Daily Archives: December 15, 2007

Galing Pinoy: He Came, He Stayed, He Conquered

by Cynthia de Castro/Asianjournal.com

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.

(www.asianjournal.com)

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Young Filipino Diva Arrives for US Debut on Ellen Show

by Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com

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.

Youtube

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.

(www.asianjournal.com)

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Filipina Fugitive Stalls Extradiction

by Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com

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.

(www.asianjournal.com)

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Villaraigosa to Oversee 7 LAUSD Schools

by Rene Villaroman/Asianjournal.com

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.”

(www.asianjournal.com)

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Volunteers Continue Search for Missing Filipina

by Malou Aguilar/Asianjournal.com

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 http://www.helpfindveronicaruiz.com.

(www.asianjournal.com)

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