Friday, October 31, 2014

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SSS awards Best Collection Partners

SSS awards Best Collection Partners

Three banks received the Social Security System (SSS) “Balikat ng Bayan” distinction for topping their respective categories as Best Collecting Banks. The winners were Ventaja International Corporation as Best OFW Collecting Partner, Bank of the Philippines Islands (BPI) as Best Collecting Commercial Bank, RCBC Savings Bank as Best Collecting Thrift Bank, and One Network Bank, Inc. as Best Collecting Rural Bank. Social Security Commissioner Daniel Edralin (left), SSS president and Chief Executive Officer Emilio de Quiros, Jr (2nd from left), Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor and Guest of Honor Amando Tetangco, Jr (2nd from right), and SSS Chief Legal Counsel Voltaire Agas (right) pose with (from L-R) Ventaja International President Vincent Grey, BPI Vice President for Corporate Banking Ma. Teresa Anna Lim, RCBC 1st Vice President for Retail Banking Leonor Belen, RCBC President Rommel Latinazo, and One Network Bank President Alex Buenaventura during the Balikat ng Bayan awarding ceremonies at the SSS main office in Quezon City on September 25.


SSS Media Affairs Department
7th floor, SSS Building, East Ave., Diliman, Quezon City
9206401 loc. 5052-5055, 5058 

Fil-Am honored with prominent feature at Washington war memorial

A Filipino-American US Army soldier, who narrowly escaped death after he was shot through the pelvis by a sniper in Iraq and endured a grueling rehab to get out of his wheelchair, has become one of the new faces of American war veterans with his photo prominently featured at the newly-unveiled American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial in Washington, D.C.
 
Joseph Bacani's photo is prominently featured at the newly-unveiled American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial in Washington, D.C. Filipino Reporter photo
Joseph “Joe” Bacani, 29, currently a junior psychology major at Columbia University, said he was both shocked and humbled upon learning only a week prior his place of honor on the wounded-vets memorial which shows him still in his wheelchair after being awarded the Purple Heart.

“I thought my image would be small, with thousands of veterans alongside me,” said Bacani at the recent unveiling of the memorial, with his image and story next to Bob Dole’s, the late senator who was severely wounded in World War II.

“Then I saw the image, and I was like, ‘What? Are you kidding me?’ I’m larger than life-sized on that wall!”

Bacani, who grew up in Tustin, California and joined the Army at 17 when he was still in high school, said he has always seen himself “as just like a normal average Joe.”

The memorial, which took 16 years to complete and was funded by $80 million in private donations, sits within view of the Capitol.

It’s a collection of glass and granite walls representing wounded veterans from all wars and branches — of whom an estimated three million are alive today — clustered around an eternal flame.

“It doesn’t end with the war; they live with it forever,” said Project director Barry Owenby.

“They have a trauma of injury, a healing process, and then their rediscovery of purpose. So that’s the story that we’re trying to tell here.”

Bacani, who was inspired to join the Army after 9/11, was deployed to Iraq in November 2006 and was stationed at Camp Liberty in Baghdad.

From the beginning, he had a bad feeling, he recalled in an interview the New York Post.

“We deployed with maybe 20 scouts and six snipers,” said Bacani, who was a cavalry scout assigned to the 1st Cavalry Regiment from Fort Hood, Texas.
 
Joseph Bacani shown outside his school at Columbia University in New York City. Filipino Reporter photo
“I was really conscious about how shallow our platoon was.”

On March 20, 2007, Bacani and his platoon were doing route clearance, sweeping for IEDs, or improvised explosive devices.

“It was just five guys on foot and three or four other trucks full of guys,” he said.

Bacani, in 50 pounds of body armor, had the mine sweeper.

“So we found the IED,” he shared, “and five minutes after that, I first heard the clack from a rifle. And I was just like, ‘Oh, God. I know what that sound means.’”

Bacani didn’t even have time to look back at his friend, Spc. Jesus Bustamante, who was also on foot.

“I was trying to find out where the sniper was shooting from,” he said.

“And as soon as I figured it out, I got shot.”

He was shot in the tailbone and the bullet came out of his pelvis “as if the strongest person on the planet really hates your guts, and he got this sledgehammer from a blacksmith oven and took all his might and whacked you right on your ass,” he confided.

Bacani tried to take cover, but he collapsed on the open road, all sense in his right leg gone.

He was an open target.

“I was just lying there, feeling this 140-degree sun, in full battle rattle,” he remembered.

“And I was just like, ‘I guess this is where I may die.’”

After playing dead, he cursed at the top of his lungs so his sergeant would know he was still alive.

Bustamante had been shot twice — once in the knee and once in the rib, the bullet tearing through most of his vital organs and leaving him near death.

Still, Bustamante “had this grenade launcher, the M203, and he fired rounds into the building. I think he saved both of us that day,” Bacani pointed out.

Bacani thought they were on the ground for 30 minutes — “a reasonable time” — before they were rescued and loaded into a Humvee and eventually flown to the Green Zone for emergency surgery.

Unable to walk, Bacani was flown to Walter Reed, where he underwent intense rehab.

It took him six months to walk without assistance, and still he wanted to go back to Iraq.

He thought constantly of the many friends he had lost while serving there.

In fact, two months before Bacani was shot, he had lost his roommate and best friend, Pfc. Darrell W. Shipp, who had become an older brother to him.

On April 6, 2007, Bacani received The Purple Heart, awarded to US servicemembers wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy; it is one of the most recognized and respected military decorations.

He also received the Combat Action Badge, which is awarded for actively engaging, or being engaged by, enemy forces.

On hand to see him receive his decorations were his Ilocos Sur-born parents Norberto and Rosita, and his sister Jackie.

“I can’t tell you how much it means to me that he has come home,” Jackie said in a past interview. “He’s one of the lucky ones.”

Jacquie said that during Bacani’s deployment, she and her parents got on their knees and prayed for her brother’s safety every night.

“I know that not a lot of people are able to come home, and I’m just so grateful,” Jackie said.

Today, Bacani still suffers from “intermittent and shocking nerve pain” that lasts about two minutes, according to the Post.

He has aching muscle pain every day and expects to have it for the rest of his life.

He wears three KIA memorial bracelets — one each for his closest friends who perished in Iraq.

“This is not everybody I’ve lost,” he said.

On each of their birthdays, he said to himself: “I’m living your life. I’ll take over from here.”

On Aug. 18, he enrolled at Columbia University, which has a long history of recruiting veterans and providing financial aid.

This past May, 145 veterans graduated from the university.

“I’m so happy I’m here,” Bacani said. “I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I just went to community college.”

He finds it ironic to now be in New York, “because after I got out of the Army, I just wanted peace and quiet,” he says.

“But moving to New York — I feel like I’m reborn. I have all these opportunities in front of me.”

He’s majoring in psychology and plans to go into PTSD treatment and research.

He still feels guilty he’s here and not in Iraq.

“People are always telling me that I did enough, that I don’t have to go back,” he said.

He’s proud of this new memorial and his place in it, but he worries that people might see it and feel something, then go on about their lives without realizing how much help veterans need.

When asked if he thought his picture at the memorial was a window to his soul, Bacani said, “I hope so and I hope people can see beyond the wheelchair that there’s still a young man in there with many more years left to live, to make something out of himself.” —Filipino Reporter

Low-income Pinoys in LA get assistance

As Filipino American History Month comes to a close, the Pilipino Workers’ Center (PWC) has continued its outreach to Filipino-Americans and Latinos, based at Historic Filipinotown (Hi-Fi), considered to be in absolute poverty.

Household income in this neighborhood is lower than the threshold established by the Census of minimal standard of living for the composition of the household.
 
Dondi Mangan, service recipient, learns about the Changes Program from staff Teresita Mercado. PWC Executive Director Aqui Versoza (standing) guides the briefing. Photo by Tet Valdez/The FilAm LA
“There is a myth that persists about Filipinos and Asians as ‘model minority,’ thus hindi natin kailangan ng tulong sa gobyerno (a model minority myth promotes the idea that Filipinos and Asian do not need government assistance),” PWC Executive Director Aqui Versoza told TheFilamLA.

Versoza cited census results stating that: “5.4% of Filipino Americans are in absolute poverty (Jerry Park, on “Asians and The Model Minority”).

She said a couple of the current projects that is available to low-income residents of Hi-Fi is “TEAM” and “Changes.” A good number of those in poverty are seniors, relying solely on their Social Security payments.

“Limited ang pag-intinde ng mga seniors natin tungkol sa mga tulong na para sa kanila tulad ng assistance sa utilities like phones, gas, water. Complicated kasi ang mga brochures or representatives cannot clearly explain in plain English their utilities’ program (Our seniors have limited understanding of certain assistances in utilities),” she said.

Versoza said this year, PWC has given workshops and direct assistances to some 1,500 clients at the Larry Itliong Village (where the PWC has an office), churches and community halls on Changes and TEAM projects. Through these projects, clients receive information about requesting their utility companies such as Edison, Southern California Gas , Department of Water and Power to install SMART meters in their homes or to help manage their bills; or for cell phone users to avoid unnecessary phone features such as three-way calling.

“When the clients come to our offices, they can sign in for us to become their advocates with the utilities company,” said Versoza. “We have Tagalog-speaking advocates who can call the utility companies. Tinutulungan naming sila na tumawag sa mga kumpanya para ma-check ang power or water meter nila. Maaari nilang dalhin ang bill nila sa kuryente o tubig at susuriin naming bakit biglang tumaas ang bayad nila.”

Teresita Mercado, a PWC staff and a former teacher from Manila, knows the difficulty posed by high bills on low income Filipino clients.

She said, “Minsan ang pambayad nila sa pagkain ay napupunta sa cell phones or phone cards that they use to call their families long distance in the Philippines.”

Dondi Mangan who immigrated in 2001 told TheFilamLa that his cell phone bill was reduced significantly after a PWC staff assisted him in getting a better plan.

“Lumiit ang bill ko at nagkaraoon pa ako ng better plan data with unlimited minutes and text,” he said.

He now volunteers at the PWC to pick up food at the Food Bank to distribute to his low-income compatriots.

“I have shared my experience with my friends; I hope this reaches others to learn more about these programs.” —The FilAm LA

Pinay hotel manager among nominees for Singaporean tourism award

Years of working overseas had finally paid off for a Filipina manager at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Singapore, after she was nominated for a customer service award.

Sheila Marie Tan Benzon is the only Filipino nominee for the Customer Service-Hotel category of The Singapore Experience Award 2014, the sixth inception of the Singapore Tourism Board event.

The category recognizes the excellence in customer service by individuals in various fields. It was previously only open to taxi-provider services, according to the Singapore Tourism Board.

Some reviews on TripAdvisor.com, a tourism review site, have good words for Benzon, describing her as a helpful and reasonable employee.

In a questionnaire, Benzon cited several incidents where she lived her motto of "pursuing excellence beyond expectations."

One notable incident had her visiting a Mexican guest who had been hospitalized due to sudden illness instead of attending an awards ceremony.

The guest's son was so moved by her gesture that he wrote about her in a piece called "Cliente de por vida" (Customer for Life!) for El Norte, a daily newspaper in Mexico.

Another incident found her acting as a marriage counselor for a couple on the verge of separation.

She managed to help them work through their issues and surprised them with a care package the next day reminding them of their familial ties.

Benzon believes that "an extraordinary attitude" is needed to land "an extraordinary job."

She said her past experiences of peddling her resume to various hotels and house-cleaning jobs for money turned "excellence" into a daily habit.

"You don't need an extraordinary IQ to land an extraordinary job. What is needed is an extraordinary attitude. It will empower you to turn extraordinary things into something extraordinary," she said.

According to her LinkedIn profile, Benzon started work at the Ritz-Carlton in April 2012 as a Front Office Supervisor before getting bumped up to a manegerial position in November 2013. Rie Takumi/KBK, GMA News

Pinoys urged to leave Ebola-hit West Africa

The Philippines on Thursday urged hundreds of its citizens to leave Ebola-hit west African nations, as it announced anyone who returned would be placed under a 21-day quarantine.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the government had made a "voluntary repatriation" call to about 900 workers in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

He told a local television network that President Benigno Aquino III had also ordered those who did return would have to be isolated in a government facility.

"The president has asked us to come down with a ruling, anyone coming from those countries, they must undergo a 21-day quarantine," del Rosario said.

With 10 million Filipinos working abroad, the country is "very vulnerable" amid the outbreak of the killer disease, del Rosario said.

More than 100 Filipino peacekeepers who will be pulled from Liberia next month because of Ebola fears will also be quarantined in a military facility, health department spokesman Lyndon Lee Suy told AFP.

Some US authorities have recently ordered quarantines, which have proved highly controversial amid concerns over potential human rights violations and whether they could have unintended, harmful consequences.

The health department this week started training 130 doctors, nurses and medical workers from government hospitals to handle possible Ebola cases.

Close to 300 others from private hospitals and local government offices will be trained in the coming weeks, according to Lee Suy.

At least 20 government hospitals were designated as Ebola referral and treatment centres, including three in the capital, Lee Suy said.

An entire hospital in the southern suburbs that specialises in infectious diseases and animal bites may be designated as an Ebola centre should there be a large number of infections, he said.

"We can't say whether or not we're prepared because that's subjective, but we are in a better position to address the problem," he said.

Before the president ordered forced quarantines, 126 Filipinos who returned home from the three west African countries were "monitored" by the health department from their homes, according to Lee Suy.

Twelve of the 126 developed fever within the 21-day quarantine period but later tested negative for Ebola, he said.

The Ebola outbreak that has been ravaging west Africa has claimed 4,922 lives, according to the World Health Organization.

The rate of infections in hard-hit Liberia appears to have slowed, the WHO said on Wednesday, but it warned the crisis was not over. —Agence France-Presse

UAE cabbie cleared of kidnap and rape try on Pinay

A United Arab Emirates (UAE) court has cleared a taxi driver of charges he abducted and tried to rape a Filipina waitress earlier this year, a UAE news site reported Thursday.

The Court of First Instance acquitted the taxi driver of kidnapping, attempted rape, and making criminal threats, Khaleej Times reported.

Court records showed the incident occurred last April 2, where the Pakistani driver, 34, was accused of driving the Filipina, 24, to a sandy area in Nad Al Sheba. He allegedly threatened her that he would assault and kill her if she did not strip.

The Filipina recounted that on the day of the incident, the driver had picked her up in Al Rafaa area and was asked to take her home.

"(H)e took another direction and did not start the meter. I asked him why he took that way and he told me to keep quiet," the Filipina said in the prosecution investigation.

When the Filipina said she kept talking, the driver allegedly shouted at her and kept her from using her mobile phone, then took out an iron rod.

But when she asked him to stop at a gas station so she could get off the cab, the driver kept driving until he reached a sandy area and told her to remove her clothes.

When she refused, she said the driver "threatened he would kill me if I did not do as he wanted."

"I asked him again for water and I got off the car the moment he got distracted looking for a water bottle for me,” she said, adding the Pakistani then drove away. —Joel Locsin/KBK, GMA News

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