Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Philippine Causes: Playing the Washington Game

Two weeks ago I received a letter from former U.S. Ambassador John Maisto inviting me to attend a dinner in honor of President Benigno Aquino III. It is hosted by the U.S. Philippines Society in cooperation with the Embassy of the Philippines in Washington, D.C.

My initial reaction was one of honor and pride to see the Philippine President again after a series of good news in the economic and political fronts. The impeachment and conviction of Ex-CJ Renato Corona, was indeed a victory not only for the President and his campaign for transparency and accountability but most especially for the Filipino people who support him in his campaign to cleanse the Philippine bureaucracy of corrupt public officials.

The dinner-event would also launch the U.S. Philippines Society “whose vision is to elevate the Philippines’ profile in the United States, to promote trade and investment, build shared strategic and political interests, and strengthen educational, cultural, tourism, and people-to-people ties, with an emphasis on educational exchanges.  This vision was built on the rich historical ties between the Philippines and the United States to help bring that unique relationship fully into the 21st century, at a time when U.S. policy interests are increasingly focused on East Asia.”

Led by Ambassador John Maisto as President and U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte and PLDT Head Manny Pangilinan as Co-Chairs, the Society is indeed destined not to fail with the current leadership and hopefully guaranteed financial backing. Of course, a strong presence like that of the Society in Washington, D.C. helping the Philippine Ambassador promote Philippine causes, is indeed an idea that is unique in one sense, and replicative in another sense.

Reading the letter further, attached was a sponsorship form for those who would like to attend. To be in the Chairman’s Circle, you have to donate $75,000; Founding Member - $50,000; Patron - $25,000; Corporate Circle - $15,000. I no longer continued to the next page. I concluded I was not in that league.

A few days later, I received a Facebook message and an email from an old friend from Philadelphia, Ernie Gange, that he would be attending the VIP Reception and Dinner for President Aquino. He would like to see me at the dinner. He will be with Ed Navarra, President of NaFFAA (National Federation of Filipino American Associations.

I went back to the Sponsorship form and read the second part. If you pay $5,000, you would be considered a Friend and would have 4 invitations to the VIP Reception and 4 Invitations to the Dinner. If you pay $1,000, you would be a Supporter and would have 2 tickets to the VIP Reception and 2 to the Dinner.

If you pay $250, there is no indication of what you would get but, if the ABS-CBN news were to be believed, the ticket holder would get the chance to shake the hands of PNoy. But as I explained to Ernie Gange, if there are 4 people paying $250 each, that would total $1,000 making Ernie a Supporter meaning 2 could go to the VIP Reception and the other 2 to the Dinner. That is probably the case for Ernie, Ed Navarra, and 2 other people.

I wrote him back to say that I will not be going but we could meet for lunch or for coffee before the Reception or the next day if he was staying for the night.

Before Ernie could answer, I received from the Philippine Embassy’s Press Office an Open Letter to the Filipino American community from Ambassador Cuisia. Part of the letter says:

 "The Society has provided me with the event sponsorship levels and response form that are attached for your convenience. I am also reminded that the Society is fully dependent oncontributions from members and friends to cover the costs of the gala dinner and to successfully carry out the programs planned throughout the year."

“If a Filipino American in Washington, D.C. has $250, $1,000, or $5,000 to spend or invest on a Filipino cause,” my barber asks, “what would you advise him to spend it on?”

I thought about it deeply and said that depending on the person’s circumstances, I would do any, some or all of the following:

1.              If unemployed, charity begins at home, so I will use it to buy groceries for my family;
 2.              If employed and can afford to spare the money, I will send it to a relative who is in dire need of money in the Philippines;
 3.              If employed and can afford to spare the money with no immediate family needing assistance, donate it to my favorite charity in the Philippines;
 4.              If Nos. 1-3 do not apply, contribute to the campaign of a U.S. Senator or Congressman who is committed to supporting Philippine causes; or the Advocacy or Lobby group of a national Filipino organization like NaFFAA that fights for Philippine causes in Washington, D.C.
 5.              If Nos. 1-4 are not acceptable, support the activities of my professional or trade association - 501 C (6); charitable or religious group – 501 C (3); or social welfare organizations – 501 C (4).
 6.              If I want to invest in stocks but still help the Philippines and expect some return, buy EPHE shares. $250 will buy 9-10 shares; $1,000 – 37-40 shares; $5,000 – 185 – 200 shares.


This is also known as MSCI Philippines Investable Market Index Fund. Whatever you invest in this Fund are in turn invested in several publicly listed Philippine companies in different sectors or industries such as Telecommunications, Real Estate, Power, Banking and Financial Services, Oil & Gas, Retail, Shipping and others. My analysis is that all the companies covered by the Fund are all good companies projected to grow even more prosperous. Please do your own research.

The last time I invested in a Fund was when Cory Aquino became President and the Philippine Fund was established. Although I made money I had to sell my shares upon the advice of my broker because of the several attempted coups during her administration.

EPHE is my second attempt. This time I am convinced that investing in it is like investing in the future of the Philippines. The Philippines has become the fastest growing economy in Southeast Asia. It is second only to China in Asia. It is worth betting on our own country in this period of our history. We now see serious efforts to cleanse the government of grafters and corrupters.  Business and investor confidence is way up.

Although I am not going to the dinner, there are other ways that we could support the efforts of the Philippine Government to affect or influence U.S. policies. The importance of the role of Filipino-Americans residing in Washington, D.C. should not be underestimated.

As I mentioned to Ernie Gange:

 1.     There are at least 92,331 trade and professional associations and 1,280,739 charitable and philanthropic organizations;

 2.     In 2010, there were 1,695 new applications for 501(c)(6) status and 59,945 applications for 501(c)(3) status.

Most of these organizations are represented in Washington, D.C. Many even have offices here. The Filipino organizations should be tapped to work with some of these organizations. We support their causes and they support ours.

I used to be Acting Executive Director of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB), the largest and oldest (founded in 1947) minority association in the country, Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce (APACC) and the Asian American Fund.

I remember negotiating cooperative agreements with the Blacks like NAREB, the National Business League (NBL), and National Black Chamber of Commerce; the Hispanics like the Latin American Manufacturers Association (LAMA), and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; and the American Indians like the National Congress of American Indians and the American Indian Trade and Development Council.

Ambassador Emmanuel Pelaez worked with us in getting all the powerful American Indian Tribal Chiefs and leaders and the Ambassadors and commercial attaches of the Asian embassies together in Washington, D.C. to promote common concerns and agenda.

I was part of a law and lobby firm that represented several countries, multi-nationals and powerful associations. We know how the game is played in Washington, D.C. Even the poorest nations are represented here.

Of course, in this digital age, the role of individual Filipinos, be they digital natives or digital immigrants in using social media to promote Philippine causes should be recognized as we do columnists, bloggers, reporters and editor/publishers. Call center owners might just be inspired to allow a few calls to the U.S. Congress for a just cause. :):)

I received another Facebook message from Ernie Gange the other day. He asked me if I could be a consultant to his group for 100 pennies a year. I will give my response to him when we meet.

It is not about the money. It is about the future of our country.

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