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Congen Aragon vows support of Grand Kalayaan Ball 2011

By David Casuco

LOS ANGELES – The 7:00 p.m. schedule for the launching of the 2011 Kalayaan Grand Ball general assembly meeting and press conference was one hour late, but nobody complained. To his credit, Leo Maranan, the event chairperson, came on time, and was obviously the most sought after person inside the Rizal Hall of the Philippine Consulate Tuesday night.

This year marks the 113th anniversary of the Philippines proclamation of its independence on June 12, 1898 in Kawit, Cavite. Here in California, Filipino expatriates celebrate the event in different ways. Some put up a sporting event like the Freedom Day Golf Tournament, a cultural show, painting exhibits, religious rites and, in case of the outgoing, flamboyant, and affluent expats in the Southland, a Grand Kalayaan Ball.

And although there are a lot more Freedom Day celebrations among the Filipinos all over the Southland during the second week of June, the Los Angeles Freedom Gala Ball is the biggest of them all. It is this particular event that the Consulate General is greatly involved.

During the meeting, Congen Mary Jo Bernardo Aragon pointed out and amplified the reason why even the Filipino expatriates must celebrate the Philippines Freedom Day.

Said Congen Bernardo, “This celebration is for and by the community… As a people we should be proud of our heritage. It is important that we show our friends here in (California) that the Filipinos were one of the early groups of immigrants to establish ‘official presence’ here in America in 1947 when the first Philippine diplomatic post was established.” That post, Congen Aragon said, was elevated to become the Consulate General seven years later in 1954.

Saying the Consulate General will always be supportive of this (Kalayaan Ball) endeavor, Congen Aragon asked all the stakeholders of the event to help one another. “Sana magsama-sama tayo,” she said, adding that Deputy Consul Dan Espiritu will work with the113 Kalayaan 2011 Celebration Committee.

Early on, it looked like the highly-fragmented Fil-Am community in L.A. was in one accord, greeting one another with hugs and niceties of civilized life. They were talking about the current Pinoy trailblazers of empowerment in mainstream America, and the recent breakthroughs of Mark Pulido and Elito Santarina in the mainstream political scene. Pulido grabbed a Cerritos Council seat emerging as the highest vote-getter among the candidates. Santarina, a long-time member of the Carson City Council, was able to keep his post. But once the meeting started rolling, a different atmosphere took form; and just like the old times, everybody wants to play the lead role.

Maranan, to whom the lead role belongs, took the rostrum and introduced a battery of very familiar faces as his executive council members, which included Dr. Rey Landero, Dr. Carlos Manlapaz , Dr. Joselito Babaran, Naomi Armada, and Chito Mandap, the most notable among them. There were other officials introduced: Mary Ann Omega is secretary; Susan Castillo, treasurer; and the Kalayaan Gala Ball Event Chairman is the San Fernando Valley Fil-Am Chamber of Commerce headed by Rodel Lumanog and Joe Arciaga. Community journalist Lydia V. Solis was appointed media liaison officer.

And then, like deus ex machina, the “kodakan,” which usually takes place at the end of the event, did happen. The 20-minute interruption gave the late comers the opportunity to catch up and eat.

When the meeting-cum press con resumes, the clueless media wanted to know the facts about the event. It turned out that nobody was ready to deal with the media needs. Solis, who got the media liaison post on the spot, quickly did some damage control and fired email advisories the very next day to the local publications. Here it goes: “SAVE THE DATE. June 11, 2011: Kalayaan 2011 celebrates the 113th Philippine Independence Day at the Sheraton Universal Hotel, 333 Universal Hollywood Drive, Universal City, California 91608, in cooperation with the Philippine Consulate General, Philippine Department of Tourism, and Philippine Trade and Investment Center. Grand Chair is Leo A. Maranan. Registration is at 6 pm; formal attire, preferably Filipino attire; and music by Willie Manacsa and the Midnight Motion Band.”

The Grand Kalayaan Ball was first staged 10 years ago has been staged for ten years in a row now. It is a ballroom event that, according to Arciaga, gathers the crème de la crème in the Filipino communities all over Southern California. Ironically, the Kalayaan Ball has its fair share of ugly episodes and controversies through the years, a situation that can only be explained if one looks at the highly erratic Philippines geographical, cultural, and historical backdrop.

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