Canadian-Filipino wins bronze in U.S. Open tae kwon do

Isi Oro at the U.S. Open tae kwon do championship at the Las Vegas Hotel &  Casino.

Isi Oro at the U.S. Open tae kwon do championship at the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino.

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – A Canadian-Filipino has captured a bronze medal in the recently-concluded U.S. Open tae kwon do tournament at the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino.

Thirteen-year-old Isis Oro, an eighth-grader from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada placed third among 22 competitors in the 37-kilogram bracket, which included a Filipino-American.

Oro, whose father hails from Kalibo, Aklan, was one of 1,922 competitors from 62 countries in the five day tournament, Feb. 19-23.

No one competed from the Philippines, but several Filipino-Americans were among the participants, in the competition considered one of the most prestigious in the sport.

One of the Fil-Am participants was Marissa Manabag from San Jose, who captured the silver in Oro’s weight class. The gold went to American Anapaula Aguillera.

“There was pressure because there were people from different countries, almost from around the world,” said Oro, who started competing when she was 10 years old. “But it was good experience when I compete for the world qualifying in July.”

Her father, Henary Oro, said that Isis will compete in July to determine the Canadian team for the world tae kwon do championship on September 16–23  in Chelyabinsk, Russia.

Isis had won the gold two straight years – 2012 and 2013 – in the Canadian Open and also captured the gold in the Pan Am championship in Mexico in November 2013.

“I’m nervous but excited at the same time,” said Henary when his daughter “fights. “But the whole family supports her and go with her to her tournaments.”

The oldest in a family of two boys and two girls, Isis started the sport at age 8.

Displaying her natural talent and skill, she beat a Russian and then a competitor from Taipei in her first matches to qualify for the finals. She lost to Aguillera, the gold medalist in her final match.

Two bronzes were awarded after the gold and silver.

“I did my best but I only got the bronze,” Isis said, revealing her innate feistiness. “Next time, I’ll do better.”



Tempers flare in court in trial of Fil-Am accused of murder

Elinor Indico in court

Elinor Indico in court

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – In a case that has torn a family apart, a brother lashed out in court Monday upon seeing his sister who is accused of killing his pregnant wife.

“She didn’t even look at me. She knew I was here, it seemed like she was mocking me,” said Aristeo Indico of his sister Elinor Indico. “She didn’t even want to give me that look to say I’m sorry.”

Elinor Indico is facing charges of murder, manslaughter, child abuse and child endangerment for the death of Ashley Indico, who was nine-month pregnant when she died before her two children on Oct. 17 last year.

Elinor Indico is accused of stabbing Ashley 14 times during a family quarrel in the North Las Vegas apartment they shared.

Aristeo Indico saw his sister in court for the first time since the killing, and told local television station KTNV he nearly lost it.

“I wanted to run in the court and do exactly what she did to my wife,” Aristeo Indico said.

He added that he knows he can’t, and now he has just to hope for a guilty verdict.

Clark County District Judge Stefany Miley has now set the trial for August after defense has asked for time to study the ramifications of a supposed “confession” Elinor Indico made to police.

Elinor Indico, who is represented by Deputy Public defender Norman Reed, has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and claimed she acted in self-defense.

Aristeo Indico, who had invited his sister to live with his family, said outside court Monday that he and his two children are undergoing counseling.

“I’m on therapy with my children,” he said. “It’s something I hope counseling will help.”

As he watched his emotionless sister in court Monday, Aristeo said it was difficult to keep his emotions under control.

He said he was chastised by the bailiff after yelling to his sister in the courtroom, “I’ll see you at trial.”

His children, five-year-old Annabelle and three-year old Alexander are having difficulty adjusting to life without their mother. The unborn child was named Anthony.

Trial begins for Fil-Am accused of stabbing death

Elinor Indico (Las Vegas Metro)

Elinor Indico (Las Vegas Metro)

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – Trial begins Monday of the 31-year-old Filipina-American accused of stabbing to death her pregnant sister-in-law during a family dispute in their Las Vegas apartment.

Elinor Indico is facing charges of murder, manslaughter of an unborn child, and child abuse, neglect or endangerment in connection with the Oct. 16, 2013, death of Ashley Indico and her unborn child.

Prosecutors have indicated they may seek the death penalty.

Elinor Indico was scheduled to go to trial Jan. 21, but Clark County District Judge Stefany Miley decided to re-schedule it for Monday, Feb. 24.

The new date was agreed upon after defense was granted more time to study new evidence of the case.

Indico’s attorney, Norman Reed, a deputy public defender, said he needed more time to study a recorded “confession” Indico reportedly made to police.

“Getting more time is essential since self-defense is the crux of Indico’s case.,” Reed said. “A confession – if Elinor Indico did give one – would largely void any self-defense claim.”

The previously undisclosed confession – in the form of a recording – was provided the Public Defenders Office last week.

Ashley Indico, wife of Aristeo Indico, Elinor’s brother, sustained 14 stab wounds from a “ninja knife” Elinod had admitted she kept in her suitcase.

A Clark County coroner’s investigator noted that Ashley Indico had stab wounds in the back of her head, side of her neck, her left arm, which was broken, and a post-mortem stab wound on her left ankle.

Elinor told police she was acting in self-defense and that Ashley Indico initiated the fight after finding the knife and threatening to kill her.

Elinor said she was able to take the knife back after Ashley Indico stabbed her in the stomach. She was treated at a local hospital for her wounds.

Elinor Indico was going through some hard times at the time of the incident.

In addition to drug problems, she had no place to stay.

Her brother Aris offered to allow her to stay with him and his family, although he warned her to stay away from drugs.

When she was caught doing drugs again, her brother and sister-in-law asked her to leave. She refused, resulting in the quarrel with her sister-in-law.

During the fight, Ashley Indico locked herself in the bathroom in an attempt to save her life and that of her unborn child, but it was too late.

When police arrived, they had to kick in the bathroom door and found Ashely dead with multiple stab wounds.

Her two young children were in the apartment during the attack and one of the children ran to a neighbors home to get help for his mother.

The presence of the children resulted in additional charges of child neglect and child endangerment.

Filipino nurses face lay-offs

Nurses protest layoffs at St. Rose Dominican Siena campus.

Nurses protest layoffs at St. Rose Dominican Siena campus.

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – Filipino nurses are among several employees who are likely to lose their jobs as the St. Rose Dominican hospital  here implements a plan to layoff workers.

As many as 40 positions are on the chopping block as the hospital, with three facilities in the Las Vegas area, initiate a cut-down plan.

“It’s scary,” said Rachel Chao, who has worked for nearly 10 years at one of the campuses. “With the hard economic times, you never know.”

Chao is one of about 500 Filipino nurses, nearly half of the 1,400 employees of the St. Rose hospital complex, which has recruited headily in the Philippines several years ago.

St. Rose, owned by Dignity Health, a San Francisco-based hospital chain, operates three valley hospitals: Rose de Lima Campus-on 102 East Lake Mead Parkway, in Henderson, the San Martin Campus on West Warm Springs Road and Siena Campus on  Rose Parkway in Henderson,  where Chao works.

Notices have been sent out for the 40 employees who maybe laid off, which comprise about 3% of the nurses at Siena, officials of the National Nurses Organizing Committee, which represent the nurses said.

The layoffs come just a few months after Dignity officials announced union nurses in Nevada and California had ratified new four-year contracts.

The agreements, which expire in June 2017, include a wage freeze in the first year, but an overall pay raise of nine percent over the length of the deal, according to St. Rose.

Hospital officials said a year ago they were eliminating 100 positions from the St. Rose system. The cutbacks were said to be mostly in supervisory or support positions and not in direct patient care.

But Chao, a union representative, said the layoffs affect administrative nursing positions, including charge nurses and case managers.

“They are recruiting new grads and offering them lower pay and benefits,” said Chao, who works as a half case  manager and half charge nurse. “It used to be very stable, now it’s not. We don’t want that.”

Despite the unstable situation, another long-time Filipino nurse at the hospital, Lorelei Mendez, she is not so worried because of her tenure.

“I’m not very familiar with the details of the lay-offs,” Mendez who has worked at the Siena campus for more than 10 years said. “But I think I’m pretty safe, but I’m worried about my pension.”

Last week, about 200 nurses picketed at the Siena campus.

Carrying signs and chanting at motorists, they kept warm with hot chocolate and coffee during the two-hour rally as temperatures  fell into the 40s.

“You know there’s something seriously wrong if nurses are taking to the streets,” Liz Bickle told the Las Vegas Sun. “Layoffs are just something we couldn’t take.”

Medicare in the Philippines – A pipe dream or just a matter of time?

Guam Gov. Eddie CALVO (Center) discuss the proposed bill for US seniors visiting PH hospitals with Maribel Del Rosario (L), community leader and Eric Lachica (R), US Medicare PH on 2/17/12.

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – After 30 years, Ely Barros thought it was time to end the chase for the American Dream and time to go back home.

The kids are grown and a failed marriage is just a painful memory – there is no sense staying in the United States anymore.

The town of his birth – with its swaying palm trees, white beaches, blue-green oceans, and golden sunsets, invitingly beacon – and finally, a luxurious, if not peaceful retirement, is possible.

A new love and a lovely woman, a townmate, by his side makes the prospect of going home ever more tempting.

Home is Borongan, Easter Samar, the town by the Pacific Ocean that miraculously escaped the wrath of super typhoon Yolanda

There is just one catch – a serious catch: In January, after 11 years, his transplanted kidney give way. He has to go on dialysis again.

Without a private insurance and simply relying on Medicare, going back home and getting the treatment in the Philippines is now an iffy and potentially expensive proposition.

Barros is one thousands of Filipino-Americans, estimates say as many as 200,000, are planning to retire in the Philippines, but are prevented from doing so mainly because of the lack of medical coverage.

A proposal is underway to extend Medicare coverage to the Philippines, and several top-notch hospitals there are willing to provide medical services as well as doctors associations.

“This will  be a tremendous help,” Barros said. “It will finally fulfill my dream of going back home for good.”

But after more than three years, the quest for a portable Medicare, which started with the formation of the U.S. Medicare Philippines (, still has a long road ahead.

Medicare is a federal program that provides medical coverage to U.S. citizens 65 and older. It also extends coverage to younger people with Lou Gehrig’s disease, permanent disabilities and end-stage renal health complications.

A drug prescription benefit was added to hospital and doctors coverage during the George W. Bush presidency.

In addition, Part C or Medicare Advantage that provides both basic and extra healthcare services are offered by private health maintenance organizations (HMOs). Also there are Medigap plans to supplement what original Medicare does not cover. They are offered by private insurance companies.

However, coverage outside the United States is not allowed unless in emergency situation and an American hospital is not available.

The lobbying effort is centered on the premise that it’s a win-win situation and allowing retirees to bring their Medicare benefit to the land of their birth will save the U.S. tons of money.

“The average cost per beneficiary was $11,743 per year in 2010,” said Eric Lachica, a co-founder of U.S. Medicare Philippines. “A savings of at least $5,000 per beneficiary is achievable if spent in the Philippines.”

If 200,000, a conservative estimate because at least 100 of the four million Filipino-Americans in the U.S. retire everyday, chose to return to the Philippines, that results in $1 billion savings to Medicare every year.

This relieves pressure on Medicare, which is expected to go bankrupt in 12 years, according to some studies, Lachica said.

A couple of precedents give Lachica and his group hope that eventually the U.S. Congress will pass a law that allows Medicare portability.

In 2010, Saipan and Guam were allowed critical medical treatment in Philippine hospitals that meet Joint Commission International standards. Patient expenses were reimbursed by Medicare or by private insurance plans.

Tricare, the Department of Veterans Affair’s health plan, reimburses U.S. military retirees who live in the Philippines for their medical expenses in certain designated hospitals.

Additionally, Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III has vowed to bring up Medicare portability in his talks with President Obama in April when the American president finally visit the country after canceling his trip last year.

It has also built partnership with several hospitals, doctors groups and nurses associations, aside from community groups, to help in the lobbying to advance the Medicare portability efforts.

On Jan. 16, Lachica and his group launched their 2014 campaign at the Nurses Global summit at the Manila Hotel.

Attended by more than 300 nurses and supporters, the gathering was graced by Nurses Association of America (PNAA) president Victoria Navarro RN, Secretary Imelda Nicolas of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO), Sec. Enrique Ona M.D. of the Department Health (DOH) and Gen. Manager Vernie Atienza of the Retirement Authority (PRA).

“We appealed to the nurse leaders and our partners to renew their commitment to the cause of Medicare Portability for thousands of returning elderly Filipino Americans by ensuring high quality health standards and by keeping low medical costs in the homeland,”  Lachica said.

“We urged them to persuade US Medicare Advantage insurance companies to provide full emergency coverage for our retirees here and to build confidence in doing business with the top hospitals and their doctors,” he added.

The US advocacy group later consulted and talked strategy with the Retirement & Healthcare Coalition (, formed by the four influential foreign chambers of commerce (American, European, Japanese and Korean).

The group, which included Daisy Tucay of Virginia, Lily Chan of Maryland, Susan Jimenez of Texas, Rusty Francisco of Florida, Lourdes Ceballos of Nevada and Eric Lachica also met with U.S. ambassador Philip Goldberg and his economic affairs counselor at the U.S. embassy.

They discussed the challenges and prospects of extending long-term Medicare coverage to US citizens who visit and retire in the Philippines.

Lachica and his group stressed to Ambassador Goldberg their 2014 goal to obtain a Philippine healthcare industry study of the past year’s cost savings experience and the quality of care provided US military retirees in TRICARE PH program and the 30,000 Guam Medicare American beneficiaries who can be treated at top Philippine hospitals at negotiated low charges.

Goldberg, in turn, expressed interest in the idea, considering that about 400,000 Americans live in the Philippines.

The group will also visit Cebu and Iloilo and meet partners there.

So far, Philippine hospitals that have signed up as partners are The Medical City, Cebu’s Chong Hua Hospital and Cebu Doctors Hospital. There are ongoing negotiations with Ayala Land, St. Luke’s Hospital, Makati Medical Center and Cardinal Santos Hospital.

If the Medicare portability is a long road and full of slips, Lachica is unfazed.

A political science graduate of the University of Southern California and a son of a Fil-Am World War II veteran, Lachica worked 17 years for the passage of the Fil-Am Veterans Equity Bill that resulted in the 2010 release of $300 million for Fil-Am vets and their families.

In addition, thousands of veterans acquired U.S. citizenship, many of whom, ironically, want to return to the Philippines, hopefully with Medicare coverage.

Just like Barros.

“There are enough reasons to remain in the United States,” he says with a tinge of sadness. ” My kids are here and my grand kids are still growing up. It would be nice spending time with them.”

But growing old and long-term care a looming possibility, it still seem more practical to spend retirement in the Philippines.

“I hope this effort to make Medicare portable succeeds – and soon,” Barros says with obvious sincerity. “I don’t have much time left, I think, and there’s nothing better than spending the rest of my days in the land of my birth.”

Fil-Am rejoins White House commission

Rozita Lee

Rozita Lee

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – A well-known leader of the Filipino-American community here has been  asked to stay on a presidential commission on Asians and Pacific Islanders.

Rozita Lee, originally from Hawai and of Filipino descent, was asked to remain on the panel that advances issues affecting the estimated 11 million Asian Pacific Americans.

The 79-year-old Lee was first appointed to the Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in September 2010. Her term was supposed to end in October last year, but the commissioners were asked to remain until replacements are named.

Among the 20 commissioners is another Filipino, Hector Vargas, who represent the LGBT community.

“Thank you for your support and participation through the years. I truly appreciate you.
Please continue to call me with concerns about our communities that I can share with the Commission and the President,” Lee posted on her Facebook page.
“I will be attending a special meeting at the White House next month,” she said.
Las Vegas Filipino-American leaders welcomed Lee’s continued stay on the presidential panel and what it means to the Filipino-American community.
“You are and will remain an inspiration to us,” said Marilyn Ante of the Asian American Labor Alliance.

“It’s an honor to stay on the commission and continue to serve the community,” said Lee, who is also active with the National Federation of-Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) and the Las Vegas Hawaiian Club.

In December, she helped the Filipino-American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Nevada sponsor a concert that raised about $8,000 for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda. This weekend, she will help celebrate the Chinese New Year in festivities in Las Vegas Chinatown.

Currently busy helping enroll people for the Affordable Care Act, she said her next focus will be on immigration reform and voter registration.

“We don’t have any elected Filipino-American in Nevada,” she said. “We have the voting numbers. We have the largest population among Asians, but we have no elected officials, except a couple of judges.”