Monthly Archives: April 2008

Boy Wonder: 17-yr old wins int’l award for and discovering new source of fuel

By Cynthia De Castro/

LOS ANGELES – As the search for alternative sources of fuel rages, a 17-year-old Raymond Amurao from the Philippines may have just found a good solution. His discovery started with the problem of a pesky fish.

A few years ago, many fishermen earning their livelihood from the Marikina River in Metro Manila began to notice some strange-looking fish that have been infesting the river’s waters and competing with other fish for food. Called the janitor fish, it has a hard exoskeleton, is smelly like other fish, and is not considered fit for human consumption.

Until that time, the Marikina River was teeming with several freshwater fish species such as tilapia, carp, catfish, and mudfish. Suddenly, the janitor fish, once alien to the river, invaded the river. It began multiplying rapidly and eating voraciously, competing with other fish for food.

Without the presence of  natural predators, the janitor fish in the Marikina River grew in huge numbers. They eat the eggs of other fishes, causing the depletion of other fish species in the local aquatic environment. They also cause the river’s sides to erode as they bore holes on the soft, muddy banks to serve as their breeding nests, damaging much of the river’s plant life. The ratio of the number of janitor fish to other species in the river quickly rose to around 10 to 1, causing much dismay and frustration to Marikina fisher folks.

Chemistry teacher Janet Sarmiento Amurao brought the challenge to the Marikina City High School students who began experimenting with the fish.

“As a science teacher, I was tapped by our city mayor, Marides Fernando, as a member of the so-called Benefish Committee tasked to find possible applications for the dreaded janitor fish which was becoming one of the major problems in the Marikina River,” Janet told the Asian Journal in an exclusive interview.

Her youngest son who is also her student, Raymond Joseph Amurao, became part of the school science program.

“He was then a senior student working with two of his friends in trying to find out if janitor fish meat can be used as a component of the commercial chicken feeds,” Janet said. “One Saturday, he was assigned to boil the fish but young as he was, barely 16, he played basketball. The whole thing was supposed to be steamed for 10 minutes but he forgot and came back after 30 minutes. He was surprised to see a considerable amount of fish oil floating on the broth. He became interested with the oil and started asking me what to do with it. I told him to look in the net, the easiest way of finding possible answers.”

Instead of throwing the oil away, Raymond tried to find use for it. He first sought to turn it into a lubricant, but it solidified after being subjected to high heat. He then tried mixing the oil with other chemicals to produce soap, but only had partial success because it still smelled like fish. Then, while surfing the Internet, he learned that oil extracted from certain animals could be used as biodiesel. Another experiment later and he found that the fish’s greasy by-product indeed had biofuel potential. Raymond’s initial experiment with 12 kilos of janitor fish produced 500 ml of processed fuel. They calculated the fuel value of janitor fish oil and the results were comparable to that of diesel.

The result was Amurao’s discovery — extracting fuel oils from janitor fish carcasses which can be used in applications such as diesel additives and soap base. This not only solved Marikina City’s fish situation. It totally changed his life.

Science Awards

“He won First Place in the Intel Philippines Science Fair. His project was NCR’s entry to the National Level of Intel Philippines Science Fair and was chosen one of the Best Science Projects. He also received First Grand Award and chosen as one of the country’s entries to the Intel International Science Fair held in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA in May 2006, the world’s largest celebration of science showcasing the world’s most promising young scientists and inventors in grades 9 through 12,” Janet proudly related her son’s accomplishments.

More than 1,500 contestants from each US States and more than 40 different countries joined the world’s most prestigious and largest pre-college science competition – The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) in Indianapolis, Indiana. Representing the Philippines, Raymond won the 3rd Grand Award for his project entitled Biofuel and Soaps from Janitor Fish Oil which won for him international recognition, a cash prize of $1,000, and a medal.

“The biodiesel derived from the janitor fish could be used as an additive to diesel fuel, and could help lower the cost of petroleum in the Philippines,” says Raymond. It would also help control the janitor fish population in the Marikina River, Laguna Lake, and other bodies of water where it is known to dwell. “This could also become a great source of livelihood in Marikina,” he stated.


Janet Amurao still can’t get over his son’s achievement.

“I am very happy because I never thought that a playful bunso like him would be able to accomplish such a feat! You know what he said about his being an overnight celebrity when he came back from the competition? ‘You’re right Mama! I think the Lord has other plans for me when He gave me back to you twice.’ You see, Raymond was a dengue survivor when he was 10 years old and was given 24 hours to live at that time.”

Raymond was born on September 2, 1989 in Marikina City. He spent his elementary years at Roosevelt College Marikina Campus and enjoyed his high school life at the Marikina Science High School. At present he’s studying at the University of the Philippines Los Banos where he’s in second year taking up BS in Chemistry.

His friends describe him as wacky, funny, friendly, comedian etc. He really wants to become a very good chemist someday. He never planned to become a scientist but now that even senior inventors call him a young inventor, Raymond says God probably wanted to show him his purpose, for one thing, discovering the use of janitor fish.

All the television and radio interviews, the newspaper and online articles about Raymond and the invitations to speak in different symposia and conventions have not changed him a bit, says his mother. He’s still “Emong” with his feet flat on the ground. He revealed to Asian Journal that he loves to eat “Anything- especially fried chicken,”he said.

He loves basketball, enjoys watching The Simpsons, likes watching movies like Legend of Ron Burgundy, A Walk to Remember and Music and Lyrics.

“My Intel award is just one of the many proofs that God really loves me,” Raymond said. “When I won in the regional level, it was the first time that I relied on my faith in God. It really worked! So, when I won in the International competition, I really cried,” he admitted.

After the competition, Raymond and another participant stayed at San Diego and visited Universal Studios and San Diego Zoo and malls. “Oh! I really enjoyed my stay there in the US,” Raymond said. “I fell in love with Indianapolis, a very peaceful city. If given the chance, I would like to go back to the US and study there. Or maybe someday I will go back there when I’m already a chemist and hopefully, work in big drug companies.”

The Amuraos are happy to note that the janitor fish has been given a new image. “We were able to prove that the janitor fish is no longer a pest, but something which has many uses,” Janet said. Another possibility being studied is to use the exoskeleton from the janitor fish’s belly as leather to boost Marikina’s shoes and bags industry. The janitor fish could also be useful in producing carbonated water, liquid fertilizer, and chicken feed.

Raymond will also soon test his biofuel invention on a car engine.

As an advice to young people like him, Raymond has this to say. “Just be yourself, be open-minded, be patient in whatever you’re doing and avoid being boastful. Do not hesitate to “burn your midnight oil” and most importantly rely on your faith in God because He’s always with you the way He has been with me.”


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Britain’s Got Filipino Talents: Filipino hopefuls in UK talent show become YouTube celebs.

By Sunantha Mendoza-Quibilan/

LOS ANGELES – Filipino musical talent has once again wowed Western audiences and continues to capture the attention of online audiences on YouTube. Madonna Decena, a 32-year-old UK-based club singer, and Charlie Green, a 10-year old schoolboy of Filipino and British descent, who both received standing ovations during their live auditions on Britain’s Got Talent (BGT) a popular television talent search in the UK, are the newest YouTube Filipino singing sensations.

Currently one of the favorites in the show’s second season, Madonna Decena moved both audience and panel of judges (composed of American Idol’s Simon Cowell, actress Amanda Holdren and journalist Piers Morgan) with her rendition of Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You.

It was a tear-jerking performance by Decena, a single parent who had to leave her two young daughters in the care of their grandparents when she left the Philippines 18 months ago to find work in the UK. She said she joined the contest for her girls, that it was “a chance for me to get more work, more opportunity for me to sing, for my kids.”

Decena said, “If I do well in this competition it would be life-changing not only for me but for my kids. It’s a chance for us to be together.”

Her performance received the approval of all three judges, including that of Cowell’s, who is known for his brutal frankness. He said he at first “didn’t expect anything like that” from the Filipina but that “if you’ve got talent, you’ve got talent [and] I absolutely loved it.”

Charlie Green, another front-runner in BGT, who is half-Filipino, was enthusiastically cheered by the audience and praised by the judges for his version of Frank Sinatra’s Summer Wind. Morgan called the boy’s singing “brilliant,” Holdren predicted that he would win the competition, and even Cowell was impressed, saying, “Charlie, you are fantastic…. I think you are a little star.”

The boy is from Droitwich, Worcestershire, his father, Roger, is British and his mother, Cecilia Surmargo, is a Filipina who hails from Cebu. Green said he has been honing his talent since he was three years old and that he joined the competition in order to fulfill his dream of becoming a great singer.

“I always dream of singing in front of big audiences and massive band behind me…this means the world to me if I could get on, touch the stage I would love it.” Green said before his live performance.

The videos of Decena’s and Green’s performances on YouTube have each registered more than 300,000 views. The hundreds of visitor comments on their pages, most of which are from fellow Filipinos, include compliments and messages of encouragement, as well as a few disparaging remarks, to which admirers have responded with words of indignation.

The newfound fame of BGThopefuls Madonna Decena and Charlie Green is testament to the huge popularity of the video-sharing site and its celebrity-making power. Only recently, it has placed in the international limelight Filipino singing sensation Charice Pempengco.



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More Illegals Nabbed in 5 States

by Cynthia De Castro/

LOS ANGELES – Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents conducted a sweeping raid in the world’s largest poultry processor, Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plants last week in five states – Texas, Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Over 300 undocumented workers were arrested for suspicion of committing identity theft. A felony under Federal law, identity theft has been a growing problem as workers in the US illegally look for ways to avoid detection. Some US citizens and legal residents rent or share their Social Security numbers, making detection even more difficult.

The poultry plant raids and other recent raids by immigration officials were the main focus of discussion during Access Washington, a teleconference participated in by members of ethnic media to get the latest immigration updates. The calls are organized in partnership with the National Immigration Forum, the Center for Community Change, the Asian American Justice Center and the National Council of La Raza, and funded by Public Interest Projects.

As ICE raids are on the rise, hundreds of undocumented workers are put up into detention centers around the country, affecting families, communities and the economy. Last week, Federal immigration agents raided a Houston doughnut plant and arrested almost 30 workers as suspected illegal immigrants, according to the Associated Press.

Andrea Black, Network Coordinator of Detention Watch Network, reported that in recent months, there has been a dramatic increase in ICE raids and arrests. “Their target is to remove all illegal immigrants from the US by 2012. They have had a vast increase in budget and manpower and they have become much better organized. Last year, 276,000 were deported. These raids have been able to create an environment of fear across the country,” said Black.

The arrests have had devastating effects on families, according to Paromita Shah, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild. “We have had reports that workers who have been arrested were not able to contact families or lawyers and were transferred to other facilities making it very difficult for their families to track them down. The usual problem is what happens to the children left at home by these people who are arrested and deported? “ Shah stated.

Black and Shah mentioned that with the failure of the passage of a comprehensive immigration reform program, the authorities are stepping up the enforcement of arresting and deporting illegal immigrants. If the attempt at such an immigration reform was passed last year in Congress, it would have provided a path to citizenship for some of the nation’s 12 million illegal immigrants, a guest worker program and toughened enforcement against employers.


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Ex-Army Chief Denies Hand in Jonas Disappearance

by Joel Roja/

MANILA – Former Philippine Army chief Lt. Gen. Romeo Tolentino on Monday denied that neither he nor any of his men were involved in the disappearance of Jonas Burgos, political activist and son of press freedom fighter Jose Burgos, almost a year ago.

Tolentino, now working as an undersecretary at the National Security Council, was summoned to testify in the ongoing hearing on the petition for writ of amparo filed by Jonas mother, Edita Burgos, to shed light on his knowledge about the names “Ramon,” and “Mina” who cropped up during the military’s initial investigation on Jonas’ case.

The former Army chief admitted mentioning the names of Ramon and Mina in an interview conducted by Newsbreak magazine in connection with Jona’s disappearance.

He recounted that when he ordered his men to go around in Bulacan province to check on the background of Jonas, the people they interviewed, who refused to be identified, told them to check instead who Ka Ramon and Ka Mina where.

But, Tolentino said they failed to gather more information that would link Jonas to Ka Ramon and Ka Mina as the people were afraid to talk.

“We made an informal investigation a long, long time ago and that is the only thing that we had. The people are afraid of giving information about Ka Ramon and Ka Mina. It was a blank wall after that,” Tolentino said.

Tolentino said that until after his retirement last August, he has not learned about the true identity of “Ka Ramon” and his relation to Jonas.

Tolentino said he could not recall whether he gave orders shortly before his retirement to investigate whether Ramon and Jonas were one and the same person.

Although he sympathized with the mother and other relatives of Jonas, Tolentino said he could not do anything but to order his men to cooperate with the agencies investigating Jonas case.

He also denied that the Army would resort to abducting people just to neutralize the operation of the New People’s Army (NPA).

“It is not the business of the army to abduct people. Even my car was implicated (in Jonas abduction), maybe those giving the information are doing it in bad faith,” Tolentino added.

Mrs. Burgos’ lawyer Ricardo Fernandez said Tolentino’s is just trying to cover-up for the alleged involvement of his men belonging to 56th Infantry Battalion in the abduction and disappearance of Jonas.

Fernandez noted that Tolentino’s claim that he does not know who Ka Ramon is contradicts Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon that Ka Ramon and Jonas is one and the same person.

The CA’s next hearing on the case is set on May where another army officer Col. Eduardo Año is expected to testify.

Earlier, the CA Former Seventh Division ruled that the testimonies of Tolentino and Año are vital in the resolution of the Burgos case in light of the testimony of Capt. George Ventayen at the hearing held on April 7, 2008 in Baguio City.

Ventayen, the prosecutor in the case of 2Lt. Dick Abletes, testified in executive session on April 7, 2008 in Baguio City on the charges against the latter and his evidence in prosecuting the case.

He admitted that Lt. Abletes has been charged with three violations of the Articles of War for passing off classified information to two members of CPP-NPA.

The prosecution claimed that Tolentino and Año’s testimonies are needed considering that Ventayen has admitted that one of the two members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) who received the working order of battle from Abletes was identified as certain “Liza,” which is the alias of one of three witnesses of the police in the Jonas case.

Mrs. Burgos said that Liza is in fact Melissa Reyes, who was also reported missing on April 28, 2007 at the same time Jonas was reportedly abducted.

Año is the head of the Intelligence Service Group of the Philippine Army mentioned in the Newsbreak article who admitted that Abletes was caught on March 26, 2007 giving classified documents to a member of the CPP-NPA.


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State Supreme Court to Rule on Same-Sex Marriage

by Rene Villaroman/

LOS ANGELES – Ericson Herbas, a FilAm graphic artist originally from Makati City, has something in common with lawyers Doreena Wong, a Chinese-American, and Jennifer C. Pizer, a Jewish-American. All of them are currently in a same-sex relationship. In a few weeks – late May or early June – a ruling by the California Supreme Court on the issue of marriage equality will have an impact on the lives of these three Californians. Depending on which side the SC ruling tilts, it would spell either the end of their quest or a validation of a shared advocacy.

On September 27, 2007, a team of Asian American attorneys and advocates in Los Angeles and San Francisco filed a legal brief with the State Supreme Court in support of equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples. Two of those lawyers were Doreena Wong and Jennifer C. Pizer, who have been in a same-sex relationship for fourteen years.

The amicus (friend of the court) brief was filed in the consolidated Marriage Cases currently pending with the state SC. These consolidated cases are historic lawsuits urging the California courts to end the exclusion of loving and committed samesex couples from marriage. These couples have asked the courts to “hold that the State’s current law denying lesbian and gay persons the freedom to marry violates the Constitution’s guaranty of equality.”

The amicus brief also had sought to support basic fairness for same-sex couples and their families, drawing from the Asian community’s own past struggle with marriage discrimination in the State of California.

“One of the hallmarks of California’s legal history is that there were explicit laws in the State – just about one hundred years ago – that specifically singled out Asian immigrants for discrimination,” said Karin Wang, Vice President for Programs of Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) at a press briefing on Tuesday, April 22.

The reason for that, according to Wang, was that in the past, California employed predominantly Asian immigrants – men who were brought to California as laborers: Filipinos, Chinese, Koreans and Japanese, who worked in the fields and in railroad construction. “There was a fear of Asians marrying white women and having children that were not white,” Wang said.

Lawyer Jennifer C. Pizer, Senior Counsel at Lambda Legal, said that it was very inspiring to be a part of this historic advocacy to rewrite California marriage laws, but she was cautious about making a prediction how the State SC ruling would go down. She offered four scenarios: “We will win because the SC judges would agree that the state’s marriage law violates the constitution of the State of California,” Pizer offered. “Number two: The State SC would say there is a violation and rule that the State legislature rectify the error, like what Massachusetts did in 2003 and 2004. We hope that this logic would influence the Legislature to rectify the error.”

The third scenario would be that the state SC decides the state Constitution should grant equal rights and responsibilities to same-sex couples and let the Legislature find a way to amend the state constitution; and the fourth would be that the state SC rules the Constitution should guaranty equality, but may propose a ballot initiative to be approved by California voters.

Pizer said that there are some ultra-conservative groups in the state that are working to put an initiative in the November elections. “They have been working since 2004 to get enough signatures, but Californians are not particularly interested to get this issue in a ballot measure,” Pizer said. “The big question mark is whether they (the ultra-conservatives) could muster enough signatures.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a moderate conservative, had announced he would not support it. “It would require a lot of work,” Pizer admitted.

“People don’t understand domestic relationships,” said Doreena Wong, Co-Chair of Asian Pacific Islander Equality LA ( “Legal recognition means that we will be accepted and publicly acknowledged,” she said. “When we (Jennifer) and I bought a house together, my father wanted to make sure that the house had two separate bedrooms,” Wong related.

Ericson Herbas immigrated to the US at age 11. “I discovered that I was different at 16, living with a Filipino Catholic family in Daly City,” Herbas said. He has moved down to Los Angeles and works as a graphic designer with Latham and Wetting Law Office in Los Angeles and a Board Member of Gay Asian Pacific Support Network (GAPSN).

“When my mom asked me, ‘Are you gay?’ I said yes!” Herbas recalls. “My father cried and did not talk to me for three weeks,” Herbas said, recalling how his sexual orientation got discovered. “I was afraid of getting kicked out because I was only 19 then,” he said. “Father said that we should stick together because we are a small family, and my mother said ‘you’re my son and I love you’. What big relief,” he blurted.

Herbas told Asian Journal that he had started dating again, three years after he moved down to Los Angeles, leaving a boyfriend in San Francisco. “I sometimes underestimate my parents and how they can be very understanding,” Herbas said.

Says Andy Marra, a transgender and Media Strategists of Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD): “This is not just a gay issue; this is also an Asian American issue. Nationwide, there are 38,000 Asian Pacific samesex households.”


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US Senate Approves FilVet Equity Bill

by Joseph Pimentel/

WASHINGTON DC – The US Senate Thursday voted to pass S. 1315, the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007, a bill that also provides for Filipino World War II veterans to receive equity veterans affairs (VA) pension.

The Senate overwhelmingly voted in favor of S. 1315 by a vote of 96 to 1. The lone dissenting vote came from Sen. David Vitter (R-LA).

“The Filipino veterans of World War II fought bravely under U.S. military command, helping us win the war only to lose their veteran status by an Act of Congress. I commend my colleagues for supporting those veterans who stood with us,” said Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee after the vote.

“I am also very pleased that the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007 can finally move forward,” said Akaka. “This bill makes needed improvements to veterans’ benefits by expanding and increasing support for veterans, their families, and their survivors.   I urge my colleagues in the House to act swiftly on this much needed bill.”

S. 1315 is a bill that would enhance life insurance benefits for disabled veterans, burial allowances and housing grants, and provides for $221 million in new pension benefits for Filipino WWII veterans. There are less than 18,000 surviving Filipino WWII soldiers, 13,000 of which still reside in the Philippines.

The historic vote comes three days after the Senate motioned to invoke cloture on the bill and nine months since the bill moved out of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs committee. The Senate had 30 hours to debate the bill, a time that most pundits close to the situation felt Republicans were going to negotiate with Democratic leaders for a compromise regarding the “special pension compensation” for Filipino WWII veterans still residing in the Philippines.

Under S. 1315, veterans residing in the Philippines would receive a smaller pension than those residing in the US to account for differences in cost-of-living in the two countries.

Akaka proposed that single Filipino WWII veterans residing in the Philippines would be eligible for an annual payment of $3,600 ($300 a month) and married veterans would be eligible for $4,500. The annual payment for surviving spouses would be $2,400, according to the Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate of the S. 1315 bill. Filipino WWII veterans residing in the US would receive the same wages as their American counterparts.

Pundits expected Senate Republican leaders to offer an amendment to the bill to lower the $300 monthly rate for Filipino veterans residing outside the US to $150 or $200.

However, there was no compromise. During the Thursday morning session, Ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Richard Burr (R-NC) proposed an amendment to S. 1315 that would have eliminated any type of VA pension to Filipino WWII veterans residing in the Philippines and deflect the money to other VA programs.

“An individual [veteran or survivor] who resides outside the United States shall not, while so residing, be entitled to a pension,” read an excerpt of the proposed amendment. The Senate struck down Burr’s amendment by a vote of 41 to 56. The bill now moves to the House of Representatives.


“The Senate has just made a huge, historic step forward for Filipino WWII veterans,” said Ben De Guzman, the coordinator of the National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE) to the Asian Journal from Washington D.C. “Now, it’s up to the House [of Representatives] to do their part.”

For the past year, Congressman Bob Filner (D-CA) has maintained that he would not introduce his version of the Filipino Veterans Equity Act to the US House of Representatives until the Senate passed their version.

Now that the Senate did their part, it’s a matter of adopting the Senate version of the bill as the House version, said De Guzman.

“Akaka has made it easier for Filner,” said De Guzman. “Filner just needs to adopt the Senate version so there won’t be any complications.”

Executive Director of the American Coalition of Filipino Veterans (ACFV) Eric Lachica agrees with De Guzman. Both men are cautiously optimistic about the future of the Filipino WWII veterans’ bill.

Lachica said that proponents of the FilVet Equity bill should be worried about what President George Bush, who is against the bill, will do if it comes to his desk. Bush has veto power. He and other Republicans feel that the money reserved for Filipino veterans outside the US would be better served to help American soldiers.

“Bush did mention that he would not veto the bill,” said Lachica. “He promised [Philippine] President [Gloria] Arroyo last year that if the bill passes the Senate and the House, he would sign it into law. Let’s see if he lives up to that promise.”

Lachica said that another important person to consider is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“We need her on board to fully support the bill,” he said.

De Guzman said that now that the bill is moving forward, it’s time for proponents of the bill to “take a deep breath and thank their elected officials.”

“Thank and fax all of your elected officials,” he said. “Write them, fax them, call them, and thank them for all of their support. Once you’re finished, there’s still more work to do. We want this to go all the way.”



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FilAm Kids Wow ‘Dancing with the Stars’ Judges

by Joseph Pimentel/

LOS ANGELES – The latest FilAm wunderkinds put on their dancing shoes on last Tuesday’s episode of Dancing with the Stars.

FilAm kids, 10-year-old Jaryd Farcon and eight-year-old Cara Abaya Campos performed the popular ballroom dance step the chacha to the music of Bruce Channel’s Hey! Baby in front of millions of viewers on ABC’s hit dance show.

In their one-minute dance set, these pint-sized ballroom dancers strutted their stuff with rapid hip movement, splits, and exaggerated facial impressions, a must in every ballroom dancer’s arsenal. Afterwards, all three judges were impressed by the performance and asked the young couple to come back.

“Jaryd, your hip action,” said Judge Bruno Tonioli. “You could teach some of our professionals.”

“Cara, you’re only eight years old and you’re dancing like a 40-year old hot mama,” added Judge Carrie Ann Inaba.

“Sharp, crisp leg action, fabulous hips, beautiful Cuban break, the whole package. It was fantastic,” said head judge Len Goodman after the performance.

These kids are not your ordinary elementary school students. During the past year, Jaryd and Cara have performed on NBC’s Today Show and won talk show hosts Maury Povich’s “Most Talented Kids” competition.

Jaryd and Cara both from the East Coast have been dancing together for more than a year. They have been competing in national and international competitions, according to Cara’s mom Irene Campos, who recently spoke with the Asian Journal about their accomplishments.

Irene said that since the two young kids have been performing together they’ve won first or second place in a number of competitions in their divisions. This year alone, Cara and Jaryd have won two second place trophies in the USA Dance Championships Nationals, 1st Place in the Teddy bear – JIVE division at the Le Classique in Montreal, Canada; and a first and second place award in the Manhattan Dancesport Regional in New York.

“I’m so proud of these kids,” said Irene. “They really work hard and compete to be the best.”

The Dancing with the Stars Junior 10-and-under age group competition began this year. During last Tuesday’s competition, Jaryd and Cara bested their opponent 10-year-old Dmitriy Slobodskiy and Michelle Kaplansky for a chance to come back again.

ABC Dancing with the Stars producers have asked the young FilAm couple to perform again on the show sometime in May, according to Irene.


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The GSIS E-Card System Controversy: A Faulty Pension System

By Joseph Pimentel/

(First of Three Parts))

LOS ANGELES – Dolores is fed up with the technological problems plaguing the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) E-card. Four years ago, the GSIS implemented a new policy that required retired government employees and their survivors to register for an E-card to receive their monthly pension.

It’s almost been a year since Dolores signed up. She said she has not received anything. The GSIS is the Philippines provider of social security benefits for government employees and their survivors.
“No pensioners who got the e-card here in the US have received any single cent from the GSIS,” said Dolores. “We don’t know what the [Philippine] government is doing with our money.”

At 68 years old, she should be basking in her golden years. But she finds herself stuck in a rut. She did not want to use her full name for fear of reprisal.

She said that her husband worked for the Philippine government for more than 20 years and served as an accountant in the City of Manila. Her husband passed away several years ago leaving her with his pension from the Philippine government.

Since his death, Dolores moved in with her daughter in Southern California. She relies on the small pension her husband left her to send money back home to her family in the Philippines.

“Every penny counts,” she said. “I still want to send money back home to my sons in the Philippines.”

She tried contacting the GSIS office in Manila. Her calls went unanswered. She vented her concerns to the Philippine Consulate in Los Angeles but when she arrived, she realized that she was not alone in her gripes.

Nationwide, pensioners have been complaining about their social security benefits. There are almost 5,000 retired Philippine government employees and survivors residing in the US, many of whom are in their twilight years.

“You only have to go to the PhilConsulate office and hear the frustrations of all the pensioners who have to travel to Los Angeles and be disappointed all the time,” she said. “These pensioners are all old. They sit in their wheel chairs and wait hours before they could register for an e-card. And once they get home, they’ll find out there’s no money for them.”

The E-card system

In 2004, GSIS President and General Manager Winston Garcia upgraded to the e-card for a more convenient disbursement of pensions. For years, the GSIS had issued checks but problems plagued this system. Some pensioners would move and not update their address. Others passed away but friends, family and relatives would continue to cash in the deceased persons checks. Some checks would be lost in the mail.

The E-card made sure that these problems are addressed especially on the issue of fraud.

“It would also generate savings on expenses for supplies and materials, such as those for vouchers and checks, postage and even on personnel cost,” said GSIS Vice President Enriqueta Disuanco to the Asian Journal in an overseas phone call. “The E-card is a safer, easier, and more effective way for pensioners worldwide to receive their money at their local bank.”

The E-card works like an ATM debit-card. Every month, the GSIS deposits money into the pensioner’s account. The pensioner could get cash in any bank or ATM machine with a Visa logo.

The GSIS requires that the pensioner to sign up initially and renew their membership every year at a local kiosk. However, there are only seven GSIS kiosks in the US – Hawaii, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and Washington DC.

Worse, for many pensioners in the US whose average age is 75, getting to a kiosk is a physical and costly challenge.

Not really hassle-free

Virgilia Rivera of Miami, Florida found out the hassle when she and her mother had to fly to New York to enroll for an e-card and collect back payment from her previous pension checks.

Her mother Eufrocina Namilit, 85,  a former schoolteacher who had been receiving her monthly pension normally since the 1980’s until the placement of the e-cards in 2006.

“It’s ridiculous. They stopped sending my mother’s check without notifying us,” said Rivera in a phone call to the Asian Journal from the South Florida Consulate office. “I have tried contacting the GSIS, they don’t answer any of our calls, or it’s busy or we’re placed on hold only to never hear from them.”

A friend informed her of the GSIS new policy of registering for an e-card.

Rivera said she flew with her mother to New York to sign up for an e-card. She spent more than $2,000 for airfare for both of them, hotel stay and transportation to and from the Consulate. Rivera’s mother is also wheelchair bound and “fragile.”

“My mom can’t stand the cold weather,” said Rivera. “She’s too old to be traveling.”

Rivera, a healthcare official in Miami, said that when she arrived at the New York Consulate office the large number of pensioners waiting in line surprised her. She saw that many pensioners were wheelchair bound and some carried oxygen tanks.

“They would wait early in the morning and stay for the whole day to try and register,” she said.

Rivera collected her mother’s previous pension check – $1,000 not enough to cover their expenses of registering.

“The worst part is once we got my mother’s e-card in the mail, it was the wrong picture, her name was misspelled and the card had the wrong account number,” said Rivera.

“I’m writing a letter to the Philippine embassy about this mess,” said Philippine Consulate of South Florida Honorary Consul General Angelo Macatangay, who had been speaking with Rivera about the situation. “We do not want this to happen to any retired Filipinos.” (

(To be Continued)


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Charice to Appear on Oprah

by April Tiamzon/

NEW YORK – Mark your calendar because on May 12, 2008, Filipina singing sensation Charice  Pempengco will share her talent to US audience anew in the Oprah Winfrey Show.

There is no stopping the 15-yearold diva. A video on YouTube has been showing teasers of her upcoming appearance on Oprah. The exact date, however, was revealed only on Thursday.

The upcoming episode where Charice is set to appear showcases children with amazing talents. The special performances will feature gifted children ballroom dancing, playing the drums, guitar, and even pointing cities on a World Map.

The upcoming episode where Charice is set to appear showcases children with amazing talents. The special performances will feature gifted children ballroom dancing, playing the drums, guitar, and even pointing cities on a World Map.


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Asia’s Top Airlines See Filipinos as ‘Significant Market’

By Cynthia De Castro/

LOS ANGELES – More and more Filipinos are traveling the world over and this has made them a “significant market” in the global airline industry.

“We recognize the significance of the Filipino market in the airline industry that is why we have daily flights to Manila and Cebu,” declared Tony Tyler, the Chief Executive Officer of Cathay Pacific during the recent LA press conference of Oneworld, the world’s leading quality airline alliance.

The CEO of Japan Airlines, Haruka Nishimatsu, echoed the same sentiment when he stated at the same event in the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Marina del Rey last week that the “Filipino market is very important” and JAL recognizes “the value of Filipinos” in their corporate strategy.

Major increase in international and domestic travels

Recent surveys substantiate the Filipino market’s value in the airline industry. In the second half of 2007 Travel report by MasterCard Worldwide, the Philippines ranked in the top 5 in outbound travel across Asia Pacific. The report anticipated an increase in year-on-year growth in the volume of outbound air travel in the Philippines (5.7 percent), Australia (5.6 percent), Indonesia (5.6 percent), Hong Kong (4.9 percent), and New Zealand (2.1 percent).

But the most recent report by MasterCard (2008) has even increased the forecast for the Philippines outbound travel to a 5.9% year-on-year growth, expecting 1.3 million Filipinos traveling outside of the country in the first six months of 2008.

The increase in the number of airborne Filipinos is not just confined to outbound travelers. Recent industry data reveal that the air travel within the Philippines is the third fastest growing market in the world, after India and Mexico. The country’s domestic air travel market grew by 23 percent with almost 10.4 million Filipino travelers in 2007 compared with 8.5 million passengers in 2006.

Hawaiian Airlines now flies to Manila

Noting the considerable growth of the number of Filipinos traveling to and from the Philippines, another international airline has taken a major corporate move targeting the market. A few days ago, Hawaiian Airlines made its first flight to Manila, marking their first route to Asia in their 79-year history. The maiden flight launched the first of four weekly nonstop flights to Manila.

The president of Hawaiian Airlines, Mark Dunkerly, was excited with the company’s new flights to Manila.  “ We think there’s going to be a growing economic relationship between the state of Hawaii and the Philippines,” he added.

Filipinos in North America- major market

A considerable number of Filipino air travelers visit North America.

For the US inbound travelers, most of the Filipino visitors go to California. In 2006, of the 154,000 Filipino visitors, 69%, or 105,000 visited California. These Filipinos tended to center their trip itineraries on the major cities of Los Angeles (69%), San Francisco (48%) and Anaheim (11%).

For the US outbound Filipinos, a majority of them travel to visit the Philippines. The Philippine Department of Tourism estimates an average of 1 million balikbayans visit the country every year, most of them coming from the US. And this number continues to increase with 80,000 Filipinos migrating to the US yearly, adding to the current 4 million Filipinos in America.

Another country in North America with a substantial number of Filipino travelers is Canada. Last week, Statistics Canada reported that the country’s  “visible minorities” now number more than five million due to the huge influx of Asian immigrants, coming mostly from China and the Philippines.

Cathay Pacific CEO Tony Tyler took note of this highly profitable market stressing that  “The Filipino market in our North America routes is specially important to Cathay Pacific”.

Tyler, who admitted that he feels a special attachment to the Philippines having lived there for a time while working in the Cathay Pacific Manila office, said Cathay is enhancing its services to better serve its Filipino passengers, continually offering promotions and special offers to attract and satisfy its market.

“For our Filipino passengers- like our other passengers, we give very, very good rates -from first class to economy. Cheap rates compared to others, “ said Tyler.

More Filipina Flight Attendants

Perhaps another recognition of the Filipinos’ contribution to the airline industry is the move of several airlines to include Filipina flight attendants to their cabin crew.

Haruka Nishimatsu, the CEO of Japan Airlines, highlighted the fact that the JAL Group recognizes the value of Filipinos in their corporate strategy as demonstrated by recent major corporate moves taken by its subsidiary JALways Co. Ltd.

In what Nishimatsu calls a “unique project”, JALways has recently employed 20 Filipina flight attendants and opened a training center in Manila.

JAL Manager for Public Relations, Stephen Pearlman, reported why the JAL Group took the unprecedented move involving the Filipinos. “We recognize the Filipinas’ excellent bilingual skills, their very hospitable nature, and their innate warm and caring service. This is why the JAL Group decided to hire a big number of Filipinas,” said Pearlman,

“We are confident that the Filipinas can further enhance our service. They will surely give our passengers the JAL brand of care and attention and maintain our high standards of service, “Pearlman added.

Another airline, Atlasjet Airlines, Turkey’s leading private airline company, also recently recruited 56 Filipina flight attendants for their operations in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The Filipinas underwent a three-week training program and were assigned to service domestic flights in Saudi Arabia.

With all these significant developments in the travel industry, RP President Arroyo has reported the government’s ambitious aim of reaching 5 million tourists by the end of the decade. With ventures such as the opening of a Shangri-La hotel in Boracay and the Manila Ocean Park in 2008, and promoting the country’s ecotourism and medical tourism, the number of Filipino travelers is indeed anticipated to grow at an even more sustained pace in the future.


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