1959: Founding of the United Filipino Council of Hawaii

by: Tony Ramil

June 19, 20, and 21, 1959, Hawaiian Village Hotel, Honolulu. The occasion: the "First Annual Convention of Filipino Community Associations of Hawaii." The theme: "Statehood and the Filipinos in Hawaii." Thus, began, a fine tradition that was to carry on for many more years to come.

Concurrently with the convention, a Fiesta Filipina celebration was held with the theme "A Salute to the 50th State." A 24-page souvenir book was printed to commemorate the convention and fiesta with the cover graced by 19-year old Leticia Quintal, a history major at the University of Hawaii who was crowned as "the first Miss Philippines-Hawaii." Out of the convention and fiesta was born the United Filipino Council of Hawaii.

There were high hopes. There was a fanfare, but there was also skepticsm as well as downright opposition. Labor leaders saw a Statewide Filipino council as undercutting the Filipinos' involvement in the labor movement.

The 1959 convention and fiesta marked the fruition of then Philippine Consul General Juan Dionisio's efforts to bring together Filipino community leaders in Hawaii to form a Statewide Filipino Council. Since he assumed office as Philippine Consul General in Hawaii on September 22, 1957, he had gone to the different islands in the Territory of Hawaii to help organize local Filipino community councils.

The passage of the Hawaii Statehood bill by the United States Congress in March 1959, spurred Consul General Dionisio and the various community leaders he was working with to greater action in order that a Statewide Filipino council could be formed before the formal admission of Hawaii to the Union. He prepared and distributed a "Plan for Statewide Convention of Filipino Community Associations in Hawaii." The primary perpose of the convention was to organize a Statewide council in Hawaii "whose main objective shall be to work vigorously for the advancement of Filipinos in the 50th State in all the lines of endeavor so that they can better integrate themselves into the community as a whole."

The convention and the fiesta gained considerable publicity. In an editorial entitled "The Filipino Contribution," the Honolulu Advertiser of June 19, 1959, noted: "There is a sense of urgency as able Consul General Juan C. Dionisio encourages Americans of Filipino ancestry- and Philippine nationals too- to organize and play a bigger part in Hawaiian affairs." With a note of optimsm, the editorial further pointed out: "The Filipinos, who have been doing right well under individual steam, now can be expected to progress even faster."

The convention and fiesta were timed with the 98th birthday anniversary of Dr. Jose Rizal, the foremost national hero of the Philippines. Held in the evening of June 19, 1959 at the Kaiser Dome was the Coronation Banquet and Rizal Birthday Ball, wherein Carlos P. Romulo, Philippine Ambassador to the United States, was guest speaker.

With Dr. Rizal's ideals in mind, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, in an editorial entitled "His Spirit Inspires Filipinos," noted: "As representatives of Filipino organizations from all parts of the Territory assembled for their first State convention, (Dr. Rizal's) spirit remains a source of inspiration for his countrymen here as well as in the Philippines." The editorial added: "No finer example of dedicated service to the principles of freedom can be found by Hawaii's Filipinos as increasingly they take their places as full-fledged citizens in the new State of hawaii." The editorial concluded: "Guided by Rizal's high princples, they will be a mounting force for good in our civic life."

Convention speakers included Consul General Dionisio, Honolulu Mayor Neal S. Blaisdell, Governor William F. Quinn, delegate to the United States Congress John A. Burns, and Ambassador Carlos P. Romulo. Ambassador Romulo urged the delegates to "forget your petty differences and work for the common good" and that they should "uphold the prestige of Filipinos in the Islands."

On June 20, 1959, theUFCH constitution and by-laws were adopted. Roland Sagum, then a lieutenant with the Honolulu Police Department, was elected the first UFCH president. There were six vice presidents, one from each major island. They were Tranquilino Francisco, Kauai; Vicenta Fernandez, Oahu; Leodegario A. Polo, Maui; Tony Abrahano, Molokai; Liberato Obado, Lanai; and Andres Baclig, Big Island.

A parade and fireworks display ensued. The Fiesta Filipina celebration ancluded a baby contest, talent jamboree, cultural show, greeased pole climbing contest, softball games, "sipa" contest, "rondalla" contest, , kiddies games, "juego de anillo," and a concert presented by the Philippine Veterans Band. Most of the fiesta activities were held at the Ala Moana Park.

The convention and fiesta steering committee was composed of Atty. Peter A. Aduja, general chair; Justo de la Cruz, 1st vice; Pastor Limatoc, 2nd vice; George Rosete, 3rd vice; Frank T. Rania, secretary; Sixto Basconcillo, treasurer; Roland Sagum, convention chair; Gernard Fabrao, Fiesta Filipina chair and executive secretary; Lynn U. Remular, finance chair; Peter Racela, executive officer; and Fortunato Tejo, public relations director. Chair of the souvenir program was Abe A. Albayalde.

The souvenir book included messages from Philippine President Carlos P. Garcia; Governor Wiliam F. Quinn, Mayor Neal S. Blaisdell, Ambassador Carlos P. Romulo, Consul General Dionisio, Hawaii delegate to the U.S. Congress John A. Burns, and special assistant in the White House Frederic Foz.

In his message, Consul General Dionisio emphasized: "You have a serious task here and that task is to chart a course for the Filipinos in Hawaii to pursue so that they can speedily take their rightful place in the new State. It is my hope that when you return to your homes, you will bring with you definite plans toward this end which you can recommend to your consistuents for action." He also added, "This convention will, I believe dramatically bring home to the Filipinos in Hawaii the awareness that they too have a stake in the future of this new State and that, therefore, they must vigorously take an active part in all those community activities designed to enhance that future." Expressing the wish that the delegates "be guided in (their) deliberations by a spirit of mutual respect and understanding," Consul General Dionisio observed that the "fellowship that we will share along is worth all the sacrifices that we might have had to make in order to come here."

Governor Quinn noted: "In celebrating the advent of Hawaiian statehood, you can be justly proud of your part in winning this status and earnestly confident of a still larger role you can play in the 50th State of Hawaii."