Coming home
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - February 13, 2018 - 12:00am

Front page stories these days are about President Duterte’s order to impose a total deployment ban to Kuwait – which order Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III issued yesterday. The order is a response to the Kuwaiti government’s apparent lack of concern over the plight of Filipina domestic helpers who have been killed and/or complained of having been sexually and physically abused by their employers in the Middle East country. Secretary Bello said on television that the Kuwaiti ambassador promised to meet with him and discuss his government’s position re the workers’ plight, but the promise was never kept.

Nothing can be more horrendous than learning of the body of Joanna Demafelis of Iloilo kept inside a freezer purportedly placed there while she was still alive, and then abandoned by her employers who fled the country.

Last January, the government announced a suspension of the deployment of workers to Kuwait following the death of seven Filipina domestic workers in the country.

Philippine Statistics Authority records show that as of April to September 2016, there were an estimated 2.2 million Filipino workers overseas. Females made up 53.6 percent of the total OFWs, and more than two-thirds (67.89 percent) belonged to the age group 25-30 years.

Those with existing work contracts comprised 97.5 percent and the rest worked without contracts. The leading destination of workers was Saudi Arabia, and other preferred destinations were the United Arab Emirates (15.9 percent), Kuwait (6.4 percent) and Qatar (6.2 percent).

Reactions to the total ban have been mostly of approval. Sen. Cynthia Villar has been quoted as saying that the government knows those abusive countries in the Middle East and should stop sending our women there. While she decries the social cost of families breaking up because of parents working abroad, she is also concerned about creating livelihood opportunities for the hundreds of workers who are coming home from Kuwait. If they had left for that country to find jobs, will they have jobs at home?

Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, vice chair of the Senate labor committee, expressed support for the President’s decision, and urged the government to provide jobs and livelihood assistance for returning workers.

Understandably, employment recruiters feel saddened by the imposition of the ban, saying that the women killed were only “isolated cases,” and banning deployment would affect the economy as the returning and job-seeking workers have no jobs at home.

Migrant rights advocate and head of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center Susan Ople thanked the President “for shining the spotlight on the continuous stream of welfare cases and tragic deaths involving OFWs in Kuwait.”

In a statement, she expressed the hope that DOLE and the Department of Foreign Affairs will also look at the plight of our overseas domestic workers across Asia and the Middle East with the goal of improved protection and better reintegration programs.”

She added that there has always been a succession of welfare cases, suicides, and complaints of contract violations in Kuwait.

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This story is of a happier return back home. It’s about the coming home of 1,200 and more alumni of Centro Escolar University from abroad and across the country. The grand reunion held at the Manila Hotel saw honoree-jubilarians coming in full colors of the chosen gemstones in elegant gowns and cocktail dresses of blue sapphire, ruby, pearl, gold, diamond by batch in full regalia/tiaras, fantasy masks and enchanted costumes matching this year’s theme “Beyond Dreamland, towards Bigger and brighter Visions.”

The highlight of this memorable night was the granting of Special Leadership Awards, the Grand Stewardship awards, the Escolarian Vision Awards (EVE) to the jubilarians. Spearheading this successful and challenging event was the indefatigable alumni foundation president, Dr. Paz Lucido who underscored in her message “giving tribute to our leaders, past and present, as well as outstanding alumni here and abroad, who all have contributed to the success of our alumni foundation and our University.”

Leading the 2018 honorees of the Grand Stewardship awards for their exemplary contributions were Dr. Rosita L. Navarro, CEU 6th president and chairman of the Teachers Board, Professional Regulation Commission, and Dr. Christina D. Padolina, current 7th CEU president and 2017 JURAN medal awardee for quality management. The Leadership Service awards were given to three alumni presidents, Zenaida Austria, Dr. Linda Reyes and Arch. Ana M. Ling and a posthumous award to VP Lucila Caudal-Tiongco.

The “creme de la creme” of these EVE awards represented 39 honorees, a pretty mix of various professions who are medical doctors,/nurses, legal practitioners, IT systems programmers, business entrepreneurs, socio-civic leaders, educators/trainors, health and wellness experts, film producer and a jazz artist-composer, from the millennials, the baby boomers and the generations X and Z. These are the 2018 Escolarian Vision Exemplars who have exemplified the founders’ “core values” of science and virtue and giving back to their communities and sectors here and abroad.

Among the awardees was Jose Elias Bong Penera, a true hall-of-fame composer/jazz piano artist who was an elementary alumnus and a piano scholar in his college years at the CEU Conservatory of Music headed then by another CEU alumnus and National Artist Dean Dr. Antonio J. Molina. 

While starting as a prodigy at 4, Bong showed his virtousity and wizardry in playing the piano through the years, and his formal training at CEU gave him the foundation, thus awards came easily, like the Jingle Magazine, voting him in 1980 as the Best Jazz Pianist; the 1985 Aliw award for Best Jazz Band, and in the US, the Chicago State Secretary’s office elevated Bong to the Chicago Filipino-American Hall of Fame for his contribution to the Philippine music industry, arts and culture.

At the height of his popularity in the ‘80s, Bong’s philanthropic work started by giving financial assistance from his earnings to deserving students at CEU under the memorial foundation of his mom, who was also a faculty and public relations officer of the school. After finishing a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at Mary Hurst College, cum laude, he wrote books and tried his hand on teaching. 

In between his jazz concerts, his creativity in music was also tapped by stage theater directors like the late Soxy Topacio of PETA for the first Pilipino zarzuela, “Ang Awit na Hindi Matapos, Tapos.” Repertory Theatre founder-director, Zenaida “Bibot” Amador got Bong for the musical play “Stop the World I Want to Get Off,” as well as Ateneo’s iconic and charming adventures of Bata-Batuta under Onofre Pagsanghan.

Not many people knew of Bong’s boundless creativity and talents. But he remains active in live concerts in the US, performing pro bono such as during the UN event for the earthquake victims in Manila.

And Bong through the years has remained humble, caring, and sharing and having a strong faith in God.

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