Monthly Archives: December 2007

Galing Pinoy: FilAm Makes the Bad Guy Look Good

by Joseph Pimentel/

LOS ANGELES — Filipino American Dennis Calvero is Crooks and Castles (C&C), a clothing brand for the new generation of hip hop aficionados. His clothing line has been   growing in the urban art and fashion scene that recently, hip hop moguls Jay-Z, Kanye West and other rappers and celebrities have appeared in public wearing C&C.

Last December 14, Calvero, together with his partners, realized their dream when their clothing brand opened the first C&C flagship store on Melrose in Los Angeles.

“It feels like we’ve made it,” said Calvero about the opening. “It’s been a long road.”

For Calvero, it’s been nine years in the making. He’s suffered from a bankruptcy and a job change,. He had to travel around the world before regrouping and starting C&C.


What once was considered just underground wear for a niche consumer base, street-wear fashion is now a worldwide multi-billion dollar industry.

Growing up during the late 80s and early 90s, no community was immune to the gang lifestyle. The hip hop scene was still in the infant stage of development. The youth were beginning to transform their appearance from wearing tight to baggy jeans. This generation made it cool to look like a thug.

Calvero grew up in Cerritos, CA. He realized early the clothing transformation of his peers and became aware of the growing “street wear” segment. He started designing clothes for the urban market in 1997 and  created a clothing label dubbed Landscape. The label eventually failed to reach the mass numbers in the US.

“During that time, the street wear industry was young,” said Calvero. “There was no market for it here [US]. There was more of a market in Japan.”

“From [that experience] we learned how to do things on our own,” Calvero added.

After the business failed, Calvero moved to the New York/ New Jersey area to work for designer Marc Ecko and served as one of Ecko’s head clothing designers.

A blessing in disguise

Working for the billion-dollar company taught Calvero how to run a business more effectively. “That’s where I learned how to make a [clothing] brand,” said Calvero.

“I traveled to Asia and learned how to [negotiate] with vendors. I learned just how to be a business person.”

He also began to travel around the world extensively. He has traveled to Hong Kong, China, Paris, Philippines, Germany, Barcelona, and Japan, considered the Mecca for underground clothing labels.

“In Japan you can see how fashion and commerce drives the clothing industry,” he said.


After working for Ecko for a little over a year, Calvero left the company to continue to pursue his dreams of having his own label.

He gathered a group of his friends and started Crooks and Castles in 2002. The word “crooks” is a metaphor to how some people attain their goals, while “castles” is the goal itself.

Although the company has received some criticism about the name, Calvero simply shrugged off the criticism.

“We’re not promoting [crime],” he said. “We’re really business savvy. It’s just about the market. We’re very design oriented. It’s a name that we’ve stuck with and it’s our goal to brand it.”

“You could say that we started out of a garage [designing shirts],” said Soriano. “He [Calvero] was in New York designing clothes in his small apartment. I was out here [Los Angeles] trying to help him out,” said Emil Soriano, a designer for C&C.

The clothing brand began to pick up steam when consumers began to demand for hip hop street wear.

“There was this whole emergence in the street wear market,” said Soriano. “All these new start up street wear companies began to come up and achieve success.”

“This is the kind of clothes that people we grew up wanted to wear,” said Jon Palos, who works in marketing for C&C. “It’s a lifestyle brand developed from growing up in Los Angeles.”

Unexpected promotion

It also helped when Jay-Z and other celebrities began to sport the label in major events and award shows. Immediately, rumors began to fly that Jay-Z offered Calvero to buy the company in a multi-million dollar deal.

“All I can say about that is that they are just rumors,” he said. “No formal offer has been made.”

In the three years, C&C has seen tremendous growth. Just last year, Calvero went from making six-figures in profit in one year to  millions of dollars. He plans to expand his US operations to Las Vegas, NV. He also said he plans to open a store in the Philippines sometime next year. Crooks and Castles merchandise is being distributed worldwide.


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Young Filipina Diva Wows Ellen Degeneres

by Maria Sunantha Quibilan and Joseph Pimentel/

LOS ANGELES — Filipina singing phenom, Charice Pempengco, left the studio audience of the Ellen DeGeneres Show breathless on Wednesday, December 19.

The 15-year-old’s rendition of And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going from the Broadway musical Dreamgirls received an extended standing ovation. She also received another ovation toward the end of the show when she sang Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You.

The performance left DeGeneres impressed and in tears. At the end of Pempengco’s performance, the talk show host was speechless and hugged Pempengco.

The Ellen DeGeneres Show website describes Pempengco’s appearance as “one of the most incredible performances” DeGeneres has ever seen. Pempengco was moved to tears by the overwhelming response of the American audience.

Before Pempengco sang, DeGeneres told her audience that they were in for a treat.

“All right, I’m warning you again right now, I’m going to cry again today,” said DeGeneres. “She’s fifteen years old. We flew her in from the Philippines. She’s never been to the United States before. She doesn’t have a recording contract. She’s never done this before. You are going to be blown away. This is the most incredible gift of all the gifts that we’re giving [away] you’re going to witness something today and say ‘I was there the day she [Charice] sang on the show.’”

Her appearance on the show was Pempengco’s first performance on US Television.

After she performed, Pempengco admits she could not hold back the tears.

“I started crying because I saw all the people giving me [a] standing ovation,” she said to the Asian Journal after her performance. “I’m very proud because I realized [during the performance] I’m here performing in front of Ellen DeGeneres and all the people.”

Prior to her stage appearance, she admits that she was nervous.

“I was a little nervous,” she said. “Of course, I was excited too. It’s my first time performing in American in front of all the wonderful fans. It was a pleasure.”

Pempengco’s talent was first noticed when, at the age of 12, she won third place on the first season of Little Big Star, a singing contest aired on ABS-CBN in the Philippines and internationally on The Filipino Channel.

Besides the Ellen DeGeneres Show, Pempengco has been featured twice in the Daily Ten, a regular show on E! entertainment channel.

A native of Laguna, Philippines, Pempengco, arrived in Los Angeles on December 13. She got a special invitation from DeGeneres after featuring a YouTube video of the young Filipino diva on her daytime show on Nov. 28. The video showed Pempengco singing And I Am Telling You I am Not Going, amazing hosts and audience alike, on Star King, a South Korean TV variety show.

Pempengco credits her popularity to her exposure on the Internet. Her performance on ABS-CBN’s Little Big Star where she belts out Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You has been viewed more than 700,000 times on YouTube. She placed third in the competition.

The popular video sharing is also how DeGeneres found the young Filipino diva.

“We’ve found some good people on YouTube but wait until you see, we had to bring her over here from the Philippines,” said DeGeneres before introducing Pempengco.


It didn’t take long for people around the world to comment on Pempengco’s performance. There is already over 1,000 comments on Ellen’s blog, as of press time.

“One word Ellen…GOOOSEBUMPS!!!,” posted Cherry Ramirez.

“Someone told me that there could only be one Whitney Houston. I think there is another one…Charice Pempengco! I want to see her again on your show Ellen, Please! I’m begging you,” posted Norman of Florida.

Viewers at home also reacted.

Lenalour Limayo, 30, didn’t know who Pempengco was before a friend sent her a clip of her YouTube performances.

“I started crying,” she said. “It was really emotional to see [Pempengco’s] reaction. She was so happy about the feedback she received from the US audience.”

Attorney Michael Gurfinkel, who paved the way for Pempengco and her mother to travel to the US, said that the comments are an outpouring of Filipino pride.

“This girl is truly amazing,” he said.

Backstage tears

Millie Gurfinkel said that the people backstage could not hold their emotions when they heard Pempengco sing.

“I’m just very happy for her,” said Racquel Pempengco, Charice’s mother.Pempengco’s mother Racquel, who arrived from the Philippines last week, also could not hold back the tears. This is Racquel’s first ever plane ride. The first time she has left the country. She had never had a passport until now.

“I thought I would never get this chance,” said Racquel. “They helped me realize my dream of seeing my daughter perform in front of the American audience.”

As for what’s next for her young daughter, Racquel said she doesn’t know.

“I told her to always remain humble to always have a foot on the ground while she reaches for the stars,” said Racquel.

Pempengco again wants to thank her fans for their support.

“I really appreciate all the support of my fans and in America,” she said. “I really appreciate everything. Pray for me. I love you all.”


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The Filipino Veterans Equity Act

by Joseph Pimentel/

LOS ANGELES — The Filipino Veterans Equity Act of 2007 has gone through its shares of ups and downs this year.

If passed, an estimated 7,000  Filipino American veterans living in the US and 12,000 Filipino veterans in the Philippines, who both fought during WWII, would restore US Veterans status and be eligible for Veterans Affairs (VA) disability pension benefits.

As the year ends, what had started as promising for many Filipino veterans and their supporters now looks bleak.

“It has been a disappointment,” admitted Dr. Jenny Batongmalaque, the Executive Director of the Filipino Veterans Foundation. “Our main goal is to get that recognition for our veterans so they can finally receive their benefits.”

“Many have died without their benefits,” she added. “However, the door is not fully closed yet.”


Early in the year, things looked favorable when Democrats became a majority in the US House of Representatives and Senate.

Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI) re-filed the bill as S. 57, “The Filipino Veterans Equity Act of 2007,” when Congress opened Jan. 4. Rep. Bob Filner followed suit soon after holding a full committee hearing at the US House of Representatives House Committee of Veterans’ Affairs in February.

The bill picked up steam as the months went by when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) expressed her support for the bill. Both Presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL) also lent their hand in support of the bill.

Led by Filner and Akaka, the two respective Chairmen’s of their Veterans Committee have taken the bill further in the US Congress than it ever has before.

The bill passed the Senate Veteran’s Affairs Committee last June and  the House Veterans committee the following month. It had been the first time in 14 years since its introduction in Congress that the Filipino Veterans Equity legislation moved forward.

However, since the FilVet Equity Act passed the two Veterans committees last June and July, the opposition blocked the bill. Republicans repeatedly argued against the bill, citing the overall cost estimating it at nearly $2 billion. Critics also did not favor paying Filipino veterans still residing in the Philippines due to the different standards cost of living between the two countries.

It has been a stalemate since.

Akaka has since added the Filipino Veteran Equity Act as part of the much larger bill S. 1315, the “Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act.” Meanwhile, Filner is waiting for Akaka to pass the bill in the Senate before he presents it in the House.

The Veterans Act in 2008

Sen. Akaka, his representative and Filipino leaders across the nation weighed in on the state of the bill as it heads into the New Year.

Sen. Akaka’s Spokesperson Jesse Broder Van Dyke said Akaka wanted to make sure that the Filipino community knows that the bills remain alive.

“The next Congress does not begin until January 2009.  So it is just as possible for the bill [S. 1315] to pass in January, as it is this month.  Of course, Senator Akaka wants to get it done as soon as possible,” he said.

“Unfortunately, Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) and others on the Republican side have been actively blocking its consideration on the Senate floor,” added Broder Van Dyke.

During his floor presentation last Dec. 12, Akaka called for the passage of this legislation.

“S. 1315 includes benefits for a broad constituency of service members and veterans, particularly those who are service-disabled,” he said. “This bill would also improve benefits for Filipino veterans, virtually all of whom are now in their 80s and 90s.”

“Those who oppose the pension provision in S. 1315 argue that the pension provided is too high,” he added. “However, pension benefits are designed to allow wartime veterans and their survivors to live in dignity – above the poverty level.  I am satisfied that the levels of pension designated in this bill – would allow these veterans to live with such dignity, while giving them the recognition they deserve.”

The Executive Director of the American Coalition of Filipino Veterans (ACFV) Eric Lachica said that Filipino and Congressional leaders supporting the bill have achieved a lot this past year.

“We have progressed but we still have not won the war,” he said. “I believe we might have a greater opportunity [to pass the FilVet Equity bill] next year because of the Presidential election and many of the Senators will also be up for election.”

Lachica said that grassroots campaigning is a must next year.

“Because they [the Senators] are up for election, we need to appeal to our leaders and the community to have face to face meetings with their elected officials,” he said.

Veteran and a Member of ACFV Franco Arcebal said that the crux of the issue remains the payment of Filipino WWII veterans residing in the Philippines.

“[Sen.] Craig changed his position last week on the payment of the Filipino soldiers in the Philippines. A few months ago he was willing to give them a $100 a month. Now, he wants to give them nothing,” said Arcebal.

“We’re not entirely broken hearted,” he added. “There is still another Congressional session next year and the Democrats are still running the show. But we do want bi-partisan support of this bill.”

Lachica added that time is running out for these Filipino veterans. He expects a 10 percent mortality rate every year that the bill is not passed.

Lachica and Arcebal predict that talks will heat up sometime in February or March. Batongmalaque hopes it passes in time for the April 9 anniversary of Bataan.

Akaka still remained mum on the timeline when this bill would be passed. He did, however, want to wish the Filipino veterans and supporters a happy holiday.

“Mabuhay and Aloha to my brothers in arms from the Philippines and to all those who support these heroes,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Asian Journal.

“Thank you again for your service to our country.  We are fighting to provide you with the recognition you earned and deserve, and I will not rest until the Filipino Veterans Equity Act becomes law.  Maligayang Pasko! Or as we say in Hawaii, Mele Kalikimaka.  I hope you have a wonderful Christmas with your families,” the email said.


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‘Subway to the Sea’ Project is on Track Again – Villaraigosa

by Rene Villaroman/

LOS ANGELES — Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa  announced  on Thursday that the project to extend the Metrorail Red Line from Wilshire Boulevard at Western all the way to the City of Santa Monica is back on track again after the United States Congress lifted the prohibition against federal involvement in the construction of the so-called “Subway to the Sea.”

Then provision was authored by Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and was included in the Fiscal Year 2008 Omnibus Appropriations Bill that was passed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday, December 19.

“Twenty-one years ago, Washington derailed the hopes for a Westside subway. Today, we’re back on track,” the mayor declared at a press conference held at the Union Station on December 20. “After more than two decades of waiting and planning, it’s now time to take definitive action to ease traffic congestion on the Westside and improve the quality of the life for commuters throughout Los Angeles County.”

“A ‘Subway to the Sea’ would be the safest, quietest, fastest, most reliable and most environmentally-friendly way to reduce traffic congestion where we need it most,” Villaraigosa added. “Let’s celebrate a small step from Washington DC, but a big step for Los Angeles communities.”

The mayor said that connecting downtown LA with the Westside would be a boon to hundreds of thousands of people who commute to job centers in Century City, West Los Angeles and Santa Monica. The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has estimated that 80,000 cars travel the Wilshire corridor on a daily basis. Extending the Metrorail subway Red Line from Western Avenue in the mid-Wilshire area all the way to Santa Monica will have the highest ridership of any project in the country.

Although the ban has been lifted by Washington, the bill did not include a funding component. Proponents are now looking for creative ways to pay for the project which Villaraigosa estimated would cost in the vicinity of $4.9 billion and would begin construction in 2011.

“I think it’s time for Los Angeles to face the fact that, when we actually build this subway, government will not be able to fund it,” said Council Member Jack Weiss.

“If we want to build this subway, we are going to need a public-private partnership, a partnership between government and private financial interests to build this subway,” Weiss added. “If you want to see a subway in your lifetime, it’s time for Los Angeles to be innovative and creative, like Denver (Colorado) and Houston (Texas), and begin a public-private financing venture to make this subway happen.”

“My plan is to be alive when the subway finally happens,” quipped Congressman Bill Rosendahl of Congressional District 11. “I will have my coffee, read my newspaper and ride the subway to my home in downtown LA,” Rosendahl said.

“This is my proudest moment as an elected official,” said Council Member Tom LeBonge. “In 1973, when Tom Bradley first ran as Mayor, he promised us a subway transit system in 18 months. It took 18 years to get that subway going.”

“Look, if this was so easy, somebody would have done this a long time ago. It took 18 years for Tom Bradley to have the subway going, and yet we all know him as the father of the subway,” added Villaraigosa.

In 1985, a consensus over safety concerns led Congress to impose limited restrictions on tunneling, according to Congressman Waxman. “I’m glad that new technological developments have led to a new consensus that tunneling can be done safely,” Waxman said in a statement.

Since taking office, Villaraigosa has led the effort to extend the subway from its current terminus at Wilshire/Western to the Pacific Ocean. Working with Congressman Waxman and Senators Barbara Boxer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the mayor pushed Congress to lift the ban on federal support for the project. The MTA has ranked this proposal as one of the best transit projects in LA County.

Los Angeles ranks first in the country in travel delay with the average driver losing 72 hours annually sitting in traffic. That’s a total of 491 million hours annually. Traffic gridlock also costs the Greater Los Angeles economy to the tune of $9.3 billion per year.


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Galing Pinoy: He Came, He Stayed, He Conquered

by Cynthia de Castro/

FILIPINO-Canadian Steve Mark Gan was 10 years old when his parents decided to go back to the Philippines. At first, he wasn’t sure if his parents – medical doctors, Dr William Hoping Gan and Dr Susan Gan – were doing the right thing.

More than 15 years later, after finishing advanced prosthodontics residency at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), Dr. Steve Mark Gan was offered a $12,000 a month job in LA. He turned it down and decided to come back to the Philippines, sure that he was doing the right thing.

Today, Dr. Mark Gan is a respected leader in the Philippine dental scene. Only in his 30’s, he has single-handedly revived the industry and pioneered dental tourism in the country. His clinic, Gan Advanced Osseointegration Center (GAOC), is the Philippines’ most advanced dental implant center, and is also among the top 25 in the world. People of different cultures, race and color go to GAOC for their dental needs.

Tagged as the ‘dentist of the stars.’ Dr. Gan is the favored dentist of well-known personalities and celebrities such as Lorna Tolentino, Boy Abunda, John Lloyd Cruz, Kristine Hermosa and Rica Peralejo.

“It’s because I make them look their best. Period,” Dr. Gan reveled on how he was able to attract such distinguished celebrities.

The way to the top wasn’t easy.

“When I came back from the US in 1998, after studying in the University of Southern California (USC) and UCLA, I only had $30 to my name. I took out my life savings which I earned since I was a kid selling different things. That totaled $3,266. I used all of that to buy a second-hand dental chair. Then, I used my late grandmother’s dental clinic in Binondo,” Dr. Gan said.

“I did one cleaning. With that, I bought some material so I could do some pasta (filling). I worked 24/7. I accepted all kinds of patients, most of whom at that time were Chinese since my clinic was in Binondo,” he added. “Some say my success is so fast. But actually it’s not really an overnight success. I worked hard for many years. But it came with trade-offs, like I can’t play golf, I don’t go out and I missed so much family time.”

Mark is married to Marilyn and has two kids, Simon Matthew and Moira.

He revealed that his two kids are both named after his mentor and teacher in UCLA – Dr Peter K. Moy.

“I owe so much from him. He is really my mentor. He taught me everything I know. He taught me the right work ethics. Like you must practice what you preach. If you claim you have the best equipment, you must really have the best.”

Even the name of his center was influenced by Moy.

“Dr.Moy had a West Coast Center for Osseointegration. He doesn’t advertise. He didn’t use the word clinic, implant, surgery, dentist etc. But he is world famous. Osseointegration refers to bone and metal fusion which is what dental implants are. So, I followed in his steps,” Gan said.

In 1999, Dr. Gan partnered with some dentists and they set up a dental implant clinic in St. Luke’s Hospital.

“We revived the dental implant industry and we’re making waves in the dental political world. You see, dental implants were introduced in 1983. But the technology was very poor. There were more failures than success. People got scared of it,” Gan recounted.

“After a year, in 2000, I bought out my partners. I built my first Makati office, the GAOC at the Medical Plaza in Makati. I worked so hard to pay the bills and make ends meet. I even pawned my car to keep the practice,” he said.

Dr. Mark Gan is a visionary and a trend-setter. He wasn’t satisfied with just keeping the status quo. He wants to make a difference.

He revealed to Asian Journal the driving force in his career as a dental surgeon and a prosthodontist.

“I felt there’s a lack of dental awareness and technology in the Philippines. My family was receiving dental care which was of very low standard compared to what I saw in the States. The standard of surgery was not up to par with international standards. So, when I came back home, I wanted to change all that,” he said.

Eventually, he made it a must in his center to have the most hygienic and sanitized equipment and facilities.

“Most dentists would rather buy a car or something when they earn money. I invest in equipment and materials. We boast of having the most state-of-the-art equipment in the country. Nothing can come close to us. We’re always a step ahead ..not just 2 steps away.. but about a whole staircase away from other dental clinics,” Gan revealed.

Gan’s success is also due to his strong business acumen. “I was always in business growing up . You see, my parents never spoiled me. They taught us to work hard for our things, even our toys. That’s why even as a young kid, I learned to buy and sell.

Even while I was in elementary, I sold lemonade,” he said. “Then when we moved here, I sold calamansi juice. I also sold jeans and garments to my classmates.”

Gan wanted to take up business in college thinking medical practice will take some time. His father then convinced him to take up dentistry. After earning his degree, he went to the US for training in USC and UCLA.

Gan runs GAOC like a law firm, giving his team of 7 dentists and 14 staff the opportunity to be partners.

Perfect Smiles

Dr. Gan opened the country’s first teeth whitening center in 2001, Perfect Smiles in Glorietta, Makati. At the same time, he opened the GAOC. Both were instant hits.

Gan revealed that the biggest challenge in his life has been in the area of finances.

“There was a time when I was lining up at a loan shark to get a loan. I had my collateral. He made me wait from 7-11pm. He was drinking. I just waited there with my cousin and my best friend. When it was already 11pm and the loan shark was not yet giving me the money I needed, my best friend offered – siya na lang daw magpapahiram sa akin, umuwi na lang kami. I then found out who my real friends are. Some people gave me empty promises and left me hanging.”

While so many dentists and doctors are immigrating abroad as nurses, Gan plans to stay in the country. His vision is to build a chain of dental centers which will give US-quality dentistry at an affordable price to the masses. He has been traveling to US, China, Europe, and parts of Asia to look at possibilities for putting in the right ingredients for the dental offices he plans to set up.

“We don’t compromise quality. We will only use the best materials at affordable prices -Since the masses cannot afford a Mercedes, so to speak, we will offer them a Toyota. Very soon,” Gan shared proudly.


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Young Filipino Diva Arrives for US Debut on Ellen Show

by Joseph Pimentel/

LOS ANGELES — It’s fitting that the first song that 15-year-old Filipina diva Charice Pempengco sang when she got off of the airplane in Los Angeles International Airport was Whitney Houston’s One Moment In Time.

In the corner wing of the Tom Bradley International Airport arrival center, the brown-haired, light-skinned, and petite Pempengco sang the song with much gusto, causing passersby to watch in admiration as she belted out the chorus in front of the Asian Journal and a small ABS-CBN television crew.

This is Pempengco’s moment to shine.

“I chose this song because it really fits me,” she said before she burst into song.

The talented Filipino singer wunderkind from Cabuyao, Laguna, Philippines is the latest YouTube sensation. Her video performance clip of Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You when she was 12-years-old on ABS-CBN’s Little Big Star has garnered more than 700,000 page views and counting.

Pempengco arrived from the Philippines on Thursday on a special invitation. Last month, television host and comedian Ellen DeGeneres featured Pempengco on her network daytime show (also seen on YouTube). After viewing a video clip of Pempengco singing, the crowd clapped in ovation while Degeneres said in front of the camera, “You [Charice] come here too. Yeah. You!”

Pempengco took up the offer and a few weeks later, she’s in the United States for the first time. It has been reported but not confirmed that she will be on the Ellen DeGeneres Show next Tuesday.

“I’m a little bit nervous but excited,” said Pempengco, who was escorted by Millie Gurfinkel. “This is my first time [here] and I’m going to meet Ellen DeGeneres.”

The Asian Journal tried to get in contact with Ellen DeGeneres but the e-mail was not returned as of press time.


Pempengco credits much of her success to YouTube, a video sharing website where users can upload, view and share [legal] video clips.

Charice became a singing sensation at the age of 12, when she appeared on the Philippine show Little Big Star.

She placed third on the competition but her career took a turn for the better when people began to watch videos of her performances posted on the popular website, YouTube.

DeGeneres, one of hundreds of thousands of viewers, saw the clips and demanded her to be on the show.

According to Pempengco, DeGeneres’ people discovered her after watching the videos.

“After talking to an [Ellen DeGeneres show] producer, Ellen DeGeneres called me,” Pempengco recalled. “And then she said, that she’s my No. 1 fan. I’m really really shocked that she said that.”

“I’m so excited. I can’t explain [it],” she added.

This is not the first time that Pempengco was discovered on YouTube. A record producer in Sweden discovered her after watching her YouTube performance.

Pempengco said she recorded six songs in Sweden earlier this year.

She then made an appearance on a South Korean TV variety show Star King and sang And I am telling you I’m not going from Dreamgirls last October.

Pempengco said she wants to be the next Filipino international superstar. But first things first, she said that since she’s in Los Angeles, she just wants to visit all the tourist destinations.

“I want to visit Disneyland, Hollywood, the Walk of Fame,” she said.

Special thanks

Pempengco is taking her recent success in stride.

She knows she wouldn’t be successful if it weren’t for all the fans that continue to watch her sing and perform.

“I want to thank you for all of your support and I hope that you will still support me,” she said. “Now that I’m in the United States, just pray for me. All my dreams are dedicated to all of you.”

As for her appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres show next week, she’s keeping her performance a secret.

“Of course I’m going to sing in the show,” she said. “[But] it’s a secret. It’ll be a surprise.”

And just like the song, One Moment In Time, this is Pempengco’s moment on US national network television. Let’s hope this moment lasts for eternity.


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Filipina Fugitive Stalls Extradiction

by Joseph Pimentel/

LOS ANGELES — A Filipino national set for extradition on December 15 for allegedly embezzling close to $2 million from one of the largest banks in the Philippines filed an appeal, effectively stalling the process.

Girlie Jimenez Lingad, 36, is accused of allegedly stealing more than P75 million from her former employer, the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) in the Philippines.

Lingad has been living in San Diego for the past three years. She fled to the US in 2004 before UCPB authorities could file criminal charges against her.

US Marshalls arrested Lingad late last year. She has since been detained in a Federal prison in San Diego.

According to those working closely with the case, Lingad filed an appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco last Wednesday to stop the extradition. She will continue to sit in a federal prison in San Diego until the appeal is resolved.

“She has filed an appeal and will not be brought back to the Philippines until her case is heard sometime in April 2008,” said Los Angeles Attorney Morel Callueng, who was hired by the UCPB.

“I don’t know why she continues to delay the process,” Callueng added. “It’s going to end the same.”

Philippine National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Special Investigator Jeralyn Jalagat along with her partner Raul Tepace were sent by the NBI and the Department of Justice in the Philippines to Los Angeles last week to escort Lingad back to Manila to face charges.

Upon her arrival to the Philippines, Lingad would have been charged with falsification of documents and more than 25 counts of qualified theft. If convicted, she faces 20 to 40 years for each count.

“It’s not worth it,” said Jalagat. “When you commit a crime you’ll eventually be caught. Even if you planned an elaborate scheme like she did, you won’t get away with it. She thought maybe that if she went to the US she won’t get caught.”

“We are not saying that she stole the money,” added Callueng. “We are saying that it’s very suspicious that she fled to the US before an internal audit uncovered that money [that] was stolen from the bank.”

Lingad, originally from Olongapo City, has been on the run since 2004. She fled with her family to the US three days after she quit her job as a marketing assistant at UCPB’s Olongapo branch. Lingad had been working at UCPB since 1994. Court records revealed Lingad lived briefly in the Eagle Rock area in Los Angeles before settling in San Diego.

Lingad’s position as a marketing assistant enabled her to directly handle the client’s money, said UCPB Vice President of Legal Division Attorney Delfin Catapang. He was also in the US to oversee the extradition.

Police and bank records revealed that the alleged scheme began in 2001 or 2002. Lingad purportedly devised a scheme to siphon money from the bank by either underreporting or not reporting the amount of money she deposited into a client’s bank account.

When a client came to the bank to deposit money into their account, Lingad allegedly pocketed some or all of the money and created a bogus receipt similar to an official bank note to show the client that the money was deposited into his/her account.

When a client asked for a withdrawal, Lingad allegedly took money out of another client’s account to fund their request and forged her manager’s signature.

The scheme went on for three years from 2002 to 2004, according to Callueng.

Callueng said that Lingad did not target a specific clientele.

“She [allegedly] stole P50,000 to P10 million at a time from blue collar workers, business people, and regular hard working people,” said Callueng. “She took advantage of all the clients that were assigned to her [by the bank].”

“What she [Lingad] did was use her position as a bank officer to steal and manipulate the documents to commit the fraud or scheme for her own gain,” added Jalagat. “She made it appear that the transactions were authentic, showing [false] entries in the books or certificates to these clients.”

It wasn’t until Lingad abruptly quit her job on April 17, 2004 that UCPB officials became suspicious. An internal audit later revealed money was stolen from the bank. Bank officers also found destroyed computer records and data. Clients, previously assigned to Lingad, began to complain to other bank officials when the bank showed no official records of their past deposits.

Bank investigators believe she acted alone.

“As far as we know, she acted alone,” said Catapang. “Others were disciplined for their negligence but there was no intention on their part [for this to happen].”

A few months after she fled to the US on April 20, Lingad married a US citizen and later three homes under her mother’s name. NBI officers said they could prove that the mother had no financial wherewithal to pay for the homes.

“It is clear from this action that she was really planning to leave the [Philippines] country and evade prosecution,” added Jalagat.

Catapang did not disclose the number of people Lingad allegedly stole from. He said that the bank has since reimbursed the losses of those clients.

“But we still don’t know if we can recoup all the money that we’ve lost,” said Catapang.

“If there is anything good that has come out of this – the bank has improved their internal system to prevent this from ever happening again.”

Catapang said that he’s glad that there is an existing Philippines and US extradition treaty to bring Lingad back to face charges. However, he expressed disappointment that she filed the appeal.

“I’m going home empty handed,” he said.


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Villaraigosa to Oversee 7 LAUSD Schools

by Rene Villaroman/

LOS ANGELES — Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa got a clear mandate to manage seven Los Angeles schools as  majority of parents and teachers opted for a partnership in education reform in a plebiscite held on Tuesday, December 11. The vote was conducted in seven high and intermediate schools in the LA Unified School District (LAUSD).

The result of the vote was announced by Villaraigosa at a press conference held at Markham Middle School in the Watts section of LA on Wednesday, December 12. “Today, we can truly say that the votes are in and the status quo is out,” the mayor declared. “Close to 90 percent of the parents of these communities said; yes to lower dropout rates, yes to higher student achievement and yes to safer campuses.”

“I grew up in these neighborhoods. I know these neighborhoods. I know that parents in these neighborhoods have the same right to have a quality education for their kids as any neighborhood in the city of Los Angeles,” the mayor said.

The schools that voted to join the non-profit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools are Jordan, Roosevelt and Santee High Schools, and four middle schools, Hollenbeck, Stevenson, Markham and Gompers.

According to results released on Wednesday, about 86 percent of 1,800 parents and 69 percent of 797 teachers supported the mayor’s plan.

“If you look at the percentage of yes votes from the parents, it’s a clear mandate, and as far as I’m concerned, the faculties are also sending a clear message that they want change,” LAUSD Superintendent David Brewer said.

“Today we’re unleashing the power of LA to transform the schools. This was my vision, which I announced in June,” Brewer told Asian Journal. “These partners work for me and the Board of Education. These partners would basically replace the district superintendents in our system in these schools.”

Brewer explained that the plan would not transform the entire LAUSD into an Innovation Division. “What we want to do is to benchmark and replicate the best practices in these partnerships and apply those in the rest of the school district,” Brewer said.

He added that hiring and firing district superintendents and principals are still  governed by the teacher’s union collective bargaining agreements and regulations.

To address the issue of safety, especially in gang-ridden neighborhoods, Brewer said that they would organize a Boys and Girls Club in the Markham campus to provide a safe haven for the students.

Schools not within the partnership need not fret. “We are going to work with them. Remember, the Innovation Division is there to create new ideas and new ways of doing business. We will benchmark ideas and new ways of doing business and replicate them throughout the system,” Brewer said.

Brewer said that he was elated that the mayor is one of their first network partners. The Loyola Marymount University (LMU) and the University of Southern California (USC) have also joined. The Los Angeles Area Urban League, and the Valley Foundation have pledged to support the plan as well.

Of the nearly 800 teachers who voted, 250 opposed the plan, according to United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) President A.J. Duffy. “We will work out a fair and equitable process for any of these teachers who want to transfer to another school, so that this is not a punishment,” Duffy said.

Duffy added the plan promotes an idea that is backed by the teachers union: less-centralized control and greater autonomy at school sites. “It’s historic in its possibilities, in what it can bring in the future,” Duffy told journalists. “Someone said you may not need a school board in the future. Maybe not,” he said.

The result of the plebiscite was viewed as a political victory for Villaraigosa, even if it fell short of his original plan of overseeing the entire LAUSD schools.

Although it was approved overwhelmingly, critics contended that details of the mayor’s plan remain vague, especially the cost of implementation.

Dina Wright, a South Los Angeles resident, was more concerned with basic school needs, saying that education officials need to “get the schools together.”

“Bathrooms need to be cleaned; and the students need protection from unsafe surroundings,” Wright said.  “If you can stop the mischief, I think that they can learn better.”


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Volunteers Continue Search for Missing Filipina

by Malou Aguilar/

MILL VALLEY, CA — The search for Veronica “Nikki” Ruiz, a 25-year-old Filipina from Mill Valley, continued Wednesday with the help of more than 200 volunteers. Friends and family refused to give up hope and organized volunteer search parties to trek the steep Mount Tamalpais trails. Police suspended their search since Dec. 5.

Veronica, an Internal Revenue Service agent, was last in contact with a friend on Dec. 3, saying that she was going for a hike on Mount Tamalpais. There were two reported but unconfirmed sightings of her at Mount Tamalpais locations: one at 11 a.m. at the Blithedale trail entrance not far from her home. The other was an hour later at the West Point Inn, to the west.

In a very brief phone conversation with the Asian Journal, Ruiz’s sister, Maricris, sounded very tired yet remained hopeful. “We will never stop looking until we find her.”

Adding to the difficulty of the Ruiz family was the news that her father, who lives in the Philippines, had suffered a massive stroke when he learned about her daughter’s disappearance. Her mother also had to be hospitalized after going through shock when the official search was suspended.

Earlier reports said that Veronica had recently broken up with her boyfriend of two years and was apparently carrying her IRS handgun when she went on her hike. The weapon has not yet been found.

Veronica is 5’5 in height, 120 pounds, with brown eyes and dark brown hair. She may be possibly wearing white tennis shoes, black capri pants, burgundy tank top, thin long sleeved black jacket, possibly a black fleece vest, a gray and orange camelpack (or hydration backpack), and a black iPod (usually on her left wrist) with black earbuds.

For information or leads about the whereabouts of Veronica, please call the Mill Valley Police Department at (415) 389-4100, or Maricris Ruiz at (650) 222-9578. For updates and donations, please log on to


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State Assembly Passes $14B Healthcare Reform Bill

by Rene Villaroman/

THE State Assembly in Sacramento passed the first phase of a $14.4 billion plan to provide medical insurance to almost every Californian on Monday. The achievement gave Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his Democratic allies their first victory in overhauling California’s healthcare system, the Los Angeles Times reported on Tuesday.

The measure, covering an estimated 3.6 million Californians, including 800,000 children, was negotiated by Schwarzenegger and Assembly Fabian Nunez–(D-Los Angeles. It would require almost every California resident to have insurance starting in 2010 with provision on subsidies and tax credits for those who would have trouble paying their share of the premiums.

Having passed along party line (45 to 31 votes), the measure was seen as an important step not only for California but for the Democrats who are crafting a similar measure for the entire country.

While the Governor and his Democratic allies in the Assembly are celebrating their victory, the State Senate is more skeptical about the measure’s survival. If it was passed by the Senate, the bill would still have to muster  significant support when it undergoes a State-wide plebiscite in November 2008. Senate Democratic leaders are questioning the wisdom of funding a measure at a time when California is staring at a projected $14 Billion budget shortfall in 2008.

“California has taken a giant step forward today on something that many people thought could not be done,” Gov. Schwarzenegger said. “With the Assembly’s courageous vote…we are closer than ever to fixing our broken healthcare system.”

Speaker Nunez said it was no surprise the plan had been so hard to forge.

“Otherwise, in the last 90 years you would have seen a successful attempt at fundamentally reforming our broken healthcare system not only here in California but around the country,” Nunez said.

Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland), co-sponsor of the measure, who did not attend a victorious press conference called by Schwarzenegger and Nunez, issued a low-key statement praising progress. He added that he would ask the Legislature’s fiscal experts to determine whether the plan would contribute in further draining the State coffers.

To avoid a two-thirds vote required to pass the bill in the House—and would have required the support of the Republicans–Nunez had left out the measure’s financing details. The initiative would ask voters in November 2008 to approve taxes, thus: $2.6 billion on employers that don’t provide healthcare, $1.5 billion on tobacco users and $2.3 billion on hospitals.

A well-organized opposition is reportedly being organized by business groups and Blue Cross of California, the State’s largest insurer. Tobacco and drug companies are also said to join the fray, armed with their substantial financial clout. The California Chamber of Commerce, which campaigned for repeal of a major healthcare measure in 2004, has characterized the bill as “half a proposal.”

The bill’s passing in the House has resulted in a considerable amount of flak falling in Schwarzenegger’s direction from Republicans, none of whom supported the bill. They accused the Governor of reneging on his pledge not to raise taxes and for bypassing them in order to assure the bill’s passage.

“Our Governor, a governor who promised to not  raise taxes, is in fact working with the majority Democrats in this body to push through the largest business tax increase in the history of California,” said Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine).

Past attempts at reforming the State’s healthcare system have all failed. The supporters of this latest healthcare reform bill hope that as premiums become more expensive and more people go without coverage, the electorate would be willing to risk rewriting the rules of the health insurance market.

Schwarzenegger’s and Nunez’s alliance–which has alienated key political support in order to find a middle ground—has drawn the attention of presidential hopefuls who hope that they could replicate California’s healthcare reform model. Leading Democratic candidates, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, have each proposed similar measures.

“It is precedent-setting, because California, the most populous and diverse state in the nation, can make healthcare happen and show this country that it can be done,” said Andy Stern, the President of Service Employees International Union.


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