Grand Marshal Bert Pelayo (center) during the Philippine Independence Day parade in New York in 1997. Also in photo are the author, Nelia Ferrette (2nd from right), and then Sen. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who became President of the Philippines in 2001.

I was a newcomer to the Philippine Independence Day Committee in the mid-1990s when I realized the great importance of Bert Pelayo and the Filipino Reporter.

I joined the ranks of volunteers who spent countless hours coordinating the annual parade down Madison Avenue in New York City.

After all, it is perhaps one of the most visible displays of Filipino heritage, and it needed to go off without a hitch.

In 1997, as overall chairperson, Bert Pelayo served as the parade’s Grand Marshal.

He had been asked several times before and always declined.

Needless to say, it took a lot of convincing.

In fact, it took an entire committee to march into his office on the sixth floor of the Empire State Building to persuade him into thinking this was something he should do.

Who better to be the face of a community than the person who for decades connected us all to each other?

We had only been introduced only a year early by Luz Micabalo.

But he accepted, and his presence helped us secure honored guests like former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was then a senator, and Speaker Joe de Venecia and Ambassador Willy Gaa, the Consul General.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani even joined the parade.

It was a prelude to the important centennial celebration of Philippine Independence in 1998, setting the stage for Loida Nicolas Lewis to be the next Grand Marshal.

None of it would’ve been possible without the Pelayos and the Filipino Reporter.

It is more than a news organization, it is the center of a network of people who work to promote and preserve our unique culture.

In 1997, I had no idea a long family friendship would follow.

I’m grateful it did.

The next generation of the Filipino Reporter will no doubt continue to honor Bert’s legacy.

His service to the community won’t be forgotten.

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