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Urgent call to community engagement, # 4

Community engagement is deeply rooted in democratic process

Civic Engagement “is a process in which people take collective action to address issues of public concern” and is absolutely “instrumental to democracy” (Checkoway & Aldana, 2012)

Conversations and/or dialogues make the community alive and well. They fire up people’s imaginations and challenge their thoughts to make them stand on their own merits.     What I believe makes community engagement fundamental to strengthening democracy is its outcome of opening deliberative dialogue among differing beliefs and opposing opinions that leads to certain action. Presidential debates for example, give voters a closer look at the candidates’ platforms and perspectives on matters of utmost importance and thus inspire people to campaign and vote for the candidates they like and believe in.

I’m glad that my urgent call to community engagement is gradually moving readers to react and react in a bolder and more visible way. Whereas more have called me on the phone or cornered me in some events and functions I have attended, two courageous and no nonsense women wrote letters to the editor. In our last issue, we printed Rowena Luna’s letter to the editor imploring to see Rizal Center as the Filipino Americans’ “home away from home”. This time, Ging Mascarenas of Circa Pintig echoes my call for civic engagement and for honoring our pioneers. She said, “After all, our parents, grandparents, and many others before us have made great sacrifices and paved the way so that we can enjoy the benefits of their struggles. We have much to learn from them and be grateful for. Why can’t we honor them by working collectively with integrity and openness and picking up from where they left off?  Like them, hopefully we too can be known and remembered by our good fruits.”

Another reader who inspires me to continue my community engagement series is Ben Guerrero. Ben is now an eager community advocate. He shares my disappointments about our community’s seeming apathy and lack of civic consciousness.  He agrees that as a people, we Filipino Americans, are generally nonchalant and self-consumed. The current 3-handpicked FACGC Board and a few supporters’ deference to a self-proclaimed leader, not to mention an unknown pseudo leader without any record of community service is palpable. To think that this officer made no qualms about tinkering with FACGC’s Constitution and Bylaws to quash the democratic process of electing new leaders, makes their concurrence to, worse yet, support for this leader in question unthinkable! Under this new leadership, Rizal Center becomes more exclusive and devoid of transparency and democratic practice. Like me, Ben is a proponent of community dialogue and unity. I say, we are kindred spirits.

Our three decades of covering news events in the community have provided us a unique perspective of our local community history. I feel it my duty to write about the history of FACGC and Rizal Center to remind our members of the heroic efforts of our pioneers to secure a home for an organization they founded to embody our ideals and preserve our heritage while helping us learn and embrace the American values and culture.  

In my active campaigning for Ms. Thelma Fuentes’ run for FACGC’s presidency in 1998 I’ve come to know of the history of the organization.

FACGC’s first name was Filipino National Council of Chicago, Inc. (FNCC). It was organized as a 501(c) 3 tax exempt not-for-profit corporation and incorporated in the State of Illinois on March 11, 1953 with bylaws and constitution governing the organization and its quadrennial election of board of trustees/directors. Its name was amended to Filipino American Council of Chicago (FACC) on March 23, 1965 and amended again to Filipino American Council of Greater Chicago, Inc. (FACGC) on October 30, 1997.  The FACC, Inc. bought a property at 1332 W Irving Park Road in Chicago in 1974. The building was known as Rizal Heritage Center (Center). The Center is designated as “home away from home” for Filipino immigrants.

This paper has reported the lively and sometimes controversial quadrennial elections of FACGC’s trustees and officers –from the election of Rey Sapnu as president for the period July 1998 to May 2002 followed by Herminio Poblete and then Rene Abella for the period July 2010 to 2014 up to the last community wide election of the members of the board of trustees in June 2014 with Dr. Rufino Crisostomo as the president.

However, this democratic tradition was shattered when Elaine Lehman was appointed as volunteer executive director on January 2017. Significant among her alleged many questionable acts was the unlawful shortening of trustees’ term of office and reducing the size of the board of trustees from 21 to 3 members in four months’ time. She also allegedly maneuvered the formation her own separate board on April 28, 2017 without the traditional democratic election.

Hence, it is important to be vigilant because the legal entity owning the Rizal Center is FACGC. The leaders of FACGC to become legitimate must have the consent of the members through open community election. As indicated in his press release, Atty. Al Bascos said, “…there is no doubt that the only owner of the Rizal Center is the FACGC, Incorporated.”

He also clarified the confusion peddled by some quarters in the community. “As it presently stands, it is really a misplaced arrogance to claim that the Rizal Center legally belongs to the Filipino American community. If you heard it before and I did hear it, too, a lot of times that the Center belongs to the community – that was only a POLITICAL STATEMENT. It was uttered to merely embellish a point of the speaker, but in reality the ownership of the Center belongs entirely to the FACGC. Incorporated.”

Nevertheless, the community has a stake in making sure FACGC leadership representative of the broader interest of the community and not of those self-appointed leaders. As mentioned in my initial article about civic engagement, in the matter of a historic community center, we should never allow it to be taken without the sanction of its members and the broader community. Our pioneers gave their money, sweat, blood, and tears to own a building that the community could easily access and use. As far as I know, in its history, no one had an exclusive say who should or should not use the center. Please call or email me @ with your comments and/or questions.