By: Elsie Sy-Niebar


*FILIPINA `MISS UNIVERSE 2019’ CATRIONA GRAY, highly-admired for her humanitarian love for the masses

*My Family’s CHRISTMAS JOY: Feeding some of the Hungry in the Philippines

*AUTOMATIC REFUNDS TO 30,000 HOMEOWNERS sent out by Cook County Treas. Maria Pappas

*PIWC 2019 CELEBRATION under the able leadership of EDWIN PINEDA is flying high!

*First elected FILIPINO AMERICAN JUDGE to serve one year in jail for mortgage fraud; let’s pray for her

*Are Prayers and Bible Study included in your Christian Faith agenda?

Hallelujah! Another beautiful Filipina CATRIONA GRAY was crowned as “MISS UNIVERSE 2018” last December 17, held in Bangkok, Thailand besting 92 other beauties from all over the world! She is the fourth Filipina who won this international beauty title since its start in 1952. The other three beauties were Gloria Diaz (1969); Margie Moran (1973); and Pia Wurtzbach in 2015.

Miss Catriona Gray was born in Cairns, Queensland, Australia, to Ian Gray, from Fraserburgh, and a Filipina mother, Normita Ragas Magnayon, from Oas, Albay, Philippines. Miss Gray was a student at Trinity Anglican School in Cairns where she was a house captain and a school chorister. She received her Master’s Certificate in Music Theory from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts; obtained a Certificate in Outdoor Recreation; a black belter in Choi Kwang-Do martial arts; was lead singer of her school jazz band, and starred in Miss Saigon. After graduating from high school, she moved to Manila where she worked as a commercial model. Her inborn winning ways, in addition to her beauty and brain, is her humanitarian heartbeat towards the poor like the poor folks in the slums of Tondo in the Philippines.

When asked by the pageant judge live on stage: “what is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your life, and how could you apply it to your time as ‘Miss Universe’?” Her spontaneous winning response was — “I work a lot in the slums of Tondo, Manila and the life there is very poor and sad. I’ve always taught myself to look for the beauty in it, to look at the beauty of the children. I would bring up this aspect as ‘Miss Universe’ to look at situations with a silver lining and to assess where I could provide something as a spokesperson,” she articulated.

Indeed, her personality onstage explodes optimism by seeing beauty unseen by the naked eye, right into the heart of the children at the slums of Tondo, where garbage scanner kids are smiling while picking up the rubbish. I saw this very same scenario in Dumaguete City while promenading along Silliman beach where trash cans stand always loaded with garbage. My “message to Filipino and Filipino American Youth: “Miss Universe” Catriona Magnayon Gray is a young Filipino worthy of emulation. Let her serve as your role model. MABUHAY! God bless the Philippines!

This COLUMNIST’s PERSONAL CHRISTMAS JOY: Our FAMILY CHRISTMAS ‘PAKAON sa PASKUA’ or Christmas Luncheon in the Philippines for the barrio folks has been one of our CHRISTMAS FAMILY JOYs for the past few years now. It was started by our niece, Ma. Teresa Villanueva Olaco, R.N., together with her younger sister, brother, her whole family. No, they are not wealthy. Her recent trip to Saudi to work as a nurse did not stop her “Pakaon” mission, now taken over by her hardworking husband, JoePel Olaco, my younger sis Vilma V. Molina who decided to go back home, and their father — our brother, Rafael Villanueva, supported by our monetary contributions; from the Dennis J. Niebar Memorial Charitable Fund, (now closed, with the small fund put under my church’s designated fund), and Praise God!… my nephew Chris Villanueva Molina in Australia’s “GoFundme” he created this year for the PAKAON. Thanks to all these small blessings, last December 25, my family in Dumaguete served a sumptuous Christmas Lunch to over 500 folks from the villages in the town of Zamboanguita, Dumaguete City. Each one also went home with two packets of half-kilo sugar and rice. “Oh, Tita, ang saya ng mga tao, sana nandito kayo ni Chris!” (Oh, Tita, you must see the Joy in everyone’s faces. It’s worth our hard work. I wished you and Chris were here!”), Joepel texted me. The PAKAON is one “Great Joy of Sharing” which many of us are doing every Christmas, including here in Chicago. Hence, to everyone whose hearts share the same heartbeat, to them I dedicate these Scriptures:

Matthew 35-38: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?”

LATE CHRISTMAS FROM COOK COUNTY TREASURER PAPPAS’ Office: Automatic property TAX Refunds of $8.3 million is being distributed to almost 30,000 Homeowners: you and I maybe one of them.

This was the good news from the office of Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, last December 31, 2018. Spicing up her announcement with a touch of humor, Treas. Pappas, said: “this is a late Christmas present my office is sending out to some 30,000 homeowners’ refunds without requiring an application, another example of using technology to make things easier for taxpayers. We’ve taken steps in the past to make the refund application process easier. Now we’re trying to eliminate the application altogether.”

Overpayments, according to Treas. Pappas, occur for a variety of reasons, including the simple mistake of paying more than is owed on the tax bill. More often, overpayments result from a reduction in property taxes after the bill was paid. Here are details about the 29,752 refunds:

• The 8,947 homeowners who paid their taxes through a bank/ mortgage escrow account are receiving refund checks.

• The 20,805 homeowners who paid by check or online are automatically receiving refunds to their bank or credit card accounts. To see if you are entitled to a refund, visit cookcountytreasurer. com and take these steps:

• Select the purple box “Your Property Overview”.

• Enter your address or Property Index Number (PIN).

The refunds are due to tax overpayments made since 2013. Using bank, credit card and property records, the Office has electronically determined who made the overpayment in these cases, making refund applications unnecessary.

FORMER COOK COUNTY JUDGE JESSICA ARONG O’BRIEN, TO SERVE ONE-YEAR JAILTIME; Prosecutors declared, “she was found guilty for pocketing $325,000 in a mortgage fraud scheme”: As a Filipino American, myself, I could not hold back my tears as I watched the news seeing “One of Our Very Own” first Filipino American to be elected as Cook County Judge, Jessica Arong O’Brien, was found guilty of fraud and will serve one-year jail time. Imagine, a Judge going to Jail? She was convicted last February for “pocketing $325,000 in a mortgage fraud scheme,” prosecutors said. This offense happened before she was elected judge. By order of the Illinois Supreme Court, she was ordered to resign from the bench, when she lost her bid for a new trial or a reversal of her guilty verdict. Her defense lawyer, Steve Greenberg agreed and said Arong Obrien had already signed the necessary paperwork to end her position as a judge.

“Jessica sent in her paperwork that she is resigning and withdrawing from retention as soon as the judge had ruled, as she said she would,” Greenberg was quoted. “She is now going to focus on her family, her children and her future, as she prepares for sentencing.” Please pray for Jessica Arong O’Brien and her beloved family. She is a member of our Filipino Family. We’ll pray for you, Jessica. We love you, nonetheless.

PIWC 2019 EXECUTIVE CHAIR EDWIN PINEDA is ‘FLYING HIGH’ with support from the Fil-Am Community! Last January 6, Philippine Independence Week Committee, executive Chair Pineda held his meeting focused on the PIWC 2019 “Kick Off” dinner ball on Saturday, Jan. 12, at the Holiday Inn in Skokie, IL. He was candid and straight to the point focusing on the issue at hand. Most impressive are the cooperation given to him by several members of our community as shown by the various donors to supplement the expenses of the celebration. The PIWC 2019 Beauties were presented as follows: Nelia Ladlad, “MRS. PIWC 2019”, Veronica Fertig, “MRS. PHILIPPINES 2019”, Cheenee Miranda, “MISS PHILIPPINES 2019”, Abigail Vergara, “MRS. ILLINOIS 2019”, Eva Marie Combe, “MRS. CHICAGO 2019”, Abigail Turija, ‘MISS PIWC 2019; Juliana Vargas, “MISS TEEN PHILIPPINES 2019”; Camille Ortega, “MISS ILLINOIS 2019 ”; ChaCha Miranda, “LITTLE MISS PHILIPPINES 2019” and Chloe Belle Olaer Lachica, ‘LITTLE MISS PIWC 2019”. Dancing all night! Bring your Sweetie…

FUNNY, if not SHEER IGNORANCE, to see some Filipinos dislike “Prayers”. BEFORE the PIWC meeting formally started last Saturday to discuss its final preparation for the Kick-Off on Saturday, January 12, at the Holiday Inn, in Skokie, Illinois, PIWC executive chair EDWIN PINEDA asked me to lead the opening prayer. I felt blessed to be asked. When I stood up to follow God’s calling, one of the women snapped: “MAKE IT SHORT.” My blood curled. It was very insulting. To God. If PRAYING is not about SERVING AND IMPLORING THE MERCY OF GOD, I would love to SNAP BACK at her. Does she have a problem with God? Her ungodly remark smeared my otherwise gentle appeal to Him. My prayer was not spontaneous in view of the devilish command, “Make it Short.” My God! Lucky her, I am no longer in my Spring Chicken Age!!! Later, I asked a respectable Godly friend: Why do some people DO NOT LIKE to Listen to Prayers? “Because they were not raised in a Christian Home which follows the Christian teachings; they have no time to give thanks to God; they don’t understand what is Sunday School or Bible Study is all about, and perhaps, have not opened the Holy Bible all their lives.” “Father, forgive them for THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO! Amen.

To conclude my NOTEBOOK, let me share with you the story about “A MIGHTY TREE”: A CHRISTIAN MAN was walking to church one night when he encountered Four Boys loitering on the street corner. He invited them to go to the service (Protestant term for “mass” in Roman Catholic) with him. They did, and each of the Four Boys also agreed to return to church with him the next Sunday. They became the nucleus of a Sunday School class the man began to teach. They learned and loved to Pray longer.

Years later, a group of the man’s friends decided to contact the Four Boys to see what had happened in their lives and to invite them to write a special birthday letter to their teacher to be read at a surprise party. Their letters revealed that one of them had become a Missionary to China, one was the President of the Federal Reserve Bank, one was the Private Secretary to President Herbert Hoover, and the fourth was President Hoover himself.

If you were here to hold a handful of pine nuts in your hand today, you could not begin to predict which of the seeds might actually sprout and produce a giant tree. It is amazing that such a large tree might grow from such a small seed. The only way to tell which nuts have trees inside them is to plant them! When you plant acts of kindness and generosity to others, you never know what mighty tree may grow from that small seed. (Reference: God’s Little Lessons)

Prayer is our heartfelt act of reaching out to God: to give Thanks for His unconditional Love, to ask for His guidance and forgiveness. To let Him know we depend upon Him because He is our God Almighty. HE LISTENS. Don’t listen to those who may brand you a “fanatic”. God bless our ViaTimes Readers. HAPPY ST. VALENTINE’s DAY! (ESN)


“MISS UNIVERSE 2018” CATRIONA GRAY, bested 92 other Beauties from all over the world last December 17, held in Bangkok, Thailand. B orn in Cairns, Australia, to Ian Gray, and Normita Ragas Magnayon, from Oas , Albay , Philippines, she is the fourth Filipina to win as “Miss Universe” since it started in 1952. (CNN Philippines photo)

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Two of the many human interest photos of Village folks in Dumaguete City who enjoyed our ANNUAL FAMILIES’ –VILLANUEVA, SY-NIEBAR, MOLINA, OLACO– ” PAKAON SA PASKO” (CHRISTMAS LUNCH) last December 25, 2018, in Zamboanguita, Dumaguete City, serving over 500 folks from the surrounding barrios. The “Body Builder Guy” (just kidding) at center is my nephew-in-law, Joepel Olaco who runs the serving like a Pro. Let’s give Thanks to Him. I AM VERY PROUD OF YOU ALL — for SHARING OUR SMALL BLESSINGS. (Tita Elsie from Chicago).


Condolences to the Family of the late REMEGIO DE LOS REYES, 76, who was born on New Year’s Eve and passed away last Christmas Eve 2018. He was one of the 10 siblings of Dr. Remy R. Escalona. Next photo is his family with his widow, Flordeliza de los Reyes, taken at the funeral home last Dec. 26, 2018.


The family of the late REMIGIO DE LOS REYES (his widow and children) taken at the funeral home last December 6, 2018: From left (all surnamed De Los Reyes) are : Ralph, Marichu, FLORDELIZA REYES, his beloved wife and widow; Melissa de los Reyes Dizon, Reggie and Melba de los Reyes. Our condolences from Via Times. (Photo be Dr. Manny Escalona).

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