Gathering Places


Keep politics out
of Fil-Com Center

In early June, the Filipino community joyously celebrated the grand opening of the long-awaited Fil-Com Center. Many organizations, businesses and corporations, along with hundreds of Filipinos from all walks of life -- from the retired senior citizen in Waialua to the downtown business executive -- had pooled their resources to see the project become a reality. It took us decades to create an institution such as the Fil-Com Center.

The center, a symbol of ethnic pride and unity, faced its first crisis before its doors even opened. Many Filipinos spoke out against plans by Fil-Com officials to hang a "Bahay (House) Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation" sign on the building to honor the foundation's $3 million donation. Quite a number of people protested that the Fil-Com Center was not for sale. The center's faceplate, they argued, is its flag and should be protected at all costs.

To head off the growing dissatisfaction among Filipinos, I met with the center's officers and offered to discuss the matter with officials from the Weinberg Foundation in hopes of finding middle ground. That we did. A compromise was reached and we brought the controversy to a peaceful conclusion. Fil-Com Center and Weinberg Foundation leaders should be commended for their understanding and cooperation.

Now, three months later, the Fil-Com Center is faced with a more serious crisis. The center's officers and directors have been rumored to be using their positions of influence to support their respective political candidates, be they Democrats or Republicans. Such actions threaten not only the center's tax-exempt status, but also have created a rift within the Filipino community that will grow larger and nastier as we proceed in the election process.

The alleged actions of these Filipino leaders are compromising the Fil-Com Center and all the ethnic pride and unity that it symbolizes. Although I am friends with these Filipino leaders, it is with deep regret that I must speak up now. For the sake of the Fil-Com Center and what it stands for, the right thing for these leaders to do is to step down from their Fil-Com Center positions immediately.

We Filipinos are passionate about politics. Though each of us has the right to support a candidate or get involved with a particular political campaign, a line must be drawn whenever such actions threaten the Fil-Com Center and all that we Filipinos have worked for.

There is a wrong public perception that Filipinos are easily swayed by political parties. We are smarter than that and should be vigilant to avoid being exploited or used as a tool by any political party. Let us not dishonor the sacrifices of the thousands of people who have given of themselves to see the center become a reality.

Let the Fil-Com Center serve as a testament to the resilient spirit of the Filipino people and their significant contributions to Hawaii's history -- and remain untainted by the divisive and oftentimes ugly nature of politics.

Romy M. Cachola is a Honolulu City Councilman (Foster Village, Kalihi) and former state legislator.

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