The Never Ending Building Story

September 29th, 2019 · No Comments

By Benjie de Ubago

A few months back, Councilor Carol Israel of Blacktown City Council called for a meeting of some of the more “visible” community leaders that she knew, and also invited was Blacktown Councilor Linda Geronimo Santos.  The meeting reawakened the building dreams of the community.  These were dreams of having a Filipino Club or some kind of community centre.  “Other community groups have their own clubs, so why not us?”  A fair comment, indeed!

Although it was obvious that the brave councilor lacked background information on the characters in the community, Israel felt strongly that it was time for the Filipino community to have something to call their own. But before plans could be ironed out, the dream builders were off, shooting for the stars.

The desire to have something to call our own is nothing new. Yes, it would be nice to have some sort of building that could house at the very least club meetings and other events. In the mid 70s, a warehouse was rented in Mascot for use as a club where Filipinos – both young and the old -converged on weekends. This was replaced by the emergence of discos in the 80s. 

Only last year, Evelyn Zaragoza was calling for unity among organizations with the ultimate goal of building the impossible dream.  And she managed to put together a group she called “Samahan”.  The Plaza Filipino association was organized also for the purpose of coming up with a property too, and property hunting was underway.  However, it also failed to materialize.  Jimmy Lopez who was originally behind Plaza Filipino, has shifted his focus in recent years on the NARRA Association and ACI soliciting donations and inviting investors to help build some kind of a cultural centre.  Under the NARRA association, he brags of a unit at Campbeltown dedicated to cultural endeavors.  

While everyone goes into dream mode…oops, may we remind everyone that we do have one!  The Multi-Purpose Centre run by Manny Villon and Luz Tique does exist. Whether they’re keeping it as a souvenir or for real estate investment only, who knows! It’s a sitting duck worth $1m that Villon brags about even at funerals.

 In the late 80s the community rallied to the cause of Multi-Purpose centre.  The land was purchased and architect, Manny Giron went to work on the design.  Thirty years after it remains a mirage.  After the community intramurals, and their insistence to show off “ating tahanan” to President Ramos when he came for the State Visit in 1995, the Rooty Hill property was sold and relocated to Grange Street, Schoffields, a flood prone area. The debt ballooned, while  cooperation and community support dwindled, and it became a struggle to maintain the property.  Despite a grotto and a veggie patch, it failed to pull people in. Not even the fiesta was held there. 

Then without prior community consultation, Schoffields was sold. Despite the wrong zoning for community activities, the  property at Forbes Street, Blacktown was purchased.   Manny Villon brags nowadays of the community property that is worth over $1M.  And recently, they received a grant of $100,000 for the development.  What a waste of property when no one uses it!  So why doesn’t Villon and Tique share the property with the clubs for community use.

The community property at Forbes Street, Blacktown sits empty and unused – a far cry from the original vision.

Villon and Tique may be credited for their persistence, however, it cannot be said that the property is theirs alone. The property belongs to the community and every Filipino is a stakeholder.  I wonder if they even have a complete list of everyone who donated, be it in cash or kind? 

The Philippine Community Council of NSW did play an important role but seems to be ignored in decision making.  It cannot and should not be denied as most PCC presidents contributed in one way or another. What I also cannot understand is how the board members have changed. Jimmy Lopez  has also appeared as the Foundation’s treasurer.   

Once again, there are cries for the ever elusive unity.   Having been burned from Villon’s Multi-Purpose, the community is much more apprehensive not to be fooled once again. Whoever takes on the challenge of building will need more than a pretty face and a title to pull people in the community’s support.  These leaders need to be trusted and above all they need to have integrity.  In addition, they will also need to have good thinking and planning skills. Judging by some of the carpenters who have turned up, it’s a far cry from what is needed. 

But dreams are free and we can only continue to hope.  Perhaps…but not in my lifetime.

Tags: Features