By Marivir R. Montebon
New York – Underneath overcast skies, Filipinos here proved that they can remain gleeful despite their troubles and extremely polarized political points of view. The day saw what fun was like among Filipinos who danced, including Philippine officials, while the more feisty ones lambasted the Duterte presidency for a dismal human rights record. For what it’s worth, it was a Philippine parade of cultural flair and political tolerance.
The biggest cultural heritage fun fare in the Big Apple unfolded with the usual colorful artistry, choreography and a sharply divergent political sentiment on June 3, 2018 on Madison Avenue. Filipinos from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania converged here to celebrate the 120th Philippine independence, dubbed as the biggest independence day celebration outside the Philippines.
A heartwarming start during the parade was the dance number of the government officials and staff of the Philippine Consulate General, the Philippine Permanent Mission to the UN, and the Philippine Center. They swayed, swung, and jumped to the choreography of Shiran Ybanez, a former official of the Philippine Independence Day Council (PIDCI). Deputy Consul General Kerwin Tate, Consul Arman Talbo, UN Amb. Teddy Locsin Jr., VC Khrys Corpuz, and the rest of the consular officials and staff danced to the tune of Sumayaw, Sumunod, a popular song in the 1980s. The crowd cheered, of course, admiring their daring display of grace and synchronicity early in the afternoon.
Joining the Philippine officials delegation were incoming Consul General of New York Amb. Claro Cristobal and Philippine Ambassador to the US H.E. Manuel Romualdez.
Despite the visibly less number of participants and spectators (short of 100,000), the Filipinos in the East Coast managed to greatly enjoy the 120th Independence Day as the first republic in Asia. The low turn-out was recognizably an aftermath of the organizer PIDCI’s issues on financial and organizational accountability that found a legal battle before the Supreme Court for the past seven months. (On May 29, 2018, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition to nullify the 2017 PIDCI elections while the stipulation for PIDCI to present financial reports remain under court and community scrutiny.)
Local leaders opined that it was time for organizers to restore community trust by straightening up organizational and financial matters. The low turn-out was a serious signal, they quipped.
The contingents from Iloilo and Guimaras in the Western Visayas definitely jazzed up the crowd, without them, the Madison Avenue parade would have been a drab. Iloilo City mayor Joe Espinosa and Guimaras governor Samuel Gumarin attended the parade and brought with them the Dinagyang and Manggahan dancers, through the effort of Ms. Joji Jalandoni, a former PIDCI official.
Thematically expressing tribal dance prayers which were a melding of paganism and Christianity in the Philippines, Iloilo’s Dinagyang provided for an upbeat tribal energy, highlighted by two white eagles that spread and flap their wings in fierce choreography. The Manggahan Dance of Guimaras was likewise a spectacle, showcasing the sweet and delectable mangoes of the island, through the natives’ thanksgiving dance.
The biggest and loudest contingent was a political one this year. About 400 participants, wearing black t-shirt, of the allied organizations of BAYAN USA calling itself Malaya, staged a die-in at the grand stand of Philippine officials. Their placards denounced the ’emergent dictatorship’ of Pres. Duterte, renounced drug-related and political extrajudicial killings, and warned against the return of Martial Law.
A few contingents right after Malaya was the group called DDS New York, carrying Philippine flags and an over-sized poster of Pres. Duterte. They boldly expressed their support to Duterte’s administration, brandishing on Duterte’s “amazing good governance”. At the back-end, some members of the DDS group expressed irritation over the protest rally of Malaya.
Notable during the parade was the absence of big performing stars from Manila, a factor why there were only a few spectators who came to watch the parade. Comedian Leo Martinez and popular singer Geneva Cruz entertained a sparse audience at the Madison Park in the later part of the afternoon. Local talents from New York performed such as Geo, Razmin, and Angel Ram.
There were less than 80 contingents in today’s parade, compared to last year’s 128 participants. There were a fewer food and business vendors as well, although the delicious smell of barbecue filled the air that set the mood for remembering the Philippines as home sweet home.