Circle of Friends

Jim and Leah Patterson of New York

Jim and Leah Patterson of New York

By Bert Eljera

Part 9

LAS VEGAS –  A refuge from the storm. A shield from harm. A fortress from an unfriendly world.

Family. I mean not just the traditional – father, mother, kids. Though we want to hold on to that concept, that one has almost been wiped away by the roaring tide of societal changes in relationships.

For our discussion here, however, family simply means related by blood. From this context, my family has provided the reservoir of support – financial, moral and otherwise – in my effort to build the Bert Eljera Kidney Transplant Fund.

From my side and Christie’s, we have collected more than $2,000, with the largest contribution of $500 coming from Jim and Leah Patterson, Christie’s cousins from New York and Tacyang.

Cousins, nephews, nieces, aunts from all over have donated something, some already for the second time, even though they don’t want their names necessarily mentioned.

Sisters Dr. Nellie Anosa and Brenda Tiu Sonco

Sisters Dr. Nellie Anosa and Brenda Tiu Sonco

Sisters Nellie and Brenda (with Mano Cosme and Emman Tiu Sonco) donated $400, while Irma Alvarez-Cisneros, a cousin now living in Australia, contributed $200.

A nephew in Canada, nieces in California, cousins in Europe, and even relatives in the Philippines, contributed an average of $100 each for the transplant fund.

This may be selfish and self-serving, but this effort to save a life is more valuable than giving money for a funeral, although everything has time and place.

The irony of this all, while even my former brother in-laws rushed to help, my own children, intimidated by their mother up to now that they are adults, have not shown any intention to help.

If my concept of family is a bit eschewed, it’s because of this fact. Good thing that I have relatives who value the blood running in our veins.

Ruben and Irma  Alvarez Cisneros

Ruben and Irma Alvarez Cisneros




Circle of Friends

Luci Cidro-Preiss and Luz Bernas in Ludwigsburg, Germany

Luci Cidro-Preiss and Luz Bernas in Ludwigsburg, Germany

By Bert Eljera

Part 8

LAS VEGAS – It was a good thing that Germany captured the World Cup in Brazil, beating Argentina, 1-0 in a soccer classic that will be talked about for years.

The Germans were the best team in Rio de Janiero and Mario Goetze’s one-touch, fluid volley from atop the penalty box was worthy of winning  a World Cup.

Germany’s 4-0 dismantling of Portugal, one of the favorites early in the tournament and its 7-1 thrashing of Brazil in the semifinals set up the finals date with Argentina and anticipated clash with Lionel Messi, judged the best player in the World Cup.

More importantly, the German victory encouraged our Boronganon friends based in Germany to be on  giving mode – all for the benefit of the Bert Eljera Kidney Transplant Fund.

With Johannes Durr, son of Luz Bernas, serving as PayPal conduit, the European Group of Bernas, Luci Cidro Preiss, and Nora Mendoza sent a total of 350 euros to the fund.

Nora Mendoza

Nora Mendoza

Perla Cayago Huber and Luz Alegre-Rist contributed 120 euros and encouraging words as I battle through this tough medical challenge.

From London, John and Yolanda Baquilod-Webb donated $100 while Paz Chadutaud, a cousin of Christie’s, sent another $100 from Paris, France.

Prayers from that part of the world, and even Holy Water from Lourdes were sent to us to lift our spirits.

Germans are a disciplined people, but the Filpino touch of compassion and caring make the Filipino-German or Europeans of Filipino descent an even greater people.

Too bad that Christie may not make it to the planned Harampang 2014 of Young Seniors of Borongan in Germany in September because of the challenges we’re facing, but the ties fostered through the online contacts and conversations are sure to last.


Perla Cayago Huber in Budapest, Hungary



Circle of Friends


Baybay Beach (Photo by Erlinda Bocar Kantor

By Bert Eljera

Part 7

LAS VEGAS – Facing the Pacific Ocean is a once-sleepy town usually covered with thick fog in the morning, and blessed with abundant rivers, streams and springs, mountains and caves and beaches to die for.

Guarded by two small islands to ward off tidal waves and storm surges, the town is often spared catastrophic damage, even in the fiercest storms, as in Typhoon Yolanda.

Borongan City, Eastern Samar is under the embrace of the Virgin Mary, folks there are wont to say, and this divine protection is the reason the town progressed to a city without much loss in character and religious fervor.

This is where I also built my earliest relationships – family and friends – and now a reservoir of strength and support during these difficult times.

My Hometown Connection has produced some of the largest contributions to the Bert Eljera Kidney Transplant Fund, although in this accounting, I have not included donations from family yet, even if they are from Borongan.

Others were grouped somewhere else, such as the European group, who will be named in Part 8 of this series.

We have received more than $1,600 in contributions from this group, with the largest donations coming from Ray Campomanes and Dr. Maria de Guzman.

Most have donated an average of $100 each, from all parts of the globe, including Australia, Canada, Hawaii, Chicago, New York and California.

Among the donors were Arnaldo and Edith Raagas, Harriet Voloso, Hermie and Mayette Solidon, Gia Baldo, Lorna Limbauan- Molina, Mercia Caspe Kees, Rev. Fr. Ven Amidar, and Muriel Baquilod Hill.

Also contributing to the Fund were Linda Arago Ott, Pepit and Carmelita Puno, Becky Limbauan, Milagros Clark, Velasco Climaco Dominador, and Marion Molina.

Other donors were Evelyn Raagas, Mila Caspe, Maggie Bonife, and Lynlyn Pinarok, who coursed her contribution through Madi Irma Baquilod. Some had steadfastly wanted to remain anonymous.

These friendships were mostly rekindled and strengthened online with pages on Facebook and Word.Press blogs.

Image of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, the Patron Saint of Borongan

Image of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, the Patron Saint of Borongan

I have created the FB pages, Borongan Historical & Cultural Society, with the projects affiliated with it, such as the Borongan Fiesta Photo contests in the last couple years, and the Philippine Red Cross Eastern Samar chapter.

I also created the NatureWatch of Eastern Samar, Tindog Sinirangan Samar, FUNtastic Borongan! and the Las Vegas Orient Express.

Christie created the Harampang 2014 Han Mga Young Seniors from Borongan City In Germany, which also became an online forum to exchange news and recipe ideas and keep the bond strong.

Of course, there had been some disappointments. People we had expected to help did not, and may even had dissuaded others from helping. Some pledged assistance but have not come through.

Still, we’re eternal optimists and when the time is right, they will be there to assist us. After all, the key is the result, not so much as how we got there – for as long as we did it in the way Christ would have done it.



Circle of Friends

In healthier and happier times

In healthier and happier times

By Bert Eljera

Part 6

LAS VEGAS – A date in Sin City led to a long-term commitment and a new chapter in this  roller-coaster ride they call life.

I have not met Christie in more than 40 years, but in the fall of 2010, our paths crossed again through the magic of the Internet.

The guy from Balud used all his literary skills and online savvy to woo the girl from Songco, and that soiree in Vegas was the result of the effort – and the birth of the Las Vegas Connection, another avenue in the quest to fund the kidney transplant.

Of course, the transplant was not planned or expected, but it’s just a way to charter a new life together and to spend the rest of our lives relatively healthy and comfortable

So far, the Las Vegas Connection has not yielded the expected results. About $300 has been raised from here, but I m hoping for more, especially with the planned sports  memorabilia auction later this year.

Hometown friends and Las Vegas residents Mario and Mila Anosa personally stopped by the apartment to give their $200 donation to the Bert Eljera Kidney Transplant Fund.

Mayo and Mila Anosa

Mayo and Mila Anosa

Big help from this young couple, who had been our pillar of support in this unforgiving town. Mayo and I both love sports, particularly chess and I may need his help again in putting together the sports memorabilia auction.

Mila was a student nurse at the Manila Central University Hospital while Christie worked as control assistant, in charge of the lab, x-rays, and EKG departments in the late 70s.

Until a couple of years ago, Mila and Christie had not met in more than 30 years.

Judge Cheryl Moss, who is seeking her fourth term as a Family Court judge, donated $100 to the fund.

The daughter of Filipino doctors, Moss is  a descendant of Rudy Oquindo, one of the earliest Filipino settlers of the Las Vegas valley, and for whom one of the city streets was named after.

Judge Cheryl Moss

Judge Cheryl Moss

The office of U.S. Senator Harry Reid has promised to provide leads on charity groups and non-profits, which assist people with catastrophic illness with their medications and medical care.

Carmen Gilbert of the Nevada senator’s office also vowed to donate an item for the planned auction, although she could not say if it’s sports-related. Sen. Reid is a known admirer and supporter of Filipino boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, who endorsed him in his re-election bid  few years ago.

We are hoping to get a signed boxing paraphernalia from Pacquiao, something like boxing gloves.

A friend, Donna Ray, who lives in our seniors apartment complex, also donated $50 to the fund, wishing she could give more.

I have approached several Philippine-American organizations whose work I have written about in the Inquirer and other blogs, but thus far, there has not been a positive response.

With the largest Asian ethnic group in Las Vegas and Nevada, Filipino-Americans are becoming  a force in politics and commerce, although mutual assistance is not apparent just yet.

Aside from being a great retirement destination, Las Vegas still has that entrepreneurial spirit that attracted me here. If you’re willing to put your luck on the line, this is the place to go.

I’m going all in – and I hope I’m dealt the right cards in the next few months, not necessarily to hit the jackpot, but at least to stay better then even.


Circle of Friends

Los Angeles Times colleagues

Los Angeles Times colleagues

By Bert Eljera

Part 5

LAS VEGAS – In what I still consider as not a very smart decision, I quit my secure and cool job at the Manila Bulletin for an iffy and uncertain future in America.

Coming to America was something I would not jump with joy, having been here a few times before, and the lifestyle was hardly impressive.

But with two young kids and a third on the way, I was prevailed upon to give it a try, with the Marcos regime on the brink of falling and the threat of anarchy in the Philippines a distinct possibility.

So in 1985 we packed our bags and uprooted my family, landing in San Francisco in  a cramped apartment, and my in-laws not too thrilled to baby-sit a couple of unruly toddlers.

It was not easy to say the least. I hopped from one job to another – sometimes three at a time – while keeping an eye on a potential newspaper job, the only work I knew I could do.

I wrote for several Southern California community newspapers, hoping to get the much-needed local experience and clips I could use to apply at a more prestigious American newspaper.

That paid off and I found work with the Los Angeles Times Orange County edition, covering local government, school districts, police, courts, and community issues.

From 1992 to 1996, I worked for the paper under an astute editor, Randy Hagihara, who put together a gang of young but eager reporters – and friendships were born that remain strong until today.

One of my closest friends was Mimi Ko Cruz, whose father is Korean and mother  Guatemalan, and we found kinship in our Asian heritage.

She was one of the first donors to the Bert Eljera Kidney Transplant Fund, spreading the word around about the fund-raising drive, and getting tremendous response from other L.A. Times colleagues.

Hope Hamashige

Hope Hamashige

Hope Hamashige contributed $500, one of the largest donations. Nancy Wride and Shelby Grad chipped in, too. With a planned meeting in August of the BB Club, a group formed in memory of former colleagues Bill Billiter and Bob Barker, more donations may still come.

Those were happy times at the L.A. Times, and I was not only able to hone my writing skills, but also gained the confidence that I can make it to any newspaper in America.

Which may have turned into a curse, not a blessing, as I jumped from one newspaper to another after the Times’ gig. I joined the staff of the Stockton Record in Stockton, California; the Asian Week in San Francisco, the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, Florida and the Press-Journal in Vero Beach, Florida.

A marriage that has gone sour triggered partly this seemingly endless journey – and when that misadventure finally ended, I had the good fortune of finding the woman I truly love and who loves me in return.

So, it’s now Las Vegas and another writing stint, this time online with the I also write a couple of blogs (including Vegas Pinoy), with high hopes of keeping this work for a little longer.

My editor at, Rene Ciria-cruz, also former editor of Filipinas Magazine, at one time the premiere Filipino-American magazine in the U.S., contributed $100 to the Bert Eljera Kidney Transplant Fund.

For sure my tank is not empty yet, and if I get a new lease on life, I want to continue this writing thing. But that can only happen with a new kidney. A transplant is truly a life and death issue.

I can only achieve it with your help – and the continued support of my Circles of Friends.


Circle of Friends

Sportswriters Reggie Amigo, Chito Manuel and Joe Antonio.

Sportswriters Reggie Amigo, Chito Manuel and Joe Antonio.

By Bert Eljera

Part 4

LAS VEGAS – While working with the Manila Bulletin, I became an active member of a band of warriors who called themselves sportswriters.

They were mighty with their pens and liked to believe they were the best reporters in all sections of Manila newspapers. They were so clannish that if you don’t hold the title of sportswriter, you have no business messing with them.

In reality, they were mostly half-drunks, who wonder why they were getting paid for watching games they themselves would be happy to pay for, in the first place.

They attained some prestige and respectability by banding together as the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA), a group that now is bigger and younger, but actually one of the oldest press associations in the Philippines.

The group’s alumni, admittedly however, are some of of the best newspaper and magazine writers ever to wield a pen – and the list maybe too long here.

Members of the Philippine Sportswriters Association (Facebook photo by Eddie Alinea)

Members of the Philippine Sportswriters Association (Facebook photo by Eddie Alinea)

Into this fray I threw myself in 1975 – naive of the ways of the big city but too baduy and probinsyano to even realize it. Yet, as you will notice, I developed friendship among these folks, who were some of the first to come to my rescue, now that I needed some help.

Chito Manuel, Joe Antonio, and Reggie Amigo were some of my earliest and closest friends. They are still in sports and have made donations or pledged help for the Bert Eljera Kidney Transplant Fund.

Lito Tacujan, a fierce competitor while he worked for the Times Journal, has reminded me every chance he gets of my once-thick tongue as a Visayan, little does he know that now I can trade barbs with any American without tripping with my accent.

He was one of the first to send monetary donation, going through the hassle of doing it through Western Union.

Congressman Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar, a former Malaya reporter whose career in journalism started about the same time mine did, sent in $200 as his contribution.

Ben’s elder brother, Phillip, was a sportswriter, a close buddy and colleague at the Manila Bulletin.

Congressman Evardone has always been gracious and open through the years, even when I wrote controversial stories about him and his district.

Thanks for your and your lovely wife’s support, Ben.

With their support through their writings, revered sportswriters Percy Della and Val Abelgas, both now based outside the Philippines, have helped raise awareness about the fund-raising effort.

Miramon Nuevo, Ely Tumbaga, Cris Maralit, Eddie Alinea, and Ed Andaya are helping too, particularly in the effort to solicit signed sports memorabilia from Filipino sports greats that will be included in an auction planned later in the year in Las Vegas for the benefit of the Bert Eljera Kidney Transplant Fund.

Alice Bonoan Balangue

Alice Bonoan Balangue

Outside of my circle of sportswriter friends are two sports-minded ladies who were the earliest supporters of the fund-raiser.

Alice Bonoan Balangue, who once worked for Danding Cojungco’s press relation office, and Ella Puno Garcia, formerly the Philippine Basketball Association’s press liaison, contributed $100 each for the fund.

The key whether the fund-raiser will achieve the $15,000 goal is how the sportswriters group can put together the memorabilia auction. If the project can pull in at least a third of the amount, we’ll reach shore.

We write best when the game is on the line with less than two minutes left. We can go for  a trey or a Hail Mary pass, or a last-second lucky knock-out punch, but the best way is still a hard grinding drive to the goal line, running the clock out in the process.

Sportswriters love metaphors – even to the point of horribly mixing them.









Circle of Friends


Panorama staff with Chelo Banal- Formoso (farthest left, sitting) and Nestor Fernandez (behind Chelo, standing)

Panorama staff with Chelo Banal- Formoso (farthest left, sitting) and Nestor Fernandez (behind Chelo, standing)

By Bert Eljera

Part 3

LAS VEGAS – After getting released from a Marcos jail, I went to Manila in 1975 to embark on a new career – journalism.

Up until then, I did not have a formal training as a journalist, but I always thought I could write (my English teachers said so), and I was sure I could learn along the way.

So I ended up as a reporter on the staff of the Manila Bulletin ( then known as Bulletin Today), writing mostly on sports, and covering the then top sports beat – the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).

I worked at the Bulletin from 1975 to 1985, and met some quality people, many of whom are still my friends, and a circle that has provided support in my efforts to create the Bert Eljera Kidney Transplant Fund.

Ironically, the circle does not include the woman I met there who eventually became the mother of my kids. She’s neither a friend nor a supporter. But that’s a story for somewhere else.

Chelo Banal-Formoso, the top-notch writer then at Panorama, the Bulletin’s Sunday magazine, and Billy Formoso, the assistant provincial editor of the Bulletin’s were some of the first donors to the fund.

They are now both working with the Philippine Daily Inquirer and based in Manila.

Nestor Fernandez of Southern California and Albert Garcia,of Canada, both photography award winners in the Philippines and abroad, also sent cash contributions to the Bert Eljera Kidney Transplant Fund.

Another former Bulletin colleague who sent in donation was Fe Figueroa Arre, who is now based in Southern California.

I don’t look  at the years 1972 to 1975 as lost years, even with the nearly two years I stayed under detention in various military camps in Tacloban and Cebu. I was a little naive maybe, but I thought I was part of a movement bigger than myself.

The seeds of the disease I am paying for now may have been sown during those years of hunger and deprivations, but “Serve the People” was a powerful slogan for me then.

I wanted to die during armed struggle – and be a hero.

Now, I have to do an online “palimos” just to stay alive! Quite ironic!

Fe with a cutie

Fe with a cutie