Daily Archives: May 2, 2008

Galing Pinoy: Chito Atienza, New York Teacher of the Year 2008

by Cynthia de Castro/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES – Sonam, a new immigrant in New York from far Tibet, could hardly speak English. To help her adjust to her new environment, she enrolled in a class called ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) offered in the community.

Sonam was lonely and uneasy in the concrete jungle of New York, a world apart from her native Lhasa with its snow-peaked mountains and rivers. Her ESOL teacher, Chito Atienza, noticed Sonam’s sad demeanor in class. A naturally warm and caring person, Chito sat down beside Sonam and engaged her in small talk to put her at ease. He asked her about her family in Lhasa and suddenly, tears filled Sonam’s eyes. The kind teacher affectionately tried to lift up Sonam’s spirits and soon, another Chinese student, Gui Feng, also emphatized with Sonam. Sonam looked up with hope in her eyes and told her teacher and classmate that she’s okay.

For his outstanding work teaching English to new immigrants in New York for more than 20 years, Feliciano Jaime “Chito” Atienza was honored recently by The New York Times Community Affairs Department and the Knowledge Network with the 2008 New York Times ESOL Teacher of the Year Award.

Diane McNulty, executive director for community affairs and media relations of The New York Times, said that “The New York Times is delighted to recognize Mr. Atienza” and all ESOL teachers. “Thanks to their commitment, new immigrants are being given the tools they need to build better lives for themselves and their families, continuing New York’s legacy as the city where everyone has a shot at the American dream,” said McNulty.

Atienza was chosen by a selection committee of distinguished ESOL advocates from The New York Public Library, Queens Library, City University of New York, Brooklyn Public Library and the Mayor’s Office of Adult Education. Now in its second year, the program recognizes ESOL instructors who have consistently gone above and beyond the call of duty to help students learn English and develop the skills needed to create successful new lives in the United States.

A Filipino immigrant, Atienza has worked as an ESOL Teacher with the Queens Library’s Adult Learner–ESOL Program for more than 10 years, and with the YMCA International ELESAIR (English Language & Employment Services for Adult Immigrants and Refugees) Project for 22 years.

He is a compassionate teacher whose classroom is characterized by a healing and empowering concept of “skinship” and trust. He possesses a cheerful “can do” attitude and time-tested skills as a teacher trainor, mentor, test giver and facilitator.

Chito told his story to Asian Journal:

I used to live in Sta. Cruz, Manila before I came to the US. I went to college at the De La Salle University in Manila. I have always been a teacher, working at different Catholic schools in Manila and at Adamson University. My interest in language teaching started with the foreign born students at Adamson. They’re from Thailand, Taiwan, Jordan and some other middle Eastern countries. Then it became more formalized as a skill and a career at the Philippine Refugee Processing Center in Bataan, Philippines. The place became the birthplace of ESL (English as a Second Language).

I came to New York for the first time in 1985 before the EDSA revolution. Since I was already trained at the refugee camp, I applied for a new program under the YMCA, the ELESAIR Project. I’ve been working with the program for more than 20 years. The great thing about my job is that I’ve been a witness to the flow of immigrants to this wonderful city. Refugees from Africa, Russia, Afghanistan, Eastern Europe, and now the Latinos of South America and the Chinese.

One doesn’t feel alienated in a city where most of the residents are from other countries or another state. Everybody comes to work harmoniously with people of different backgrounds, national origin, and other differences. There is some kind of tolerance that permeates in the air that we breathe. And people are happy to share the commonalities that they have.

An admitted workaholic, Chito regrets having forgotten parts of his life in his first five years in New York. “I just kept on working in the late 80’s for five years without a social life and a religious life. It’s like ‘Chito is dead and he’s now living in NY’. Then, I told myself ‘hey…take it easy.. bond once again with family and friends…which I did and yes, even with my spiritual life.”

Bonding with his family means going home regularly to the Philippines because his whole family lives there. “I am the only one here. I usually go back to the islands every year. I often visit my parents’ hometown in Lumban, Laguna. Last year I went to Boracay with family and friends— it was fantastic. Shopping is fabulous. We have the best shopping malls in the whole world- Market, Market, Mall of Asia, Tiendesitas, SM, National Bookstore!”

Chito can’t stop gushing about the pleasures of going home to the Philippines. “Foods to die for – pandesal with quesong puti or adobo, fried hito and adobo wrapped in banana leaves. Oh, the cuisine of Manila is something else! “

When in New York, Chito loves to hang out at Barnes and Noble bookstore, in Central Park, Vinieros in the East Village and Cafe de la Artiste in the West Village.

“Or, sometimes I just sit down on a nice day at Washington Square, read a good book and wait for Anna Bayle to go out of her apartment and admire her legendary cat walk. Lots of places you can hang out here,” Chito said.

Atienza admits that he learns a lot from his students too. “My personal hope for peace and goodwill are played out in my classroom everyday. Roles are often reversed. My students become my teachers. They teach me that hope springs eternal, even on political humanitarian issues that even the UN can’t resolve,” he says.

With the ESOL award came fame, as Chito has been deluged with interviews from media. But he is careful to take it all in stride and give the glory to God. He stressed to Asian Journal, “I am the ESOL of 2008 but there is a greater Teacher of all times. And from Him I draw my most important teaching and learning methodologies. His name is Jesus. For me, this great Teacher is the embodiment of hope, trust, and above all of love and compassion. I thank Him for being my role model. He said in John 4:34. ‘My food is to do the will of the One who sent me and to finish His work.’ And that has guided me as a teacher. “

Atienza now looks forward to do something for his homeland. “My future plan is to create projects with the Department of Education in the Philippines that would foster teacher exchange or perhaps student exchange as well to promote immersion in language and culture. I still have to sit and write some kind of a proposal about this,” he stated.

Chito believes teaching is his purpose for being.”I will always be a teacher, an ESOL Teacher. Long after my reign as the NY Times ESOL Teacher of the Year, you will still find me in the safe haven of my immigrant dream, doing the will of the Great Teacher who sent me to continue His work among the New Americans in NYC,” said New York’s Best ESOL Teacher.



Filed under FilAm News, Galing Pinoy

FilAms Call for Immigration Reform

by Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES – FilAm Mike Pedro waved a Philippine flag as he marched down Broadway Street in Downtown, Los Angeles.

Wearing a white MIWON (Multi-ethnic Immigrant Workers Organizing Network) shirt that read “Filipinos for Genuine Immigration Reform,” the outreach specialist for Search to Involve Pilipino Americans wanted it to be known that Filipinos are just as involved with the immigration issue as their more highly publicized Latino counterparts.

“I don’t think a lot of people know that undocumented Filipinos are also under attack,” said Pedro standing behind a group of FilAm activists holding a “No Immigrants = No Economy” banner. “They need workers’ rights as well. Most people think that this is just a Chicano, Latino or Mexican American thing, but all different ethnicities [like] Filipinos, Asians, Chinese should be included.”

Pedro was part of a large contingent of FilAms that were part of the estimated 30,000 demonstrators that filled the streets of Downtown Los Angeles calling for comprehensive immigration reform.

The protest was part of a nationwide effort to condemn the increase of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) work-site raids, to demand a path to citizenship for more than 12 million illegal immigrants in the US and to stop the deportations of those swept in the raids. Across the country from San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Washington DC., protestors joined in solidarity.

Filipino groups Filipino-American For Immigration Reform (FAIR), Pilipino Workers Center (PWC) and Gabriela-Network-LA were among the many immigrant groups that joined together for this one common cause.

Strella Cervas of PWC said she’s marching for undocumented Filipinos. As a case manager for PWC, she said there is a rise in the number of Filipinos being swept up by these ICE raids and being deported.

“It’s a very serious issue in our community,” she said. “We’ve seen ICE go into their business and their homes. We had one case where a Filipino was taken as she took the Greyhound bus. She was later deported.”

In 2007, ICE arrested more than 4,077 undocumented workers through nationwide raids, according to its website. It is believed that the number of undocumented Filipinos continue to increase dramatically.

Jollene Levid of Gabriela Network said she was also marching to make people aware of the plight of Filipino immigrant women in the US.

“It makes me feel real good to be part of this,” said Levid. “As the daughter of immigrants, I understand that in order for us to make any change, we not only have to fight in a legal forum but [also] here on the streets.”

Despite the low turnout of protesters compared to last year’s, the groups spirits were high. Three large groups of protestors met in different areas of Downtown LA before converging on Broadway and 7th Street. From there, the groups marched together towards City Hall where a stage was set up.

The mood of the marchers was festive. Like Pedro, many immigrant activists waved flags from their home country. Some had US and Mexican flags, others held up banners that read, “Stop the Raids,” and a majority carried pickets with other immigrant slogans like “My Dream, The American Dream.” The FilAm groups chanted, “Makibaka! Huwag Matakot! (Join the Struggle! Don’t be afraid!).

The smell of bacon-wrapped hot dogs and the sound of party poppers were in the air. Street vendors lined the curb of Broadway and 1st Street anticipating the arrival of the immigrant groups. Children sat on the curb similar to a parade route.

Police officers also made their presence felt. A number of officers marched along with the activists. Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger said that more than 500 LAPD officers were deployed to oversee this event.

Last year, a melee erupted when officers and demonstrators clashed at MacArthur Park, the site of the rally. Because of the disastrous incident, the LAPD had been training for months to prepare for this year’s immigration rally.

“We had a really tough time [last year] and made quite a few mistakes,” said Paysinger. “Since that time there’s been an enormous amount of training…and based upon that we’re going to see a different result.”

As the first batch of immigrant groups marched their way past Spring Street on Broadway toward City Hall, Neil Diamond’s fitting song, “America” blared from the speakers.

Far, we’ve been traveling far… only want to be free. We huddle close. Hang on to a dream. On the boats and on the planes, they’re coming to America. Never looking back again. They’re coming to America.

“The march over here was long,” admits Pedro, who marched for two miles with a group of protestors starting from MacArthur Park. “It was long and hot but it’s well worth it. We have to fight for our brothers and sisters out there.”

Police Chief William J. Bratton told the Asian Journal as the last groups of marchers settled in, that to his knowledge no one had been arrested this year.

“As you could see, the crowd is very orderly, very enthusiastic,” said Bratton. “There have been no problems at all. And there [have been] no arrests made up to this point.”


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ICE Raids Targeting Legit Businesses – Mayor

by Rene Villaroman/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES – Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa joined the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) as the organization released its study on the impact of stepped-up immigration raids on the Los Angeles economy on Thursday, May 1, the UCLA Labor Center near MacArthur Park.

“It is important to look at the situation,” said Jack Kayser, head of the LAEDC. “We are in troubled times.”

The report which took several months to prepare noted that there are 10,000 fashion, food, and furniture businesses in Los Angeles that employ over 495,000 people, earning $18.3 billion a year. The three industries spend roughly $4.6 billion in purchases for sales-taxable goods in the Los Angeles Area – County and City – earn $106 million tax revenues per year from the economic activities related to the fashion, food, and furniture industries.

There are approximately 12 million undocumented people who work and live in the United States, performing some of the toughest and most essential jobs that sustain the economy and put food on the table. Last August, the Bush administration and the US Congress failed to seize a monumental opportunity to reform the nation’s broken immigration system.

“In time of economic downturn and epidemic levels of gang violence, our Federal government has failed adequately to focus its limited resources,” declared Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. “Instead of deporting criminal gang members and going after exploitive employers who violate work hours and safety rules, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are targeting legitimate businesses that provide their employees with living wages.”

The LAEDC report also chronicles the Bush administration’s enforcement strategy, which threaten the “bread and butter” industries in Los Angeles such as fashion and furniture manufacturing.

“There is no denying the fact that contributions of immigrant workers in these industries are both indispensable and irreplaceable,” Villaraigosa noted.

Included in the LAEDC report are economic projections in view of lost jobs and income due to increased raids by ICE. If 15 percent of the LA fashion industry jobs are relocated, a total of 33,600 direct and indirect jobs would be lost in the city of LA and Los Angeles County. The area would also lose $3.5 million in sales tax revenues.

If 15 percent of direct jobs in all three industries are relocated, total jobs lost would be 74,200 and revenue loss to the County and Metro areas would be $8.7 million. LA would lose 38,400 jobs and $3.4 million in sales tax revenues. If 100 percent of direct jobs in all three industries are relocated, total jobs lost would be nearly 500,000 – with more than 255,000 in the city of Los Angeles – and $106 million in tax revenues.

I understand that they (ICE) have a responsibility to implement the laws of this nation,” President and CEO of Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce Gary L. Toebben told the Asian Journal. “That is why my first call today is for comprehensive immigration reform to the United States Congress. My second call is that I would suggest that the ICE use its limited resources to focus on those employers who are clearly taking advantage of undocumented employees by paying them lower wages and not providing employee benefits.”

Mr. Toebben had accompanied Mayor Villaraigosa when they met with Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff to complain about the stepped-up ICE raids on Los Angeles businesses suspected of employing undocumented workers. During that meeting, Chertoff had said, “There will be some unhappy consequences for the economy out of doing this.”

Alexandra Spunt, a Canadian, who works as a brand and marketing manager at American Apparels, Inc., said that they allowed their 4,000 Los Angeles workers to join the pro-immigration march slated later on Thursday.

“We have 7,000 employees around the world, and we are making products that people love,” she announced. “Last year, American Apparels earned $125 million in exports.” She said that her company would open factories in China and Mexico. “We are having a really positive [contributions] on the US economy, and we just want to continue to do what we are doing.”

“Immigrants are here to seek a better life for their families. But if the selective enforcement actions against these legitimate businesses continue, we could see these businesses leaving our city and our country’s shores,” Villaraigosa said.


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The GSIS E-Card System Controversy

by Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES – In an overseas phone call to the Manila-based Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), Executive Vice President of Operations Enriqueta Disuanco acknowledge the problems that their new technology had but said that there’s no turning back.

“The check payment system was just too administratively burdensome,” said Disuanco to the Asian Journal. “It had been subject to a lot of fraud. We had to undergo changes in our designs but even [with] that [change] in the checks, some unscrupulous persons [still] take advantage and cash those checks.”

Disuanco said that in the previous system, the GSIS would issue at least 300,000 pension checks a month and more than 600,000 in December for Holiday ‘cash gifts.’

“Some checks would also get lost in the mail,” she added. “And our pensioners wouldn’t know how many checks they lost. They would become victims of unscrupulous persons.”

As reported for the past few weeks by the Asian Journal, the GSIS implemented a new anti-fraud technology, GW@PS, an e-card registration system to combat the fraud from the previous check distribution system. Pensioners would register by giving a fingerprint for an e-card and receive an ATM-like card. The new system would allow the GSIS to deposit money into a pensioner’s bank account monthly, in turn the pensioners abroad could receive their monies at their local bank ATM. Pensioners would also need to re-register yearly.

“Our mission is to provide our members including the pensioners services anytime and anywhere,” she added. “Since we are computerizing we are promoting a paperless environment and the e-card is the heart of it all.”

But for the past year, this new registration system has become troublesome for many pensioners and Philippine Consulate officials, who with no training have to man the machines.

There are a little less than 5,000 pensioners and pension survivors living in the US. The average age of these pensioners is 68, according to Disuanco. The GSIS has set up an e-card registration system in seven Philippine Consulate locations.

Pensioners living abroad were required to start registering to their local Philippine Consulates last March 2007. However, pensioners have been complaining about the lack of service and placed blame on the Consulate officials. In turn, Consulate officials who have maintained that they are not properly trained to handle the high tech electronic device have thus complained to the GSIS reps in Manila and requested that they send their own representative.

What was supposed to be a convenient way of doing business for the GSIS has become a logistical nightmare. Disuanco said they are fully aware of the problems and are working hard to remedy the situation.

“These problems have been brought to our attention,” she said.

She said that they have new technology that they are testing in the Philippines, including a voice biometric system. Under this new technology, pensioners would just need to call the GSIS to re-register their e-card to continue to receive their pension, eliminating the hassle of physically going to the consulate office.

She also said that many problems with the e-card are the pensioner’s own fault.

“When we were investigating these cases, we found that pensioners failed to activate their account, some have mismatches in their ID’s so we had to make corrections and adjustments and the new data has not been updated.”

She said the GSIS is also working closely with Consulate officials to inform pensioners of new procedures and to work hand in hand with the Consulate official manning the kiosk.

Many Consulate officials have asked the GSIS to house a GSIS representative to man the kiosk permanently to serve the pensioners.

Disuanco said that the GSIS sent out a proposal to the Philippine Consulates that they would pay the current official monitoring the kiosk.

“We want them to give consideration to our proposal. We cannot provide a GSIS personnel to man the kiosk,” said Disuanco. “We believe there are only a few pensioners abroad who have not signed up for an e-card.”

Consulate officials that this reporter has spoken with dismiss that there was ever a proposal from the GSIS.

“If there is one, I’d like to see it,” said a high ranking Philippine Consulate official, who did not want to be named due to fear of reprisal.

Disuanco continued saying that the GSIS also revamped their IT department and are now closely monitoring their customer service staff. She said the GSIS implemented a new policy, in which the executives and customer support staff must respond or remedy within ten days of receiving a complaint or “face administrative penalties.” She did not elaborate the penalties.

She assured that those who have not received their pension this past year will be credited with back pay. Pension survivors will have to wait a little longer, according to Disuanco.

“The survivorship has not been credited for their e-card because only 60 percent have only enrolled in their e-cards,” she said. “We need at least 80 percent until we can credit them.”

Disuanco finished the conversation by saying that the e-card is here to stay.

“We are committed to providing our pensioners all the benefits that are due them,” she said. “And while we have been receiving a lot of complaints, we are dong everything possible so that we can resolve all of their issues.” (www.asianjournal.com)

(Pensioners or survivors still having difficulties may e-mail the special GSIS e-mail pension@gsis.gov.ph or Enriqueta Disuanco edisuanco@gsis.gov.ph)


Filed under FilAm News, Homeland, News

SC Declares Illegal Transfer of Funds from DILG to OP

by Joel Roja/Asianjournal.com

MANILA – THE Supreme Court has unanimously affirmed the findings of the Commission on Audit (COA) which held former Interior Secretary Cesar Sarino and four other officials “civilly and criminally liable” for the illegal transfer of funds from the DILG to the Office of the President in violation of the constitutional provisions.

Aside from Sarino also held liable were former Undersecretary Andres Sanchez, former Chief Accountant Leonardo D. Regala, former Director Rafael D. Barata and Norma Agbayani, former Chief of the Management Division.

All of the said officials have retired from the service.

“We find no grave abuse of discretion on the part of the COA in rendering  the assailed decision.  The Constitutional body should even be lauded for its commitment in ensuring that public funds are not spent in a manner not strictly within the intendment of the law,” the Court said in a 44–page decision penned by Associate Justice Dante Tinga.

Court records showed that in 1991, Sarino issued a memorandum for the transfer and remittance  to the Office of the President  the sum of P300,000 for the operational expense of a newly created task force to implement  local autonomy.

To augment the project, an additional cash advance of P300,000 was taken from  DILG’s Capability Building Program.

But documents show there was no proper liquidation of the P600,000 cash advance made to one lawyer Hiram Mendoza who was not even an employee either of DILG or the Office of the President.

Resident auditor Iluminada M.V. Fabroa  disallowed the disbursements saying the transfer of funds from DILG  to the Office of the President violated the General Appropriations Act of 1992 (RA 7180) and held Sarino et al “jointly and severally liable for the amount” and directed them to immediately settle the amount.

The COA upheld the findings of Fabroa.  But Sarino justified the transfer, saying it was for a public purpose.

The Court, however, was not convinced as the petitioners failed to cite the specific law and provision which authorizes the transfer of funds.

Congress has given the President, Senate President, House Speaker, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and heads of Constitutional Commissions the “exclusive power” to transfer savings under Sec 25 (5), Art VI of the 1987 Constitution

“The submission that there was a valid transfer of funds within the Executive Department should be rejected as it overlooks the fact that the power and authority to transfer in this case was exercised not by the President but only at the instance of the Deputy Executive Secretary, not the Executive Secretary himself.”

“Even if the DILG Secretary had corroborated the initiative of the Deputy Executive Secretary, it does not even appear that the matter was authorized by the President.  More fundamentally, even the President (Ramos) himself could not have validly authorized the transfer under the Constitution,” the Court noted.

The Court also noted that at the time of the questioned transfer there was no savings in the DILG.

Before a transfer is made, there must be savings in the programmed appropriation of the transferring agency and an existing item.  The Court found out that there were no savings in the DILG at the time of the questioned transfers.

Thus, it declared that the creation of the task force is inconsistent with the mandate of the law as there was no existing item of appropriation which needed to be augmented.

“It is clear that no valid transfer of the Fund to the Office of the President could have occurred in this case as there was neither allegation nor proof that the amount transferred was savings or that the transfer was for the purpose of augmenting the item to which the transfer was made,” the Court said.

“We find that the use of the transferred funds was not in accordance with the purpose laid down by the Special Provisions of RA 7180 (General Appropriations Act).


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Healing Homes for Hurting Moms

by Cynthia de Castro/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES – Jorge Mora was a normal 11-year old boy until several months ago when his mother, Lorenia Ayala, noticed he was becoming weak and pale. They initially thought it was nothing serious. After all, he still loved to play with his younger brothers, Ernesto (9) and Sergio (7). But when his condition steadily deteriorated, the family took him to the doctor. Early this year, Jorge was diagnosed with leukemia, the most common childhood cancer.

“For the past three months, he has been undergoing chemotherapy at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles,” said Lorenia with tears in her eyes. “Next month, he is set for a bone marrow transplantation.”

With their Lancaster home so far from the hospital in LA, Lorenia and Jorge have been living in the Ronald Mcdonald House along Fountain Avenue, very near the Children’s Hospital LA.

The Ronald McDonald House program has provided a “home-away-from-home”  a temporary lodging facility for the families of seriously ill children being treated at nearby hospitals. Since its inception in 1974, there are now more than 276 Ronald McDonald Houses open in 30 countries and regions worldwide, providing more than 6,000 bedrooms for millions of families like Lorenia’s. The rooms allow the families of hospitalized children like Jorge to refresh, relax, rest, shower and sleep in between their visits to the hospital.

In time for Mother’s Day, a newly-built auxiliary property on Lyman Place was opened recently in Los Angeles, a half block from the original in Fountain Avenue. The expansion of the facility added 40 additional hotel-style bedrooms. Together, the two buildings that make up the Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House can provide low cost, often free, lodging to 75 families per night; an increase from the previously accommodated 35-families nightly.

“We’re grateful for this place,” said another mother, Xochil Aguilar, who lives in Orange County but has been in the Ronald MacDonald House for the past 6 months. Her 6-month old baby, Samantha, has been in the Children’s Hospital LA since birth. “Samantha was born with only ½ of her heart developed. She has had two open-heart surgeries already. But, I still can’t take her home because she is now suffering from pneumonia and infection.”

As a special treat for mothers like Lorenia and Xochil, the Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) hosted a memorable event for them April 29. They were pampered during the day with relaxing and rejuvenating massage treatments, spa services, manicure and pedicure, delicious catered food, goody bags, fashion tips, and visits from Celebrity Friends of RMHC Cindy Crawford, Dayanara Torres, June Ambrose, and Tamia.

“It will be very special to watch these incredible mothers take a break, relax, and enjoy the day,” said supermodel Cindy Crawford. “We know that the presence of families helps in the healing process for children. These moms give so much love and support to their children during such a difficult time, and in honor of Mother’s Day, this is a nice way to show our appreciation for all the sacrifices they make for their families each and every day.”

Former Miss Universe Dayanara Torres said “it is such an honor to be with you mothers today. I’m a mom too so I can understand how hard it is to have your child in a hospital bed. Today is your day! Enjoy your day.”


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