Manila, Philippines (February 6, 2024) – The National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NAFFAA) made history with its annual Leadership Summit held for the first time at The Manila Hotel, Philippines from January 30 to February 1, 2024. This landmark event convened over 30 NAFFAA Regional and State officers from across the United States, fostering a vibrant exchange of ideas and collaboration among Filipino American leaders.
Reflecting on the significance of the summit, National Operations Officer Ryan Namata shared, “Arriving in the Philippines and meeting fellow Fil-Am community leaders felt like coming home. I am honored to work with such great leaders.”
Prior to the summit, NAFFAA’s Board of Governors received recognition from the Senate, with esteemed leaders such as Senate President Jose Miguel Zubiri and Deputy Minority Leader Senator Risa Hontiveros personally acknowledging their contributions.
NaFFAA Board of Governors with Philippine Senate President Jose Miguel Zubiri and Senator Risa Hontiveros. Click here to see more details on the event.
Day 1 commenced with inspiring remarks from Host City Mayor Honey Lacuna, MD of Manila, who warmly welcomed NAFFAA leaders and guests, emphasizing the rich cultural heritage of the Philippines. Mayor Lacuna urged NAFFAA leaders to serve as bridges for Filipino Americans to reconnect with their roots.
City of Manila Mayor Honey Lacuna, MD welcomes NaFFAA National, Regional, State Leaders to her beloved city.
Mariela Fletcher, NAFFAA National President, underscored the importance of leveraging Filipino heritage as a source of strength and unity. She stated, “Our connection with the Philippines is not just a matter of heritage; it’s a source of strength.”
National Chair Brendan Flores reflected on the impact of recognition by hometown officials, expressing gratitude for reaching a global stage.
Former Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose L. Cuisia Jr. encouraged NAFFAA leaders to empower the future generation of the Filipino American community, highlighting efforts by the Filipino Young Leadership Program (FYLPRO) in nurturing impactful leaders.
On Day 1, the inaugural panel, “The Bonds That Cross The Oceans,” brought together esteemed individuals including Secretary Romulo Arugay, Chairman of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO), Marlene Gonzales, an Immigration Attorney, Eric Lachica from US Medicare Philippines, Inc., Honorary Consul Donna Lavigne, and Noehl Bautista representing the Philippine Retirement Authority. This session provided invaluable insights into the advantages and opportunities for Filipino Americans considering retirement in the Philippines. Delving into various aspects, the panelists articulated compelling reasons why relocating to the Philippines offers significant benefits and outlined the potential opportunities awaiting retirees in the homeland.
During a lunch session, Yuko Tomita, representing the International Organization for Migration (IOM), spearheaded a discussion on their collaboration with NAFFAA concerning disaster relief initiatives. Given the Philippines’ status as one of the most disaster-prone nations globally, the dialogue focused on sharing best practices and strategies to enhance aid delivery. Particularly noteworthy was the emphasis on the Fil-Am Alerts program, an initiative developed by NAFFAA to streamline coordination efforts and ensure efficiency in responding to emergencies.
A discussion on the Social Responsibilities of Filipinos Abroad convened with esteemed panelists including Daniel Bercasio, Executive Director of Community Development Foundation for Gawad Kalinga, Dr. Mary Ann Evangelista, Medical Missions expert and founding member of the Strategic Engagement for Enabling Development (SEED), and Rolando Victoria, Founder and President of ASKI Group. During the session, Dan Bercasio conveyed heartfelt gratitude to NAFFAA and its leaders for their long standing partnership, spanning over two decades. He emphasized the significance of their collaboration in community-building and poverty alleviation efforts, stressing the importance of addressing not only monetary poverty but also the sense of being left behind. Bercasio commended the support received from NAFFAA and its younger leaders, underscoring their vital role in advancing Gawad Kalinga’s mission.
Day 1 culminated with a visit to Makati City Hall with Mayor Abby Binay, where the NaFFAA delegation received a warm reception from Mayor Binay’s staff, Vice Mayor Monique Lagdameo, and councilors. Adding to the ambiance, the Makati City Youth Orchestra, group of students from various public schools in Makati showcased a blend of classical music and Original Pilipino Music (OPM) for the NaFFAA delegates. The evening concluded with a delightful merienda cena, symbolizing the camaraderie shared between Makati City Hall officials and the NaFFAA representatives.
National Chair Brendan Flores emphasized the importance of partnership with the financial district of Makati, stating, “We are glad to work with them in achieving goals that empower our Filipino Americans and our friends in Makati.”
Day 2 of the NaFFAA Leadership Summit commenced with a strategic planning session led by National Operations Officer Ryan Namata. This session primarily focused on devising effective strategies to actively involve and engage the younger generation within the organization. Utilizing NaFFAA’s data, collected over the years, it became evident that there is a pressing need to foster the next generation of leaders, especially from our youth.
NaFFAA Trustee Art De Joya succinctly captured the essence of this imperative, stating, “It will be hard for us, NaFFAA leaders, to engage the youth in NaFFAA if we can’t even invite the youth from our own homes to participate. We have to start with our own families, training our youth to engage in our Filipino American community.” This sentiment underscores the critical importance of grassroots engagement and fostering leadership from within the community itself and our own homes.
The morning session continued with a compelling presentation from Maica Teves, Executive Director of Spark Philippines, who shared her remarkable leadership journey. Teves captivated NaFFAA leaders with her story of perseverance and determination, emphasizing the importance of persistence in achieving goals. Reflecting on her early days with Spark Philippines and their women empowerment initiatives, Teves shared, “Laway (lots of talking to people) at calling cards are my first investments. I started SPARK by giving calling cards to a lot of people. I never quit until I made the necessary connections. Tyaga (patience) lang talaga sa una and never quit.”
Following Teves’ inspiring address, a panel discussion ensued featuring Filipino Americans who have chosen to establish themselves in the Philippines for work and business. Comprising of cultural worker Migz Anzures, technology expert Dexter Ligot Gordon, businessman Vladimir “VJ” Manuel, entrepreneurs Bryan McClelland, and Morris Vincent F. Agudo, the panelists shared compelling narratives of how their sense of purpose led them back to the Philippines, where they believe they can make the greatest impact. VJ, Dexter, and Migz also talked about their ties and organizing experience in NAFFAA’s early years and holding positions such as Youth Chairs. They each shared their history with NAFFAA and their involvement in the Filipino American community and community involvement in the Philippines.
Anthony Guevara, Southwest Region Chair and facilitator of the event, expressed gratitude for the chance to reconnect with old friends and colleagues at the leadership summit. He highlighted the privilege of leading meaningful discussions and celebrated the accomplishments and impact of attendees. Guevara emphasized the importance of connection and shared experiences in fostering collective growth and success.
Mariela Fletcher reflected on the profound impact of having Filipino Americans return to the Philippines, stating, “Destiny brought them back because the country needs them.” This acknowledgment underscores Filipino Americans’ invaluable contributions and potential in driving positive change and progress within their homeland. Morris Agudo stated that several Filipino Americans have been able to achieve their “American Dream but with a Filipino Heart.” Many Filipino Americans have reverse-migrated to the Philippines to contribute to the progress of the Philippines and the panelists encourage others to do the same.
The next panel of the day, titled “Filipino Mental Health Support to OFWs & Migrants,” featured Brian Poe Llamanzares, Ph.D., Yuri Marshall, and Phoebe Fructuoso. They shared personal experiences of overcoming abuse, mental health challenges, and other adversities, leaving many NaFFAA leaders visibly moved. Angeles Carandang, National Treasurer, emphasized the significance of understanding and addressing the struggles faced by youth, stating, “It is important to hear the struggles of our youth; we want to connect with them and engage them in our great cause. We can only connect with them if we take the time to know their concerns.”
Following this emotional discussion, Lyle del Mundo presented on bridging the gap between Filipino creatives in the United States and in the Philippines. As the Founder and Executive Director of FACE (Filipinos Advancing Creative Education), del Mundo urged NaFFAA leaders to prioritize nurturing and strengthening relationships within the Filipino American community. He stressed the importance of supporting local talents and OPM (Original Pilipino Music) artists, envisioning a future where Filipino talents are exported internationally, akin to the success of Korean artists. Del Mundo emphasized, “It starts with us supporting and promoting our Filipino talents from within our community to get them on an international stage.”
The day ended with a keynote address from Department of Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Jose Victor Chan Gonzaga, encouraged continued collaboration between the Philippines and the United States to strengthen their partnership and overcome challenges together. He emphasized the collective strength derived from unity, highlighting the importance of collaboration in navigating through pandemics and global changes.
Following the engaging speaker sessions on Day 2, attendees were invited to unwind and connect at the Cocktails held at the Roma Salon, with drinks generously sponsored by Emperador Brandy. NAFFAA continued to foster meaningful connections with a well-attended meet and greet in the evening, drawing a diverse crowd of non-profit leaders, government officials, business owners, artists, entertainers, and community members. The presence of distinguished individuals like BCDA (Bases Conversion and Development Authority) Chairman Delfin Lorenzana and CFO Chairman added prestige to the event, further highlighting its significance as a platform for collaboration and networking.
The culminating day of the summit featured a visit to Clark International Airport, graciously extended by an invitation from Chairman Delfin Lorenzana. NaFFAA leaders experienced the warm hospitality of Kapampangan culture as they explored Clark, Pampanga, indulged in local cuisine, and toured Chairman Lorenzana’s BCDA office.
Even after the summit’s conclusion, NaFFAA’s impact continued to resonate. NaFFAA Illinois State President Ed Brotonel and his wife Annie reflected on their experience, expressing gratitude for the opportunity to honor fallen soldiers at the Manila American Cemetery. They solemnly lowered the U.S. Flag alongside cemetery staff, symbolically uniting it with the folded Philippine flag in the cemetery chapel. Advocating for its inclusion in future NaFFAA events, they highlighted the significance of the cemetery’s historical importance and its potential to educate future generations.
Indeed, the NaFFAA Leadership Summit is not just a milestone but a beacon of hope and unity for Filipino Americans. As the inaugural gathering in the Philippines, it has etched its place in history, leaving an unforgettable legacy of profound impact. It has not only touched hearts and transformed lives but has also set the stage for the nurturing and empowerment of generations to come.
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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.