The History of the Philippine Cultural and Civic Center Foundation By Elieser Suson, MD
Nearing retirement age, the idea was appealing to me. However, having no organizational experience, it dropped on my lap as an awesome task. I needed a person with the organizational skill and experience to bring the idea to fruition. Immediately, I thought of drawing on the expertise of Roger Austria to fill that void. He had been involved, in one way or another, in establishing many of the Filipino-American organizations in Milwaukee and elsewhere. Roger Austria gladly agreed to initiate the process of establishing a Philippine Center. He was willing to serve as its executive director but at the same time suggested and insisted that I assume the chairmanship of the steering committee that he was planning toform, arguing that it would enhance the prospect of success of the project. I accepted. This marked the beginning of what was then called the Milwaukee Filipino Center [MFC]. The ensuing years, from 1995 to 1999, were characterized by fund raising events, meetings of the steering committee and town hall meetings during which all members of the Filipino-American community were invited, not only in Milwaukee but reaching as far as Racine, Madison, Depere, Wisconsin and, even, northern Illinois. Understandably, funds were raised with the idea of acquiring a building or a space in a building, either owned or leased by the MFC, in order to house our activities. We were able to raise some funds but realized five years later that this could not be accomplished effectively before we were incorporated as a tax-exempt organization.
The meetings of the steering committee and the town hall meetings were aimed at collecting the ideas and feelings of the Filipino-American community concerning the mission, the objectives and the desired organizational nature of the Center. The organization that took shape five years later was a distillation of the collective thoughts and feelings of the community as interpreted by a few committed and deeply involved individuals. The Evolving Philosophy of the Philippine Center The tone in the mission statement, drafted by Roger Austria in September 27, 1995, defined the original philosophy and set the direction of the organization:"We have now adopted the United States of America as our home. This does not mean, however, that we can forget about the country of our birth. As our national poet, Francisco Balagtas, aptly said: "Ang hindi lumingon sa pinanggalinganay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan." One who does not look back to his roots... will not achieve his goals.***"The Filipino culture is a beautiful culture. We have values and traditions that are the envy of other nations. Our respect for elders, close kinship with spirit of bayanihan, humility, and perseverance, among others, are values that have made Filipinos a dynamic people and highly adaptive to new environments.
"We believe in preserving our culture not only for ourselves, but more importantly, for our children, and their children who were born and will be born in the United States and other countries. It is in this belief that we establish a Philippine Center which will be the repository of Filipino Culture in the State of Wisconsin. The Center will serve as a clearing house for Filipino Culture - her history, education, politics, economics, government, and religion. The Center will also serve as a place of gathering for Filipino activities." In contrast, compare this with the following: Mission Statement of the Philippine Cultural and Civic Center Foundation, Inc. (Drafted in December Y1999 and Approved by the Board of Trustees in Y2000) "As citizens of this community, we have partaken of its material and spiritual wealth. Through its benevolence, we have shared with its greatness and now enjoy a way of life that allows us to help alleviate the sufferings of this largely impoverished and troubled world. Therefore, we, Filipino-Americans and our friends of this community, have established the Philippine Cultural and Civic Center Foundation Inc. Through this foundation, which aims to construct a building to house some activities of the community, we hope to bring to the American consciousness the richness of our background, as well as the significance of our contributions to this country. In addition, we also aim to provide services of a civic nature which would, otherwise, be difficult, or too costly, for some people to obtain. And, above all, it is our fervent hope that through this foundation we will help raise generations of citizens who will continue to contribute to the greatness of America and help mold its moral conscience."
Although I take responsibility for its language, this mission statement was the product of the careful deliberation of the entire Board of Trustees of the PCCCF, Inc. It demonstrated a significant departure from the original mission statement. The first emphasized the noble and laudable objective of keeping alive and spreading the knowledge of Filipino culture to our progeny and the rest of the community. The latter, in one sweeping statement incorporated that mission without the details, in addition to articulating the long awaited expression of our gratitude to the United States of America. The second mission statement became the focal point of ideas that guided us into the future beginning with the year 2000. Although the entire Board of Trustees, as I just mentioned, contributed to, and finally approved, the mission statement, the original incorporators of the PCCCF, Inc., shared a greater part of the work that molded the "Statement" into its final form. These included P. Emraida Kiram [Vice-chairperson], Gerry Ramos [the new Executive Director after Roger Austria relinquished that position], Jose Yamat, Jr. [Treasurer], Jocelyn [Jojo] Agoncillo-Ramos [Executive Secretary] and Elieser B. Suson [Chairperson] Also, my good friend Dr. Primitive I. Reynaldo, in our constant conversations added significantly to its formulation. P. Emraida Kiram, a lawyer, with a background in journalism and with long experience with foundations, especially the Jose Rizal - Douglas MacArthur Memorial Foundation, Inc. [RMMF], provided some critical advice in the formulation of the articles of incorporation in preparation for the re-filing of its application for tax-exempt status in June 1999. The initial filing in 1998 by Roger Austria and Manuel Galang was disapproved. Emraida, also, provided me with a copy of the by-laws of RMMF which, together with those of the Philippine Medical Association of Wisconsin and the University of the Philippines Alumni Association of Wisconsin, became the basis of the by-laws of the PCCCF, Inc. Gerry Ramos, an architect by profession, made great contributions in our eventual architectural plans and presentations to the various Filipino-Americans organizations [pro bono] as well as provide ideas concerning the substance and the wording of the mission statement and the by-laws. He guided and propped me up through the frustrations encountered by a beginner in the world of computers where I found myself while working on the mission statement and the by-laws. Gerry became the strongest and the most loyal supporter of the PCCCF, Inc. even through the most difficult of times. Jojo Ramos contributed to the ideas of the mission statement while at the same timelooking for opportunities to help foster the progress of the Center. Most significant among these was her negotiation that resulted in the eventual use, rent-free, of a vacant space in a building owned by a group headed by Dr. Thomas Chua on Layton Avenue near 27th Street. When the space was leased out and the Center needed to move, Jojo researched and found Marian Center, a building by the lake that has lease spaces for non-profit organizations. When she presented that the Center is now homeless and that there is a space available at the Marian Center in a FAAWIS meeting, at Ed and Jazmin Sandoval's residence, an anonymous donor pledged a donation to cover a year's lease at the Marian Center for the use of the Philippine Center. And, even more significant than this, was her recommendation that Dr. Violeta A. Singson be entrusted with the task of establishing a Philippine Center Free Medical Clinic. All along, Jose Yamat, Jr. took care of our finances and reported them in our meetings. In addition to making significant monetary contributions to the center he, also, obtained matching funds from Dain Rauscher where he worked. The Role of Business Establishments in the Philippine Center As Executive Director, Roger Austria had strong feelings against the participation in the Philippine Center of certain individuals who had in mind the purpose of promoting their business interests. It was the original thought that previous attempts at establishing a Philippine center had failed because of the mixture of business with the cultural objectives of the center. As a consequence, the plan of Thomas Sipin, one of the originalproponents of the center and pioneer of Philippine Martial Arts in Wisconsin, to set up a studio for martial arts in the center was discouraged in a strongly worded letter from Roger Austria to Kristen Davantes dated September 25, 1995. After visiting Oak Creek Community Center at the suggestion of Gerry Ramos, we realized how wrong we were. Oak Creek had a ballroom that generated revenues that helped support the center. We proceeded to correct our mistake by luring Tom Sipin back into the fold. At the same time the commitment of Dr. Violeta Singson to the Philippine Center Free Medical Clinic, as its Medical Director, and the relocation of the clinic to her office have proved greatly beneficial to the Free Medical Clinic from the financial, as well as the functional point of view. Following the discovery by Gerry Ramos of the Oak Creek Community Center and the enhancement of our activities by the good business sense of Dr. Violeta Singson, we have set our sights in a new direction. In the new plans, we incorporated a ballroom into the center. 1996 June 15 First fund-raising event was sponsored by the UPAA-W (University of the Philippines Alumni Association of Wisconsin), featuring the internationally acclaimed Filipino concert pianist, Raul Sunico, at Alverno College. 1997 Through the efforts of Jocelyn Ramos, Dr. Thomas Chua agreed to have the Philippine Center occupy space in his group's office building on Layton Boulevard, Milwaukee. The Kulintang Dance Group was presented as another fund-raiser this year at Cardinal Stritch College. 1998 Roger Austria and Manuel Galang worked on the preparation and filing of the legal requirements for obtaining a tax-exempt status. Application for tax-exempt status was disapproved. 1999 The Center moved to its current location at the Marian Center: 3211 South Lake Drive, St. Francis, Wisconsin, with the rent money given by an anonymous donor. Application for tax-exempt status re-filed in June 1999. 2000 January 1st -Tax-exempt status was obtained under the new name: Philippine Cultural and Civic Center Foundation, Inc. The incorporators: Emraida Kiram, Gerardo and Jocelyn Ramos, Dr. Elieser Suson and Jose Yamat, Jr. 2000 June-The website: www.philippinecenter was established, to be perpetually financed by the Singson family; with Joel Singson as its web master. October 2000 - The Free Medical Clinic was organized under the leadership of Dr. Violeta Singson, initially renting a space at the Oak Creek Community Center. The mission was to serve the uninsured and underinsured citizens of the Milwaukee area, regardless of race, gender, age, religion, employment and immigration status. Seed money was given by the Philippine Medical Association. Since then, the Free Clinic has been a major recipient of the PMA's annual dinner dance/fund-raising event. 2001 January - Through the efforts of Dr. Alejandro Vinluan, the Free Medical Clinic was allowed to use the office of Dr. Waleed Najeeb at Fond du Lac Avenue, in Milwaukee. 2001 June - Fund-raising event: Chamber Music Concert featuring Joanna Mendoza, Joseph Ortiguera and Marvin Suson, was held at the Wisconsin Lutheran College.