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CABINET SECRETARY RICARDO SALUDO AT THE SAN FRANCISCO CONSULATE TOWN HALL MEETING

By CESAR TORRES
December 26, 2005

Filam Community Leader in San Francisco, Jacquie Lingad Ricci, a Commissioner of Aging in the City and County of San Francisco (standing), sharing with Cabinet Secretary Ricardo Saludo, seen vaguely at left, her unpleasant experience at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport when she accompanied former San Francisco Mayor Brown who was given an award by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for his constant help to the Filipinos in California and in San Francisco.

In my entire life in America, I have never spent so many number of hours in one public place not connected with my work, except last December 2, 2005, at the San Francisco Consulate.

It was a sacrifice, but nothing compared to what other millions of Filipinos are going through in these difficult and terrible times.

I attended that event, again not because of Cabinet Secretary Saludo. I thought he was in San Francisco on a junket, spending the Filipino people's money which otherwise could be channeled to help the many people and groups back in the Philippines. I was there because I promised the San Francisco Consulate I will add my presence to the statistics of the Consulate, i.e., how many people were they able to invite to provide importance to the presentation of Cabinet Secretary Saludo.

My two friends, Counselor Dennis Mesina and Benny Cojuangco did not come despite their promise. Only Richie Dira, who is also an enthusiastic volunteer in the San Francisco Consulate’s Dual Citizenship and Overseas Absentee Voting drive, joined me.

Anyway, I stayed there for a long time.  I even witnessed an oath taking of some 60 or so Filipinos who have become dual citizens. It seems in the entire world where the Philippines has consular offices, the San Francisco Consulate is second to Hongkong in the number of Filipinos who have registered to vote. And the number in Los Angeles which has the largest concentration of Filipinos, is almost negligible.

Anyway, when Secretary Saludo's presentation started, I half-heartedly stayed.  I wanted to be courteous to the Consulate so I did not want to leave right away. I was half-way interested also in the Power Point presentation that the Secretary was making.

There was a lot of data in bar charts, in line charts, in pie charts, and in different colors. Of course, we know that statistics can be manipulated and concocted out of thin air.  But in the case of the statistics presented by Secretary Saludo, I don't think they were figments of his imagination or the result of the erroneous compilation of his staff in Manila.

One thing certain:  I think that Secretary Saludo and the others associated with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo are trying their best.  Secretary Saludo was impressive.  He has the credentials after all: Ateneo and Hongkong University and the Asian Institute of Management.

Nini Alvero, the PTIC Director for the Western United Sates, and Consul General Sanchez, wanted me to ask questions.  I told them I will just direct my questions about Samar and the Philippines to them.  I would not compete with many other Filipinos who wanted attention from Secretary Saludo during that town hall meeting. That was not the time.

I was thinking that it would have been too much if I tried to pin the Cabinet Secretary with respect to a lot of issues — the homeless and the garbage subsisting-Filipinos, the families sleeping in graveyards, the vigilantes, the summary killings, the corruption that seems unabated in some places, the lack of books and school materials in a school in Samar, asking him if he reads newspapers and wondering if he was aware what we in Villareal, Samar were doing — repairing and cementing an 8-kilometer provincial road through Bayanihan and the Internet without the help of an incompetent provincial government and the officials of the national government — a hospital in Samar that is so dirty and without medicines and anesthesia, the outright "extortion" of some people right in NAIA which Jacquie Lingad-Ricci and one other gentleman unabashedly communicated to Secretary Saludo, the struggle of our Moro brothers and sisters for dignity and self-determination, etc.

I know that Secretary Saludo and his fellow workers are trying very hard.  It was fortuitous that Gen. Carlos Garcia had just been sentenced for a more grievous and “critical error of judgment”.

But for a moment, I was tempted to share with him and the more than 100 people in attendance who may not be connected to the Internet, that I discern a new focus in the mindset of some Filipinos outside of the Philippines.  Many of us are focusing our attention more keenly on what we can do to help our country, without any fanfare, without going through the incompetent and corrupt bureaucrats and the “Trapos”, aka “dishrags” or traditional politicians in the Philippines.

Shown (l-r) are: Consul Fred Santos, and Vice Consuls Anthony Achilles Mandap, and Rafael Hermoso. Vice Consul Ariv Arevalo, who arrived just two weeks ago, are the key people supporting San Francisco Consul General Maria Rowena Mendoza Sanchez. They are the “vanguard and the efficient representatives of about 600,000 Filipinos in Northern California.”

During the lunch break, I took a picture of three handsome young consuls, Consul Fred Santos, Anthony Achilles Mandap, and Raffy Hermoso.  They were preparing the hall for the resumption of Secretary Saludo’s presentation. They and the other staff members of the San Francisco Consulate are the willing co-workers of Consul General Sanchez which makes this San Francisco Consulate very impressive.  They work nights, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays without overtime pay and without compensating time off.

Observing the three consuls, I thought that they are the vanguard and the representatives of the 87 million Filipinos in the world. Considering these perilous times, they could be assigned to hotspots in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in other places, and could be kidnapped, tortured or beheaded while on duty.   The three consuls did not look bloodthirsty or looking like Superman or Batman.  But I remembered our shoeless Katipuneros of days of yore when the Filipinos were the first ones in Asia to fight against foreign oppressors. I remembered that it was on December 2, 1899, fortuitously the same day of Secretary Saludo’s presentation, when the Boy General, General Gregorio del Pilar died fighting the Americans at Tirad Pass.  He knew he was going to die, but he still “felt that it was the most glorious moment of his life”, offering his life for his beloved country and that “no sacrifice can be too great.”

A portion of the audience during the recently held town hall forum featuring Secretary of the Cabinet Ricardo Saludo in the San Francisco Consulate. The town hall forum has become a popular feature of the San Francisco Consulate’s outreach to the Filipino community. In picture, seated, left, is Carminia “Gigi” Rodriguez, Vice President of Citibank NRP (West), FSB.

I remembered the "Gift of God to the Malay Race", Jose Rizal, whose brilliance has been regarded as a tribute to the Spanish Siglo de Oro. I could imagine those bullets ripping into his breast, stilling his beating heart, all for the love of his country and his people. He did not flinch nor did he cry out. I remembered my father who was listed as missing in action in Bataan and must have died a horrible death.  I remembered the heroism of the 10th Battalion Combat Team in Korea.  I think they were as slender as the three Filipino consuls whose picture I took. And they are in the annals of the history of the Philippines.  All these images were flashing through my mind when I took the picture of Consuls Fred Santos, Anthony Achilles Mandap, and Raffy Hermoso.

After his San Francisco town hall meeting, Secretary Saludo seems to have gone to New York.  Apparently there were fireworks and insults during the open forum there, unlike in San Francisco.  And from New York, he went to Los Angeles. But I believe it was in San Francisco where the potential for a more effective collaboration between the Philippine Government and the Filipino community was exemplified.

[[*This is reprinted from the Southern California based “Manila US Times” issue of December 19 – December 25, 2005. The author is also a regular columnist of “The Filipino Insider”, a monthly supplement of the “San Francisco Chronicle”, one of the major newspapers in America with a circulation of 500,000.  He is one of the founders and moderators of the “Gugma han Samar Cyberspace Movement”.  A former Assistant Professor of Political Science in the University of the Philippines in Diliman, the author has not lost touch with his native land despite the pressures of community involvement in California, in Samar, the Philippines and his employment in the State of California. He can be reached at Cesar1185@aol.com.]

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