San Francisco Fil-Am Chamber of Commerce through the years
By 1973 San Francisco had become a popular destination for Filipino immigrant professionals, nurses, accountants, entrepreneurs and asylum seekers displaced by Martial Law in the Philippines just a year before. The San Francisco Filipino American Chamber of Commerce was born to offer a solution to the growing apprehension of doing business with the Philippines from the United States.
Filipino and American business owners and representatives thought it wise to consolidate their interests and standing, and thus formed the second oldest Filipino American Chamber of Commerce in mainland USA. The first being the Philippine Chamber of Commerce in New York, formed in 1920.
The group opened its doors to small and medium-size Philippines-affiliated businesses as a collegial forum for leaders of banks, export and shipping firms, manufacturing and trading companies in a collegial organization as well as government officials in the San Francisco Bay Area.
High-ranking Filipino government officials were invited to discussions on trade and commerce with the Philippines and updates on regulations of the bureau of customs. Likewise, Filipino businessmen who wanted to break into the US market could go to the Chamber for assistance.
Aside from engaging members in different business mixers and updates on commercial regulations, trade missions went to the Philippines on a regular basis to promote trade and explore areas of joint venture. Some of those trade missions were attended and headed by California Secretary of State, March Fong Eu, US Senator for California, Samuel I. Hayakawa, California State Senator Milton Marks, and San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein.
Much information on the early beginnings of the Chamber seemed to have been lost through the years, but this writer was able to piece together its origin story. through research, interviews, oral history, photographs and newspaper clippings shared by former members and presidents, namely Norberto Galang, Angelina Mejia Lopez, Ambassador (Ret.) Romeo Arguelles, Mrs. Azucena Arguelles, Lupita Kashiwahara, Aida Barrios, Jose A. Pajes, co-founder of SFFACC, and various community leaders.
Among the Chamber’s founders were Demetrio Jayme, Peter J. Rhodes, Jose Pajes, Jesse Esteva, a Mr. Marquez of a travel agency, Atty. Juan Collas, Ernest Go, to name a few. The Philippine Consuls General in San Francisco automatically became Honorary members. The first one to collaborate was the Hon. Trinidad Alconcel (1973), followed by Hon. Romeo Arguelles ( 1974-1986).
Here are the names of the past presidents since 1973 and the incoming president of 2023, and highlights of past activities (the full history can be found in the Souvenir Booklet to be released on Oct. 7.)
1973-1975 – Demetrio S. Jayme, US Representative of North America Maritime Agency (Compania Maritima) was the Chamber’s first president.
1976-1977 – Andrew E. Akamian, President, Andrew Akamian Advertising
1977-1978 – James S. Caputo, Vice President for Americas, Philippine Airlines. PAL is the oldest corporate member of the Chamber.
1978-1979 – Demetrio Jayme, Owner’s Representative of North American Maritime Agencies.
1979-1980 – Frank Podesta of Maersk Line Agency
By 1981, the Chamber had 80 corporate members comprising of various industries doing business in the Philippines.
1981-1985 – Norberto (Bert) Galang, US Purchasing Manager of Atlantic Gulf and Pacific Company of Manila. Mr. Galang was an original member of the Chamber circa 1973, one of the youngest then. Half a century later, he is one of two longest living members. The other member is Jose A. Pajes, a co-founder.
1985-1986 – Atty. Juan (Johnny) Collas, Baker and McKenzie. The offices of Atty. Collas, according to community oldtimers, became the regular meeting place of the group, aside from the Consulate on Sutter Street.
1986-1989 were challenging times right after the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution. Past presidents took turns in running the Chamber as well as founders and members such as Ernest Go, President, Bank of the Orient; Bob Colson, PMO Lines, and Peter Rhodes of PJ Rhodes Corporation.
1990-1991 – Allen Haile of the Development Corporation of San Francisco.
1992-1993 -Angelina (Chona) Mejia Lopez, Investment Broker at Prudential Security Corporation, who, as reported by Philippine News, was the first woman president of the Chamber.
1994–1995 – Atty. Johnny Collas
1995-1996 Yolanda Ortega Stern, Director of the Berkeley Family Clinic. Dr. Stern founded the Federation of Filipino American Chambers of Commerce in 1996.
1996-1997- Sid Protacio, President of LBC Freight Forwarding. In 1998, Sid represented the Chamber during the Cultural and Trade Mission of San Francisco Manila Sister City (SFMSCC} to Manila with then Mayor Willie Lewis Brown, Jr. and Charlotte Maillard Schultz, SF Chief of Protocol.
1997-1999 Mario Panoringan, Owner/President, MCPanoringan Insurance and Financial Services. On Nov. 11, 1998, the Chamber celebrated its 25th Anniversary at the Marriot Marquis Hotel on fourth Street and Mission.
Since the turn of the last century, new and young Filipino businessmen and women have emerged to lead the Chamber, while American counterparts began to dwindle. less collaboration was needed as stronger foreign enterprise had developed directly between the two countries.
Most members since then have been first and second generation Filipino Americans with small and medium size companies. Most are assimilated and have gained a foothold in the general San Francisco and California business landscape. Their network has been growing on many levels in their adopted city, state and country.
2000 – 2001 Milagros Mitos Santisteban of ABS-CBN who represented the budding TFC, The Filipino Channel.
2002 – 2004 – Carmen Colet, President, JRI, Inc.
Ms. Colet signed a historic collaborative Memorandum of Understanding between Chamber and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), headed by Miguel B. Varella, PCCI Chairman. PCCI is the umbrella business organization for over 15,000 Philippine companies then.
2005 – 2007 Michael Acabado, Real Estate Developer.
2008-2010 – Victor Barrios, Senior Director of Finance at Equinix, a global internet storage company
2011-2014 Angie Louie, Owner, Hanazen Sushi and Yakitori Restaurant; Chair, San Francisco Cosmopolitan Lion’s Club.
2015-2020 Jose Pecho began his tenure as president in 1010 and became Chairman in 2021. Mr. Pecho is responsible for getting the Chamber more involved with other Fil-Am Chambers and multi-cultural Chambers of Commerce locally, giving a voice and representation in state and city business discussions. He continuously supports and recruits young leaders in the community.
In 2019, he created the Trailblazer Award as a symbol of Filipino American Entrepreneurial Spirit. Señor Sisig received this award. In 2022, after the pandemic, with the goal of building a better stage that will celebrate and elevate the Filipino food experience, four Filipino-owned food businesses were honored to showcase how their dreams and ideas manifested into innovative, inspiring examples of resilience. Awardees were: Restaurant Abacá, Delish Cravings by Michelle, Irma’s Pampanga Restaurant and The Sarap Shop.
2020-2021 – Esther Misa Chavez, formerly head of Inquirer.net US Bureau, was interim president as the Chamber as the whole world virtually shut down due to the pandemic
2022 – CJ Abad, Babary Insurance, the start of youthful leadership and a peek to the future of business and community in the 21st Century.
2023 – Aaron Orcino, Facebook Design Program Manager, its newly minted president.
The Chamber continues to build strong networks and a database not only of Filipino American business, but also other interested business groups. It stives to help promote and support economic interests while uplifting the well-being of Filipino Americans and other minority communities.
For more information, please visit ww.FILAM50.com