A celebration of Filipino identity and culture

by Manuel B. Quintal, Esq.

The Philippine Independence Day Parade in June 2019 before the pandemic | Photo by Ricky Rillera/PDM

Every first Sunday of June, Madison Avenue, between 40th Street and 28 Street, in Manhattan, New York City, is reserved for the Philippine Independence Day Parade and the area fronting Madison Park between 23rd and 24th Streets becomes the site of the Street Fair and Cultural Show. Related celebratory events before that date happen in various places in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, commemorating the Declaration of Philippine Independence from Spain on June 12, 1898. All those events are celebrations of our being.

Those celebratory events did not take place last year. The celebrations held on the first Sunday of June 2020 were entirely virtual. They will not happen this year either, solely because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Government rules intended to promote public safety and our physical well-being prohibit group face-to-face activities.

With the less stringent regulations adopted several weeks ago, social events are permitted, though the number of attendees is still subject to limitations, including social distancing and face masks. Thus, the celebrations this coming Sunday, June 6, will be partly face-to-face and partly virtual.

The parade along Madison Avenue, and the related festive and educational events held before it, have become the annual events that serve as the vehicles to showcase our pride as a distinct cultural group in this multi-cultural country. They are the avenues for the celebration of our own identity and our own distinctive culture. They transport us back to the ways of life in the Philippines.

“They are the avenues for the celebration of our own identity and our own distinctive culture. They transport us back to the ways of life in the Philippines.

The annual Philippine Independence Day Parade that started in the early ’90s used to be managed and sponsored by the Philippine Consulate General in New York, with the help of volunteer members of the Filipino American community. Most of them are American citizens who formed a non-incorporated entity known as the Philippine Independence Day Committee (PIDC). The event and the group’s name were most fitting because it was for the commemoration of the Declaration of Philippine Independence, a necessary medium for the Philippine government to keep the patriotic flame of overseas Filipinos.

On February 14, 2002, that Committee legally became the Philippine Independence Day Council, Inc. (PIDCI). They retained the name with a slight change (from “Committee” to “Council”). Ingrained in Filipino consciousness is that name, despite suggestions by some to change it to something that does not evoke a political idea.

By way of a published article, I suggested changing it to “Philippines Day.” Among the reasons I cited then were that those actively involved in leading the activity were American citizens of Filipino descent. Therefore, they did not owe political allegiance to the Philippines. Their children, born in the US, are not expected to celebrate the independence day of a country they neither are a citizen of nor have visited. The passage of Republic Act No. 9225, also known as Citizenship Retention and Reacquisition Act of 2003 that permitted dual citizenship, somehow blunted the effect of the first reason cited.

The purposes of PIDCI, as stated in its Certificate of Incorporation, are: (1) promote the Filipino cultural heritage and traditions primarily through the celebration of the Philippine Independence Day, (2) foster and strengthen mutual cooperation, unity, and collaboration among all Filipino American organizations, (3) undertake civic, cultural, social, and charitable projects and to promote well-being of its members (4) preserve and protect the rights and interests of Filipino Americans and strengthen the friendship between the peoples of the Philippines and the United States of America, and (5) encourage the participation of all Filipino Americans, especially the youth, in all aspects of the organization and share with them the responsibilities of community involvement.

PIDCI’s stated purposes are not limited to the sponsorship, management, and operation of the Philippine Independence Day Parade. It has more. With leaders and members who are all volunteers with their life pursuits to support themselves and their respective families and the added financial resources involved, it will be a more significant challenge to pursue those goals to the fullest.

“They do their voluntary work despite unwelcome criticisms, mainly from those who do not even volunteer. None of them are entitled to or receive monetary compensation. None of them may legally financially benefit from their voluntary involvement with PIDCI.

Membership in PIDCI is limited to non-profit organizations, whether they are incorporated or not. There was a time when individuals, particularly those with the organization at its inception, were permitted as members. The number of members has varied from year to year because membership is every year. Interests to be involved fluctuate.

Like most other community-based or ethnic organizations, PIDCI and its predecessor group have experienced internal conflicts, disputes, and undesirable leaders and members. Please note that this characterization is not endemic or exclusive to the Filipino community. As a microcosm of the larger Filipino community with members coming from various parts of the Philippines, parochial views, different educational backgrounds, conflicting political persuasions, and personal ambitions, among other factors, such internecine contests are typical, if not expected. Such seems to be the nature of these kinds of organizations. We reflect in PIDCI the freedoms we enjoy as members of a democratic society!

Despite those internal conflicts, PIDCI has remained true to its reasons for existence. Its officers and directors, and individual members of member organizations, have through the years, made PIDCI active. Sometimes popular, other times unpopular. However, their volunteerism and determination to make the celebratory events successful and significant are good reasons to admire them.

They do their voluntary work despite unwelcome criticisms, mainly from those who do not even volunteer. None of them are entitled to or receive monetary compensation. None of them may legally financially benefit from their voluntary involvement with PIDCI. Whatever intangible benefit that they get presumably necessarily flows from their genuine desire to be involved. I have seen and knew many of them who spend extra hours and efforts to do the tasks assigned.

“For those among Filipinos by ethnicity and culture, the involvement in the celebrations in connection with the Declaration of Philippine Independence may be the one special way to recognize and show pride in our Filipino identity and distinctive culture. We are one in the universe. Many identities and cultures are co-existing in a foreign land.”

To the ostracized, despite their reasonable faith efforts to do good for the many, perhaps they can find consolation in the words of Jose P. Rizal. He said: “No member should expect rewards for what he does… it is advisable for each one to do his duty just for its own sake, and at best expect to be later treated unjustly…” (Letter published in La Solidaridad). They have an elite company.

For those among Filipinos by ethnicity and culture, the involvement in the celebrations in connection with the Declaration of Philippine Independence may be the one special way to recognize and show pride in our Filipino identity and distinctive culture. We are one in the universe. Many identities and cultures are co-existing in a foreign land. There is no escaping such distinct identity and culture, regardless of your personal views or attitudes. To ignore or deny them is an implicit recognition of their existence.

Hopefully, by the following year, 2022, we will all be able to be part of and witness face-to-face the celebrations of our Filipino identity and culture!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Manuel B. Quintal, ESQ., practices law in New York since 1989. He is active in the community as a member, an officer, or a legal adviser of various professional, business, and not-for-profit organizations. He was a columnist of Newstar Philippines, an English language weekly newspaper published in New York, from 2006-2009. He was Executive Editor of International Tribune, an English language weekly newspaper for the Asian community, based in New York, from 2010 to 2012. He is admitted to practice law in the Philippines and New York State. He has graduate degrees in Political Science and an LL.M. major in International Law.

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