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 War 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 find help from the embassy is also second to impossibility, the fact that our presence in Iraq is actually illegitimate due to existing travel ban to Iraq for Pinoy workers. And of course, the fact that we know how our embassy usually address to OFWs problems, most of the times. No one will never know how it feels to be inside the military camp where war is on-going until you have experienced one.
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 and will never fail, as long as the objective is for common good and not to suppress the standard righteousness. (Well somtimes, even for unacceptable cause.)
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 principles. We must bridge these divisions to achieve unity.
Although, all kinds of comforts are available to everyone courtesy of the US Military, the way Filipinos were treated was not so acceptable. Not by few Americans but by some Filipinos also who were assigned to juicy position or we say “has the power to decide for your plight”. And since we believe that the power of Filipino skills and talents may cause defeat in everyday operations of the camp as far as civil augmentation is concerned, we seated aroun and discussed ideas, even argued, to come up with something that would give us relief to our conditions that time. The idea was just to let them feel and see the importance of Filipinos as part of civil augmentation program.
I can be so proud to say that among other Third Country Nationalities in our camp, we are more superiors than the rest in all aspects of course. And no one could just ignore that, that why we should be treated the way we deserved. Our act was not design to fight against and to bully our employers and other bosses, but only to effect change the manner how they handle the Filipinos.
From that gathering, we discussed problems, failures, possible solution and rewards that await everyone for pursuing it and the very first reward was the feelings we felt that night. 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 had 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.
In connecting one another, 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 to 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 being treated as the most privileged mammal of that day while everyone is busy to prepare for the party. We also started contribution to generate monetary assistance, community activity, sharing knowledge especially how everyone could have full internet access, where later on KBR IT guys really found hard time to block it. 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 every moment everyday, free of charge. Cellphone use is strictly prohibited also for us Foreign Nationals (FN) under US Military GO-1. That's understandable since Al Qaeda might trace our exact location through out signal and wala! Free delivery missiles will hit the cellphone user.
The first successful event of Astig Pinoy and we considered the official launching was December 11, 2006 during Astig 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 morale of 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 Susan Vasquez when it comes to our funds 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 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 always caution those who do things that will jeopardize the image of the group.
We even tried hard to convince the Filipino Governement 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 military 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 interact. I was amazed to hear news that we excel in sports while others we given big job opportunities in other countries because of the 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. Most recently, Astig Pinoy was invited to participate and represent Filipinos in Asia Pacific Heritage organized by the US Army, and aslo we have successfully celebrated the 110th Independence Day with all support by other Pinoys in different company inside Camp Taji.
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 Jhimbo Handayan, Astig Gus Atender and others, we can see from the outside of Iraq, Astig Pinoy will remain standing from the ruins of Cam Taji.
I am proud. . . I am Astig Pinoy!