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Filipinas in the U.S. Military Smash Glass Ceiling

By Momar G. Visaya

WASHINGTON, DC – Filipinas continue to blaze the trail even in the military, a field traditionally dominated by men.

At the 5th Annual Filipina Summit held at the nation’s capital last week, seven high-ranking Filipina military officers took center stage and shared their stories on how they broke the proverbial glass ceiling in their chosen field.

Capt. Paz Gomez, Deputy Director of Installations Requirements and Management under the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Installations and Environment) led the panel. She is the first woman of color, and the fifth woman overall, to be promoted as captain in the navy.

“We are here to defend our country, but we cannot deny the fact that we are Filipinos, to. Even though we will gladly say we’re Americans, we will also gladly say that we are proud of our Filipino heritage,” Capt. Gomez said.

Capt. Gomez, who was born in Waukegan, Illinois, grew up in a military family.

Her father was recruited into the navy from his hometown in Mendez, Cavite. “He wanted to give his family a better opportunity so he signed up, first as a cook, then a steward. He studied electrical engineering and became an electrician,” Gomez shared.

Growing up in a “typical Filipino family” with seven other siblings, Gomez said that she loved the military lifestyle and that she didn’t mind moving every couple of years.

Her father, once he found out that the navy has opened its doors to women, began bringing navy catalogues home, which he would let the children browse.

Major Rosadel Dominguez Hoffman’s father was also recruited from Cavite when he was barely in his teens. Her decision to join the military years later emanated from the military influence she saw growing up.

“It has been great. I met my husband in the military and I am proud that both of us serve the country,” Maj. Hoffman said.

Col. Rebecca Samson, chief, Troop Support Division, Army G-4 on the other hand, was born in Angeles City and grew up just outside Clark Air Force Base.

“When I was a kid I had a dream. I wanted to join the military and be an officer. I liked the discipline,” Col. Samson shared.

Col. Samson said that she was raised by very strong women, among them her Visayan grandmother and her own mother. “My father was in charge but my mother was the one in control,” she quipped.

As an officer, Samson believes that her devotion to the military and the hard work she provided were crucial to her ascent in the army.

“Once I earned the respect of my superiors and mentors, the minority thing, the woman thing, they were out of the door,” she shared.

Lt. Col. Shirley Raguindin, State Diversity Coordinator & Supervisory HR Specialist (Labor Relations) of the Arizona National Guard began active duty service in the US Air Force where she was commissioned a Second Lieutenant following her graduation.

Under her leadership the Arizona National Guard achieved a 300% increase in Department of Defense and National Guard Bureau nationwide recognition for diversity initiatives in 2007.

“I grew up wanting to serve. I wanted to do more than just what a regular job could offer,” she shared.

Raguindin had a lot of barriers to go through in order to be where she is at right now, beginning with her father who told her that the military is not for women. “That did not deter me from running after what I wanted,” she said.

LCDR (Lieutenant Commander) Christina de Leon, program analyst of the U.S. Coast Guard, was born in Dagupan City, but was raised in various parts of the U.S. as a Coast Guard dependent.

Her family moved from Pangasinan to the U.S. when she was barely three months old when her father was recruited into the coast guard.

“Call it family influence. My father brought home brochures of the coast guard, salary tables and application to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy,” LCDR de Leon recalled.

She applied and eventually got in. In 1994, she graduated with honors with a Bachelor of Science degree in Management.

“I never looked back since then. I am my father’s only girl, the only one among his children who joined the service,” she added.

Davidson honed her craft and took further studies, eventually earning a Master’s in Public Administration degree from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. She is currently assigned as a program analyst at the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, DC.

Major Juliet Beyler recalled that she struggled and did not have good grades when she was in school.

“I was a wayward youth,” admitted Maj. Beyler, who is now the Legislative Affairs Director of the U.S. Marine Corps.

She realized that in order to straighten things out, she enlisted in the military, a decision that distraught her parents. “They almost had a heart attack,” she quipped.

Beyler said she found a home as she grew up in the military. “It was happenstance, but it was the best decision that I made in my life,” she said.

Lt. Lineka Quijano, judge advocate at the U.S. Coast Guard was born and raised in Florida. Her foray into a career in the military happened by accident.

“I was interviewing for a tax job in DC when I stumbled into a Coast Guard recruitment and back then, I had no clue what the Coast Guard did,” she said. Lt. Quijano currently serves as a criminal defense attorney and represents military members at both administrative proceedings and courts martial. (AJ)

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FilAm Talents Shine in The Joy Luck Club

By Momar G. Visaya

NEW YORK – The new production of The Joy Luck Club, a play by Susan Kim adapted from the acclaimed novel by Amy Tan, started its previews this week, with three Fil-Am theater actresses in the main cast delivering stellar performances.

Tina Chilip and Sacha Bayot Iskra play Waverly Jong and Lena St. Clair, respectively, while veteran thespian Lydia Gaston essays the role of Ying Ying, Lena’s mother.

Both Chilip and Iskra, who both worked really hard for their roles, are making their Pan Asian Rep debuts. Both actors recently talked with the Asian Journal to share their thoughts on, among others, Asian American roles and how they landed their parts at The Joy Luck Club.

“I actually auditioned for the role of Jing Mei but the producers thought that I fit Waverly’s role,” Chilip said.
A union actor, Iskra went to the Actors Equity Association and found out about the open call for auditions. “It was kind of intimidating but I went. I got to go in a total of three times,” Iskra told the Asian Journal.

Mahjong

Set in San Francisco in the 80’s, The Joy Luck Club follows four Mahjong playing mothers from different provinces in China and their relationships with their American born daughters. This re-envisioning captures the historical sweep and operatic grandeur of feudal China and the dynamic pulse of modern America.
“Transcending nationality, culture and age barriers, The Joy Luck Club may be the most successful Asian-American fiction of the last quarter-century. It’s an Asian American classic and we would like to introduce it to the new generation of artists and audiences,” said Tisa Chang, who is directing the new production.

The film brought Tan’s story into the consciousness of millions and Susan Kim’s adaptation has brought Tan’s characters to life for audiences in both China and America. Pan Asian Rep mounted its New York premiere eight years ago.

Susan Kim’s adaptation had its world premiere in 1993 in a joint venture between Shanghai People’s Art Theatre and The Long Wharf Theatre in Connecticut. Performed in a Mandarin translation, the production launched in Shanghai before playing Hong Kong.

Chang directed the 1999 New York premiere at Pan Asian Repertory Theatre and the production proved popular with critics and audiences that it was extended to a sustained off-Broadway run at the Julia Miles Theatre, where the new production will also be playing.

Roles

“I have a pretty strong personality and I can be very competitive. She is more like an exaggerated version of me. I don’t have the same relationship that she has with her mom. I am very close to my mom. Waverly is a little bit more snide and competitive,” Chilip said, when asked about her similarities with the role she plays.
Iskra, on the other hand said that it is the respect and awe that her character Lena St. Clair for her mother, along with cherishing the importance of her mother’s opinion and her influence on her life’s choices, as some of the traits she shares with the character she plays.

Born and raised in the Philippines, Chilip moved to the U.S. when she was 19 as a transfer college student. “My mom didn’t want me to come here, she wanted me to just continue my studies at the Ateneo. She thought about it for a year and eventually she agreed,” Chilip shared.

“I’ve always enjoyed watching plays as a kid. I never thought acting would be a career, I thought it was just a hobby and I cannot make a career out of it,” she added.

Iskra, now married to a “wonderful husband” (of Polish descent), was born in the U.S. but her parents made sure that she went to the Philippines very frequently and with that, she became proficient in Tagalog.
Iskra’s father’s family is from Amadeo, Cavite while her mother’s family is from Pagsanjan, Laguna. “I’m so excited to visit them again next year because a cousin is getting married,” she said.

Influence

Back at the Ateneo, Chilip took up Business Management Honors, and she continued her interest in business when she took up and finished commerce at Santa Clara University. In between, she was yearning to act. Eventually, her passion in acting pushed her to enroll in a Masters in Fine Arts degree at Brown University, where she graduated in 2005.

“I was a very, very shy kid and I would hide every time we had visitors. Surprisingly, I have met a lot of other actors who are also very shy and acting is a way of expressing themselves, almost,” Chilip recalled.
Iskra recalled her fascination with acting started when she was 5, but her mother didn not take it seriously until she was in college. She considers Lea Salonga as a major influence in her passion to pursue a career in theater.

She has performed in various musicals such as Miss Saigon, where she played Kim, Evita, Ragtime and Pocahontas. Iskra is also into dance, staged readings and plays.

Asked where she is most comfortable with, she replied, “I would say it has to be musical theater but if the story is well-built and the story is well-written and you have a wonderful director and a great cast to work with, it almost doesn’t matter what discipline it is. The job is to tell the story and tell it beautifully.”

Chilip is hopeful as more roles for Asian American actors are becoming more available.

“I think it is changing more and more as we see more diverse casting going on onstage. I think part of it is just not to limit yourself because when the number of roles is limited, I shouldn’t put that on my head. You have to be brave enough,” she said.

“The situation is getting better,” echoed Iskra, “I believe we are making great strides. It’s still hard but it’s getting better.”

Growing up in the theatre scene, Chilip acknowledges the fact that there aren’t many Asian American role models out there. Asked for her advice to Asian American youth who are finding inclination in theater, she offered three tips.

“Training is very important. I am so grateful to have had that training at Brown. It just didn’t boost my confidence but I also gained a network where I can learn from. Being grounded is also important, like having a support group of family and friends. You need some other thing to support you financially. I have a day job and they are very wonderful to me and let me be flexible with my time so I can do acting,” she shared.
Founded in 1977, Pan Asian Rep is the premier producer of Asian American theatre with New York season international and national touring and residencies.  For 30 years, Pan Asian Rep has celebrated the artistic expressiveness of Asian and American theatre artists with the highest standards of professional theatre.

The company encourages production of new plays with contemporary Asian American themes, explores new forms by drawing upon the unique heritage of Asian American style, music and movement and nurtures emerging Asian  American talent. Under the direction of Tisa Chang, Pan Asian Rep continues to bring Asian American Theatre to the general theatre-going public and deepen their appreciation and understanding of the Asian American cultural heritage. (AJ)

(The Joy Luck Club runs October 28th – November 25th at the Julia Miles Theatre (424 W. 55th Street between 9th & 10th Aves).  Via Subway, take the 1/A/C/B/D trains to Columbus Circle or the C/E to 50th Street/8th Ave. **Performances are Tuesday – Saturday at 7:30PM with matinees on Sunday at 3:00PM. Tickets are $50. Senior tickets are $35. Student tickets are $20. For tickets, call Telecharge.com (212) 239-6200. Discounted rates available for groups of 15 or more are available by calling 212-868-4030.)

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Efforts to Protect RP’s Migrant Workers Highlighted in New Report

By Momar G. Visaya

NEW YORK – The home countries of international labor migrants can play a major role in protecting temporary workers, a new report from the Washington DC-based Migration Policy Institute revealed recently.
The report, by Dovelyn Agunias of MPI and Neil Ruiz of the Brookings Institution, detailed how a welfare fund financed by migrants has placed a safety net under overseas workers from the Philippines, home to the largest organized labor-export program in the world.

Entitled “Protecting Overseas Workers: Lessons and Cautions from the Philippines,” the report evaluated the management of the world’s largest worker welfare fund, the Philippines’ Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

With OWWA as a template, the report said that protection of migrant workers can be institutionalized through three elements: a mechanism for repatriation, provision of insurance and loans and education and training.

As of December 2006, nearly a quarter of the Philippines’ labor force — almost 9 percent of the population — lived in more than 190 countries. Remittances sent from Filipino migrants in 2006 reached US$12.8 billion and are projected to approach the US$15 billion mark in 2007.

“Temporary migrant workers’ protection is an important issue. Before we should even talk about migrations’ potential as a development tool, it is important to ensure that first and foremost, migrants’ rights and welfare can and will be protected while working abroad,” Agunias, MPI Associate Policy Analyst, told the Asian Journal in an interview.

The Philippines, according to her, is a good case study to understand the challenges in protecting temporary migrants while working abroad.

The report’s authors believe that it is important for the Filipino community, both in the Philippines and abroad, to understand how the Philippine government’s premier welfare agency, OWWA, protects overseas Filipinos.

“We hear all the time that the OFWs are our “bagong bayani”, we read about the billions of dollars of remittances they send year after year, but there rarely have been serious, fact-based and multi-stakeholder discussions about the real challenges the Philippine government faces when in comes to protecting our OFWs.  Through the OWWA paper, we hope to open up more of these types of discussions, critical yet constructive and based on what we know as a fact and what we don’t,” Agunias shared.

OWWA, a quasi-governmental organization funded by $25 membership fees from workers or, more rarely, their employers, is designed to protect and provide services for migrant workers. As of May 2007, OWWA had over 1 million members, representing 28 percent of the estimated 3.8 million Filipinos who worked abroad legally on temporary contracts.

The “backbone” of the services that OWWA provides, according to the current administrator, is repatriation in case of maltreatment, illness, or war; repatriation includes returning to the Philippines the bodies of workers who die while abroad. OWWA repatriated 10,834 Filipinos in 2006, most of them escaping the crisis in Lebanon. Other core services include the provision of health and life insurance and legal assistance for work-related disputes. Secondary services include scholarships and training, as well as loans for migrants and their families — although the loans have been plagued by low repayment rates.

Agunias is hopeful that other countries that are benefiting from the remittances of their overseas migrants will learn a lot by looking at the Philippine experience.

“The report shows that countries of origin can protect their migrants while working abroad. Even cash-strapped governments can raise the funds needed to finance the protection of their migrant workers. As we concluded in the paper, once OWWA’s limitations are addressed, it can be a useful template for many developing countries as they face the mounting challenges of protecting workers abroad,” she added.

HSBC economist Frederic Neumann in earlier reports was quoted saying, “The economic growth fueled by money remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) will likely last for five to 10 more years, given favorable global demographics, but a more solid industrial backbone has to be built to sustain growth of over seven percent over the long haul.”

“Despite this tremendous economic achievement in the first half, to some degree, it’s a bit of a mirage because it was fueled by a tremendous amount of remittances coming from abroad,” Neumann added.  “But over the long term, that model of economic development is not sustainable.”

Agunias, to a certain degree, agrees.

“Remittances per se will not bring about the sustained growth the Philippine needs to catch up with its neighbors. As the World Bank puts it, remittances are not manna from heaven. Remittances, like any other forms of financial inflows such as foreign direct investments and official development assistance (ODA), can positively contribute to the development of the country,” Agunias explained, “However, this contribution will not go so far unless the fundamentals are right—what Neumann is basically alluding to. Like him, I do agree in the importance of a solid industrial backbone to support and sustain a growing economy.”

Looking at the other side of the coin, Agunias thinks that the potential of remittances as a tool for development, especially in alleviating poverty, must not be underestimated.

“Although remittances’ impact on economic growth is questionable as Neumann highlighted, studies after studies have shown that remittances have a positive impact on poverty alleviation and other indicators of well-being such as child schooling rate and maternal and child health.  Clearly, remittances may not bring about marked and sustained economic growth; however, these financial inflows have made their way into the homes of the poor and have alleviated their situations in non-negligible manner,” she said.

The report’s authors note that the need for transparency and accountability, particularly in funding decisions, becomes even more critical when questions of mismanagement arise. For example, from 1999 to 2005, the Philippine Commission on Audit’s reports found millions of pesos in unrecoverable or “doubtful” accounts, including a 479 million peso (US$9.6 million) investment in a housing project that defaulted, making recovery of the funds “uncertain.”

To strengthen accountability, the authors recommend increasing the number of migrant representatives appointed to the OWWA board, holding periodic consultation of migrant workers on pressing needs, and establishing a system for evaluating program performance.

Finally, the authors highlight the successes OWWA has achieved through partnerships with other organizations and the need for destination countries to establish complementary protection mechanisms for migrant workers.

The entire process – from conceptualization to the final report took a total of 10 months, according to Agunias. The report is a product of The Migration Policy Institute’s Program on Migrants, Migration, and Development. MPI is a nonpartisan think tank dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide.
“OWWA has shown that welfare funds can raise the revenue needed to meet the inherently expensive needs of workers overseas and provide critical on-site emergency services. With effective oversight, it has the potential to promote entrepreneurship of returning migrants,” Agunias said, adding “OWWA needs to overcome some management and transparency challenges, as is perhaps to be expected of an organization serving almost 4 million people in over 190 countries.”

The authors find that OWWA’s operations are instructive for other developing countries working to establish worker protection and assistance programs. The number of temporary migrants in East and West Asia, including the Middle East, has grown by 2.5 percent a year since 1985; in countries that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development by 9 percent since 1997; and in the United States an average of 10.4 percent a year from 1997 to 2004.

“As temporary migration around the world continues to increase, governments from Mexico to India need models of what has and has not worked in structuring programs to protect workers abroad,” said Neil Ruiz, a research fellow at Brookings. “At the same time, it is equally critical for destination countries to establish legal norms that protect migrant workers and help build capacity for welfare funds and countries of origin.” (AJ)

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Bayanihan sa Amerika Makes New York Pitstop

By Momar G. Visaya

NEW YORK – After a successful launch in Los Angeles and a subsequent pitstop in San Francisco, “Bayanihan sa Amerika,” a conference of Filipino community centers and associations in the United States gathered more than a hundred community leaders at the Philippine Center Saturday, Oct. 20.

The conference aims to gather owners or administrators of Filipino community centers, leaders of Filipino associations, officers of Filipino-American chambers of commerce, and other institutionalized Filipino entities, to enhance networking and foster cooperation.

The conference hosted by the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) and the Philippine Consulate General, New York discussed, among other issues, sustainability factors for non-profit organizations, ways of bridging cultural and generation gaps for the new generation of Fil-Ams and new strategies for development assistance in the Philippines.

Consul General Cecilia Rebong welcomed the conference participants while Deputy Consul General Millie Thomeczek read Ambassador Willy Gaa’s keynote address.

The conference, according to Gaa, is timely and “brings to the fore the close and unbreakable bond that ties Filipino Americans to the Philippines.”

“It comes when more than 2.5 million Filipinos and Filipino Americans residing in the United States are consolidating and beginning to flex their political muscle. Indeed, it will not be long when the United States Congress will have among their ranks an elected official of Filipino descent,” Gaa’s statement said.

The first plenary session gathered speakers to discuss the situation of Filipino community associations in Northeast USA.

Vladimir James Manuel, founding chair of Collaborative Opportunities for Raising Empowerment (CORE), reported that most of the Filipino community associations in the consulate’s jurisdiction fall under the major categories of province, profession, local, alumni and religion.

There is an estimated 4,000 organizations in the entire United States, with the tri-state area accounting for more than 500.

Manuel posed some questions, among them, if we need all 4,000 or so of these organizations. “Do we need to come together as a community so that we can align and coordinate our efforts? What specific issue would galvanize is as a community?” he asked.

Audience response ranged from “behavior” to “veterans issues” to “political empowerment”.

According to ConGen Rebong, out of the more than 500 organizations that they have on their list, “only more than 100 can be considered visible”.

Dr. Jean Lobell, co-founder of Filipino American Human Services, Inc. (FAHSI), talked about the effectiveness and sustainability of nonprofit organizations in the community.

Citing Census data such as Filipino families’ median income ($69,228) versus the city’s ($38,293), Lobell also focused on the fact that 6% of the community lived below the poverty line and 40% of the senior citizens have limited English skills, while 7% did not finish high school.

“To achieve greater impact, there needs to be purposeful planning, viability and sustainability,” Lobell explained.

Rey Padilla completed the panel for the first session and talked about effective fund-raising, financial management and internal controls for the organizations. He provided tips for organization’s to be able to access funds from the local to the state to the federal level.

“We do not know they exist. We do not know how to access, and much more manage the funds once we have it,” Rebong said, as she asked the participants if there is a need for a workshop where leaders will be taught to write proposals and access funds, which the consulate can organize.

“Fund-raising in our community is just amongst ourselves. We should start to learn to access funds para hindi tayo-tayo na lang ang naghihingian sa isa’t isa. Sayang naman lahat ng mga taxes na ibinabayad ninyo,” Rebong added.

The New York leg was part of a series of “Bayanihan sa Amerika” conferences organized by the Commission on Filipino Overseas, Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Tourism, and Department of Trade and Industry.

The conference also endeavored to develop strategies to enhance Filipino cultural visibility through programs that will promote Philippine culture and tourism and identify ways by which Filipino community centers and associations can assist Philippine development through resources and knowledge transfer.

It was also an opportunity to create more awareness on business and investment opportunities in the Philippines as both Trade Representative Josephine Romero and Tourism Director Emma Ruth Yulo talked about prospects for Philippine products ad services in the US and enhancing prospects of Philippine tourism through community-led marketing and promotion, respectively. (AJ)

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