She pursued her ambition at the University of the Philippines, where she studied mass communications, explored advertising and experimented with theater.
Several decades after earning a degree at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, Santos Yap is among Filipinas who have cracked the glass ceiling in the U.S. corporate world, as senior manager of a multinational software firm. But she is better known in the Filipino American community for other achievements.
"Little did I know I would become a domestic violence prevention educator," Santos Yap said in between meetings at Genesys, her employer since 2008.
Santos Yap is one of 21 women and men dedicated to combating dating, domestic and family violence through education. Named ALLICE, Alliance for Community Empowerment, members call themselves Kumares and Kumpares. Santos Yap is its founding president.
This year the all-volunteer nonprofit is celebrating its tenth year of promoting healthy and safe relationships and environments. Twice a year it stages events, free and open to the public with the help of allies in small businesses, faith-based groups and the community in general. To date, it has mounted some 15 presentations featuring the testimony of a survivor of abuse. The Pledge to help End Domestic Violence that its members framed as foundation for the organization culminates each event. Over 1,000 people around the San Francisco Bay Area have attended ALLICE trainings.
''Nothing gives me more satisfaction than to hear someone say thanks for assuring her that there is help from many individuals and groups that care," said Yap, who is a proud mother to a daughter in college and a son who is starting a career in her footsteps—in marketing. They, like their father Voltaire, a marketing director with Oracle, complete the family army of accidental advocates.
Ten years ago, Santos Yap responded to my inquiry: Would she please join me and a few other people I thought shared my desire to raise awareness of domestic violence among Filipino Americans?
She acknowledged that her and her husband's work had pulled them away from the Filipino community. She was not sure she would be a good fit. I told her she simply had to be herself: open; honest; selfless; a good listener; a team player.
I assuaged her misgivings, the way she assured me when I faltered as lector at our parish church, where she was coordinator of the Ministry of the Word. “Give it a go,” I said.
We bonded in our common wish to use our skills for the ''greater good.'' So did ABS-CBN Global executive Nerissa Fernandez, Berkeley public safety dispatcher Yumi Querubin, lawyer Jojo Liangco and community activist Teresa Guingona Ferrer.
Our founding team conducted Filipino American outreach for CORA, the domestic violence agency that hired me in 2002 during my sabbatical from journalism.
We represented diverse fields. Though I had several hundred hours of training over my state-mandated 40 hours, our passion exceeded our limitation to work with survivors of domestic violence. Undaunted, our fledgling group forged ahead and told anyone who would listen about the rampant reality of domestic violence among Filipinos that went unreported because of shame, self-blame and denial. Then we referred clients to agencies that provided direct service but had no visibility in the Fil-Am community.
Every nine seconds in the United States, a woman is abused in psychological, financial, sexual, emotional and physical ways, according to the Department of Justice. I was unaware about the dynamics of abuse until I had become a full-time DV educator-counselor. I found myself ''unlearning'' the common responses to disclosures of relationship conflict: What did you do? How could you allow him to do that to you? You made your bed, go fix it. It takes two to tango.
Those words shut the door to anyone seeking help.
We did not know how our group would fare until the Filipina Women's Network chose CORA in 2004 as recipient of a grant from proceeds from its first “The Vagina Monologues,” which Santos Yap was directing. FWN also named me among its first Vagina Warriors for my work in domestic violence prevention.
Yes, I was paid to facilitate trainings to open minds about the facts about domestic abuse and I used every opportunity to invite others to rethink traditional concepts, dump judgment, empathize, help. One troubled relationship affects those around them: Think of the shooting of a woman in front of her church and the effects of that moment in the psyche of those who saw the incident. Consider the man who forced his ex into his car with their two children, doused them all with gasoline and torched the vehicle. Imagine if you were driving on the same freeway in rush hour and the car exploded with your bumper right behind it?
That's our mission as Kumares and Kumpares: To share our resources to change views, attitudes and behaviors and raise understanding of abuse through presentations-resource fairs every spring and fall, totally free and open to the public.
In the summer of 2009, CORA laid me off with five other employees. I encouraged the Kumares and Kumpares to soldier on. They said they would, if I would guide them as an independent group. How could I decline? That's when we became ALLICE.
To see Clara, Julia Tempongko and Janine Bersabe (whose mother Claire Joyce was killed by an ex-boyfriend), Giovannie Espiritu, Nenette Flores -Vencio, Marlene Caballero, Perla de Jesus, Vangie Buell and others trust us and tell their stories of fear and despair, healing and transformation at our presentations, is priceless.
Bettina Santos Yap gives her gift of marketing and organizing. Event planner Sarah Jane Ilumin helps design collateral. SFPD Lt. Randy Caturay, PAUW leader Erlinda Galeon, S.F. Archdiocese Council vice chair Nellie Hizon and accountant Susan Roxas built our partnerships with their organizations.
Lawyers Robert Uy and Maria Segarra and law student Karina Layugan bring legal perspective. Parenting educator Kristine Zafrani Averilla and massage therapist Edna Murray do presentations. Nurses Malou Aclan and Jeannette Trajano and nurse practitioner Elsa Agasid connect us with resource providers. St. Isabella Church pastor Fr. Mark Reburiano links us with the faith-based community.
Union Bank wealth manager Jose Antonio gave us our first corporate sponsorship. Colma Mayor Joanne del Rosario joined up as survivor-speaker and became our rainmaker-in-chief.
Everyone who wishes to help can make a difference no matter their expertise, or none. To have on board psychologist Dr. Jei Africa and marriage and family therapists Paulita Lasola Malay and Jennifer Jimenez Wong almost gilds the lily, we're proud to say. With clinicians among us, we can start dreaming of providing direct service like crisis counseling, support groups, maybe even a shelter.
Helping knows no bounds. We bounce our ideas off Alice Bulos, 84, who inspires us with her energy and spirit: That's why we named ourselves after her.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the United States. ALLICE celebrated its 10th anniversary with a gala reception for its survivor speakers, sponsors, allies, and resource providers Oct. 1 in Colma Community Center. For more information visit www.allicekumares.com.
Cherie M. Querol Moreno is a Commissioner with the San Mateo County on Aging, executive director of ALLICE Kumares & Kumpares and executive editor of Philippine News.