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A Cappella

Our Town by Jon MelegritoBy Jon Melegrito
Its Saturday night, live, in the Springfield home of Ben and Gloria Caoile. The place is boisterous with raucous laughter and endless chatter. Feasting on crabs, lechon, pancit and adobo, a rowdy bunch of revelers has converged in this quiet neighborhood, bent on letting their hair down.
Leading the charge is 69-year-old Greg Macabenta of Daly City, California. A veteran PR man, prolific writer of more than 200 Filipino movie scripts, publisher of Filipinas Magazine and owner of Minority Media Services, Inc. (among many other titles), the newly-elected national chairman of NaFFAA is belting out songs tonight. The repertoire includes Tagalog and Visayan ballads, Negro Spirituals, Broadway hits and popular favorites.
The Karaoke machine is broken, which is just as well. This is not the time for solo performances. Singing a cappella is more in the “Yes We Can” spirit of the day. And with the chairman setting the tone, it didnt take long before everyone else piped in, with the more gifted tenors, baritones, altos and sopranos raising their voices with unbridled passion.
A capella. Passion. And the “Yes We Can” spirit. That about sums up a long day of serious discussion, sober deliberation and prompt resolution.
Meeting in the Philippine Embassys Romulo Hall, the 30 NaFFAA board of officers and a couple dozen other leaders had just spent nine hours going over a 3-page agenda. Enough to blow your mind. They had flown in the night before from as far away as Hawaii and California. Carloads drove in from Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Fittingly, these leaders were wined and dined by Philippine Embassy officials who had to give up Friday evening and all-day Saturday to play hosts.
That Greg Macabenta was able to bring all of them at all to a face-to-face meeting a week before Thanksgiving is a feat in itself. The synergy was obvious from the start.
And this time there was not much pointless talking. The Chairman saw to that. “Whats the point?” hed cut them off, discouraging any grandstanding or posturing.
Like his power point presentation, the day scrolled down in bullet points. “Lets all agree in principle,” the chairman made it very clear. “Lets not waste time debating. Over-analysis only leads to paralysis.”
And so it went, boom, boom, boom.
On coalition building: “Its all about relationships. Without the credibility of this coalition, we will not get a single penny.”
Problem-solving: “If you run into a wall, dig around it or under it. If that doesnt work, break down that damn wall.”
NaFFAAs role and relationships: “We never intended to be the umbrella organization, but to link all the various autonomous groups, so we can have a one clear, powerful voice in advocating our issues to government, business and to the American public.”
On being National Chair: “I dont consider myself the boss, but the coordinator, integrator and facilitator. I like to think of myself as a community worker and volunteer.”
NaFFAAs Mission: “Its been said that were perpetual tourists living in a Filipino enclave, not in Mainstream America. We need to be active participants as Americans, contributing to this countrys well being. But we must also help the Philippines and be engaged in Filipino issues. Its not an either/or.”
Fundraising: “Developing fundable programs is the key. Thats the only way we can get corporate sponsorships. We are their principal access to the purchasing power of our community, which is now 4 million strong. They may not all be U.S. citizens but they are consumers like everybody else.”
Political Action: “We have to be politically savvy, politically connected and politically empowered. That means being able to endorse candidates and raise money for their campaigns. But to be serious about this, we have to create a separate, formal entity. Otherwise, we will not be credible as a voting bloc.”
On the old Philippine Chancery: “We need to rehabilitate this building and turn it into a Philippine museum to show case our art, history and culture.”
Youth Leaders: “Us old men need to step aside already. Its time for you to take over, more sooner than later. Emilio Aguinaldo was 28 when he founded the Katipunan. Gregorio del Pilar was 21 when he led his troops in Tirad Pass. You have to fight your way and demand to be recognized.”
Responding to the challenge, Matteo Fernandez, a young professional from Los Angeles, interjected: “Our generation is well positioned in corporate America. We have colleagues who can champion revenue-driven projects. This work force of 30-something professionals can make it happen. But you have to create a structure for them within NaFFAA.”
Applause. “Done!” the chairman nodded approvingly. “I know we have a lot of brains and managerial capacity in this organization.”
It was that kind of day. Sang in a cappella. No instrumentations to muffle or distort the sound of one, clear voice. Just pure passion. And “Yes We Can” spirit.
Its been 11 years since NaFFAA was formed. Three national chairs have come and gone. When the fourth chairman took over last September, NaFFAAs coffers were literally empty. As promised, he raised close to $15,000 in two months.
Hes into finding solutions, right away. “We will not violate our by-laws,” he quips, “but we will find a creative way around it.”
Just like tonight. The Karaoke machine not working didnt stop him from singing, and getting the others to sing with him. He may have forgotten the words to “Impossible Dream,” but theres no doubt the passion is there to reach the unreachable star pure and raw in a cappella.
Send your comments to jonmele@aol.com

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