NaFFAA pays tribute to Greg Macabenta, former National Chair

Deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of one of NaFFAA’s founding members and former National Chair, Greg Macabenta.

In 1997, he wrote NaFFAA’s clarion call to Filipinos in the US:

“Major events are occurring and laws are being passed that affect our interests such as those on immigration, affirmative action and social services. But our community is being swept by the tides of change and circumstance. We are not playing a significant role in shaping these events and enacting these laws, despite the fact that we make the largest Asian ethnic group in this country.

“We appear to be impotent in the face of these adverse circumstances, not because we lack the numbers nor the social status nor the intellectual capacity but because we, as a community, have not been able to harness our full potentials as a socio-economic and political force.

“We have not struggled hard enough for empowerment. This is our challenge. Panahon Na!”

As a community, we have come a long way because of visionaries like Greg. May his legacy continue to light our path forward. Rest in power, Greg, at Maraming Salamat. 💜

#RestInPower #NaFFAAmily #RIPGregMacabenta #MakeABenta

Tribute to Greg Macabenta, by Jon Melegrito

This was originally posted on Jon Melegrito’s Facebook wall.

I am reprinting my “Our Town” column in Manila Mail, November 22, 2008, in fond memory of the times we spent together, singing with Alex Esclamado “The Impossible Dream” and “That’s Amore” and reciting his favorite poems by Omar Khayyam after a few drinks (always his treat). Thank you, Greg.

A Cappella, with Greg Macabenta

It’s 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, notably That’s Amore.

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 didn’t 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 earlier in the Philippine Embassy’s 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. “What’s the point?” he’d cut them off, discouraging any grandstanding or posturing.

Like his power point presentation, the day scrolled down in bullet points. “Let’s all agree in principle,” the chairman made it very clear. “Let’s not waste time debating. Over-analysis only leads to paralysis.”

And so it went, boom, boom, boom.

On coalition building: “It’s 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 doesn’t work, break down that damn wall.”

NaFFAA’s 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 don’t consider myself The Boss, but the coordinator, integrator and facilitator. I like to think of myself as a community worker and volunteer.”
NaFFAA’s Mission: “It’s been said that we’re perpetual tourists living in a Filipino enclave, not in Mainstream America. We need to be active participants as Americans, contributing to this country’s well being. But we must also help the Philippines and be engaged in Filipino issues. It’s not an either/or.”

Fundraising: “Developing fundable programs is the key. That’s 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 and women need to step aside already. It’s 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.

It’s been 11 years since NaFFAA was formed. Three national chairs have come and gone. When the fourth chairman took over last September, NaFFAA’s coffers were literally empty. As promised, he raised close to $15,000 in two months.

He’s 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 didn’t stop him from singing, and getting the others to sing with him. He may have forgotten the words to “Impossible Dream,” but there’s no doubt the passion is there to reach the unreachable star – pure and raw in a cappella.

November 22, 2008
Washington DC

Photo below: Alex Esclamado, Jon Melegrito and Greg Macabenta (right) belting out “The Impossible Dream.”

About NaFFAA

The National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) is a non-profit, non-partisan organization. Established in 1997, NaFFAA has been the standard bearer for promoting the welfare and well-being of the 4 million Filipinos and Filipino Americans throughout the United States. NaFFAA’s vision is to serve as the voice of all Filipinos and Filipino Americans by uniting, engaging, and empowering diverse individuals and community organizations through leadership development, civic engagement, and national advocacy.