Daily Archives: March 9, 2008

Edith Burgos Appeals to FilAms: Raises Funds for the Disappeared

by Momar Visaya/Asianjournal.com

NEW YORK — The mother of activist Jonas Burgos appealed to Filipinos in the United States to help in finding her son who has been missing since April 2007.

“You are here thousands of miles away but it does not mean that you can’t do anything. You can pray for the disappeared. You can lend a helping hand,” Edith Burgos told the crowd in a townhall forum at the Bayanihan Filipino Community Center in Queens.

“You could provide big help, not in the form of money but appeals to your congressmen to stop from sending military aid to the Philippines that is used by the government to kill Filipinos and oppress us,” she said.

Burgos spoke candidly about her family’s plight since Jonas Burgos, 36 and a community organizer with the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (a peasant movement in the Philippines), was abducted by identified elements of the Philippine military in broad daylight from a Quezon City mall on April 28, 2007. Jonas Burgos was apparently whisked away while shouting “Aktibista lang po ako!” (I’m only an activist!) before being thrown into a military truck.

“You cannot imagine what goes through a mother’s head, knowing that at any moment of the day, her son is being tortured,” Burgos continued, drawing tears from the audience.

Burgos is the widow of the late Filipino press freedom hero Jose Burgos. She arrived in New York to start her national speaking tour in the US. She will also travel to Minneapolis, Washington DC, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles before returning to the Philippines.

“I have accepted my family’s role here. At the end of the day, I think that Jonas was able to do the mission he was asked to do by being lost, by being disappeared because now he is the face of the disappeared in the Philippines,” Burgos told the Asian Journal.

“I have accepted Jonas’ fate. I just want to know if he is still alive or if he is already with the Lord. We have to be given the dignity to grieve. I have forgiven the abductors, the kidnappers, the torturers,” Burgos added.

Burgos was accompanied by Mervin Toquero, a staff member of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), who reported about the “human rights crisis” in the Philippines.

“We believe Arroyo’s drive to stay in power is the real reason there are human rights violations in the Philippines today,” Toquero said.

“These things are happening in the Philippines and we must not be passive and we must not allow these to hap-pen,” Burgos added.

GMA watch

After the panel discussion, an open forum revealed the raw sentiments of the Filipino community in the area.

“We may not be in the Philippines, but we are not helpless. We still have a role to play,” stated Attorney Merit Salud, Advocacy Director for Region 1 of the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations (NaFFAA).

“We formed GMA WATCH precisely to lift US participation on the human rights crisis in the Philippines, on the basis that as US tax-payers, our dollars are funneled to the Philippine military as US military aid,” Bernadette Ellorin explained. “The GMA administration is the fourth largest recipient of US monetary aid in the world.”

GMA WATCH is a national grassroots advocacy network of Filipino and human rights organizations in the US that was spawned shortly after US Congress took note on the rate of extrajudicial killings and abductions in the Philippines last March with a US Senate hearing. The local organizing group in New York is the NY Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP).

“She simply needs to go. More important than know-ing who will replace her is the collective mission to remove her from office. In fact, if they say GMA WATCH, I say GMA OUST,” Burgos said.

The following Monday, NYCHRP facilitated a visit between Burgos and UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial Killings and Summary Executions Philip Alston at New York University.

Burgos thoroughly updated Alston on her son’s case since his high-profile 2007 report on the Philippines, implicating the Philippine military. Burgos also expressed the lack of effort by the Arroyo government, by way of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), to address her son’s case.

“The CHR has arrogantly dismissed Jonas’ case, when they have told the world and the United Nations that they intend to sincerely address the human rights crisis in the Philippines,” stated Burgos to Alston in his office.

Burgos’ report to Alston was a striking contradiction to the report of Philippine Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, who flew to New York last fall to update Alston and the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on the measures the Arroyo government was taking to resolve the country’s human rights crisis.

After her meeting with Alston, Burgos proceeded to visit Elaine Pearson, director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch in Manhattan.

(www.asianjournal.com)

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City Attorney Secures $10-M Settlement in Landmark Equity Case

by Rene Villaroman/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo announced on Wednesday that his office has secured a $10 million settlement from Darren Stern (a.k.a. Henry Shalom), owner of Landmark Equity Management, Inc. The settlement came after Delgadillo’s 2006 civil suit alleging that Landmark engaged in a calculated scheme to drive low-income tenants out of more than 800 rent-controlled apartment units in this city.

“We will not tolerate cynical and illegal schemes to drive poor tenants out of their home and into the streets,” said Delgadillo at a press conference. “When LA landlords break the law, they will be held to account for their actions.”

The court judgment secured by the City Attorney requires Landmark to pay a $1 million fixed civil penalty and establish a $9 million restitution fund. The restitution fund will be used to pay up to 70 percent in refunds of rent tenants paid between June 2002 and the present, claims for violation of the Rent Stabilization Ordinance, and relocation assistance to tenants who were forced out of those buildings that defendants emptied to raise rent.

Landmark will also be required to pay $105,000 to reimburse investigative costs and expert fees to the City Attorney’s Office, LA Housing Department, LA Department of Building and Safety, and the Department of County Health Services. Additionally, Landmark owner Darren Stern will be banished from the residential rental market in the LA for 4 years and 6 months. Stern is also required to bring all of his remaining properties in the City of Los Angeles into code compliance and is forever prohibited from engaging in tenant right violations.

“The housing affordability crisis is bringing a great deal of stress and hardship to the over 60 per ent of An-gelenos who are renters,” said Mercedes Marquez, GM of the Los Angeles Housing Department. “This case demonstrates the level of abuse of renters’ rights that plagues any of our residents. The Los Angeles Housing Department (LAHD) and the City Attorney’s Office worked in partnership to investigate and litigate this case. LAHD is grateful that the case has come to a just conclusion.”

According to the City Attorney’s June 2006 complaint, Landmark had engaged in the practice of purchasing rent-controlled buildings with a high occupancy rate and then embarking on a pattern of harassment, intimidation and failure to correct substandard living conditions to unlawfully drive out as many tenants who pay below market-rate rent as possible. The goal of the scheme was to illegally evict tenants, raise rents and sell the buildings for an inflated profit.

The City Attorney’s complaint alleged that Stern and his affiliates engaged in dozens of violations of State law through a number of illegal or unfair practices, including allowing properties to fall into disrepair and failing to remedy serious and exten-sive code violations, illegally increasing rents and refusing to pay for relocation in violation of the Rent Stabilization Ordinance, refusing to accept rent payments, then suing tenants for failure to pay and illegally shutting off utilities, entering units without permission, and harassing tenants. In December 2006, Delgadillo secured a preliminary injunction which required Landmark Equity Management, Inc. to bring its buildings into compliance with the habitability codes and to comply with provisions of the Stabilization Ordinance and Tenant Habitability Program.

Landmark failed to bring all of these properties into code compliance and as a result, the City Attorney’s Office brought civil contempt charges. Since then, Landmark has brought ten properties into code compliance and has sold ten properties to legitimate buyers. Only one residential hotel, one apartment building, and seven stock cooperative buildings require further work to remedy code violations identified by enforcement agencies.

In addition to the civil suit, Delgadillo filed criminal charges against Stern in 2004 and 2005. Stern was charged with nearly three dozen code violations at three buildings near downtown Los Angeles. He was convicted in May 2007 and was sentenced to 150 days in county jail.

“We are encouraged by the City Attorney’s decision to prosecute a slumlord who owns many properties in Los Angeles,” said Barbara Schultz of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA). “This case signals that mitigation of slums in Los Angeles is a priority for the City Attorney. We look forward to his enforcement of this significant settlement to improve the lives of the tenants forced to live in deplorable conditions.”

(www.asianjournal.com)

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Galing Pinoy: Chef of Fortune

by Cynthia Flores/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES — The February 2008 issue of Fortune Magazine featured the best three company cafeterias across America (Google, Ebay, and Factset Research Systems) and their outstanding chefs. Among the best three chefs cited by Fortune is Chef Alex Dino, the brilliant Pinoy behind the  “standout cafeteria cafe” of Factset Research Systems in Connecticut.  Born and raised in Tondo, Manila, Alex Dino is second to the eldest of 4 children.  He and his brothers Lawrence and Dennis and sister Khat have been exposed to the cafeteria business ever since they were children. What used to be hard work for such a young boy proved to be the best training ground for his career of choice.

“I remember growing up in the Philippines,” Alex related to Asian Journal. “My mother, Fe, owned a cafeteria ( Fe’s Carinderia) which sustained our family since she and my father separated when we were all very young.”

He recalled his daily routine in Manila before his mother emigrated in the early 80s.

“My daily routine as I was growing up was to wake up very early in the morning to go to Divisoria with my mom. We would shop for all the food stuff that we needed for the carinderia. As soon as we got back, I helped in preparing the viands that will be served for lunch and dinner. I would then take a little rest before I got ready for school.”

Alex stayed behind and took a course in Business in the University of Santo Tomas. After college, his passion for food influenced his choice in looking for a job. He worked in the food industry while he waited for his immigration papers to be processed. Alex was first employed at Baltimore Spice (Phils.), Inc., which is engaged in trading of food ingredients and customized blending of spices and seasonings. He also worked at Mix Plant Inc. which offers a wide range of pre-mixes for baking needs and various seasonings for poultry, other meat products and snack foods.

“The two companies are known for making food seasoning and pre-mixes. They are also into trading different flavoring & spices. These job experiences, together with my early experience in my mother’s carinderia taught me a lot and gave me so much advantage as the lessons helped me in my career,” said Alex.

Alex finally joined his family in Connecticut in 2001. He decided to further study and master culinary arts at the Art Institute of New York City. “It was hard adjusting to the new life in the States. Specially when I started going to culinary school,” admitted Alex. “But I was really so focused.  I determined to be a good student. So, every school term, I was always in the honor roll,” he added.

Alex worked full-time in a grocery and deli shop while studying full time. “I graduated 2003 and did my externship in Alta Restaurant and Le Bernardin, in New York City. There, I learned so many things about fish and seafood because both of these restaurants are known for that.”

“After my internship, Alta restaurant hired me as a line cook.  Being new, I was doing the most menial jobs like washing the pots and pans, mopping the floor, cleaning the kitchen etc. That was my initiation period,” said Alex.

From Alta restaurant, Alex later moved to Whole Foods Market as production chef. “I was in charge of catering and daily production but my work ended early because I was in the early morning shift. So, I was able to get a second job. I worked in Marriot Hotel as a banquet cook in the evening shift. Later, I was promoted to sous chef or assistant to the executive chef in Marriot.”

Two years ago, in 2006, Alex was hired as executive chef and asked to run the Cafeteria of Factset Research Systems (the top 52nd company in Fortune’s 100 best companies to work for in America). “I guess they just really needed a chef at that time and they decided to give me a shot,” said Alex humbly. “I think it has worked well for us,” he added.

Dino’s job at Factset is no mean feat. Every working day, he is tasked to prepare breakfast and lunch for employees at the cafeteria. He also personally serves around 20 top managers who dine at a separate dining room.

“My job and my name is always on the line, everyday,” states Dino. “My staff of 12 and I have to feed  800 people within two hours at breakfast and at lunch.  You can just imagine how difficult that is! And we have many different food stations at the cafeteria – there’s the pasta station, the Chinese food station, the grill and carving stations (with roasted filet mignon and other steaks), the baked goods, deli, pizza, soup and desserts stations. I am in charge of preparing food daily for all those stations,” said Alex.

“What I like about this job, is that I get to start my day very early and finish early afternoon. Then, I still have time to do my other activities,” he said. “I’m a big cycling fan and I run marathon as well. In fact, I have joined the Boston Marathon twice, finishing around 400th,out of about 10,000 participants.”

Maybe it’s because he cooks so hard at work that Alex no longer has the energy or desire to cook when he gets home. “I only cook at home for special occasions,” he admits. “But not Filipino dishes. I love French cuisine.”

His advice to his kababayans who want to achieve the American Dream – “Don’t give up. Open your eyes & ears and be a learner. If you keep continuing to learn things and skills, before you know it, you will outsmart everyone around you.”

(www.asianjournal.com)

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