by Anita Feleo & Mila Maramot

THE ORIENTAL MINDORO ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA began much the same way other Filipino associations in America or elsewhere overseas did — from the stirrings of the Filipino émigré’s soul. With few exceptions, Filipinos living abroad share a longing for the heartland they left behind. It doesn’t matter where they live — be it in the East, closer to home, or farther away in the West. The point is, it isn’t home and the reality gnaws at the psyche, creating a void not all the comforts and friendliness of their adopted country can fill, that only being with fellow Filipinos and being in touch with the native land can ease.

For a long while the Oriental Mindoreños of Southern California, each in his or her own way, had been thinking about bringing province mates together in the manner they are linked together back home. The idea had been broached many times, but for one reason or another it was left hanging in midair, waiting for something to push it into action.

That something turned out to be someone. Nora Aboboto Alonzosana, advisory board chairman of the New York-based Mindoreños USA, Inc., flew to Los Angeles for a visit in early March 1993. At a party to welcome her, hosted by Erlinda Aranas Macalintal, the conversation drifted toward how the east coast organizers set up Mindoreños USA and nurtured it into a thriving organization. Hermie Maramot, Lauro Manigbas, Bayani Ylagan, Tony Marcaida III, Elsie Navarro Amansec, Rolly Ong, Ester Paras Jose, Remedios Reyes and Agustin Aranas were inspired.
Losing no time, on March 19, at a Max’s Restaurant in Cerritos, Lauro, Hermie, Elsie and Bayani formed the Oriental Mindoro Association of Southern California (OMASC). The first meeting of the officers was held on May 2 at Hermie’s Southern California residence in Alhambra. The group firmed up the Association’s goals. OMASC was to act as a socio-cultural club to foster closer ties among members and beyond that to strengthen ties with the home province through civic projects. Hermie was elected president.

Hermie’s first act was to set a format for the organization to observe in planning its year. Three activities would become annual events: the general membership picnic in June to boost membership, the annual ball in September to promote the association and its goals, and Christmas caroling in December to finance the projects. 

The picnic features free food, fun games, and prizes galore. It is always well-attended and perhaps the single most effective means of attracting new members. The first picnic on June 20, 1993 drew hundreds to the El Dorado Regional Park in Long Beach, some coming as far away as San Diego and Northern California. Without doubt, the huge turnout put the Oriental Mindoreños on the map of Filipino communities in the United States. From then on, the subsequent picnics would be held in various other city parks and would always be as well attended as the first one. In the last several years, the venue has been Barnes Park in the City of Monterey Park. 

Annual Ball
The annual ball is a formal affair held in L.A.’s elegant hotels such as the Burbank Hilton, the Westin Bonaventure and the Airport Marriott. Strictly formal, part of the event is the swearing in of OMASC officials by a special guest, usually from Oriental Mindoro. Governors Rodolfo Valencia and Bert Marasigan, Vice Governor Pedrito Reyes, State Representative Hilda Solis, Congressmen J. Renato Leviste and Alfonso Umali Jr., Mayor Nelson Melgar of Naujan, and Provincial Board Member Ralph Infantado have done the honors. Consul General Edwin Bael of the Philippine Consulate in California, also had his turn. In recent years, Calapan Mayor Carling Brucal and Governor Arnan Panaligan have had their turn.
The belle of the ball, Miss OMASC, adds effervescence to the glitter. Over the years, the title has been bestowed on beauties with brains. Yvonne Amansec, Hayessa Pagaduan, Ma. Kristina Manigbas, Merci Lynne Lardizabal, Marichu Tamano, Sydelle Cleofe, and Genevieve Soriano have all graced the event during their reign as Miss OMASC.

An emergency situation in 1993, the need to help the Mangyans, the indigenous tribe back home, gave rise to Christmas caroling as an OMASC tradition. Then as now, the choir is led by guitarist Elpid Lardizabal; and conductors Elsie Amansec and Ester Jose. Its members laughingly admit their voices are just so-so, but they’re always dressed to the nines. The chic packaging seems to work. The choir continues to whip up thousands of dollars every December and its earnings help finance OMASC’s projects.


Mangyan Pavilion
The Association’s capability for fulfilling its serious obligations was put to a test early on. In late 1993 Nora Alonzosana sent an SOS from New York City. Could OMASC do something for the Mangyans of Mindoro?
While some Mangyans have been assimilated into the mainstream Mindoro society, the majority still prefer to live apart up in the mountains in remote forest communities, a situation which poses many social problems, one of which is access to medical care. This is compounded by their refusal to submit to treatment if it would require them to stay in a hospital among non-Mangyan patients.
Nora proposed that OMASC and her group, Mindoreños USA, jointly finance the construction of a Mangyan Pavilion at the Provincial Hospital in Calapan, Oriental Mindoro’s capital town. The project was estimated to cost $15,000.
The OMASC officers unanimously approved the project. Because it was close to Christmas, they decided on a seasonable way of sourcing money — caroling Filipino families. Not only did OMASC raise the initial $5,000, it also made the OMASC caroling a yearly tradition.
1994 SAW THE COMPLETION OF THE MANGYAN PAVILION, A SIZABLE, 6-bed, wood and concrete building with a roof of thatched nipa so that it would resemble a Mangyan dwelling and thus make its special patients feel at home. Although it has since been replaced with a bigger and better facility, it was OMASC that inspired the idea.

Disaster Relief
In December 1993, close on the heels of the hospital project, a devastating typhoon hit Oriental Mindoro, rendering many of the folk living along coastal areas homeless. OMASC immediately responded to the emergency situation by calling on members for donations. The campaign produced enough money to purchase 200 sacks of rice, with some $5,000 left over for shipping a container filled with relief clothes and food for the flood victims.
It was just the first of many disasters to hit the province in the course of OMASC’s existence. An earthquake and a tsunami destroyed several barangays in the coastal town of Baco. OMASC raised $4,205 and built four free-flowing artesian wells in Baco’s Barangays Tabon Tabon and San Andres, where displaced residents were relocated. Flooding also collapsed bridges at various times and OMASC has always come through with aids in the form of food and clothing. In 2005, OMASC raised $9,000 and distributed food to 2,100 families of the flood victims.

One of OMASC’s centerpiece projects was the OMASC Scholarship Program.  Six students have benefited from it, graduating from courses that are now providing them gainful employment as professionals. Currently, we have three mangyan scholars enrolled at the Mindoro State College of Agriculture and Techonology (MINSCAT).

Fire trucks
The year OMASC Choir netted a hefty $5,522, caroling weekends and venturing outside of the neighborhood to San Diego, Riverside and Moreno Valley, OMASC was ready to embark on more ambitious projects. OMASC’s then board member Erlinda Macalintal,  a manager of the Los Angeles County Fire Department was privy to information regarding city fire trucks up for replacement. When she learned that the City of Fillmore was buying a new unit, she made arrangements to obtain the old one, a Ford 850 for $5,000, the money earned from Caroling that year (a brand-new fire truck costs at least $200,000). She was pleasantly surprised when the City decided to donate the truck to OMASC. The $5000 earmarked for the purchase was used instead to pay for the fire truck’s repainting and shipment to Calapan. This was the first of several fire trucks that OMASC would donate to Mindoro. Since then, eight other fire trucks have been donated, some in partnership with the recipient municipalities.

Medical Mission, Health Care Aid
OMASC’s health and welfare project started in 1997 when Hermie Maramot stumbled upon another possible project for Oriental Mindoro through friends from the British Columbia Mindoro Association and their mission director, Dr. Manuel Marcos. At the latter’s suggestion, Hermie wrote to the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Medical Center (UERMMC), offering to finance two medical missions to perform eye operations on indigent Mindoreños. A team of doctors from the UERMMC Department of Ophthalmology performed eye operations, mostly cataract removal, at the Naujan Municipal Hospital free of charge to indigent patients. The medical mission cost OMASC $1,500.
Since then, health care has remained a priority with each succeeding administration. Donations of wheel chairs, medical supplies and equipment, and medicine were shipped. The Chief of Hospital in Calapan reported that the two anesthesia machines obtained through the efforts of Dr. Fred Villao have been seeing a lot of use. Recently, through the efforts of Eleanor Evangelista, 2005-2006 president, OMASC has partnered with Knightsbridge International in the shipment of six containers of hospital beds, equipment, and medicine to benefit public hospitals in the province.  

Before Eleanor Evangelista agreed to assume OMASC presidency in 2005, she already had dreams of improving the quality of education in her home town of Puerto Galera. She had accumulated books, computers, teaching aids, and school supplies from various donors. Boxes and boxes of them were stacked in her garage and in every vacant space, including outside her house for shipment to Puerto Galera. When she became president, she donated her collection of three years to OMASC and that marked the start of OMASC’s education oriented projects. The officers came together and collected more books and together with Eleanor’s collection of books and computers were able to fill and ship a 40-foot container to Oriental Mindoro.

THIS YEAR 2007 OMASC IS MARKING ITS 14th YEAR. And there's a lot of good reasons to celebrate. Just consider the numbers.
  • Membership has grown from an initial 500 in 1993 to 1500 in 2007.
  • Nine fire trucks donated.
  • One medical mission that resulted in some 30 eye operations, ranging from simple cataract removal to the more complex invasive treatment for glaucoma.
  • Nearly $50,000 raised from Christmas caroling.
  • Three emergency situations aided.
  • Two artesian wells installed in Baco.
  • Nine college students awarded with full scholarship. Six have graduated and three are still in school.
  • Eight containers shipped, one for disaster relief, one for education, and six for health and welfare.
None of the above would have been possible without the able leadership of dedicated officers who have worked together and supported each other to achieve OMASC’s goals. The following have served as president during its 14-year existence from 1993 to 2007:
·        Hermie Maramot – Naujan – 4 years
·        Elsie Amansec – Naujan – 2 years
·        Rolly Ong – Calapan – 2 years
·        Willy Soriano – Pinamalayan – 2 years
·        Nestor Calata – Calapan – 2 years
·        Eleanor Evangelista – Puerto Galera – 2 years
·        Ernie Cleofe – Calapan (to be inducted September 2007)
Working in collaboration with an able Board of Directors chaired by Lauro Manigbas, OMASC continues to forge a strong partnership with the leaders of Oriental Mindoro in promoting the social, economic, educational, and physical well-being of Mindorenos.

WE KNOW WHY OMASC CAME INTO BEING. BUT WHERE DOES ITS staying power come from? Hermie Maramot voices an observation. Says he: “Count the number of Filipino associations all over the United States. There are probably as many as there are Philippine provinces. May be more. Why the proliferation? The problem is unity or, more precisely, the lack of it. Oftentimes this is what happens. A group of Filipinos from a particular province gathers together to form an association. Well, as in any gathering, you’re bound to have different personalities, different opinions, different priorities, different ways of doing things. If one person doesn’t agree with the other’s point of view, instead of settling differences he simply breaks away and forms his own association.”
That OMASC is still intact after a decade speaks of the quality of its membership. It is by no means perfect. “As in any working relationship, we’ve had our ups and downs,” says Willy Soriano. “But at the end of the day, we achieved a common goal.”
One for all. All for one. You’ve heard that one before. But, oh, how it rings true when it comes to OMASC. So long as its members keep the determination and commitment to do what it takes to nurture a meaningful relationship with one another and with the homeland, the OMASC will continue to exist. Everyone should take a bow.