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Huwebes, Oktubre 16, 2008

AstigPinoy Iraq History


Astig Pinoy was conceptualized based on the on common goal of “be heard and be recognized” in midst of collective issues arising from discomfort working in the middle of on-going Iraq in 2006.

Everyone then was seeking solutions to a simple problem of how one could express his grievances without putting himself in a difficult position afterwards. Help is too far and out of hand; internet communication to sought help from the embassy is second to impossibility, the fact that our presence in Iraq is actually illegitimate due to existing travel ban to Iraq for Pinoys. And of course, the fact that we know how our embassy usually address to OFWs problems.

I still believe in the power of unity, camaraderie and integrity as I learned during my cadetship in the Philippines. Unity for positive cause can never fail, as long as the objective is for common good and not to suppress the standard righteousness.

From the first day of my life in Camp Taji, I have heard stories of failed dreams and expectations, from the first boom sound of my first-ever experience of incoming mortar attacks from Iraqi rebels, I heard hearts of good pinoys who want to do something different that no MWR (Moral, Welfare & Recreations) could give. Pinoys in Camp Taji were so divided by regionalism, fraternity affiliation, dialects, faith and personal principle. We must bridge these divisions.

Although, all kinds of comforts are available to everyone courtesy of the US Military, the way Filipinos were treated was not so acceptable, sometimes even by fellow Filipinos who were assigned to juicy position or we say “has the power to decide your plight”. And since we believe that the power of Filipino skills and talents may cause defeat in everyday US operations as far as civil augmentation is concerned, we seated and exchanged ideas, even argued to make something that would answer issues that could give relief to our conditions that time.

BE HEARD is the common goal. Almost year ago, a simple protest on the Prime Project International (PPI) camp was took place to address the same problem on the issues of living conditions. Almost a success, but failed later on due to luck of solidarity during actual actions. This incident is our main basis of “lesson learned” system in conceptualizing an all-pinoys group.

Sometimes, in October 2006, if I am not mistaken, Astro, Jong, fellow Philippine Guardian brother Bro Mike, Marlon, and Vanny were enjoying $50 vodka from Pareng “Source” Danny, R.I.P. (Rest in the Philippines). There is a strict policy from the General Order Number 1 that drinking intoxicating beverages is prohibited by the US Military. Since Pinoys are really risk-takers by-nature, we violated that. In the police and military parlance way back in my heyday in police service we called it “take life”, since what were doing may cause our “lives”. Well, actually everyone does in PPI Camp.

From that gathering, we discussed problems, failures, possible solution and rewards that await everyone. The very first reward was the feelings we felt that everyone who shared for that bottle of vodka was already a brother by-heart. Grouping of people to achieve certain goal is actually the best subject that I got from my cadetship, I found no hard time in convincing everyone that from our small group we can have a big, fun, happy and cooperative group bigger that we imagine, longer than we imagine. I suggested the name Astig Pinoy, no one disagreed.

Why Astig Pinoy? Astig Pinoy is structured by all-Pinoy intellects and most-willing, and we are Astig because of the very nature of danger around us and yet we still manage to stay for our families and for money. Astíg- (as-tig) adjective- tough, firm, compact, solid.

We started targeting the use of email system because most of us were Admin Personnel who use PC in everyday work. The purpose is to invite everyone who was also an admin to join the idea of having a solid pinoy group. The motivation is group bonding, chatting, sharing comedy of life, fun events, and of course unity to BE HEARD when we need to be heard. Luckily, everyone who received the emails agrees, so I suggested creating a distribution list in our email address book under the name Astig Pinoy, but I think only few created their own. This is to avoid a loose email message in Tagalog to non-Pinoy, and non-organic of Astig Pinoy that might prejudice the goal. From there we started a simple morning greetings, and we address everyone as Astig followed by their pseudonym.

We started the so-called birthday sharing because it was really hard to spend money to celebrate one’s birthday. So, we shared money for on Astig’s birthday and let the celebrant to sit and relax as he was treated the most privileged mammal of that day while everyone is busy to prepare the party. We also started contribution to generate monetary assistance, community activity, sharing knowledge especially how everyone could have full internet access, where KBR IT really found hard time to block. But we always remind each and everyone not to be abusive in the use of internet because we could be in the loosing end later on. We must show the KBR that we are responsible internet users since this is the only way we could connect with our family back home at every moment everyday, free of charge. Cellphone use is strictly prohibited also for us Foreign Nationals (FN).

The first successful event of Astig Pinoy and we considered the official launching was December 11, 2006 during Astig na Astro’s Birthday celebration. And from then on, activities that will spread the news about Astig Pinoy has come to existence were started. We were the first all-Filipino group to have courtesy call with Camp Taji Mayor during Philippines Independence Day celebration in 2007 and were given privilege to use KBR swimming pool, as PPI is actually prohibited to use such facility. Now we can feel something is really moving forward from that Cabin 80 meeting. This can be considered remarkable footstep as we are in middle of war where strict military policy rules. Nevertheless as we keep on saying, if we go for common good and stay in the rules, who will go against us? Policy can be bent over sometimes to break the ice.

We always carry the Astig Pinoy for sports, contests and big events and of course for our own goal of being HEARD and be recognized. We defended rights against unfair treatments. We unite to uplift fellow Astig and non-Astig, even against work termination, although we do have some failures also but of course that was normal.

Astig Pinoy also introduces the attitude of group honesty and transparency as we were kept updated by Astig na Susan when it comes to our fund up to the last coin and POG. We have man to man everyone for all possibilities. We are safe to eventualities, since one could warn everyone about his office’s plans to do what could affect an Astig’s welfare. We used our charms and power of brotherhood and friendship to gain hearts of our American bosses. So we could have the best and hardest wall we could lean on, if we tires out. We have Astig na Gus, who shares everything from money to baladiya as we call it Customs Inspections Items. Astig Pinoy taught everyone the correct work attitudes and proper interaction to avoid issues the will compromise other Filipinos and might affect the way other nationalities’ confidence to Pinoy workers. We watch each other backs, although sometimes like ordinary family we have feuds. We used to caution one who sometimes does things that will jeopardize the image of the group.

We even tried hard to convince the Filipino Goverment to lift travel ban to warzone to give opportunities to other Pinoy risk-takers. We believe that there is so much more to get in being a risk-taker rather than staying in the Philippines with all the risks only but without chances. We succeeded for 3 days only, and then died out. DOLE Department Order 86-07 was revoked after 3 days.

Now, Astig Pinoy has bloated to some proportions, US Army specially the Fil-Ams recognized Astig Pinoy. But still the low-profile attitudes remain. It has mutated but still the ideas were carried on, some are gone physically but remain in contact and still interacts. I was amazed to hear news that we excel in sports while others we given big job opportunities in other countries because of skills and work attitudes that guides all Astigs. We have revived our strong faith to God by actively participating in War Zone Christians Fellowship, after all God is the final answer.

Astig Pinoy now as we can see, virtually a group of Pinoy that has heart and each Astig member is its blood. We are still looking forward to seeing the Astig Pinoy lives on after Iraq war. And in the hands of current Astig enthusiasts like Astig na Jhimbo "Bomzz",Astig na Gus,Astig na Marlon and others, we can see from the outside of Iraq Astig Pinoy will remain standing from the ruins of Camp Taji.

Were proud. . . we are Astig Pinoy and we will remain until the end.

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