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.

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