Saturday, December 30, 2006

Happy Rizal Day

When I googled "Dr. Jose Rizal celebration" on the Internet, I was surprised to find a large number of entries of Philippine embassies and consulates hosting official events on December 30, with programs featuring the obligatory recitation of Rizal's classic poem, My Last Farewell ('Mi Ultimo Adios').

The Philippine entries involved perfunctory wreath-laying ceremonies at the Rizal Park in Manila and other places of interest around the country. There were also references that this year President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, through Administrative Order No. 166, had directed embassies and government offices to commemorate the martyrdom of Dr. Jose P. Rizal with the theme "Rizal: the Nationalist in Thought, Word and Deed."

The scheduled Rizal Day events seemed mechanical and routine, with virtually no celebrations exalting Rizal's life, at least not in the Philippines. It seemed, as retired Justice Isagani A. Cruz observed, "Remembrance of Rizal is fast disappearing when it ought to be cherished and honored by all Filipinos."

Why should Rizal be honored? Because, as Justice Cruz noted in his column, "it was he who, more effectively than any one else among his compatriots, unified the disparate inhabitants of our archipelago into one nation. It was he who made them share a common rage against the foreign intruder and a common aspiration for the freedom of their land."

"Without him," Justice Cruz added, "our people may still be under the yoke of some alien ruler. Consider that we were oppressed by Spain for more than three centuries and it was only when Rizal protested its villainies that Bonifacio's armed revolution began to smolder. It was the execution of Gomburza, to whom Rizal dedicated the 'Noli Me Tangere', that ignited the spark of resistance against the Spanish government. But it was Rizal who fanned the flames into a bright conflagration."

What was conspicuous by their absence in the googled events I reviewed was the participation of the schools. There were none because there aren't any classes during the Christmas break. This is such a pity because it is the students who would have the most to learn from the life and death of Dr. Jose Rizal.

Students could read Rizal's essay, "The Philippines a Century Hence," and realize that he is just as relevant today as he was more than a century ago. Read Rizal's words: "All the petty insurrections that have occurred in the Philippines were the work of a few fanatics or discontented soldiers, who had to deceive and humbug the people or avail themselves of their powers over their subordinates to gain their ends. So they all failed." Do they not also refer to the attempted coups that have destabilized the country for the last 20 years?

How should we celebrate Rizal Day? The immediate solution is actually quite simple. We should move Rizal Day from celebrating it on the date of his execution, December 30, to the date of his birth, June 19. This would be perfect timing as it would occur just as the Philippine school year begins in the first week of June. Instead of laying ritualistic wreaths, there should be programs celebrating Rizal's life.

There should be new ways to give meaning to the Rizal Law, Republic Act No. 1425, enacted on June 12, 1956, which required that courses on the life, works and writings of Rizal, particularly his novels, the Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, be included in the curricula of all schools, colleges and universities.

In celebrating Rizal's life on June 19, instead of his death on December 30, students could do what the prescribed college curriculum expects its Rizal course students to accomplish:

1. Understand the life, works and writings of Rizal particularly his moral and intellectual legacies to the Filipino youth.

2. Know the relevance of Rizal's teachings to contemporary situations.

3. Gain inspiration and insight from the experience of Rizal as a son, student, patriot and nationalist.

4. Imbibe the spirit of patriotism and nationalism.

We should urge the Philippine Congress and President Arroyo to enact a new law moving Rizal Day to June 19.

As to what should happen on December 30, we should follow the decree of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, the first president of the Philippine Republic, which was enacted in Bulacan on December 20, 1898, which stated as follows:

"Article 1. In memory of the Filipino patriots, Dr. Jose Rizal and the other victims of the past Spanish domination, I declare the 30th of December as a national day of mourning.
Article 2. On account of this, all national flags shall be hoisted at half-mast from 12:00 noon on December 29, as a sign of mourning.
Article 3. All offices of the Revolutionary Government shall be closed during the whole day of December 30."

Complying with a decree of the Philippine Revolutionary Government connects our present Republic back to the founding of the first Philippine Republic on June 12, 1898.

Before the Philippine Revolution, before the American occupation, before the Japanese invasion, before the declaration of martial law by Ferdinand Marcos, Dr. Jose Rizal wrote in 1889 in his essay, the Philippines: A Century Hence:

"Very likely the Philippines will defend with inexpressible valor the liberty secured at the price of so much blood and sacrifice. With the new people that will spring from their soil and with the recollection of their past, they will perhaps strive to enter freely upon the wide road of progress, and all will labor together to strengthen their Motherland, both internally and externally, with the same enthusiasm, with which a youth falls again to tilling the land of his ancestors who long wasted and abandoned through the neglect of those who have withheld it from him."

Happy Rizal Day to you.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The ConCon to ChaCha

The Catholic bishops who congregated at the Luneta grandstand on December 17 proclaimed as gospel truth that before there can be "charter change" in the Philippines, there must first be "character change." The obvious question is: who decides when the Filipinos have sufficiently changed their character that they are then ready for charter change? Of course, if Filipinos have already changed their character by then, what would be the need for charter change?

In a forum in San Francisco early this year, Prof. Jose Abueva, the chair of the consultative commission that proposed changes to the charter, explained that laws can be used to change or modify the behavior of people. A heavy tax on cigarettes and barring smoking in public places, for example, can discourage people from smoking. Changing the charter, in Abueva's view, can change the character of the system and the people, even if only incrementally.

In the current bicameral/presidential system of government in the Philippines, for example, candidates for president have had to raise anywhere from P2-B to P5-B pesos ($40-M to $100-M) just to have a chance of winning. Where did all the money come from? The president has the resources of the government (the "equity of the incumbent") at his or her command while challengers have had to obtain the support of powerful business interests, who have sought to be properly "compensated" when their candidates assume office.

Even senatorial candidates have to raise about P500-M pesos ($10-M) just to win a senate seat. Their financial patrons also need to be compensated in some way, and the victorious senators find ways and means to do so, usually by corruption. After all, wealthy benefactors did not become wealthy because of idealistic support for their candidates. They expect and obtain returns on their investments.

When the present bicameral/presidential system has shown time and again that it is hopelessly corrupt, largely because of the high costs of acquiring and retaining office, then simple logic dictates that the system must be changed.

But how sure are we that an alternative unicameral/parliamentary system will be better?

Lawyer Ted Laguatan cites the example of two brothers who were petitioned by a parent to immigrate to the US. Both considered their options: Will life in the US be better than what they had in the Philippines? Will they be able to find a job? Will they face racism and discrimination from white Americans who may look down on them because of their brown skins or mock them because of their Filipino accents?

They did not know the answers, Ted recounts. But one brother decided that because life was so difficult for them in the Philippines, he and his family deserved to find a better life for themselves in the US. The other brother chose to stay because he feared the unknown. Ted narrates that 20 years later, the brother who stayed in the Philippines deeply regretted his decision and wished that he had joined his sibling in the US where he now enjoys a comfortable life for himself and his family.

The point of Ted's story is not that everyone should immigrate to the US, but rather that we should not fear the unknown. If we know the presidential system is hopelessly corrupt, then we owe it to ourselves to change it, not to keep it just because we don't know for sure if a parliamentary system will be better.

For one thing, candidates for a parliamentary seat will not need to spend obscene amounts of money just to win as they will be elected in smaller parliamentary districts, where congressional candidates currently spend about P20 to P50 million pesos ($400,000-$1-M) to win election. While these are still obscene amounts for a country as poor as the Philippines, they are on a much smaller scale compared to the current senatorial or presidential levels. There may thus be less corruption because less money would be needed to obtain a return on the "investments".

It is also less likely that members of Parliament will elect popular but intellectually deficient entertainers or sports stars to lead them as their Prime Minister. Among themselves, nurses will elect the best nurses to lead them, lawyers the best lawyers, physicians the best physicians, and politicians the best, and most effective, among them.

If the Prime Minister commits a major political blunder, or is involved in a corruption scandal, then a simple vote of "no confidence" will be sufficient to bring the government down. Under the current presidential system, such a scandal or blunder will require that articles of impeachment be filed in the lower House where a vote of a third of its members will be needed to impeach the president. Then the Senate sits as a jury to hear the evidence in a trial that may take as long as six (6) months to a year. During this period, the government grounds to a halt, with businesses, foreign and local, fleeing the country in droves because of the uncertain political crisis.

But how do we change to a parliamentary system?

The 1987 Constitution presents three methods of changing it: a People's Initiative, a Constituent Assembly or a Constitutional Convention. The first two were tried and rejected by the courts, the first by the Supreme Court, the second by the Court of Public Opinion.

So now all that is left is the third alternative, which is problematic because of its enormous cost. If each congressional district elects 2 or 3 ConCon delegates and their terms last three years, and each delegate will require an office, a staff and housing and transportation expenses, it will likely cost about P10-B ($200-M) to fund the convention. Where will all this money come from?

If concon is the only way to change the system, then perhaps people should consider the proposal of Rep. Baham Mitra who calls for one delegate to be elected per district, where the candidates must renounce any political affiliation, and waive the right to elective or appointive office up to three years after the convention.

Mitra's proposal includes closely-monitored spending limits for the candidates, who would be required to disclose their tax returns to show their true financial wealth to guard against dummying for vested interests. The thought behind Baham's proposal is to make holding a concon seat unpalatable for politicos.

The delegates would have a stringent budget, and the convention would be given a reasonable deadline within which to complete the proposed constitution that would then be submitted to a national plebiscite.

While the cost for this modified concon will be a fraction of the current estimates for a larger concon, Baham Mitra's proposal has not received the support of either the majority or the minority politicos who have united in opposition to it. That's the reason right there to support it.

Happy New ChaCha Year!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Hope for the Philippines

All the hoopla about changing the Philippine Constitution made little sense to me when I was in Manila even as I sat through four hours of Batasan (lower house) deliberations over whether convening a Constituent Assembly ("ConAss") was the best means of pursuing Charter Change ("ChaCha"). After the House move was denounced by the Philippine Catholic hierarchy as "scandalously immoral," attention shifted to a Constitutional Convention ("ConCon") as the means to ChaCha. It would be composed of some 450 elected delegates (2 from each congressional district) and funded at a staggering cost of approximately P10-B pesos ($200-M).

And for what? So that the Constitution can be changed to truly benefit the people? Let's recall the 1987 Constitution, which was considered revolutionary at the time for containing the following provision: "The State shall guarantee equal access to public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law." (Section 26, Article II).

After leaving the Batasan Hall at 3AM on December 6 while deliberations were still on-going, I found myself in the Batasan lobby scanning through the names and faces of House members displayed in two giant billboards there. I noted that the political dynasties were well-represented: the Dys by Connie and Jun, the Aquinos by Butz and Noynoy, the Cojuangcos by Charlie and Mark, the Arroyos by Iggy and Mikey, the Marcoses by Imee, the Barbers and the Duranos by representatives named Ace, the Biazons by Rozzano, the Cayetanos by Alan Peter, etc. etc.

During their deliberations, I heard many of the young House members speak English with an impeccable American accent reflecting their American education (from elementary school to college). After obtaining their US college degrees, many of them returned to the Philippines to run for their fathers' termed-out congressional seats with only the family name, wealth and influence as modest qualifications. What do they really know of the miserable lives of the people of their provinces?

In the 10 billion peso ConCon, the delegates elected to frame the new constitution will come from the same dynasties that populate the Congress now, so no provision challenging their rule can ever be expected to come from them. Even if it did, as the 1987 anti-dynasty provision showed, it can be ignored. After all, who can con the cons?

The day after my Batasan visit, I had lunch with my high school classmate, Hermo Esperon. I had kept in touch with him through years as he rose through the ranks of the Philippine military. Hermo grew up in a small farm in Asingan, Pangasinan with a father who was a public school teacher. He told me once that he did not see running water inside a home until he moved into a dorm after receiving a high school government scholarship. Hermo raised his five children by himself after his wife died in a car accident in her hometown.

Hermo was now the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). More importantly, after nine years as a single parent, Hermo had met and married Dr. Lorna Valenzuela, and they now have two young kids to go with his five grown ones.

Another Philippine Science High School classmate, Rogie Calunsag from Bohol, had also gone to the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) and, like Hermo, had a father who was a poor farmer. Rogie hooked up with the Philippine Navy after the PMA because he lived in the home of a retired admiral while in high school. As classmate Vince Ragay also notes, an anagram of his name spells out "our egg can sail".

I learned that Rogie had married Melly Benavides, the younger sister of my friend, Richie, whom I corresponded with even after I left for the US in 1971. I learned over the years that she had married, had four kids, and had separated. Tragically, Richie died in 1987 in a helicopter crash in Camarines Sur. Without hesitation, Melly and Rogie took care of all of Richie's kids, raising them as their own.

A few months ago, Rogie's modest navy quarters accidentally burned down, causing the family to lose all their clothes and other valuable possessions. Our high school batch passed the hat around to raise money to help Rogie's family. Even though he was Inspector General of the Philippine Navy, Rogie provided for his large family only within his means.

On the day I met them, Rogie was under consideration for promotion to Navy Chief as the incumbent was set to mandatorily retire the next day, when he turned 56. If Rogie was chosen, Melly did not know what to wear as all her clothes had gone up in smoke. She had some money but she did not want to buy a dress that afternoon just yet as "it would be such a waste naman if Rogie wasn't chosen, she said. And it seemed iffy, as Rogie's competitors for the top navy post were formidable, with powerful political connections.

When I woke up the next day, I received a text message on my cell phone informing me that Rogie had been selected by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as "Flag Officer In Command" of the Philippine Navy and that I was invited to attend his swearing-in that afternoon.

When I got to the Navy HQ ("Hukbong Dagat ng Pilipinas") on Roxas Blvd, I spotted Melly in the modest red dress she had purchased earlier in the day with the money she had saved for such an occasion. As Rogie assumed command of the Philippine Navy, Melly and her children stood there with tears welling in their eyes.

Somehow, I also sensed my friend Richie was there too, proud of the man who took care of her kids after she died and who raised them as his own.

My visit to the Batasan showed me an institution filled with people who had enriched themselves in office and who were the dynastic products of privilege. On the other hand, my experience with the Philippine military officers I met during my visit filled me with hope.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Last Rites for Cha Cha

MANILA - While the attention of the world was focused on the havoc wrought on the people of Bicol by Typhoon Reming, Manila was strangely preoccupied with what the newspapers called "Con Ass," short for Constituent Assembly. Critics of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) publicly accused her and the House majority of attempting to "con our ass" with this congressional maneuver.

"Con Ass" or Constituent Assembly was the last remaining constitutional option for those supporting "Cha Cha" or Charter Change. A Constitutional Convention or "Con Con", the first option, was out of the question because it would require the consent of the Philippine Senate which was not about to commit political suicide as "Cha Cha" would likely result in a unicameral parliamentary system eliminating the Senate, a body composed primarily of presidential wannabes.

The second option, a "People's Initiative," required that the signatures of 10% of the electorate be obtained, including a certain percentage from each congressional district in the country. Although 6.5-M signatures were obtained by Sigaw ng Bayan, a pro-government coalition, the Philippine Supreme Court recently ruled in an 8-7 vote that the explanation to the signatories of the proposed change was woefully insufficient and was therefore unconstitutional.

"Con Ass" was therefore the last option open to House Speaker Jose "Joe" De Venecia, the most outspoken supporter of a change of the charter from a bicameral/presidential to a unicameral/parliamentary system. Critics claim this was his power ploy to be elected prime minister.

This option's premise is found in Article 17 of the Philippine Constitution which provides that "Any amendment, or revision, of this Constitution may be proposed by the Congress upon a vote of three-fourths of its members."

Speaker Joe's gambit is what American football fans would refer to as a "Hail Mary" pass as it would call for a number of unlikely events to occur to make it happen. First, the House would convene a Constituent Assembly where members of the entire Congress would be invited to participate -- the 225 House Members and the 23 Senators (for a total of 248). If the senators do not show up, as likely would happen, the "Constituent Assembly" could still pass proposals for a "Cha Cha" if Speaker Joe obtained the vote and support of 195 House members as that would constitute three-fourths of the total number of the members of Congress.

Once that happens, the next step would be a certain Supreme Court challenge to the constitutionality of the House interpretation of Article 17.

In the unlikely event the Supreme Court upholds it, then the really tricky third stage would be getting the people to approve it in a national plebiscite where polls show a decisive majority in opposition to "Cha Cha." Hail Mary, indeed.

Against seemingly insurmountable odds, the Speaker stubbornly pushed through with his gambit on December 5 even as opposition House members raised various legal and political objections to what they considered to be a railroading of the "Con Ass Express".

After watching the proceedings on TV the first night, I decided to go to the Batasan the next night to watch the conclusion of the debate LIVE. I thought the place would be packed as the controversial issue was the premier topic of discussion in the media, which hardly paid attention to the Bicol mudslide disaster. To my surprise when I got there, less than a quarter of the gallery seats were occupied.

Prominent among those who did show up in the center gallery were members of the "Hyatt 10", GMA's former cabinet members who tendered their resignations on July 8, 2005 and who called on the president to resign because, they believe, she had lost her ability to govern. As Batasan rules prohibited open cheering or jeering, they wore head bands with red horns that collectively lit up when they supported a point. (These Xmas gadgets were sold in Cubao).

While I was listening to the speakers, a young congressman (Robert "Dodot" Jaworski Jr.) invited me to the "members only" congressional lounge to join him for mami and siopao snacks. While in the lounge, I noticed that House members were warmly collegial to each other even as they hotly disagreed on the issues.

Dodot told me that he had previously supported the impeachment of GMA but, after going through it the first time, he realized that it was "not good for the country" to subject the president to constant impeachment, as the government would simply ground to a halt during the process. A parliamentary system, he explained, would avoid that governmental paralysis as all it would take would be a vote of "no confidence" to bring down a government.

When I returned to watch the debate, I saw Rep. Luis Villafuerte, Jr., the 70-year old Congressman from Albay (the province most devastated by Typhoon Reming) and the principal sponsor of the "Con Ass" resolution, still standing on one podium while patiently answering all the questions from opposition members lined up to speak in the other podium. I was told the debates would end by 2AM but when the marathon session continued past 3AM, and I couldn't keep my eyes open, I decided to leave, along with most of the gallery. The final vote of 161 ayes and 25 nays occurred at 5:45AM. By then, I was sound asleep.

Bishop Angel Lagdameo, the President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), immediately branded the House move "fraudulently illegitimate" and "scandalously immoral". Many critics denounced it as a "rape" of the Constitution likening it to what Private Daniel Smith was convicted the previous week of doing to "Nicole". Anti-government groups vowed to hold massive nationwide rallies on December 15 to protest Con Ass.

By Saturday, December 9, public sentiment against Con Ass had become so overwhelming that President GMA had to dissociate herself from the House move. Speaker Joe then called a press conference at the Dusit Hotel in Makati to announce that he would not proceed with Con Ass if the Senate would agree to convene a Con Con by next year, which the Senate has already announced it will not do.

I was having lunch with friends at the Shanghai Court in Makati that day when Speaker Joe and a coterie of House members entered the restaurant to have their lunch there (of all the thousands of restaurants in Metro Manila to choose from). Although I could not hear their conversation, I could see that they were clearly not happy campers. It was like attending a funeral wake.

Make no mistake about it, I concluded, Charter change is dead.

As my friend, Jarius Bondoc, wrote: "It was dead the minute politicos hijacked it for their self-interest. They debased the essence of reforms and foisted on the public only self-serving changes. Forgotten was the need to completely free the economy in turn for full employment and against hunger. Lost in the political din was the idea of genuine people's autonomy via federalism. Chatter centered solely on shifting to unicameral parliament, a political stabilizer under normal times, but also a perilous centralizing of authority if not counterbalanced by federal rule."

I came to Manila with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom for a baptism and confirmation of sister city ties between our two cities and I left as the last rites for charter change were being performed. It was a sacramental visit.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Before Reming

MANILA - We arrived at dawn on the Sunday following Thanksgiving, about 140 San Franciscans, members of a sister city delegation of private individuals and city officials led by Mayor Gavin Newsom, on a cultural and trade mission to Manila. This was the largest San Francisco contingent to ever visit Manila since a sister city relationship was established in 1961.

It took a year of meticulous planning by sister city chair Dennis Normandy (and his wife, Lynda) to iron out all the myriad details involved in carting three busloads of San Franciscans from Punta Fuego in Batangas to the museums of Intramuros, to a Cultural Center philharmonic concert, to a Malacanang Palace banquet, and to a half-dozen other events.

There were official functions. Mayor Newsom received an honorary PhD from the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (City University of Manila) where we signed a new memorandum of agreement between Pamantasan and City Colege of San Francisco to strenghten ties and relations between the two educational institutions. Mayor Newsom also signed a new MOA with Manila Mayor Lito Atienza at City Hall. But these events occurred between lunches and dinners hosted by the City of Manila, the Department of Tourism, Philippine Airlines, the Concepcion group, Citigroup and the ABS-CBN media conglomerate.

Our visit was to be highlighted by a sentimental journey to Corregidor. For years, Mayor Newsom had expressed a private wish to travel to the Philippines to visit the site where his maternal grandfather, Arthur Menzies, fought during World War II. A botanist when he enlisted, Menzies was in Corregidor with the Battery K Artillery unit when the Japanese invaded and captured the last allied stronghold in the Philippines in May of 1941. Menzies physically survived the Bataan Death March and went on to become America's leading expert on California wildflowers but he never mentally survived the trauma of the war as it drove him to eventually commit suicide.

We learned the poignant story of Menzie's life and death from Gavin's father, retired California Appellate Court Justice Bill Newsom, who accepted a plaque of appreciation for Menzies from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the Malacanang banquet tendered in our honor. Bill Newsom knew the mental anguish of his father-in-law and he had always wanted to personally visit the battlefield where Menzies fought.

While we all had looked forward to the Corregidor visit, it just was not to be. The ship Dennis had leased to ferry us from Manila to Corregidor could not traverse the choppy waters caused by Typhoon Reming which was barreling towards Manila with high winds of 225 kilometers per hour.

When he heard that our trip to Corregidor had been cancelled, Filipino Chinese (Tsinoy) Taipan Lucio Tan, the richest man in the Philippines, personally offered his private helicopter to fly us to Corregidor with him. Due to space limitations, unfortunately, only a few select members of our group were able to make it and I wasn't one of them.

The members of our delegation who didn't go to Corregidor were grateful for the off day as it gave them the chance to shop at Greenhills ("Tiange"), the Green Belt, the Mall of Asia and the Glorietta Mall.

One of the museums we visited in Intramuros was the Bahay Tsinoy (House of the Filipino Chinese), where we learned that during the Spanish colonial period (1565-1898), the Chinese were confined to the enclave of Parian just outside the Walled City. They could not receive permission to leave their quarters unless they married local Filipino women, a colonial policy which resulted in mass intermarriage of Chinese and Filipinos, creating the new class of Tsinoy illustrados who then politically and economically challenged the governing Peninsulares (Spanish elite).

On our first day in Manila, I spoke with our Punta Fuego host, Jose Tambunting, at his impressive beachside chalet. He recounted how in the 1960s he led a group of Tsinoy "young Turks" to successfully wrest control of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce from the Kastila (Spanish) establishment led by Don Aurelio Periquet. To learn that this power shift occurred only in the 1960s after it had been initiated by Tsinoy national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, a century before, is to realize how truly young the Philippine nation is.

While the trip had a serious purpose, it was not without humor. When a member of our delegation inquired about the source of our host's fabulous wealth, she repeated the answer as "pornshops" instead of "pawnshops". The same lady was impressed with how liberated Manila was with the presence of so many S & M shops.

SM doesn't stand for Sado Masochism, it's the initials for Shoe Mart and they don't just sell shoes there either. The omnipresent SM malls are owned by Tsinoy billionaire Henry Sy, who is seeking to further expand his financial empire by opening SM malls all over China. A third Tsinoy billionaire, John Gokongwei, also owns a string of Robinson malls throughout the country.

Tsinoy Power is evident not only in economics but also in politics with the two most prominent Tsinoys in the Philippine Senate, Alfredo Lim and Panfilo Lacson, running for mayor of Manila in next May's elections. Popular incumbent Mayor Lito Atienza is termed out and cannot run for re-election but his son, Ali Atienza, is set to run to succeed him, a common practice in the Philippines.

Mayor Atienza was bracing his city for the expected onslaught of Typhoon Reming, with his city crews cutting down trees and securing roofs to prevent a repeat of the deadly Typhoon Millenyo which struck in late September.

But cold winds from the north pushed Reming south, away from Manila towards the Bicol Peninsula. Reming's heavy rains caused heavy mudslides which killed more than 1,000 people.

In the Philippines, even Nature favors the rich. While the poor people of Bicol were suffering the wrath of Reming, the Metro Manilan elite were enjoying a gloriously sunny weather, shopping and eating away, oblivious to what was happening everywhere else.

Our delegation never got to see how the Filipino poor survive amidst incredible poverty. Perhaps next time.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

View of God Determines Values

A recent Baylor University study postulated that it is not your religion but your view of God that determines your politics and your values. The study, conducted by Baylor's Institute for the Study of Religion, reviewed and analyzed the results of a poll survey of 1,721 Americans who were each asked 77 questions with 400 answer choices.

The survey results showed four distinct faces of God.

-About 31.4% believe in an Authoritarian God who is "angry at humanity's sins and who is engaged in every person's life and world affairs" and "ready to throw the thunderbolt of judgment down on the unfaithful or ungodly." This view forms the core of the Religious Right and the conservative Republicans who support President George W. Bush.

According to Cathy Lynn Grossman, in her USA Today article about the Baylor study, believers in an Authoritarian God "want an active, Christian-values-based government with federal funding for faith-based social services and prayer in the schools. They're also the most inclined to say God favors the USA in world affairs (32.1% vs. 18.6% overall)."

-About 23% believe in a Benevolent God which is a forgiving God ("more like the father who embraces his repentant prodigal son in the Bible") and believe that caring for the sick and needy ranks highest on the list of what it means to be a good person. "God is in control of everything. He's grieved by the sin of the world, by any created person who doesn't follow him. But I see (a) God ... who loves us, who sees us for who we really are. We serve a God of the second, third, fourth and fifth chance," says Rev. Jeremy Johnston of the 5,000 member Southern Baptist Congregation in Kansas. This view of God is generally shared by liberal Democrats who favor government programs that provide a safety net for the disadvantaged in society.

-About 16% believe in a Critical God who has his "judgmental eye" on the world, but who will not intervene, either to punish or to comfort. According to Baylor's Christopher Bader, "this group is more paradoxical, They hold very traditional beliefs, picturing God as the classic bearded old man on high. Yet they're less inclined to go to church or affiliate seriously with religious groups. They are less inclined to see God as active in the world. Their politics are definitely not liberal, but they're not quite conservative, either."

Grossman writes that "those who picture a critical God are significantly less likely to draw absolute moral lines on hot-button issues such as abortion, gay marriage or embryonic stem cell research."

-About 24.4% believe in a Distant God who is "no bearded old man in the sky raining down his opinions on us" (Bader). They see a cosmic force that launched the world, then left it spinning on its own. Bader believes that this has strongest appeal for Catholics, mainline Protestants, Jews, among "moral relativists" - those least likely to say any moral choice is always wrong - and among those who don't attend church.

How do Filipinos view God? Columnist Michael Tan suspects that a majority of Filipinos believe in a somewhat distant but intervening God, literally a "tatay" [father] in the stereotyped sense. Filipinos tend to believe that natural disasters and personal misfortunes are punishment from God for our sins. But, Tan writes, "we also tend to see our relationships with that God as negotiable. We bargain all the time, vowing to do several novenas or have ourselves nailed to the cross in Lent, on condition that a certain favor is granted."

It's really more confusing than that. Filipino Catholics believe in the Holy Trinity, in the concept of three Gods in one. This may be the source for our contradictory beliefs and values. We may believe in an Authoritarian God the Father, in a Benevolent God the Son, and in a somewhat Critical or Distant God the Holy Spirit. This convoluted view may account for the halo-halo (mixed up) nature of our politics and values.

Filipinos' mixed views and values aside, Baylor's Bader concludes that "you learn more about people's moral and political behavior if you know their image of God than by almost any other measure. It turns out to be more powerful a predictor of social and political views than the usual markers of church attendance or belief in the Bible."

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Week of Cheers

It was an incredible week to be a Filipino.

It began on November 14 when 22-year old Filipino American dancer Cheryl Bautista Burke danced a spirited samba with the NFL's all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith, to score a perfect 30 with the judges and a certified hit with the 20 million viewers of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars". After millions of viewers emailed, telephoned and texted their votes, Cheryl made dance history the following day by winning the megahit TV show's mirror trophy, for the second year in a row.

While most newspapers attributed the win to Emmitt's popularity as a sports superstar and as an icon in the African American community, the real margin of victory came from the Filipino vote.

Cheryl and Emmitt won because Charlie Buenaventura from La Habra, California emailed his votes (10 each from 10 separate registered email names) and made repeated phone calls for Cheryl. Charlie was just one of tens of thousands of Filipinos in the US and Canada (and in the Philippines) who voted or a kababayan online, by phone or by text just as they did years ago for Jasmine Trias in "American Idol".

The dimpled Mario Lopez and dance partner Karina Smirnoff entered the finals as the prohibitive favorites and would have otherwise won the contest but for the votes of the Filipino American community, which spelled the difference in the close contest.

If the mainstream media had picked up this story, then it may cast Filipinos as a community that is proud of, and vigorously, supports one of its own. [There is a "Filipino vote" after all. If this could only cross over to politics...]

Certainly that pride in one of our own was on full display on Saturday night, November 18, in Las Vegas when thousands of Filipinos, many proudly waving the Philippine flag, lustily cheered Manny "Pac man" Pacquiao in his concluding third match with Erik "El Terrible" Morales, the pride of Tijuana, Mexico and three-time world boxing champion.

My son, Carlo, drove all the way from the University of California in Santa Cruz to Las Vegas to watch the fight with two friends, one of whom, he said, was "the only Mexican cheering for Manny". Carlo had never felt more pride in being Filipino than he did that night in Las Vegas when Pacquiao decisively defeated Morales in the third round. Carlo reported that Filipinos were euphoric in hugging each other and slapping each other's hands (high fives) all over the arena and all over Las Vegas after the fight.

That scene in the arena was duplicated in millions of Filipino homes throughout the US, the Philippines and the rest of the world. The Pay Per View audience alone allowed each fighter to pocket $4-M for the fight, aside from the $3-M each was already guaranteed to earn.

In Manila, more than 3,000 Filipinos stood outside the Quiapo Church in Plaza Miranda to watch the fight in a. jumbo screen. Another 3,000 packed the Aquino stadium to watch the fight with the city's mayor. Even the prisoners at the national penitentiary in Muntinglupa were able to watch the fight along with the warden and his guards. Parishioners at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Quezon City watched the fight inside their church as 800 of them paid 150 pesos each with the money raised paying for church projects.

Politicians from all parties and political persuasions were topping each other to issue press statements about Manny Pacquiao and the significance of his victory. Among them was Sen. Francis Pangilinan who said that Manny "proved to the world that Filipinos are capable of achieving greatness when we set our hearts and minds to it."

While it was arguably the single most unifying event in Philippine history, it was not the most significant event of the week. At least, not in my book. That distinction belongs to the capture on November 14 of Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan.

With a bounty of 5-M pesos for information that would lead to his capture, it was only a matter of time before the military would find their man. And, most embarrassing for Gringo, he was found in the home of his mistress, Ingrid Ramos. Gringo reportedly begged his captors not to disclose where he was found as he feared more from his wife than for his life.

Gringo Honasan is charged with being the mastermind of the failed mutiny last February and as the brains behind the Oakwood mutiny three years ago. This unrepentant coup plotter has been involved in every coup attempt since Marcos was overthrown in 1996.

In August 1987, after large-scale fighting in the streets broke out during a demonstration, Gringo ordered his men to attack government installations, an attack which resulted in the deaths of dozens of people.

Government forces successfully repulsed the attack causing Gringo to flee. After his capture, Gringo was held in a prison ship until he escaped, only to resume plotting more coups against then President Cory Aquino.

In November 1989, Gringo launched his deadliest coup attempt yet, succeeding in occupying key points in Metro Manila and seizing major airbases, where he was able to use captured aircraft to bomb the presidential palace. The coup attempt resulted in the deaths of nearly 100 people and in the destabilization of the Philippine economy.

When Fidel Ramos was elected President in 1992, he granted amnesty to Gringo, who parlayed his rebel fame into election to the Senate. After nine undistinguished years as a senator, Gringo lost re-election in 2002.

But unfortunately, Gringo did not fade into obscurity. In July 2003, he caused 300 junior officers to launch a mutiny against President Gloria Arroyo by occupying the Oakwood Hotel, a mutiny that was quashed in a day.

Gringo's capture will provide more stability to a nation that can, at least for now, safely enjoy the victories of Cheryl and Manny.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The America That Could Be Again

Despite the fact that the Republicans were trailing badly in the polls in the weeks before the November 7 elections, there was always the uncertainty about the final result. Why did Karl Rove have that cheshire cat smile? What "October surprise" did he have in store for the Democrats this time?

Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Conrado de Quiros, a speaker at the 4th Global Filipino Networking Convention in Hawaii last Sept. 30, commented on this in a recent column: "A couple of months ago, in the gathering of Filipino-Americans in Hawaii, many Republican Filipinos were predicting confidently they would spring a surprise and crush the Democrats at the polls. The way things were in America, I wasn't so sure they wouldn't."

The "October surprise" turned out to be the Saddam Hussein guilty verdict and death sentence, timed to occur just before the elections, which was to be trumpeted as the vindication of the Bush-directed US invasion of Iraq.

Would that show be enough to turn the tide? Before the elections, the polls showed that more than 62% of the American people disapproved of the war in Iraq, with only 31% supporting it. The US government had spent more than $300-B on the war which has cost the lives of more than 2,850 US troops, with 21,000 injured. According to the Iraqi government, more than 150,000 Iraqi lives have been lost since the US invasion of Iraq.

There was another "October surprise", though, and it ironically benefitted the Democrats. It was Bush's announcement, a week before the elections, that he would keep Donald Rumsfeld as his Secretary of Defense throughout his second term. This announcement galvanized the Democrats and despirited the Republicans.

It turned that Bush flat-out lied. He had already talked to Robert Gates about replacing Rumsfeld even before he made the announcement that he was keeping Rumsfeld. At a press conference conducted right after the elections, Bush admitted that he lied because, he said, he did not want the firing of Rumsfeld to be viewed as "political". Well, as long as there's a reason for it, then lying must be ok, right?

Unfortunately for Bush, the American people did not buy the lies this time. On November 7, Democrats won control of both the House and the Senate.

From the Philippines, De Quiros wrote: "The outcome was magnificent in that light. It wasn't just a rout of Bush's hordes, it was a wipeout. It had People Power written all over it, albeit one wrought through the vote. If this had been a parliamentary system, the prime minister would have promptly resigned. You can't find a more complete rejection, both houses of Congress now in the hands of the Democrats. Bush isn't just a lame duck, he's a dead duck."

"I am particularly glad that, as the commentators have pointed out, the Iraq War -or "Occupation" which it really is - was at the core of the elections. For the first time in a long time, Americans voted not on the basis of self-interest but on the basis of principle. For the first time in a long time, Americans voted not on the basis of who could provide them with jobs and security but on what America was all about and could be again."

What America could be again. Perhaps it would be an America that honors its veterans and respects its immigrants.

With the Democrats' control of both Houses of Congress, we can now move to win passage of both the Filipino Veterans Equity and the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bills that are presently stalled in the House.

Under Republican rule, the FilVets Equity Bill, House Resolution (HR) 1474, had been locked up in the dungeon of the Veterans Affairs Committee led by Rep. Steve Buyer (R - Ind.), who refused to hold hearings on the bill. It could not be released to the House for a floor vote until after the Veterans Affairs Committee had conducted hearings on the bill and passed it.

But in January of 2007, Rep. Bob Filner (D- CA) is slated to take over the Veterans Affairs Committee. As the most consistent champion of Filipino Veterans Equity in the House, he will most certainly set hearings on the bill and work to secure its passage.

The chairmanship of the Senate Veterans Committee will likewise pass over to a Democrat, Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, who, also by coincidence, is the Senate's most consistent supporter of Filipino Veterans Equity.

The coming year will present the best opportunity for the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill to pass the US Congress since the Republicans took over the House in 1994.

As to the immigration issue, the estimated 500,000 Filipino TNTs in the US, one out of every 6 or 7 Filipinos in the US, may finally be able to go out from under the shadows and win a "path to citizenship".

The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill, backed by the US Senate and President Bush, was stalled in the House because of opposition from the Republican leadership led by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wi), chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

But in January, the House Judiciary Committee chairmanship will be turned over to Rep. John Conyers (D-Mi), a strong supporter of both the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill and the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill.

Passage of the Immigration Bill will offer an opportunity for most of the Filipino TNTs, the ones who entered the US more than 5 years ago, to apply for "earned legalization" that would lead to a "path to citizenship". They would finally be able to sleep well at night, no longer fearing a knock on the door in the morning from immigration agents who would separate them from their families.

This is the America that could be again.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Pinay Power

The history of Filipinos in America, from the arrival of the first Luzon indios in Morro Bay, California in 1587 to the coming of the Manilamen in Louisiana in either 1763 or 1830 to the immigration of Sacadas to Hawaii in 1906, is the history of Filipinos in America. It is not the history of Filipinas in America.

There were thousands of Filipino men who served as mariners on board the Spanish galleons that plied the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade from 1565 to 1815. Many of these mariners chose to remain in Acapulco rather than return back to Manila and many thereafter boarded other commercial ships that traveled throughout the Americas and Europe.

Many of these men jumped ship and later lived in communities like the ones established in the Louisiana bayous in the 1800s. Throughout this 319 year period (from 1587 to 1906), there is no record that any Filipino woman ever served as a mariner on any of the galleon ships nor were any among the first 15 Sacadas who arrived in Honolulu in 1906.

This thought came to mind while attending the Filipina Women's Summit from October 27-29 at the Philippine Center in San Francisco.

Considered a "valued stakeholder in the Filipino American community", I joined other Pinoys who were invited to join Pinays "Coming Together as a Community" to discuss "How to Advance Filipina Women in the US," a project of the Filipina Women's Network ( of Marily Mondejar.

The goals of the conference were to determine how best to develop the "leadership pipeline" of Filipina women and how to bring the Filipina voice to the national leadership table "to ensure the debates on policies being developed are equitable and inclusive".

An observation I shared with the delegates to this conference is that Pinays have advanced more in the political and economic spheres in the US than their Pinoy counterparts.

Under US presidents before Bill Clinton, the only Pinoys in the White House were cooks and stewards. Newsweek once reported that under US President George H. Bush, the residents of Kennebunkport, Maine, would always know when the President was in town by the large number of Filipinos who were shopping for food at the local groceries.

A Korean American White House official told a Filipino community forum in San Francisco in 1989 that "the last persons the President sees before he sleeps at night and the first persons he sees in the morning when he wakes up are Filipinos." How proud we must be, he said. ["We want to go through the front door, not the back door!" Dennis Normandy told him].

This changed under President Bill Clinton when he brought in Maria Mabilangan Haley as his White House Director of Personnel, Irene Bueno as his Assistant Director on Domestic Policy, Dr. Connie Mariano as his White House Physician, Kathleen Flores as his Director for Asian Outreach, Irene Natividad as a Fannie Mae Director, Mona Pasquil as a Special Assistant in the White House Political Department, and Gloria Caoile and Tessie Guillermo as members of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans.

Haley was thereafter appointed as a Director of the Export-Import Bank, the first Fil-Am to ever go through and receive a US Senate confirmation. Dr. Mariano was later promoted by Clinton to be a Rear Admiral of the US Navy.

Aside from being professionally competent and politically astute, they were all Filipina women.

This trend was not just with a Democrat. With Republican President George W. Bush, we saw the rise (and fall) of Susan Bonson Ralston, as a Special Assistant, with perhaps more power and influence than any previous Filipino in the White House. And, of course, there was the appointment of the White House Executive Chef Cristeta Commerford [Hail to the Chef].

In the economic sphere, there are role models like Loida Nicolas Lewis (CEO of TLC Beatrice), Josie (Josefina Almeda Cruz) Natori (CEO of the Natori Company) and Lilia Calderon (CEO of Calderon Capital). [The Pinoys have Dado Banatao.]

At the national empowerment conference of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) held in Honolulu recently, the three top officials elected by delegates from throughout the US were women: Alma Kern (national chair), Rozita Lee (national vice chair) and Joann Fields (National Youth Chair).

I would say, without fear of contradiction, that our Filipina women can mentor our Filipino men anytime of the day, 24/7.

The trend continues. Even now, a Filipina woman - Hydra Mendoza - is poised to be elected to the San Francisco School Board, Joanne Del Rosario (youngest sister of the former RP ambassador to the US) is set to win in the Colma Town Council race, and Lisa Normandy should also secure a seat in the South San Francisco School Board. Let's support them on November 7 to ensure their victories.

Let's not forget our men. Mike Guingona and Adelman Angeles are running for the City Council of Daly City, Fel Amistad for the San Mateo County School Board, and Henry Manayan as Mayor of Milpitas. They deserve our support.

If you live in the Tenderloin or South of Market districts of San Francisco, please vote for Rob Black for Supervisor. His election will end the tyrannical rule of Supervisor Chris Daly who unjustly destroyed the community programs of the West Bay Pilipino Multi-Service Center ("The Dream of Ed De la Cruz"). Join Browns for Black.

If you live in San Jose, please vote for Cindy Chavez for mayor. She has been a true and loyal friend of the Filipino American community throughout her political career.

For California statewide office, I encourage readers to vote for Jerry Brown as Attorney General. When he was the state's governor, Brown appointed more Filipinos (and Filipinas) to statewide commissions than all the previous state governors combined. He also appointed Ron Quidachay and Mel Recana as Superior Court judges. Join Browns for Brown.

Vote on November 7.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Century of Filipinos in America

"With much reverence, Wells Fargo celebrates 100 years of Filipino presence in the United States" announced the full-color back page ad of the souvenir magazine of the Filipino Centennial Gala Dinner & Ball held on October 21 at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. The theme of a century of Filipino immigration to America ran throughout the evening's gala program - in the speeches, messages and proclamations. They were all well-intentioned but they were also historically wrong.

According to the organizers, the Filipino century in America began with the arrival of 15 Filipino contract workers ("Sacadas") in Hawaii on December 20, 1906.

But there has been a Filipino presence in America since October 18, 1587 when "Luzon indios" first landed in Morro Bay, California while serving under Spanish Captain Pedro de Unamuno aboard the Spanish galleon, Nuestra Senora de Buen Esperanza. This historical fact was documented in H.R. Wagner's Unamuno's Voyage to California in 1587, published in the Quarterly of the California Historical Society (July 1923), which translated to English the ship logs of Unamuno. There is also a bronze marker in Morro Bay commemorating this historical event.

In his official message in the souvenir magazine, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom acknowledged this historical event: "Since 1587," he wrote, "the arrival of the first immigrants from the Philippines to what is now Morro Bay" has shown the rich diversity of California.

But Mayor Newsom was incorrect in referring to them as "immigrants". They were more like tourists without visas who were exploring the new land for their Spanish overlords in 1587. Unfortunately, the "California indios" discovered their presence and kicked them out, killing one unnamed Luzon indio in the process.

One official at the Gala, who recognized the Morro Bay Luzon indios' arrival , explained that the celebration was about 100 years of "continuous immigration" of Filipinos to America. If that is the criteria, then the arrival of the Manilamen in Louisiana will satisfy that definition because the mariners (sailors) who settled there continuously arrived in American ports, jumped ship, and settled in Filipino enclaves in America.

The Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS), in its website (, recognizes 1763 as the year the Manilamen arrived and settled in the marshlands of Louisiana. This contention was based on the book, Filipinos in Louisiana, written by Marina Espina, a former FANHS national president, who in turn based it on a book, Dixie, which was written in 1977 by Larry Bartlett. In it, he wrote:

"The year was 1763, and the schooner had unloaded its cargo at the Spanish provincial capital of New Orleans. Then its crew of Filipino sailors jumped ship and fled into the nearby cypress swamp...."

Espina accepted Bartlett's thesis and reported that she found evidence of Filipino mariners jumping ship off Acapulco, Mexico during the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade. According to Espina, they then crossed the Gulf of Mexico and migrated to the bayous of Louisiana and other gulf ports. There they established Saint Malo and six other Manilamen settlements: the Manila Village on Barataria Bay; Alombro Canal and Camp Dewey in Plaquemines Parish; and Leon Rojas, Bayou Cholas, and Bassa Bassa in Jefferson Parish.

Based on this contention, at its Hawaii national conference in June of this year, FANHS celebrated the 243rd anniversary of Filipino presence in the United States.

While there is no doubt that Manilamen settled in the Louisiana bayous, there is a genuine dispute as to when they first established the first Filipino settlement, Saint Malo Village, in the St. Bernard Parish swamplands outside New Orleans.

On March 31,1883, Harper Weekly published an eyewitness account of a Filipino village in Louisiana written by noted American writer, Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904). Hearn lived in New Orleans from 1876 to 1887 and wrote extensively for Harper Weekly about the diverse communities of people who lived in Louisiana.

In Saint Malo: A Lacustrine Village in Louisiana, Hearn wrote of a community of about 100 "cinnamon-colored" Manilamen (no women) who lived by fishing and catching alligators. They spoke Spanish and a Philippine language, most likely Tagalog as he referred to the men as "Tagalas" from the Philippine Islands. The Tagalas sent money back to their families in the Philippines and urged their townmates to join them so that they could replenish their settlements.

According to Hearn, the swamp dwellers had regular contacts with the city of New Orleans, where some of their families lived. They even formed an association there called La Union Philipina.

The Manilamen of Saint Malo were even credited with starting the dried shrimp industry in Louisiana, employing the methods commonly used in the Philippines. Saint Malo was destroyed by a hurricane in 1915 while Manila Village, the last of seven Filipino villages, was washed away by Hurricane Betsy in 1965.

When he interviewed Padre Carpio, the oldest Manilaman of Saint Malo, Hearn learned that his village had been in existence for a little more than 50 years.

A little more than 50 years from 1882, when Hearn visited Saint Malo, would place the date of the founding of the oldest settlement in Louisiana at about 1830, which would mean we should be celebrating our 176th anniversary, give or take a year, in 2006.

While Espina contends that the settlers of Saint Malo were sailors who jumped ship in Acapulco, this would be unlikely if they came after 1830 because the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade ended in 1815.

It is more likely that the Filipinos who settled in those seven villages were mariners who jumped ship off New Orleans as there were, even then, hundreds, if not thousands of Filipinos working in commercial ships traversing the globe. In an editorial that appeared in La Solidaridad in February of 1892, Graciano Lopez-Jaena noted the existence of Filipino mariner communities in European ports as well as in New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and New Orleans.

Illustrados like Lopez-Jaena studied in Spain but how did they get there from the Philippines? One of them, Philippine national hero Dr. Jose Rizal, returned to Spain in 1888 by way of the United States in a ship route that took him from Manila to Hongkong to Yokohama and then to San Francisco (May 2-4, 1888) where he then took a train to New York and a ship from there to London and then on to the continent. Many Filipino illustrados, like Rizal, may have passed through a similar route to get to Spain. It is likely that many of them may have decided to study in the United States.

Some of them studied in New Orleans where a local newspaper in 1883 printed an announcement of the formation of the Hispano Filipino Associacion de Nueva Orleans.

We can celebrate our 419th (from Morro Bay in 1587), our 243rd (FANHS-Espina from 1763), or our 176th (Lafcadio Hearn's account - about 1830). But the 100th anniversary of Filipino presence in America?

We not only have shortchanged our history, we are also undermining our numbers in America. In Mayor Newsom's message, he states that there are "now over two million Americans who identify their ancestry as Filipinos". Mel Orpilla's essay in the souvenir magazine claims that there are "two and a half million Filipinos" in America, based on the 2000 US census which reported that there are about 2.43 M Filipinos in the US.

But that 2000 Census figure did not include the estimated .5-M Filipinos who were out of status in 2000 who never bothered to register for fear of discovery by immigration authorities. It has also been six years since the 2000 census. Adding at least 40,000 new legal immigrants a year and the increase in TNTs would put our actual numbers in the US at 3.5 million.

Let's get our history and demographics right.

Monday, October 16, 2006

A Second Look at Susan Ralston

It was initially a choice between Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao or (then) Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta when AsianWeek editors a year ago discussed who they considered to be the most influential Asian American in the White House. They concluded that it was neither. In their view, the one Asian American who commanded the personal friendship and respect of President George W. Bush, more than anyone else, was Susan Bonzon Ralston, the Filipino American Special Assistant who resigned on October 6.

It was not surprising then that AsianWeek's front page cover story this past week was Ralston's resignation, with the headline "No More Asians in the White House, Special Assistant to the President Quits."

When my column last week about Ralston ("Falling on the Sword") appeared on the Internet, before it was published in the newspaper, it drew criticism from Filipino American Republican leaders who believed that it presented a "one dimensional" picture of Ralston.

Interestingly enough, the piece was also attacked by one reader ("a Democrat with conservative leanings") for being "too kind" to her. While some Republicans thought it was wrong for me to mention Ralston's father in the piece, another reader thought it was "a transparent attempt to elicit sympathy for her." A columnist just can't win.

I reported that Ralston resigned after the House Government Reform Committee (HGRC) released emails of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff including 66 of his contacts with the White House, more than half of which were with Ralston who worked for him before he recommended her to Karl Rove.

One of Abramoff's clients was the Northern Mariana Islands which opposed the labor reforms that had been initiated by the Interior Department's Office of Insular Affairs headed by Allen Stayman.

A month after Ralston began working in the White House in 2001, she met with Abramoff lobbyist Todd A. Boulanger who provided her with a binder about the North Mariana Islands which recommended the firing of Stayman.

Among the emails released by the HGRC was a February 21, 2001 email from Ralston to Boulanger where she wrote: "Thanks for breakfast. I showed KR the binder. . He gave the binder to Mehlman to read cover to cover and to be prepared." [KR is Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, now the head of the Republican Party, was then the White House political director.]

In July, 2001, Ralston emailed Abramoff promising that Stayman would be "out in four months." According to the Los Angeles Times October 15, 2006 Sunday edition, "the promise was fulfilled."

Yet, when Filipino American delegates to the 2004 national conference of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) pressed Ralston to use her White House clout to help the Filipino WW II veterans fight for equity, she refused to do so, claiming that she doesn't do "policy."

As my Republican friends have since pointed out, it didn't end there. Perhaps because of the criticism she received at the Chicago NaFFAA conference, especially from then NaFFAA National Chair Loida Nicolas Lewis, Ralston later agreed to help NaFFAA on the veterans issue.

Two weeks after the NaFFAA conference in September of 2004, Ralston arranged for NaFFAA chair Lewis and NaFFAA Chief of Staff Armando Heredia to meet with White House Domestic Policy Adviser Allan Gilbert and his assistant, Matthew Smith, to discuss the Filipino veterans issue.

When the American Coalition for the Filipino Veteran (ACFV) learned of the meeting, the veterans lobby group requested that a Filipino veteran leader be included in the meeting. According to the ACFV, both Lewis and Heredia agreed that Mr. Franco Arcebal, a WWII Filipino veteran who was tortured by his captors during the war and who is the ACFV vice-president of membership, should attend the White House meeting.

When the request was made to Gilbert's office to include Acerbal, who had flown in from Los Angeles for the meeting, it was denied. Eric Lachica, ACFV Executive Director, emailed Ralston: "We just spoke at 9 A.M. with Sandy w/ Mr. Alan Gilbert's Domestic Policy office. She said that you turned down Mr. Franco Arcebal from attending today's 2 PM meeting of Ms. Loida Nicolas-Lewis and Armando Heredia of NaFFAA w/ Mr. Gilbert on Filipino WWII veterans bills."

Ralston quickly replied: "I did not make the decision. I only helped to arrange the meeting since I am not involved in this issue. Please discuss w/ Matthew Smith and
Alan Gilbert. I am NOT attending the meeting. Eric, your threats, such as the one to protest the Administration, do NOT help your cause and only make it more difficult for the White House to have any kind of constructive dialogue w/ you and your group."

Despite that initial disappointment, the ACFV was later able to forge constructive and productive contacts with Ralston. When they heard of Ralston's resignation, ACFV national president Pat Ganio and ACFV Executive Director Lachica said that the veterans were "saddened and disappointed."

According to Ganio, Ralston had later arranged for meetings of ACFV officials with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi, with the White House staff and a key National Security official to obtain Bush's support for the Filipino Veterans Health Care bill, for Senator Daniel Inouye's pension bill and for the U.S. grant-in-aid to the Philippine Veterans Medical Center.

"Our Fil-Am community leaders lost an irreplaceable and helpful contact in the Oval Office. She will be sorely missed by us," said Ganio.

The qualities that got Ralston her White House job were the very same reasons she stepped down. Aside from her professional competence, it was her loyalty and sense of gratitude - two virtues held in high regard in the Filipino community - that caused her to resign.

Ralston was grateful to Abramoff for recommending her to Karl Rove where she ended up as the right hand of President Bush's "right hand man." The alleged favors she did for Abramoff were probably done because of her "utang na loob" (debt of gratitude).

She was loyal to Rove and to President Bush, refusing to say anything or do anything that may cause them any damage. She was even willing to "fall on the sword" for them.

Although Ralston may have resigned, she is not out of the woods yet as she is still being investigated for her failure to report the gifts of concert tickets and games that she received from Abramoff. Earlier in August, Roger Stillwell, a former Interior Department official, pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge for not reporting that Abramoff had given him tickets to football games and concerts.

According to Rudy Pamintuan, Ralston's personal friend and the chair of the White House Initiative for Asian Americans, there is an exception for gifts from long-time friends made before joining the government.

The Filipino community (and the Asian American communities) lost a major asset in the White House. Whatever may be said about Ralston's head (her judgments), they cannot say about her heart (her loyalties). We wish her well.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

NaFFAA and the New Math

It is estimated that there are more than 5,000 Filipino community organizations in the US. According to former Philippine Ambassador to the US Raul Rabe, the explosive growth in the number of Filipino organizations can be attributed to the new math practice of "multiplication by division" based on the old phenomenon peculiar to Filipino community elections where there are no losers, only winners and those who were cheated.

There are even divisions within divisions as splinter factions splinter into more factions.

So how do you deal with the new math and the old phenomenon? That is the challenge facing the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) which seeks to "promote active participation of Filipino Americans in civic and national affairs and in all other aspects of mainstream America".

Many critics rightfully ask why, if the mission is to promote active participation in mainstream America, is the NaFFAA spending so much time on the Philippines?

They point to NaFFAA's successful challenge in the Philippine Supreme Court of a Comelec ruling that barred dual citizens from being able to vote in Philippine elections and its support of various Philippine initiatives like Gawad Kalinga and Gilas as examples of NaFFAA's preoccupation with the Philippines.

In his email, Prof. Cesar Torres asks: "if your focus is just on the Americans, why are you gallivanting in Cebu, in Sydney?"

Any analysis of the nature and composition of Filipino community organizations will reveal that most of them are based on Philippine affinities whether clan, hometown, province, school alumni, professional, or humanitarian assistance.

Because their preoccupation is with the Philippines and how to improve their affinities in particular and societal governance in general, then those have to be addressed by NaFFAA if it seeks those groups' involvement.

At its founding in Washington DC in 1997, NaFFAA dedicated itself to the twin objectives of empowering Filipinos in America and working for the progress of the Philippines.

These are not diametrically opposing objectives and are in fact intertwined. As Gawad Kalinga founder Tony Meloto pointed out in a speech in Las Vegas recently, the image of Filipinos in America as "third class citizens" is directly related to the image of the Philippines as a poverty-mired slum-filled Third World nation.

As the economics and the politics of the Philippines improves, so too will the image of Filipino Americans.

The image of Filipinos in America received its biggest boost in 1941 when Filipinos showed their courage in the heroic defense of Bataan and Corregidor and in 1986 when the Filipinos toppled the corrupt dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos with People Power.

Filipinos in America remit more than $7-B annually to the Philippine economy and send hundreds of medical missions to various parts of the Philippines in dire need of medical assistance.

By securing the right to vote in Philippine elections, Filipinos in America can directly choose and elect Philippine leaders who can point the country to a more progressive direction.

NaFFAA has held all its empowerment conferences in the US: in Washington DC in 1997 and 1998, in New York in 1999, in Las Vegas in 2000, in San Jose in 2002, in Chicago in 2004 and in Honolulu in 2006. The "gallivanting" in Manila and Cebu in 2003 and 2005 and in Sydney in 2007 is a NaFFAA project -- the Global Filipino Networking Convention, which began in San Francisco in 2002, the day after the NaFFAA empowerment conference in San Jose.

The Global Filipino Networking Convention is based on two principles. The first is to understand that we are part of the Global Filipino community, part of the Diaspora that has transported and transplanted more than 8 million Filipinos to more than 150 countries all over the world.

Just as Filipino Americans join in coalitions with other Asian Pacific Americans to have greater political clout, so too will Filipino Americans join Filipino Australians, Filipino Canadians and other Filipinos abroad to have greater clout in the Philippines. Instead of just dealing only with 3-M Filipinos in the US, the Philippine government will now also have to deal with 8-M global Filipinos.

The second principle is that "networking" is the way of uniting our disparate communities. In our first convention in San Francisco, we brought groups together who had been in existence for decades who did not know of the existence of other groups who were neighbors. They did not need to join NaFFAA, they could attend the convention and network with each other and build friendships that may lead to future alliances and common projects.

NaFFAA took the lead in initiating this Global Filipino convention in 2002 which moved to Manila in December of 2003 and to Cebu in January of 2005. Coinciding the 4th Global Filipino Networking Convention with the 7th NaFFAA National Empowerment Conference in Hawaii in 2006 was seen as a fitting way to mark the centennial of Filipinos in America, which was also the centennial of the Global Filipino Diaspora. It made sense to combine the conferences with a common theme: "100 Years of the Filipino Diaspora: Hawaii and Beyond".

It will probably be another 100 years (put it in your calendars now) before another Global Filipino convention and a NaFFAA empowerment conference are held in the same place and date as just occurred in Honolulu. Next year's global convention will be held in Sydney, Australia in September of 2007 and the next NaFFAA empowerment conference will be held in Seattle in September of 2008. Filipinos in the Middle East are vying to host a Global Convention in Dubai in 2009.

Meanwhile, as Philippine News reporter Jun Ilagan noted in his story, "In an unprecedented move, Filipino Republicans and Democrats blurred party lines and set the groundwork for the immediate formation and mobilization of a coalition group that would work to educate FilAm voters and solidify the community nationwide as a major voting bloc."

The landmark decision to form the coalition group crystallized when the two party groups met at a conference workshop during the 4th Global Filipino Networking Convention and 7th National Empowerment Conference held September 28 to October 1 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village here.

Gloria Caoile, who heads the Democratic group, and Perry Diaz, top honcho of the National Federation of Filipino-American Republicans, decided to do away with the original workshop agenda, and buckled down to discuss the issue of political empowerment for FilAms.

"We were supposed to discuss the usual issues affecting our community in that worksho," Diaz said. "But early on, we decided that these issues are meaningless unless we FilAms start commanding attention as a solid political unit that can actually cast the swing vote, just like other non-Filipino organizations in the country. This is the true political empowerment."

Multiplication by division plus addition without subtraction is the new math that was the by-product of the Honolulu conference.

Monday, October 9, 2006

Falling on the Sword

When Ed Navarra learned on October 6 that Susan Bonzon Ralston had resigned from her post as a special assistant to President George W. Bush, his gut told him that she was being made a "scapegoat".

"Someone has to fall on the sword for the emperor and I guess it's Susan," Navarra noted sadly.

Navarra, the Midwest Region chair of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), immediately dashed off an email to President Bush to express his personal "regrets and dissatisfaction" with Ralston's resignation from the Bush administration. "Her departure," he wrote, "has left a void in our quest for empowerment especially in the Filipino American community and in the Asian Pacific American communities as well."

It was Navarra who had personally invited Ralston to be the keynote speaker at the 6th NaFFAA National Empowerment Conference in Chicago on September 12, 2004. In her speech to the NaFFAA delegates, Ralston talked about how privileged she felt to work on a daily basis with Pres. Bush "who is always working for the interests of the American people." But unlike the other speaker, Gen. Antonio Taguba (of Abu Ghraib fame), Ralston refused to talk about the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill supported by NaFFAA.

When asked at a press conference before her speech if she would be willing to use her White House influence to advocate for the Filipino WW II veterans, Ralston demurred, declaring "I don't do policy."

Documents released last week by the House Government Reform Committee (HGRC) disclosed that Ralston was very much involved in policy, but with Presidential Adviser Karl Rove and with superlobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The question Navarra may be asking now is the identity of the "emperor" that Ralston fell on the sword for.

Was it Rove? In testifying before the Grand Jury investigating Karl Rove's involvement in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, Ralston testified that Rove's 2003 phone conversation with Time reporter Matt Cooper (where Rove disclosed Plame's CIA identity) was not logged in the Rove's White House records because it was coursed by a switchboard rather than a direct line.

Ralston's explanation may not be considered credible because other White House switchboard calls had been logged in but it nonetheless provided Rove with enough of an excuse to plausibly deny recalling his 2003 meeting with Cooper. Her explanation provided the "shadow of doubt" that Rove desperately needed to avoid being indicted along with Vice-President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Was it Abramoff? Ralston had worked as his Executive Assistant when he worked at Preston Gates and later at the Greenberg Taurig law and lobbying firm, where she served as the assistant director of governmental affairs. When Karl Rove asked Abramoff to recommend a Special Assistant to work with him at the White House in 2001, he offered Ralston. On Abramoff's say so, Rove hired Ralston as his assistant in "overseeing the strategic planning, political affairs, public liaison, and intergovernmental affairs efforts of the White House."

Abramoff was later indicted and convicted of fraud and conspiracy charges and of using White House contacts to advance his clients' interests. He is cooperating with government investigators. Last week, the HGRC released the 66 emails of Abramoff to the White House, half of them to Ralston. The report also noted that Abramoff's lobbying team had contacted Ralston 69 times.

The HGRC reported that Ralston had passed along inside information to Abramoff at a time when she accepted his tickets to sporting and entertainment events including concerts of Bruce Springsteen and Andrea Boccelli. The White House Counsel is investigating Ralston for those undeclared gifts.

The charge of Navarra, a Republican, that Ralston was being made a "scapegoat" was echoed by California Rep. Henry Waxman, the top Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, who told the press that he suspects the White House is making Ralston a scapegoat.

"There is a lot that we don't yet know about the assistance that Ms. Ralston
provided Mr. Abramoff from inside the White House, but the vast majority of lobbying contacts and meals with White House officials documented in the report were with White House officials other than Ms. Ralston," Waxman said. (Could Pres. Bush be the "emperor"?)

Before emailing Pres. Bush, Navarra contacted Ralston's father, Dr. Tom Bonzon, to inquire about his daughter. He replied that Susan was "doing just fine, feeling quite relieved."

"She won't grant interviews and considers the matter of her resignation closed," Dr. Bonzon wrote. "She thanks everyone that expressed care and concern. She will most assuredly go on with her life - with firm conviction that in almost 6 years in the WH, she did her best to serve President Bush and the country."

"Tita and I hope that maybe, just maybe Susan will now have time to consider raising a family a viable option - something she could not do while in the WH - working 16-18 hours a day. The media, especially the bloggers, are busy on this news item. We hope the buzz dies down soon."

Given that Ralston is embroiled in the Karl Rove, Abramoff, and White House Counsel's ethics investigations, the buzz-die wishes of her Filipino American parents are unlikely to be granted.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Long Road to Empowerment

The year was 1996. A national debate was raging about proposals to dramatically revamp US immigration laws, like eliminating sibling petitions by US citizens and closing the door to many forms of legal immigration. These proposals would drastically affect the Filipino community which has more than 100,000 siblings with approved visa petitions waiting patiently to immigrate to the US (as long as 25 years).

African Americans, Latino Americans, Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans and various immigrant communities were participating in the national discussion. But noticeably absent from the table were representatives of the Filipino American community. Even though hundreds of thousands of Filipinos would be affected by the proposed legislation, there was no national Filipino American organization to lobby the policy makers in Washington DC on behalf of the community.

It was not supposed to be this way. Filipino Americans had met a decade before in San Francisco after the fall of Marcos to plan out how to make up for the 14 years that was lost because the community was bitterly torn over Marcos and martial law. That bury-the-hatchet meeting in April of 1996 at the San Francisco Airport Hilton set the stage for a year long campaign to call on community leaders throughout the US to meet in Anaheim, California in August of 1997 to form the National Filipino American Council (NFAC).

When 1500 delegates from all over the US answered the call and trooped to Anaheim in August of 1987, it was thought then that the political drought was over for the Filipino American community. We would now begin to finally focus on fighting discrimination against Filipinos, electing qualified Fil-Ams to public office, and asserting our right to a seat at the table.

But 9 years after the NFAC was formed, there were less than a handful of chapters, all concentrated in the San Francisco Bay Area. There was no national presence in Washington DC and the NFAC did not have a place at the table.

The time had come to form and build another organization. Discussions began within the San Francisco chapter of the NFAC in the fall of 1996 resulting in a general meeting in Salinas in January of 1997. I presented a proposal for the NFAC to take the lead in calling on all Filipino community organizations to come to Washington DC to attend a National Filipino American Empowerment Conference. NFAC accepted the challenge.

In February, I went to Washington DC and met with local leaders Jon Melegrito and Gloria Caoile to discuss our proposal with them. They immediately endorsed it and Jon even proposed the adoption of the federation concept similar to the Filipino American Heritage Federation which he headed in DC that was composed of more than 40 Fil-Am organizations.

While in DC, I was invited to attend the April 1997 regional conference of the Filipino Intercollegiate Network for Dialogue (FIND) in Long Island in New York. In April, after I learned that the FIND group had bought me a round-trip ticket, I invited Alex Esclamado to join me as I had obtained a RT ticket. Alex had just sold the Philippine News and was getting ready to write his memoirs. It was his dream to have a national Fil-Am organization that would effectively advocate for the Fil-Am community. But his dream would not materialize because his leadership was rejected in Anaheim in 1987.

While in New York, Alex and I (with Michael Dadap) met with Loida Nicolas Lewis and informed her of the plans for the National Empowerment Conference. Loida enthusiastically applauded the move and gave it her full support. That support would energize Alex and cause him to travel throughout the US to encourage and cajole Filipino community leaders to come to Washington DC.

Greg Macabenta explained the reason for the conference in a brochure we prepared for dissemination:

"Major events are occurring and laws are being passed that affect the interests of Filipino Americans, such as those on immigration, affirmative action and social services. But our community is simply being swept by the tides of change and circumstance. We are not playing a significant role in shaping these events and enacting these laws, despite the fact that we make up the largest Asian ethnic group in this country.

"We appear to be impotent in the face of the adverse circumstances, not because we lack the numbers nor the social status nor the intellectual capacity but because we, as a community, have not been able to harness our full potentials as a socioeconomic and political force.

"We have not struggled hard enough for empowerment. This is our challenge."

On August 22-24, 1997, over 1,000 delegates from throughout the US attended the 1st National Empowerment Conference in Washington DC to focus on four major issues affecting the Filipino American community: immigration, affirmative action, welfare reform, and equity for Filipino World War II Veterans.

To dramatize the urgency particularly of the last issue, delegates marched to the White House on the first day of the conference, led by hundreds of uniformed Filipino veterans, to demand "equity now." For the first time, the veterans issue became a national campaign for justice.

The following year, the delegates met again in Washington, D.C. on October 16-18, 1998 and unanimously ratified the Constitution & By Laws of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), formalizing NaFFAA's organizational structure. Elected to lead the federation for a 4-year term were Alex A. Esclamado as National Chair and Gloria T. Caoile as National Vice Chair.

The 3rd empowerment conference was held at the New York City Hilton & Towers on October 15-17, 1999 with then First Lady Hillary Clinton as the keynote speaker. The conference affirmed NaFFAA's vision of establishing a solid and powerful presence of Filipino Americans in the United States

The 4th empowerment conference was held in Las Vegas on September 28 - October 1, 2000 with the theme "Making Our Power Count".

The 5th national conference was held in San Jose, California on August 28-September 1, 2002 with the theme "Forging a National Consciousness as a Filipino Community in America." During that "Y2K2 Conference," Loida Nicolas Lewis was elected to lead the Federation as the National Chair, with Greg Macabenta as National Vice Chair.

The 6th national conference was held in Chicago, Illinois on September 10-12, 2004 with the theme of "Bridging the Fil-Am Community".

Aware that the Fil-Am community is only a part of the Filipino Diaspora, NaFFAA also convened the 1st Global Filipino Networking Convention at the massive Moscone Center in San Francisco immediately after the "Y2K2 Conference" in 2002. It was attended by close to 4,000 participants. The 2nd global convention was held in Manila in December 2003 while the 3rd global convention was held in Cebu in January 2005.

And now, coinciding with the centennial of Filipinos in America, the 7th NaFFAA National Empowerment Conference and the 4th Global Filipino Networking Convention are being held in the same venue at the same time on September 28-October 1, 2006 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu with the joint theme: "100 Years of the Filipino Diaspora: Hawaii and Beyond."

As its website ( states: "NaFFAA has grown into what it is today -- an organization that is recognized by Washington policy-makers, private industry and national advocacy groups as the Voice of Filipinos and Filipino-Americans throughout the United States. It is a non-partisan, non-profit national affiliation of more than five hundred Filipino-American institutions and umbrella organizations. Its twelve regions cover the continental United States, Hawaii, Guam and the Marianas. Its mission is to promote the welfare and well-being of all Filipinos and Filipino Americans throughout the United States by fostering unity and empowerment."

It has been a long road to get here and a longer road still to go. But weĆ¢€™re moving. Finally.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Road to Empowerment

The declaration of martial law in the Philippines, 34 years ago this week, was the most divisive issue to ever confront the Filipino community in America. Overnight, the Filipino community was split into two warring camps, the pros and the antis, with the political lines divided also along age and region. The older more established leaders in the community were more easily seduced by the promise of political stability offered by Marcos while younger Filipinos were opposed because of their idealism and their skepticism about dictatorships.

But region was where the battle lines were more sharply drawn. Because Marcos came from the Ilocos region, Ilocanos in Hawaii and throughout the US generally favored martial law because "Apo Ferdie" was in charge.

When Marcos declared martial law, hundreds of labor union leaders were among the 10,000 arrested by his military forces. And yet the Filipino labor union leaders in the US, many of whom were Ilocanos, remained silent.

Andy Imutan, a member of the board of the United Farmworkers Union (UFW) under Cesar Chavez, was an outspoken Ilocano supporter of Marcos. In 1977, he carried a personal invitation from Marcos to Chavez to visit the Philippines. Imutan convinced Chavez that the Ilocano farmworkers support Marcos and that accepting the invitation from Marcos would show the Filipinos that he cared about them.

Despite strong objections from Philip Vera Cruz, then the highest-ranking Filipino in the UFW leadership, Chavez accepted Marcos' invitation and, with Imutan by his side, visited the Philippines in August of 1977. When he returned with Marcos' Presidential Appreciation Award, Chavez invited Marcos' Labor Minister, Blas Ople, to deliver a keynote speech at the UFW National Convention on August 28, 1977.

In his autobiography, Vera Cruz wrote: "What Cesar did there in the Philippines was the saddest day in the history of the farmworkers movement in this country. It was just a disgrace. Cesar was toasting with Marcos and all those phony farm and labor leaders appointed by Marcos, and at the same time, on the other side of Manila, the real union leaders and farmworkers were in jail; many have been tortured in the most terrible ways you can imagine." (Philip Vera Cruz: A Personal History of Filipino Immigrants and the Farmworkers Movement by Craig Scharlin and Lilia Villanueva).

But as divisive as martial law was to the Filipino American community, it also provided an opportunity for the formation of national Filipino organizations. Prior to 1972, other than professional groups like the Association of Philippine Physicians in America (APPA) and the Philippine Nurses Association of America (PNAA), there were no national Filipino organizations. Even the Filipino American Political Association (FAPA), which was formed in 1966, was not a national organization even though it had 39 chapters in California.

The day after Marcos declared martial law on September 23, 1972 (which he backdated to September 21 because of his fixation with 7), the National Committee for the Restoration of Civil Liberties in the Philippines (NCRCLP) was formed with chapters in 7 major cities throughout the US from Los Angeles to New York, from Seattle to Washington DC. A National Day of Protest was organized on October 6, 1972 with pickets set up in front of all the Philippine Consulates and the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC.

A year later, the Movement for a Free Philippines (MFP) was organized in Washington DC by Raul Manglapus and Heherson Alvarez, with chapters set up all over the US as well.

In 1975, the Katipunan ng mga Demokratikong Pilipino (KDP - Union of Democratic Filipinos), a militant organization of young Filipinos and Filipino Americans, was formed with the goal of "consolidating the left, winning over the middle, and isolating the right."

In 1979, the Coalition Against the Marcos Dictatorship (CAMD) was formed under the leadership of the KDP.

In 1983, after Ninoy Aquino was assassinated in Manila, the Ninoy Aquino Movement (NAM) was formed in the US with the leadership provided by MFP members.

The result of all these national formations was the evolution of a national consciousness, a realization that Filipinos throughout the US shared common ideas and were concerned about common issues.

When the Marcos Dictatorship was overthrown by People Power in February of1986, Alex Esclamado, the anti-Marcos publisher of the Philippine News, seized the opportunity to ask all the warring factions to lay down their rhetorical arms and unite to form a national organization that would be concerned with advancing "The Filipino American Agenda".

In August of 1987, more than 1200 Filipino community leaders from throughout the US, including future Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano, trooped to Anaheim, California and formed the National Filipino American Council (NFAC).

Under the leadership of NFAC National President Dennis Normandy, the NFAC presented the model of "spokes in a wheel" with various national organizations formed along areas of interest with the NFAC at the center of the wheel.

While the NFAC attempted to set up chapters around the country, it was left up to the local groups to form their own NFAC chapters. The most active NFAC chapter was the Monterey, California chapter and it was formed by a coalition of 12 community organizations under the leadership of Efren Iglesias.

By the time Dr. Lupo Carlota from Tennessee was elected national president in 1995, there were less than 100 delegates in attendance at the convention. There was a growing realization among the dwindling numbers of NFAC members that a new national organization was needed.

By then, new national organizations of Filipino Americans had emerged on the scene. Among them was the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) which was formed in Seattle, Washington in 1982 with national biennial conference held since 1987. There was also the Filipino Civil Rights Advocates (FilCRA) which was formed in Berkeley, California in 1994 under the leadership of Lilian Galedo.

In February of 1997, I met in Washington DC with local community leaders Jon Melegrito and Gloria Caoile to discuss the formation of a national Filipino organization that would work towards the empowerment of the Filipino community. Both Jon and Gloria enthusiastically supported the idea with Jon suggesting that the new organization be established as a federation of Filipino community organizations similar to the Philippine Heritage Federation that he headed in DC. It would also be similar to the Monterey chapter of the NFAC.

How about calling it the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA)?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Attempts at Empowerment

When San Francisco Municipal Court Judge Sylvain Lazarus opined in open court in a 1936 case that Filipinos were "scarcely more than savages," the city's Filipino community erupted in protest, especially after his remarks made front page news.

But what could they do at the time? Could they picket the Municipal Court and denounce Judge Lazarus for being a racist? Could they go to the Mayor or to the Board of Supervisors and ask them to censure the judge? Could they file a complaint with the state judicial council against Lazarus? Could they seek his removal from the bench?

These were not reasonable options available to the Filipino community which, according to Judge Lazarus, was composed of "waiters, elevator operators, janitors, bell boys, etc." Filipinos were also "nationals," not US citizens, and couldn't vote (Why should the mayor or supervisors listen to them?). What few Filipino lawyers there were couldn't practice in California which restricted "officers of the court" to US citizens (this changed only in 1971).

Aside from the Filipino Community of San Francisco, there were three main fraternal Filipino organizations at the time: the Legionarios del Trabajadores, the Caballeros de Dimasalang and the Gran Oriente Filipino. There were provincial aggrupations of Ilocanos (Anak Ti Batac) and other like-minded regional groups.

There was no national Filipino organization. About the closest at the time was the Filipino Federation of America (FFA) which was founded and led by Hilario Moncado, who basically organized it as a cult centered around him. The members were even referred to as "Moncadistas" and they paid regular membership dues and tithes to maintain Moncado in a comfortable, if not opulent, lifestyle.

Filipinos basically did not have the First Amendment right to "petition the government for a redress of grievances." On paper they could, but reality was another matter. About the only way for Filipinos to redress their grievance against Judge Lazarus in 1936 was to send their petition to the Philippine Resident Commissioner in Washington DC, which is what they did.

What did the Philippine Resident Commissioner do with the resolution of outrage against Lazarus? Time magazine reported on the Commissioner's response: "Statesman Paredes answered his San Francisco countrymen with restraint: He believed the judge had not meant to call all Filipinos savages -- "but there are savages everywhere." He urged his compatriots to "avoid occasions for rebuke" and sent a copy of his reply to Judge Lazarus accompanied by a note saying, "I cannot believe you had in any way intended to refer to my people as a whole."

The Commissioner did not want Filipinos to be "rebuked" for getting upset at being called "savages." What's the big deal anyway? There are savages everywhere. No big thing. Besides, the judge didn't mean to generalize about all Filipinos. To appease the restive natives, Paredes thought he would send a note to the judge to obtain confirmation that he was not generalizing about all Filipinos. See, I told you the judge didn't mean what he said.

But Judge Lazarus was not about to oblige the Commissioner: "I intend to be as straightforward with you as you have been considerate with me," he wrote back. "Basing my conclusions on years of observation, I regret to say that there is probably no group in this city, proportionate to its members, that supply us with more criminal business than the local Filipino colony." Yes, he meant exactly what he said, Commissioner.

The years since 1936 saw various attempts to form a national Filipino organization. One of the more notable efforts occurred 40 years ago in 1966 with the formation of the Filipino American Political Association (FAPA).

When the Filipino farmworkers of Delano, California, led by Larry Itliong, went on strike in 1965, Filipino professionals in the San Francisco Bay Area, led by Philippine News publisher Alex Esclamado, organized a "food caravan" to supply the striking farmworkers with canned goods to feed them. This alliance of rural farmworkers and urban professionals gave birth to the FAPA, which at its height had 39 chapters in cities and towns throughout California.

The conflict that eventually developed within FAPA was not based on class but on geography. To resolve this dispute, a FAPA by-law required that the president be elected alternately from Northern and Southern California.

FAPA's influence faded after Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972 with many Ilocano farmworkers and Fil-Am businessmen relying on the Philippine government for support backing Marcos while civil libertarians among them denouncing him.

After People Power ended Marcos rule in 1986, Alex Esclamado asked the pro-Marcos and anti-Marcos forces in the community to set aside their differences and form a new national organization. More than 1200 Filipinos from throughout the US heeded his call and trooped to Anaheim, California to form the National Filipino American Council (NFAC).

As the organizer and prime mover of this fledging group, Alex expected to be elected its national chair. But partisan politics derailed his plan as Filipino American Republican delegates in Anaheim objected to his unabashedly pro-Democratic politics and succeeded in electing Dennis Normandy, a Fil-Am Republican businessman from San Francisco, to lead the NFAC. A Fil-Am Democrat (me) was elected national vice-chair.

Saddled with a massive debt from the Anaheim convention, the Normandy-led NFAC was hesitant to embark on projects which might put the NFAC in the red. The group was thus unable to organize chapters in cities and states outside of the San Francisco Bay Area as Dennis envisioned and fashioned a leaner debt-free organization. By the 1995 national conference of the NFAC in Monterey, California, however, less than 100 delegates were in attendance.

In 1997, a new national organization would be formed in Washington DC: the National Federation of Filipino Associations in America (NaFFAA).