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Home Columns Op-Ed Page Death Knell for the COPAO?
Death Knell for the COPAO? PDF Print E-mail
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Columns - Op-Ed Page
Friday, 17 August 2007 05:12
The News UpFront: (Commentary in lieu of TOP STORY) as of Friday, 17 August 2007 ~ Not since has the umbrella organization of San Diego's Filipino community come so close to tearing apart than in the last few months. Mired in monetary scandals, the Council of Philippine American Organizations (COPAO) is struggling to keep afloat, particularly after it received a crippling blow from the government. That might as well be the death knell for an organization whose success was largely in protecting the interests of its friends than the community's.

COMMENTARY : COPAO's Death Knell

By ROMEO P. MARQUEZ

Dishonesty will stare honesty out of countenance, any day in the week, if there is anything to be got by it.

-- Charles Dickens

One of the best indications that a story has made an impact is the response by readers to it, regardless of whether it's favorable or not. When the government reacts quietly and without fanfare, however, it assumes a different dimension, specially when it tries to pinch the offending party where it hurts the most.

That's exactly what the Board of Supervisors -- the regional government that oversees 12 cities and unincorporated areas in San Diego County -- did to the Filipino community's umbrella organization, the scandal-ridden Council of Philippine American Organizations (COPAO).

The Board recently decided to reduce its annual monetary grant to COPAO to a trickle, an amount so small it's not even enough to pay for the use of a community park where Filipinos hold their traditional independence day celebrations.

The Board allocates monies to the various ethnic minorities to help them preserve their heritage and cultural practices. COPAO and at least two other community organizations had made the observance of Philippine independence as their main selling point in requesting financial support.

The sudden drop in financial assistance -- actually by more than two-thirds -- from a high of $18,000 in 2002-2003 to an all-time low of $5,000 this 2007-2008, reflected the fall from grace of COPAO and its officers. If the government grant were the chief measure of their credibility, then surely it's beginning to slip.

A spokesman for Supervisor Greg Cox of District 1, Luis Monteagudo Jr., was careful in categorizing the cut, saying "We have a limited amount of money . . . and we have a lot of requests from various organizations, more than we can actually fund."

Monteagudo's cautious response was understandable. He did not want Cox and the entire Board of Supervisors to be caught in partisan bickerings, much less in parochial disputes prevalent in the Filipino community.

Officially acknowledged or not, the Filipino community should not forget the fact that even in the face of adversity and intense pressure, a solitary voice, Ms. Vina M. Phelps, stood up and implored officials to rein in their allocations because of what appeared to be wanton violations of money grants.

Ms. Phelps never tired of writing letters when she felt legitimate issues and concerns such as those she had raised were not being given attention they deserved. In the end, her efforts paid off . . . dearly for COPAO.

The highly-opinionated and outspoken reader V. M. Crisologo looks at it differently, however.

To her, the less government money given to COPAO the "less chance for misspending, overspending, misrepresenting and most importantly, misuse (thus the vanishing $27,000) of grants. Painful but it might as well."

For years, COPAO enjoyed the distinction of being the recipient of the largest doleout from the County of San Diego. There was a time in the last decade and a half when people, the mainstream included, trooped to its celebrations to get a feel of the Filipino community, one of the largest in the West coast.

That changed steadily as thrill-seekers and publicity hounds, the relatively new faces and new bosses of the greedy generation (sorry to say that but I do mean it that way), strutted out of nowhere and took over the reins.

Thus was born a new, power-driven, self-oriented breed of leaders so-called whose idea of community service was to be photographed with the legitimate power-wielders and their high-strung associates. Newspaper visibility is their virtue.

I believe COPAO's downward slide begun when the community's supreme liar, the one with the forked tongue and conflicting personal interests, got elected to head the organization for two years. As a matter of fact, all the major controversies happened during the same period.

For example, Jose Rizal ended being a fishmarket icon than as the revered national hero of the Philippines for a measly $1,000 donation (or was it a payoff?). To treat Rizal that low was quite a telling indication of how things could get worse.

But back to COPAO. The reduction in grant money could be the death knell for this organization. The misery brought about by the scandals, the loss of trust, the dwindling public support, the lack of relevance -- they all point to making COPAO a despised part of history.

When I started to write about COPAO in the early 90s, I was happy to compare it with the political makeup of a city council. With several community associations, fellowship and social clubs under its wing, COPAO could be a shadow government at the community level. And so I even called its president the equivalent of a mayor of a vibrant community 150,000-175,000 strong.

Those were the days when COPAO cared and advocated for Filipinos and Filipino issues and interests. These days, however, the advocacy has been compressed to within the confines of the personal interests and glorification of those who run the organization.

The recent action by the City of National City to charge COPAO for the use of a public park for independence day events was quite surprising given that in the past years, COPAO had been utilizing it for free.

The new mayor of the city, Ron Morrison, has been a known supporter of Filipino causes, and was in fact elected to his post with the help of Filipino voters. Why the sudden change of heart?

I could feel that Morrison was so disappointed with COPAO for its wishy-washy handling of its funds, some of which were raised in National City whose population is 17 percent Filipino.

It was the National City Police that conducted the investigation into COPAO's check forgeries and the missing $27,000. It was also the National City Police that recommended the prosecution of unnamed individuals linked to the scandals.

How come the leadership of COPAO lacked the enthusiasm to know the truth? For sure, a can of worms, once opened, would be a dreadful sight.

Blaming a man of the cloth instead of the bible preacher, and sweeping all the stinking dirt of the scandals under the rug, do not erase the fact that some people had betrayed the community. The hint of a cover-up seems too obvious to miss.

I believe Morrison and the officialdom of National City knew the people responsible for the check forgeries and the disappearance of $27,000. With that knowledge, it was correct for them to slap COPAO with charges in using public facilities.

Simply put, if COPAO could be so cavalier about losing public money that huge, then it would be easy for them to pay a third of the amount for something that would benefit them and the community.

The city is actually telling COPAO to straighten up. Same thing with the Board of Supervisors. Cutting the grant is like losing an arm and a leg; it cripples. And for a cripple to cough up more money when it's beginning to dry from the source, it's like totally paralyzing it.

That is the tragedy of COPAO. Its aims for the community are noble. The people who pursue those aims are quite the opposite.

BREAKING NEWS - Commentary
Issue No. 56 NEWS WITHOUT FEAR OR FAVOR

A community service of San Diego's Philippine Village Voice (
PhilVoiceNews@aol.com or at 619.265.0611) for the information and better understanding of the public.



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Last Updated on Monday, 20 August 2007 07:29
 

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