Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Beating Ketsana-Ondoy

It was billed as Ondoy-Ketsana, which is O-K, only it wasn’t. Ketsana-Ondoy is more appropriate because it was a walloping K-O that this tropical storm unleashed on the Philippines, akin to what Manny Pacquiao inflicted on Ricky Hatton last May. Only much, much worse.

The photos of the devastation in the hard-hit areas of Metro Manila were harrowing and heart-wrenching: shanties shattered and shorn of whatever little dignity they started with; children wet and shivering, their hapless parents looking fear-stricken and ever more helpless; emaciated animals either dead or scampering; cars and trucks submerged, upended or piled on top of each other; and all sorts of human detritus -- cheap roofing materials, clapboards, furniture and fixtures, textiles and clothes, children's toys, and varying implements of daily living -- strewn all over, pleading to be picked up and cleaned.

And all these against a backdrop of brown, murky water seemingly everywhere, the motif dominant beneath an ominously gray sky, lurking and threatening to unleash yet more pain with more rain.

With water everywhere, the cruel irony is that the aftermath will highlight the very serious problem of lack of water. Clean water, that is, because water reservoirs, water treatment plants, pipes, tanks, and underground wells could not have escaped severe damage or contamination due to the storm.

With the death toll so far rising to more than 300, more deaths are expected in the ensuing months because of diseases related to unsafe water and poor sanitation. With muck, garbage, toxic chemicals, human waste, and God knows what else, all mixed up in this unprecedented massive flood which almost submerged the entire Metro Manila, the next likely chapter is dealing with diseases like typhoid, diarrhea and cholera.

Typhoid and cholera outbreaks occur where water supplies and sanitation are inadequate. People get sick after ingesting water or food that has been contaminated by the feces of infected persons. As always, children are the most vulnerable: according to theWorld Health Organization, on a regular basis, 84% of water-related deaths are in children ages 0 to 14, and about 43% of water-related deaths are due to diarrhea alone.

Not counting the psychological trauma that accompanies every disaster of this magnitude, the damage to private property, public infrastructure, crops and vegetation, and the costs to the economy as a whole, are immense and are still being tallied. The task is monumental. The early figures are out but are grossly understated. Many of the big companies are hobbled, but worse, many small businesses will be closed for good. Tens of thousands of the formerly employed will remain formerly employed.

The images of devastation make the comparison to Katrina easy, but Katrina was a super cyclone (tropical storm 4) while Ketsana-Ondoy was only a baby storm (tropical storm 1). And yet more rain water poured into Metro Manila in 12 hours onSeptember 26 than would normally fall in a whole month in the rainy season, more than what Seattle would experience in total from September through December. Marikina, the hardest hit Metro Manila city, has almost twice the population of New Orleans and is 23 times more dense per square mile.

How did a baby storm cause so much damage? According to Neal Cruz, “the unprecedented amount of rain... caused the rivers to swell and dam reservoirs to fill up. Water had to be released from the dams to prevent the pressure of water from breaking them. This water released from the reservoirs swelled the rivers downstream, causing them to overflow their banks and flood surrounding areas. With the creeks and rivers overflowing with water, there was no place for the rain water to go. So they went to the streets and to the houses and yards of low-lying villages.”

Because this was the “mother of all disasters”, the Philippines needs international help as it has never needed before. The European Community donated 2 million euros ($2.5M), with Germany adding an additional $500,000. Australia came through with $1M, Japan with $220,000 and China with $160,000. But of all the responses so far, the US has been the most underwhelming, with a donation of a measly $100,000 -- a pittance and a source of shame for the 4 million Filipinos in America.

At the end of the day, however, it will boil down to us, Filipinos of all stripes and colors, wherever located and however situated in life, to pull together and help our Motherland and our kababayans get back on their feet.

Below are 10 suggestions on how we can help the Philippines:

1. Get involved with any effort to help the Philippines. Engage your friends, Filipinos or not, and use your networks -- school, church, work, social, familial, Facebook, Twitter or Myspace. If you live in the SF-Bay Area, attend the regular weekly community task force meetings on Wednesdays at 7 pm at the Philippine Consulate. If there is no organized group in your community, create one.

2. Contact the White House (202-456-1111 or www.whitehouse.gov), the US Department of State (202-647-6575 orwww.state.gov), and your local Senator & Congressman (www.house.gov), and tell them that the US's $100K donation is pitifully small and that the US needs to give more.

3. Contact a relative or friend in the Philippines who needs help and send whatever money you can spare to that relative/friend and his/her family.

4. Send canned goods, camping equipment, clothes, blankets, flashlights, transistor radios or anything that might be useful, bring them to your local Philippine Consulate or to LBC and its 60 branch offices throughout the US.

5. Send money to the Philippine National Red Cross (redcross.org.ph), Ayala Foundation USA (af-usa.org), ABS-CBN Foundation (abscbnfoundation.org), Gawad Kalinga (ancopusa.org) or other reputable organizations that have set up operations to provide relief aid to the Philippines.

6. Ask your employer to set up a matching fund to match what you and your fellow employees can raise to send to the Philippines.

7. Ask your church to set up a special collection to raise funds to send to the affiliate church in the Philippines to help the victims of this calamity.

8. If you're a doctor, join a medical mission that will go to the Philippines to help the victims. In the meantime, gather some antibiotics, including the freebies given by the pharmaceutical companies, and bring them to the Philippine Consulate to send to the Philippines.

9. Buy Philippine-made products. Hard-hit Marikina is the "shoe capital of the Philippines" and exports many of its products to the US and other countries.

10. Speak positively about the Philippines, and ask people for a moratorium on bad-mouthing the Philippines and previous aid-relief efforts. You can’t ask people to help someone you are putting down. If you have nothing good to say about the Philippines, then don't say anything and let those who love the country do whatever can be done to help it recover.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Estrada's Motive

Two years ago this month, former Pres. Joseph “Erap” Estrada was found guilty of Plunder by the Philippine Anti-Graft Court (Sandigan Bayan). In a column I wrote about the verdict (“No Tears for Estrada”, September 17, 2007), I expressed my regret that the Sandigan Bayan judges never charged Estrada for his role in the abduction and murders of Salvador "Bubby" Dacer, Emmanuel Corbito and Edgar Bentain.

“According to members of his family, Bubby Dacer was bawled out by Estrada in Malaca├▒ang in November of 2000 shortly before he and his driver, Corbito, were abducted by members of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF) headed by Gen. Panfilo Lacson and tortured and executed. The PAOCTF soldiers who admitted killing Dacer and Corbito pointed to Col. Glenn Dumlao as their commanding officer. Before he fled to the US, Col. Dumlao pointed to Col. Cezar Mancao and Col. Michael Ray Aquino as the officers who gave him the orders. Before they could point their fingers as to who directed them, Mancao and Aquino fled to the US upon instructions of Lacson. If Lacson had been fingered by Mancao and Aquino, would he have pointed the finger to Estrada?” I asked.

The answer is an unqualified "Yes!". In two privileged speeches delivered on the floor of the Philippine Senate this past week, Sen. Lacson “pointed the finger” directly at Estrada as the man who gave the orders to neutralize Dacer. Lacson said that Estrada had the means, the opportunity and the motive. But Sen. Lacson did not provide the full picture.

Dacer’s problems with Estrada began when Emil Jurado, a newspaper columnist of the Manila Standard daily, wrote in his March 29, 1999 column that a “demolition team” composed of “two former members of the Ramos Cabinet; a former Lakas spokesman and propaganda chief; a head of the Ramos media bureau; and another – a well-known PR practitioner” was formed “for the sole purpose of embarrassing President Estrada by attributing to his administration all sorts of perceived faults and scams with the end in=2 0view of covering up anomalies and scams also committed during the Ramos administration.”

On April 5, 1999, D acer wrote Estrada to deny the charge of Jurado who “virtually identified [him] as the one behind the so-called demolition team.” In his letter, Bubby Dacer assured Estrada of his clear conscience, support and “abiding loyalty.”

On June 7, 1999, Jurado again wrote in his column that “[o]n the flight to Tokyo, the President expressed his great disappointment in a PR man whom he had considered a friend, and in fact is a compadre twice over, who has been identified with a demolition team out to embarrass not only his administration but his presidency as well.”

On June 9, 1999, Dacer again wrote Estrada to refute the “lies” which he believed “were caused by envy” of people “attempt[ing] to drive a wedge” between them. Dacer also wrote Jurado directly to express his “deep sorrow” about the latter’s columns and voiced his suspicion that “Gen. Ping Lacson has been rekindling all the inimical gossip against [him]…in revenge of [his] support for Gen. Bobby Lastimoso,” then PNP Director-General and Lacson’s nemesis in the so-called “Generals’ War,” the long-running feud between the two generals.

When Estrada started looking for a replacement for Gen. Lastimoso, Dacer openly lobbied Estrada against the appointment of Lacson. In his October 8, 1999 letter to Estrada, Dacer noted Lacson’s “ruthless abuse of power in pursuit of his goals.”

Despit e Dacer’s opposition, Estrada promoted Lacson as Director-General of the PNP on November 16, 1999. Lacson, in turn, appointed Col. Aquino as the Deputy Director (and acting OIC) of the PNP-Intelligence Group (“PNP-IG”), the country’s counterintelligence agency.

Col. Aquino then ordered Col. Dumlao to “conduct discrete Background Investigation” on Dacer. He directed Dumlao to monitor Dacer’s visitors and to enter his office at the Manila Hotel to plant listening devices there.

In September of 2000, Dacer met with Butch Tenorio, a PAOCTF consultant, and Dante Tan, the chair of Best World resources (BW) and a businessman crony of Estrada. Dacer again vehemently denied that he was involved in any effort to destabilize Estrada’s government.

After Tenorio and Tan reported their conversation with Dacer, a group of PAOCTF operatives was convened in or about the first week of October 2000 “to neutralize Dacer” after a “clearance from Malacanang was given.” Tenorio and Tan were tasked to handle the expenses of the “operation”; Col. Dumlao and his assistants were ordered to handle the monitoring, surveillance and abduction of the “target individual”; and Aquino and Task Group-Visayas Chief P/Supt. Col. Teofilo Vina were directed to take care of the “final phase.”

On November 21, 2000, Dacer was summoned to Malacanang Palace to meet with Estrada. At the meeting, Estrada informed Dacer that his intel ligence operatives had confirmed to him that Dacer had been actively working with former President Ramos and the opposition to have him impeached. Dacer vehemently denied the charges but Estrada could not be placated. Dacer left the Palace in mortal fear of his life.

On November 24, 2000, Dacer left his home headed for the Manila Hotel for a lunch appointment with former Pres. Ramos. En route, PAOCTF operatives intercepted his car and abducted Dacer and his driver, Corbito, and brought in a van to a town in Cavite. While blindfolded and in handcuffs, Dacer was interrogated by Col. Dumlao who was also ordered to pick up Dacer's attach├ę case. According to Dumlao, the case contained Best World (BW) documents which Dacer planned to hand over to Ramos. On Aquino’s orders, Dumlao burned the documents at the Balara Dam.

Among the BW documents that later surfaced was a July 1999 letter from BW chair Dante Tan authorizing the transfer of 300,000 shares of BW Stock to PNP Gen. Lacson worth 3.21 million pesos. Another document was a letter from Estrada’s lawyer written on Malacanang Palace stationary directing BW chair Tan to turn over 500 million pesos to Estrada.

Means, opportunity and motive.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

EXTEND OVERSEAS VOTER REGISTRATION DEADLINE

Like many procrastinators, I waited until the last day to register to vote for the May 2010 Philippine elections and it almost proved costly. When I got to the Philippine Consulate at 8:30 a.m., I was informed by the security guard that it was closed because August 31 is a national holiday in the Philippines.

“National Heroes Day, sir,” the guard explained. “But today is the last day to register,” I protested, somehow unreasonably expecting the modest guard to have some authority to change a government policy.

After I left, I phoned a consular official to express my disappointment. The official informed me that there was a misunderstanding because a consular employee was scheduled to be at the consulate to process our registration applications. When I returned at 10:30 a.m., she was there helping a few registrants with their paper work.

After I completed my application, I expressed concern for the many others who wanted to register, but who were told that the consulate was closed and left. How can they be contacted? Could a special exception be made for them so that they could still register to vote?

While I felt sorry for them, I heaved a sigh of relief that I was finally able to register to vote. It was a long time coming.

I recall the time I returned to the Philippines in March of 1986, for the first time in 15 years, along with a “Freedom Flight” contingent of anti-Marcos activists from the Bay Area. President Cory Aquino personally welcomed us at Malacanang Palace and provided us a tour of the Palace.

When we met with members of Cory’s cabinet, many of whom we knew personally because they had been exiled in the US and had attended our meetings of the Ninoy Aquino Movement (NAM), we discussed what issues we wanted enacted by the Cory government.

I told them that I wanted to see the Cory government push for dual citizenship and for overseas Filipinos to have the right to vote in Philippine elections while living abroad. I was certainly not the first nor the last to raise these issues.

I brought up the fact out that dual citizenship has been adopted by more than 80 countries (more than 100 now) including all of Europe, North America, Central America, South America and many countries in Asia. I said that most countries, including20the US, allow for their citizens to vote abroad and the Philippines should not be an exception.

There was general agreement on the overseas voting issue and the Cory government even included a provision in the 1987 Constitution mandating the Philippine Congress to enact legislation extending the right to vote to overseas Filipinos.

But it took five Congresses, four Presidents, 64 filed absentee voting bills and 16 long years before the Philippine Congress finally passed the Overseas Absentee Voting Act, officially known as Republic Act No. 9189, on February 13, 2003.
A month before the February 2003 vote, I joined a large group of overseas Filipinos who traveled to Manila to personally lobby members of Congress to pass this overseas voting bill. I met with Makati Rep. "Teddy Boy" Locsin Jr., who told me that overseas Filipinos had "abandoned the Philippines" and didn’t deserve the right to vote in Philippine elections. I told him that, on the contrary, it was the Philippine government that had abandoned overseas Filipinos. I reminded Rep. Locsin that overseas Filipinos were remitting about $7B a year (then) to the Philippines, singularly responsible for keeping the Philippine economy from sinking. Now that sum is closer to $17B a year which a World Bank study suggests may actually be double that amount.

After our discussion, Rep. Locsin introduced a compromise provision that broke the logjam in February of 2003 paving the way for passage of the Overseas Voting Absentee Act. One of the provisions of the bill specifically excluded elected officials abroad from being able to vote. As a San Francisco elected official until January of 2009, I was ineligible to register to vote.

In November of 2008, Rep. Locsin met members of the San Francisco Filipino community at the Philippine Consulate to express his disappointment that so few overseas Filipinos had availed of the right to vote in Philippine elections.

I told Rep. Locsin that it was all thanks to him. The compromise provision he inserted in the 2003 bill called for overseas Filipino voters to sign an “Affidavit of Intent to Return” to the Philippines to live there permanently after three years, with criminal penalties if they don’t do so. That “poison pill” provision effectively discouraged hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of overseas Filipinos from registering to vote.

Somehow Rep. Locsin saw the light and is now the author of a bill removing that “Affidavit of Intent” provision from the Overseas Voting Absentee Act.

About 500,000 overseas Filipinos registered to vote in both the 2004 and 2007 elections. With 11 million Filipinos now living and working abroad, it was projected that at least 500,000 overseas Filipinos would register to vote for the 2010 elections bringing the total number to over 1M registered overseas voters.

However, as of September 1, 2009, the total number of newly registered overseas voters is just a little over 200,000, far less than half of the projected total. This number would easily double, especially now with the entry of popular Sen. Noynoy Aquino in the presidential race, if the Comelec were to extend the deadline for registration of voters to December 31, 2009.

The main proponent of the move to extend the voter registration period is Sen. Francis "Chiz" Escudero, a likely presidential opponent of Aquino. "There is no legal impediment to Comelec extending the deadline of registration to December,” Sen. Escudero said. "The Comelec, if it wanted to, could make the necessary adjustments should it extend the deadline for registration. Surely, the right of suffrage outweighs its logistical concerns," he added.

Extend the deadline for registration of overseas voters.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Giving Remitters Their Voice

Considering that the globe is mired in a major economic crisis which continues to roil its most advanced countries, the Philippines’ economic picture is impressive. Its unemployment rate is hovering around 7% (while the latest US figure is at 9.7%), and its gross national product (GNP) of about $186B recorded a phenomenal 4.5% growth in 2008. Moreover, while the US economy contracted as of the second quarter of 2009, the Philippine economy managed to grow by 4.4%.

What accounts for this performance? Simple: higher remittances. Which just goes to show that when the going gets tough, the tough overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) – laboring in all the continents except Antarctica – somehow manage to send more money home.

According to the BSP (the Philippines’ central bank), remittances from January to June 2009 totaled $8.5 billion, of which $4.5B came from the Americas. When annualized for 2009, this translates to at least $17B. Though the pace has slowed this year from the almost 10% annual growth recorded for most of this decade, the final year-end tally will likely be higher because remittances usually rise during the Christmas holidays.

It should be noted that the BSP figures only take into account those money flows which go through the formal channels – i.e., money which flow through banks and non-bank financial institutions engaged in money transfer services.

What would the total figures be if they included the value of goods and services which flow to the Philippines using the informal channels and methods – e.g., the “colorum” remitters; the padala system or the cash hand-carried by balikbayans; and the pasalubongs stuffed in balikbayan boxes? What value can be placed on the medical missions conducted by Fil-Am doctors; on those donations to charitable organizations like Books for the Barrios which advance Filipino causes; and on those tourists who visit because of the encouragement, active or otherwise, from their Filipino co-workers and friends?

In her report, “Poverty in the Philippines: Income, Assets, and Access,” Karin Schelzig, a Social20Development Specialist for the Asian Development Bank, cited a World Bank study which estimated actual remittances to be as high as $21B in 2002. That year, however, the official BSP figures only showed total remittances to be around $7.6B.

A rudimentary extrapolation from this data means that the 2009 figure may be as high as twice the $17B estimated for 2009 – $34B – or more.

Given that the Philippine government’s budget for 2010 is about PHP 1.541 trillion (roughly $32B), this means that after financing the operation of the entire Philippine government for the entire year – e.g., after paying for the President, every government worker, every teacher, every soldier, and every congressman/senator and all his/her pork barrel projects – the OFW remitters still have a couple of billion dollars of change left.

A 2008 study by two University of British Columbia professors, Dr. Michael Goldberg and Dr. Maurice Levi, reveals that as a percentage of GDP, remittances account for 13.5% of the Philippine economy and that they have become more substantial than the combined impact of foreign direct investments (FDI) and official development assistance (ODA) funds.

The study also found that in large recipient countries like India, China, Mexico and the Philippines which are characterized by income inequality, volatility, and an absence of developed credit and insurance markets, “remittances can serve as a substitute for financial markets, for example, allowing households to finance investments, including investments in human capital, and in this way spur economic development.”

Further, the study disclosed that “remittances might help investors circumvent the constraints of the financial system to take advantage of high economic returns that are inaccessible to them because of the lack of credit and savings vehicles.”

But economics is not called “the dismal science” for nothing. For every economist saying “good,” there’s another saying “bad.”

A 2009 IMF Working Paper entitled “Do Workers’ Remittances Promote Economic Growth?” postulates that “[t]o the extent that remittance inflows are simple income transfers, recipient households may rationally substitute unearned remittance income for labor income” and that remittances “may be plagued by severe moral hazard problems.”

The paper concludes that “[p]art of the reason why remittances have not spurred economic growth is that they are generally not intended to serve as investments but rather as social insurance to help family members finance the purchase of life’s necessities.”

The IMF study seems to suggest that by helping the poor financially, you are making them worse off and dependent on you. I suspect that hundreds of thousands of OFWs who have seen their remittances send their kids through college, finance the purchase of jeepneys and tricycles, and fund the start of sari-sari stores and other small businesses, will disagree with the IMF study.

The main flaw of the IMF study is the starting premise that the role of remittances is to promote economic growth. It is undisputed that remittances contribute to the economy. But they are not intended to promote economic growth – only sound government policies can do that.

Thus, it is high time that the Philippine government be held accountable to the millions of OFWs remitting nonstop year in and year out, crisis or no crisis, and always reliably bailing out the government despite the endemic and systemic corruption at its core.

That is the goal of the 6th Global Filipino Networking Convention set to take place on January 21-23, 2010, in Cebu, Philippines (www.6thGlobalCebu.com). It will be a forum for the 11 million Pinoys in the global diaspora to voice their opinions on what the Philippine govern ment should be doing with their money which continues to be the singular, most reliable source of support for the Philippine economy. Since their funds virtually finance annual government operations, their voices should be heard loud and clear.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Roasting Greg

Most folks usually associate the word “roast” with cooking either a beast or foul, preferably already dead, with dry heat. But ever since Dean Martin started royally skewering his guests on his TV show in the 1960s, it has also become known as an event where an individual is honored by being affectionately insulted by friends, family and well-wishers.

On Sunday, August 23, on the occasion of his 70th birthday, Greg Macabenta found himself roasted on the grill at the fabulous Intramuros restaurant in South San Francisco by over 200 people who wanted to pay tribute to a man who is admired, revered, and loved by everyone. But since that guy couldn’t come, folks had to settle for Greg. We received a number of congratulatory messages for our event — from people congratulating themselves for not spending $50 just to honor Greg.

But the great Pinay boxer, Hurricane Ana Julaton, came to honor Greg and also, the great Broadway singer, Stephanie Reece, was there, flying all the way from New York just to sing for Greg. Stephanie has done so much for Gawad Kalinga in the Philippines that they renamed a major tourist attraction there after her. It will now be called the “Banaue Reece Terraces”. Greg is probably wondering what all the fuss is about since that’s always the way they’ve called it in his native province of Leyte. Ask Aleex.

I have known Greg for more than 21 years, practically since he and his family immigrated to the US. When I ran for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Board in 1990, it was Greg who worked on my campaign literature. Thanks to Greg, I lost by 56 votes. I mean of course, if it wasn’t for him, I would have likely lost by a lot more. At least that’s what he told me.

I want to say two things about Greg. I wanted to say an awful lot more but the Roastmaster, Ben Menor, told me that other people also wanted to say a lot of awful things about him so I should leave time for them.

The first thing I want to say about Greg is that he does not suffer fools gladly. That means he has zero tolerance for fools. Like, for example, when these two fools on the Internet started smearing Greg, he would advise friends to ignore them. “Just press delete”, he would say. When I finally couldn’t resist it and called them “pond scum,” he emailed me to tell me I was being too kind to the vermin.

So if anyone of you who came is ever accused of being a fool, just produce the souvenir magazine for the event and tell your accuser that you’re a friend of Greg Macabenta. If Greg can suffer you, that’s platinum-certified proof you’re no fool.

The second thing I want to tell you about Greg is that he is not really 70. You see 70 years is actually 25,550 days. But each day is really 16 hours long, not 24 hours, because people generally sleep up to 8 hours a day. But Greg is different: he doesn’t sleep. How else can you explain how he’s able to do so many things?

Greg is president of Minority Media Services, Inc., the only Filipino American ad agency that produces ads for US companies that want to reach the 4-million strong Fil-Am community. He is also the main representative in the US of GMA7, the largest Philippine TV network. GMA7’s main competition is ABS-CBN which employs more than 150 employees here in Redwood Shores. That’s 150 for ABS-CBN and only one for GMA7. That means Greg is doing the equivalent work of 150 people.

If you want to get ABS-CBN, you pay $12.99 a month. If you want to get GMA7, you also pay $12.99 a month. But if you want to get both, Comcast has a special price offer of $20 a month for both. Wait -- what? Comcast didn’t buy a souvenir magazine ad? Forget them, folks, get Direct TV instead. It’s cheaper.

Greg even produces a weekly TV show for GMA7 called The Filipinas Magazine Show with his daughter, Cristina Dunham, as host. He called me one Sunday afternoon to ask if he could interview me about what I thought would happen if all the Filipino nurses in the US were to call in sick one day. When he came to my office, I asked him where’s his camera crew and he said, no, it was just him. “But where’s your video camera?” I asked. He took out his tiny Flip video and started interviewing me. What would happen if all the Pinay nurses got sick, he asked. “Well, American housewives don’t know what desperate is until that day happens,” I said.

Greg writes a weekly column that is syndicated in newspapers throughout the US and the Philippines. He is publisher of both the Filipinas magazine and the Ang Panahon newspaper. In Filipinas, he not only writes most of the articles (just kidding), he also does the cartoons (not kidding).

Greg flies to LA every Tuesday morning for his work as a board member of Seafood City, the largest Fil-am owned grocery chain in the US. He’s also active with Gawad Kalinga, the Ayala Foundation, the Philippine American Press Club and a host of other organizations.

Because he was a founder of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) and served as its national vice chair under Loida Nicolas Lewis, I asked him a year ago if he would run for national chair of NaFFAA.

I remember that Greg looked at me incredulously and asked me when could he possibly have time to run the largest Filipino American federation in the US. "I don’t know," I said, “how about between 5 – 7:00 AM? I think you’re free then”. I started to laugh because of course I was just joking. Only, I noticed Greg wasn’t laughing because he was checking his calendar. Yup, it’s true, he said, he was free then. He accepted the challenge.

Truly, when you want something done, always ask a busy person to do it. In less than a year since he was elected the national chair, Greg has rejuvenated and reinvigorated NaFFAA, challenging the organization to be economically viable in order to accomplish its mission of empowering the Filipino community.

So, my friends, when you measure the age of a person who is awake 24 hours a day, you realize that’s 8 hours more than you or me. Every two days (16 hours) adds another day. If you add all the extra days to his life, then you get his real age. By our calculation, in about 5 years, we will be celebrating Greg’s 100th birthday.

So we want you all to “save the date” now (you’ll get periodic notices on Facebook), for our centennial roast of Greg Macabenta on August 23, 2014. Don’t forget now. No congratulatory messages accepted.

Happy Birthday, Greg. Whatever your age is.