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Home Columns San Diego Happenings Will the NaFFAA Survive to Be the 'Voice' For Filipinos in America?
Will the NaFFAA Survive to Be the 'Voice' For Filipinos in America? PDF Print E-mail
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Columns - San Diego Happenings
Monday, 10 August 2009 13:00

The News UpFront: (TOP STORY) as of Monday, August 10, 2009

 

T he self-anointed "voice" of Filipinos and Filipino Americans across the United States is reeling under, so admits its top official in what may be a distress call to members and officers. The candid admission could be a dire warning of worst things to come. The well from which it draws sustenance appears to be drying up, mostly because of a combination of factors, including involvement in monetary scandals, dwindling public-and-corporate support due to widespread perceptions of improprieties, absence of accountability and lack of transparency. The happy days of frolicking from one choice city to another seems to be coming to an end for the paper-giant called the NaFFAA or National Federation of Filipino American Associations. Its demise may just be a matter of time.

 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

AMIDST SCANDALS, SCARCE FUNDS AND SHRINKING MEMBERSHIP: Will NaFFAA Survive to Be the 'Voice' For Filipinos in America?

 

 

By Romeo P. Marquez

 

The author is a member of the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) and the Asian-American Journalists Association (AAJA).

 

S AN DIEGO -  The much-vaunted but largely inutile "giant" of America's Filipino community organizations appears to be limping its way to extinction, no thanks to several money scandals it's currently embroiled in and a drying well of public and corporate support.

 

On the brink of bankruptcy or already bankrupt, NaFFAA or the National Federation of Filipino American Associations, which loops a claimed 500 member-organizations into its fold, is on tethers, a victim of the recession and shrinking financial assistance.

 

"Our funds have begun to run very low for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the scarcity of corporate funds," said Greg B. Macabenta, NaFFAA national chair, as he urged members to pay up dues while bewailing the difficulty of having a quorum for their telemeetings.

 

Macabenta didn't say how much money NaFFAA was surviving on and for how long it could manage to stay afloat, nor did he say how flat broke it was. When asked, he did not respond to queries from this reporter.

 

This is the first time that an official of the federation has publicly acknowledged dwindling support from traditional sources -- a fact attributed by its staunchest critic, journalist Bobby Reyes of Los Angeles, to perceptions of financial improprieties and lack of accountability and transparency.

 

The most-recent transaction that put NaFFAA under minute scrutiny involved a community organization in San Jose which had allocated huge sums of taxpayers money to fund NaFFAA's conference in that Northern California city.

 

The deal -- Reyes dubbed it "Menorgate" (from community organizer Ben Menor) -- generated several lawsuits and highlighted the lingering suspicion of wrongdoing by NaFFAA's top officials.

 

"There is one urgent matter that needs to be attended to by all the regions and I appeal to the regional chairs to attend to it immediately. This is the matter of membership dues," Macabenta wrote in a letter dated August 5.

 

His statement reflected the ongoing hard times, a far cry from the heady days when big business, politicians and other favor-seekers showered it with largesse in hopes of capturing a huge market of voters and consumers it bragged to represent.

 

Its "global" conferences were no more than public boasts of its vaunted strength as "the Voice of Filipinos and Filipino-Americans throughout the United States" and an avenue to network with corporate sponsors and individuals wishing to do business with an estimated four-million Filipino Americans with a spending power of about $80 billion.

 

When the NaFFAA articulates a position on pressing issues, the "voice" becomes a mild echo of a few, the sound so narrowly limited to its own box of ill-defined concerns. One example was the fight for equity for Filipino veterans where it cast its support with a group led by a lobbyist denounced by a San Diego congressman as a scam artist.

 

Reyes has been keeping track of NaFFAA's movements, particularly of its unpublished financial outlays, since it was founded in 1997 by newspaper publisher/editor Alex Esclamado and some friends.

 

"The NaFFAA used to receive donations in the hundreds of thousands of dollars from major foundations such as the Bank of America (BA) and Wells Fargo Bank (WFB) but hints of financial impropriety ended the grants," according to Reyes.

 

"For instance, the Wells Fargo Foundation gave the NaFFAA $300,000 in 2002. The grant was secured by Greg Macabenta, then a NaFFAA national executive officer, whose company, the Minority Media, was paid commissions that were not reflected in the NaFFAA financial statement for 2002," Reyes wrote in his top-rated MabuhayRadio.com website.

 

Editor’s Note: Bobby Reyes has confirmed in writing that for as long as Dr. Joy Bruce is with the NaFFAA national leadership as the chairperson of its new Development Committee, he “hold our horses and not criticize the NaFFAA national executive officers.” The dialogue between Dr. Bruce and Bobby Reyes is reproduced at the end of this article in the User’s Comments.

 

As of this writing, Macabenta, who owns two publications and an advertising company based in Daly City in Northern California, has not responded to questions emailed to him.

 

In a published statement, however, Macabenta implored his officers and members, thus: "Because of the hard times, we need to hunker down and focus on our bedrock objectives, namely, the continued survival of NaFFAA and the continuation of our mission of advocacy, within our means."

 

To dramatize the financial ill-health of the federation, Macabenta said it had to downsize its office in Washington, DC "to a room at the ACA building". "We have been unable to pay our office rent," he stressed, and "also need to cover our payables to our administrative assistant, Les Talusan, as well as utilities".

 

A regional chair, Ed Navarra, wrote in exasperation: "Maybe Greg (Macabenta) should hold a press conference and announce that NaFFAA be dissolved! It will be a wake up call, wouldn't it?"

 

The federation's money troubles were graphically illustrated in the case of its former executive director, Doy Heredia, during the time of Macabenta's predecessor, Alma Q. Kern, of Seattle, Washington.

 

A NaFFAA co-founder in Philadelphia, Ernesto Gange, narrated how Heredia struck a deal with another former NaFFAA chair, Loida Nicolas Lewis, to recover wages totalling $20,000 that had not been paid by NaFFAA.

 

"Doy (Heredia) contacted Loida about his unpaid salaries. Loida proposed to Doy, and he agreed, that Loida will pay him $20,000, to settle the whole account, and forget the difference. Loida paid Doy the sum of $10,000 down money and she paid the balance of $10,000, a few months later," Gange wrote.

 

F rom Gange's email, it seems quite evident that efforts to expand NaFFAA's membership base and increase collection were not so eagerly pursued.

 

"I suspect that in the previous years," Gange said, "the Executive Director (Heredia) did not go out and raise money and collect the memberships dues (was) because he was dependent on Loida.

 

"It was Doy who told us in Seattle, that, when the national office is low in cash, he just called Loida and the bills were paid. The ex-o did nothing to get the membership involved because he did not need them then, as long as Loida paid him, it is okay," he added.

 

The NaFFAA maintains a physical presence in Washington, DC, to lobby and project an image of bigness as the sole unifying entity representing the many disparate organizations in Filipino American communities.

 

Its ambitious goal to get all Filipinos together under one huge umbrella has remained elusive largely because of leadership problems.

 

Now that NaFFAA has fallen on hard times, the questions that require immediate answers are: will it recover from widespread distrusts and survive the lean economic situation?

 

"For a public organization to survive, one needs The Community to be informed and to be involved (a national organization is not just made up of a few select group of people)," said Dr. Joy Bruce, a former regional chair and a popular community leader in Florida who runs the non-profit National Alliance to Nurture the Aged and the Youth (NANAY), an active member of NaFFAA since 1998.

 

She continues: "The members need to feel that they belong, that they are listened to, that there are benefits attached to membership, that they are making a difference, that they can connect, that they have the power to transform-- and that they are not ostracized just because they happen to disagree with the authority or the national officers".

 

Indeed, explained Reyes, "One does not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what went wrong with the NaFFAA.

 

"When many of its national executive officers refused to do the tenets of accountability and transparency," Reyes adds, "corporate and individual donors stopped giving good money after bad. And Filipino Americans started to treat the NaFFAA as if it were the plague."

 

Is NaFFAA plagued within by a plague?

 

Concludes Dr. Bruce: "NaFFAA has had long-standing problems that never seemed to be resolved, because the solutions applied have always been the same, only packaged in a different way.

 

"Perhaps it is time to look at NaFFAA in a different light now, and make it more pro-active, more practical, and more community-friendly". # # #

 

PHILIPPINE VILLAGE VOICE - Redefining Community News
BREAKING NEWS -  Exclusive Feature
Volume 3, Issue No. 13 / 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. . . . . .
 

(This Breaking News was sent by Romeo P. Marquez, editor, Philippine Village Voice, San Diego, California. Mailing address: P.O. Box 2118, La Jolla, CA. 92038.)

 

 

Newer news items:
Older news items:

Last Updated on Monday, 10 August 2009 13:12
 
Comments (6)
1 Monday, 10 August 2009 13:15
Dear Ninang Dr. Joy:

Congratulations again for agreeing to return to the NaFFAA national leadership.

Further our telephone conversation this morning, I wish to confirm in writing that for as long as you are with the NaFFAA national leadership as the chairperson of its new Development Committee, we will hold our horses and not criticize the NaFFAA national executive officers.

We trust, however, that slowly the NaFFAA will be able to render full accounting of the revenues and expenses for its national conventions and global networking conferences. And we remind you also of an adage that an Ilocano-American retired dentist said: "Don't pour clean water in a dirty jar."

We hope that eventually the NaFFAA jar of unity will be so clean that we can all drink from it.

Mabuhay,

Lolo Bobby M. Reyes

* * * * *

In a message dated 8/9/2009 9:43:55 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, joybruce writes:


Dear Ernie,

Thank you for your vote of confidence and your nice words about me. Your recommendation to follow Bobby's fundraising proposals are much appreciated. However, I would prefer to hold off from agreeing and committing to something that may be too much for me to handle personally (I'll be responding separately to Bobby on this).

Likewise, I would like to wait until the Board decides on the Development Committee before working on the specific action plans. Considering the current financial and programmatic status of NaFFAA, getting it back on its feet will not be that simple, it will take time, and it will need quite a bit of work and cooperation from everybody. For now, I'd be cautious about biting more than I can chew (and I can't do much until after Aug 15).
.
But I do agree with you that one way to start is to become more open and more inclusive than the way NaFFAA has been in the past - and to consider taking critics like Bobby back into its fold, as long as there is someone who can manage to keep him under control. I think that you and I as well as a few others can work with Bobby in an amicable way and engage him into lifting NaFFAA up instead of constantly pulling it down. That would be a welcome change indeed, if the Board allows....

Joy
2 Monday, 10 August 2009 15:36
-----Original Message-----
From: JoyBruce
To: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Sent: Mon, Aug 10, 2009 11:50 am
Subject: Re: [NaFFAA_forum] BREAKING NEWS Feature: Amidst Scandals & Shrinking Funds, Will NaFFAASurvive?

Dear Romy,

Thank you for sharing your breaking news about NaFFAA. I have to tell you that
I am impressed at your resourcefulness in getting information, and would like to
thank you for quoting me and part of the email message that I had sent out to
some NaFFAA officers regarding my personal views on this matter.
I would also like to add though that despite what may appear as a financial
crisis in NaFFAA (which by the way is not unique, as this is also happening to
hundreds if not thousands of corporations and other organizations, both for
profit and non-profit, largely because of the global economic crisis), I
respectfully do not agree with your statement that "its demise is just a matter
of time".
NaFFAA's mission of empowerment is just too important to set aside, in
spite of whatever internal or external challenges NaFFAA may have been faced
with or may still be facing, its mission is bigger than anyone of us --
founders, officers, board members, supporters, detractors or critics of NaFFAA
all taken together. It will be frankly both a challenge to all of us, including
yourself, if NaFFAA goes down, just because we failed or refused to participate
actively and positively In the empowerment process, both as an individual and
as a community.
I guess it is always easy to be critical and cynical when one is looking
thru a glass door - from the outside peeking in. I just realized myself, as a
community leader, that I have been personally guilty of that, too.
I have no doubt that you, just like myself and everyone else, would like to
be empowered and seen in a positively light. True empowerment comes from within
each of us -- which, if harnessed and bundled as one can be truly powerful for
our community. Unfortunately, it is something that we have not achieved and
could not achieve because we are all too busy looking at the fault and mishaps
of others, instead of helping each other out.
So I have made up my mind to change my perception and attitude for my own
good. I have chosen to create positive change by becoming part of the solution,
instead of the problem. I have volunteered to be part of NaFFAA's Development
Team. NaFFAA's officers will come and go, but its mission of empowerment will
remain. Contrary to what you and others may think, NaFFAA will survive because
there are still people out there who care about the community and who believe in
a good mission and a good cause. I happen to be one of them. And I think you
are too.
Please help me make things happen. Together, we can achieve the
extraordinary. Together, we can be empowered. That's what this is all about.

Thanks and take care

Joy
3 Monday, 10 August 2009 15:38
Dr. Joy Bruce wrote: <> Contrary to what you and others may think, NaFFAA will survive because there are still people out there who care about the community and who believe in a good mission and a good cause. <>

Dear Dr. Joy,

As an organization I personally believe NaFFAA is good and its causes and mission are worth pursuing. I also personally believe the problem lies in the people running it who see in the process of empowerment an opportunity to abuse and further their personal, professional and business agendas. The case in San Jose is proof of that.

It is my hope that NaFFAA would emerge from the challenges before it, stronger and more attuned to the community, not to its leaders.

Reporting (critically and cynically, as you said) on NaFFAA as it is now is one heck of a job to do but it must be done regardless of our personal views and emotional ties to it.

I am not in any way a party to what it does, or to what it's done. I'm a journalist looking in and seeking answers to questions that almost always fall on deaf ears and unresponsive leaders.

If these self-important leaders could ignore a legitimate inquiry in order to establish the truth, what more of those people who, shall I say, are perpetually kept in the dark but are constantly bombarded with only the pretty things?

Public perception of NaFFAA will change only if those who manage and run it would themselves change. I hope that by writing the story and reporting it to the bigger non-NaFFAA communities in the US, Canada and the Philippines, the change we all wish for would come. But then . . . the slings and arrows are starting to come my way already. And I'm only the reporter!

Thanks and best regards,

Romy Marquez

P.S. Long before NaFFAA decided to empower the Filipino communities in the US, I already empowered myself in my own little way by investigating and writing about the scams, the crooks, the scandals and all the bad things Filipinos commit in the US in the name of serving the community. That's basic empowerment. I don't even need NaFFAA to tell me that.
4 Wednesday, 12 August 2009 23:56
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Lorna Dietz
Date: Wed, Aug 12, 2009 at 9:26 AM
Subject: Re: [NaFFAA_forum] Feature: Amidst Scandals & Shrinking Funds, Will NaFFAA Survive?
To: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Cc: Jose Pecho , Macabenta Greg , Rozita Lee

To everyone in this NaFFAA_Forum:

Please do not reply to this email. This is an announcement.

PLEASE CEASE AND DESIST ANY OF THESE ONLINE DISCUSSIONS IMMEDIATELY ESPECIALLY SINCE THE PEOPLE WHO ARE ANSWERING ON BEHALF OF NaFFAA ARE NOT THE OFFICIAL SPOKESPERSONS.

I am pertaining to Dr. Joy Bruce's responses to Romy Marquez in this particular email thread. Joy, you might think you are doing the right thing --- but you are not. Your actions might be interpreted as being damaging to the good work that is currently being undertaken (no matter how good your intentions are) and the struggles that we have had to undergo so we can grow as an organization... Maybe you should be reading the August 2009 issue of Filipinas Magazine so you can see for yourself what dedicated work NaFFAA is doing in Region 8 (Northern CA). These are just a few examples of dedicated volunteer work that do not ask for laurels.

Joy, you said that NaFFAA needs to change but what is happening that you do not realize that NaFFAA has been changing, quietly, in the past few years, as a result of our growth and experiences... I have the unique perspective of being able to say this to you with confidence because of my many responsibilities within NaFFAA, newbie that I am, with respect to your experience.

I am NaFFAA's Online Coordinator. So, I have the right to let you know that these discussions are very subjective, one-sided, and untrue. Please take these discussions off-line.

This is a very damaging accusation that you are making, Mr. Romy Marquez. You and Bobby Reyes will have to show clear proof that Greg Macabenta received $300,000 from Wells Fargo Bank on behalf of NaFFAA and got commissions from that. If this were true, then NaFFAA wouldn't have had any financial problems and neither would Filipinas Magazine.

I want both Romy Marquez and Bobby Reyes to give proof about their accusation because what they do online reeks of them (are they called pseudo-journalists?) trying to get high google rankings for their attacks on NaFFAA. Yes, I'm on to what you're doing...

If there's no proof, Bobby Reyes and Romy Marquez need to retract their op-eds and apologize --- and make sure that every internet article bearing this retraction gets the high google rankings. Is this clear?

Thank you for listening.

Please direct your questions to Greg Macabenta and Rozita Lee in a private email. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Sincerely,

Lorna Dietz
NaFFAA Region 8 Vice Chair
NaFFAA Online Coordinator
http://NaFFAA.org and http://NaFFAAR8.com

cc: Jose Pecho, NaFFAA Region 8 Chair
Greg Macabenta, Rozita Lee
5 Thursday, 13 August 2009 00:00
Dear Lorna Dietz:

I would just like to confirm that the posting came from you, written by you and authorized by NaFFAA and by your chair Greg Macabenta.

Are you able to explain the whereabouts of the $300,000? I'd appreciate your prompt reply on this.

Incidentally, have you heard about the First Amendment? Who appointed you as censor? Are you officially NaFFAA's censor? I would appreciate your explanation.

Thank you for reading my story. Best regards,

Romy Marquez
6 Saturday, 22 August 2009 18:30
*Hi Tocayo,

Alex Exclamado once dreamed of NaFAA as the Fil-Americans' answer to
NAACP. But like any Fil-Am organization the NaFAA never really took off
the ground and may soon self-destruct. Not surprising though, given the kind of Filipino leadership which started with Emilio Aguinaldo in the infamous Tejeros
Convention at San Francisco de Malabon, now General Trias in Cavite Province, where the Great Plebian, Katipunan founder and Supremo Andres Bonifacio was ingloriously ousted by "Cavitismo" and finally ended ignominiously before a firing squad of his own countrymen! So Alex Ex can just go on dreaming!

If only we Filipinos could learn how to work as one for the common good of all, a national organization such as NaFAA would flourish. There are no less than 2.5 million Fil-Ams in the US and even just a dollar from half of that number contributed
monthly or $12 annually can make the NaFAA an organization to reckon with. But unity among Pinoys is a pipe dream and that is where the main problem lies. The Fil-Ams alas will never be a significant political force in America and the US government will never take the Pinoys seriously. It took Uncle Sam all of 64 years to take a second look at the FilVets' never ending plea for recognition and when the "magnanimous" Uncle Sugar finally dipped into his very deep pockets his hand came out only with a few coins with which to reward the ever loyal Pinoy vets!

Unity is the name of the game. A word that is lost to the Fil-Ams and even the Pinoys in the old country!

All the best,

Tocayo
(Col. Romy Monteyro)

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