Daily Archives: August 5, 2008

The Guns of August: How history triggered RP’s destiny

by Malou Liwanag-Aguilar/AJPress
Only a few Filipinos think of the month of August as something significant. Besides, it is not as famous as December, the Christmas month, or even Valentine’s Day.
But in reality, this month is filled with events in Philippine history – events that shaped our country to what it is today.

The cry of 1896

In August 19, 1896, the Spaniards learned of the Katipunan movement.  This resulted to a massive capture of many Filipinos.  Because of this, Andres Bonifacio and his fellow Katipuneros tore their cedulas, or residence certificates in August 23, signifying the termination of their loyalty to Spain.  “Long live Philippine independence!” they all shouted, during their preparation for battle, marking the day as the historic Cry of Balintawak.

On August 26, Bonifacio led the Katipuneros in their first encounter with the Spanish civil guards.  Due to strong forces and large presence of the Filipino troops, the Spaniards retreated.  However, in the end, the Filipinos lost the battle when the Spaniards came back with a larger number of fighters and stronger ammunition.

The Cry of Balintawak is regarded as the starting signal for the Philippine revolution.  Bonifacio and the Katipuneros paved the way for other Filipinos to realize that under the rule of the Spaniards, we are not free.

Aside from giving expression to the Filipinos’ desire for a unified nationality, the Katipunan was also the origin of that national symbol that today flies beside the Stars and Stripes – the tri-color of the Filipino people.

Dark times in a dictatorship

It started as the Liberal Party’s campaign rally to proclaim the candidacies of eight senatorial bets as well as the candidate for the mayoralty race in Manila.  The rally was held at Plaza Miranda, in the district of Quiapo, on August 21, 1971.

As a crowd of about 4,000 gathered, two hand grenades were reportedly tossed onstage.  This resulted to death of nine people, injuring 95 others, including political leaders Jovito Salonga, Liberal Party president Gerardo Roxas and Sergio Osmena, Jr., son of former President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Sergio Osmena, Sr.  Salonga was among those seriously injured, leaving him blind in one eye and deaf in one ear.  Ramon Bagatsing, the Liberal Party mayoralty candidate for Manila, lost his leg.

Suspicions fell upon incumbent President Ferdinand Marcos, although in later years, prominent personalities associated with the event have pointed the blame on the Communist Party of the Philippines under Jose Ma. Sison.  Sison continues to deny these claims today.  For Marcos’ part, also blamed the communists, citing a communist plot to destabilize the government.  He took the opportunity to seize emergency powers, suspending the writ of habeas corpus, a prelude to declaring Martial Law, which was considered one of the dark times in Philippine history.

From Aquino’s assassination to People Power

Who would have thought that one man’s death can create such impact on a nation shrouded by the leadership of a dictator?  Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino was, like Marcos, a consummate politician.  If Martial Law had not been declared in 1972, he would have probably defeated Marcos.   Instead, he was one of the first to be jailed when Martial Law was imposed.

Aquino was allowed to go to the US for medical treatment in 1980.  Accompanied by his wife, he became a major leader of the opposition in exile.  On August 21, 1983, in spite of knowing the dangers, Aquino went home to the Philippines.   He was shot in the head and killed as he was escorted off the plane.  The government’s claim was that he was the victim of Rolando Galman, a lone communist gunman, who was conveniently killed after the alleged shooting.    This again, casted suspicion on the Marcoses.

But Aquino’s death became the Marcoses biggest opponent – his funeral drew millions of mourners in the largest demonstration in Philippine history.  Aquino became a martyr who focused popular indignation against the dictatorship regime.  The outcome became disastrous for Marcos – his government was overthrown with the People Power movement in February 1986, better known as the EDSA Revolution.  This also marked a first in Philippine history – the first woman president, Corazon Aquino who is also Ninoy’s wife.

August then holds many milestones in Philippine history – the cry for freedom, the start of a number of revolutions, and sacrifices of those who believe that our country deserves a place not only in history, but in the world.


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Summer Lovin’ in the Big Apple: the Morimoto Experience

by Momar Visaya/AJPress
There are almost 20,000 dining establishments in the city of New York, according to the area’s Health Department. The number is more than enough to eat at one restaurant a day without going to the same place twice for one, two or even ten years. They range from the greasy diner on the corner to the high-end Michelin-rated restaurant.
There are cheap restaurants, where you can go for a decent meal for less than $10, and usually these cater to the office workers who flock to Manhattan every day. There are also the moderately-priced restaurants, including some national chains where you can get an entrée for less than $20.

And then, there are the high-priced restaurants, those whose owners are either celebrities, celebrity chefs or sports personalities. For us regular people, a high-priced restaurant is one that charges $40 a meal and up. And yes, that is per person.

For the past few years, the city of New York has been celebrating fine dining in its numerous restaurants during the Restaurant Week, a bi-annual event that food hounds look forward to. During the event, restaurants offer prix-fixe menus for lunch and dinner at an affordable price of $24.07 for lunch and $35 for dinner. By affordable, we mean way cheaper than the restaurants’ regular price.

This summer’s Restaurant Week started last week, and will end this week. A friend invited me to Morimoto last week and just couple days later, another friend requested my company at the same restaurant. I was so enthralled by what I had a couple of days earlier that I decided to go again. Never mind the $40 plus dining tab.

Morimoto is the eponymous restaurant of Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, located in the bustling meatpacking district of Manhattan, a few blocks away from the Chelsea neighborhood. Diners enter a building through some unassuming red curtains, and once inside, you get transported into a modern and chic place. A wall of glass bottles acts as a centerpiece and adds some edginess to the already elegant place, a stark comparison to the humble and industrial neighborhood.

Morimoto, during the Restaurant Week, offers a three-course prix-fixe lunch with a choice of the house miso soup or mixed-greens salad with kabosu vinaigrette, plus any one of the four entrees [angry chicken, Chef Morimoto’s sushi selection, braised black cod and beef gyudon] and a dessert sampler.

In my first visit, I had the salad and the braised black cod, and ordered extra miso soup, which was served on a huge bowl. Now, hands down, I can say that this was the best braised black cod I’ve ever had in my life. Seriously. I am a big fan of chilean sea bass because I love its buttery consistency and I was pleasantly surprised to get that same melt-in-your-mouth feeling while eating this black cod.

It was so sublime.

Hours after eating this lunch, I was still enjoying the experience of cutting through the soft and flaky flesh of the fish and relishing each bite. The dish was so rich and tasty I had to have rice. So I asked for a small cup, which cost me $5 more on my bill. On regular days, I cross the street from my office on Penn Plaza to this Chinese buffet place which sells meals—a selection of any five of the buffet dishes—for just the same amount.

Going back to the $5 cup of rice, I decided not to compute and just savor the entire experience as a whole. Plus the soup and a small cup of coffee, this lunch totalled to $45, exclusive of tips. Disregarding the bill, I relished my gastronomic experience as priceless.

Aside from my previous experience with the place, there are still three entrees I had to try, and so I confirmed to lunch with another friend at Morimoto again.

There were four of us and as if we planned it, we ordered each of the entrée. The waiter, who did not up sell to us like the previous waitress, said that it was the first time that a table of four ordered all the four entrees. I was happy, I had the opportunity to have a taste of the other two.

I ordered the beef gyudon, which is basically strips of beef sirloin with onions on a bed of steamed white rice. Yes, think Yoshinoya. Morimoto’s had a twist though, with fried egg as its topping. Yes, think bibimbap. And that was exactly what my beef gyudon was, bibimbap-style Yoshinoya beef bowl. The only difference was that it was five times more expensive. Teenie tiny regret, I should have ordered the braised black cod again. Probably next time.

My dining companion who ordered the black cod was ecstatic with her choice, as evidenced by her “Ang sarap!” (Delicious!) and “This is so good” statements peppered into our conversation while she enjoyed every bite. She decided to have the dish in all its richness and opted not to order rice. Good decision.

Our two other dining buddies had the angry chicken and the sushi sampler, which had about seven pieces of various sushi plus six pieces of tuna maki. Our waiter explained that the angry chicken was actually grilled chicken marinated in spicy yogurt and served with fried rice noodles. Why it was called such was beyond us and the waiter. The only thing I remembered the waiter telling us was that this chicken was marinated in a mix of coriander, cumin, cardamom, chile powder, black peppercorn, among other spices.

The one who ordered the angry chicken was happy, the one who had the sushi sampler was not. “I’m disappointed. I‘ve had better sushi,” he quipped.

For regular people like us, dining at Morimoto can be a daunting experience. Just a quick look at the appetizers alone—with price tags ranging from $23 (kobe carpaccio or spicy king crab) to $28 (the house specialty toro tartare, which our first waiter tried to up sell us. An appetizer that was more expensive than the three-course prix-fixe? Maybe next time.)—dining at the Japanese resto will make your heart skip a beat.

Thank goodness for Restaurant Week, we didn’t need to spend a fortune just to taste the masterpiece creations of famed celebrity chefs. Maybe someday, when we get richer, spending $32 for a chirashi rice bowl or $36 on seafood toban yaki wouldn’t be such a big deal.

For now, all we have is the exquisite experience of dining in Chef Morimoto’s restaurant. That should tide us over until next season’s Restaurant Week comes.


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Filipino Fireballer: FilAm Baseball Player Espineli

by Joseph Pimentel/AJPress
FILAM Eugene “Geno” Macalalag Espineli is a Giant in more than one way. Standing 6’ 4” the 25-year-old pitching reliever for the San Francisco Giants baseball team is tall for a Filipino, whose average heights are almost a feet short. With that height, you’d think he’s better off as a shooting guard or small forward in a basketball league.

“I was never good in basketball,” he said to the Asian Journal as the Giants were playing the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles.

The tan skin Giant is one of the few Major League Baseball players with Filipino heritage. Along with teammate starting pitcher Tim Lincecum, who is half Pinoy, Chris Aguila formerly of the New York Mets, and Jason Bartlett of the Tampa Bay Rays, there aren’t a lot of Filipinos playing in America’s past time.

It’s a reason why Espineli takes a certain pride of being a full Filipino in the Major Leagues.

“Since I’ve been here, I realized how great it is to be a different culture and different race it just shows that all cultures can play this sport and any sport,” said Espineli.

Baseball’s done a great job of reaching out to all the different cultures, added Lincecum, who dedicated a game to his Filipino grandfather after his passing last year.

“It’s great that baseball’s expanding their horizons and they are all over the world,” he said.

Both Espineli’s parents are from the Philippines. His mother is originally from Lumban, Laguna. He said he’s been to the home country a few times, the last time being when he was 13-years-old.

“I remember the scenery and small villages in the mountains, and the trees and that it was pretty hot when I was there,” he said.

Espineli was born and bred in Houston, Texas. Espineli said he was only one of two Filipinos in his High School. Growing up, baseball was the game the kids played in his neighborhood so naturally he gravitated towards the sport and dreamt about playing professionally in the Major Leagues.

And about two weeks ago, his dream came true.

“This is something that I’ve been working for my whole life,” he said about being called up to play for the Giants.

After playing college baseball for the University of Texas and Texas Christian University, the San Francisco Giants drafted the left-handed pitcher in the 14th round of the 2004 draft.

According to MLB.com, Espineli’s scouting report that year compared him to ex-major league pitcher John Candeleria, a former 20 game-winner and World Series champion. Espineli’s “tall, lanky” frame, side arm delivery and three-pitch combination – a sinking fastball clocked at 89 miles-per-hour, a backdoor curveball and sinking changeup – made him a good draft choice for the Giants.

“My pitching style is about trying to fool the hitter,” said Espineli. “I like to confuse the hitters with what I throw. I don’t throw really fast; my pitches are usually in the high 80’s. I just try to get it [the ball] to sink or slide.”

After a few years in the Minor Leagues as a reliever and starting pitcher, the Giants called up Espineli in mid-July after he posted a 2.06 earned run average with 43 strikeouts in 34 games for the teams Triple A affiliate in Fresno. During his time in Fresno, Espineli also was a Pacific Coast League All-Star and named to the Olympic USA baseball team.

Espineli said he was surprised about being named to the Olympics but opted to stay in the majors to help the Giants playoff run in a wide-open National League West division.

“That opportunity came out of nowhere,” he said about the Olympics. “I would have been definitely proud to represent this country but now I’m in the majors and I’m hoping to stay here as long as possible.”

Now that he’s on the Giants, he’s hoping to contribute to the pitching staff in anyway he can even if it means humiliatingly carrying a Barbie backpack to the bullpen in front of thousands of people to appease the veterans on the team.

Hazing is what veteran’s do to rookies, and Espineli knows it’s not over.

“I know it’s going to get a lot worse in September,” he said.

So far Espineli has played in five games as a reliever for the Giants. He’s pitched 5.2 innings striking out four hitters and allowing two walks. He’s also given up four earned runs but to Espineli, it’s a learning experience.

“Every time I’m out there it’s nerve racking,” he said. “You’re in front of thousands of fans. Everyone back home is going to watch it. It’s exciting but it’s also nervous at the same time.”

He also knows there’s a little added pressure on him being a full Filipino playing in front of a team with a large Filipino fan base.

“It’s great that we have a built in audience especially in the Bay area,” he said. “There’s a lot of Filipinos there. Especially for a country not known to produce a lot of baseball players, it just adds more fans to the sport.”

Espineli said he hopes to stay in the majors for a long time. He also mentioned that one of his goals is to increase the popularity of baseball by hosting baseball camps in the Philippines.

“I definitely plan on going back soon and that’s definitely something I would check out,” he said. “I know it’s not one of the bigger sports there so anything to get a sport like baseball going to a country will be a big deal and something I would definitely look into.”

He advises young FilAms and Filipinos pursuing a career in major league baseball to “keep working on it and eventually you’ll get to the top.”


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US seeks to address domestic worker abuse

by Momar Visaya/AJPress
NEW YORK – The United States Embassy in Manila issued the most A-3 and G-5 visas, accounting for almost 10 percent of the total number of these visas issued overseas during this period, according to a recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
A total of 1,775 A-3 and G-5 visas were issued by the U.S. embassy in Manila from fiscal year 2000 through 2007, significantly more than any other overseas post. Lima, Peru was a far second with 956 visas followed by Jakarta, Indonesia with 910.

A-3 visas are issued to employees of officials from foreign embassies, consulates, or governments while G-5 visas are granted to employees of foreign officials for international organizations, such as the United Nations or the World Bank.

The report, released Tuesday, July 29, found out that from 2000 to 2007, at least 42 foreigners who arrived in the United States on these special visas said they were abused by their employers who are foreign diplomats with immunity. The report added that because of some other reasons, this number could be significantly higher.

“The total number of alleged incidents since 2000 is likely higher for four reasons: household workers’ fear of contacting law enforcement, nongovernmental organizations’ protection of victim confidentiality, limited information on some cases handled by the U.S. government, and federal agencies’ challenges identifying cases,” the report said.

Ivy Suriyopas, staff attorney at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), agrees that the number is quite low and that the report is “long overdue”.

“I think there is an underestimation on the figures that they released. They gave a conservative figure to make sure that they don’t over report. There are a lot of people who haven’t come forward yet because of numerous reasons,” Suriyopas told the Asian Journal.

Suriyopas, who handles trafficking cases including that of Marichu Baoanan’s, added that the report provided documentation and validated earlier talks about domestic worker abuse.

The report also found that officers at the various posts were “unclear about or unfamiliar with certain aspects of guidance relating to these visas” and that few of the officers were aware that they should inform A-3 and G-5 visa applicants of their rights under U.S. law during their interview.  Some officers at the four posts also were uncertain about the reasons for refusing A-3 or G-5 visas.

GAO analyzed documents, interviewed officials, and conducted fieldwork at four consular posts that issued large numbers of A-3 or G-5 visas. These consular posts were Manila, Philippines; Lima, Peru; Doha, Qatar and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

While the report mentioned the number of visa holders who alleged abuse, it did not provide details of the cases as well as where they happened. These special visas are issued to foreign workers working in the diplomatic community, which is concentrated in New York, Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

The survey said that of the foreign diplomats named in the 42 reports of alleged abuse, 32.5 percent came from Africa, 30 percent were from the Near East, 20 percent were from the Western Hemisphere, 15 percent from Asia and 2.5 percent were from Europe.

A total of 17 out of the 42 incidents alleged by the visa holders were handled by federal agencies. These cases involved human trafficking, visa fraud and wage and hour violation.

This issue is still fresh in the Filipino American community specially since the case of Marichu Baoanan is still pending. Last month, Baoanan alleged that her former employer, ambassador to the U.N. Lauro Baja forced her to work as a domestic worker and not as a nurse as she was made to believe. Baja and his wife were charged with human trafficking.

Trafficking is defined as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, and maintenance of persons for labor and services through force, fraud, and coercion for slavery, servitude, and peonage.

The Department of Homeland Security investigates trafficking allegations and grants T visas to some trafficking victims. These visas allow victims to remain in the United States for up to 4 years, file for permanent residence, and receive certain government services through the Department of Health and Human Services. This was how Baoanan and her family received their T visas.

Baja and his family, through their lawyer Salvador Tuy, have denied all of Baoanan’s allegations.

In 2007, the Department of State reported that some foreign diplomats may be abusing the household workers they brought to the United States on A-3 or G-5 visas. Thus, GAO was asked to determine the number of A-3 or G-5 visa holders who have alleged abuse by foreign diplomats with immunity since 2000, review the U.S. government’s process for investigating these allegations, and assess how State ensures that its policies for issuing A-3 and G-5 visas are implemented correctly and consistently.

“Weaknesses exist in State’s process for ensuring correct and consistent implementation of policies and procedures for issuing A-3 and G-5 visas,” the report said.

The report detailed government efforts to address the abuse of domestic workers by foreign diplomats within the United States but this was not an easy proposition since diplomats in the United States are covered by immunity.

“Law enforcement’s ability to investigate foreign diplomats is limited, particularly if the subject has full immunity or inviolable premises are involved. Diplomats with full immunity have the highest degree of privileges and immunities. They are considered “personally inviolable” and cannot be detained,” the report said.

The diplomats’ residences are inviolable and cannot be entered or searched without their consent, making it harder for investigators specially since abuse of household workers typically takes place in the employer’s residence. According to the report, victims may not cooperate out of fear that the employers will use their political status and connections to harm them or their families or that they will be deported if they leave their employment situations.

The report recommended the collection of records on such allegations, the establishment of an alert system for such violations, and a spot-checking of visas issued to diplomats’ household staff.


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FilAm Muay Thai Fighters Victorious

by Joseph Pimentel/AJPress
LAS VEGAS – FilAm Christine Toledo literally kicked off the night at the World Muay Thai Championships at the Las Vegas Hilton last weekend.
Toledo was one of three FilAm Muay Thai fighters showcased in the card.

As the first Pinoy fighter in the undercard, Toledo used high kicks and several takedowns to best International Kickboxing Federation (IKF) British Flyweight Champion Ruth Ashdown by a unanimous decision in four rounds.

“It was a hard fight,” said Toledo to the Asian Journal. “I expected that. She’s one of the best fighters where she’s from so I thought she had the advantage.”

However, Toledo kicked it up a notch when she heard the number of Filipino fans cheering her on.

“That was my advantage,” she said. “It’s my home town and I received a lot of support. I heard them cheering loudly especially when I came out with the Philippine flag.”

The cheers didn’t stop coming. After Toledo won against her opponent, it was Bay Area native Michael Mananquil’s turn.

The 26-year-old Mananquil defeated Japanese opponent Genki Yamaguchi by a unanimous decision in five rounds.

Mananquil told reporters afterward he was happy about the win but would have preferred a knockout victory.

“I’d have liked to finish the fight, but sometimes it ends up this way,” said Mananquil to an ABS-CBN reporter.

With the win, Mananquil retained the World Boxing Council (WBC) Intercontinental Muay Thai belt.

In the main event, half Mexican half Filipino 24-year-old Shane Del Rosario won the vacant WBC Heavyweight Muay Thai Championship Belt.

Del Rosario knocked out Raul Romero at 1:20 of the second round.



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McOil to go: There’s more to McDonald’s than just burger and fries

by Carmie O. Carpio/AJPress
Manila ’s police force has taken on an extra job: not exactly saving more criminal victims and catching more crooks, but inspiring the whole nation to save energy.
Recently, police officials announced that they are considering converting their patrol cars to run on a mix of 60 percent used cooking oil and 40 percent diesel. The cooking oil will be donated by McDonalds outlets in Makati as well as other restaurants looking to do the same.Through this project, cars plying the Makati financial district will be powered by this money- and energy-saving combination, not the commercial oil they used to rely on for years.

Reports say that one police car has already been converted to use the diesel-used cooking oil mixture and is already running in the streets, a development which has served as a wake-me-up to the government to look into the possibility of converting more vehicles.

Officials believe the success of the project could eventually lead to encourage and stir police headquarters not only in Metro Manila but in the entire country to go through the same conversion.

So next time you witness a police chase along the streets of Manila, think again: the power that runs it is on the side of the environment.

An initiative of this kind is not the first from McDonalds. Last year, the fastfood giant pledged to convert all its 155 vehicles in the United Kingdom through a cooking oil and rapeseed oil combination. McDonalds targets 1,650 tons of carbon saved annually through this oil-saving scheme.

McDonalds does not have a completely impressive environmental record, thanks to criticisms thrown its way over the years. But now, apart from setting aside its large stock of cooking oil to an efficient use, it is also working on other initiatives—such as spanning recycling and packing—for the sake of reducing its carbon emissions.


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Green, mean, electric machine

by Malou Liwanag-Aguilar/AJPress
SAN JOSE, CA – Two worlds came together last Saturday, July 26, in the continued effort to address the issue of climate change. At the San Jose Green Street Car Show organized by New America Media (NAM), the ethnic media was given an opportunity to discuss with panelists the importance of learning how to drive green.

Panelists from the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR), car experts and environmental activitists which include Robert Garzee, Chairman and CEO of Synergy EV, Inc. and Chris Paine, director of the documentary film, Who Killed the Electric Car? They discussed with the media the importance of merging the car industry and the environmental world to bring about the change in global warming.“This is a great way to come together and share new ideas,” said Danny Hernandez, Program Representative and Repair Investigator for the BAR. He was referring to reaching the message across about converting gasoline and diesel vehicles to electric vehicles or EVs.

“People are being innovative in their own backyards,” Hernandez said, pointing out to a yellow and purple Porsche, which was converted by its owner as an EV using the EV kit.

Chris Paine, director of Who Killed the Electric Car?, also had his own views about his film and the movement in “greening” the automotive industry. An award-winning documentary, the film was described by The New York Times as “a murder mystery, a call to arms and effective inducement to rage.” Paine’s film investigates the events leading to the destruction of new, radically efficient electric vehicles.

EVs can run from 40 to 120 miles, depending on the size of batteries. They draw electricity from batteries to power an electric motor to propel the vehicle, generating zero tailpipe emissions and up to 99 percent lower emissions than gasoline and diesel vehicles. It is also seen as answer to reducing America’s dependence on oil.


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