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Saturday, November 20, 2004

Faye San Juan

Church group apologizes, says whiz kid story not true

Updated 01:26am (Mla time) Nov 13, 2004
By Blanche Rivera, Volt Contreras
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A1 of the November 13, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

FAYE'S brief fling with fame ended yesterday. And it ended with an apology no less from her church, which said her story of victory in Brisbane was not true.

Even earlier, the Department of Science and Technology also shot down her claim when the Inquirer began probing Faye's seemingly moving story.

Only 12 and a Grade 6 pupil from Quezon City, Faye Nicole San Juan, her mother Cathy and their church, the Bread of Life Ministries (BOLM), had told local media -- including the Inquirer -- that she had won first place in a competition in Brisbane, Australia, in September dubbed the International Science Quiz Net.

Bread of Life said in a letter to the Inquirer yesterday that it had conducted an investigation into the matter and would issue a public apology soon.

"We have determined that the story is not true," it said in the letter issued in the name of Rev. Sharon Valencia, Associate Pastor of the BOLM.

<>"Our heart goes out to a child like Faye whose mother is in deep emotional problems, the letter added.

Valencia, in a talk with the Inquirer, said that Faye's mother appeared to be the one who thought up the entire story of her daughter winning the quiz bee.

Faye did not answer calls to her mobile phone yesterday, and her mother was out of the house when the Inquirer tried to reach them for comment.

A certain Menchee, who said she was Faye's aunt, said Cathy was at the Fatima College where she claimed to be studying nursing. She said Faye was still in school.

The DOST said it had tried "to validate the claims" made by Faye and her mother.

"'Unfortunately, the information we have gathered from various sources, including our professional counterpart in Australia, do not support the claims of Faye and her mother," said a faxed statement signed by Ester Ogena, director of the DOST's Science Education Institute (SEI).

Faye a no-show

Ogena said her agency also invited the San Juans through Arnel Salgado, the principal of St. James College, Faye's school in Quezon City, "to present valid proof of the girl's awards."

Faye had also reportedly won a Best in Physics Award in Sydney and landed in the Top 5 in a math contest in Indonesia.

"However, Ms San Juan declined the invitation," Ogena said.

"Although the SEI-DOST would like to give Faye the recognition befitting an outstanding young achiever in science and mathematics, we are constrained by the fact that her story as presented in the media lacks merit in terms of valid proofs and the absence of any indication that the competitions cited truly exist," Ogena added.

DOST never approached

In an interview, Science and Technology Secretary Estrella Alabastro said the San Juans did not give a reason for declining her agency's invitation for an interview, which had been set for last Wednesday.

Alabastro said it was Salgado who relayed the message that the San Juans couldn't come.

"I don't want to draw any inference on that," Alabastro said, when asked what she would make of the San Juans begging off.

She also clarified that the DOST was "never approached at all" by the San Juans for assistance concerning their supposed Australia trip at the time when they claimed they were refused help by government officials here and abroad.

She stressed this point, noting that "we (the DOST) are the ones being maligned" by those who heard Faye's story and thought the DOST was among the agencies that turned down the San Juans' supposed request for support.

Tale of travails

Faye's story has been circulating on the Internet, featured in media reports including a frontpage story in the Inquirer last Tuesday, and backed by the Bread of Life Ministries, a Christian fellowship of which the San Juans are members.

According to the San Juans, Faye bested 56 other students all over the world in the Brisbane tilt. On the way to and during competition, though, mother and daughter -- by their own accounts -- met a series of mishaps before reaping success.

They said they were robbed of a piece of luggage at the hotel in Australia, the supposed suspect being a fellow Filipino who purportedly befriended them on the plane and offered them help in finding cheap lodgings.

This forced them to pawn a newly bought pair of shoes and old winter clothes just to have cash for food and hotel, they had said.

Validating Faye's claim

Lacking money for transport, their story went on, they walked for 2 kilometers to the contest venue. But they still won -- they said -- the "Most Creative Booth" award, a side event to the science contest, using as decor the Filipiniana costume they had brought along.

Ogena said that the DOST had a "validation procedure" in place "to verify awards received by individuals for competitions which are not coordinated by the (Science Education) Institute."

The department had been alerted to Faye's story and did the countercheck "in line with the agency's mandate to support, nurture, and recognize talents in science, mathematics and technology," Ogena said.

"We had no information about the contest," Alabastro said. "Even the Australian Embassy had no information. We really do validation so we can give appropriate recognition (to the child achievers); we even bring them to Malaca‚Äďang."

No records at airport, DFA

An immigration officer at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport said that the names Cathy and Faye Nicole San Juan did not appear in their computer departure records last Sept. 17.

He said that unless they used different names in their passports and tickets, the San Juans could not have left the country on that date.

The names of the San Juans also did not appear in their departure records from September to November, the officer said.

Officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs also said Faye and her mother had not applied for passports.

"We have not received an application for passport with those names. Our data don't show it," foreign affairs spokesperson Gilberto Asuque said, referring to their computer database.

The Philippine and Japanese embassies in Sydney, Australia, have also no record that the San Juans ever sought assistance from them during their "difficult moments," officials said.

"The consulate in Sydney is always ready to extend assistance provided they call, either to the police or the Filipino community. We have not received any call. How can we extend assistance to them?" Asuque said.

"There was no call. If the police requested assistance, we were ready ... We will extend assistance provided we were made aware of it," he added.

No such case

Cathy had lamented that she and her daughter had sought help from Filipino officials in Australia, but they were too busy to help.

The staff of the Australian Embassy in Manila declined to say if they had issued visas to the San Juans, saying visa applications were "private information."

"We have no such case," Shuhei Ogawa, spokesperson and second secretary of the Japanese Embassy in Manila, said when asked if the Japanese foreign ministry had any record of the San Juans seeking assistance at either the Japanese Embassy in Sydney or consulate in Brisbane.

He said that if the San Juans had indeed called the Japanese Embassy in Sydney for assistance, they would have been referred just the same to the Philippine Embassy there.

Faye had claimed that after she won the contest, she skipped the awarding ceremony because she and her mother had to call the Japanese Embassy for assistance.

The BOLM's letter of apology will be read in all services of all Bread of Life outreaches in the country. The church has more than 20 outreaches in Luzon alone.

With reports from Margaux C. Ortiz and TJ Burgonio


This is how the story circulated:


"He who can take no interest in what is small will take false interest in what is great." John Ruskin

Jasmine Trias visited the Philippinesvery recently. Everyone was agog waiting to welcome her. The excitement was remarkable as the media and many of our "kababayans" flocked to the airport to see her. This scenario is typical of Filipinos. Sadly, it reflects our country's misplaced priorities. Contest of the Mind. Another young girl came back to the country just a couple of weeks ago. Her name is Faye (not her real name for very sensitive reasons). Unknown to her countrymen, this eleven year old girl brought honor to the Philippines. She represented the country in the Intercontinental Science Quiz Net in Australia. Out of 57 countries represented, Faye garnered First Place for the Philippines. Germany came in second while the United States came in third. In start contrast to the hooplah extended to Jasmine Trias, Faye's arrival did not make any noise. Not a peep.

In an earlier competition, "Mathematics for the Young Asians" in Indonesia, Faye also came out in the Top Five. But just like the Australian event, this feat did not receive any recognition in our country at all.

Our interests seem to be set on other "priorities." We are more interested in promoting celebrity guests instead of educational and intellectual pursuits. Indirectly and quite obviously we are teaching our children that development of the external image takes priority over educational achievement. Faye's story is inspiring. She comes from a broken family. Her father falsely claimed that he was unmarried when he married her mom. When her mom found out, she decided to raise up her daughter
alone.

Despite the difficulty, Faye in no way used it as an excuse for complacency in her studies. In grade school, she was a consistent honor student. She took every academic requirement as a challenge. And she delivered. At one time, she submitted a project thesis in Australia that won "The Best Physics and Science Award". The award qualified the Philippines to be one of the top 10 countries that would compete in Australia,
among the 57 countries that joined.

Considering her family's financial constraints, she and her mom asked help from our government for their trip to Australia to claim the "Best Physics" award and to join the Science competition. They saw this challenge as a rare opportunity offered to Faye and her country, considering that only two Asian countries qualified - Japan and the Philippines. Unfortunately, our government had other priorities. Mother and daughter then tried to ask help from individual senators and congressmen. All turned them down except for one who was willing to help, on condition that Faye should give public credit to the senator for supporting her even in the earlier competitions she joined. Out of integrity, the mother could not accede to this arrangement. Thus no outside help was found. Faced with this situation, Faye and her mom took out all their savings and went out of their way to secure by themselves the additional finances needed. The only driving force behind them was their desire to give honor to God and to the Philippines. With the little resources they had, they went to
Australia on September 17, 2004 for the competition. They claimed the trophy and cash award for the "Best Physics" thesis Faye submitted in Sidney and then flew to Brisbane for the quiz competition.

No kababayan welcomed them in Australia except for a kind Filipina they met in the plane who assisted them. As they were checking in at a hotel, the "kind" Filipina who volunteered to help them disappeared taking with her Faye's and her mother's bags, passports, and plane tickets. At that point, they literally had nothing left except for the few pieces of clothes and their faith in God. They had to sell the extra clothes left to be able to buy food. In need once again, they sought help from some of the Filipino officials in Australia but to no avail. Oddly, the Filipino officials there were too busy with other priorities, not minding to help a young girl and a mother who had no other desire but to bring honor to our country. Given a budget for only a one night stay at the hotel, mother and daughter had to check out the following day. Leaving their luggage on deposit and without money for transportation fare, they
decided to walk two kilometers to the competition venue on their native Filipino
costumes.If walking a two kilometer distance was bad enough, how much more would be walking the distance on their native costume along the highways of Australia!

Upon arrival at the competition site, Faye and her mom were very surprised when they discovered that the delegates from each of the other countries were well supported by a band, a cheering squad, and a flag, while Faye only had her mother and the anxiety of lost passports and plane tickets. Worse, representatives of each country were
required to decorate their booths.With only the three-piece costume they had on, Faye and her mom were even more surprised when the organizing committee awarded their booth as "The Most Creative" booth.

In the early part of the competition, Japan, Brazil, and Spain were eliminated. As the only Asian country left to compete against six Western nations, the Philippines was cheered on by Japan. Faye was encouraged by her Japanese cheering squad, but in her heart, how she wished that she had her own countrymen to cheer her on. When Faye finally won first place and Philippines national anthem was being played, she prayed silently thanking God for making her a Filipina. Despite all the painful experiences she had with her country, her priorities did not waver. A Japanes diplomat was the one who helped Faye and her mom to secure temporary pass so they could return to the
Philippines. The money they won was just enough for their fare back home and their temporary passport. When Faye was relating this story before a crowd, she said, "Let us love our nation, for nobody else will." Faye did not allow her painful experiences to tear down her loyalty to her country. She is not a celebrity but a servant out to serve her fellow Filipino.

A Small Way to Greatness.Our concept of leadership in this country is pitifully skewed. We mistakenly think that leadership is about "lording" it over other people. Christ corrected this distorted thinking when he said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you, instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all -Mark 10:42-44

Sadly, we are far from the precept of this truth. It is no surprise then that we have a dearth of real leaders in this country-leaders who would set the nation's interests above their own. In the same way, our concept of citizenship is damaged. Those seeking for social good for themselves are never willing to grant the same good to others. Hence it is common for us hear stories of Filipinos who take advantage oftheir fellow citizens. We want to be served, but we are unwilling to serve.We dream of becoming like Jasmine Trias. We want our children to be like her. We would rather spend on things that would make us look good instead of things that would make us grow in character. We prefer stardom glitter over service-oriented endeavors. Quite the contrary, Faye spend sleepless nights studying to win the competition because she knows her priorities. Unlike Jasmine Trias, Faye did not receive a hero's welcome when she came back, but, young as she is, she keeps calling on Filipinos to love thePhilippines because every Filipino is a valuable gift of God. Life, really is not a matter of intelligence but a matter of setting our priorities right. The question is, what's our focus on "grand" things that make us superficial or on simple things that lead us to greatness? Faye's story reminds us all to look within ourselves. This eleven year old girl could have complained to the media, but she did not. She went out
of her own small way to bring greatness to this land. Right priorities grant us wisdom. When properly set, priorities point us to the right people we need to invest in, the right use of our energy, the right resources to draw from, and the rightendeavors support. From the words of Faye's mother, " We all wanted to win, but success is not measured through by merely winning. It is measured through our hearts,if it is truly attuned with God all the time. It is all that really matters for we have only an Audience of One. Whatever we have achieved, big or small, remember one thing: it is for God and God alone. The King of the Kingdom of a higher world.

I received this email on October 28, 2004. I did not pass it on. I know there is something fishy. In the first place, why would she omit her real name? Although I was awed that she won first place in Australia and fifth in Indonesia. Her location was not even mentioned, despite the fact that we are a populous country and where would we find her? And why would the government turn her down? Even those who are well-to-do are supported by the government, and they do it not for fame. About the congressman who was willing to support her, the name should have been mentioned because it will bring shame to him. Walking two kilometers is fine too. A booth? Well, they should have been informed that there was a booth design contest. And their costumes alon would never win a Most Creative Booth award. Never. And no I don't think that she thanked God that she was a Filipina when she won. I am more into whining and full of pride, like "why they did not help me? I'll show them who am I." It also said that the money they won was just enough for the trip back home. Huh? Other citizens of the world helped her and her fellowmen did not? She must be crazy! If this is a world-wide competition, it could never be finished in one day.

Take a look at what Patricia Evangelista has to say.



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