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.