Daily Archives: January 1, 2008

Filipino Americans in the News (Part 1 of 2)

by Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com

AS we head into the new year, it is time to reflect and reminisce about our vibrant and ever-growing Filipino American community in 2007. The Asian Journal editors picked these top 10 stories that showcase the colorful year for Filipino Americans.

Filipino Veterans Equity Act

Like a bell curve, this year started favorably for the aging veterans when Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA) introduced The Filipino Veterans Equity Act of 2007 to the Senate and House of Representatives, respectively.

The FilVet Equity Bill hit its peak when the two champions managed to pass the bill out of their respective Veterans’ Affairs Committees in June and July. It was the first time in 14 years since its introduction in Congress that the Filipino Veterans Equity legislation moved forward. Toward the end of the year, however, Republican opposition stalled the bill, preventing it from appearing on floor debate in the Senate and House.

If passed, an estimated 7,000 WWII FilAm veterans living in the US and 12,000 WWII Filipino veterans in the Philippines would have restored US Veterans status and will be eligible for Veterans Affairs (VA) disability pension benefits.

However, there is a 10 percent mortality rate. Filipino WWII veterans continue to age and  pass on while the bill is stalled. The fight for equity, however, continues into 2008.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform

The Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill would have helped alleviate the status of more than half-a-million undocumented Filipinos living in the US.

Last June, the US Senate shot down the comprehensive immigration reform bill. The Senate made it an immigration clean sweep when they voted against advancing the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), a bill that would have provided children of illegal immigrants a chance to gain legal status last October 24.

Since then, a crackdown on the undocumented began. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced work-site raids, work-site enforcement, and shipped out more deportation letters.

The Servano family of Pennsylvania received their letter last October. Only a last minute reprieve prevented Dr. Pedro Servano and his wife Salvacion from deportation back to the Philippines.

This year became financially difficult for immigrants to migrate to the US when the cost of citizenship doubles to $595 and the cost of becoming a legal permanent resident triple to $930 starting 2008.

The anti-immigration movement also gained momentum. US citizens are taking it upon themselves to alleviate the illegal immigration problem forming Minute Man organizations across the US.

Sentosa 27

The Sentosa 27 sent a chilling message to all potential Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW’s) – Beware.

The group – 26 registered nurses and one physical therapist from the Philippines alleged that they were brought to the US only to be exploited and abused by Sentosa Care LLC and the Sentosa Recruitment Agency,  the agency that hired them in Manila.

The group has filed a lawsuit and complaint about their ordeal in the Philippines and New York, the State where they were employed.

The group alleged upon arriving in the US, that they were duped into working as agency nurses and not as direct-hire staff nurses.  They also filed charges of maltreatment, abuse, and lack of compensation for overtime. Sentosa, on the other hand, has filed a counter-suit alleging that the group breached their contract and another for endangering their patients’ welfare.

Desperate Housewives

The season premiere of ABC’s Desperate Housewives in September caused a stir in the Filipino community.

When Teri Hatcher’s character made a flippant remark about the integrity of Filipino doctors, the Filipino community worldwide made their voices heard.

In the episode, actress Hatcher’s character, Susan, goes in for a medical checkup and is shocked when the doctor suggests she may be going through menopause.

She responds, “OK, before we go any further, can I check these diplomas? Just to make sure they aren’t, like, from some med school in the Philippines?”

The statement drew condemnation from Filipinos all over the world prompting governemnt officials to get into the fray. More than 127,000 names signed an online petition demanding an apology from ABC. Statements from the Philippine medical education board to Malacanang Palace also demanded an apology.

ABC officials apologized a few days later and promised to edit the offensive remark made on the show. ABC also said they would work more closely with the Filipino community in for job opportunities in the network.

GABNet 3

After attending a women’s conference in the Philippines, Gabriela Network (GABNet) founders – USC Professor and GABNet Chairperson Dr. Annalisa Enrile, journalist Ninotchka Rosca and activist Judith Mirkinson, were barred from returning to the US from Manila, Philippines.

Apparently, the Philippine Department of Justice had their names on a “hold” list. There was much concern about their stay in the Philippines, after 90 women organizers, activists and leaders have been assassinated in the Philippines since 2001. The Philippines is second only to Iraq in the number of writers and media people murdered.

Dr. Enrile (a US citizen) and her companions’ friends and supporters barraged the US embassy in the Philippines and received a flood of e-mails and faxes for their release. Protests were mounted all across the nation from San Diego to Los Angeles, from San Francisco, to Chicago, and New York.

After a few weeks, Enrile, Rosca and Mirkinson were finally  allowed to go back to theUS.

In a press conference welcoming her arrival in Los Angeles, Enrile discussed the harassment she received from airport officials. She said that many of the officials asked for bribes.

When Enrile asked an official why her name was on the “hold” list, one official said, “You are a member of the Taliban.”


(To be Continued)


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The 2007 Newsmakers (Part 1 of 2)

by Malou Aguilar/Asianjournal.com

TO SAY 2007 was an eventful year for the Philippines would be an understatement. President Macapagal Arroyo survived a generous serving of impeachment attempts from the opposition as a staple reaction to various corruption scandals. Violence also reared its ugly head that resulted in the bombing of the House of Representatives, among others. The number of extra-judicial killings rose together with the Philippine peso while another failed mutiny underscored the dire need for political change. Here are top ten newsmakers as chosen by the Asian Journal editors.

The Rise of the Peso

The Filipino peso increased in value, strengthening 18.7 percent against the dollar this year and heading for its biggest annual gain since at least 1994. It has been the best performing currency in Asia this year. The resurgence of the peso was partly attributed to a record amount remittances from an estimated 8 million OFW (Overseas Filipino Workers). Funds sent home by overseas Filipinos, which account for about 10% of the $117 billion economy, increased 15.2% in the first 10 months of the year.

2007 Elections

Last May 14, the Philippines held its national and local elections for half of the seats in the Senate and all the seats in the House of Representatives, plus thousands of provincial and municipal positions. As expected, the elections were tainted by violence, totaling to 126 lives and 148 others wounded by election-related violence.

The administration’s Team Unity (TU) slate was defeated by the Genuine Opposition (GO) ticket, getting only three of the ten available seats in the Senate. Winners included Oakwood mutiny leader (and now of the Manila Pen standoff), Antonio Trillanes IV, Francis ‘Chiz’ Escudero and Allan Peter Cayetano. In the House of Representatives, the administration’s ruling coalition was strengthened, garnering 88-90% of the seats.

Estrada’s Verdict and Pardon

After a five-year trial, former President Joseph Estrada was convicted (reclusio perpetua) of massive plunder by the Sandiganbayan graft and corruption court. Found guilty for accepting P545-million jueteng protection money, and for collecting P189.7-million as personal commission from the sale of Belle Corp., after he pushed the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and Social Security System (SSS) to buy Belle Corp. shares.

This is the first time in Philippine history that a former President got convicted of crimes committed while in office. His co-accused son, Senator Jinggoy Estrada was acquitted of all charges filed against him.

Six weeks after his conviction, Estrada was granted full pardon by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a move that was seen as the President’s own political survival rather than an interest in serving justice. It was also assumed that the two had cut a deal for Estrada to agree to end his participation in the Arroyo impeachment drives. Estrada, on the other hand, insisted that he was innocent of the charges in spite of acknowledging his guilt by accepting the pardon.

Malacanang Bribery Scam

The year 2007 has been a controversial one for the administration. Aside from impeachment cases filed against Arroyo, another scandal hit the Palace when an administration staff allegedly distributed envelopes containing P200,000 to P500,000 to local officials and congressmen. The bribery attempt was purportedly distributed in exchange for their support of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo against another impeachment attempt at the House of Representatives.

The bribery attempt was exposed by priest-turned-governor Ed Panlilio (Pampanga) and Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Crispin Beltran.


In April 2007, the $329 million contract between the Philippine Government and Chinese Telecom giant ZTE was signed to connect government agencies throughout the Philippines through the Internet. The contract was signed in Boao, China, during a time when the government was not allowed to sign contracts because of the upcoming national elections. The contract became controversial for alleged overpricing, an anomalous bidding process, and being of questionable necessity.

In September, the controversy blew up when Jose ‘Joey’ de Venecia III accused COMELEC Chairman Benjamin Abalos, Sr. of trying to bribe him with $10 million dollars to back out from the bidding on the NBN project in favor of ZTE, a telecommunications company to which Abalos is apparently connected.

When the Senate investigated further, Venecia said that First Gentleman Mike Arroyo told him to “back off” from the contract. His testimony threatened to bring down the Arroyo Administration while Malacanang Palace shifted into high gear to contain the explosive scandal.


(To be continued)

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A Christmas Hero: FilAm Dies Saving Kids

by Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com

WRIGHTWOOD, CA — Judith Claridad still couldn’t believe that her husband is gone forever.

On Christmas Day,  Judith and Claro Claridad celebrated with their four daughters by playing in the snow around Jackson Lake in the Angeles National Forest in Wrightwood.

After a few snowball fights and  many snow angels later, the weather began to get colder. Claro asked his wife to change their two youngest kids, whose clothes were damp from playing in the snow.

“I went to our truck to change our two youngest daughters,” she recalled. “I was only gone for thirty minutes.”

She doesn’t know exactly what transpired in those “thirty minutes.”

“All I know is that there was a lot of commotion,” she said. “I thought it was just another snowball fight.”

As she headed back to her husband’s location, a woman approached her carrying their other two daughters.

She tried to go to the scene but was prevented from entering.

“Where’s my husband? Where’s my husband?” she remembers saying to the stranger.

She feared the worst.

The coroner’s report

In those thirty minutes, Claro Claridad died of hypothermia after falling into a frozen lake. He was saving other children who also fell in, according to the San Bernardino Coroner’s Report.

At about 2:30 pm on Christmas day, a few children playing in the frozen lake broke through the ice and fell into the water.

Claro Claridad, a 41-year-old US Army veteran, used his training to help the children. Wearing his nephew’s Christmas gift to him (a hat with a Philippine flag emblem and a thick jacket), he walked out on the frozen ice to assist the other adults and help the children who were in the water.

The others got out unharmed, but Claro tripped and fell into the water. He went under the surface and could not get out.

A rescue helicopter arrived to the lake. Divers located Claro Claridad after a short search nine feet below the surface.

During this time, rescue authorities allowed Judith to the scene.

She was optimistic.

They told her to head to Desert Valley Hospital, where he was being transported.

Authorities attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation. However, efforts to resuscitate him failed. He was pronounced dead at 5:05 p.m.

A coroner’s official said that authorities are investigating the incident.

Perfect man

Judith said that her family is still shocked and overcome with grief.

“Everybody is shocked. My daughters are in denial. I have to take them to counseling. They don’t want to believe it,” she said. “They were all daddy’s girls.”

His wife, Judith, describes her late-husband as the “perfect man.”

She recalls how they met. Judith, a preschool teacher, taught his niece.

“It was a blind date. We just clicked.”

The two were married eight years ago and blessed with  four daughters ages seven, six, four and two. He also has a 12-year-old son from a previous relationship.

“He was good guy,” she said. “He was a perfect man, a good dad who devoted his time and every single minute to them. During the summer he would take a week off for family vacations. He treated me like a queen.”

Claro Claridad was born in Manila, Philippines. He served in the US Army before settling in Victorville. He was a manager at a Verizon Wireless store.

Judith said it doesn’t surprise her that he helped those kids who fell in the lake. She said her husband is a hero.

“I know he knew what he was doing,” she said. “He was a good swimmer in the Army. He was trying to save those kids. He just always kept helping people. He risked his life trying to save those kids. By accident he slipped and fell in the lake.”

Friends of Claridad have established a fund to care for his wife and children. He leaves behind wife, Judith, and five children.

Judith Claridad & Children Fund

Washington Mutual

Account Number: 340 313 5523

Contact: Heather Allgood

(760) 963-2303

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Galing Pinoy: A Matter of Perception

by Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES — Poet William Blake once said: “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is – infinite.” For 26-year-old Filipino concert pianist Chris Cerna, this quote is has been his motto.

“Maybe it’s because I’ve been blind since an early age and this is all I know,” said Chris Cerna. “But my family never treated me any different because of my disability. I grew up with the idea that I could do anything I want as long as I put my mind to it.”

Born in Cebu, Philippines, Chris and his twin brother Chuck Cerna were born with cancer in the eyes. Doctors diagnosed both with retinal blastoma. Only 18 months old, doctors removed both of Chris’ eyes to keep the cancer from spreading. His brother, however, was not as fortunate. Chuck’s cancer spread while doctors attempted the same procedure. He passed away a few years later.

Before Chuck’s passing, he showed musical talent on the piano. Chris had never shown the same amount of interest in playing the piano as his twin.

“I took one lesson, and the teacher said it wasn’t for me,” he recalls. “My twin brother was the who could play really well at an early age.”

Nine months after his brother passed away, before their fifth birthday, Chris got the urge to play his brother’s piano and played his brother’s favorite song, ‘Immaculate Mary.’

“It’s hard to say [why],” he said. “We had a bond. I look at it as a gift from God. It’s definitely a miracle that I began playing.”

Since then, with his mother, Carmenita’s, encouragement he began to play in church choir’s and town events. More than 700 people attended Chris’ first concert at the age of seven. He also received the Perlas Award as the Valuable Filipino for Special Talent from The Philippines Foundation, Inc. for harnessing his gift of music and sharing his talent and skills with the community, particularly those who need inspiration to live productively despite a physical handicap.

Medical Mission

In 1989, the Honolulu-based Aloha Medical Mission treating patients in Cebu discovered Chris. Rebel soldiers had just captured the island trapping the medical mission group. Cebu locals brought Chris to entertain the group.

The medical mission paid back the generous hospitality, promising to have reconstructive surgery done on his eye sockets. In 1991, mother and child left for Hawaii and Chris’ sockets were given artificial implants made from sea coral.

Musical prodigy

Living in Hawaii, Chris received the opportunity to pursue his dreams of music. In high school, he received a State scholarship to attend the Ellen Masaki School of Music in Honolulu.

Chris admitted that he enjoys composing his own music. Besides the piano, Chris excelled in other instruments – mandolin, tuba, vibraphone, harmonica, accordion, samisen, Indian drum, flute, guitar, laud, banjo, recorder, lap steel guitar, violin and other string instruments.

He has won competitions sponsored by the Hawaii Music Teachers Association and the Morning Music Club of Honolulu. He’s been featured by the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra and performed in front of Government officials. Only his immigration status has prevented him from winning more awards since some competitions require US citizenships.

But Chris is not all about music. “I love to go hiking and camping,” he said.

When the Asian Journal interviewed Chris, he was on his way to go target shooting.

“They place a metronome behind the target for me,” he said.

Chris was a member of the Boy Scouts for five years. In 2000, he received Eagle Scout honors, the highest honor a Boy Scout can get. Only three percent of all Boy Scouts receive the honor. He was also the first Boy Scout in the nation to use the Braille edition of the Ad Altare Dei manual to earn his Catholic Scouting award, according to other reports about Chris.

Of course, Chris admits all of his achievements haven’t been easy.

To some he is an inspiration. To others he’s just a handicap.

“I just laugh it off,” he said about the negative comments. “It doesn’t bother me.”

She is My Eyes

For the past 16 years, Chris and his mother Carmenita had a true mother-son bond. As the only two members of the Cerna family in the US, Carmenita would attend all of Chris’ performances. Earlier this year, Carmenita passed away at the age of 53 in Hawaii.

“She sacrificed a lot for me. She always made sure that I practiced,” Chris said. “She was the backbone that supported everything I did,” he added.

Since her death, Chris has been more motivated and inspired to become a great pianist. Before she passed away, she made him promise her.

“She asked me to bring my family here.”

Currently, he is studying for his Bachelors in Music at the University of Hawaii and performs regularly in Hawaii and across the US.

To Chris, everything that has happened in his life is truly a blessing.

“It’s definitely an honor and a privilege to share my music,” he said. “Whatever gifts God gave to us, we have to always share. Just because I lost my eyesight, it’s doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world that I’m not supposed to do anything. I still have my legs.”

“A lot of people, unfortunately, lose something and they think that it, it’s over and that’s all there is to it,” he added. “You have to adapt.”


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LA Gets $72 Million to Fight Homelessness

by Rene Villaroman/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES — Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced that the city received $72 million additional funding from the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to fight homelessness in the city. The amount was 26 percent more than it received last year. Villaraigosa made the announcement on Monday, December 24, at the annual star-studded LA Mission Christmas Eve Lunch for homeless.

“It’s the largest Federal fund that Los Angeles ever received in addition to nearly $60 million in grants for ongoing projects, plus $12 million to the Shelter Plus Care Project,” the mayor said.

The bonus funds will help provide more rental assistance and support for housing units for the “chronically homeless” in the city.

Last year, Los Angeles was denied Federal assistance because it was in the process of reforming decades of corrupt practices at the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA). When Villaraigosa became mayor, one of his first acts was to reorganize HACLA and appoint a new manager, Rudy Montiel.

“Last year, I said we were going to fix it. We were going to make it better and we were going to address the fact that for decades this department had been underperforming and not doing what it needed to do to maximize its resources,” Villaraigosa said.

Villaraigosa also acknowledged the Homeless Service Authority. He said it was crucial in building the powerful alliance between the city, the county and the non-profit agencies to make sure that the homeless service programs can compete for all available funds. The mayor also cited the efforts of non-profit organizations, including the LA Mission, Union Rescue Mission, Midnight Mission, Fred Jordan Mission, Downtown Women’s Shelter and others that “every day provide for the homeless.”

“This is a wonderful Christmas gift. But more importantly, this funding will help thousands of people get back their hopes and find a brighter future,” said City Council President Eric Garcetti, whose district has a sizable homeless population. “We must make sure that everyone has a home not just during this season, but throughout the year.”

The annual Christmas Eve Lunch at the LA Mission attracts hundreds of volunteers, including many celebrities, community and city leaders. An entire block of 5th Street, between Wall and San Pedro Streets was closed to vehicular traffic, to give way to gaily decorated tables festooned with green-colored tablecloths lining the street. Villaraigosa and Garcetti spent time serving at the chow line after a 30-minute press conference.

Hollywood celebrities, including Jennifer Love Hewitt, Mark Wilkerson, Melissa Joan Hart, Mike Rapaport, Kyrstle Ritter, Melissa Gilbert, Bruce Boxleitner, Spencer Pratt, and Ross McCall, among many other personalities, manned the chow line, dispensing sliced hams, grilled chicken breasts, green beans and corn, cranberry sauce, and huge slices of chocolate cake for dessert.

“This is an incredible expression of love,” says Kate Lender who plays Esther Valentine in the 25-year-old soap, The Young and the Restless. “What is really great about it is that people do not have to stand in line to get food. We serve the food to them,” she said. Lender has been volunteering yearly at LA Mission for many years, including during Thanksgiving and Easter.

On Monday, LA Mission had enough meals to serve to more than 3,000 homeless and poor Angelenos.

Further down 5th Street, attorney Cheryl Walsh and her children gave cream-colored hooded capes donated by local churches.

“I am handing out capes for the adults, and we are also giving gifts to the children and to all the people here,” Walsh said. She is from San Juan Capistrano and specializes in elder law, helping the elderly and disabled senior citizens get state and medical benefits, and in state planning.

The LA Mission has been addressing the challenges of homelessness, drug addiction and alcohol abuse in the Skid Row section of Los Angeles for over 70 years. Last year, the mission provided 510,835 hot meals, 126,380 nights of safe shelter, 204,677 articles of clean clothing, daily showers, shaves, temporary baggage service and medical and dental care to homeless men, women and children.


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A New Start for RP in the New Year — Bro. Mike Velarde

by Momar Visaya/Asianjournal.com

TAGAYTAY CITY — Religious leader Bro. Mariano “Mike” Velarde is calling on all Filipinos to set aside political differences and work as one in 2008.

“Let’s all unite. Magkaisa tayo. Kailangang magsama-sama tayo sa iisang partido, sa iisang direksiyon para sa ating bansa. Itabi muna ang mga political interests natin and let’s all work together. Tulungan natin ang gobyerno natin, this is the only one we have, atin ito,” Velarde told the Asian Journal in an exclusive interview recently.

He believes that the 2010 elections will be crucial to the nation.

“It is time for the people to rise up. Let us elect good leaders. Hindi natin kailangang sisihin ang mga pulitiko kasi sino ba ang nagluklok sa kanila sa puwesto, hindi ba mga tao?” he said.

He said that he advised President Gloria Arroyo not to mind her detractors and the ratings and just continue to work harder and concentrate on infrastructure, tourism and agricultural development.

“Ang problema ng gobyerno natin ngayon, hindi ito pinaniniwalaan. Sabi ko nga kay GMA, kailangan niya ng isang action para mabago ang perception ng mga tao sa kanya. Si GMA masipag at marunong, first-hand masasabi ko sa inyo,” Velarde shared.

Clean slate

If he had his way, he would like to professionalize the way the government is being run.

“We need to professionalize the government because we need to start with a clean slate. In order to clean the system, we need to retire all the officers and infuse new blood,” Velarde said.

He would like to start at the Comelec.

“Our electoral system was designed for cheating because it was crafted by politicians. There must be a complete change, hindi puwedeng piece meal. Hahayaan ba nating mabulok ang lahat ng mangga dahil sa isang pirasong bulok? The question is how do we know kung alin ang bulok?,” he asked.

Velarde also believes that the government is over-staffed and a management audit must be done.

“Pag ako ang presidente, I will implement a democratic martial plan and I will ask the Congress to do it. My vision for a new republic? Walang party party, iisa lang, ang partido Pilipino,” he explained.

Investment portfolio

During his travels abroad, Velarde was able to meet with thousands of overseas Filipinos.

He hopes that programs will be designed in order for them to be able to invest in the Philippines.

“Kung kayo bibigyan ko ng investment portfolio sa Pilipinas, $50 a month, guaranteed by the Central Bank, cashable anytime, with interest. Wouldn’t you give that to the Philippines? Kaysa kung saan saan pa tayo mangutang,” he said.

The amount may be small, he explained, but once the government gets the millions of overseas Filipinos to invest, the country will be able to generate millions of dollars worth of investments monthly.

Velarde says that he has lots of “radical ideas” for the Philippines and hopes that there is someone out there who will be “strong enough to implement them.”

“Ang taong-bayan ngayon mulat na. I am hopeful na tama ang direksyon nating tatahakin sa 2010. Let us all look for a leader with a vision and an ambition,” he said.


“As it is, we are already too polarized dahil nga sa pulitika kaya extra-careful tayo sa mga sinasabi at ibinibigay nating payo sa mga kaibigan nating politicians. Walang nagbi-bridge eh, that’s what I am doing right now,” Velarde explained.

With this newfound role as the bridge between the administration and the opposition, Velarde says he is able to gain the respect of both camps not only because he is neutral but because he tells them that over and above politics, it is the nation that must be prioritized.

Right now, Velarde believes that President Arroyo’s “strength” lies on the lack of unity among the opposition stalwarts.

“If they (opposition) will not come together, matatalo yan sa 2010,” Velarde predicted.

Window dressing

With the Philippine peso reaching PhP41-to-$1 this month, Velarde believes it is not because the peso is really strong but more so because the dollar is really weak.

“Medyo artificial na medyo totoo,” is how he describes the current market.

“The dollars are coming in pero kung tutuusin, that is a bad sign. Why? It only proves that business is not moving, these are all remittances from the overseas Filipinos and not investments,” he shared.

Velarde lamented that despite the image of a strong peso, prices of local commodities remain high.

“Wala pa akong nakikitang benefit nito sa mga tao. Mas nasasaktan pa nga sila kasi patuloy pa sa pagtaas ang presyo ng mga bilihin,” he added.

He also predicts that the dollar might bounce back slightly come January as remittances taper off but believes that it won’t go back to its old value.

“Malabo nang bumalik pa ang piso sa mga 55 to 1, ang real level niyan this year maglalaro between 40 to 45,” Velarde shared.


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Miracles Are His Business

by Carmie Carpio/Asianjournal.com

AN ocean of faces looks up to him, with waves formed by hands lifted up in praise. Who is this man who can draw millions of people in one place, not just for one night, as concert performers are wont to do, but every Saturday night? In the Philippines, only one man can do that  and people call him, Brother Mike.

Born Mariano Zuniega Velarde on August 20, 1939 in Catanduanes, Bro. Mike is known nationwide as the founder and Servant Leader of the El Shaddai Movement, a Catholic Charismatic religious group. Since 1984, Bro. Mike and his movement have seven million Filipinos worldwide. The movement has broadened its network through its international chapters in the US, Canada, Australia, Middle East, Europe and Asia.

Before he became the famous and charismatic “Bro. Mike,” the young Geodetic Engineering graduate from a college in Manila bought land and developed residential subdivisions in the southern outskirts of Manila. He was faring well until in 1983, the Philippines was overshadowed by political and economic turmoil. At this point, the budding entrepreneur went bankrupt. Three years later, his debts reportedly rose to $8 million.

Bro. Mike chose to rise above his piling debts and started veering away from business. Inspired by his recovery from a heart ailment back in 1978, Bro. Mike started his own weekly Bible-quoting radio show on DWXI, a station he acquired as part of a real estate deal. Later, he would lead monthly prayer rallies outside of the radio station. The growth of his followers grew beyond proportions, eventually leading to his financial recovery.

How does he do it? After all these years, what glued and attracted people to him and his teachings?

A herald of hope drew the people to him. Known for his prosperity gospel, Bro. Mike promises healing, financial prosperity, and success to his followers. El Shaddai also ascribes magical healing powers to a wide variety of objects as eggs, bankbooks, and specially blessed handkerchiefs printed with prayers.  For El Shaddai followers, with no exception to politicians, miracles are an earthly possibility.

Still, the El Shaddai leader and preacher did not completely turn his back on his old enterprising business. Currently he owns and runs the Amvel Land Development Corporation, the real estate company behind the 3,000-unit Amvel Mansions, a residential project in Parañaque. His children are into real estate as well, with some into politics.


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