Cezar Obnial
and Fred Bertulfo

Santa Clarita Valley International Program

Interview by Leon Worden
Signal Senior Editor

Sunday, September 3, 2006
(Television interview conducted August 28, 2006)

    "Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal Senior Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
    This week's newsmakers are Cezar Obnial and Fred Bertulfo of the Santa Clarita Valley International Program, which incorporates Santa Clarita's Sister Cities Program. Questions are paraphrased and answers may be abbreviated for length.

Signal: What are Santa Clarita's sister cities?

Bertulfo: For now, we have two sister cities, one in Ecuador, that's Tena, and one in the Philippines, Sariaya.

Signal: What does it mean to be a sister city?

Cezar Obnial
Cezar Obnial
Obnial: It helps develop the relationship between two sister cities in economics, in education, in medical and everything that might be involved; public-serving, as volunteers, the people of this community.

Signal: What has the Santa Clarita Valley been doing lately for its sister cities?

Bertulfo: When we started the sister city in Sariaya way back in 2002, we already did some donations of sports equipment; we promoted arts and culture, and two months ago, we had a medical mission (to) Sariaya.

Obnial: I was there. The medical mission involves nonsurgical and surgical treatments to the people. We were there for the whole week of June 19-24. We visited five different and distinct barrios, which they call towns, in the province of Sariaya, where they are doing some surgical treatment in the nearby hospital from the town of Sariaya.
    We did very well there. We were treating nonsurgical (patients), giving them medicines, initial treatments, for almost 500 people every day. So we (wound) up having almost 2,500 people being given aid and treatment. And then accordingly, to the treatment for the surgical, we had the cleft palate treatment. We did about 30 people of those people being treated properly, and then another 36 (with) cataract conditions.

Signal: Do you bring doctors over from the U.S.?

Obnial: Right. In fact, we were helped by some of the local doctors from L.A. and mostly from medical doctors from Memphis, Tenn., (who) helped us do the surgical (procedures). And then the local ones in the province of Sariaya helped us do the non-medical treatment of the barrio.

Signal: Where exactly is Sariaya?

Obnial: I am from there ... Sariaya is actually located on the island of Luzon, which is ... south of (the capital city of) Manila, about 112 kilometers away.

Signal: Is it on the coast?

Obnial: There are lots of islands around the Philippines (and) most of the provinces are on the coast. ... We have practically 2,300 islands in the Philippines, where maybe about 70 are inhabited, and then we have several islands scattered around—

Bertulfo: It's considered like more than 7,000 islands.

Signal: What's your hometown, Fred?

Bertulfo: I am from the middle part of the Philippines, Cebu City.

Signal: What can a place like Sariaya do for the Santa Clarita Valley?

Fred Bertulfo
Fred Bertulfo
Bertulfo: We're trying to connect cultural exchanges. For example, (as) we did last year, we are trying to promote arts and culture from different schools.

Obnial: High schools and elementary schools.

Bertulfo: Encourage them to bring the arts here. We displayed that at the City Hall (last year). ... Next month, we are bringing the Bayanihan. That's the biggest event. Bayanihan is the No. 1 dance company in the Philippines. It was founded by Dr. Helena Benitez (in 1957). She envisioned that the Philippines, these scattered 7,000 islands with 80 dialects, with different cultures — as you know, the Philippines were at one time invaded by the Arab sultans, the Muslims, and then we were under Spain for 400 years, and finally the Americans, until we became independent — so the founder of the Bayanihan (knew) that we have so many diverse cultures, she thought that by presenting it in music and dance, we could be unified. And at the same time present this to the outside world, so (people will) have an understanding of what the Philippines is.
    Bayanihan is from a Tagalog word (meaning) "unity," "working together." So we thought that bringing Bayanihan to Santa Clarita would present diversity, since Santa Clarita is a diverse city also. We wanted to showcase the Philippines as a diverse country. We'll have a folk dance that people will be proud of, to present to Santa Clarita.

Signal: Just how big is the Santa Clarita Valley's Filipino population?

Bertulfo: Well, we have about 360 families listed in our Fil-Am Association, and accordingly, we have about 2,000 to 3,000 Filipinos in the valley right now. It's still growing.

Signal: How Filipino-friendly is the Santa Clarita Valley?

Bertulfo: I would say that Santa Clarita sort of magnifies the Philippine idealism. Because No. 1, the Filipinos are more conservative. Second, the Filipinos would like to live in a safe place, a safe community. So Santa Clarita draws out the Filipino people.

Signal: Tell us about the Fil-Am Association.

Obnial: We're both past presidents of the Fil-Am Association. I was here in 1981 and Fred was here about 1978. We established the Fil-Am Association of the Santa Clarita Valley in 1983. This would be our 24th year in existence, so that's why we have counted so many Filipino names in the valley — from different regions of the Philippines. It's not just one spot of the Philippines. It's all over, from the north to the south side of the Philippines.

Signal: Are there Muslim Filipinos in our valley, if the organization includes people from the southern islands?

Bertulfo: I would say not very (many), but there are a few. But again, if you consider Muslim Philippines already in the south side of the Philippines. It was actually a Muslim territory before. Except that now they're saying that there's a little bit of a red alert on the south of the Philippines, which may be true. But then, if you look at the 7,000 islands, you're only looking at very few islands.

Signal: Basically everywhere else is Catholic.

Bertulfo: Right. We were (particularly) influenced by the Spaniards in the times of 400 years ago. We are almost 80 to 90 percent Catholics in the Philippines.

Signal: Let's get back to the medical mission to Sariaya. You are planning to build a medical facility there?

Obnial: Yes. ... The town of Sariaya had (about a) 120,000 population. It's a very similar (experience) to the town of Santa Clarita before, when it was only 100,000 (population), and it just grew up. Sariaya is a little bit smaller in terms of economic growth, because it's pretty much agricultural. There is no industrial, nothing of that nature, and they don't allow any businesses being built in the town. So it's very (much a) heritage town, which is an old town. We are so proud to say that there are some old houses which are being preserved in the town of Sariaya.

Signal: There aren't many buildings in Manila that predate 1945, but you've got some in Sariaya?

Obnial: They still exist. And there are some (medical) practitioners who are doing private treatments in the town, but our general hospital is located about 12 kilometers away from Sariaya, so we intend to (build) a medical center, a facility for (emergency) treatment for these people before they (can be) brought to a bigger hospital for treatment.

Signal: Apparently you were involved in the architectural plans for this medical center?

Obnial: I happen to be a local architect here in California. I'm a licensed architect. So I tried to help by doing the building and redoing the plans. I have a local architect counterpart in Sariaya who is preparing the plans, with which I do a little bit of coordination. Sooner or later, we were talking about 2008, hopefully we'll have the facility built.

Signal: Fred, as treasurer of the SCV International Program, tell us how much it's going to cost and how you plan to raise the money.

Bertulfo: The plan and the building itself, the first phase, will cost $50,000.

Signal: That's it?

Bertulfo: That's it. Now, it's a long way for us to generate that much money, because the performance alone that we're having on Sept. 29, the Bayanihan performance, I conservatively guess that the amount that we can get is about $10,000. But we (could) go up to $15,000, though, because of the sponsors.

Signal: It's a fundraiser at the College of the Canyons Performing Arts Center.

Bertulfo: Correct. Sept. 29, that's a Friday, at 8 o'clock in the evening. ... You can go to the (performing arts center) Web site (, or you can call the box office for tickets or for information.
    But even if (we) only generate that much money, $10,000 or even $15,000, it will jump-start the construction. As always, everybody's waiting for something to go up. So we'd be starting with maybe $15,000, then we can generate more money and more fundraising so that by the target date of 2008, we can probably complete the building.

Signal: It's really that much cheaper to build something in the Philippines?

Bertulfo: In the Philippines, yes.

Obnial: If you consider (all of the) poor people in the Philippines, it's really a big project for them to undertake a $50,000 project.

Signal: You mentioned bringing the culture to Santa Clarita; if there are no businesses in Sariaya, we're not talking about importing products here.

Obnial: We do have our own local products, but the only thing is that we don't build anything like manufacturing in the town. They're not being allowed by the people of the town. They don't want the air to be polluted or something like that.

Signal: Sounds familiar.

Obnial: It is. We have preserved that for quite a while, and it's nice. If you go to Sariaya, it's clean and clear and no smog. It's closer to the coast of the South China Sea, in other words. The other side of the Philippines is close to the Pacific Ocean side. We are on the China Sea side. But again, the town of Lucena, which is a really big town, they already have manufacturing, they have business, they have the malls, the big malls you can see, general hospitals. But it's a city like any other kind of city.

Signal: Is there any tourism business in Sariaya? Are you encouraging people to travel there?

Obnial: Sure. Because along the coast, we have about 20 different resorts that they can come to, and it's only about three hours from Manila ... Along the coast of Sariaya, the ocean, we do have about 20 or 21 resorts available for tourists...

Signal: How safe is it to travel to Luzon? You hear about the Abu Sayyaf and others in Mindanao, but are there problems up north?

Obnial: I don't think we consider (it) a problem going to the Philippines because we have so many islands that you can really explore. And it's all beautiful. I just don't understand, how could the noise of 1,000 people be heard among 60 million who are in the Philippines, if I may say so. Even in the city of Manila, which (has) about 6 million people, if something happened on the ground near the palace or the government entities, if there are about 2,000 or 3,000 marching there against 6 million, I don't see it (as something that) could be considered a danger. Nothing of that nature.

Bertulfo: Let me add to that. Generally, the Philippines is a peaceful country. Peaceful and loving people. What happened here, just like any other city, when something turns out bad, the newspapers always exploit it.

Signal: Newspapers? Exploit?

Bertulfo: That's always the case. They print more the bad news than the good news.

Obnial: Also when you see it on the television show, they keep repeating (it).

Signal: OK, other than helping you raise the $50,000 to help you build the medical center, how would people get involved and what do they get out of being a part of the SCV International Program?

Obnial: The International Program is pretty much voluntary; the only consolation you'll get is (knowing) you're being a good-hearted person. I think when you feel like giving something for the benefit of those who are poor, although there are so many poor people around, it gives you a bit of consolation from your own inside, (from) what you give, rather than saying, "What will I gain if I do something?"
    We're not asking for a big — I'm not asking big, grand jewel or something; it's all affordable. But for the poor people in the Philippines, $1 is 50 pesos, and the 50 pesos (represents) people working their hearts (out). Hard to say, but they only earn 500 pesos a day, normally, which is about $10 a day, compared to what we do.

Signal: So $50,000 is a lot of money.

Obnial: (Yes). It does help. So in fact, when I came to America in 1971, I already (felt) like I'm be wealthy in America.

Bertulfo: You're the rich uncle.

Obnial: The rich uncle. Which we're very grateful about this.

Signal: You've probably got family back there who look to you as the rich uncle today.

Obnial: They do, they do. In fact, how could you afford to buy Mercedes-Benz when you cannot do (it) in the Philippines? Can you imagine that? But again, a small amount really will count. A dollar or two will do.

Signal: What do you do for a living, Fred?

Bertulfo: I'm a certified public accountant here in California.

Signal: So that's why you're the treasurer.

Bertulfo: I'm the money man. And I (tell them I) have a term limit. About the $50,000 medical building, we probably could raise $15,000 as a start, but that's a jump start and people will look at it.
    Although the money is coming mostly from the U.S., there will be a local counterpart too. The Rotary will be involved, and even people (in Sariaya) will be involved in the construction.

Signal: So you'll be employing people in the town.

Bertulfo: Correct. Plus, they will probably also donate, knowing that this is for their own good. So there should be an effect where in jump-starting it, it will (take off).

Signal: We've heard in the past about the medical missions to Tena, Ecuador, and now you're doing the same thing in the Philippines; are you looking at adding more sister cities?

Bertulfo: Well, (in) the Sister Cities program, we are only allowed one sister city in a country. Santa Clarita will have only one sister city in the Philippines, which is Sariaya. Now, the board is looking into China, is looking into India, and also (into) Armenia. So we are trying to expand and reach out to other countries, but doing it slowly.

Signal: Are medical services the big thing we have that we can provide and everybody needs?

Obnial: Right now it is, very much. We are very much in need of medical assistance in the Philippines.

Bertulfo: In Ecuador, too, we are having a literacy program, wherein we provide or buy books for the barrios in Tena. That's part of the program that we're having right now.

Signal: What do you want the community to know?

Obnial: First of all, I want them to understand what is the Philippines. That's first thing. Sariaya is just very small part of the Philippines. But again, being related to Filipinos is much more important for us internationally rather than just the small town of Sariaya.
    All the Filipinos around should be welcomed to our city of Santa Clarita right now, which is very good to me. It's a very, very safe city, so I'm encouraging most of the Filipinos to come over to Santa Clarita. I hope that we don't invade the city of Santa Clarita.

Bertulfo: The Sister City program of Santa Clarita, for what we have now in Tena and Sariaya, what we're doing for the community to be involved, is we want them to volunteer their services. We have so many areas that we are planning; for example, we need different committees for arts and culture. We need committees for sports.

Obnial: And youth. Particularly.

Bertulfo: And youth. Correct. And of course the medical mission, literacy program. Now the members of the board ... need more people to be part of the Sister City program so that we can effectively expand and reach out to other countries, not only to the two sister cities that we are helping out.

Signal: It's open to everybody?

Obnial: It is.

Signal: Where do you meet?

Bertulfo: At City Hall. Our schedule is every second Thursday of the month at 3:30 in the afternoon.

Obnial: You are welcome to look at our schedule of meetings, and we welcome everybody to participate.

Signal: The next big event is Sept. 29—

Bertulfo: That's the one at (COC). ... We'd like to ask the community to take a look at the Bayanihan, which is internationally known. Once you see it, you would love to see it again.

    See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.

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