Richard and Maricar Poon

Published in Hola Magazine Ph, November 2013

There are celebrity couples that are lovely only on-screen, when the lights are on them. Then there are celebrity couples that are lovely in real life, bringing their own light when they walk into a room. Richard and Maricar Poon are the latter. One of the newest showbiz couples have managed to inspire thousands with a love story that reminds people that happily ever after exists – not as a fairy tale, but as a commitment.

Maricar first caught Richard’s eye during her Betty La Fea days as he admits to finding her pretty even then. They officially met in 2009, when she was cast in his music video for “You and I”. The two clicked, but Richard vowed years before that his next girlfriend would be the woman he married. “I used to be a womanizer,” he explained. “So after all the physical stuff, there just comes a day when you want somebody to talk to.” He wanted to be sure that Maricar was the one, so he took a step back. “Di ko sya kinausap – umiwas ako. Finally, I saw her after a year at the Star Magic Ball. My feelings were still the same, so I pursued her.”

“The first time we met, maayos yun conversations namin,” Maricar recalled. “My conversations with him were always meaningful and fruitful. It made me think that this was a guy I could talk to for the rest of my life.”

“He’s very up-front and direct. When we got together as boyfriend-girlfriend, he was already clear na he wouldn’t have a girlfriend without the intention of marriage so by the time nag-propose sya, I knew it was coming. I just didn’t know when or how – the day itself, what the ring looked like, how he proposed – that was the surprise.” Maricar explained.

“By 2012, we were stable. Sa kanya ko na feel yun. She turned out to be my best friend slash crush ko.” Richard said. “My friends and I were planning a big celebration – yun tipong may fireworks and maraming friends. I was 90% down that road, until I talked to Juris sa Sessionistas. She said nun nag-propose sa kanya yun husband nya, sila lang.” He started hearing accounts of intimate proposals, with only the couple at the scene. He realized that Maricar was a very private person, and immediately scrapped his first idea. “One night we were just talking, and I said it. Relaxed lang. I think we’re such good friends kaya walang drama.

Richard and Maricar tied the knot in a private ceremony at the Bellevue Hotel in Alabang last June 9, with close friends and family witnessing their first ever kiss during the wedding itself. It was a testament to how much honor and respect Richard and Maricar had for each other, and the vows they exchanged. “The wedding was surreal, in a way. I knew it was happening, but it only dawned on me sa reception. I remember after the ceremony, we were in the lobby hugging and I thought, ‘We’re married!’” Maricar smiled at the memory.

When asked what it was like now, months after the wedding, Richard said, “It’s relaxed and masaya. We’re not perfect – we’ve already fought a couple of times – pero masayang-masaya ako. Ang daming reasons eh. When I look at her at night and she’s sleeping, kahit tulog sya, crush ko sya. I thank God for not answering my prayers in the past. Ang dami ko kasing prayers na ‘Lord, sana kami na nun taong to’ in the past. Mail ako eh. I’m glad that I ended up with her.”

Asked what she’s learned so far, Maricar shared, “I’ve learned that I support well, and appreciate a strong leader. That makes us a very good combo. Also, I learned that I can’t cook,” she laughed. “Well, I can, but I need to learn more.” While Richard teaches Maricar to cook, she’s influenced him to try biking. “She likes biking and joining triathlons. So I bought a bike. Tuwang-tuwa naman sya.” Richard grinned.

Quality time has always been an issue for showbiz couples, so Richard and Maricar have agreed to not be apart for extended periods of time. “We committed to making sure na hindi kami malalayo physically from each other for long. For example, if I have to stay abroad for long, like a tour, nakikiusap ako sa producer ko kung pwede sya yun +1 ko. We try to stay close but at the same time, pag may trabaho, tangap lang.” Richard said.

“If there are out of town trips longer than a week, dapat magkasama kami.   And when we’re at home, we make it a point na at least one day a week, no work. We just hang out.” Maricar added. As for children, “If they come, welcome naman. In terms of planning though, we want at least a year, kami lang muna.” Maricar said. Richard explained, “I want a year or two with Maricar lang. She’s gone through a lot and deserves to be the center of my attention right now.”

It was Lao Tzu who said that ‘being deeply loved by someone gives your strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.’ These are the traits that both Richard and Maricar exhibit, and it’s refreshing to see newlyweds still in the honeymoon stage rise above the emotional high, their hearts focused and determined as they begin a new chapter together.

“I’m looking forward to changing with him. I’m sure he’ll change and so will I, so I’m looking forward to seeing us adjust and grow. If there are challenges, I want to see how we will overcome them.” Maricar’s eyes shine with excitement. “That’s always interesting.”


In Pursuit of Justice

Nov 2014, Sawchenko Profile-page-001Published in Metro Society magazine, July 2014

Once Andrey Sawchenko talks about justice for victims of human trafficking, passion and urgency resonate in voice. “It matters for people who are, desperate for rescue today, and survivors who need hope for a new life. We get that for real people – today.”

Sawchenko is National Director of International Justice Mission (IJM), a global organization that protects the poor from violence. The organization is composed of lawyers, investigators, social workers, community activists and other professionals at work in nearly 20 communities in the developing world. They partner with local authorities to rescue victims of violence, bring criminals to justice, restore survivors, and strengthen justice systems.

He discovered IJM when he was at the University of Washington, School of Law and part of the Christian Legal Society in 1998. “We had a conference and IJM’S President, Gary Haugen, was one of the presenters.  I was just a law student, but I thought that what Gary was presenting as a possibility was really exciting, and it seemed right to me that when the Bible said that we should seek justice we should actually be doing that in the most practical sense.” After completing law school, he interned in the Manila field office.

After his internship, Sawchenko returned to the US where he practiced law for three years in Seattle. But the desire to pursue the work of justice had seized him, and he returned to IJM. He went to Thailand and led a team dedicated to fighting sex trafficking. After another three years, he found himself back in the Philippines, where the staff now tackles cases of child sexual abuse and the sex trafficking of minors.

There are currently three field offices. The Manila office was established in 2001, and provided IJM’s first ever conviction, that of a rapist who had assaulted a young girl. The Cebu office followed in 2007, where they launched Project Lantern, a study that put to the test the idea that when anti-trafficking laws are enforced by well-trained and equipped police and courts, minors would be better protected from traffickers. External auditors found that the availability of minors for sex decreased by 79% after four years of partnership with local authorities. The latest office, opened in 2012, is in Pampanga.

IJM has been lauded as one of the ten non-profits “making a difference” by U.S. News and World Report. The model that it has developed to combat everyday violence has proven to be so effective that it is recognized by the U.S State Department, the World Economic Forum and leaders around the globe. Its effectiveness lies in its specificity and willingness to engage different sectors of society. “Our work couldn’t be more practical, and the connections with local communities and organizations more necessary. It takes collaboration between all kinds of agencies for just one victim to be rescued, restored, and for justice to be achieved,” he said.

“One of the things we learned over the past few years is that dedicated law enforcement focused on a specific issue, like human trafficking, are more effective.” He emphasized. “We’ve been partnering with the Philippine National Police (PNP) to establish, train and deploy police anti-trafficking units, and these units have been effective in intervening on behalf of trafficking victims in Manila, Cebu and Pampanga. We’re excited to be partnering with the PNP as they look to expand that model into other areas.”

He added that, “When victims are rescued, they’re brought to police stations. Unfortunately, police stations are not the most therapeutic environment for newly rescued victims, so several years ago IJM Cebu partnered with the DSWD to create a special place for victims to go to immediately after being rescued. Now, the DSWD is replicating that model in something they’re calling ‘SafeSpace’ right here in the national capital region. We’re really excited to be able to partner with them for that excellent project, and we believe that it will be a model for various regions here in the Philippines and even other countries around the world.”

Local communities also have a part to play in the fight against human trafficking, which IJM acknowledges and encourages. “One of the best opportunities for people in the community to get involved is to participate in activities leading up to the International Day Against Trafficking on December 12. We will be working very closely with the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, the Philippine Interfaith Movement Against Human Trafficking and other civil society groups to raise our voices and say that human trafficking is absolutely unacceptable and we won’t stand for it.”

The work Sawchenko is engaged in is serious and intense, but he has his own haven to retreat to: his wife and daughter. They are currently based in Cebu and have embraced the local culture easily. He knows a smattering of words in Bisaya, and without realizing it, has adopted some Pinoy quirks. “When I go back to the US or Canada, I find myself pointing with my lips or raising my eyebrows. Sometimes that kind of stuff can get you in trouble in some places,” he laughed.

He also enjoys Filipino food. “I love lechon. But my other favorite Filipino food is kinilaw. I also like utang bisaya and tinola. It’s delicious. I do not like balut.” He shared. “I love nature. In Cebu, you can go up to the mountains. Sometimes we just go out of town to breathe some fresh air, run around and fly a kite. Or you can go to the ocean and it’s pretty great to be able to ride around in a little boat and jump into the sea to do some snorkeling or diving.”

After seven years in the Philippines, Sawchenko is still ready and willing to continue the fight – this time, against labor trafficking in India. Leaving the country, while exciting, won’t be easy for Sawchenko and his family, especially his daughter (who was born here). “We love living in the Philippines and it’s really been home to us. Everything just fell into place when we came in. The best thing about the Philippines is the Filipinos. That’s an un-artful quote, but it’s true.”

“When you first move aboard, the things that strike you are the differences; how everybody is so different, how people’s perspectives and the way they communicate and understand and even use their eyebrows are so different.” He smiled.

“But after you live abroad longer, you realize that actually, we aren’t so different. The fundamental things about who we are as people are the same, everywhere. We all want enough food to eat. We all want our kids to be okay. We all want to be safe. We all want to be loved. We’re pretty much the same. That’s the thing to remember.”