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)?

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