NEW YORK CITY – Times Square is looking a lot like the North Pole.
Thousands of Santas turned up for the annual Santacon in New York City.
According to its website, Santacon is a charitable, non-commercial, non-political, nonsensical Santa Claus convention that happens once a year for absolutely no reason.
Fil-Am reveler from San Diego, Alexandra Tuazon said, “Jesus is the reason for the season and don’t you forget it, it’s all about having fun, and enjoying each other’s company having the best time ever and loving your family.”
From a jolly Frankenstein Santa to this Star Wars Santa family, revelers also dressed up in their creative Christmas-themed costumes aside from jolly old St. Nick’s traditional red and white.
First time Santacon-goer Fil-Am Danielle Francisco came all the way from Boston, Mass. just to take part in this year’s Santacon festivities.
“It’s kind of magical, I mean, everyone celebrating Christmas became creative with their costumes. It’s crazy,” said Francisco.
New York City resident Jacqueline Truong said, “I think it’s a chance for people to get in the holiday spirit, just be together. New York City is a place where you just walk past everyone. So this is a chance for you to just get together and have fun.”
If you missed this year’s Santacon pub crawl, there’s always next year to experience this holiday event.
LONG BEACH, Calif. – Strike two at a Filipino video store in Long Beach.
Law enforcement officials raided FLB Video for the second time in seven months for manufacturing and selling bootlegged movies.
Enforcers recovered more duplicating material and pirated goods.
They also booked the store’s owner Fernando Legaspi Bernabe, who did not want to speak to Balitang America.
FLB was first raided in May when about 5,000 DVDs, including ABS-CBN movies and TV shows, as well as copying devices were seized.
Legaspi and his wife were arrested then, and after a plea deal they were put on felony probation.
“He continued to sell pirated DVDs, so today we concluded that investigation with another search warrant,” said Lt. Geoff Deedrick, of the LA County Sheriff’s Department.
Search warrants were served at Bernabe’s home office just down the street from the video store, where more pirated products were seized.
Under the alleged scheme, Bernabe would illegally copy Filipino and American DVDs and sell them for $10 apiece. Investigators claim he often filled orders of movies on demand.
“We found multiple burners, to blank CDs, and to where this suspect was burning and making their own copies from the authentic products, and burning the pirated DVDs to sell,” said Lt. Deedrick.
Internationally, movie piracy siphons $500 billion from companies into the underground industry, and in some cases, it funds terrorism and gang activity.
“A counterfeited product in the marketplace not only hurts the person that makes it, it also takes money out of the economy and it creates this underground economy which has fiscal implications through many cities,” continued Lt. Deedrick.
As an alleged repeat offender, Bernabe, a former city council candidate, now faces possible jail time.
Authorities also found a gun registered under his name, which should have been turned in as part of his initial probation.
By Caroline Howard
MANILA – The family of slain transgender Filipina Jennifer Laude is protesting as to why US intelligence allegedly withheld evidence of the crime. They also insist the Philippines should assert its right to take custody of US Marine suspect Joseph Scott Pemberton.
This runs contrary to the United States’ position that it has the right to custody until all judicial proceedings are completed.
“The VFA provides that the Philippines can opt to refuse America’s request for custody,” said Atty. Harry Roque, counsel for the Laude family. “If the case involves extraordinary cases, we could say no to the American request. … The AFP has him in our camp, so it would be foolhardy for authorities to let go of Pemberton this time around.”
Roque adds that the Naval Command Intelligence Service or NCIS shoud not have withheld – from the Luade family – its report which includes material evidence, including the unused condom that bore Pemberton’s fingerprints, and his own declaration to two soldiers that he may have killed a “lady man.”
“My interpretation is he must have been preparing to put it on and discovered Jennifer, he was a man, and must’ve freaked,” said Atty. Harry Roque. “That’s his account to his colleagues onboard the ship, including his superior. He apparently made a declaration against interest that he may have killed a ‘lady man’ and that was so material.”
Roque says Laude died in such a cruel manner, that it showed intent to kill.
“The extent of injuries Jennifer suffered were unnecessary,” said Atty. Roque. “He was repeatedly punched. There were indications she was bitten in the face. Malinaw na malinaw sa akin yung aspeto ng treachery, cruelty, and abuse of strength to make it murder.”
Meanwhile, a cashier who worked at the motel where Laude died has decided to apply for the witness protection program. The witness known as Vads recalls the night he found Laude’s lifeless body.
“Nagtaka ako bakit niya iniwang bukas yung room,” said Vads. “Pagkasilip ko, nakabukas bintana, bedsheet wala na, tapos sandals nasa tapat ng CR nakasara. Tapos, binalikan ko, kadalasan hindi naiiwan yung gay, kadalasan nauuna gay, kaya weird yung pangyari.”
Roque says he expects US authorities to present Pemberton and the soldiers Pemberton spoke to during judicial proceedings.
“The whole world is looking at America now,” said Atty. Roque. “The crucial witnesses are in their possession and if they don’t make available for judicial proceedings, the reputation of America as a land of fair play will be adversely affected.”
But if the US government refuses to cooperate, Roque says he will again bring that battle to court.
By Veronica Silva
TORONTO – It was the lawyers turn to weigh-in on the new caregiver rules, and the verdict is not good.
Instead of benefiting caregivers, lawyers warn the new rules may put them in a more vulnerable situation. Top immigration and human rights lawyers urge vigilance in monitoring the implementation of the new caregiver program.
Immigration Minister Alexander announced the new caregiver program, which took effect last November 30.
“Legal minds in Toronto agree that the new caregiver program can do more harm than good to the workers,” said Veronica Silva. “While the live-in requirement has been removed, there are still many uncertainties about the program, including the pathway to permanent residency.”
Caregivers are still tied to a work permit specific to an employer, and the live-in feature is still an option that caregivers may be forced to waive if only to get a work permit.
But the 5,500 cap set on the number of caregivers to be admitted for permanent residency each year is still the contentious issue.
“So workers will not know – entering the program – if they are on the path to permanence or on a merry-go-round to temporariness,” said Faye Faraday, a lawyer. “It makes their situation much more precarious.”
Lawyers warn that caregivers may go underground because of uncertainties in the new program.
“If there are no efforts to balance the quota for permanent residency against the quota for permanent residency against the quota for incoming work permit holders, there is a very good chance, a high likelihood, that a lot will fall out of status eventually,” said Deanna Santos, a lawyer, “and will become even more vulnerable in the underground economy, because they will be more subject to abuse and exploitation because they have no status.”
While the old and new caregiver programs have its pros and cons, permanent status upon arrival is deemed as the best solution.
The caregiver community has been asking for permanent status upon arrival for years.
By Rachelle Cruz
TORONTO – Amnesty’s report, released early December titled “Above the Law: Police Torture in the Philippines,” revealed a major new campaign to stop torture in the country.
“Torture is still taking place, particularly in jails, in police custody,” said Gloria Nafziger, an anti-torture campaigner. “So that’s the focus of this campaign. And we believe that with proper oversight, with proper oversight of prisoners, conditions of prisons, we can stop torture in prisons.”
In the case of Jerryme Corre, his life changed on January 2012 after he was arrested and detained at the Tomas Pepito Police Camp in Angeles City.
The officers accused Corre of stealing, drug possession, and killing a police officer.
Amnesty reported he was tortured by police. He is still in prison today.
The Global Write for Rights event was in full swing. A former political prisoner explained why the letter writing campaign is important.
“Kasi noong nakakulong ako, ang letter writing kept my moral,” said Christopher Sorio. “So I also would like to tell people that when they put their signature, it really matters.”
Whether on the streets, or putting their signatures on paper, people are showing their support.
“We are here to raise the profile,” said Imtiaz Baloch, “Since it’s the International Human day today, we are here to raise the profile of those people.”
The new James Bond movie continues production despite being embroiled in the massive cyber-hacking of a big Hollywood studio. Yong Chavez tells us which Fil-Am star has joined the cast.
By Agence France-Presse
The Philippine government sought formal custody Tuesday of a US Marine charged with murder over the death of a Filipino transgender woman after a court ordered his arrest.
In a case that has fanned anti-American feelings and tested close military ties, Joseph Pemberton was charged Monday with murdering a transgender woman who was found dead at a cheap hotel in the northern port city of Olongapo in October.
A lower court in Olongapo ordered the defendant’s arrest Tuesday and ruled he will not be entitled to post bail, court officials said.
“We welcome the progress made so far on the case, and as we stated earlier, we will now formally seek custody over the accused,” foreign department spokesman Charles Jose said in a statement.
Pemberton has remained under official US custody even after he was transferred from a US warship off Olongapo to the Philippine military headquarters in Manila amid a public outcry.
Jennifer Laude, a 26-year-old transgender woman also known as Jeffrey, was found dead on October 12 in a cheap hotel in a red light district of the port city of Olongapo.
Pemberton, 19 at the time, had just finished taking part in US-Philippine military exercises near Olongapo and checked into the hotel with Laude. He was the last person seen with her, police said.
Murder is punishable by up to 40 years in jail.
The US embassy issued a statement Tuesday on the murder charge against Pemberton, but made no mention of the court order for his arrest.
“In accordance with the US-Philippine Visiting Forces Agreement, the United States has a right to retain custody of a suspect from the commission of the alleged offence until the completion of all judicial proceedings,” it said.
“The United States will continue to work closely with the Philippine government to help ensure justice is served and the rights of all persons are protected.”
A US embassy spokeswoman did not immediately reply to requests for comment by AFP on the arrest order and the foreign department’s request to seek custody of Pemberton.
Laude’s death sparked street protests in the Philippines, a former US colony that gained independence in 1946 but has retained a close alliance.
The United States closed down two major military bases in 1992, but the allies in 1998 signed a Visiting Forces Agreement that allowed US troops to take part in war games on Philippine soil.
Military exercises involving thousands of US soldiers have since taken place each year.
NEW YORK – Dozens of people gathered at the Washington Square Park in New York Monday night for a candlelight vigil to honor all the transgender women lost to police related violence and brutality.
As the names of each victim is called, Filipinos here called a name to honor one of their own.
Jennifer laude — a transgender Filipina who was found strangled to death inside a motel bathroom in Olongapo City last October.
Transgender Pinay activist, Armani Taylor says the issuance of an arrest warrant against US Marine suspect Joseph Scott Pemberton is welcome news for the Fil-Am transgender community in New York.
“I’m glad that he is being charged with that crime and he needs to face some harsh punishment,” said community organizer Armani Taylor. “He deserves it.”
“We want justice for all trans women who were murdered or who experience violence in society,” said Tanya Asapansa Walker of the Audre Lorde Project.
If found guilty on murder charges, Pemberton may face up to 40 years in jail.
“He should be in jail for the rest of his life and there should be a huge look at the U.S. military in the Philippines,” said Candace Sering of Gabriela New York. “We should junk the visiting forces agreement.
The Philippine government is now working on getting Pemberton’s custody from the U.S. government while advocates for transgender women rights here say they will keep a close watch on this case until justice is served to their sister, Jennifer Laude.
You can contact Don Tagala at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @dontagala for more information.
Pope Francis has asked to ride an open vehicle when he visits the Philippines next month, making him both “vulnerable” but more accessible to the people, the Filipino Catholic Church said Tuesday.
The government announced last month a custom-built “popemobile” would be built in coordination with Vatican security to protect him from unspecific threats during his January trip to Asia’s Catholic bastion.
However, Filipino church officials revealed Tuesday the vehicle will be open and “not bulletproof” to accommodate the demands of the visiting church leader.
“What this means is our Holy Father will be very vulnerable during his visit,” said Father David Concepcion, a member of a church committee preparing for the papal visit.
Francis is to arrive in Manila from Sri Lanka on January 15 and spend an entire day on January 17 hearing mass and comforting victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban city and Palo town on the central island of Leyte.
The typhoon, the strongest ever to hit land, killed or left missing 7,350 people and left millions of others homeless in November last year after it triggered tsunami-like giant waves that wiped out entire towns.
Pope Francis, who has shunned the pomp of his predecessors, said earlier this year he prefers to use open-top cars rather than the Vatican’s bulletproof “popemobile” used by previous pontiffs, which he called a “sardine can”.
“The popemobile will symbolise his desire to express his sympathy to the Filipino people and demonstrate what kind of church he wants to impart to the people,” Concepcion told a news conference.
“It will have no aircon, so he will be feeling the tropical heat. If it rains he will get soaked too,” he added.
“The Holy Father wishes to be accessible. He wants the option to stop and step down onto the street anywhere.”
The government has said it expects a total of six million people to turn up when the Pontiff hears mass in Tacloban and in Manila’s main outdoor park the following day.
SAN FRANCISCO – Signs and banners were held high and chants echoed in San Francisco as over a hundred teachers, students, and parents rallied for the San Francisco Board of Education to pass a resolution for ethnic study courses be taught in all San Francisco high schools starting in the fall.
And their efforts did not go in vain.
The school board passed the resolution in a unanimous vote.
The passage of the resolution will also expand multi-ethnic and multi-culturalism into middle schools as well as working towards ethnic studies to be a graduation requirement in the future.
District officials were pleased to present that early findings show ethnic studies has helped increase grade point averages and reduced unexcused students absences.
Fil-Am San Francisco State University Associate Professor of Asian-American Studies Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales was instrumental in developing the first ethnic studies curriculum for the 2008-2009 school year.
“Ethnic studies transform lives,” said Tintiangco-Cubales. “Ethnic studies is more than just relevant, it’s responsive to the community’s needs. Mainstream education does not address the needs of marginalized peoples and their stories are not told. Often times, students come to my classes at the college level and say I’ve never been taught this or learned about this myself. And that’s why we need ethnic studies earlier. So young people can believe in their selves and know who they are, know their histories, know about their families, and know how to change their communities, as well.”
Many young Filipino educators who took ethnic studies in college say that this victory will benefit students for generations to come.
“I’ve seen the changes in my students,” said Deodor Tronco, a Pin@y Educational Partnership (PEP) teacher. “It really affects their lives in terms of validating who they are, who they can become. They really see the common ground in validating each others stories and just understanding each other.”
“They’re really the ones to reap the benefits and I’m excited for their future because they’re going to lead us now,” said PEP teacher Andrew Gutierrez III. “So we just got to build that foundation and that framework.”
Hydra Mendoza, the first and only Filipina to be elected to San Francisco public office and was recently re-elected to the school board, was proud to support a motion that may help in defeating ignorance and discrimination.
“Especially during these times of racial tensions — having our kids understand where others come from, what makes their struggles the same or different from anybody else,” said Mendoza. “How do we bring all that together so that there’s just a better understanding and more calm relationships with each other and with the larger world?”
The district will be hiring a full-time ethnic studies coordinator and will staff all 19 San Francisco high schools with a part-time ethnic studies teacher. And with the additional teacher training and other expenses, the district will be spending a total of about $470,000.
You can contact Rommel Conclara at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @rommelconclara for more information.
REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – There’s a possible break in the Sacramento, Calif. case of a missing pregnant Filipina.
Filipino American Aubrey Andrews, 20, has been missing since Dec. 6. She is nine months pregnant.
Andrews’ vehicle has been found in Sacramento and a body was also recovered inside it.
However, police are still trying to identify the body in the vehicle. As of now, there is no sign foul play.
According to reports, she had suffered post-partum depression after the birth of their three year old son.
The case is still being investigated as a missing person’s case.
Andrews is described as 5 feet 1 inch tall, weighs 150 pounds, and has black hair with gold highlights.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Sacramento police at 916-264-5471.
After striking a plea deal earlier this year, the former college professor, accused of traveling to the Philippines to have sex with children was sentenced in a federal court room.
Former University of Southern California professor Walter Lee Williams appeared in federal court on Monday dressed in his prison jacket, sitting in his wheel chair.
The ailing 65-year-old was sentenced to five years in prison, 10 years of supervised release and ordered to pay $25,000 (more than P1 million) in restitution to seven Philippine-based victims. The victims will each receive over $3,500 (P150,000) each.
Williams said he accepts full responsibility.
A plea deal made in September shows that the former anthropology and gender professor admitted to meeting two Filipino teenage boys online in 2010.
He traveled to the Philippines in 2011 and had sexual contact with the two and other minors.
In 2013 authorities began questioning Williams he then fled to Mexico and was apprehended shortly after landing on the FBI’s most wanted fugitives list.
The 10 year supervised release that Williams faces comes with many restrictions, including sex offender registration, restricted contact with minors, monitoring of his internet and computer use as well as counseling.
LOS ANGELES – An annual Christmas season tradition for Filipinos in downtown Los Angeles kicked off Monday night.
With a procession of parols, over 2,000 people came to the Los Angeles Archdiocese to kick off of Simbang Gabi at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
In a mass celebrated by Archbishop Jose Gomez, the theme this year is mercy and compassion. The event was also the community’s way of welcoming Pope Francis who will be visiting the Philippines next month.
Dozens of churches from the community have blessed their parols at this first mass before completing the 10-day spiritual tradition at their home parish.
She’s Hollywood royalty, a writer, fitness expert, activist, and the 2014 American Film Institute Life Achievement awardee.
Our Hollywood correspondent Yong Chavez talks to Jane Fonda about her life and career.
It is known as the “Jewel of Puerto Galera.”
We visit the Infinity Resort and Spa and discover all its treasures in this week’s travels.
By Doris Bigornia
OLONGAPO CITY – In just a little over two months since Jennifer Laude was found dead inside a motel in Olongapo City, state prosecutors were able to file a murder case against the US suspect, Joseph Scott Pemberton.
Laude’s family and lawyers call this an initial success.
They are well aware of the challenges that lie ahead, given that the accused is an American serviceman. No American soldier has ever served a full sentence in the Philippines.
“Inaasahan namin ang issuance ng warrant of arrest kaagad agad,” said the lawyer for Laude family, Virgie Suarez-Pinlac. “This is a murder case, non-bailable, kaya dapat sa buong taon dapat nakaulong si Pemberton.”
On October 11, Laude, a transgender woman, was found dead inside a motel room toilet. His body slumped against the toilet bowl. Forensics say he was beaten and drowned.
According to several witnesses, Pemberton was with Laude inside that room just minutes before Laude’s body was discovered.
Pemberton’s lawyers had insisted there was no probable cause to try the soldier for murder.
If the case reaches the court, they had hoped it would be homicide.
But the Justice Department says there was treachery, abuse of superior strength, and cruelty – enough reasons to call it murder.
The Foreign Affairs Department lauds the prosecutors for a speedy investigation of the case.
A statement from them said, “In accordance with the VFA, we look forward to the full cooperation of the US government in ensuring that justice is secured for Jeffrey ‘Jennifer’ Laude.”
The DFA says it expects full cooperation from the US government once trial begins. But, the department also noted that provisions of the Visiting Forces Agreement should also be followed.
Outside the prosecutor’s office, a small group of people gathered to call for justice for Jennifer Laude. With the initial victory, they vowed to press on and see the fight to the end.
“Hinihiling na lang po natin ngayon, pagdating sa korte, sama sama pa rin po tayo,” said Malou Laude, Jennifer’s sister.
By Jekki Pascual
The United Nations Climate Change Summit in Lima, Peru went overtime, ending on December 13 when it should have finished on December 12.
The result: an agreement that would push all nations to do their share in combating global warming.
The agreement calls on governments to submit a plan on how they will cut carbon pollution. For the first time, the agreement commits all countries, including developing nations.
But many climate advocates are not too happy with the deal.
“There should be enough commitments. Have we seen that? No we haven’t seen that,” said Khevin Yu, of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice. “We’ve just seen them not doing anything, just delaying.”
The group says the deal does not require developed nations to provide technology and resources –including financial support – to those who suffer the effects of climate change. They add, the deal also does not compel developed nations, which are top emitters of greenhouse gases, to increase carbon emission.
“The deal violates our right to survive – the Philippine government allowed it to do it,” said Khevin Yu, “so we are demanding so much for climate justice, more finance, adaptation. This is an issue of survival.”
Strong typhoons affect the country every year, and environmentalists say Filipinos must act now and do more to stop global warming.
With a few months to go before a new global deal on climate change is set to be approved in Paris, environmentalists and advocates are still hopeful their demands will still be heard for the survival of the planet.
SAN FRANCISCO – Filipino workers were a part of the estimated 1,000 restaurant workers at San Francisco International Airport who went on a two-day strike last week.
They say their wages are too low to survive in the Bay Area.
“My bedroom costs $,1800 a month and it’s small,” said Agnes Formento, a 14-year restaurant worker at SFO. “That’s why we’re having a hard time now. That’s why we’re fighting for contracts, so we could be given a higher wage.”
“What I’m making is not enough for my family’s needs, especially for my kids,” said Efcee Conde, a one year restaurant worker at SFO. “I have one girl and one boy. Our expenses for their school are big so we need a raise.”
The strike affected 55 restaurants representing more than 80 percent of food and beverage sales at SFO.
“The purpose of this limited strike was to send a serious message to these employers that we’re very serious about wanting a fair contract, one that protects worker jobs and addresses healthcare in the future,” said Anand Singh, Food Service Director and Lead Negotiator for Local 2.
Workers are afraid of losing their jobs since restaurants tend to relocate and open positions to new workers. Also, the workers say that their employer’s final proposal offered no additional money for health coverage.
Balitang America has reached out to SFO and according to Public Information Officer Doug Yakel, 80 percent of restaurants were open during the strike.
Balitang America also reached out to the restaurant owners and they said in a phone conversation that they are continuing to bargain with the workers hoping to find a new resolution by the end of the day.
LAS VEGAS – He’s ready to fight Manny Pacquiao and he even has a date in mind. Floyd Mayweather Jr. says in a Showtime interview that he’s prepared for the mega showdown.
“Let’s make the fight happen” said Mayweather. “Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao – May 2nd. Let’s do it.”
Mayweather Jr. said he always wanted the fight to happen even if Pacquiao is not on his level, since Pacquiao has several losses compared to his undefeated record of 47 wins and no losses.
“Before, we wanted the fight to happen,” said Mayweather. “We offered you $40 million. You lost two times. You’re coming back to us wanting the same money – that’s not going to happen. Manny Pacquiao, Mayweather – May 2nd.”
Mayweather also took a swipe against Top Rank CEO Bob Arum for allegedly hindering the fight, but Arum turned the tables on Mayweather.
“It’s pushing, but it takes a lot to push Mayweather because he is not anxious to fight Manny,” said Arum. “I know why Manny figures not only to win but to knock him out.”
Golden Boy CEO Oscar Dela Hoya told the ABS-CBN North America Bureau that he is among the millions of fight fans dreaming to see this fight to happen.
“A lot of people say that they’re not the same fighters they once were obviously five years ago,” said Dela Hoya. “They were younger. They were faster. They were stronger. But the fight is still intriguing even at this point because you have the best against the best.”
It’s been five years since a Pacquiao/Mayweather fight was first brought to the table, up to now this continues to be the talk of the town for boxing fans all over the world.