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Issue 2, April 2018

A Grand Central tour of the PHL islands p8 Outpouring of love for Ruthie Ann Miles p4 Departing ConGen throws a fiesta p3 Edwin Josue & Jerry Sibal Photo by Joseph Rodman

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Letter from the Publisher

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Consul General

efore the month is over, a to describe her is ‘energetic.’ Somehow, she is new Consul General for New seen by the community as this wisp of a girl York will likely be taking who has taken on this gargantuan responover. Or it could also be that sibility for the country. One minute she’s in one of the two sitting conNew York, the next she’s in Manila providing suls – Kerwin Tate or Arman Talbo — is support to a new foreign secretary who is installed in an interim capacity before learning on the job. I’ve seen how Foreign the actual ConGen assumes office. Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano leaned on Whatever the circumstances, the person Dizon-De Vega as he was trying to recall the taking over from Consul General Theresa details of a law that just passed. She was by his Dizon-De Vega will have big shoes to fill. side quick on her feet. In the years I have closely covered the Dizon-De Vega is known for another Philippine Consulate and its interaction distinction. She is social media savvy but with the community, I have only seen two knows how to strike a balance between Ambassador Mario de Leon Jr.; outgoing Consul ambassadors up close – Mario de Leon in-person and digital engagement. She General Theresa Dizon-De Vega Jr., and Dizon-De Vega. While that may can be holding a press conference but not be enough to do an audit of diplomatic also texting links to reporters asking for performance, let me just mention that I covered the diplomatic beat for background information. She likes to take photos of the community in the Manila Chronicle and have a general idea of what differentiates an action, and most times posts them as the event is happening. Her posts honorable ambassador from a horrible one. are out usually as she is finishing her speech. De Leon is an excellent diplomat, calm and deliberative, his per“How does she do that?” asks some in the community in awe of her sonality best characterized as mild-mannered and easygoing. He is vigorous energy. She has this brisk manner of walking like a New very approachable and can be counted on to support organizations Yorker, but she does not mind being interrupted if you have a concern in whatever activity they organize. I remember one of the techniques you want to raise with her. he introduced when he took over New York: a tiny mirror. He told The new ConGen need not be measured by the qualities of those who passport officials working the windows to put a little mirror in front of came before him or her: The decisiveness of De Leon or the cerebral attrithem. That way, they can see if the stress of the job is showing on their bute of Dizon De Vega. This diplomat must be his own person not fretting faces. If it is, said De Leon, they need to take a short break to gather about the expectations of others, but mindful that he is in charge of a their wits or put on a little smile. It was a unique little trick in the name community of about 350,000 Filipinos across the Northeast. Kindness, of public service that worked. being responsive to those in need, and being a good listener are qualities Dizon-De Vega is pretty much identical as her former boss, both of that will serve him well. them competent career ambassadors. One word that is constantly used Cristina DC Pastor

Founding Editor Cristina DC Pastor

Business & Advertising Manager Rene Pastor

Address P.O. Box 8071 New York, NY 10116

The FilAm is a publication of A&V Editorial FILAM  | 


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Consul General bids goodbye, calls on community to come together By Cristina DC Pastor

Consul General Theresa Dizon-De Vega is a rare-breed diplomat. Actually, extraordinary, if one were to consider how she has been “borrowed” by Manila and “asked to help” senior officials as they ease into their jobs.


he is a walking Official Gazette, knows all the Republic Acts from memory, she is pleasant, energetic, digitally engaged, and is known not to play favorites. Another thing that amazes some is how she can speak from heart and mind. This quality is one that always comes up when FilAms are asked why they like Congen Tess: “Ang galing niya. She can speak without reading from notes.” Dizon-De Vega is winding down her assignment in New York. She is leaving this month to take on the position of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary in Manila, where she is expected to assist – together with five other undersecretaries — Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano run a department founded in turn of the century 1898. Protection of Filipinos overseas, preserving national security, and the attainment of an independent foreign policy are the three “pillars” they are supposed to uphold. At an Appreciation Night on March 2, where she officially said good-bye in a fiesta-like party, Dizon-De Vega said she is leaving, albeit, regretfully. “My regrets this evening, I find that we are on the precipice, on the tipping point of real recognition for Filipinos and Filipino Americans in culture and traditions and our contributions to mainstream society,” she told a packed Kalayaan Hall attended by members of the community and their leaders. FilAm representation in fields, such as business, politics, culture, and even network television, are increasing. “We are moving up,” she said.

In a light vein, she said Filipinos can be a little bit nutty. “May sayad,” she said jokingly to robust laughter from the audience. “Konti lang naman.” Here, she was trying to communicate in language that is both colloquial and connecting. The audience responded with delight and affirmation. She continued, “It is part of who we are, part of our strength. If we can work on our strengths and improve on our weaknesses, I think we have a very very good chance of really leveling up and really increasing the level of representation of our community here in the Northeast.” She has been in New York all of four years, two assignments characterized by interruptions: She was Deputy Consul General in from 2011 to 2013, until she headed home to become Department of Foreign Affairs Chief Coordinator. She came back in 2017 as Consul General only to leave again after more than a year to become an undersecretary. “May balat yata ako pagdating sa New York,” she said. She said her two postings will remain among the “highlights and milestones” of her career. Being Consul General in New York is the first time she actually headed a foreign service post. She urged the community to help others in need, and mentioned in particular Filipinos who have fallen victims to human trafficking or illegal recruitment. “I hope you will open your eyes more to these challenges,” she said. “Let’s just support each other.”



New York is the first time for ConGen Tess Dizon De Vega to head a foreign service post. Photo by PCGNY

Outpouring of love

for ‘Honorary Filipina’

Ruthie Ann Miles whose daughter dies in car accident The FilAm Broadway community expressed an outpouring of love and support for Tony Award-winning actress Ruthie Ann Miles who played Imelda Marcos in the rock musical “Here Lies Love.”


ony awardee Lea Salonga writes on Facebook, “Please help however you can,” following reports that a pregnant Miles and her young daughter were hit by a car driven by a Staten Island woman who reportedly ran a red light. Four-year-old Abigail Blumenstein died immediately. Miles and the baby she was carrying are in stable condition, according to reports quoting her doctor. They were walking to their Brooklyn home with friends Lauren Lew and her 1-year-old son, Joshua, who were also struck by the vehicle. The boy also perished. A GoFundMe page was set up for Miles’s family. More than $362,000 were raised since the crowdfunding page was created on March 6. Miles, whose mother is Korean American, has close friendships and professional relationships with Filipino theater artists. She played Imelda Marcos opposite FilAm actor Jose Llana in David Byrne’s “Here Lies Love” with a cast of mostly FilAm performers. She was cast as Christmas Eve in “Avenue Q,” a musical written by FilAm Bobby Lopez. She is known to hang out with Broadway Barkada, composed of theater professionals, and has been teased about being an ‘Honorary Filipina.’ “Ruthie is family to so many Broadway Barkada members. While we are all mourning with her, it’s also so inspiring to witness the amount of support and love she has received from every corner of the theatre community,” Broadway Barkada said in a statement to The FilAm. “It reminds us of one of the Barkada’s core principles: that we are all family. We help one another. We celebrate one another. We rally around one another in times of hardship. Ruthie has always been a shining example of that spirit. Our hearts are with her.” Tony awardee, costume designer Clint Ramos who has worked with Miles in three productions – “Here Lies Love,” “Sunday in the Park with

George,” and “Chess” – called her an amazing woman, wife and mother. “Abigail was her world,” said Ramos. “As a parent myself, I can’t help but think that what she is going through is unimaginable. So many people are holding her and her family and the Lews very closely at the moment. Ruthie is so full of life and love and it only makes sense that she is surrounded by the love of the very community she treasured.” Actor Billy Bustamante, a co-star in “Here Lies Love,” said Ruthie Ann “inspires everyone she meets.” “I truly can’t imagine the hardship she will endure as a result of this senseless tragedy. Still, I’m heartened to know that she has a huge support system of family and friends who have shown up for her and will continue to do so,” he said. “Aladdin” actors Angelo Soriano and Don Darryl Rivera have never met Miles but shared with The FilAm how they felt. “My heart is so heavy,” said Soriano. “Such a thing cannot be easy on anyone. It’s unimaginable. The close community around them were so quick to respond with the love they deserve.” Echoed Rivera, “It has been so beautiful to see the Broadway community come together to show strength and love and support for Ruthie and Lauren.” Miles hails from Honolulu, Hawai’i, and moved to NYC for grad school in 2005, according to her website. Her most recent Broadway play was “Sunday in the Park with George” with Jake Gyllenhaal, staged on the reopening of the historic Hudson Theatre. She played Lady Thiang in the revival of “The King and I,” for which she won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical. Her website says Miles lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their “mischief-making little lady,” an apparent reference to delightful little Abigail. FILAM  | 


Photo from Miles’s GoFundMe page. More than $362,000 raised in one day!

Love and condolences from the Filipino theatre community. From top left clockwise: Don Darryl Rivera, Clint Ramos, Angelo Soriano, and Billy Bustamante.

Licelle Cobrador opts for law practice in NYC over raucous Philippine politics


By Cristina DC Pastor

In 2009, Licelle Cobrador found herself at a crossroads: Should she return to New York to pursue a legal career or should she stay in the Philippines to become mayor of Dao, Capiz and challenge the entrenched dynasty?

A hundred percent batting average since she opened her law office. The FilAm Photo

ine years seemed so far removed, but Licelle likes to look back at a time when her options seemed too stark, too urgent, and too incredibly hilarious not to include in her colorful narrative. “Judy Roxas wanted me to run,” she shared in an interview with The FilAm at her Long Island City office. “You have to understand, Judy Roxas was a strong power broker.” (Roxas is the mother of 2016 Philippine presidential candidate Mar Roxas, who would lose the election to Rodrigo Duterte. The Roxases are kingpins in the Liberal Party.) Licelle’s name must have appeared on Roxas’s radar when she took over as chief political affairs officer for her father Cesar Cobrador, who was a partylist congressman for the Agricultural Sector Alliance of the Philippines. The fact that she had “New York experience” – just like Mar Roxas – may have made her a relatable person to Judy Roxas. “I said no,” she recalled saying. She also told Roxas she came home only because her father had a stroke and she wanted to organize his legislative office. “I didn’t even speak Ilonggo,” she said, not holding back on her guffaws. Also, she was beginning to miss New York after barely a month at home. Licelle chose to return, worked for Bhatta Law & Associates, and after seven years, opened her private practice Cobrador & Associates, PLLC. As an attorney, she handles immigration, business transactions, real estate, litigation, intellectual property and entertainment law. Her immigration cases are mostly employment-based petitions or self-petitions, her client artists, actors, filmmakers, singers, composers, journalists, multimedia creatives, events and public relations specialists, top businessmen, athletes and individuals with “extraordinary ability” in their fields. “I haven’t had any denials,” she said, touting 100 percent success rate in her current practice. She is vice president and executive director for the Filipino American Legal Defense and Education Fund or FALDEF. FILAM  | 


||Chatty as a child

She was raised on books and stacks of Encyclopedia Britannica. Her mother, Ma. Luisa, would use the ruse that the TV cabinet was broken and that they could not have television for the night. Licelle’s attention was drawn to reading. “I became obsessed with books,” she said. “But I was also madaldal.” It was her mother who encouraged her – with some amount of nudging– to take up Law. “She inspired and brainwashed me,” laughed Licelle, the oldest of three siblings, all girls. In school, she was urged to join declamation contests and debates. “She wanted to be a lawyer herself.” With a degree in Development Studies from U.P. Manila, she took up Law at Ateneo University. After passing the Philippine Bar, she became an associate at Rodrigo, Berenguer & Guno focusing on litigation and corporate law. During weekends, she taught Political Science and Development Studies electives at U.P. Manila. On a Dean’s Merit Scholarship, she finished her master’s degree in Intellectual Property at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law on Fifth Avenue. She is the current co-chair of the Cardozo Law Masters Alumni Committee. After Cardozo, she returned to Manila because her father suffered a stroke. She took over his legislative affairs, checking on his PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) only to be dismayed with the inner workings of Congress. It was during this time that she had that interesting encounter with Judy Roxas.

||Cobrador name

Her father passed away in 2016, a man she greatly admired and revered. She remembered how he used to tease her not to get married until the Cobrador name is enshrined in the Philippine Roll of Attorneys, a list of all lawyers licensed to practice. “He wanted to see the name there, and didn’t even want to see any hyphen,” she said, smiling. Well, if her dad could see her NYC office now.

Popsie’s Food Truck:

‘Kakanin’ comfort food revisited By Cristina DC Pastor

In her quiet Jersey City home, Marisse ‘Popsie’ Panlilio cooks Binatog while her freezer is packed with quarts of mango and ube ice cream waiting to firm up. Elsewhere in the kitchen, her partner, sous chef Cosette Malig, cuts vegetables. There are slow and busy days in Popsie’s food chamber. But on March 21, as the city awaited the latest snowstorm, many FilAms in Jersey City stayed home, watched Netflix and had a craving for comfort food. Popsie’s phone rang off the hook with orders for Binatog (boiled corn kernels), Kutsinta, Hot Purple Soup (Guinataan) and Rice Cakes. Popsie’s Explorer braved the snow to deliver orders with a $15 minimum.

Marisse Panlilio (left) and partner of 27 years Cosette Malig wed in 2016, in a ceremony officiated by Marcos Vigil, deputy mayor of Jersey City. Note their dogs’ faces printed on their shirts.

Only three years, Popsie’s Food Truck is a pop-up food and beverage outlet. It’s a low-key operation but an equally important advocate of what is now known as the Filipino Food Movement where Filipino food is being bannered as “the next big thing.” Popsie’s goodies are the classic comfort food, the bites Filipinos snacked on as children. They bring back memories of growing up in barrios or cities where ambulant vendors sold these delicacies in push carts. “I sell what I eat or shall I say, I eat what I sell” said Popsie when interviewed by The FilAm. “I want my food to taste exactly how I want it.” An unabashed dog lover, Popsie has an assortment of drinks – all 40 flavors -- named after her fur babies and the dogs of her friends: For example, Mr. Taro is named after her Pomeranian Dimi; Ms. Mango is named after Lola, a Chihuahua breed; and Matcha Tea is named after Elijah, a Shih Tzu poodle. Ordering using her dog’s names becomes an “interactive” experience with Popsie getting into conversations with dog-loving customers. She remembered sharing with her mother a hankering for Filipino ‘kakanin’ (native delicacies), and how she wished there was a store that sold them at midnight. That, in essence, is what Popsie’s Food Truck is about: Snacks when you want them, even at midnight. People order food to-go or for pickup. Pretty soon, ordering by app will be available. While the service is limited to Jersey City for now, Popsie said she has made deliveries to Manhattan and Queens for large orders. Food, said Popsie, is something her family holds dear and sacred. Her grandmother, who comes from the Dayrit families of Pampanga and Cavite, taught her mother how to cook. It was her mother, Juliet “Mama Yette” Oberlin, a retired nurse, who in turn passed on to Popsie the Panlilio art of cooking and all its intricate secrets. In 1983 when she was just two years in the United States, Popsie opened a food FILAM  | 

For the late-night snackers, a wide array of bites, from Gourmet Binatog to Purple Soup or Guinataan. bar and catering business in Roselle Park in New Jersey. It closed when it ran into issues with her business partner. She focused on her work as an IT sales & marketing consultant, the itch to become an entrepreneur set aside in the meantime. By herself or with Cosette, her partner of 27 years, the entrepreneurship bug would continue to bite. There would be a stream of businesses that Popsie started: specialty/novelty chocolates, health care, printing and graphics, apparel, and entertainment. In 2001, she has made some wise investments in real estate through rentals in her apartment building. It’s been a steady source of income but Popsie is never happy when she is not doing anything new. At 64, she quipped that age is “just a number. Senior yes, but still willing and able.” 6

“Sa entertainment masakit ang loob ko,” she shared. “Ang daming intriga, siraan dito, siraan doon.” She has placed her sound equipment on hiatus for now, in the confines of her garage, although her mother has been bugging her to sell it. Three years ago, she went back to where she started when, as a 12-yearold, she sold Halo Halo in front of their house in the Philippines: Food. Popsie’s Food Truck is the encore business, a call for a different food philosophy. “I want to revert back to where I started, which has always been my love: food,” she said. Her salute to her customers: “FAFTAF, From A Foodie To A Foodie.” “Just Say Yummay” is her trademarked slogan.


EXPLORE ISLANDS PHILIPPINES Grand Central Terminal rolls out red carpet for Philippine tourism, business and culture


By Cristina DC Pastor

on’t be surprised if, from May 9 to 12, you will spot some men in Ati-Atihan soot and women in colorful couture at the Grand Central Terminal Main Concourse on your way to work. The frolicsome music of the rondalla is likely to lead you to Vanderbilt Hall as you exit to 42nd Street. It’s called Explore Islands Philippines, this large-scale event where the world’s largest and busiest train station will showcase Philippine tourism, business and culture and everything it has to offer. There will be tourism presentations on adventure tours such as diving destinations, romantic tours, and ambassador tours; sessions on trade and investment opportunities, real estate presentations, Filipiniana fashion, OPM and kulintang music, martial arts, architecture, and, oh yes, mouthwatering Filipino food. There will be a contest for Wedding Destination for straight and gay couples, as well as specialty tours packaged for the mobile Millennials. It’s the Filipino way of life being unveiled before New Yorkers and tourists who transit through the terminal. With over 700,000 people passing the station every day, Grand Central is the ideal venue, its mass of commuters a matchless market. The Philippine Department of Tourism, the flag carrier Philippine Airlines, and the U.S.-Philippines Society, a private organization comprising business executives, government officials, and diplomats, are partners in this event. “We would like to help bring American and Filipino-American tourists to the Philippines,” said Jerry Sibal, president of JS Productions, Inc., who is organizing the event with his partner Edwin Josue. “I am confident the (event) will successfully present the Philippines as a premier tourism and investment destination, and New York certainly offers an unparalleled international stage to bring people together whether as prospective tourists or investors,” said Philippine ambassador to the U.S. Jose Manuel Romualdez. “Our goal would be to connect investors from the USA to Philippine businesses, and vice-versa,” said Hank Hendrickson, executive director of the US-Philippines Society based in Washington D.C. “We will focus on business and tourism as well as arts and culture programs.” The event promises to be high-powered, lively and in keeping with the frenetic pace of New York City life. An assembly of celebrities and noted personalities are lending their presence. HRH Princess Katarina of Yugoslavia who is a member of the British Royal House and president of Tourism Guild of U. K. will cut the ribbon when the event opens on May 9. She will be joined by Tourism Secretary Wanda

This LED Wall at Vanderbilt Hall will welcome visitors to a showcase of the Filipino way of life. Jerry Sibal designed the wall.

Philippine Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez (2nd from left) welcomes to D.C. the Explore team. Front row from left, Jerry Sibal, president of JS Projections Inc., Edwin Josue, co-organizer; and Marilyn Abalos, Project Management and PR consultant. Back row from left, Hank Hendrickson, executive director of the US-Philippines Society; Karen Gamba, Business Development consultant; and Carl Nelson, Special Events consultant. Corazon Tulfo Teo, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, Ambassador Romualdez, and other Philippine government officials. Explore will come to life with presentation and business meetings held simultaneous in Vanderbilt’s East Hall. On Day One, Tourism will open Explore featuring major promo programs and highlights of the best of the Philippines. On Day Two, Explore will present key trade and investment speakers from government and private sectors to talk about the “build build build” program and opportunities in the Philippines. One-on-one side meetings may be arranged. Days Three and Four will include the cultural and lifestyle demonstrations as well as a mix of tourism and trade discussions. Said Sibal, “We hope to draw great interest at our inaugural event and (for people) to come explore FILAM  | 


At the Explore launch at the Philippine Consulate: From left, model Keri Dundon; David Turley, representing the Constituency Affairs Office of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo; Hank Hendrickson of the US-Philippines Society; Jerry Sibal; Consul General Theresa Dizon-De Vega; Tourism Attaché Susan del Mundo; and Edwin Josue. these opportunities, not only this year, but for many years to come.” “It is our goal to connect individuals, companies and investment groups in the U.S. with relevant public and private offices in the Philippines to help facilitate and support economic development in the country,” he said further. Josue said the event is expected to support the Philippine economy as one of the fastest-growing in ASEAN. Philippine gross domestic product is expected to grow by 7-7.5 percent in 2018 alone. He pointed to the revival of manufacturing, the booming real estate, biotech and healthcare industries as the drivers of this growth. Sibal summed up why he thinks an event like Explore is extraordinary. “Nothing like this has ever been done for the Philippines in New York,” he said.


Here’s looking at you, Staten Island


efore I got to know him, freelance photographer Ruffy Ronas was just another face in the crowd. He is always ready with a smile, a tap on the shoulder, a polite hug. Because of his height and soldier’s chest he stands out. With his James Stewart haircut, he appears like someone born in much earlier era. Actually, he is only in his 40s. Ruffy is a Customer Experience Coordinator at Marshalls in Staten Island, a supervisory position that deals with unhappy department store customers. After work, he immerses himself in events around the FilAm community, helping organizations however he can. He has photographed events or served as parade marshal and has received awards for his efforts. Local leaders and community organizations, such as County Executive James Tedesco of Bergen County and PAFCOM, have given him certificates recognizing his support. “I want my children to be proud of me at least through these awards,” he said. On top of that, he runs Kalye Solution Advertising, a marketing company he founded in the Philippines and resurrected when he came to New York in 2015.

Kalye Solution engages in digital media advertising for “maximum exposure” for products and services without geographical boundary limits. He said, “Our purpose is to deliver efficient and quality advertisement to customers, increase their visibility and boost their businesses.” Ruffy was a sales manager at Nissan Philippines when he founded Kalye Solution. In that role, he found a way to form a network of automobile dealerships that wanted to advertise digitally. Just a network of dealers, he modestly stressed, not the corporations. Saying his wild days are over, Ruffy’s energy now pivots toward Staten Island where he lives with his mother Baby Schiff, a church leader, and some siblings. “I would like to see the Filipino community of Staten united,” he said in an interview with The FilAm. The oldest of four siblings, all of whom are nurses – and whose spouses are also nurses — Ruffy would like to be the ‘kuya’ his siblings can be proud of. That’s why when he came to the U.S. with only a sales and marketing background, he tried his hand at all sorts of trades. He worked as a carpenter,

‘I want my children to be proud of me.’ studied ESL in a New Jersey school, learned photography, and through his brother became a distributor of a Filipino TV channel. Over at Staten Island, he has mounted concerts and other events, he hoped would get the community closer. The first in a very long time, according to him, that Filipinos here — numbering anywhere from 5,000 to 6,000 — have seen a grassroots concert. Ruffy is setting his sights on a Filipino cultural festival in September. Staten Island may be the ‘forgotten borough’ to some, but not to Ruffy, who calls it his welcoming home. Cristina DC Pastor

Angel and Alyssa to front-act ‘Sikat Ka, Kapuso!’


Angel Ram, Alyssa Shoemaker nknown to many, as Angel Ram was busy rehearsing for the GMA concert, “Sikat Ka, Kapuso,” she was doing gown fittings, checking her guest list, and just managing her nerves as a bride-to-be. Angel, one of the front acts, wed her boyfriend on February 23 in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, a monthand-a-half before the SKK concert. The bride wore black, and looked very happily in love. Meanwhile, teen singer Alyssa Shoemaker is another dynamo full of unstoppable energy. Another front act to the SKK concert, she is a senior at Morris Knolls High School in Rockaway, New Jersey. She is preparing for college at Marymount Manhattan College where she will be studying Musical Theatre.

Angel and Alyssa are just two of SKK’s curtain raisers, the performers who open a show and get the crowd pumped for the Main Act. They are the aperitif to a luxurious French meal, the sneak peek to an upcoming movie, the warmup to a long-distance marathon. “As a front act, my job is get the crowd excited and give them a glimpse of what to expect,” said Angel. “Ayoko ng tatamlay-tamlay sila.” (I don’t want to see a sluggish crowd.) “Sikat Ka, Kapuso” is a production of GMA Pinoy TV, a musical extravaganza featuring the network’s top stars Dingdong Dantes, Dennis Trillo, Jennylyn Mercado, Alden Richards, Lovi Poe, and Betong Sumaya. They will perform on April 7 at the Newark Symphony Hall in New Jersey with local headliners Angel Ram and Alyssa Shoemaker doing the opening numbers. Angel is not saying if she will do some bluesy Angela Bofill or Etta James songs, which have made her so popular across the New York Tri-State, with a growing mainstream following. She is the first Filipina to sing at the famous BB King Blues Club & Grill on Times Square. This was in January 2016. FilAms can never get enough of her version of Etta James’ “At last.” “I’ll probably do an upbeat number,” she said. “Something that will get the crowd on its feet.” SKK is her second time with GMA, so she has met Dingdong Dantes. The rest of the stars she will be meeting for the first time. She is excited and nervous at the same time. FILAM  | 


“It’s always awesome working with GMA. Many would love to be a part of their show. They’re very popular in the Philippines. I’m excited to work with them again,” she said. Unlike Angel, this is Alyssa’s first time to front-act a GMA show. “It’s amazing that I was chosen,” she said. “It’s very important to be part of a cultural show that has the support of the FilAm community.” Alyssa is no stranger to community programs. She is almost a regular at PAFCOM not because her grandmother, Rose Javier, was a recent past president, but because she is known for her wide range of vocals from Whitney Houston to Meghan Trainor. “I might be doing a theater number (for SKK),” she said. As a GMA first-timer, Alyssa will be meeting the network’s stars for the first time. She is just as excited. Alyssa and her mother, Maureen Javier Varco, sing at weddings as part of a band called RELM, meaning Risk Everything Love Music. A shared love for music keep their bond strong. For ticket inquiries, contact Synergy Production & Marketing at (917) 858-2356 or go to ‘Sikat Ka, Kapuso!’ is a GMA-produced event which aims to bring Filipinos abroad closer to home via its international channels GMA Pinoy TV, GMA Life TV, and GMA News TV International. Stay informed by following GMA Pinoy TV on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. – Cristina DC Pastor

Trans waitress is crowned Miss Gorg 2018

By Cristina DC Pastor

A waitress from Brooklyn is the first winner of the Miss Gorg pageant created to promote acceptance of transgender women, and, as advanced by the organizers, “to celebrate their empowerment.”

Alana Dillon being crowned by trans activist Chelle Lhuillier. Photos by RJ Ensalada


er crown slipped and fell on the stage, but Alana Dillon, 21, dismissed the mishap, preferring to call it “my good luck.” A counter girl at Bareburger in Chelsea, Alana told The FilAm she did not expect to win. “Not in the slightest. Not even when it was just me and No. 6.” She and first runner-up Alexandra Hudson, a Filipina makeup artist, were the last of the 10 contestants standing. Probably unknown to Alana, the crowd had a feeling she was going to win after the Question-and-Answer segment where she came

across as articulate and well-informed about LGBT issues. Asked why trans women deserve their own special day, Alana recited the facts: “Thirty percent of trans women are unemployed, 40 percent of trans women are people of color, 40 percent of trans women have contemplated or committed suicide.” She said transgenders need a day for themselves to reflect and celebrate their gender identity and let others know “we exist and breathe to carry on.” Alana’s family was seated front row. Her mother was ecstatic. Her aunt shed tears as Alana was being crowned while the crowd at D’Haven Restaurant erupted into deafening applause. Her father, an insurance lawyer, wondered in jest, “What’s a modeling contract?” The winner gets a cash prize of $2,000 and a modeling contract for one year with Trans Models, New York’s first transgender modeling agency. “From the start, it was my mom who was there for me,” she said. “When I came out, she took it beautifully.” Alana has a twin brother who, initially, was “upset” that she was transitioning and that they would lose their bond as brothers. “He’s OK now,” she said. Two years ago, she made the decision. “I was at the cusp. It was never a big shock, I just told everyone I’m coming out.” She added, “It was something I faced all alone, like many of us (contestants).” She celebrated her victory with a greasy Buffalo Cheese Chicken Wrap and a milk shake. Then she went to bed. The first Miss Gorg transgender pageant – to be an annual event -- was organized by Elton Lugay of TOFA and Robert and Melissa Mendoza of Mountaintop Entertainment Productions together with their friends in the LGBT community. “Being transgender isn’t easy,” said Lugay in his speech. “They go through a rough period to become who they truly want to be. Once the transition is over, they still have to deal with ignorance and transphobia every day.” Trans activist Chelle Lhuillier, who is a volunteer at the Human Rights Campaign of Greater New York, said transphobia is a real problem. She recounted how she was publicly humiliated at a wedding party. She decided to do something about the constant discrimination by joining protest actions, gay parades, and beauty pageants, and speaking out at every opportunity. “I did all of these because acceptance and recognition are not freely given to transgender people,” she said in her opening remarks. “We have to fight for them and for equal rights. We need to be visible in order to be heard.” While many of the 10 contestants are Filipino or biracial FilAm, there are others of different ethnicities. Rachelle Ann Summers, who was born and FILAM  | 


raised in Olongapo was crowned Crowd Favorite. A dead ringer for “The View’s” Star Jones (before she lost weight from gastric bypass surgery), Rachelle is what the trans community calls a “woman of size.” A resident of Paterson, she is the reigning Miss Trans New Jersey. First runner-up Alexandra Hudson, also Filipina, is a freelance makeup artist in Manhattan. She comes from a family where she was the only boy, until she transitioned. Another popular contestant – not FilAm -- was Camren Turner of Houston. She is now an NYC resident where she works as a theater actor, a makeup artist, and a wig maker. People assume that all trans women are prostitutes, said pageant judge Melissa Sklarz. Also transgender, she is running for the New York State Assembly's 30th District against Brian Barnwell. As a politician, she said she gets to “stand out there and tell people they’re all wrong.” Sklarz and Barnwell shared a table as Miss Gorg pageant judges.

||The winners:

Miss Gorg 2018: Alana Dillon 1st runner-up: Alexandra Hudson 2nd runner-up: Susi Villa 3rd runner-up: Tiffany Riley 4th runner-up: Rachelle Ann Summers

The team behind Miss Gorg 2018: Standing from left: producer Robert Mendoza, pageant director Usher Turek, producer Melissa Mendoza, and stage director Dennis Zerna Sy. Seated: performer Toni Gado and founder-organizer Elton Lugay.

‘It’s not a curse,’

declare parents of progeria siblings

Siblings Jeshaiah and Nezha Agbayani are like any other children. They love music and play with other kids their age. Unlike most kids, however, they get stared at and attract unwelcome attention because of a genetic disorder called progeria.


eshaiah, who is 10, looks like a 70-year-old. He is an honor student and plays the ukulele. His sister Nezha, who is 4, lost her hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. Her fingers started to become deformed like she has arthritis, the nails not growing at all. The Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome makes them look seven times older. The condition called progeria is a Greek word that means “prematurely old.” “They are happy children,” said their mother Jumely Agbayani, 35, a school teacher in Cagayan Valley. “But when people stare at them, nagsusumbong sa amin.” The children have an older sister, Althea, 15, who does not have the condition, Jumely said in an interview with The FilAm. The family, who is in the U.S. until March 21, have visited specialist doctors from the Progeria Research Foundation in Boston., who assured them their children’s condition was not hereditary. They’re in New York as a side trip and to grace a March 17 benefit show to raise funds for the children’s treatment. “Ang explanation nila, hindi raw nakuha sa amin,” said Jumely. “Buti naman.” Jumely and her husband Gerson, 40, a driver-mechanic, are traveling with their children around the East Coast –Boston, Baltimore, Washington D.C. and New York. The Project Michelangelo Foundation took them to progeria doctors and gave them a tour of the cities they visited. Some doctors prescribed medication such as the anti-cancer Lonafarnib and Everolimus, a trial medication to manage risk factors for high blood pressure or stroke. As explained by Dr. Imelda Banting, vice president of the foundation, progeria children may be young but their physical conditions are those of adults.

siblings have constantly complained of headaches growing up. “The children are not bullied when they’re in school or when they’re in our town, said Jumely. “It’s when they leave town…” Their father Gerson said no one in their family is spared from the talk and the shaming. “May mga nagsasabi na isa itong sumpa,” he said. When people say the family is “cursed” is what hurts the most, he said. That’s why the couple was elated to learn from doctors in Boston that the progeria that visited their kids did not come from them. “It’s genetic mutation,” said Banting. “There’s one wrong letter in the gene coding leading to an abnormality of the progerin protein, and it spread uncontrolled throughout the body.” The Project Michelangelo Foundation, headed by Jojo Sayson of Bourbonnais, Illinois, was founded in 2011 after meeting Ana Rochelle, the first known progeria patient in the Philippines. In 2016 Rochelle, the first Filipino to avail of trial treatments in Boston, died at age 19. It is believed Dr. Imelda Banting with progeria siblings Jeshaiah and Nezha the treatment was able to prolong her life because the typical life span of a progeria patient is anywhere from 13 Agbayani. to 15 years. While Rochelle was chronologically a teenager, she died at the accelerated age of 150. “They have normal learning capacity, but they get high Said Banting, “Our goal is to help children in need, not blood pressure, arthritis, and their blood vessels harden. focusing only on progeria-afflicted youth. Somehow the Their common cause of death is usually stroke or heart case of Rochelle seemed to call attention to the condition.” failure,” she said. She further pointed out that Jeshaiah is Progeria is such a rare disease, she stressed. Currently, an academically gifted fifth grader at Marede Elementary there are an estimated 250 cases around the world. In the School in Santa Ana town in Cagayan. Philippines, there are only four living patients, among Progeria, she said, manifests itself on young children them the Agbayani children. and not on adults. Some may look “normal” at birth until I asked Jumely if she is ready in case one or both of her the condition begins to appear within one or two years as the children develop wrinkled skin or balding hair. Car- kids are snatched from her by the disease. She replied, “Hindi ko pa po kaya.” -- Cristina DC Pastor diovascular conditions are also detected. The Agbayani

NYC is nearly 40% foreign-born highest in over a century: MOIA report


YC’s Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) issued its first-ever annual report, and states that for the first time in over a century “nearly 40 percent of our residents are foreign born.” “New York City is proud to be the ultimate city of immigrants,” said Acting Commissioner Bitta Mostofi in the 37-page report. The report warns of continuing challenges to the immigrant community. It says tens of thousands of New Yorkers have been affected by federal policy changes that have separated families and exacerbated fear and uncertainty for immigrants. Key findings from the report: • New York City is home to 3.1 million immigrants, the largest number in the city’s history. • Approximately 1 million New Yorkers live in mixed-status households, where a household member is undocumented. • Immigrants comprise nearly 38% of the city population and 45% of its workforce.

Certain neighborhoods, especially in Queens and Brooklyn and parts of the Bronx and Manhattan, have particularly high concentrations of immigrant residents. • Approximately 54% of immigrant New Yorkers are naturalized U.S. citizens. An estimated 660,000 immigrant New Yorkers who are lawful permanent residents (i.e., green card holders) are currently eligible to naturalize. • New York City is home to approximately 560,000 undocumented immigrants, a decline from an estimated undocumented immigrant population of 618,000 in 2008. • Approximately 62% of New Yorkers live in households with at least one immigrant, including approximately one million New Yorkers who live in mixed-status households (where at least one person is undocumented). • The city has significant linguistic diversity, with more than 150 languages spoken. The top ten languages of for-


eign-born New York City residents are: Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Haitian Creole, Bengali, Italian, Arabic, Korean, Polish, and French. • Approximately 49% of immigrants are Limited English Proficient (LEP), meaning that they speak English less than “very well.” Nearly 63% of undocumented immigrants are LEP. • Almost 50% of immigrant New Yorkers have lived in the United States for 20 years or more. • Nearly half of immigrant New Yorkers age 25 years or older have graduated from college or have attended some college. These rates are notably higher for naturalized U.S. citizens. • Nearly 37% of undocumented immigrants living in New York City have less than a high school degree, compared to approximately 33% of those with green cards and other status, 22% of naturalized U.S. citizens, and 11% of U.S.-born citizens.


• Nearly 94% of U.S.-born New Yorkers have health insurance, compared with just 69% of non-citizen New Yorkers…where only 42% of undocumented immigrants have health insurance. • About 22% of immigrant New Yorkers reside in overcrowded households, defined here as more than one person per room. • Foreign-born New Yorkers contribute significantly to the City’s economic health and vitality. Immigrants own 52% of New York City’s businesses, and in 2017, immigrants contributed an estimated $195 billion to the City’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or about 22% of the City’s total GDP. • Over half of all New Yorkers – regardless of immigration status – are rent-burdened, defined by the Census Bureau as spending 30% or more of their household income on rent. • Top 10 countries of origin for foreign-born residents – Dominican Republic, China, Mexico, Jamaica, Guyana, Ecuador, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, Bangladesh, and India. • Foreign-born workers make up 45% of the city’s labor force, up from 31% in 1990. — Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs

Once, my life intersected with V.C. Igarta By Eileen R. Tabios

In my last few years living in New York City — before moving to San Francisco about 18 years ago — I spent time with Venancio C. “V.C.” Igarta, the foremost artist of the Manong generation. By the time I met him through an introduction by poet Luis Cabalquinto, he had enjoyed success as an artist as well as received praise as a master colorist.


ut attention is fickle in the arts and by the time I met him, accolades had receded from the general art world and came mostly from Filipino and Asian American communities. Such ebbing for attention made Igarta—as it would with most artists in that situation—question the long-term fate of his art works. When we met, he was in his 80s and receiving treatment on a dialysis machine which must have also forced him to confront his mortality. These elements made him a fragile and moving figure to me by the time we met. But one of the great regrets of my life is that I wasn’t strong enough to weather Self portrait by Igarta, 1993 Igarta’s fragility. Perhaps it was because I was just starting out as a poet and his discernible Or perhaps I was initially cool to Igarta because concern about his art hit too close to the bone. I I suspected his appreciation of our shared Ilowas/am a self-made poet and it was disconcerting kano-ness. Unfairly, I considered our shared origin to see a master artist question his fate when I was (Ilocos Sur) mostly coincidence—I required time just starting out in my own art and figuring it out to recognize how much I appreciate and mutually on my own. Nor did it help that, as a younger poet, share with Igarta those elements associated with I was quite fraught. With hindsight, I may not have the Ilokano, including a strong work ethic as well as wanted to think that years of commitment to an hard-headedness. art could result in being ignored (though, as a more At times, I try to make myself feel better that this mature poet, obscurity is actually fine with me as is my role—not to be one of those who surrounded I now understand that the point of art-making and him with support, praise, or good humor (I was so poetry is not fame). young and raw and my humor was incompetent), FILAM  | 


but to be the one continuing to tell others about him and his art long after his death. In 2001, I wrote about him in a (probably over-the-top) article entitled “Meditations on Ilokano Abstractions” for Our Own Voice, a journal for Filipinos in the diaspora. In 2005, I made sure to include one of his paintings in the landmark exhibition “Poetry and Its Arts: Bay Area Interactions, 1954-2004” presented by the San Francisco Poetry Center at the California Historical Society in San Francisco. In June 2017 I encouraged his inclusion in the Filipino American Artist Directory, an initiative founded by Missouri-based artist Janna Añonuevo Langholz; he will be part of The Directory’s 2018 Edition. Igarta told me more than once—sometimes with resignation, but mostly with matter-of-fact astuteness — “If I am going to be remembered, it will be by Filipinos.” The FilAm’s readers can search for Igarta on the internet (including this link of his lovely “FREEDOM!” work in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. In fact, Igarta would be a good topic for a documentarian/movie-maker, an idea that surfaced as I recently was interviewed for a documentary on Jose Garcia Villa. A filmmaker would do well to consider Igarta, and perhaps do it soon while those who knew him best are still around (including Cabalquinto, president of the VC Igarta Foundation through which Igarta continues his philanthropic activities posthumously with a legacy that gives grants to artists and art-projects). Let us not forget. Let us remember Venancio C. Igarta. He was a Manong, which makes him us. He was a great artist, which makes us proud to share with him in being Filipino. Eileen R. Tabios has released over 50 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in nine countries and cyberspace. Her 2017 books include “The Opposite of Claustrophobia” (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, U.K.); “Manhattan: An Archaeology” (Paloma Press, U.S.A.); and “Love in a Time of Belligerence” (Editions du Cygne, France). More information is available at

Parents of the Year Menchu and Judith Sanchez

They don’t believe in spanking kids By Cristina DC Pastor

For registered nurse Menchu Sanchez, being recognized by the White House for her heroism during the 2012 Hurricane Sandy may be a lifetime achievement. Being named, with husband Judith, Parents of the Year is an equally stunning honor.

The Sanchezes during a family vacation in Eagle Rock, Hazleton, Pennsylvania.

“We’re very happy,” she said of the recognition conferred on them by the Garden State Filipino American Association, Inc. Menchu and Judith Sanchez are proud parents to Jude and Michelle, twenty-something siblings who are respectful children, kiss the hands of elders, and are very helpful at home. “They’re very good kids,” she said. Jude and Michelle were practically inseparable as children. Menchu shared a story steeped in superstition of how she saved the umbilical cords of her children, wrapped them together in a newspaper with a pencil (in the belief they would be good students), and kept them in a bag. It got her mother worried, she suggested separating the umbilical cords which Menchu did when they reached grade school. Not long after, they began to fight like cats and dogs, chimed in Judith. Judith and Menchu met in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s where she worked as a nurse for about 10 years and Judith was employed as a medical technologist. They married in the Philippines and immigrated to the U.S. in the 1990s. The family made their home in Secaucus, New Jersey, although Menchu, the middle of three siblings from Catanauan, Quezon, found work as a nurse in Manhattan. When she strategized the rescue of some 20 newborns from Hurricane Sandy during a power outage, she was working as a nurse at NYU Langone Medical Center. She is currently a clinical and neonatal nurse at Mount Sinai. Judith works for a French company distributing medical devices based in Parsippany, New Jersey. He is a Hotline Technical Specialist. The youngest of eight children from Gapan, Nueva Ecija, his girl’s name has to do with his parents’ religious devotion. They named all their children after biblical characters. Judith’s birthday fell on a date honoring the woman warrior Judith who beheaded enemy soldiers to save her kingdom. Their children – Jude, 25, and Michelle, 24 – are their pride and joy. Jude, a physical therapy assistant and swimming coach, is a “very respectful and FILAM  | 


very thoughtful” person, said his parents. His younger sister Michelle, a swim coach, is “kind and loving,” conscious that their parents do not carry heavy grocery bags because of their age. The children live with their parents, and no one seems to mind that all of them, including their maternal grandmother, are under one roof. Said Menchu with a laugh, “We said nobody will be living outside of the house until they are married.” At this time and age, added Judith, “We are just being practical because everything is expensive.” He said the kids can come and go as they please and have no curfew. The children received no spanking when they misbehaved as kids, which they rarely did. They are raised on the Filipino custom of respect for elders and being polite. When they arrive home, they give their parents a hug and kiss, same as when they leave the house. “No physical punishment, just words of wisdom,” said Judith. “Puro pangaral.” Judith believes in instilling in his children wise words they can learn from. One he used to dispense when they were little kids learning to swim was ‘No pain, no gain.’ Another favorite is that of ‘teaching a man to fish’ versus ‘giving him a fish,’ a maxim that discourages handouts in helping others. The family goes to Sunday mass at Immaculate Conception Church in Secaucus, where Menchu sings in the choir and Michelle plays the drum and guitar. They are active in the church’s Filipino community. Unknown to some of her friends, Menchu is quietly preparing for a kidney transplant. She is suffering from a rare disorder called ‘IgA nephropathy,’ a condition where the kidney is unable to filter waste from blood to urine. She is looking for a kidney donor with the same blood type (Type 0 positive) -- and a kind, generous heart. As she awaits her approaching hospital date, she is sustained by the love and support of her family.

Issue 2, April 2018

Parents of the Year Menchu & Judith Sanchez p15 NYC residents are 40% foreignborn p13 Pomp & politics in trans beauty pageant p12

Filam April  
Filam April