opinion

The national issues

March 19, 2019

The purpose why there is such a thing as campaign period before the actual casting of votes on Election Day is to allow the national issues, in the case of the senatorial race, to surface and the candidates to propose how they will address them through legislation. Out of their proposals the electorate decides who is best equipped to truly square off with the surfaced issues. Sadly, the quality of the current campaign is not living up to the expectation for which this period was set by existing electoral laws. What the candidates are currently doing at this time of the campaign is do their best to make a fool out of themselves by acting like clowns instead of statesmen. What really are the issues begging the candidates’ proposed solutions? In the economic realm, the dire situation of the country’s agriculture sector needs utmost attention. That sector is tasked at ensuring food security, a national security issue, if I may say so, on the ground that no country including the Philippines, could afford to compromise this basic need of its people. Unless we all become robots or cyborgs, food security will always be on the top list of issues in any country. In regard food security, the actual situation leaves so much to be desired. This is what agriculture is for. In a number of columns in the past, we tried to lay down how this problem could possibly be addressed. Unfortunately, all the senatorial candidates are evading any serious discussion about this central issue, food. The second role of agriculture is to be the source of the country’s raw materials as it moves forward to that desired goal of becoming industrialized. Name me a nation that became industrialized bypassing this role of agriculture. None. Why? Because agriculture is the foundation of industrialization. Have the senatorial candidates discussed this role of agriculture during their campaign sorties? We mean by discuss is for them to show to the electorate the depth of their understanding of this issue and the depth of their solution. Inexplicably, this is one concern, industrialization, we want to achieve for our country but we never seriously discuss about this. We just content and then lull ourselves into believing we have already reached a certain level of industrialization given our current indulgence in some manufacturing efforts. In reality however what is happening in these existing manufacturing firms that serve as the source of our exports is simply repackaging, assembling, among others, because we are not churning out into finished goods any raw material coming from our own farms. In a short span of time, Vietnam has already overtaken us in this regard. Truth is, in the eyes of the international community, we look very pathetic. We can’t even source internally our own rice requirements. Have the candidates discussed how the illegal drug problem become worse after the inception of the administration’s bloody war on drugs? Just think of this. When this war was started, no less than President Duterte claimed there were about two million drug dependents in the country. Now, the president himself said the number of the country’s drug dependents is now in the vicinity of eight million. So from almost two million it is now eight million. What does this tell us? That the drug problem despite the estimated 25,000 deaths of suspected drug users and pushers has not abated but even worsened. What conclusion can we make out of this admission by the President himself? That the bloody war on drugs is a failure as a solution to the problem. But why is this not being discussed so that we can hear from the aspiring senators what will they do with this? The lack of discussion about this issue in the current campaign is truly baffling.

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Farewell to Dr. Emmeline

March 18, 2019

Charlotte, North Carolina – A walk to raise awareness on Amgotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) will be held on April 20 by the Neri family in Raleigh, North Carolina in honor of the late Dr. Emmeline Ho Neri, wife of Andy Neri. The Neri couple have four children—Ansell. Anthea Neri Best, Abegayle Neri and Andrew Brian Neri. Anthea made the announcement after her mom was laid to rest at the columbarium in St. Raphael Catholic Church at Raleigh last Feb. 28. The walk will also raise funds for research on a cure for ALS which remains elusive as acknowledged by Reverend Fr. Bruce Bavinger, SJ, celebrant and homilist during the occasion. Dr. Neri died last Feb. 21, about 10 days after she was honored in a party by the Filipino American Women  Association (GSS or Gabriela Silang) at Raleigh. Tess Ferrer- Turner, a close family friend and past president of the Philippine -American Association of North Carolina (PAANC) said she was surprised to see her friend already on the dance floor during the party. Diagnosis “She was so happy and she danced the cha-cha," Turner said. She said she was told later that Dr. Neri sarted to slow down after the party. It was five years ago when the Neri family started to see changes in their matriarch's behavior.  Two and a half years later, Anthea said they received word of her mother's diagnosis from Duke University that she had ALS and frontal lobe dementia. Their initial shock was followed by denial and later acceptance. It was then that the children rallied behind their parents and Andy took care of Emmeline to her dying day. Anthea said the family decided to travel and maximize whatever time they can spend with their mother over the next two years.  The Neri couple traveled through the US, Philippines, Disney theme parks and Mexico despite the doctor's frail condition. “ALS and dementia were chipping away at her body but not her energy,” Anthea said. She said her father would dance with her mother, laugh with her and helped her shower daily. Smartest woman Andy also dyed his wife's hair, painted her nails and tried his best to do her makeup. There was never a day that went by that he didn’t tell her he loved her and that she was the smartest woman he knew. Dr. Emneline was born Jan. 2 in Cadiz City, Philippines, the eldest of five children of a successful business owner.  She studied at the Southwestern University School of Medicine and earned her medical degree. She opened her own practice and pharmacy.  While working at the hospital in Manila she met her husband Andy, a native of Tagoloan town in Misamis Oriental and part of the illustrious Neri clan. Two of the Neri children, Ansell and Anthea, were born in the Philippines. The Neri couple decided to migrate to the US after the birth of their first two children.  They settled first in Virginia as Andy continued working in the US Navy and Emmeline stopped working and took care of their growing family. Later, she went back to work when their children were big enough. Took to heart The Neri couple later had another daughter named Abegayle and a son, Andrew Brian. Dr. Emmeline also kept busy with volunteer work at the Filipino American Women's Association and hosted parties at their house. For over 20 years, she worked as a medical professional in the justice department of the Federal Bureau of Prison.  During her stint there, Dr. Emmeline lobbied for better conditions for the inmates. All four children shared lessons learned from their mother in separate eulogies duing the memorial service.  Son Ansell studied at the University of North Carolina Greensboro and is the president of June -Neri Financial, Raleigh NC.   Ansell is also past president of the Philippine -American Association of North Carolina (PAANC).  During the service, Ansell said their mother took to heart her faith, her family's welfare and the community. Ansell's sister Anthea Neri-Best holds a bachelor's degree in Clinical Laboratory Science at WCU. Anthea is also an actress, singer and Human Empowerment ambassador. Unconditional love Her mother's illness and death taught the Neri children some lessons on unconditional love. “They made their vow 40 years ago and that vow was tested everyday. I saw it first hand,” Anthea said. Anthea also said she learned that time spent with family is valuable and irreplaceable.  Her sister Abegayle, a B.S Administration graduate at ECU is now connected with Omnicom Media Group, a leading global media betwork in New York City. Abegayle said she learned from her mother to never buy designer shoes at full price and that life is what you make it.  “Because of her, I learned to dare to dream big and know the value of hard work,” she said.  She also said her mother always put family first and it stuck with all of them. The youngest Andrew Neri graduated from the University of North Carolina Greensboro and is in the US Coast Guard stationed in New York.  Andrew said his mother was a shield who taught him to believe in himself. Last dance “For the past five years I was able to spend time with my mother.  She was diagnosed with ALS two and a half years ago, which was about the same time I joined the army and they allowed me to go home every month to be with her.” “I am happy I got to watch the Sound of Nusic on repeat with her.  I am happy I got to dance with her during our trip to Mexico  and I am happy she saved one last dance for me last week,” Andrew said in his eulogy. When he talked about his siblings, Ansell said Andrew was awarded personally by the director of Homeland Security while sister Abegayle created ads for many Super Bowl events. Sister Anthea sang at the Carnegie Hall. Anthea later said her mother treated everyone as her family and would take in her friends and treat them as her own.  “She had a truly giving heart and a calling to help others that will live on forever on the lives and hearts of those she had contact with,” she said. In his homily, Fr. Bavinger confirmed that Andy and Dr. Emmeline stayed together until the end when it was time for her to go.   He said Dr. Emmeline was a “woman of faith” and a devotee of the Holy Rosary whose life the faithful can learn so much from.  To her family, friends and everyone she touched during her lifetime, Dr. Emmeline will be sorely missed.

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Freedom as personal

March 14, 2019

The last piece we wrote here touched on the dangers if freedom is made personal, which is a total deviation from its original intention of being communal proved by the Exodus story of the Israelites when they were plucked out of Egypt for them to be free from their suffering, hopelessness and misery as slaves in that foreign land. We then emphasized by arguing that its exercise should always for the benefit of a community of people. The danger when freedom is made personal is that its ramifications toward the community is incalculable such as when first daughter and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte posited the theory that honesty is not an issue in the midterm elections. Honesty, we said, is an issue not only in this election but in all elections because of the maxim that “public office is a public trust.” Trust is undeniably founded on honesty. Take for example the relationship between husband and wife. Without honesty between the two of them, trust will never flourish. Interestingly, on the day we wrote that piece President Duterte in a speech castigated those who are strongly reacting to his harsh, if not cuss, words against women who accused him of being sexist and misogynist as depriving him of his freedom of expression. Our thesis that freedom is dangerous when made personal was confirmed by the president’s argument. We are free to eat, for example, but if we insist on feeding only our appetites without regard if others have something on their table like us, that freedom is meaningless. The freedom to eat must be enjoyed by all. But because society has become so self-oriented, we are no longer disturbed if others could hardly feed themselves as long as our tummies are full. What’s the danger of this? Never forget the saying that a hungry man is an angry man. Will that hungry man bent his anger toward himself if not toward those he feels, reasonably or unreasonably, deprived him of that freedom to eat? This is the logic of personal and even property crimes. But what we always forget is the fact that the situation where others could hardly have something for themselves is the direct result of greed where the few deprived others of their equitable and just share of society’s wealth. This point had been raised by us here for several times already. Why? Because without us understanding the dynamics of social ills, we will end up stupendously thinking that the poor laborers, especially those in the construction sector, are pure lazy. This is just like the anger of many toward socialism as something evil by refusing to understand that it is society’s own mechanism to heal itself against the evils of the greed that capitalism breeds and spawns. This greed that is inherent in capitalism, remember that capitalism’s own survival depends largely on its ability to produce profit for the capitalist’s insatiable greed, is the very reason why there is socialism. Sadly, a sizable number of the populace refuse to understand that society is simply looking for an antidote to the insatiable greed that is inherent in capitalism hence socialism’s cry for a just and equitable distribution of wealth to all. Even the very people whose situation in life is the very thing that socialism wanted to address are inexplicably fighting, knowingly or unknowingly, for the retention of the very order that is causing them to lose their freedom for a “full and abundant life.” By the way, we should not confuse communism with socialism for there’s a whale of difference between the two. Socialism is merely society’s inherent antidote to the evils that greed in capitalism brings hence if we are afraid of socialism at least we should freely work for the tempering of capitalism’s greed so that not only one percent of the world’s population be enjoying more than half of the world’s wealth. There should be more. It is in this regard that our freedom to transform ourselves for the betterment of society should be zealously exercised.

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Malou makes waves in Paris Spring Fashion Week

March 12, 2019

Charlotte, North Carolina--Six designers of the Opera Carolina group based here in Charlotte participated in the recent Paris Spring Fashion Week. One of them, Malou Tabada-Cordery--who originally hailed from Villanueva town in Misamis Oriental, northern Mindanao in the Philippines and now calls Charlotte home--made a name for herself for making fashionable wear from recycled materials. She and five other designers are the eco-couture designers of Opera Carolinas who provided them with the materials to create wearable fashion gowns. Opera Carolina is a Charlotte-based group of designers founded by its marketing guru Megan Miller. Charlotte designers who were invited included Lyndsee Hairstorn, Malou Tabada -Cordery, Sarah Danee, Itala Flores, Rocio Llusca and another Filipino-American designer Edelweiss de Guzman-Vogel. Malou was unable to go to Paris but her creation was brought in by the Opera Carolina group. She didn't know about the fashion show until Miller asked her to create a recyclable dress for the Spring Fashion Week in Paris this year. The show was held at the Intercontinental Paris Le Grand Hotel last March 4 in Paris. Malou's creation as worn by professional model Molly Estellia Davidson of France who recently landed in the cover of a wedding magazine in Liverpool, England. Malou's design drew raves from those in the show.  “My design Is an interpretation of an Opera called Aida by Giuseppe Verdi,” Malou said. Aida was an Ethiopian princess held captive in Egypt who fell in love  with General Rameses.  The Eyptian general struggled to choose between his love of Aida and his loyalty to the Pharoah.  “Aida is a timeless story of love and betrayal against the backdrop of war.  I was inspired to create Aida's outfit in my own style, which is more about fashion than costume,” the very humble and pretty Malou said. She spent more than 100 hours preparing the design, sourcing the materials and putting it all together. “I've have to work around my work schedule to finish it,” she said.   Malou used a bunny suit, an operating room lab gown, white disposable table cloth, old paper brochures, old opera tickets and play bills from the Opera Carolina styrofoam and gold construction paper for the dress. The belt has the ankh, an Egyptian symbol for life with reeds. This is the fourth year that Malou collaborated with Opera Carolina.  From local shows in Charlotte, Malou went to the New York Fashion Week. “It was a great experience being in the Big Apple since the show was held in one of the hotels at Times Square,” Malou said. The Paris Spring Fashion Week was the first foreign event joined by Opera Carolina and the first time Malou's creation was seen in foreign soil.  Malou, who never attended fashion and design school, considers this a big achievement. “I feel honored, humbled and proud. Who would imagine that a little girl from Villanueva town would fulfill her big dreams?  I never expected in my life that my design would end up in Paris,” she said. I didn't attend the Paris show but Megan Miller of the Opera Carolina and Sarah Danee, another designer, kept me updated and sent me pictures.  Malou's knack for fashion and design was evident during her childhood in Villanueva town, where she sewed dresses. It manifested much later in life when she made dresses for her two beautiful daughters using the sewing machine given to her by her mother-in-law in the Philippines. Malou also created the dress worn by Janet Pichon Hixon in the just concluded Mrs. Eco Earth pageant held in Las Vegas, Nevada. Meanwhile Molly thanked Malou after the show through Instagram.   Molly said she felt honored to wear her creation and hoped that she can work with her in the future. With support from her family—her husband Richard connected the live feed of the Paris show through their computer—Malou said she always feels motivated to work. “I'm so excited already, though I’m not in Paris for the show,” Malou said. Based on their mission statement, the Opera Carolinas group is committed to putting materials such as outdated opera playbills, programs, signs and brochures to beautiful and creative use.   In the four years since they launched this initiative, more than 35,000 pieces of marketing materials were converted to couture fashion pieces inspired by the opera. Through their initiative, Opera Carolina is showing its commitment to environmental awareness through its creations. comments susanap.dennis@yahoo.com

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Fear equals action

March 9, 2019

Now that the country’s electorate is again called to pass judgment through the ballot on how the sitting administration is faring in its task of governing the nation, perhaps it is good to take a look at the Duterte administration’s centerpiece program that, according to police records, have so far claimed 25,000 lives - the bloody illegal drugs war. What has this war so far achieved in regard its objective of eliminating the illegal drug menace after almost two and a half years of the Duterte administration? Has it reached its objective? By the way, the timeframe of six months to have this problem totally expunged was set by the President himself while he was still campaigning in 2016. Of course, there is no need to rub in that the six-month deadline came, that was on Dec. 31, 2016, but the drug menace is still very much alive necessitating a recalibration of its self-imposed deadline. The nation readily granted the sought extension of another six months that ended on June 30, 2017. But June 30, 2017 came yet the drug problem was still very much alive and kicking despite the fact that it claimed thousands of lives already while being implemented. The Filipino people still wanted the Duterte administration to succeed in its centerpiece program. And showing its leniency, another extension of one year was granted. Even before the one year extension could end, the President himself publicly admitted he might not be able to kick this menace to an end by the time he’ll end his term yet. What does this mean? It simply meant the nation need to understand that more killings will have to be carried out over and above the 25,000 deaths calculated by the police from the war’s inception in mid-2016 up to the present. The administration is even threatening to release the names of politicians in its dreaded list of narco-politicians in the guise of guiding the electorate in making a wise choice in the May midterm elections. Many, however, strongly believe this threat to make public this list is only a ploy to prevent political foes from getting elected to office as reelectionists or otherwise. This threat is labeled by many as a mere scheme at weaponizing the list against political enemies to prevent their election in May. This could be likened to a gun being pointed at the head of its political foes since the administration is supposedly shying away from endorsing or anointing shady characters suspected of involvement in the illegal drug trade. Undeniably, what the war on illegal drug has so far achieved was not eliminate it but instill fear in the hearts of everyone to the point that they are now immobilized from fighting against it but rather support it as if it is the best thing that ever happened to this country. We should understand that it is a concept in politics to strike fear in the hearts of the people so that in their frightened state they could be easily be manipulated to behave and act according to the desired wishes of the author of the fear. In our country, the war on drugs, which at first was said to have just victimized almost two million Filipinos, young and old, male and female, moneyed to penniless, among others. But now it has grown by leaps and bounds. The number of victims is now pegged by the President no less to eight million. What does this prove? It only proves that the bloody war just triggered an increase in the number of victims. It has not achieved even just an iota of its intended desire of reducing, if not eliminating the problem totally. Even the volume of smuggled drugs from China and other countries have ballooned to unprecedented levels. Whereas before the volume and value of smuggled shabu brought into the country were only worth millions of pesos, two years after the start of the war on illegal drugs, the smuggled shabu, intercepted by the authorities or now valued billions of pesos. This only proves one thing. It is failing in achieving its desired objective. However, it is succeeding in instilling fear in the hearts of the people proved by the fact that many still approves of it compared to those who disapprove of it for being too bloody even making the fight for accountability for its barbaric nature a lonely one.

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Pondering on one's mortality on Ash Wednesday

March 8, 2019

Charlotte, North Carolina—As I wrote this piece, I had just listened to the homily of Father John Putnam of the St. Mark Catholic Church here at Huntersville, North Carolina for the annual commemoration of Ash Wednesday. Fr. Putnam's homily reminded me of my own mortality.  As soon as the priest places the sign of the cross on the forehead I was also struck with the realization that we are all going to die one day. I was also reminded of friends or acquaintances that died. For that purpose, I want to talk about two persons in this corner today—one a recent acquaintance and another who I haven't met in her lifetime. Both of them left quite an impression on my attitude about life in general. I met Vangie Matimatico in Cagayan de Oro last year.  She was a teacher at Tagoloan Central School, my alma mater. I learned about her passing from the post of another teacher Alice Cincoflores Dabalos of Tagoloan.  Alice also teaches in the same school. I don't know why but I cried like  a river when I read  the post. Her passing touched something in me. I met Vangie outside the clinic of oncologist Maria Reyna Abas at the Cagayan de Oro Medical Center. We were both patients of  Dr. Abas.  At the time we met, there was a long line of patients waiting for their turn to be called inside.  She wore a bonnet that time and I can tell that her hair was thinning or starting to grow back. There was something in her looks especially her  eyes that connected with me.  I immediately struck a conversation with her. I forgot now what it was that left us both laughing and we were joined by my neice Neil Meng Ricafort, daughter Honey Mejorada and Janice Baisas. Then we talked about the types of cancer and their stages.  She told us she was stage 4 and receiving treatment. She said she wanted to retire from teaching as she was tired already.  Not tired of teaching but tired of her condition. We talked about life, work, cancer and about everything else and we laughed. Other patients, staff of the clinic and passersby would stop to look at us and some had smiles.  After my business was done, we promised to get in touch with each other through Facebook. We did and that very day we became friends. When I returned to the US, we chatted online. Her laughter was contagious. It was maybe because we can relate to many things like breast cancer and teaching. She was in high spirits the last time we chatted and she asked me if she can have a wig and bonnet when I return to Cagayan de Oro.  In fact, I already prepared the bonnets for her. We just laughed at each other and with each other.  People we meet in our lives left a real impact and I grieved on her passing into the Great Beyond. Also, last week here in North Carolina,I attended the burial of the late Dr. Emmeline  Ho Neri. I haven't met Dr. Emmeline except her husband Andy who was my neighbor during my childhood. I was a year ahead of Andy. I learned from Tess Ferrer-Turner, a close family friend of the Neris that the late doctor died. By the way Tess Turner is past president of the Fil-Am Association in Raleigh(PAANC). Anyway,Tess said Dr. Emmeline was seen dancing last February 14 at  the Valentine's party despite battling Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and frontal lobe dementia.  The party was organized by the Gabriella Silang,a Filipino-American Women's Association based here. Turner said she was surprised to see her friend get up from the wheelchair and dance through the night.  Turner said the doctor was in her best form.  Rev Bruce Bavinger, SJ, celebrant and homilist said in his message that Emmeline is a woman of faith and a devotee of  the holy rosary.  She also prayed a lot, went to church every Sunday and midnight Mass in Christmas is a family Mass for her and her household I was all reminded of Vangie and Dr. Emmeline and their lives and how fragile life itself is during the Ash Wednesday Mass. We talk about  the mystery of life but some still find talking about death awkward and unsettling. I remembered in my Psychology class that thinking about death may be hard but it could also help us get stronger psychologically especially from a religious standpoint. May eternal peace be granted unto Vangie, my short time friend and Emmeline Ho Neri, a friend I've never meet.

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