Fil-Ams celebrate Independence Day with substance, purpose and less fanfare

by Ricky Rillera

NEW YORK – On its 28th year, the Philippine Independence Day Council, Inc. (PIDCI) rolled off another parade along Madison Avenue in Manhattan on June 3 celebrating the 120th year of Philippine Independence with the theme, “Honoring Our Heroes – Inspiring Solidarity Among Us All”. Hundreds of people – men, women, and children – coming from the Tri-state and Pennsylvania watched along the parade route waving Philippine flags and proudly cheering “Mabuhay!”

According to PIDCI, about 85 community organizations marched in this year’s parade. A spearhead contingent of New York City Mounted Police, the Pipe & Drums of the Emerald Society of the New York City Police, the Phillippine Consulate, the Philippine Mission to the UN, the Philippine Center Management Board, PIDCI’s Grand Marshal’s family also marched but were not included in the count. Also participating in this year’s parade were the top winners of Western Visayas festivals in the Philippines. The four-time guest performer, Dinagyang, from Iloilo, and Guimaras’ Manggahan which made its debut performance this year, provided a bold, colorful and festive atmosphere that wowed the audience.

Not to be outshined was a coalition of progressives and youth groups called the Malaya Movement with marchers wearing black shirts and headbands to protest extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. A contingent of pro-Duterte administration was there too dressed in blue shirts and red baseball caps and carrying a big banner with President Duterte’s photo on it.


Ner Martinez, PIDCI President thanking government officials and the community after the Independence Day Mass | Photo Boyet Loverita

Ner Martinez, PIDCI president, was elated with the big turn-out of people and the overall outcome of the celebration despite the challenges PIDCI had at the beginning of his term. PIDCI was slapped with a lawsuit in November 2017. But PIDCI officers and directors felt vindicated when Judge Barbara Jaffe of the Supreme Court of the State of New York ruled the complaint premature and dismissed the case May 29 — four days before the big event. Martinez said he received a copy of the court’s decision May 30 prior to the start of a community meeting held that night in preparation to the celebration on June 3.

“I am really thankful to the officers, members of the Board, volunteers and the community for their full support,” said Martinez. “That says a lot about their commitment, tenacity, and their belief in PIDCI’s 28th year of service to the community.”

Openness and humility, purpose and substance

Martinez added: “We wanted to take our minds off the lawsuit as a separate issue and focus on the brass tacks of delivering this annual event to the community and we did it with openness and humility.”

Visibly noticeable this year was the absence of celebrities, big-name actors, and entertainers who are usually invited from the Philippines to join the parade. This year, besides actor-director, filmmaker, and comedian Leo Martinez and actress Geneva Cruz, local talents were tapped. Among others, performers from Broadway Barkada, artists from event promoter Mountain Top, YouTube sensation Bryan Magsayo filled the gap and drew a sizeable crowd.

Most people assumed this was a result of a negative campaign launched by a few people dissuading the community from participating in the celebration. They also pointed out PIDCI’s predicament to raise funds following the revocation of its 501-c3 tax exempt status which was a central issue before the elections in October 2017.

“This year’s celebration was with purpose and substance,” said Martinez. “It may have been with less fanfare but the seriousness of a community spirit and pride was obviously evident.”

But both Dinagyang and Manggahan “stole the thunder” and impressed not only Filipinos but Caucasians who dropped by to watch and experience a Filipino celebration of culture and heritage. They were fascinated and entertained as they also partook of a variety of Filipino food offered by vendors

PH Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez speaks to the community after the Mass. | Photo Boyet Loverita

which numbered 13 food booths and 16 non-food, according to PIDCI.

Dinagyang’s “warriors’ tribal dance”, which featured dancers wearing their costumes with large, colorful head-dress armed with spears and shields executed a dazzling choreography and movement to the cadence of a wild drumbeat. Manggahan did the same with their own festive dancers dressed in yellow and green costumes carrying bushels of mangoes who danced gracefully to showcase their province’s world-famous luscious and sweetest mangoes.

“Less crowd, less food vendors, less marchers”

Reached by the Philippine Daily Mirror, Juliet Payabyab, one of the complainants in the lawsuit who was at the parade, said in her text message that “there was less crowd, less food vendors, less marchers vs. over a hundred contingent in the past.” She questioned why there was a barricade in front of emcees at the reviewing stand.


Dinagyang Festival Dancers on stage.     |   Video courtesy of Ramon Cua-Locsin

Despite the claims of some people about the crowd size, she said she took “200 (photo) shots of every corner.” She also questioned the parade judges who were “composed of PIDCI themselves, i.e., Fe M (Martinez), Atty. (Manny) Quintal their legal adviser and son of Raul (Estrellado).” She asked, “why not non-PIDCI?”

“I congratulate the cultural though, excellent program and marshals who worked hard,” Payabyab said.

The day-long festivities kicked off at the Philippine Center with a flag-raising ceremony and an Independence Day Mass celebrated by Archbishop Bernardito Cleopas Auza, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations as the principal celebrant. Philippine Ambassador to the US, Jose Manuel Romualdez; Philippine Ambassador to the UN, Teodoro Locsin, Jr.; Foreign Service Institute Director-General Ambassador Claro Cristobal; Acting Head of Post and Deputy Consul General Kerwin Tate; staff from the consulate, UN Mission, and attached agencies’ were also present. Also, in attendance were local officials from Iloilo and Guimaras in the Philippines.

Joining them were PIDCI Grand Marshal Maj. Restituto N. Estacio, MD, FS, FACIP, Honorary Grand Marshal Ambassador Mario L. De Leon, Jr., PIDCI President Ner Martinez and PIDCI officers and directors, and community leaders.

The staff at the Philippine Center representing their respective offices who also marched, unexpectedly performed a version of a Zumba dance as they approached the reviewing stand to the surprise and amusement of bystanders, and guests seated at the reviewing stand. The crowd responded enthusiastically with cheers and praises. According to a consulate official, they practiced their act in just two alternate weeks, and a last one, on the day of the festivities.

“Dancing Diplomats” dancing a Zumba version.   |  Video courtesy of PCGNY

Anti- and Pro-Duterte marchers

Malaya Movement also had their own act which was more of a symbolic one, in protest of extrajudicial killings under President Duterte’s administration. They had a large banner with them that read “Resist Duterte’s Fascist Dictatorship, Defend Human Rights and Democracy in the Philippines!” and some posters which called for “Boycott China Products.” As they approached the reviewing stand, they laid down on the street for about a minute and some observers thought they would remain there. Eventually, they stood up and marched on in compliance to PIDCI guidelines as parade marshals secured the perimeter of the reviewing stand and alerted New York City police.

US Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) with Ner Martinez, PIDCI President (far left), Grand Marshal Dr. Restituto N. Estacio (middle) and Honorary Grand Marshal, Amb. Mario Lopez-de Leon, Jr. (right)  |  Photo Vivian Velasco

Down the line, came the pro-Duterte marchers dressed in blue shirts and red baseball caps with their own banner which read “DDS New York Strongly Supports President Rodrigo Roa Duterte”. There wasn’t much of a fanfare though. Marchers, who also came in big numbers, strolled along waving flags to the crowd.

According to officials, the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC had received credible information that about two or more anti-Duterte groups would try to disrupt the event.

Although New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was in another community parade nearby on Fifth Avenue, he did not show up. Instead, he sent his representative, highest ranking Filipino official in his office, Aris de la Cruz, to present a proclamation to Philippine Ambassador Romualdez.  US Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) came by unexpectedly at the reviewing stand and was introduced to Philippine dignitaries.

“I am quite impressed with the maximum tolerance that was displayed in this instance,” an observer said from the barricaded sidewalk. “It is good that PIDCI allowed community activists to express their voice of protest against your government and at the same time and venue, also allowed a group supportive of the president (Duterte).”

She wondered if the same marchers would also participate in other venues where Philippine Independence Day is commemorated such as in Jersey City and Passaic, New Jersey.

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