Two Passions And A Dream

Kevin Obate, a physical therapist and a jazz crooner and saxophonist on the side, has a favorite piece: “Over the Rainbow.”

“Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue, and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.” And so goes the Judy Garland iconic song from the 1939 film, “Wizard of Oz.” The song has been covered by a hundred different artists many, many years after Dorothy and Toto looked up to the skies and belted this beautiful melody. But no matter whose and what version it is, the song would always echo a certain sense of sadness, longing, and hope.

And this is how Kevin exactly felt when he first came to the US in June 2017.

“Yes, I was able to realize my dream of working in the US, but my first few months here were really hard, very lonely, as I didn’t know anybody,” says this native of Dumaguete City, who graduated from the Silliman University in 2014, where he also earned his master’s degree. “I had neither friends nor relatives, I was alone,” says Kevin, who first worked in Connecticut. “What helped me keep my sanity were my constant video chats with friends and family back home… and my music.”

Kevin has come a long way since then. Wanting to sharpen his knowledge and skills to serve his patients better, he pursued a doctorate degree at the Shenandoah University in Virginia. Kevin is now addressed as “doctor.” He has also moved to New York, where he now works. Additionally, he is pursuing further studies and certification at the New York University.

His other passion? Well, he had two concerts with additional shows here and there, in less than one year. He had his first solo concert titled “Have Yourself a Jazzy, Little Christmas” in Albany in 2017, followed by a Valentine’s 2018 USA Concert Tour covering New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Washington, Texas, and California, which he did with other Filipino artists. Recently, he had performances with Martin Nievera, Pilita Corrales, Ogie Alcasid, and Ariel Rivera, all known music personalities back in the Philippines.

Kevin, the vice president of Jaycees International Manhattan Chapter, is doing another Valentine’s concert in 2019.

“Actually, my first ‘performance’ in the US was back in Connecticut where I shared my music with a group of patients that I gathered in the nursing home’s function room,” says Kevin, whose music genre includes smooth jazz, bossa nova, blues, and pop.

Recently, the Pan American Concerned Citizens Action League, Inc., a New Jersey-based organization that promotes development, primarily of Asian Americans, has selected Kevin as one of its awardees, in recognition of his accomplishments as a “Sax Virtuoso and Excellence in Physical Therapy.”

“Music can really make people feel better. I really believe that. I consider myself very lucky, as I am able to combine my two loves: my work and my music. It is really one dream come true,” Kevin says. – Ferdinand Esguerra

Making His Mark As State Leader of JCI New York

Taking on a leading role in spreading awareness of the Philippines amongst the Fil-Am youth of the New York Tri-State is Stevenson Van Derodar, who is the current State President of the Junior Chamber of Commerce International (JCI) New York State Organization, a non-profit non-government organization. Together with the Executive Committee and the Board of Directors, Stevenson is busy running and implementing the programs and objectives of JCI-New York. “Being that we are a young leaders’ organization, comprised of young people who are between the ages of 18 to 40 years old, we advocate for social responsibility, participate in efforts towards social and economic development, and international cooperation, goodwill, and understanding. We do this through training, projects, and various networking opportunities,” he explains.

A native of Cebu City, Stevenson attended his hometown’s Southwestern University where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Therapy. It was also during this time his leadership capabilities and association with JCI, or more commonly known as the Jaycees, began in earnest. In 1997, he joined the collegiate chapter of Metropolitan Cebu Junior Jaycees Inc. He also served as the Governor of Southwestern University’s College of Physical Therapy. His persistence and hard work as a collegiate youth earned him awards from the Office of the Cebu City Mayor, Archdiocese of Cebu, and Ayala Corporation’s Ayala Young Leaders Program. Right after graduation, he worked as a registered physical therapist in a few local hospitals.

It was then in 2007 when he began his life’s chapter in New York City, where he was assigned as a real estate salesperson for Ayala Land Inc. (through its International Channel, Ayala Land International Sales Inc.), one of the most highly respected private corporations in the Philippines. In 2009, he officially became a member of the local JCI Philippine-New York chapter. “Joining the Jaycees was a natural extension for me, having been able to work with them in the past as a Sangguniang Kabataan official in our locality,” he remarks, “I have had the opportunity to work with many Jaycees in various projects, as well as with the Cebu City Youth Commission. The organization has developed my skill sets and provided interpersonal connections and opportunities to work on various projects.”

This writer had the honor to first meet Stevenson in 2011, the year I was assigned as a diplomatic staff at the Philippine Consulate General in New York. That same year, Stevenson also became a permanent New York resident. Upon my initial acquaintance with him during one of the Consulate’s several Fil-Am youth forums, I sensed an enthusiastic and genuine spirit of community leadership within him. My intuition was that he would immensely benefit the general community and second-generation youth, and I am personally happy to know that his current position has vindicated my belief in him. No doubt the Jaycees are in good hands under his watch as president.

“The organization has connected me to people around the world, like-minded individuals who wanted to become their best and contribute to society.” Stevenson further praises the JCI for helping to enhance his professional skills in proper planning, budgeting, collaborating with partners, and the occupational advancement. On a personal level, he notes how being a Jaycee has helped him in dealing with personal circumstances and challenges as a leader.

“Leadership is a key concept in life,” he says, “the better leader you become, the more successful you can be. Business, personal relations, communities, and organizations require leadership. I believe strong leadership skills will build us to be better persons and the fact that JCI welcomes people between 18 to 40 years of age, it is truly a great phase in our lives to learn so many opportunities and experiences.”

Elected as JCI New York State President in 2018, Stevenson takes pride in his mission of creating new chapters and overseeing the growth of the organization’s membership. Relatively fresh in his current leadership role, he takes pride in having assisted a few individuals from their own JCI chapter and spreading the good word to community youth of the professional and social benefits that come from being a Jaycee member.

His list of other accomplishments as a Jaycee member is nothing less than extraordinary. In 2013, he had initiated and supervised “Letters to Oklahoma: Raising Sentiments, which helped the victims of the Oklahoma Tornado. In 2016, as President of JCI Philippine-New York, he recreated the “Distinguished Service Awards” and changed it to “Icons of Impact.” Then in 2017 as State Vice President, he proposed to bring back the State Convention in New York City after more than 15 years. This year, he sealed a State-hosting opportunity to hold a “socials” event with the delegates of the JCI Global Partnership Summit in in the city, along with a pilot homelessness community activity in the Bronx, which serves as an avenue for the delegates to heighten their introspection on gender equality and sustainable development goals on a destitute center setting.

Stevenson further holds the proud distinction as one of only three Most Outstanding Local Chapter Jaycee Presidents in the USA. It was also under his watch when in 2016 the Philippine-New York JCI was awarded the Most Outstanding Local Chapter in the USA. Additionally, he has received National Awards in different categories on numerous occasions.

When he is not busy with his work as a physical therapist, real estate salesperson, or JCI New York State President, Stevenson thoroughly enjoys his hobbies of acting, lounging in cool hotels for social meetups and get-togethers, and watching movies in cinema houses, all the while pondering over some possibilities with creative engagements in films or event productions.

Stevenson plans to continue lending his support to JCI beyond his presidential term. As for his message to aspiring Jaycee members, he only has the following to say: “Joining the organization has impacted me in countless ways. I have found a world, through my involvement, where I can work on improving myself; continuously learning things from past mistakes; making and achieving goals via numerous projects; building my character; understanding others; working with teams; making and gaining lifelong friends around the world, and giving back to the community.” – Wendell Gaa

Sharing Her Success With Upcoming Filipino Artists

Angel Ramchand, popularly known as Angel Ram, is an accomplished singer by any standard. She was the first Filipina to perform at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in Times Square, had recorded singles, and won awards – a testament to her remarkable singing ability.

But behind her success, there is a little-known fact about this soulful singer: her unselfish wish for other Filipinos, especially struggling Filipino artists, to also make it in the USA.

To help make this happen, Angel opens doors to Filipino singers and performs with them in music lounges and bars in the Tri-State area where she regularly sings. “I guess that’s my way of paying back. I went through the same struggles they’re going through right now, and more,” says Angel, who came to the US in 2012, practically knowing nobody in the land of milk and honey. “It was hard and I hope nobody would experience the things that I had gone through.”

Born to parents who were both into music – her father a drummer, her mother a vocalist – Angel, who holds a degree in Nursing, was only four when she joined a singing contest and later on had a string of TV appearances. She got married at a young age and then moved from Zamboanga City, where she was born and raised, to Manila. The decision to migrate was reached when her marriage failed and had to leave her three children with their father in the Philippines as she had no way to contact them.

To survive in the US, she grabbed whatever honest job  she could and prayed that her luck would change for the better. And it did.

In 2014, she rekindled her passion for singing and performed in the Tri-State area with her own band, the NU7. Angel and her group had played with known Filipino artists such as Lui Villaruz, Anna Leah Javier, Glenn Jacinto, and Jo Awayan, to name a few. Angel even became part of the Jo Awayan show held in New York in 2015. She also did some front acts for visiting Filipino performers – the likes of Geneva Cruz, Vina Morales, Gab Valenciano, and Sam Milby. Angel had also performed alongside David Pomeranz and the Drifters.

Angel, whose wide array of songs include those by Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Angela Bofill, Whitney Houston, and Patti Austin, had her first solo concert in May 2015, titled “Angel Unveiled,” which she dedicated to her children. In December 2015, she launched her first single, “I Would Say.”

It was in January 2016 when the big break came. Angel was asked to sing the songs of two of her favorite artists in a musical tribute called “The Soulful Songs of Etta James and Angela Bofill. The venue? The B.B. King Blues Club & Grill. She says she was really very nervous before the performance, but she was able to compose herself, and like a true professional, performed the songs to the delight of her audience.

Then came the awards. In 2017, Angel, a former director of Jaycees International in New Jersey, represented the USA in the World Championships of Performing Arts, garnering three awards in the Adult Category: Broadway, Rock, and Gospel. She was also an awardee in the Performing Arts, Female category, of the Pan American Concerned Citizens Action League.

Angel is now regularly performing at popular venues such as B.B. King, Café Wha, and The Groove, among a number of others. She has an upcoming birthday concert set for Nov. 20 at the Feinstein’s/54 Below.

Angel had really come a long way from her humble beginnings in Zamboanga  City. “God has really been good to me,” she says, adding that she got married to Zuhare Meri in December 2017. “Someday soon, I hope God would grant another fervent wish: for me to see my children again.” – Fernando Esguerra

Exemplifying the ‘Heart of the Filipino’

If you’re one of the million passengers who fly the Philippines’ flag carrier, Philippine Airlines (PAL), also Asia’s first commercial airline, you may be familiar with its “Buong Pusong Alaga,” the core of its service culture. As a matter of fact, over the past 77 years, its exemplary customer experience is what makes its regular passengers stick by. “A source of pride for Filipinos everywhere,” PAL is proudly a homegrown brand recently awarded with a 4-star rating by Skytrax and ranked Second Most Improved Airline in 2018.

Founded in 1941, PAL’s current field of operations involves at least 85 aircraft, which will further include the addition of six fuel-efficient A350-900s, managed by nearly 8,300 employees, 1,332 of which are pilots and 3,016 are cabin crew.

With hubs at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Clark International Airport in Pampanga, and Mactan-Cebu International Airport in Cebu, PAL travels to at least 33 destinations across the Philippines and 43 international destinations including Southeast Asia, East Asia, Middle East, Oceania, Europe, and the six major cities in North America: Toronto, Vancouver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu, and New York.

To stay on top of the game, nothing less than a homogeneous workforce who are willing to make sacrifices and go the extra mile to serve their customers first is a daunting prerequisite. In New York and the East Coast USA, where half a million Filipinos have immigrated, PAL Area Manager Josh Vasquez and his team, along with the Philippine Department of Tourism (DOT), are up to the task, especially PAL is about to make traveling to the Philippines faster, more convenient, and non-stop starting on October 30, 2018.

“I always say that every passenger deserves a nonstop flight to the Philippines. Nationalities of other countries have a non-stop flight access to their home countries, so why can’t Filipinos and Fil-Ams, too?” says Vasquez.

“We’re very proud of this service because (1) it’s your fastest way to get to Manila. The journey takes 15.5 hours only; (2) we will use our newest and state-of-the-art aircraft, the A350-900; (3) we have convenient flight schedules, and (4) we have competitive promo fares, especially for those who will book ahead of time,” he adds. “Four times a week, these new non-stop flights depart JFK Airport at 1:45 a.m. They arrive in Manila at 7 a.m.”

Like true good customer experience advocates, PAL strives to improve its products and services based on its target demographic’s needs and purchase patterns. “Our market in the East Coast knows where and when to travel but the decision in purchasing a flight involves more consideration such as flight schedules, stopovers, baggage allowances, and fares, among other things. This is understandable because traveling to a destination some 20 hours away must involve a more rigorous approach,” Vasquez explains.

In an upbeat manner, he shares, “We’ve been receiving positive feedback from the community and from the market in general. Every time I attend community events, people tell me of their excitement about our upcoming non-stop operations and this makes me thrilled. There was a clamor for non-stop flights and PAL responded with an even enhanced product and offering.”

Although about 90% of its passengers are ethnic Filipinos, the airline’s expanded products and services are there to also target a more mainstream market. “PAL works hand in hand with the DOT in promoting the Philippines to the mainstream market. Basically, the DOT gives them reasons why they should experience the Philippines and it’s PAL’s job to tell them how to get there,” Vasquez says. “In addition, influential publications such as Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure have named some of the Philippine islands best in the world and this has helped promote tourism into the country. The Philippines will continue to be a hot destination for diving and will emerge as one of the top destinations for sports and adventure travels.”

Newly plucked from his previous posts in Thailand and Canada, Vasquez, who was born in Leyte but grew up in Manila, only has profuse gratitude to the Fil-Am community in New York and his tried-and-true team members. “My first year in NYC was filled with multi-fold pleasant experiences and it’s because of the amazing individuals who have welcomed me and have become our partners in promoting PAL in the community.

“PAL’s New York team is lean and mean. We’re composed of five people who handle various types of clients: travel agents, corporate accounts, and direct passengers. This is to ensure all our customers’ needs and requirements are addressed.”

Besides Vasquez, Jean Charisse Rodriguez also serves as PAL’s international passenger sales account manager; Ramon Recto is sales officer; and Erwin Del Rosario and Gina Arguelles are customer service representatives.

“Like most of our co-employees, working in the Philippines’ flag carrier makes us burst with pride. Further, belonging in a Filipino organization that provides pleasant and unforgettable travel experiences is ultimately fulfilling and it’s something we will always enjoy doing,” Vasquez says in closing.–Photo: Rolan Gutierrez

Photo: L-R: Gina Arguelles, Josh Vasquez, Jean Charisse Rodriguez, and Erwin Del Rosario

Philippine Airlines: On Track To Achieving 5-Star Ranking

Jaime J. Bautista, Philippine Airlines’ (PAL) President & COO, knows from the get-go that he needs his entire team—around 8,300 employees spread across the globe—to align with the company’s vision: to become a five-star airline by 2020 by providing a safe and pleasant flight to every customer, who is most likely a discriminating Filipino passenger.

“To stay in the lead, one must always adapt and innovate. This requires constant investment, creativity, and 100% commitment of a dedicated workforce,” Bautista tells Fil-Am Who’s Who in a recent interview.

“Our goals and targets were clear, and it was important that all PAL people understood them before we solicited their commitment…We also rallied our people in the less-visible back offices and shops whose contributions were just as crucial as those from the higher-profile frontliners. We keep everyone updated in regular town hall meetings to track our progress and discuss each innovation that we introduce.”

A top management officer at PAL for 23 years, Bautista believes that investing in innovation in the company’s products and services has paved the way for its recent feats: a global survey of 20 million passengers conducted by Skytrax, an international air transport rating organization, has ranked PAL as 49th in the world airline standings and the Second Most Improved Airline in 2018; Skytrax has also certified PAL as a four-star airline earlier this year, and at least 15 new aircraft were added to its fleet of around 85.

Take note though, the road to the top is not easy. There’s a fierce competition among major airlines. Change is inevitable for the 77-year-old company: improve the customer experience and come out with an attractive pricing or be left behind.

Bautista calls to mind, “The last two years were a roller-coaster ride of constant struggle to overcome various obstacles to implement truly transformative changes in all areas of operations. By rallying everyone in the PAL organization—making them understand and embrace what we are doing and why—we solicited their support to make small but significant changes at all workstations/areas, ultimately making the impact on overall passenger service.

“We’ve also made big investments in aircraft: 15 new planes earlier this year, but at least 43 new aircraft over the 2016 to 2024 period, and full cabin reconfiguration of existing planes—to offer the public a truly elevated customer experience.”

He adds, “To thrive in our industry, it’s not enough to react quickly and efficiently to competitive moves; we have to be relentlessly pro-active and lead the way, whether it’s pioneering new routes to develop new passenger markets or introducing new service innovations as an industry leader.”

With hubs at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Clark International Airport in Pampanga, and Mactan-Cebu International Airport in Cebu, PAL travels to at least 33 destinations across the Philippines and 43 international destinations including Southeast Asia, East Asia, Middle East, Oceania, Europe, and the six major cities in North America: Toronto, Vancouver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York.

PAL has recently purchased six Airbus A350-900s, which will primarily provide non-stop services to Europe and North America, especially to New York, the carrier’s longest route so far.

East Coast Expansion

Half a million Filipinos are based in the East Coast USA, which is hard to ignore. At 15 to 17 hours of non-stop flight from New York to Manila and vice versa, PAL’s newly acquired A350-900 makes the long-haul travel a lot faster and more convenient for the passengers beginning October 30, 2018.

“When we decided to modernize our long-haul fleet with ultra-long-haul airliners, we had in mind the expansion of our network in the U.S. as well as Europe, and in particular the East Coast. We believe our product, particularly the Business Class and Premium Economy high-end cabins in the A350-900, and the roomiest Economy Class ever in our A350s and retrofitted A330s, puts us at par with or superior to other global carriers operating in the same regions,” Bautista explains.

He says further, “We fully expect the U.S. market to grow steadily, while competition will intensify. This is why we’re the only airline offering non-stop flights from New York to Manila, as well as non-stop flights from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Honolulu.”

World’s Most Advanced Commercial Aircraft

PAL’s A350-900 boasts a tri-class layout: Business Class, Premium Economy, and Economy, which provides a total of 295 passengers with an upgraded in-flight entertainment, from 11.6-inch to 18.5-inch TV screens; WiFi connection for all passengers; more personal space and more room to stretch, and a quieter and more relaxing long-haul flight.

It also has “a cabin atmosphere (pressurization, humidity levels) that fights jet lag…Its extra-wide body is the latest generation of high-technology aircraft and has a cabin that’s four times quieter than other aircraft of its type. Its two Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines burn less fuel, while the fuselage is made of new composite materials that make it lighter—allowing it to fly farther. The wing and the winglet (‘sharklet’) design provides an aerodynamic efficiency by mimicking the wings of a bird, contributing to fuel efficiency,” Bautista describes the A 350-900, dubbed as “the world’s most advanced commercial aircraft.”

“Passengers will love the bigger windows, the mood lighting that offers more than 16 million lighting combinations, the higher cabin humidity, and more comfortable pressurization levels for a more relaxing journey,” he says.

Interestingly, Daniel Baron, the plane’s interior designer, has installed Barong Tagalog-inspired wallpaper and placed cushions attributed to Mindanao’s radiant weave patterns.

“Our passengers will [definitely] get a feel of the sunny Philippines the moment they board the aircraft because of the [customized interiors], warm hospitality of the crew as well as the delectable Filipino meals.”

Bautista, a native of Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija, says. “Customer First: this is the foundation for all aspects of our core values and ‘Buong Pusong Alaga’ service culture.”

Resilience and Growth

Although currently the ninth-largest corporation in the Philippines in terms of gross revenue, PAL has been through ups and downs—the aviation industry’s financial growth is cyclical; slumps will turn to profitability over periods of time. But like the Filipino people, which the company represents as the Philippines’ flag carrier, PAL is known for its unwavering resilience in the midst of the hard times.

“The experience of more than 77 years provides us with a wealth of knowledge and insights that we use when confronted by challenges. We also nurture a pool of loyal employees who use this experience to work around new problems. When we set our current five-star strategy and rallied our people, I was amazed to see the strong and gratifying all-out enthusiasm throughout our ‘PAL family’–who then went out to make sacrifices and go the extra mile to serve our customers. They love PAL passionately! That’s our biggest asset and the key to our resilience and dynamism,” Bautista proudly states.

Looking forward, PAL is also finding the right balance between pricing and full service to lure in a more mainstream market. “The goal is to offer the best value for our customers of all nationalities, whether business and high-end premium travelers or families on vacation, along with our traditional Filipino balikbayan and OFW customers. With the market still price-sensitive, we regularly offer ticket promos with very affordable fares, without compromising service quality, consistency in service, and a good product,” Bautista says.

“We also project PAL as the window to the Philippines to attract inbound traffic.”

Propelling the company’s considerable growth through the years is business titan Lucio Tan, PAL’s Chairman & CEO and Bautista’s longtime staunch friend and ally.

Bautista remarks, “He’s one of the country’s greatest visionaries and the man who made the bold decision to turn around the flag carrier to better serve the Filipino people. He’s one of the world business leaders I greatly admire.”

Photo: L-R: Angelique Tinsay, VP Information Systems; Atty. Siegfred Mison, SVP General Counsel; President Bautista; Stewart Lim EVP/Treasurer & Chief Administrative Officer; Maria Antonia Llamzon, VP Human Capital; Cielo Villaluna, Manager, External Communications; Emilio Yu, Special Assistant to the Chairman & CEO

Live A Life That Matters

The life of a registered nurse is not a bed of roses—no matter how long you’ve served.  Veteran nurse practitioner Lea Batomalaque knows it by heart by now that the life of a nurse may be fulfilling, but it also has its fair share of struggles, missteps, and fears.

The pursuit of peace will see you through, nevertheless. “That’s your key to a happy life,” Lea says. “Happiness is a state of mind. If you’re at peace, you’re happy, too. Even if you have everything the world can give: power, money, and possessions but lack the peace of mind, you can never be happy.

“Be positive. Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts.” Lea quotes Randy Armstrong, “Worrying doesn’t take away tomorrow’s troubles. It takes away today’s peace.”

Since she first stepped on the streets of New York in March 1990, her happy memories outweigh the bad. “Together with five other young nurses (Amsterdam Nursing Homes’ first batch of recruits from the Philippines), my 22-year-old self was so thrilled to see the Big Apple for the first time.  I was amazed looking at the skyscrapers and the streets that were flooded with cars and the yellow cabs.  There were also so many people of different colors on the sidewalks,” Lea fondly recalls.

She adds: “Just a few days later, I experienced my first snowfall—it was unforgettable.”

“But back then, I also had this fear of uncertainty. How will I survive this big city? I simply shrugged it off.  My faith in God and myself was way too strong,” Lea says.

Seasoned by experience—both personally and professionally, Lea, who is now the Vice President for Marketing at RN Express Staffing Registry in Manhattan, is happily opening up opportunities for fellow nurses, especially those who just graduated and couldn’t find employment due to lack of clinical experience. “We help these people by developing their self-confidence in the absence of experience.”

At RN Express, which Lea co-founded with Filipino nurses Sally Nunez and Florida Lucas, “We encourage our nurses to learn from their mistakes and grow from their experiences; we also prod them to seek guidance from God, who makes the difference in our lives. It’s also important for these nurses to love their jobs. A fulfilling job is a blessing, which gives us purpose and pride in our lives.”

Originally from the City of Kidapawan, North Cotabato, Lea came from a small family.  Her mother was an elementary school teacher, while her father was a farmer who tilled their own land. Her only brother, who has his own steel roofing and decking business in the Philippines, lives with his wife and their two children.

Lea is a proud alumna of the West Visayas State College (WVSC), which is now a university. “Prior to college, my mom made me choose from the different program offerings of WVSC: BS Communication, BS Biology, or BS Nursing.  Honestly, I didn’t like any of them, but I had to choose one.  I chose nursing. As I cruised along the program, I learned to love it. I told myself: ‘It was not a bad idea after all’.”

About 30 years have passed—and still counting, what were the most important learnings this profession has taught her? Lea humbly shares three things: “First, you can’t please everyone. Like what Bill Crosby says, ‘I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone’; second, there’s no such thing as ‘know it all.’ There’s no shame in NOT KNOWING. We all make mistakes and mess up occasionally, but we learn as we go. Don’t hesitate to ask, and lastly, be patient.  You don’t always get what you want right away. No matter how carefully you plan and work hard, sometimes, things just don’t work the way and the time you want them to.”

What’s Her Secret Recipe For Success?

At a time when immigrating to the United States is constantly on red alert, primarily due to the fear of terrorism, it’s also always good to remind everyone of the migrants’ huge positive contributions to the U.S. economy and its story of progress. After all, migration does more good than harm.

Take for instance the immigration story of Sally Nunez, a Filipino registered nurse, young and relatively inexperienced, when she was hired at the Jewish Home and Hospital in Manhattan, in the early ’90s. With her strong faith in God and sheer determination to keep moving forward, she rose through the ranks and also served at the Amsterdam Nursing Home in Manhattan and at the Regal Heights Rehabilitation and Health Care Center in Queens at several points in her nearly 30-year-old career.

Originally from Caramoan, Camarines Sur, Sally, the youngest in the family of six siblings, grew up in a loving household where both parents were teachers and devout Catholics. No wonder her decision to pursue nursing was born out of a solemn prayer. “One night, before I went to bed, I prayed: ‘Lord, please lead me to the profession that I could be of help to others.’ He led me to nursing,” she recalls. “Since my family couldn’t afford to send me to Manila to take up computer science, I joined some of my high school classmates who studied nursing at Colegio de Santa Isabel in Naga City.”

“Initially, I didn’t have plans to go to the U.S.,” Sally calls to mind. “However, my brother, Edgar, who put me through nursing school, also paid for my CGFNS (Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools) application,” Sally says.

In August 1991, a local staffing agency in the Philippines advised her the Jewish Home and Hospital in Manhattan was offering her a job—her very first job offer abroad. “At that time, I felt mixed emotions—excited but scared at the same time. I was all set to decline the job offer because I also had job offers from a few hospitals in Manila, the Kidney Center of the Philippines and Saint Luke’s Medical Center,” she recalls. However, thanks to the daughter of the late film director Lino Brocka, who was, by coincidence, bumped into her at the staffing agency. She tells Sally, “OMG. New York is so beautiful. I just came from there as a tourist and I’m here because I wanted to go back to stay there permanently. You should go!”

So she went.

Armed with her positive attitude, obedience to her first and subsequent superiors, and always being on her best behavior, Sally has earned her well-deserved success. “Obey before you complain and accept responsibilities without hesitation—the people you meet today may be the same people who will help you fulfill your dreams,” Sally advises.

Today, Sally is the CEO of the RN Express Staffing Registry, a startup firm established in September 2009, which she co-founded with fellow nurses Lea Batomalaque and Florida Lucas. It fundamentally focuses on a full range of health care staffing services. Alongside the staffing agency, Sally and her business partners have established the Saleaflor Foundation, which holds fundraisers to raise money for its regular medical missions in the Philippines.

Prior to establishing RN Express, Sally and her business partners sat down to brainstorm how they could best share their nursing home experiences, especially with “greenhorn” nurses. They also wanted to fix the bad impression that nurses hired by staffing agencies–notoriously tagged as “agency nurses”–are “no good because they have no sense of loyalty and no sense of responsibility,” Sally says. “I never understood that mentality because practicing nurses shouldn’t be determined by who provide them their wages, but should be determined by their duties and responsibilities.”

“For instance, at a nursing home, all nurses should fully understand their crucial role in helping the facility to maximize its reimbursement potentials from the government. From 2001 to 2010, the health care system was slowly changing the nursing skilled facility’s reimbursement process. There was a need to educate clinicians, whether you were a direct hire or an agency hire, of their important role, in order for the nursing home to survive this change,” she explains. “Nurses should complete their nursing care plans and documentation to satisfy the government’s audit.”

Bringing RN Express to what it is today—continuously providing jobs and work permits to around 60% Filipinos and 40% non-Filipinos—was never easy, to begin with. “We faced so many challenges,” Sally recalls. “Running a business was never my forte, but someone had to do the job: place registered nurses—mostly, with no clinical experience, in various health care facilities, along with securing their work permits to work in the U.S.”

Fortunately, RN Express has persevered over the past eight years. It continues to provide opportunities for nurses, with no clinical experience, to get accepted to its partner facilities. In anticipation of the feared shortage of nurses in the next five years, RN Express is confident to fill this void.

“At the same time, nurses should be given access to a comprehensive health insurance package,” Sally claims. “Nurses should have the best health insurance package because we take care of sick people and we also help maintain the good health of our patients.”

In February 2017, RN Express was certified by The Joint Commission, a nonprofit organization, established in 1951, which recognizes the best businesses and organizations in the health care industry.

When asked what were her secrets to success, Sally reveals her 6-step personal roadmap for success:

  • Put God at the center of your life;
  • Stop judging people. Always see the good in others;
  • Transform your passion into a business venture. Pick the right people from the start;
  • Listen before you speak;
  • Observe the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and
  • Remember the 3Rs: (1) Repect for Self, (2) Respect for Others, and (3) Responsibility for your Actions.

At this point, does she have any other dreams to pursue? “I’ve already achieved my personal dreams. However, at age 50, I feel, I’m just starting to fulfill some of my aspirations and dreams—not so much for myself—but for the people I serve,” Sally says.

Besides shopping and traveling, Sally has also been a golf enthusiast since five years ago. “For some, golf is a boring sport. But for me, golf enhances three virtues: patience, perfection, and consistency.”

“Patience, perfection, and consistency”–could very well have been a welcome addition to Sally’s secret recipe for success.

RP Scholarship Pageant Season Two

The second season of the Republic of the Philippines (RP) Scholarship Pageant was successfully held at Sofitel Philippine Plaza Ballroom last January 31, where Miss Cindy Dumol from Roxas City was proclaimed Miss RP and Miss Excelsa de Jesus from New York City was crowned Miss RP International.

In this edition of the pageant, Mister RP was also launched as the organizers believe in providing the same opportunities to its male delegates. Mr. Dennis Frias Malones from Bulacan bested the other 16 delegates across the country.

Mister RP was given a cerebral wreath designed by Arnel Papa, to complement the Miss RP crown. A vesture made from naturally woven materials was also made by Ulysses King; it had hand painted local inscriptions in baybayin, which says “Pilipinas Kong Mahal.”

In addition to scholarship and travel opportunities, the winners were given custom commissioned fine jewelry designed by Bernadette Villacorta of Hiyas Jewellery.

The winners will focus on advocating for a more equitable education for the economically disadvantaged.

Keeping Families Together is The Heart of US Immigration

Dr. Marshall Duke, a professor of psychology at Emory University, has this theory that the “people who know a lot about their families tend to be more resilient when facing life’s challenges.” Immigration Attorney Nicolas “Nick” Caraquel, one of the top Attorneys of North America-2018-2019 edition of The Who’s Who Directories, personifies that theory and adds further, “that the unconditional love for family will complete anyone’s life journey.”

An industrial engineer earlier in his career, Atty. Caraquel, Immigration Attorney of US Immigration Law Office of Nicolas Caraquel (83-15 Queens Blvd, 2nd Floor Elmhurst, New York), obtained his New York State license to practice law in 2012. Since practicing law, he’s been helping various clients all over the world to secure their immigrant US visas as a first step in achieving their American Dream, whose original idea has been evolving, according to him. “I used to hear the concept of the ‘American Dream’ was being able to buy a house in the US. As an immigration attorney, my clients have redefined the ‘American Dream’ as being able to bring their family here and share the blessings of ‘America’ with them,” Atty. Caraquel told Fil-Am Who’s Who in an interview.

“No matter how big the house you buy, if you live by yourself, there’s no joy in living in it,” he added.

Although he grew up in a poor family in Davao City—a breadwinner for the family who sold sweetened saba bananas to famished passengers at a bus terminal at the tender age of nine—his love for his family never waned, even an instance. To immigrate his own family in the US, to spend more time with them remains his “American Dream.”

An immigrant himself, Atty. Caraquel understands the challenges and the complexity of going through the US immigration process. He entered the US originally as a tourist in 2007. He was hired as an industrial engineer three weeks after his arrival and obtained his multinational executive visa in four weeks. He became a green card holder in 2008 and now holds a dual Filipino-American citizenship.

Although he’s been a legal counsel for US immigration in under a decade only, he’s considered a seasoned practitioner among his peers and a rapidly growing roster of clients, whose misconceptions about the US immigration law have been recurring. He explained, “The immigration law is not anti-illegal immigrants. As a matter of fact, some provisions and regulations provided better guidance on how to help illegal immigrants to find solutions to their problematic immigration status. All they need to do is consult the right people and get help from the right sources.”

If you choose to work with Atty. Caraquel, his well-grounded industrial engineering skills, besides his expertise in the US immigration law, will help you find practical and quicker solutions to your immigration concerns. “My industrial engineering skills made it easier for me to navigate through the employment and entrepreneur-based petitions. Business models, re-organizations, financial management, strategic planning, etc. come in handy as I explore employment and investment-based petitions. My industrial engineering training gives me an advantage in solving even the most complicated immigration problems. Also, my strong problem-solving skills give me the instinct to offer ‘options’ to my clients on their immigration concerns.”

“Being an engineer has molded my ‘can do,’ ‘there’s a better way,’ ‘we’ll find ways’ attitude. That’s why I’m winning my immigration cases,” he said.

Atty. Caraquel is an alumnus of Xavier University (Ateneo de Cagayan)- Bachelor of Laws, and Ateneo de Davao University-Bachelor of Science. He’s a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, New York State Bar Association, and Integrated Bar of the Philippines. He received the Empowerment Awardee: Excellence in Legal Profession from the Fiesta in America, 2017, The National Advocates’ Top 40 Under 40 from the The National Advocates, 2017, and the Client’s Choice from Avvo, 2013-2016.

In addition to his legal office in New York, Atty. Caraquel has a satellite office in his hometown, Davao City.

For more information, visit his website

Profile: Saint Paul Manila Alumnae USA

Established in 2015, the Saint Paul Manila Alumnae USA (SPMA USA) is a 501c3 alumni organization based in the United States. It aims to connect with Paulinians, build a national alumni community, and support Saint Paul University in the Philippines. Its membership encompasses all Saint Paul University campuses back home and all class batches.

As a member, you can expand your network of Paulinians and friends of Saint Paul; bond together in social meetings; align with your business interests, and grow your social media numbers. Additionally, the alumnae can share news about Paulinians and friends of Saint Paul; provide personal and professional development tips; receive discounts from business and community partners, and participate in various SPMA USA programs and events. You can also support the educational programs of Saint Paul University and SPMAF, and other community projects in the Philippines through the SPMA’s Fleur De Lis Fund.

The SPMA’s Fleur de Lis Fund aids projects such as the scholarships for deserving Saint Paul students–from senior high school to college programs in education, nursing, business, information technology, and computer science—and the Saint Paul Music Therapy Center in Manila, which is providing the special needs of the youth and children. The Fund also helps various SPMAFI projects that assist women in correctional facilities and the elderly nuns at the Mere Monique Homes in Iloilo, Philippines.

For more information, email, or visit or – Marilyn Abalos

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