Time to finally “reinvent” the Filipino presence in New York and North America

by Bobby Reyes

Times Square in New York City | Photo Ricky Rillera/PDM

“It is time for Americans of Filipino descent to stop napping in the ‘City that never sleeps'” was my message to several kin and acquaintances in New York — starting in 1977. Even at that time, the Big Apple was (and continues to be) the world’s capital of ideas, especially when it comes to finance and the media.

And I said that eventually almost all Filipinos in North America started to catnap also, if not take long siestas.

Very few Filipinos in New York (and New Jersey, too) listened to my ideas. The then-diplomats assigned at the Philippine (PH) Consulate General and the PH Mission to the United Nations essentially ignored me. I think not only was I perceived a member of then-political opposition in our homeland but also, I thought that my exercise of humor was not received well by a top Filipino diplomat. Because I cracked a joke — in his presence — that “diplomats are very-honest persons that are sent abroad to lie for their government.” 

But there was one guy I met at the Philippine Center and he became my long-time friend. He was my tocayo, Roberto “Bob” G. Corrales, who was a preacher (pastor) and a wannabe journalist and columnist. Bob and I used to drink coffee together and hop on buses and trains. One time while we were in a packed subway car (as it was rush hour), Bob asked me what title I would suggest for his coming column in a New-York based ethnic newspaper. I pointed to a strap in the subway car that he was holding for dear life. He understood what I meant. And he called his column, The Straphanger.

Bob Corrales eventually followed me to Los Angeles (CA) and wrote also for the twin publications that our group of writers worked for. But a few years ago, Bob died in a nursing home. I am “resurrecting” Bob Corrales — like my literary version of Lazarus — by naming this column in his honor. It is a simple way of thanking him for listening to my ideas. He contributed also valuable inputs that improved my proposals. After all, he was one of my friends that dubbed me the “Filipino Don Quixote.”

One of my pals in New Jersey to whom I introduced Bob Corrales later quipped (after Bob left on a bus back to Manhattan) that finally I found my “Sancho Panza.” I replied that Bob was not the Filipino equivalent of the fictional character of a side kick in the novel  Don Quixote — as written by Don Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra in 1605. Bob was to head our “Panzar (sic) Division” when we start our blitzkrieg in the Filipino-American press and Filipino media back at our homeland.

Bob also performed a crucial role in our budding “Think Tank.” He was my “sounding board.” And in Los Angeles, our think tank became the “Literary Gang of Four;” and on July 7, 1993, the gang organized the Media Breakfast Club. The MBC became comatose in May 2015 after I left for Sorsogon to begin my campaign for the 2016 election.

But our blitzkrieg is like 43-years delayed. Hopefully, this “revived” (sic) column will pave the way for the fielding of our OFW-led “Panzar Divisions,” starting in the 2022 national-and-local elections in the PH. I started a “ReVOTElution” by going home to my home province of Sorsogon to establish a beachhead. I ran, albeit unsuccessfully, for governor in the May 9, 2016, election. I lost, as expected, as I was physically absent from Sorsogon for more-than 27-years. (More details to follow in the subsequent editions of this column.) The Sorsoganon traditional politicians (Trapos) all predicted that I would finish dead last in a crowded field. I ended up fifth (out of eight candidates). I could have fared better had my presidential candidate endorsed my candidacy. But she endorsed the son of the retiring governor. This will be another coming topic in this column.

In 2006, I started a nine-part series of articles for the Filipino Image Magazine of Washington, DC that has already been abandoned after its publisher, Nonoy Mendoza, died. The series was about “reinventing” the Philippines. I dubbed it The Manhattan Project (TMP). The series ran also in the pinoyonboard.com of New York City (that also folded up, as its prime mover moved also to Southern California).

To the uninitiated, the TMP was the top-secret national “crash program” of the United States to develop the atom bomb before Nazi Germany and Japan would have it.

The Filipino version of the TMP is/was a crash project that my literary friends and I have proposed to the Filipino policy-and-decision makers to implement. We argued that we must do the socioeconomic equivalent of the A-Bomb. We need to have impact projects like the TMP to find options to address global warming (GW) in our homeland.

To date, there is no serious effort even on the PH national government to address the coming catastrophe. The Filipino leaders are in virtual state of denial. Nobody talks about GW and the solutions needed to address its tragic consequences. The Filipino version of the TMP may literally and figuratively change the landscape and the environment of the Philippines. It may even change the moral fiber and/or the “cultural DNA” of the Filipino people.

I started the conceptualization of the Filipino version of the TMP in New York City. While at that time the GW topic was not yet well publicized, already some scientists were warning of the degradation of the environment. The idea of doing a TMP hit me while I was walking from a subway station to the downtown office of then-American Express Chairman-CEO James Robinson III, in the summer of 1988. I wanted to interview Mr. Robinson about his Institute for International Debt and Development (I2D2) idea. I will discuss in a coming article – as part of this series – the I2D2. I eventually met with him for four times. Our last meeting was on June 6, 1994, when I accompanied the then-Philippine Senate President Edgardo J. Angara to see Mr. Robinson at his midtown Manhattan office for a meeting about the I2D2.

From time to time, Mr. Robinson would call me. Like when he requested that our Filipino-American publications join the lobby for the approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). We did.

You can read more details about the TMP series in its Part One and its other 13 other following articles at this link:  http://www.mabuhayradio.com/ecology-and-the-environment/reinventing-the-manhattan-project-for-rp-part-i

I am inviting the readers, especially the millennial leaders, that are interested in helping push not only the “reinvention” of our various Filipino-American communities but also ideal reforms for, and in, our homeland.

As an advance reading material for those who want to join a once-in-a-lifetime “PH adventure,” you can also go to this I2D2 section of the website that I started more-than 13-years ago. Here is the link:  http://www.mabuhayradio.com/i2d2-international-debt-development/

Readers can reach me by e-mail at mediabcla@aol.com

The Philippine Daily Mirror welcomes Bobby M. Reyes as a regular columnist. Bobby is from Los Angeles, California. His column, The Straphanger, will appear every Wednesday. He has written three books and has penned more than 4,000 articles published in Filipino American newspapers and websites in New York, Houston, Texas, Chicago, Illinois and Southern CA.