insurance companies may say they are providing coverage, but time after time they do everything then can to avoid paying for health care for their policyholders.”

(www.asianjournal.com)

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Consulate and HiFi Rotary Club Plan Anniversary Convention

by Rene Villaroman/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES — Close to 30,000 Rotarians from all over the world, including Rotary Clubs from the Philippines, will attend the 2008 Rotary International Convention to be held at the LA Convention Center from June 11 to 18. This was announced by Vic Ching, President of Rotary Club of Historic Filipinotown (RCHF), during a courtesy call to Philippine Consul General Mary Jo Bernardo Aragon recently.

The RCHF is the only FilAm-chartered and established Rotary Club in the United States. It is celebrating its first anniversary this month. “We are one of the hosts clubs of the 2008 Rotary International Convention, and we have been named to host one event,” Ching said. “Our club has been given the task of hosting a one-night hospitality suite at the Wilshire Ebell Theater.”

He said that up to 5,000 Rotarians from the Philippines are expected to attend the Los Angeles convention. Sonny Gancayco, the club’s incoming president, said that the 2008 convention is a good opportunity for FilAm organizations to showcase their projects by participating in the trade component of the convention. “We are looking for local retailers to partner with us in this convention,” Gancayco said.

Addressing Philippine Tourism Authority Director Mary Anne Cuevas, Guila Maramba said that it would be worthwhile for the tourism industry to be a participant or a sponsor of the convention. Maramba and club president Ching informed the Consul General and PTA Director Cuevas that a 5-day sponsorship would cost $3,000.

Ching also announced that a plan is in the works to invite the world-renowned Madrigal Singers to perform in some segments of the convention, but they would need sponsors to help defray the cost of air transportation. He said that the convention’s potential tourism draw is at least 100,000 persons.

In a related development, Maramba told the Consul General that RCHF is putting together a $300K Internet-connectivity project for 42 public high schools in the Central Luzon province of Pampanga. David Maxwell, an officer of another Los Angeles City Rotary Club, announced that his club is on schedule for “Operation Smile” project that would provide free reconstructive surgeries to 220 indigent Filipinos this coming April. “These are all laudable projects. We do what we can because our funds are limited, and our participation in projects like these requires that we fundraise constantly.”

Cecille Ramos, President of the Historic Filipinotown Neighborhood Council also unveiled a project called “Adopt a Parol” (Christmas lantern). “We want to show to the rest of the state that this part of Los Angeles is safe for other California residents to visit. We want to make the Historic Filipinotown as a tourist spot,” Ramos said. She said the project would involve hanging 174 seven-foot diameter parols in a stretch of Temple St. from Alvarado to Hoover. These parols would draw power from the utility poles. Adoption of the parols would cost $1000 apiece, according to David Rockello of HFTNC. The parols would be lighted on Thanksgiving Day until January 6, 2009.

(www.asianjournal.com)

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Multisectoral Coalition Meet on New York Healthcare Disparity: Kalusugan Coalition leads FilAm community

by Momar Visaya/Asianjournal.com

NEW YORK — Members of Project CHARGE (Coalition for Health Access to Reach Greater Equity) were joined by Assembly Members Richard Gottfried and Ellen Young, City Council Members Alan J. Gerson and Robert Jackson, and the Asian & Pacific Islander Health Forum (APIAHF), to launch a 4-year national campaign to eliminate health disparities on Tuesday, February 19th in the Red Room of the New York City Hall.

Project CHARGE, composed of 14 local organizations, has been selected as one 8 coalitions funded nationally by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the APIAHF to address healthcare gaps in the Asian Pacific Islander (API) community.

Kalusugan Coalition, led by its chair Noilyn Abesamis-Mendoza, represents the Filipino-American community in this coalition.

“It is very important for our community to be represented here because like our fellow Asian Americans, our community has its share of undocumented immigrants, of uninsured family members. We have met people who have insurance but are not comprehensive enough to cover major emergencies,” Mendoza told the Asian Journal during the launch.

According to the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, there are real and human costs of not providing healthcare coverage for all APIs in New York City.  In New York City, an estimated 1 in 5 Asian Pacific Islanders has been uninsured in the past year.  Failure of the health system to educate the API consumer combined with the high cost of healthcare drives the API community to rely on a patch-work system for necessary medical care.

Project CHARGE is a component of an unprecedented $16.5 million community investment initiative in which key stakeholders will drive changes in healthcare access for the API community in New York City and nation-wide.

“The API community is locked out of the healthcare system because of the high cost of care and language barriers,” said Wayne Ho, Executive Director of the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families.  “This pioneering relationship between the Asian Pacific Islander community, government and the philanthropic sector will create real change for Asian Pacific Islanders and will improve healthcare access for all New York City residents.”

New York State Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried said, “The daily reality for millions of New York residents includes having to deal with a healthcare system that does not speak their language.  Project CHARGE and the efforts of others to provide universal healthcare are all tied together and one cannot succeed without the other.  I am happy to be here today and together we are working to change that reality.”

“We want more people in our communities to get insured and we need to have affordable healthcare as well. This is very important for us,” shared Melissa Nibungco, development associate of the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV and AIDS (APICHA).

This groundbreaking work will build a unified voice for underserved communities in the national healthcare debate.  “As the only Asian American representative in the New York State Assembly, I fight to ensure that the Asian Pacific American community has a strong voice in government,” said Assembly Member Ellen Young.  “This groundbreaking public and private partnership guarantees that all New Yorkers have an equal access to healthcare.”

At almost 12% of the City’s population, more APIs live and work in New York City than any other city in the United States.  By joining forces with the API community, decision- makers will be able to create policies that speak to the needs of all New Yorkers.

New York City Council Member Robert Jackson said, “healthcare is one of the major issues here in New York City.  As the co-chair of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus in City Council, I, along with my colleague John Liu and other City Council members, are point persons for the Asian Pacific Islander community.  We need to be able to know what is going on in the different neighborhoods in New York City from community members.  It is my pleasure to know that this grant will help Asian Pacific Islanders not insured and give them access to appropriate healthcare.”

“This effort is literally a matter of saving lives.  Overcoming the financial hurdles, expanding health access through education, providing culturally competent and language accessible care, treatment and referral – everything that this project and coalition is designed to do – We know that Project CHARGE will succeed on saving lives in the Asian Pacific Islander community,” said City Council Member Alan J. Gerson.  “I know that I speak for all of my colleagues as I pledge our support across all levels of government – not only the community’s allies in City Council but also in Albany.”

“This is the first time a national private foundation has recognized and sought to remedy the inequities that are happening in our community.  In this time of healthcare reform, efforts need to be made at the local, state, and national level.  We have to revisit what healthcare should look like and that it should be,” said Dr. Marguerite Ro, Deputy Director of Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF).  “”We thank the W.H. Kellogg Foundation for partnering with us and are very pleased to award this grant to Project CHARGE.  We expect the New York Coalition to help lead the way across the country developing strategies and advocating for equitable financial access to healthcare as well as access to quality care.”

“This coalition is a milestone in terms of Asian American and Pacific Islander health.  It has been a long time coming, but we are united from coast to coast,” concluded Suki Terada-Ports, Executive Director of the Family Health Project.  “We are excited to partner with local and state government and foundations to change the tide and raise the visibility of Asian Pacific Islanders.”

(www.asianjournal.com)

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