Monday, December 29, 2008

New Year Equals New Laws for Californians

Are you into texting while driving, a computer professional, or, yikes, an unlicensed car dealer? If you are, you will be affected by this new batch of California laws. Courtesy of ABC News, here are some of the new California laws that will take effect come Jan. 1:

No-text Law - Writing, sending, or reading a "text-based communication" while driving will be against the law for all drivers in California. Violating this law is punishable by a base fine of $20 for a first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense. With the addition of penalty assessments, fines can be more than triple the base fine amount.

New DUI Laws - Zero tolerance. Any person who is on probation for a DUI convection cannot drive with a blood alcohol level of.01 percent.

Temporary operating permits restricted - The DMV will restrict permits to allow more time to obtain a smog certificate.

Special interest license plates - Gold Star Family special interest license plates will be available to family members who have had family killed in the line of duty while serving in the Armed Forces during wartime or military operations.

Temporary employees - Wages for employees of temporary services employers shall be paid weekly or daily if the work is less than 90 days.

Family and Medical Leave Act - Families who have members who are active in the military are eligible up to 12 weeks of leave if they meet the "qualifying exigencies: short notice deployment, attendance at official military events or activities, arranging or providing childcare, attending school or daycare meetings, handling financial and legal matters, and rest and recuperation visits when the soldier is on leave."

Minimum pay for exempt computer professionals - Computer professionals' hourly rate for 2009 is increased from $36 to $37.94.

Definition of a motorcycle - Deleting the existing weight limitation of 1,500 pounds, removes a separate definition for electrically powered vehicles and will allow fully enclosed 3-wheeled motor vehicles to use the carpool lanes

Unlicensed car dealers - Law enforcement officers can impound vehicles that are being sold by unlicensed dealers.

Counterfeit Clean Air Stickers - It will be a crime to forge Clean Air Stickers, which are issued to low-emission vehicles and allow the vehicles with these stickers to be driven in carpool lanes.


I can't believe 2008 is almost over, and there are still so many things I want to do! I planned a blog makeover, but due to my crazy sked, that was sidelined for the nth time. Looking back, I know I missed posting a lot of Fil-Am news, features and topics - even those I actually covered for TV, I didn't even get the chance to write about here.

I'll try to do better in 2009.

I'm also writing a book that's culled from my reporting experiences so I hope to be able to publish more info about that here in a few weeks, fingers crossed.

To those emailers that I haven't responded to: Please don't be mad, I'm writing back soon.

Manigong bagong taon sa ating lahat!

Friday, December 12, 2008


Customers Advised To Check With Airlines To Verify If Tickets Bought Are Valid

By Yong B. Chavez

Long Beach, Calif.-- What if you came to the airport and found out that your tickets are not valid? A Filipino-owned travel agency in Long Beach is the focus of a fraud investigation by the police. Over 30 customers have filed complaints against The Travel Place because they allegedly bought airline tickets for the Philippines that turned out to be bogus.

Mayvel Ocampo was so excited about her plans to spend Christmas in the Philippines, so as early as may, she purchased her Cathay Pacific tickets from The Travel Place in Long Beach.

"I saw their ad in a Filipino newspaper…I called and talked to Alex. He asked me to send them the check and then he sent me the supposed e-tickets through mail. They cashed my check around May," said Ocampo.

Her sister also bought a ticket from the same travel agent named Alex Rebote. All in all, they paid over $5,000 to the travel agency for their tickets.

In October, Ocampo called Cathay Pacific to reserve their seats. She got the surprise of her life when they told her that her booking was cancelled by The Travel Place.

"I called and talked to Alex and he said, 'Really? It was cancelled?' He told me there was just a confusion. He said, 'Everything's OK, I'll send you the ticket," Ocampo said.

The tickets never came. Ocampo called several times a week and got the same reassurance each time. She called Cathay Pacific, and true enough, they have another booking for her - albeit in business class.

It turned out that that was all it was: A booking.

In late November, on another follow-up call, the phone was answered by a building employee who said that The Travel Place office was now deserted; the whereabouts of its owners and employees, unknown.

The Long Beach Police Department is currently investigating over thirty complaints against the company which is owned by Jeanette Lim and has been in operation since 2002, according to the Better Business Bureau.

Reports of fraud against them continue to pour in. Ocampo has heard of a Filipino family who bought tickets from the same place who went to the airport only to be told that what they had were not e-tickets but only itineraries. Another customer recently posted a complaint with the Better Business Bureau - they were stranded in Manila because their return tickets weren't valid.

The Travel Place did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.

With e-tickets replacing paper tickets, customers who get itineraries instead of paper tickets can be easy marks for scammers.

To avoid becoming a victim, travelers are encouraged by the police to seek precautions.

When making travel arrangements, experts give the following tips: Always ask detailed questions and get everything in writing. Verify with the airlines if they have issued the tickets that you paid for, and consider paying with a credit card that allows consumer to dispute charges when problems occur.

It's an expensive lesson for Ocampo, who had to come up with another four thousand dollars so that her family trip can go on. She also had to adjust her vacation leave with her work because there were no more airline seats available on her original schedule.

"That's what hurts more because kapwa Pilipino so you trust more kasi pareho kayo ng pinanggalingan but I guess anywhere, merong mangloloko," she said.

Consumers who lost money from travel sellers can either file a lawsuit or seek compensation with the Travel Consumer Restitution Corporation.

California's Secretary of State also has a "Victims of Corporate Fraud Compensation Fund."

Ocampo's sister, Marvet Espejo, could not come up with the payment for another ticket so she is forced to cancel her plan to find a venue for her upcoming wedding in the Philippines.

"That's why I'm so pissed, everything…ang sakit-sakit dahil hindi ko makikita ang family ko for another year," Espejo said. She adds that she literally has nightmares due to this experience.

The sisters suspect that many homecoming Filipino Americans are still unaware that the tickets they bought might not be valid.

They feel compelled to search the Internet for any information on Lim and Rebote and to spread the word about what happened to them so other Filipinos can be forewarned.

"We feel so helpless...We heard a rumor that the owners of the travel agency have gone to the Philippines," Espejo said.

"That may very well be the case, but I can't say for sure," said Jackie Bezart, public information officer of the Long Beach Police Department. "The investigation is ongoing."

Complainants are not all from Los Angeles area only because many transactions were done over the phone.

To report a complaint, contact Detective Greg McMullen at the Long Beach Police Department at (562) 570-7330.

A shorter version of this story appeared on my Balitang America report this week. Photo info: Mayvel Ocampo, Magnus Ocampo and Marvet Espejo, outside the former office of The Travel Place, 4000 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach, CA.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Filipina Artist Featured in Pasadena Exhibit

Pasadena Society of Artists Holiday Exhibit at VIVA Gallery

The Pasadena Society of Artists (PSA) proudly presents 46 gifted artists for a Holiday Exhibition at the Valley Institute of the Visual Arts (VIVA) Gallery at 13261 Moorpark Street in Sherman Oaks till 27th.
The exhibit showcases 60 artworks done in traditional and contemporary styles and represented in a variety of media such as oil, acrylic and watercolor painting, sculpture, photography, and digital art.

A most recent watercolor painting of distinguished Glendale artist and Art Historian Lynda A. N. Reyes entitled "Boy in Blue" was accepted in this juried exhibition. Her son Roy Natian is also featured in the show with his pen and ink composition titled "GHOTI".

This is a juried exhibition that features the works of select members of the PSA (, an organization of professional artists from Pasadena and nearby communities that has continuously exhibited its members' contemporary art for 80 years. Since its inception in 1925, it has evolved into a varied and vital artistic force that has nourished the artistic growth of the contemporary art scene. The PSA is noted for its vigorous and active membership with high professional standards.

VIVA Gallery is not the traditional art gallery for profit. VIVA is a nonprofit organization run by four supporting art groups (Women Painters West, Valley Watercolor Society, Collage Artists of America, and Valley Artists Guild) that have joined together to operate a permanent Arts Center in the San Fernando Valley. VIVA provides artists with the opportunity for critical exposure and public appreciation of their creative work in a professional environment.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Gift Card Tips & Laws

Whether you're planning to give gift cards for Christmas or you have an unused or partially used gift card from Christmases past, here are some basic things you should know about them. I just found an unused gift card that I thought was already wasted so this is good news to me:

- Most gift certificates and gift cards sold by retail sellers for use with the seller and its affiliates cannot contain an expiration date or a service fee, including a fee for dormancy.

- Any gift certificate sold after January 1, 1997, is redeemable in cash for its cash value, or subject to replacement with a new gift certificate at no cost to the purchaser or holder. Since January 1, 2008, any gift certificate with a cash value of less than $10 is redeemable in cash, which includes currency or check, for its cash value.

Per Consumer Union: Here are the state-by-state Gift Card Consumer Protection Laws:

No expiration date within the first two years.
No fees for two years. Any fees after two year period must be printed clearly on front or back of card in at least 10 point font.
Covers gift cards useable at single store or chain.
Does not cover cards linked to bank accounts usable with multiple unaffiliated merchants or prepaid calling cards.

No expiration dates and no fees, with one exception.
Permits a $1 per month fee only when the card has a balance of $5 or less, the card has been unused for 24 months, and the card is reloadable.
Covers gift cards at a single store or chain. Multiple-use gift cards are not covered.
Any card with a cash value of $10 or less may be redeemed for cash.

No expiration dates.
No fees.
No expiration dates.
No fees.
Does not cover cards linked to bank accounts usable with multiple unaffiliated merchants.

No expiration for two years.
No fees.
Covers any electronic card with a banked dollar value.

No expiration date for five years.
No fees.
Does not include cards usable with multiple merchants.

No fees unless there is a contract.
No expiration for five years.
No fees for one year.
Does not cover prepaid bank cards.

No expiration within first year.
No fees.
Does not include prepaid calling cards or cards linked to bank accounts usable with multiple unaffiliated merchants or ATMs.

No expiration dates for five years.
No service fees, except for a one-time handling fee of $1.
Covers cards issued to be redeemed in goods or services provided by the card seller.

No expiration dates.
No fees except for transaction fee for initial issuance or for adding value to existing card which must be disclosed in separate writing before purchase.
Does not cover prefunded bank cards.
Cards with an initial value of $5 or less; or rewards or refund cards with $5 or less after redemption may be redeemed in cash.

No expiration dates for four years.
No fees for four years.
Any terms and conditions must be printed clearly in 10 point type on the card, on a sticker affixed to the card or in an envelope containing the card.
Does not cover prepaid calling cards or prepaid bank cards.

No expiration dates for 7 years.
Cards with a remaining balance of $5 or less may be redeemed in cash.
Does not include prepaid calling cards or any electronic cards usable with multiple unaffiliated merchants.

No expiration dates for five years.

No expiration dates.
No fees.
Does not include debit cards or other legal access devices used to access a deposit account, prepaid calling cards, cards linked to bank accounts usable with multiple unaffiliated merchants.

No expiration dates.
No fees.
If original value of gift card was more than $5, and remaining value is less than $5, can redeem for cash.
Does not cover prepaid telecommunications or technology cards or gift certificates usable with multiple sellers.

Expiration or fees allowed only if properly disclosed.
No fees within first year and no fees that exceed $1 per month.
Covers only single retailers.
Does not cover prepaid telecommunications or technology cards.

New Hampshire:
No expiration for cards of $100 or less.
No expiration earlier than date funds escheat to state for cards over $100.
No fees.

New Jersey:
No expiration for two years.
No dormancy fee for two years from date of sale or two years from most recent activity or transaction.
No dormancy fee can be more than $2.
Expiration date and/or dormancy fee must be printed on card, package or sales receipt and include a toll free number to call for information.
Does not include prepaid calling or technology card, or prepaid bank cards.

New Mexico:
No expiration for five years.
No fees.
Covers cards with single retailer or affiliated merchants.
Does not cover prepaid calling cards or cards associated with a deposit, checking, savings or similar account at a bank for debiting such account.

North Carolina:
Fees to be conspicuously disclosed on card at time of purchase.
No fees for first year.
Covers prepaid calling cards.
Does not cover bank cards usable at multiple unaffiliated merchants.

North Dakota:
No expiration for six years.
No fees.
Covers prepaid calling cards.
Does not cover cards useable at multiple, unaffiliated merchants or cards linked to bank accounts.

No expiration for two years
No fees for two years.
Does not cover prepaid calling cards or cards usable with multiple unaffiliated merchants.

No expiration and no fees for five years, with one exception.
Permits a $1 per month fee only when the card has a balance of $5 or less, the card has been unused for 24 months, the card is reloadable and the fee is properly disclosed.
Covers cards with single retailer or affiliated merchants.
Does not cover prepaid calling cards or any prepaid service.

No expiration dates.
No fees with one exception—if card is sold below face value and does not expire until 30 days after the date of sale and card has printed “expires on” or “expiration date” with the date of expiration.
Does not include prepaid calling cards, prepaid commercial mobile radio services, or cards usable with multiple merchants.

Expires after 2 years if unredeemed or after 5 years from date of purchase if no redemption period specified.
Covers cards with single retailer or affiliated merchants.
“Qualified gift certificates” do not expire and do not have fees.
Does not cover flexible spending accounts or bank cards usable with multiple affiliated merchants or ATMs.

Rhode Island:
No expiration dates.
No fees.
Covers prepaid long distance telephone service cards.
Does not cover prepaid wireless telephone service cards.

South Carolina:
No expiration dates for first year, unless expiration date is on front of card in capitalized letters in 10 point font.
Fees permitted but must be disclosed on certificate, envelope, covering or receipt.

No expiration dates for two years.
No fees for two years.
Does not cover prepaid calling cards or cards usable with multiple, unaffiliated merchants.

No fees for first year.
Expiration or fees and other terms must be clearly and conspicuously disclosed at time of purchase. The expiration date and fees must be legibly printed on the card.
Does not cover prepaid calling cars or stored value cards issued by a federally insured financial institution.

No expiration date if not printed or information is not included.
No fees if not printed or information is not included.
Expiration and fees must be printed in readable manner on instrument, packaging or record.

No fees for three years.
No fees, except a licensed money transmitter, financial institution or credit union may charge a one-time issuance fee of either $10 or 10%, whichever is smaller.
Does not cover access device such as a debit card or other access means to a consumer’s account regularly maintained at a bank to access funds or to initiate an electronic funds transfer from the account.

Permits a $1 per month fee only when the card has a balance of $5 or less, the card has been unused for 24 months, the card is reloadable, and is disclosed on card in at least 6 point font.
Covers gift cards at a single store or chain.
Does not cover multiple-use gift cards, or cards usable with multiple unaffiliated merchants.
Disclosures Only:

Expiration and fees allowed only if they are made clearly visible to consumer before purchase.
Covers all cards except prepaid calling cards, debit cards linked to bank accounts or electronic funds transfer cards.

Expiration and fees allowed only if they are conspicuously printed on the card or have a sticker affixed to the card at the time of purchase.
Covers general use gift cards, gift certificates or store gift cards.

Expiration or fees allowed only when statement appears on front or back of card or in location visible to purchaser at the time of purchase.

New York:
Expiration or fees, or other terms and conditions to be clearly and conspicuously stated on the card, package, or accompanying printed document with toll free number.
No dormancy fee before 13th month of inactivity.
Covers cards with single retailer or affiliated merchants.
Does not cover prepaid calling cards, flexible spending cards, and cards linked to bank accounts

Expiration or fees must be clearly and permanently imprinted on card with a telephone number or Internet address to obtain information.

***This is a summary of key features of many state gift card laws. Consumers Union does not give legal advice. Please consult the laws of your state for more information.

OPINION: December Dilemma

Special to

Christians living in culturally-diverse places in America face a dilemma every time Christmas season comes. Their problem is that they cannot celebrate the birth of the Lord the way they used to, because some people might take offense at the sights and sounds of the traditional Christmas celebration and slap them with lawsuits.

In the malls and in a lot of places there is a conspicuous absence of traditional Christmas symbols like the Manger, where the three wise kings from the east first saw the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes. In its place are hollies and lights display. Likewise gone are the task theology-loaded Christmas carols like Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Oh Holy Night, and Oh Little Town of Bethlehem. The politically correct people, so-called, are agressively advocating what they call religious-neutral songs like Silver and Gold and Silver Bells.

In the Philippines, they even went as far as making Christmas songs a personal thing. So, what did they do? They replaced the traditional Simbang Gabi and Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit with a very personal interpretation of Christmas, like Pasko Na Sinta Ko and Miss Kita Kung Christmas.

These politically-correct, anti-Christmas crusaders are not done yet. After they successfully pulled out the Manger from the public view, they are now saying that the popular season's greetings Merry Christmas be changed to Happy Holidays.

Now, think about it. If you are a serious and well-meaning Christian you must be very alarmed by now. I guess you will agree with me that this is simply crazy. It is like celebrating a birthday without inviting the celebrant.

I am not an ultra-conservative Christian believer, but the way things are going on, I believe it is time to take a pro-active stance against the forces that are trying to trivialize the birth of our Lord and Savior, the Prince of peace, the King of kings and the true Ruler of this earth.


David Casuco studied journalism at the University of Santo Tomas. He was sportswriter, and later foreign news editor for the Journal Publications in Manila before he moved Los Angeles with his family in 1989. He is now the current editor of the California Examiner. His writing are more on sports and spirituality (not religion).

If you want your Opinion to be considered for publication in FilipinOnline, e-mail it to me at ybchavez[at]

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Filipino citizens residing abroad, mark your calendars:

The Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles wishes to inform the public that pursuant to the Minute Resolution of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), the registration/ certification for overseas absentee voters has been moved from 1 December 2008 to 1 February 2009.

All citizens of the Philippines abroad not otherwise disqualified by law, at least eighteen (18) years of age on the day of the election and who wish to vote for President, vice-President, Senators and Party List Representatives for purposes of the 10 May 2010 National Elections must file applications for registration/ certification as overseas absentee voters from 1 February 2009 to 31 August 2009.

The voting period will be from 10 April 2010 until 3:00 p.m. Philippine time 10 May 2010.

For details, please contact the embassy/ consulate nearest your residence or the following websites:
Department of Foreign Affairs (Manila):
Commission on Elections (Manila):
Filipino residents of SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, NEW MEXICO, TEXAS, ARIZONA and SOUTHERN NEVADA may wish to contact the following:
3600 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 500Los Angeles, CA 90010
Attn: Vice Consul John Reyes
Tel. No. (213) 637-3003
Fax No.: (213) 639-0990