2015—It was a good year
above PHOTO: AWARD-winning actor Cesar Montano (C) is a frequent visitor in the Chicago area in 2015 shown being interviewed by KOR officer Randy Famacion (L) and PINOY publisher Mariano A. Santos (R). His films, “The Great Raid,” were shown in Morton Grove Nov. 8 as part of the Fil-Am History Month and ‘Jose Rizal” at Rizal Center Dec. 30 to mark the National Hero’s 119th year of Martyrdom.
By Mariano "Anong" Santos
The year 2015 started on a sacred note. No other than Pope Francis visited the homeland in mid-January and readily drew a record crowd from the faithful. He made it a point to mingle with the poor and the afflicted, braving torrential rains as he visited Tacloban—the center of devastation of the 2013 Super-typhoon Yolanda. Undoubtedly, the Pope was moved by what he saw.
This strengthened his resolve to come up later in the year with his encyclical on climate change which in turn helped some 150 nations to agree in Paris early last December to map out a concerted effort to reduce carbon emission to save Mother Earth from choking from massive pollution from human activities.
BBL as ultimate casualty
The Pope’s joyous visit would soon be swept over by a Jan. 24 bloody encounter in Mamapasamo in the South with 44 members of the army’s special forces who are on a mission to apprehend a top terrorist becoming casualties themselves. In the flurry of numerous inquiries to pinpoint the blame, the ultimate casualty would be the non-passage by Congress of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the product of a lengthy and difficult peace negotiation between the government and a representative of Muslim groups in Mindanao.
Tension was not confined in the South as in Mindanao but also in the South China Sea just West of Palawan. In that area are shoals of many islands that are within the territorial waters of the Philippines but are increasingly being colonized by China. The U.S. Naval boats increased their patrol of that sea lane that the U.S. deemed important as an open trade route. The Philippines won a round when the United Nations arbitration unit accepted the plea that we are entitled to a hearing on our claim that Filipinos are the owners of those mineral-rich islands.
President Aquino manifested his awareness that he was on his last full year of his term as chief executive of a nation given to acrimonious political maneuvering. Facing numerous cases of graft and plunder, Vice President Jojo Binay got testy with Aquino who in turn readily accepted Binay’s resignation of his cabinet portfolio as housing czar. Binay, who launched his presidential bid as soon as he was proclaimed Veep in 2010, ironically settled on his otherwise nemesis Gringo Honasan as his running mate for the 2015 vote. Then the campaign for the May 2016 elections started to get hot.
Firm in his belief that his goal of eliminating massive corruption and poverty is far from done and needs to be continued, Aquino endorsed for president of interior secretary, Mar Roxas, who gave way to him as the official bet of the Liberal Party in 2010. Not lacking in credentials and qualification, yet, Roxas struggles to get ahead in the popularity polls, notwithstanding the fact that he got the widow of the popular reformist, Jesse Robredo, to be his running mate.
The arena soon got crowded with perennial presidential contender, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago declaring her candidacy for the top post once again and recruiting ( Oh mercy!) Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. to run with her. So what happened with all her outrage over repression committed under Marcos Dictatorship? Strange bedfellows, indeed!
The contender who is hugging most of the headlines is Sen. Grace Poe who filed her certificate of candidacy for presidents under a cloud of uncertainties about her qualification. Besieged with lawsuits to disqualify her based on her lack of residency and citizenship, she and her running mate and patron, Sen. Chiz Escudero, are putting a brave face about her ability to survive the challenges.
Most outspoken of her travails is Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, a sexist and an aspiring neo-fascist ruler who minced no words in putting down Poe (and Roxas, as well). Duterte shamelessly touts his iron-fist control of Davao City rocked by his summary executions of suspected criminal elements and his control of public information. He is championed by those who suffer from amnesia of how it is to live under a dictatorship. Sen. Alan Arrellano proudly stands beside him doubling as a running mate and apologist.
Aquino, underrated, undermined and unappreciated as president, continued to leave achievements to make it easy for future historians to give him high ratings and declare him as one of the best to ever occupy Malacanang. The last year saw him hosting successfully the Apec; strongly speaking on behalf of developing and island nations most vulnerable to the effects of global warming. When he spoke before the U.N. last May and in the Paris Climate Change Confab in early December, P-Noy established himself as a global leader.
Back home, he expressed his concerns seeing Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile freed from his confinement by Supreme Court Justices appointed by his predecessor, the disgraced President Arroyo. He knows that his campaign to wipe out massive corruption is far from over. But then again there are battles won. Janet Napoles, the pork barrel queen, meted a long prison term. His ombudsman also was able to get Junjun Binay to step down as Mayor of Makati based on the allegation of Jojo’s son committing widespread kickbacks.
P-Noy in Chicago
Aquino who is not adored by the local Catholic Church leaders primarily for his successful passage of the Reproductive Health Law found acceptance and respect from the Pope himself, a more discerning and welcoming man of God. This was apparent when the Pope visited Malacanang and when P-Noy was received in the Vatican. When P-Noy addressed the Filipino Americans in Chicago in May, he somehow got his message across.
On Dec. 5, those who took to heart P-Noy’s speech became supporters of the Mar-Leni Dream Team. The group held their first rally for the anointed candidates anointed of P-Noy. His heirs apparent are seen as continuing the “Daang Matuwid” he envisioned for the Philippines. Dual citizens from states like Wisconsin, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio and Iowa got together in their hope to boost the Mar-Leni ticket. Sister of the late Jesse, Dr. Jocelyn Robredo-Austria came to town to show solidarity.
Two Cardinals in town
No less than billionaire-businesswoman Loida Nicholas-Lewis reinforced the call of Aquino to elect Mar Roxas and Leni Robredo. She asked her fellow supporters to secure the continuance of Aquino’s campaign to make the Philippines a First World country in terms of economic development and clean government. Nicholas made a compelling testimony of the integrity and competence of both Roxas and Robredo. She pleaded to the Filipino Americans to influence their voting relatives and friends back home to work for and vote for Mar-Leni tandem.
The visit of President Aquino in May further invigorated the otherwise routine existence of Midwest Pinoys who were buoyed by the presence of Cardinal Orlando Quevado, OMI, at the opening of the Sto. Nino Shrine in Belleville,Illinois. Cardinal Quevado’s visit was marred somewhat by the passing of his fellow Oblate of Mary priest, the Chicago Archbishop Emeritus, Cardinal Francis George in April at the age of 78.
Another Filipino Cardinal also came to town to receive an Honorary Degree from the Chicago Theological Seminary. Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle and the outgoing director of Asian Services Teresita Nuval were honored last May. Cardinal Tagle who leads the 2.8 million Catholics in Greater Manila was also elected president of Caritas International last April. He went back last June to celebrate a mass for Philippine Independence at the Holy Name Cathedral. Nuval was retired as the area’s “Simbang Gabi coordinator, Lourdes Mon was reported to be her replacement.
In July, the National Association of Filipino American United Methodists (NaFAUM) held their 16th Biennial Convocation at the Garret Theological Seminary in Evanston. Drawing the highest number of participants in the various interest groups was the one that tackled the sensitive issue of same sex marriage which was given a nod to be legal in all the states by virtue of a U.S. Supreme Court decision last Spring. NaFAUM also passed a resolution endorsing the move to award a congressional medal of honor to Filipino Veterans of WWII. (On Jan. 20, WWII Vet Sgt. Jesus M. Baltazar, 94, was presented by the U.S. Army with Purple Heart.)
The indigenous religious sect, Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) experienced its most controversial year since its inception more than 100 years ago when some of its high ranking officials and members made allegations of financial fraud and forced detention of members who dared question church practices which they deemed illegal. The scandal spilled over internationally including here in the U.S. where money laundering and arbitrary purging of dissenting officials were said to be taking place.
Mayor Emanuel under siege
In the mainstream Chicago politics, newly reelected City Mayor Rahm Emanuel is caught in a web of accusations that he’s complicit in incidents of police abuse. Cook County commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, one of three candidates who challenged Mayor Emanuel in the primary elections, forced a run-off election. Many minorities including some from the Filipino community batted for Chuy’s candidacy. Emanuel prevailed but now faces a recall from the electorate. Critics and protesters are demanding for his resignation and that of Cook County Anita Alvarez.
In the forthcoming U.S presidential elections, 19 hopefuls vie for the Republican nomination with the unhinged celebrity billionaire Donald Trump running well ahead of the pack and rightist Texas senator Ted Cruz coming in as a distant second. Trump’s anti-immigrant ranting even forced Fil-Am “Dancing with Star” dancer, Cheryl Burke to dissociate herself as co-host of Trump’s production of the Miss America pageant.
Demonizing the Muslims
Trump and Cruz are outdoing each other in demonizing the Muslims in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino, Ca. terrorist attacks. Both are calling for a carpet-bombing of the ISIS (editorial on page 6). Trump demands a total ban on the entry of Muslims to the U.S. Thankfully, others in his party condemned such call. But uneasiness in GOP prevails as the possibility of Trump becoming its standard bearer in the November national elections. Democrats are, of course, not complaining and maintaining a quiet hope that Hilary Clinton will cruise easily to White House as Obama’s successor.
Philippines has gained “pogi” points in the international community when officials announced that it is willing to take in Syrians and other war refugees amidst the din of complaints from over-burdened countries which are deluged with displaced victims of war and atrocities.
Earlier in May, the Philippines also welcome unwanted Rohingya refugees from Burma. Throughout history the Philippines had taken German Jews, White Russians, Kuomintang Chinese, Vietnamese and as far back in the 1700s, Indian Sepoys who mutinied against British Marine officers. These East Indians stayed for keeps in Cainta, Rizal.
Speaking of “Dancing with the Stars,” Sports fans were unanimous in proclaiming Floyd Mayweather as more fit as a contender for this TV contest than collecting millions dancing with Manny Pacquiao during a disappointing fight May 2 in Las Vegas. In November, the Pinoy Flash, Nonito Donaire solidified his comeback as a world-class champion by winning the WBA Bantamweight title.
Filipinos, wherever they are, continue their quest for excellence. Take 27-year old Jason Grapinon-Day who won the Professional Golf Association trophy and continues to earn accolades. Cynthia Barker was elected in Britain as the first ever Filipino-British to win councilor in Elstree Council running under the Conservative Party. In Florida, Republican Anna Lopez Brosche was elected as the very first Fil-Am in the Florida City Council.
Eight Grader Alejandro Lim of Virginia won nine medal including two golds at the International History Olympiad. He also reigned as Atlanta’s History Bee Champ. In July, 12,975 Zumba dancers participated in a 30-minute exhibition to be declared, the Guinness World Record for the largest Zumba class in one location. Earlier in March and in celebration of the 40th year of the Philippine Commission on Women, 10,168 people formed the largest outdoor female symbol to earn the World Guinness World Record for this category.
As in the Philippines, the Chicago has a share of bad apples. Prominent among these are those in business of health care who make us sick of their misdeeds-- bilking the Medicare and other agencies and individuals. Josefina Tinimbang and her co-owners are under indictment for over-billing the Medicare of up to $40 Million, so are Miguel and Estrellita Duquilla and company--$6 Million, and the Pasambas who stole money from their elderly patient meted lengthy prison sentences. There are others that brought outrage and embarrassment to the community.
There are unresolved problems like the Torre de Manila condo development of DMCI. The Order of the Knights of Rizal and other agencies sued to prevent a long-term desecration of the heritage site in the Rizal Park. It is a protracted and difficult battle. The Jose Rizal Heritage Center in Chicago has lost its Rizal bust from vandals on the night the Chicago Blackhawks celebrated another championship on June 16—three days before the 154 birthday commemoration of the National Hero’s Birthday. The pedestal remains vacant until now.
Indeed, the good comes with bad. But all in all, it was a good year. Typhoons were not super. There were thieves but were apprehended. There is more work to go around to keep many people productive and not worry about being homeless and hungry. One must concede that there are still many who can use our social concern.
We have a caring Pope who inspires to keep us being worthy of our faith. We also have two presidents—here and back home-- who unselfishly discharge their duties with determination and courage. And there are many more servant-leaders who are willing to give more than they will take. Thank God for these people and may their tribe increase.
2015 is good enough to keep us hopeful in the New Year. For us in the rank and file, let us pray for discernment and wisdom in discharging our civic duties. Happy 2016!
Community leader and civic volunteer Norma Manankil and artist Jym Andalis are joining our editorial staff starting this issue. Norma is known for her selfless work to help the needy both here and in our homeland. Jym was the staff cartoonist of the now-defunct "Philippine Community Builder" and is a teaching minister at the Montclare United Church of Christ in Chicago. Welcome to both of you!