By Ador Pereda Yano
Special to Northwest Asian Weekly
Responding to the urgency of the present political climate, the Filipino American Political Action Group of Washington (FAPAGOW) is geared up for the 2020 election season with fresh young activists from across Washington state.
Founded in 1952 as the Filipino American Citizens, FAPAGOW is a progressive non-partisan organization whose mission is to advocate for the empowerment and betterment of Filipino Americans through effective civic engagement. Filipinos are the largest Asian Pacific Islander ethnic group in Washington at 178,300 strong, according to the 2018 Census data.
Along with experienced political leaders Rick Polintan and Dori Peralta Baker representing Western and Eastern Washington chapters, newcomers Brendan Borromeo, Jarmaine Santos, and Paul Tabayoyon have joined the FAPAGOW board to power up voter registration, activation, and youth involvement across the state.
Rounding up the board are Myrna Soriano, who will coordinate FAPAGOW alumni engagement, and Maria Batayola and Ador Pereda Yano, who will drive the communication activities for the political action group.
Brendan Borromeo, one of the young FAPAGOW board members, is a recent graduate of Central Washington University (CWU). During Borromeo’s time at CWU, he spent three years with the Filipino American Student Association (FASA) as their vice president and president. This past year, he was part of the Northwest Filipino American Student Alliance advisory board, representing the east side of the alliance.
Borromeo is amplifying his involvement with the Filipino community by joining FAPAGOW. “I see a future where we can bridge the gap between the old and new generation of Filipino Americans, and I want to be a part of that bridge by having open dialogue, learning from each other, and advocating for Filipino and Filipino American rights,” said Borromeo.
In the FAPAGOW board advisory role, Ellen Abellera, Dolores Sibonga, David Della, and Sluggo Rigor will help guide the group with their Washington state political experience and decades-long civic engagement with the Filipino American community. Abellera, who was a past president of FAPAGOW, has also previously served Governors Locke and Gregoire as executive director of the Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, providing the bridge between the governor’s office and the Asian American community.
The first Filipino Seattle City Council member, Dolores Sibonga supports the infusion of young leaders, especially during this election season. She said, “FAPAGOW is the progressive voice for almost 200,000 Filipino Americans in Washington state. Our values are founded on access and equality for all, covering every aspect of the way we live. That’s why we are urging everyone who’s eligible to register and vote in the most critical election of our time.”
Civic engagement drives FAPAGOW’s activities, taking individual and collective actions to identify and address issues of common concern to the Filipino American community. These actions include advocacy, community organizing, voter registration, candidate development, candidate endorsement, and lobbying political officials in support of issues important to Filipino Americans across the state.
In the past few years, FAPAGOW has:
- Established the Yakima Chapter
- Held Seattle and Yakima Conference to obtain current input on issues and needs of the Filipino and Filipino American communities
- Co-chaired with 15 Asian/Pacific Islander (API) organizations and media outlets to host Seattle candidate forum with over 200 attendees
- Conducted the vetting process for Washington, King County, and City of Seattle candidates and placed endorsement ads in Filipino American and API newspapers
- Partnered with the Washington Asian Pacific Islander Coalition to identify issues and educate legislators in Olympia
FAPAGOW is focused on providing awareness of and addressing issues across Washington state, remaining sensitive to regional differences.
Board member Dori Peralta Baker has been a leader of the Filipino American Community of Yakima Valley. “In Yakima, Filipinos are “a minority within a POC minority”—we need a place at the table. FAPAGOW-East was created in 2014 to support Eastern Washington’s political issues that were not a predominant concern in Western Washington.” These Eastern Washington issues, for example, included “disaggregation of the Voter Action Network database because many Filipinos, with Spanish surnames, were on the Latinx list and were being sent LatinX communications rather than API materials,” Baker said.
FAPAGOW engages the state political leadership to address specific needs of the Filipino American communities in the state. Critical issues facing the community include:
- Funding for bilingual education
- Fixing the student achievement gap
- Small business assistance
- Funding for affordable housing, particularly for elders
- Comprehensive immigration reform to help undocumented Filipino immigrants
- Bus transportation, roads, and infrastructure
- Raising the minimum wage
FAPAGOW also advocates for broader categories of issues that affect a wider group of state residents, like climate and environmental justice; racial and economic justice in education, employment, and contracting; and cultural and language accessibility and affordable health, human, and housing services.
Recently, the group responded in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
As part of its endorsement process, FAPAGOW has added to its candidates survey a question about the candidate’s support for Black Lives Matter. The group has also sent letters to local and state officials calling for state and local officials to:
- Invest in and transfer non-patrol police duties to appropriate professionals and agencies, such as those who are qualified to work with people with mental health issues, people who are unsheltered, and others.
- Work with the Black community leaders to identify and change racist policies, procedures, and programs into effective community-focused actions.
- Prioritize investment of resources for Black communities, Native American and people of color communities that are hardest hit and further exacerbated by COVID-19.
- Have Black and community oversight boards for transparency and accountability purposes.
FAPAGOW Board member Maria Batayola believes in harnessing the potential political impact of FAPAGOW and the Filipino community. She said, “I joined FAPAGOW to wake up our Filipino community that’s a sleeping powerful giant. I love the fact that FAPAGOW is progressive and non-partisan so we can reach across political persuasions and work on the common good.”
Batayola also expresses the critical urgency of the times, reflecting on her experience during the pre-Marcos dictatorship years in the Philippines, which resonates in the current American political situation.
“We have to live in the moment,” she said. “Our country is proceeding fast to martial law with the suppression of free press, voting rights, federal troops sent to states where they are not wanted, including Seattle, to suppress anti-racist (Black Lives Matter) demonstrations. We know this because our mother country has experienced it. Racism has harmed us. This is about democracy and quality of life for our precious children and grandchildren.”