Sherina Ong

The Mysterious Cases Behind Pilipino Inventors


Groundbreaking Filipino Inventors- that was the title I envisioned when I first got the idea to write this article. It was going to have examples of Pilipinos who drastically changed the world through their innovations with brief bios on each of them. Simple enough. Once I started researching, however, finding the facts became much more complicated than I imagined. The Mystery of the Moon Buggy

I decided to check out Eduardo San Juan, who was listed in multiple articles on famous Filipinos as the inventor of the Lunar Rover a.k.a. the Moon Buggy.

The first website I landed on read: “He was the project leader for NASA in the buggy development: An underfunded and underappreciated engineering success…The moon buggy allowed greater exploration of the Moon, yet Eduardo San Juan’s contribution has been relegated largely to status as a footnote.” (Miele, 2009)

I continued researching more on his background…and that’s when things got strange.

According to many sites, San Juan contributed to a multitude of important inventions, such as the Articulated Wheel System and the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, and received one of the Ten Outstanding Men (TOM) awards in science and technology. He’s even lauded in Philippine textbooks as one of the most acclaimed scientists in the country.

Investigators on just as many a number of other sites, however, argue that the great Eduardo San Juan is but merely a myth. Some attest that although there was a man of that name that worked as a technician on the project, he was by no means its chief designer. Other accounts claim that there are no records connecting an Eduardo San Juan to the Lunar Rover at all. Then there’s this letter written by San Juan’s alleged daughter pleading to set the record of his life accomplishments straight, which curiously contains multiple inaccuracies.


Karaoke Crisis


A similar case emerged while I began researching the man who invented karaoke- a person whom I’ve been told countless times was, in fact, Pilipino. Several websites touted Roberto del Rosario as the original inventor of the karaoke machine who patented his “minus-one system” in 1975 and had his idea stolen by Japanese corporations. Many more, however, gave the crowning title to Daisuke Inoue, a Japanese musician who created the “Juke 8” machine in 1971, but never got a patent. Still, some Pilipinos defend that even though Inoue may have created the machine first, he never got a patent and therefore the invention is del Rosario’s by technicality.

In most accounts of the creation of karaoke del Rosario isn’t even mentioned, particularly if the source isn’t Pilipino. In 1999, Daisuke Inoue was recognized as one of TIME Magazine’s “Most Influential Asians of the Century” and was awarded the Ig Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. It’s clear in the eyes of the public who won out this round.


Battle of self-worth

The same wild goose chase for the truth tails the alleged Filipino inventor of the fluorescent lightbulb, Agapito Flores, and the supposed inventor of the Armalite or M-16, Agapito Flores Armando Literio.

So it comes down to a classic battle of one person’s word against another’s. Great inventors, just like Greek gods and war heroes, stand at the crossroads between legend and myth, where historical facts become blurred by different agendas. History is still a story, and whoever sells it best wins.

But of course, most people who aren’t trying to write articles on Pilipino inventors aren’t usually going to do this extent of research. Heck, even my research consisted of simply typing their names into Google and skimming through the first few pages that showed up in my search. Most people wouldn’t have the time, or the resources, or even care about who invented what. Most people do, however, enjoy their fun facts of the day, and will spread them as truth to whomever may care to listen.

So what does it really matter then, what’s real and what’s not? Stories will always be different depending on who’s telling and who’s listening. It all comes down to what we believe.

But I think that’s the important thing- it’s what we believe that’s the problem.  We latch on to mythical legends because we as Pilipinos feel like we don’t have enough definite champions that can show the world our people can exceed its expectations.

These battles over who invented what are not merely frivolous obsessions over the past, they are battles to prove our legitimacy- the fight for our own self-worth.

Let’s not be lost. We as Pilipinos need to take hold of our own narratives and make them clear again. Let’s find the true living legends here and now and celebrate them loudly and proudly so that there is no doubt over what we bring to the table.  By highlighting our real successes, we can debunk the sorry myth that Pilipinos are not born leaders and make the need to glorify lost legends unnecessary.



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The Movement is Now: Fil-Am Creative Culture


When you hear the words Pilipino American, what do you picture?

Depending on who you are, you might imagine nurses and immigrants, or maybe even college students adding their hip hop flair to the tinikling. Some might imagine their enormously loud and character-filled families. Some might not be able to imagine anything at all.

Now picture this- a bustling community of sprightly creatives, scratching the inescapable itch to catalyze change. There are artists, entrepreneurs, technicians, writers, and everything in between. They are innovators of all shapes, sizes and skin shades, illustrating diversity as vast as the Philippines itself.

That’s what I picture, and I am not alone.

A movement, a creative culture is happening, my friends. I’m talking tectonic plates. Like the shift from Pangaea, but much faster and technologically pumped. Like never before, Asian Americans are gaining momentum in mainstream media outlets. Since 2010, HBO has been showcasing “East of Main Street,” a documentary series featuring the real stories of Asian Americans, in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Just last month, NBC Asian American was launched, providing the community a major news platform specifically catered to our interests. “Fresh Off the Boat” will be premiering this Fall on ABC, making it the first sitcom about an Asian American family to be picked up in twenty years. People are finally starting to pay attention. They’re wisening up and realizing what kind of power the fastest growing ethnic group in America has, with 19 million people strong. And us Fil-Ams (the second largest Asian American group at 3.4 million), are riding the wave.

So why is this a big deal? Growing up, I rarely ever saw faces that looked like mine in TV shows, in movies, or in the news. What does that absence say? That the stories and perspectives of an entire race of people just don’t really matter. Or don’t even exist. I didn’t have champion role models that shared my same background, no beacons of light illuminating what someone like me could be capable of.


As Pilipino Americans, we have to make sure that we see our own faces in glittering stories of success. Our reputation of being the ‘model minority’ has left us neglected and our colonial mentality has had us hiding in the shadows. But no more! We are slowly but surely striding into the spotlight, obliterating stereotypes and showing the world who we really are through the power of our creativity.

The impulse to create and manifest ourselves into something tangible, something that can improve our world is universal. Fil-Ams are no exception to the rule. I’ve been lucky enough to meet and work with Pilipino American change agents through organizations like UniPro, NextDayBetter, and FilAm ARTS, and have been watching this extraordinary network of people who put passion first expand and evolve. Tons of restaurateurs are putting Pilipino fusion food on the map, entrepreneurs are forging cutting-edge startups meant to engage and help the global Pilipino community, and the surge of Pilipino-centered productions of music and theatre have led many to say that we are in the midst of a Pilipino arts renaissance. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The Pilipino American creative community is a well of talent and ingenuity. We are just as artistic, innovative, and relentless as the rest of them, and the world needs to know that. If we could spotlight and cultivate this culture of visionaries into becoming the norm rather than the exception, imagine what we could build and accomplish. Then imagine the chain reaction.

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NextDayBetter Presents TFC Speaker Salon in San Francisco - August 9



Ready San Francisco? Inspiration will be flowing through your thoughts and your taste buds at the TFC Speaker Salon this Saturday, August 9th.

NextDayBetter, a culture platform for Pilipino-flavored ideas, is teaming up with The Filipino Channel (TFC), ABS-CBN Balitang America, and Pistahan Parade and Festival to bring you these incredible change agents:

Celina Agaton | Google USAID ICCM Fellow On sharing her tech-driven approach to rebuilding communities post- Typhoon Yolanda.

Lourdes Tiglao | US Air Force Veteran On showcasing Team Rubicon’s approach to unlocking the potential in a new generation of veterans.

Jo Ann Kyle | ABS-CBN Foundation Managing Director On the story of the Foundation’s forward-thinking approach to building better communities and inspiring a nation.

And of course, Chef Tim Luym of Attic Restaurant and Frozen Kuhsterd is taking culinary control of the reception to bring out the sweeter side of Pilipino cuisine.

Are you hungry yet?


TFC Speaker Salon August 9, 2014 @ 2PM – 5PM Children’s Creativity Museum 221 4th Street, San Francisco, California 94103

Seats are going fast, so learn more and RSVP today!


Public School in the Philippines: Rule and Renewal


For better or worse, American colonial rule has left several legacies in the Philippines, from governmental structure to popular culture. The Pilipino public education system is no exception.

When the United States took control over the Philippines in 1898, one of their first tasks was to implement an Americanized public school system that would educate the Pilipino people and enlighten them about the American way. By 1901, the United States sent over 600 teachers dubbed as “Thomasites.” On the one hand, the shift towards an Americanized public system led to drastically improved literacy rates throughout the Philippines, free primary education for all, and the founding of the University of the Philippines, the nation’s first public university.

On the other hand, controlling the entire country’s education system was another means of maintaining imperial authority over Pilipinos, using the classroom to quell nationalistic ideas and impose Western values. As English became the official language of the Philippines, it also became the primary language of instruction for students over their native tongue. According to psychologist Kevin Nadal, the legacy of the Thomasites continues even today as “most Philippine educational systems have adopted American curricula, although it may not necessarily be culturally appropriate.” The extent of indoctrination that the United States has imposed over the years has stricken many Pilipinos with a colonial mentality through which they learn to value Western ideals over native ones.


In many ways, the purpose for establishing a public education system in the Philippines is similar to the origin of public schools in the United States. The father of American public schools, Horace Mann, believed that “public schools should be means of social control through the teaching of Christian based morals.” This factory-model that the American public school system was founded upon is now being highly contested by education reformers in the United States who argue that the standardization of student learning stifles the creativity and critical thinking skills that are necessary to be competitive in today’s global economy.

As American education reformers are diverging away from the old standardizing model of education, the Philippines is following suit. In 2001, the Philippines adopted a reform program on school-based management, an approach that decentralizes the public education system and empowers local school officials to charge their own curriculum design and administration. School-based management has been shown to “yield various positive results such as improved academic performance of students [and] increased participation of parents and the community.”

In 2002, the Makabayan curriculum was introduced to improve critical and creative thinking development and promote Pilipino values. Makabayan is described as “a learning area that serves as a practice environment for holistic learning to develop a healthy personal and national self-identity” and includes subjects such as social studies, music, health education, and values education.

So what might this mean for the upcoming generations of young educated Pilipinos? We can hope that these reform efforts will develop proud citizens who value the strengths of their culture and confidently skilled students who will help propel the Philippines into a world player. Of course, when it comes to the complex issue of education there are still loads of problems waiting for solutions, from resources to poverty and accessibility. Perhaps this is at least one step in the right direction.

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Pilipino Festivals of Light


I’ve only been to the Philippines once. I was eight years old and there are only a few flashes of my trip that I can remember: playing with my cousin’s ten puppies in Pampanga, eating birthday cake with my grandfather in Bikol, and scratching my legs - which were so swollen with mosquito bites that I was starting to look like The Thing from Fantastic Four. Besides those memories, the only images I have of the Philippines are from news articles, TFC and stories I hear from my family. I’m dying to go back someday soon and have crated a hefty bucket list of things to see and do. At the top of the list are witnessing the different festivals of light in the Philippines that seem to me both breathtaking and hauntingly beautiful.

Ligligan Parul- Giant Lantern Festival giant parol

I’ve seen a parol or two hanging in my aunt’s windows during Christmas time, but they don’t have anything on the blazing 20-footers showcased in the parades of the Giant Lantern Festival in San Fernando, Philippines. A parol is a Christmas lantern representing the star of Bethlehem and was originally made from “simple materials like bamboo sticks, Japanese rice paper, crepe paper, and a candle or coconut oil-lamp for illumination.” The parols of San Fernando, however, are gargantuan modern day feats of engineering and flair, bedazzling audiences with kaleidoscopic stained glass windows, illuminated by electrified lights dancing in synchronicity to cheery Christmas music. The parade, which has been held every December for the last 80 years, has become such a crowd-drawing phenomenon that San Fernando has been dubbed the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines.”

All Saint’s Day/All Soul’s Day

all souls day When my family first told me that for All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day they spent all day and all night in a cemetery, I thought the tradition sounded downright morbid and creepy. They assured me that it was, in fact, quite the opposite. These observances, practiced on November 1st and 2nd, are meant to honor and remember deceased loved ones in celebration. With smiling faces they reminisced and told me how they would stay up with all their friends and family in the crypts, eating, drinking, praying and dancing. It was a party, both somber and joyful all at once. Best of all, the millions of candles lit in remembrance of the deceased would fill the crypts with an ocean of twinkling lights.

Sky lantern celebrations

Philippines Lanterns Guinness Record While technically not a Pilipino tradition rooted in cultural history (major sky lantern festivals are traditional in Taiwan and Thailand), floating sky lanterns are popularly used in the Philippines to celebrate special occasions or released just for fun. In 2013, the Philippines broke the Guinness World Record for most sky lanterns flown simultaneously. 15,185 sky lanterns were released into the atmosphere at the University of the Philippines Visayas Miag-ao by Pilipino and Thai participants from the faiths of Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam. The demonstration was intended to encourages harmony and promote world peace through inner peace.

What is it about these grand displays of light that draw people together in celebration? Maybe they remind us of the tranquil charm of a star-studded nighttime sky. Maybe the candles or lanterns symbolize glimpses of joy and hope amidst darkness. Whatever it is, it’s beautiful. And I would love to go back to the Philippines someday to see these festivals of light and experience the magic first hand.

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