Any Port in A Storm - Philippine Safe Haven


The plight of an oppressed Muslim minority from Myanmar, the Rohingya people, has made headlines worldwide recently. After months of floating across South East Asia, they have found temporary safe haven in the Philippines. The decision to take in the Rohingya was met with international approval, as other Asian nations refused to allow them entry. The case of the Rohingya is not the first time South East Asia faced a refugee crisis.

April 30 2015 marked forty years since the fall of Saigon. After communist victory in the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and other Indochinese people left their homes. Hoping to escape repressive regimes, they took to sea in small boats and braved a harrowing journey across the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. Storms, thirst, hunger, and pirates were just a few of the dangers they had to face.  “Thuyền nhân”, or boat people in Vietnamese, would become a concern for a generation of South East Asian diplomats and policy makers. The flow of refugees began with just a trickle in 1975, with few choosing to leave Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia so soon after the end of the war. The number fleeing the region increased dramatically each year afterward as economic depression deepened and political persecution intensified. The peak was in 1979, with nearly a quarter of a million refugees fleeing Vietnam during that year alone. Many were ethnic Chinese who became targets for revenge due to China’s 1979 invasion of Vietnam. Refugees continued to flee Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia for neighboring countries throughout the 1980’s, with the flow only stopping completely in 1994. By then, economic growth and political reforms in Vietnam had made it far less likely for people to leave the country.

While the Philippines was not the destination for the majority of the refugees, around 200,000 Vietnamese, Lao, and Cambodians were processed by the two main centers in Morong, Bataan, and Puerto Princesa in Palawan. Boat people rescued by the Philippine Navy or Coast Guard would be taken to either of the two where they would stay until they were resettled permanently in other countries, with the United States the destination of choice. Many of the refugees suffered in diplomatic and political limbo, having no documentation or citizenship in the countries they wanted to resettle. As their immigration status and resettlement arrangements were handled, they lived and worked in the refugee centers. The term refugee camp brings to mind nightmarish images of tent cities teeming with disease and despair. Thankfully, the facilities in the Philippines were nothing of the sort. The main center in Morong and Vietville in Palawan were like pieces of Vietnam transplanted to the Philippines. Social services from a range of organizations, religious, governmental, and international, helped the boat people rebuild their lives and provide a semblance of normalcy. The Philippine government provided the land on which the centers were constructed and also guaranteed their security. International groups, primarily the UN High Commission on Refugees and the Red Cross, provided the funding.

any port in a storm 1

Sadly, the treatment the boat people received in the Philippines was not the norm across the region. In Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Indonesia, they were often crammed into crowded and unsanitary camps. Singapore took the hardest line against refugees. The Singaporean Navy was ordered to intercept any boats and tow them out of Singapore’s territorial waters, regardless of the condition of the passengers or the seaworthiness of their vessels. The late Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew was unapologetic about this policy, stating in November 1978 – “You’ve got to grow calluses on your heart or you just bleed to death… Can I afford to have people festering away in refugee camps, being hawked around to countries which are supposed to have compassion for long suffering humanity?” Undoubtedly, these actions led to the death of many boat people whose vessels sank before they could reach safe haven elsewhere. To some degree, Singapore’s policy was understandable. Hong Kong and Singapore in particular had little space or resources to devote to potentially hundreds of thousands of refugees. The Philippines, an entire archipelago and several large islands, could afford to be more generous with space.

Yet the situation in the Philippines was far from ideal when it hosted the boat people. The late 70’s and early 80’s saw economic stagnation and increasing domestic turmoil. The EDSA revolution and the end of the Marcos regime in 1986 only brought a new set of challenges. The economy was in free fall and military coups against the new, democratic government of Corazon Aquino made an already unstable situation worse. The insult “the sick man of Asia” was never more truly applied to the Philippines than during the late 70’s and 80’s. Despite these challenges, the Philippine government addressed the refugee problem with surprising wisdom and humanity. By 1996, the centers in Morong and Palawan were closed, with the overwhelming majority of refugees resettled in the United States and other developed countries.

Philippine policy makers faced a difficult dilemma concerning the boat people. They had to balance national interests against the undeniable suffering of a people in need. To this day, the Philippines is not a rich country and much of its still growing population suffers from grinding poverty and inequality. These problems were even more acute in the 1980’s. Filipinos had to endure power shortages, military coups, and an economy that seemed to only get worse. The fact that the Philippine government managed to find a pragmatic and humane solution to the refugee crisis is all the more remarkable considering these difficulties. Vietnamese refugees in the United States expressed their gratitude in November 2013, collecting  nearly 2 million dollars in disaster relief after Typhoon Yolanda devastated the Visayas. It is a high compliment to a nation’s warmth and hospitality when even its refugee camps are remembered fondly. Today, the Philippines and Vietnam work together in resolving territorial disputes in the South China Sea against Chinese expansion. The saga of the boat people proved that despite great hardship of its own, the Philippines could be a safe haven for those most in need.

About the author

10352321_10153026739129050_5599371636193964618_nCristobal Zarco was born in the Philippines and grew up in New York, specifically Long Island. He graduated with a degree in political science from Adelphi University. He enjoys tracking down books about Philippine history and exploring lesser known parts of New York City.

Five Amazing Things to Look Forward to at Summit 2015: Recognize


by Mark Libatique Conferences are what our older cousins went to, a thing of the past. This is Summit 2015: Recognize. Here are some of the most exciting things to expect at this year’s edition of UniPro’s premier event.


You’ll Find Your Career Launchpad.

Seriously. Whether you’re in the early stages of finding your footing in your industry of choice, knee-deep in its trenches or simply looking for guidance, you’ll meet who you’ll need to at Summit: Recognize. Experts and authorities in media, community organizing, policy, food, and tech will be in attendance. You’ll want to be there too.

Filipino Kitchen

Filipino Kitchen's Maja Blanca Pancakes and Longanisa Scotch Eggs

Food. Pagkain. Sarap-ness.

Never a bad place to inject the best of Pilipino culture. Summit: Recognize will feature the up-and-coming best of America’s new favorite cuisine. Famed Filipino Kitchen will be hosting a workshop, and you’ll get a chance to get a cup full of your favorite Baonanas flavors.

Summit 2015 Raffle

Free Ticket to the Philippines. Yeah.

Thanks to Philippine Airlines, one delegate will win a free round-trip ticket to the Philippines. Registrants to Summit: Recognize will automatically be entered to win, and you can up your chances by purchasing more raffle tickets at Summit.

0 (1)

Not Your Ordinary Minority Panel.

With Summit: Recognize, we’ll shift our focus as Filipinos to our role within the greater community of color that makes up minority America. There’s never been a more important time in our history to do so, and you’ll be at the forefront of it. Take a look at our amazing panel speakers.

Summit 2014 Delegates

Our delegates at Summit 2014

You’ll Probably Meet Someone Who Needs You.

We come from all fields and industries, and we’re quickly realizing that in order to be recognized, we must recognize each other. The technical term for it is “networking,” but we do it differently. These relationships last, and can produce life-changing personal results for you that will continue for years. Trust us. You might change someone’s life at Summit, too.

*To register for Summit, go to *TODAY ONLY, 5/27: Graduation Flash Sale - $15 Off Summit Tickets

A Survey of Philippine Literature


In general, the default condition for much of Philippine literature is obscurity.

To learn more about a country and people, a good place to start is their literature. The most loved books of a people are like a lens with which to understand them. With respect to the seven thousand islands, what books are these? Filipinos do not usually think of themselves as a particularly literary people. For those living abroad, literature is secondary to food, television, or music when it comes to reminding them of their homeland. In general, the default condition for much of Philippine literature is obscurity. At home or abroad, Filipinos are more likely to be interested in global pop culture, whether from the United States or more recently, South Korea.

This is unfortunate considering the range and depth of Philippine literature. The Philippines is unique for having important works in many languages. These might be grouped into four - Philippine literature in Spanish, Tagalog, English, and other Philippine languages. It might seem that these different bodies of work correspond only with a period of colonial domination, but this is misleading. Philippine authors made these languages their own, adding a distinct voice to them that was unique to our archipelago.

The most politically important body of Philippine literature is that which was written in Spanish. The Propaganda movement, which included Jose Rizal agitated for independence in the 1880’s and 1890’s, writing exclusively in Spanish. Rizal’s two most important novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Flibusterismo were written in Spanish as well. However, during the American colonial period, Spanish was gradually replaced over the next few decades by English. Even if Rizal was celebrated as a national hero, his writing was almost never read in the original Spanish. Noli and Fili have been taught to generations of schoolchildren, but always in translation. Rizal was not the only major writer in Spanish. Important contemporaries were Marcelo H. del Pilar and Graciano Lopez Jaena. A generation after Rizal came Claro M. Recto, a nationalist lawyer and author, who championed independence from the United States. Recto also wrote primarily in Spanish on a wide range of topics. While all of these figures are honored and celebrated in the Philippines, not much attention is paid to what they wrote, let alone what language they used. Sadly, the old quip about the classics is very applicable to Philippine writing in Spanish - praised by all, read by few.

Tagalog introduction to Florante at Laura

Tagalog is the oldest literary language of the archipelago and now, the most widespread. The earliest major work in Tagalog was Francisco Balagtas’ Florante at Laura, an epic poem published in 1838. Florante at Laura is still taught in schools across the country as the epitome of literary Tagalog. For purposes of comparison, Balagtas wrote at roughly the same time as Edgar Allen Poe and a few decades before Charles Dickens. While important, Florante at Laura can be difficult for modern Tagalog speakers to understand, let alone those learning the language. Thankfully, there have been many authors since Balagtas who have continued to write in Tagalog. Andres Bonifacio, founder of the Katipunan, also wrote in Tagalog, notably the poem Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa, roughly translated as Love for Native Land. Since then, Tagalog literature has continued to grow. Some modern authors include Ceres S.C. Alabado, writer of Kangkong 1896, a look at the Revolution from a young boy’s perspective, and Lualhati Bautista, author of Dekada Setenta and Bata, Bata… Pa'no Ka Ginawa?. Dekada follows a middle class family through the martial law years, and Bata is about the struggles of a single mother. Both were turned into full length films starring Vilma Santos. Today, the largest venue for Tagalog literature is the internet, with many aspiring writers publishing their work online. A few of these become successful enough to get film adaptations, among them being Diary ng Panget and She’s Dating the Gangster, films released in 2014 that began as online novels. While Tagalog may have changed considerably since the days of Balagtas, it is now a truly national language that has a large and thriving literature.

English remains the language of the Philippine elite. Though there was considerable resistance to English in the first part of the 20th century, Philippine writers mastered it quickly. Paz Marquez-Benitez wrote the first short story in English in 1925, entitled Dead Stars. However, it was not until after WW2 that English became language of choice for authors. The largest names in 20th century Philippine literature wrote in English, namely, Nick Joaquin, F. Sionil Jose, Jose Garcia Villa, and others. Perhaps the most important writer in English was Nick Joaquin, whose career spanned from the start of WW2 to the post-Marcos era. Nick Joaquin wrote dozens of short stories, two novels, hundreds of journalistic features, political commentary, historical analysis, biographies, plays, and much more, all in English. He was honored as a National Artist for Literature in 1976. Nick Joaquin attempted to create genuinely Philippine voice in English, going as far as trying to translate Tagalog expressions into English. Among his more notable works are the play A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino and the short story May Day Eve. In our new century, there have been many authors who have continued to write in English. An internationally awarded contemporary writer in English is Miguel Syjuco, author of the 2010 book Illustrado.

The Hiligaynon Bible.

 Literature in other Philippine languages may be the hardest genre to appreciate but is often the most sentimentally or personally important. For the roughly two thirds of Filipinos who do not speak Tagalog as their native language, not many books are written in their languages. The situation varies depending on the language, as some regional languages are larger and have more reach than others. Visayan languages with more speakers, like Cebuano and Hiligaynon, are large enough to have their own TV and radio stations. But in general, most Philippine languages are in the shadow of English and Tagalog. Still, there are some important works that can be found in these other languages. The Bible has been translated into every major Philippine language – whether Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, Pangasinense, Kapampangan, Waray, Hiligaynon, Kinaray-a, and others. YouTube is also a goldmine for finding songs, comedy skits, amateur films, and all manner of material in these languages. The value of this material is more educational than literary. Most Filipinos born abroad have a difficult enough time learning Tagalog, let alone the regional language that their parents might speak. But these materials have the potential to teach them how.

 In summary, the Philippines has a very rich but fragmented literary tradition. Indeed, because of the number of languages in the islands, it has been difficult for a single book or novel to have an effect nationwide. Class also plays a role, as the educated elite and the masses rarely speak the same language. Regardless, over the past two centuries, our authors have created a literature distinctly our own. What remains for us to do today is to appreciate it and contribute to it. In the 21st century diaspora era, Filipinos have reached more parts of the globe than ever before.  Europe, North America, the Middle East, and the rest of Asia are familiar places in the mind of the OFW. With such global reach, the wealth of languages in our literary tradition should be strength, not a weakness. We have a rich literary tradition, one that should not be ignored, and one that we should contribute to.

About the author

10352321_10153026739129050_5599371636193964618_nCristobal Zarco was born in the Philippines and grew up in New York, specifically Long Island. He graduated with a degree in political science from Adelphi University. He enjoys tracking down books about Philippine history and exploring lesser known parts of New York City.

Manage Remittances Effectively and Avoid Financial Tragedy


Growing up with an OFW father, my life as a kid was comfortable and easy, especially compared to some of my friends. I always had the nicest toys, the latest and trendiest shoes, clothes, and school supplies. I enjoyed a pseudo-celebrity status inside the classroom. With more than enough allowance to go around, I'd often treat my friends to lunch and merienda, but all of these were short lived. After an emotional roller coaster ride involving pre-marital pregnancy, different sets and combinations of nervous break downs, and verbal confrontations, my dad lost his job.

It wasn’t even a year after when we experienced the difficult changes. We no longer could afford the lifestyle we were used to, but what’s worse is that we continued on living that life. It didn’t take long for us to go under and into debt. We never invested in anything, no property, no insurance, just a promising educational plan. And even that failed to deliver. If you remember the preneed industry collapse of the last 10 years, the company we got the plan from is one of those that closed down. At the turn of the millennium, our family was bankrupt.

Save Now, Not Later

Each year, thousands of Filipinos travel to the US, Saudi Arabia, Europe, and other parts of the world to work. Some end up staying and building a new life while some of them return to the Philippines after their contracts end. Most of these overseas Filipino workers send money back to their families via remittances or bank transfers, and some even send money online.

But did you know that not a lot of these OFWs are able to save money? Despite sending back up to 25 billion USD in remittances, these OFWs, and consequently their families, fail to save or invest as much as we’d think. The Philippine Statistics Authority reports that only two in five overseas Filipino workers are able to save money. So what exactly is going on?

When an OFW sends money back to their family, most of the time, it’s treated as a "monthly allowance" or a means to spend on luxury. Instead of being used to invest, in many families, the money is lavished on goods and services. It’s also a common case for OFWs to be supporting relatives that aren’t necessarily immediate family. Filipinos have the notion that when someone works abroad, he or she is earning dollars and has a lot to share.

There's also the prevailing "mamaya na" attitude where Filipinos put off almost everything for later. This attitude becomes a bad habit that's hard to break, especially if the person or people the OFW sends money to has an existing debt. Carelessly spending money without saving for emergencies or setting aside a small amount to pay off debts will lead to a financial tragedy that can easily be avoided.

As the saying goes, "Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today." This very much applies to saving money: the earlier someone starts saving money, the more money is saved.

Communicate Your Concerns and Be Firm

If you are an OFW sending money over to the Philippines, have a hearty discussion with your loved ones on what to do and what not to do with the money. Ask them to give proof that they have indeed placed the money in a savings account and if they fail to do so for one reason or another, it might be time that you start a savings account on your own. This will enforce a little discipline when it comes to saving.

Work with your family on budgeting your finances.  Try methods like the 50/20/30 saving formula whereas, 50% of what you send via remittances should be spent on basic necessities (rent, groceries, education), 20% should go into savings or paying off existing debts, and the remaining 30% is the allowable expenditure for "lifestyle," or spending for luxury goods like gadgets, beach vacations, and the occasional lechon for a celebration or party.

The good thing about this method is that it’s flexible and you can increase your savings or cut back on your lifestyle expenses, depending on your financial goals.

Support Each Other and Work Together

Help your family back in the Philippines manage their remittances. Your family must understand that you’re working in a different country for their sake, so they should not be wasting money. In problematic cases such as relatives feeling resentful if you refuse to let them borrow money, you must know how to set limits or say no if you have to.

Most of those who are OFWs live with the barest necessities because they send most of what they earn back to the Philippines. It’s a huge sacrifice and you need all the support you can get from your family.

Encourage your family to do research in investment options and details or seek a money expert’s advice. Financial literacy advocacy has been gaining grounds in the Philippines. With the wider availability of resources online, people are starting to be more informed and involved in this. Of course, taking part of such activities comes with risk. Study the factors that you need to consider before investing your money. Weigh in the benefits with risk and make educated decisions.

The one working abroad shouldn't be the sole shining beacon of light for the whole family. Every member should pitch in. We treated our dad more as a financer than a member of the family, and that was our mistake. Don’t let your family make the same mistakes that most do. Who knows? With everyone working together and with sound investment plans, you might be on your way to an early and prosperous retirement.

Jeff Lizardo is an entrepreneur and a marketing associate for MoneyMax.PH. Together with his friends, he runs a music bar / venue / café that hosts gigs that feature OPM independent musicians and bands. A former Physics teacher relatively new to blogging, his most common literary works consist of lesson plans, grading sheets, and parent-teacher correspondence letters. He also worked on a variety of love letters as a boy. You can follow him @JeffersonLizard.

Taking the Oath: Filipino-American Dual Citizenship


1903019_635542549888381_57204853896404197_nThis past Saturday at the Consulate General of the Philippines in Chicago, eleven Filipino-Americans took the step of making that label official by taking an oath to become full-fledged dual Filipino and American citizens. After being sworn in by Deputy Consul General Romulo Victor M. Israel Jr., the new citizens were welcomed with plates of food (naturally) while some went one room over to claim their official Philippine passports.

It was a special ceremony held in October specifically in accordance with Filipino-American History Month, but according to Filipino American Young Leaders Program (FYLPro) delegate Louella Cabalona, it’s a “weekly service of the Philippine consulate”. Cabalona; along with Julien Baburka, Abbey Eusebio and Jan Paul Ferrer; make up the Chicago delegates of FYLPro, a program established by the Philippine ambassador to get young Filipino-Americans more interested in the affairs of the Philippine government. “Our association with the consulate is a byproduct of our ambassador’s vision, for us delegates,” says Cabalona.

While the dual citizenship service is readily available, extra effort was put into this special swearing in ceremony. As preparations began, a survey was sent out to gauge interest in the process (which can still be taken here). Then, starting in late September, there were two sessions held where curious applicants could get more information and get their questions answered.

Predictably, there are concerns about the drawbacks of becoming a dual-citizen, the most common being about taxes. “I’m not a tax expert,” starts Cabalona, “[but] by the virtue of being Filipino alone will not require you to pay tax to the Philippines”. Of course, there are advantages too. New dual citizen Cheerbelle Guerrero noted that she took the oath because she’s “a Filipino by heart, [and it’s a] good opportunity to show [her] love for the Philippines”. The ability to stay in the Philippines past thirty days without a visa was also a pretty good driving factor. A comprehensive list of the requirements for dual-citizenship, advantages and drawbacks can be found here.

Many Filipino-Americans sworn in saw the value in being able to stay longer in their other home country, or even go to school there or influence high level government via absentee voting. For Cabalona though, the key reason for becoming a dual citizen is much simpler, but comes from a more cosmopolitan point of view. “If you are eligible in becoming a citizen of a country, you should claim our right to be so.” Hopefully this swearing in ceremony will lead to a snowball effect of more people seeking out information, getting their questions answered, and claiming the citizenship that is rightfully theirs.

Post by Ryne Dionisio

meRyne is a proud Filipino/gamer/geek from the streets of Chicago. His skills include proficiency in HTML, CSS, social networking, Street Fighting, and photographing/critiquing food. He is currently using his powers for good, developing websites for IBM and contributing articles to He is also the host and producer of BakitCast, the official podcast of BakitWhy.

Discover other similar posts on Ryne's blog.



featured image src: