Friday, December 28, 2007

Kevin Everett & Dr. Teodoro Castillo

- From Rodel Rodis' Telltale Signs Column

If Terri Hatcher’s character on Desperate Housewives ever slips and falls on Wisteria Lane and breaks her spinal column, she would be fortunate to be sent to the Memorial Hermann Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR) at the University of Texas Hospital in Houston for treatment. If she’s really lucky, she would be treated by Dr. Teodoro Castillo, the attending physician of the TIRR Spinal Cord Injury Program and a graduate of “…some med school in the Philippines”.

On December 23, Dr. Castillo appeared on ABC in a feature about Buffalo Bills football player Kevin Everett who suffered a life-threatening dislocation and fracture of his cervical spine during a home game with the Denver Broncos on September 27. After surgeons operated and repaired a break between the third and fourth vertebrae of his spinal cord, they announced that chances were slim that he would ever walk again.

On December 23, Everett appeared at the locker room of the Buffalo Bills players to greet them and wish them luck just before they were to play the New York Giants. The players were stunned that Everett was able to stand up and walk without any assistance. It was a miracle, they said.

Everett gave credit to his spinal cord physician at TIRR, Dr. Teodoro Castillo, for his recovery from an injury that would have otherwise rendered him a quadriplegic.

ABC News' Dan Harris interviewed Dr. Castillo about his treatment of Everett. Asked about whether he thought Everett would ever walk again, Dr Castillo responded: “When I first met him, I knew he had the movement in the legs, and he showed me he had good recovery just from the time he had the surgery to the time he got to our facility, so I knew he was going to walk again. But the type of walking, the quality of walking, that remained to be seen.”

When asked about Everett’s determination, Dr. Castillo said that Everett’s mother told him that “he's always followed a rigorous training schedule and with that attitude, with his determination, family support, which he really has, and the team of clinicians he has to guide him and optimize his recovery, I think he will be successful… The key to Kevin's success is the determination he's had, and the family support and a team of clinicians to guide him through - he has all the necessary ingredients to guide him to a good outcome.”

Dr. Castillo received his medical degree from the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center in the Philippines. He completed his transitional year medicine internship at the Seton Hall Program in St. Michael's Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey. He is board certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Spinal Cord Injury Medicine. He is concurrently a Clinical Assistant Professor at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston and Adjunct Assistant Professor of PM&R, Baylor College of Medicine.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Letter from the Chairman of FALC

Thanksgiving '07

Dear friends,

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this year, let us be thankful for the wonderful opportunities and rewards that this country has bestowed upon our families, our communities and the homes we left behind in the Philippines.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, let us call to mind the noble individuals, organizations and communities of people that this great country has produced – people who fought for equality and justice; people who fought against ignorance, bigotry and hate; people who fought using all the means at their disposal, whether political, economic or otherwise.

As immigrants to this great land, it is incumbent upon us to contribute to the ideals of America because there is still more work to be done – more hearts to convert, more minds to enlighten.

Unfortunately, the powers behind ABC & Disney are among them.

Why? Because when Terri Hatcher's character in ABC's "Desperate Housewives" expressed distrust of physicians who received their diplomas from "some med school in the Philippines," the producers exposed their bigotry towards Philippine-educated professionals by subliminally and unfairly suggesting to its millions of viewers that these professionals' training and background are suspect.

This callous remark which harnessed the power of suggestion has unleashed a pernicious and dangerous poison. Just ask any advertising executive who knows that product placements in popular shows carry more power than real commercials!

The producers of the show did this notwithstanding the over 22,000 Filipino-American physicians who have dedicated their lives to serve not only those in dire medical need, especially those in the remote and underserved areas of the country, but also Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton! The producers of the show did this notwithstanding the millions of us who graduated from Philippine schools!

After the episode was shown, ABC was besieged with angry phone calls, emails and letters from Filipino-American viewers and their friends throughout the US. In response, ABC predictably issued a short, meaningless and very insincere apology . True, they promised to do more, but so far, it is just that – a promise.

The Disney Group is a powerful conglomerate which owns ABC along with many other powerful companies. Thus, while we urge everyone to not contribute as much as possible to the Group's revenues while they hem and haw about rectifying the wrong they inflicted upon our larger Filipino-American community, we realize that doing so may be difficult and impractical.

Thus, we believe that we should focus our boycott of the Disney Group instead on one specific target: the local Disney Stores in our local malls!

Boycotting your local Disney Store is relatively easy and painless. After all, there are many alternatives to the products they sell.

But we should not just refrain from buying from the Disney Stores.

We have to talk to the individual managers and employees of these stores, all of whom are deserving of courtesy and respect, and we have to tell them why we are exercising our democratic rights to boycott their goods.

We have to tell them that what the powerful people of Disney did was unfair, unjust and un-American!

We have to tell them that the Disney Group's apology and promises are insufficient – that they must do more to undo the damage.

And we have to tell them that until they do, we'll keep saying, "Thanks, but no thanks"!

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!


Primo A. Andres, MD, FACC, FSCAI
Chair, Filipino American Leadership Council (FALC)

P.S. If you approve of this message, please forward this to your families and friends, along with your and/or your organization's endorsement.

P.P.S. If your organization is interested in joining the Filipino American Leadership Council, please contact us at:

Filipino American Leadership Council
455 Hospital Lane
Terre Haute, IN 47802
Telephone: (812) 238 1521 | (800) 722 4378
Facsimile: (812) 232 6335

Monday, November 12, 2007


Rodel E. Rodis, November 12, 2007

All roads led to Las Vegas on November 10 for Filipino medical professionals and community leaders seeking a common strategy to pressure ABC-Disney to rectify the Desperate Housewives’ anti-Filipino slur that appeared in its season premier episode on September 30.

Dubbed the “Summit Meeting of Fil-Am Leaders”, the conference at the Caesar’s Palace hosted by the UST Medical Alumni Association of America (USTMAAA) and organized by a core group composed of Dr. Stella Evangelista, Dr. Eustaquio Abay, Dr. Joe Evangelista, Dr. Primo Andres and Dr. Dante Gapultos, drew 98 delegates representing at least 12 medical associations and community groups who presented their position statements.

Although ABC issued a public apology after more than 100,000 people signed an online petition demanding it, the delegates believed the apology to be insincere as it did not admit that a grievous mistake had been committed and that steps would be undertaken to correct the mistake. As Dr. Nelson Bocar from Oklahoma City explained, “Without a meaningful apology and the correction of a slur, what ABC is offering still reeks not so much of ignorance now but of arrogance still.”

In her greetings to the delegates, Los Angeles Philippine Consul-General Mary Jo Aragon acknowledged that “many Filipino-American associations remain unconvinced and unsatisfied with the steps taken by ABC/Walt Disney Co. to rectify the situation.”

Rozita Lee, the Vice-Chair of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), expressed the NaFFAA view that “ABC acted in good faith by issuing the network’s apology immediately and promptly deleting the offensive remark” and by committing “to building a relationship with the Filipino American community that will open doors to Filipino talent.”

In a position statement entitled “Engaging Corporate Media” which was distributed to all the delegates, NaFFAA spokesman Jon Melegrito described his meetings with ABC including the last one on November 6 in Burbank, California with Steve MacPherson, ABC President of Prime Time Entertainment, who admitted that the joke was “a terrible mistake” and who assured NaFFAA that “such jokes would not happen again.”

Despite the fact that no commitment was extracted nor offered by ABC about any on air apology, which Melegrito believes to be an unrealistic goal, he nonetheless urged the Filipino community to “see the big picture” and accept what ABC has offered.

But the delegates would not be easily placated. Dr. Lee Llacer from the Philippine Medical Association in Washington DC reported that he attended a meeting of NaFFAA officers with ABC Vice President for Diversity Robert Mendez on October 9 to discuss ABC’s initiatives. “I went to that meeting to talk about ABC kicking the dog,” Dr. Llacer said, “and I felt that everybody left the meeting getting what they wanted except the dog.”

What the delegates felt was that a poisonous idea was disseminated to 25 million viewers that Philippine educated physicians are inferior. What ABC agreed to do was delete the scene to stop this poison from being spread to future viewers of the episode. But what should be done to undo the subliminal damage caused by the airing of the “joke”? And how do we get ABC to do what's right?

The position statement of the host organization presented 4 proposals to ABC-Disney: air a sincere, genuine apology as soon as possible; involve ABC personnel in sensitivity training and cultural awareness; present TV medical shows that depict a true representation of the medical personnel in most hospitals; and recognize and acknowledge the positive impact and huge contributions of Filipino medical practitioners in the US.

The delegates then heard strategies about how to pressure ABC/Disney to accept their proposals.
Robert Gnaizda, general counsel of the Greenlining Institute and lead counsel in over 100 class action court and administrative cases focusing on minority economic empowerment and civil rights, proposed that the group (“on behalf of 3.5 million Filipino Americans and 110 million minorities who are stereotyped and disparaged by the TV networks”) send letters to the CEOs of all the TV sponsors of “Desperate Housewives” to arrange personal meetings with them to discuss their sponsorships of Desperate Housewives.

The Filipino Anti-Defamation Coalition (FADC) called for a national boycott of all Disney Stores, asking our community, especially the 22,000 Filipino physicians in the US, to boycott the Disney Stores during the upcoming holiday season and to encourage their patients to do the same. The targeting of one company can be more effective that a generalized boycott of all Disney companies, and all the Desperate Housewives’ sponsors. [When asked why the Disney Stores, the answer should be that “it’s because ABC issued a Mickey Mouse apology.”]

The National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) and the Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC), jointly represented by Atty. Arnedo Valera, joined the call for a boycott denouncing ABC-Disney for giving “encouragement to the racial profiling of Filipinos.” Valera also called for the Council to take the lead in the campaign as it is a "defining moment for Filipino American empowerment".

Two attorneys, Roman Mosqueda from Los Angeles, and Ted Laguatan from San Francisco, presented the case for filing a class action lawsuit against ABC. Both had mailed “retractory” letters to ABC within the 20 days required by statute in order to be able to obtain punitive damages in the event of litigation. Although both acknowledged the legal minefield (anti-Slapp and Blatty) that will face any actual lawsuit against ABC, they nonetheless urged the group to keep the legal option on the table as added pressure on ABC.

Mel Avanzado, a NaFFAA adviser and noted FilAm Entertainment Law specialist, said that litigation against ABC would be useless and counterproductive. But he also berated NaFFAA for being “unprepared” in its meeting with MacPherson. Accepting ABC’s offer to “develop an outreach brochure for ABC/Disney programs (funded by the company) specifically targeting the FilAm community, and to get the word out through NaFFAA about the Network’s various diversity programs” was not good enough. Had he been consulted by NaFFAA, Avanzado said he would have suggested a more productive strategy for the meeting.

Dr. Fred Quevedo, a representative of the Association of Practicing Physicians in America (APPA), disagreed with Avanzado's dour assessment and reported a more upbeat evaluation of the meeting with MacPherson which he attended at the invitation of NaFFAA.

In the Plenary Session/Open Forum that followed, various resolutions were adopted.

The group unanimously approved a motion by Dr. Philip Chua to form a new national organization called the Filipino American Leadership Council (FALC) and unanimously elected Dr. Primo Andres, a cardiologist from Terre Haute, Indiana and president of the USTMAA Foundation, as its national president, with the Summit attendees as charter members. Dr. Philip Chua was elected national vice-president and Dr. Stella Evangelista as Secretary.

The Council also voted to call for a national boycott of Disney Stores and to send letters to all the DH sponsors asking for a face-to-face meeting with them. The Council voted to table a motion on the litigation strategy and approved a resolution (by Faith Bautista of the Mabuhay Alliance) asking NaFFAA to defer to the Council in future negotiations with ABC.

Dr. Rena Nora from the Nevada Physicians Group and a vice-chair of NaFFAA for the Nevada Region captured the enthusiasm of the delegates when she said “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas except for what we resolved to do today.”

[At my request, the Summit adjourned the conference in the memory of Dulce Quitans-Saguisag, the sister of Alma Quitans-Kern, NaFFAA National Chair, who was killed in a roadside accident in the Philippines on November 6.]

Monday, October 22, 2007

The American Medical Association Lends Its Support to Filipino Doctors

Telltale Signs/ The Disconnect

Rodel E. Rodis, October 22, 2007

If the question posed by AOL to its Internet users - whether there was “good reason for some to be offended by this (Desperate Housewives) joke”- had been asked of Filipino American and Philippine commentators, their answers would have been markedly different.

Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Conrado deQuiros wrote that his first reaction was “to laugh out loud. Hatcher’s remark is funny, though the kind that hurts only when you laugh. It’s so because like the truly most laughable things on earth, it has much truth in it.”

Philippine Star columnist, William C. Esposo, wrote that “in typical Filipino fashion, we've over-reacted once again over what can be considered as nothing more than one issue in long line of misinformed racial slurs that are commonplace on US television.”

Another Philippine Star columnist Barbara C. Gonzales believed that “we have lost our sense of humor…That was just meant to be funny. Now we are outraged, protesting, demanding an apology.”

Their “get over it” attitude contrasts with those of Telltale Signs reader Purita Guinto who wrote a response typical of the views of many in the US: “I felt those who dismissed it did not feel the sting of that crude ABC joke, in contrast to those or us from the Fil-Am community who raged against it the instant we knew about it. Remember the thousands among us who signed that petition within a few days after it appeared on the Internet?”

At a hearing of the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Commission on October 16, where a resolution condemning the “Desperate” slur was being discussed, I was asked by an Israeli-born commissioner why Filipinos were taking this matter too seriously. “There are anti-semitic remarks in the Al-Jazeera cable channel all the time and we don’t complain about it,” he said.

There is a huge gap in the differing portrayals of Jews and Filipinos in the media, I replied. On any given night, you can view scores of Jewish Americans on network television as lead actors and actresses in TV sitcoms (“Seinfeld” for example). “But how many Filipinos do you see on TV every night?” I asked him.
Except for Cheryl Burke (Dancing with the Stars), whom even then most Americans wouldn’t know is a Filipino, you don’t see Filipinos even as doctors or nurses in medical TV shows (Gray’s Anatomy, ER, House, etc).

When someone utters an anti-semitic joke, people would generally regard it as a bigoted rant and dismiss it in the same way that Michael Richards’ racist rants against African Americans were disregarded. A ‘dumb blonde” joke would have no effect when prominent blondes like Dianne Sawyer, Barbara Walters or Hillary Clinton appear regularly on TV belying the stereotype.

It was context that made the “Desperate” slur sting. Because there is hardly any Filipino presence on network TV, any negative Filipino reference is therefore magnified because of the absence of any counterweighing positive reference.
If there are no positive images of Filipino physicians on TV, then a remark that questions the quality and competence of doctors with diplomas from “some med school in the Philippines” acquires instant credibility in the absence of TV evidence suggesting otherwise.

In contrast, Philippine commentators get to watch Filipinos on TV every night, in various roles, both positive and negative. So when they hear a negative inference about Filipino doctors, they generally don’t see what the “big deal” is as they see Philippine doctors in a positive light regularly, in reel and real life.
Many of them, like Esposo, also asked: “Doesn’t the recent Nursing Exams Leak Scandal logically create the likely impression that we produce sub-standard medical professionals? Doesn’t the reputation of the Philippines as a diploma mill justify that impression too?”

But the unfortunate reality is that Filipinos are so far removed from the radar screens of Hollywood producers and screen writers that it would give them too much credit to assume that they have any interest in knowing anything at all about the Philippine educational system. They couldn't care a whit about us.

The other reality that escapes “the truth hurts” proponents is that Filipino doctors have to pass three medical exams before they can practice in the US: the Philippine medical exams, the Educational Council for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) exams, and the Medical License Examinations (MLE) in the US, which is the only exam that holders of US diplomas have to take. It's not as easy as buying up a diploma from a sidewalk vendor.

But there is also another context that informs the attitudes of Philippine commentators. Philippine television is generally not subject to the same “fairness” standards that American TV networks are subject to.

When I was in Manila last year, I was shocked to watch a Philippine game show called “Game ka na ba?” (Are you game already?) hosted by (presidential daughter) Kris Aquino where the contestants for that evening were all “little people” (derisively referred to as ‘dwarfs”). The TV audience laughed at them the whole show. That kind of mockery of people with disabilities would never appear on American game shows like Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune.

In the Philippines, every disability is fair game for abuse in politics and on network TV. There are no limits to what or who you can mock. When opposition politicians like Sen. Panfilo Lacson can refer to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as “Dwendita” (little dwarf) because of her vertically challenged disability, one can only imagine what people can say about anyone else.

Because the Philippine media culture has numbed them to feeling any sense of outrage at the utterance of degrading insults, many of these commentators just can’t understand why we’re making such a “big deal” about a "four second joke”.

The disconnect between Filipino American and Philippine commentators is evident in Historian Ambeth Ocampo’s observation of the “Division” (the title of his recent column in the Inquirer) among Filipinos in America. “I’m not a sociologist, so I don’t know the answer to the question,” he asks. “What is it in our nature that makes expatriate Filipinos divide rather unite? The answer will come in handy not just abroad but back home where every day is an exercise in forming a nation.”

From our vantage point, “expatriate” Filipinos have united on this “Desperate” issue more than any other issue in recent memory. It is a unity that our community can build on to address other pressing issues (like the FilVets issue which needs our doctors' support). While not quite an exercise in forming a nation, t is an exercise in empowering a community.

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FilAms Stage Protest in Front of Disney Store in SF

Joseph Pimentel/

THE newly-formed Filipino Anti-Defamation Coalition staged a noontime rally in front of the Disney Store adjacent to San Francisco's famed Union Square last October 13 in a continuing protest to what it has termed as a "bigoted remark" about Filipino medical professionals on the ABC Television Network series Desperate Housewives.

Disney-ABC Television Group, part of Disney Media Networks, manages among others, the ABC Television Network.

Carrying placards which stated “Desperate Housewives TV Show No Class,” “Disney/ABC We Need More Than An Apology,” “Desperate Bigots,” “Filipino Medical Schools Best” and “Shame on Disney,” around 60 protesters picketed the store for about an hour, chanting anti-ABC/Disney slogans and passing out flyers to passers-by.

In an interview with Asian Journal, Coalition member Atty. Rodel Rodis said one of the main reasons for doing the protest in front of the Disney Store is to get the attention of the entertainment giant.

“What we need to do is to get Disney to wake up, to see that this is not good for Disney and this is the parent of ABC,” Rodis stated. “Sometimes you have to go to the parent in order to get the child to behave. This is what we need to do in order for Disney to say that we need to give these people more than just an anemic apology.”

“It is insulting that who they have sent so far is their Vice President for Diversity,” added Rodis. “His job is to pacify the natives, pacify the minorities. We have not gotten any apology from the President of ABC, from the producers of Desperate Housewives. In fact, the apology does not carry any recognition that they made a mistake. It’s like, ‘We’re sorry we offended you. Too bad.’”

Rodis also explained that the remark, while it may have intended to be humorous, presents a bigger problem. “This is far more serious than a racial slur. When you start putting into the minds of people that you better watch these doctors – that if they have medical diplomas from the Philippines, these are substandard and inferior – you better not trust yourselves or your relatives to them, then that’s very pernicious. This is a very serious insult to our people, and it is defamatory. The worst that I can think of or have seen in years,” he said.

As far as the class action suit discussed in a recent meeting is concerned, Rodis said they are studying every angle.

“The class action suit is being studied around the country by lawyers right now. They are coordinating through e-mails and conference calls,” he revealed. “It’s a very tricky situation so we know what the legal pitfalls are, but we are trying to find a way in order to be able to file it and make it stick.”

The coalition, Rodis said, will decide on further protest actions during future meetings. He revealed that a summit on November 10 is planned where doctors, organizations, nurses, professionals and all groups who were mobilized due to this issue will talk on what direction they will take.

The summit may even determine the final position of the Filipino medical community. “Hopefully, there will be a unified voice led by an executive committee composed of the associations of Filipino physicians in America. We hope that there will be a coordinating body which will speak with one voice on the issue,” Rodis said.

Rodis is convinced that the medical community and the Coalition will take the fight to the end.

“There were doctors in a recent meeting who said they have been in the profession for 30 years, but felt like their contributions were devalued because of what ABC did,” Rodis said. “They were really hurt… this is a very deep wound that cannot be cured with a band-aid. That’s why it may take a long time to resolve.”

Dr. Carmelo Roco, former president of the Philippine Medical Society of Northern California, meanwhile, said that it may be too late even if ABC has deleted the offensive scene from the season opener.

“The damage has already been done,” he stated. “Many Americans have seen the episode that degraded Filipino American doctors. It was like a subconscious suggestion to the minds of all these people.”

“We need to cure this, not with just an apology, but for ABC to have a program that has a positive impact on the future of our countrymen. We need not only an apology but constructive television programs as well that will be good for everybody,” Dr. Roco added.

Dr. Roco said he talked to his American colleagues, who expressed sympathy with their plight. “Many American doctors have called me to say that we should fight for our rights… so that this mistake, which took a swipe at our honor and dignity, will not happen again. This is not only for our children, but also for those educated in the Philippines who want to go to America. We need to remove the doubt from the American people that we have a defective education [system],” Roco explained.

Like Atty. Rodis, Dr. Roco expects this issue to be a continuing struggle and present an opportunity for the Filipino people to be united.
“This is not just for now,” Dr. Roco said. “We will continue to safeguard our rights. Our community and our heritage should not be taken for granted.”

On the September 30 episode of the widely-viewed TV series, Teri Hatcher’s character expressed apprehension about the diagnosis of her doctor, saying that she needed to look at the diploma to make sure that it is not from some med school in the Philippines.

The remark triggered protests within the Filipino community, calling for ABC and the producers of Desperate Housewives to apologize for what was perceived as a slur against medical professionals who obtained their education from the Philippines.

ABC had issued an apology which did not appease many members of the Filipino community. It has also since edited the line from the episode, which can be viewed on

Sunday, October 14, 2007