In a talk I had the other day with PWD’s managing editor, Rene Villaroman, he expressed surprise that despite unflattering talks and spats among some personalities in the Filipino American Community of Los Angeles (FACLA), the same personalities are known to have continued being a part of the organization for long times. In identical circumstances elsewhere, he said, people concerned would have already split from the organization or formed their own. What is there with FACLA that seems to be such a strong attraction for them and about the frequent internecine squabbles, he also asked: “Has FACLA been always like that?” Indeed old familiar faces seem to have lorded it over this organization for quite a long time such that some of them are known to have mastered the ins and outs of the group and its by-laws. A good thing, really, because it signifies sincere affection and bonding with the goals that justify the existence of the organization. On the other hand too much expertise could be misused and may have egged on the proliferation of litigations and counter suits that had littered the FACLA landscape throughout most of its existence.
But on the other question, no, FACLA has not been always like that. It is said that the organization attained fame and achievements in the early years in which Filipinos in this part could be proud of. The organization used to be known as the robust flagship of other ethnic groups, its name then synonymous with respect and awe. It was said that local government officials made it a point to frequent the place in the past especially during election time and even visiting Philippine politicians made FACLA a part of their itineraries.
In fact the organization, as with most early immigrant groups, was founded on the need for the pioneers to bond together as a way of cushioning the culture shock, loneliness and difficulty of life away from family and friends. It was at a time when discriminations were very pronounced against minorities. By discriminations we cite as examples the early miscegenation laws that prohibited Filipinos from marrying outside of their race, the dearth of job opportunities, signs that says “No dogs and Filipinos allowed” in public facilities and others of the kind.
But sometime in the more than six decades of existence something happened that caused the FACLA name to be in disrepute. From a membership that some said reached an apex of 10,000 years ago, the numbers steadily decreased to about 4,000 members in 1989, 2,300 in 2003 and only about a thousand names remaining in the current FACLA list. What gives? Villaroman urged that this reporter unearth some more of this once venerable organization.
Dearth of written history
Anyone making an effort to reconstruct the past of FACLA would immediately be confronted with a blank wall because of the lack of written records during its formative and succeeding years. That was the pre-computer era and, worse, most of whatever little handwritten or typewritten files existing then could have been consumed by a fire reportedly in the 1970s.
And so it is by traditional understanding passed on by old-timers that FACLA’s inception is set in the 1930s. Those trailblazing Pinoys in Los Angeles were said to have inhabited the 1st to the 3rd Streets and had a gathering place somewhere in the vicinity of what is now Little Tokyo. They formally founded FACLA on April 26, 1945, nearly a year before the end of hostilities of World War II was declared by President Truman. The words “Established 1945” are emblazoned on the steel arch leading to the compound of the organization in 1740 West Temple St., Los Angeles 90026 (photo). In 1965, a Filipino Cultural Center was registered by the group. During a special meeting held evening of Feb. 27, 2012, the current set of officers was said to have set plans for the celebration of the 67th year anniversary of FACLA next month.
FACLA is important to many in the community because it is said to be the earliest federally recognized Filipino organization in this part of U.S.A. and unlike others, it does not cater to regional or other limited self-serving interests. Before its name was associated with the many self-inflicted wounds of internecine bickering, there was a FACLA that had served as a beacon of understanding, camaraderie and mutual benefits for the Filipino American community here. Before there was a Historic Filipinotown, FACLA had been there to serve as the Filipino counterpart to the closely-knit Little Tokyo, Chinatown, Koreatown and such other minority enclaves.
The organization later purchased properties, buildings and lots in the pursuance of their objectives. The organization started a decline in the mid-70s as a result of leadership squabbles such that two rental apartments owned by the organization located at nearby Burlington Street were lost. It also lost its vital nutrition program and other services. Without the apartments, income generated by the organization was reduced tremendously to the rental of its social hall for community events.
Sometime in 1992 an officer of the organization (her name is not posted here because having died she no longer has the opportunity to refute allegations) reportedly manipulated some documents to obtain a certificate of reviver from the franchise tax board of the state of California. Together with an associate, they reportedly dissolved FACLA and transferred its assets to a new organization, which they themselves headed as officers. By that time the coffer was already empty and the buildings and premises became decrepit, neglected and ultimately FACLA as an organization ceased to exist. Almost.
Like the mythical phoenix, FACLA was back in the news in late 1995 when the court mandated the holding of special elections for a new set of officers supervised by a committee headed by then LA Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, in the presence of burly guards. Could peace be attained at last with the intervention by a city official in the organization’s affairs? Not so. In December 1997 problems became worse when the three elected vice presidents were expelled from the organization and what followed were court suits and countersuits that went on until recent days. Some in the organization staged a coup in 2000 and assumed leadership until the court intervened and FACLA was placed under court receivership. The appointment of a receiver narrowly averted the padlocking of the organization headquarters; its assets would have been distributed to charitable groups. After a second receivership, the court mandated another election of officers in June 15, 2002.
A Second Resurrection?
One time I had the privilege of being allowed to listen in to a group talk among members of what I dubbed at the start of this series as the FACLA Five. Or, rather, I invited myself in because of a short-notice assignment to start the write-up. Understandably, discussions and strategizing were the center of the agenda even as excitement was palpable due to the expected handing down of the decision of their case with Judge Michelle R. Rosenblatt of Dept. 40 of the Los Angeles Superior Court. The group was contesting their alleged illegal expulsion from the organization.
At that time Austin Baul, the perceived leader of the group, explained for the benefit of this reporter that their aim has always been for the rescue and resurrection of FACLA to its lost glory. And as mentioned in the February 18 issue of PWD Judge Rosenblatt had since issued a Final Statement of Decision dated Feb. 1, 2012, that “reinstates Plaintiffs as directors of FACLA for the term commencing January 1, 2012, as their illegal removal was for almost an entire term.”
Pursuant to that decision the expelled directors joined a group of newly-elected directors and on Feb. 20, 2012, Baul was unanimously elected president. He reiterated the above promise in his post-election speech saying, “My zeal and resolve to reclaim FACLA’s lost flame and glory is more strengthened by the knowledge that I’ll be working with the support of talented people, the FACLA’s directors.” (Other highlights from that speech are provided as a sidebar to this story.)
The other executive officers elected: Fender Santos, 1st vice president; Rita Dinsay, 2nd vice president (financial affairs); Leticia Reyes, 3rd vice president (community development); Linda Nery, treasurer; Erlinda Guerchom, auditor; and Oliver Sulit and Danny Adlawan, sergeant-at-arms. The other directors: Paul Julian, Bienvenido Basilio, Adolfino Aguayon, Norma Salvaterra, Ner Azaula, Sally Jamorabon, Jesus Prado, Karen Saysay and Alice Parino.
Clarita Julian, one of those expelled by the previous administration, was returned as office manager. The position of executive director is held open for the general membership and, together with the position of secretary, scheduled for a separate election process, it was said. Selected quotes from President-elect Austin Baul’s speech
“In this campaign we shall invoke the resonant urge of the late Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. of the US Supreme Court. He said, ‘It is required of man that he should share the action and passion of his time at peril of being judged never to have lived.’” “By these words we will tell our Filipino brothers and sisters that the time has come for them to share in the action and passion of FACLA. We will tell our Filipino brothers and sisters that the time has come for them to engage and involve themselves in the affairs and issues of our community otherwise they will be judged as not having lived like a Filipino in this United States of cultural diversities.” “In this campaign we shall instill in them a sense of pride in our unique Filipino identity. We will instill in them a sense of pride in our beautiful Filipino cultural heritage and tradition. We will instill in them a sense of pride in Filipino unity. We will instill in them a spirit of volunteerism and a sense of self reliance so that we will not fully rely on others for support in our undertakings.” “But in this campaign we should be patient. We should not expect instant success or gratification. Rather we should expect a differed success and gratification because in this campaign there will come a time when FACLA will have thousands and thousands and thousands of members and FACLA will have a tremendous impact on the bigger and more complex issues of our time that will make us respectable in the eyes of city, state and national officials even in the eyes of our minority neighbors.”
“And when FACLA reaches that high level of identity, once FACLA reaches that high level of strength, whenever FACLA negotiates with city, state and national officials or with whomever, FACLA will never negotiate with a hat in hand like a mendicant, FACLA will never negotiate with a cup in hand like a beggar. But FACLA will negotiate from a position of strength. And when we negotiate from a position of strength we will be successful.”