Fil-Am political history: A Metro Manila in California

Part 2 of 3

Part 1: Fil-Ams pursue political history in San Mateo, California 

DALY CITY, USA – San Mateo County is a lush expanse of hills and valleys sprawled at the feet of San Francisco. “North County” as its upper tip is known, intersects the only US city that is also a county but is called The City by Bay Area residents.

Visitors and newcomers in Daly City often mistakenly refer to it as San Francisco, which ends where Daly City begins, sharing the hilly landscape and famous fog.

For those unfamiliar with US geographical administrative bodies, San Mateo County is all of 744 square miles or 1927 kilometers. In comparison, Metro Manila – inclusive of the cities of Manila and Quezon City and 14 other towns and cities – is less than 1/2 of the area at 246.55 square miles or 635.55 kilometers.

Some 758,581 people call San Mateo County home, at least in 2014, said Census updates.  Metro Manila, per World Population Review, is estimated at 12 million residents.

Metro Manila is administered by the Metro Manila Development Authority and is headed by a chair to perform “coordinated” functions while cities maintain local autonomy. A presidential appointee, the chair holds the rank of cabinet member.

Local governance 

Similarly, the County Board of Supervisors oversees towns and cities within the border of San Mateo County. Forty-eight states in the United States are divided by counties. Louisiana has “parishes” and Alaska has “boroughs.”

San Mateo County comprises 27 towns and cities including the eponymous City of San Mateo, and several “unincorporated areas.” Five districts make up the county. Each district is headed by an elected supervisor. 

City councils are elected to govern the towns and cities; they meet regularly at council chambers and may hold fulltime jobs. Council members hire a City Manager, the actual administrator of the municipality.

Council members vote among themselves for a mayor annually. Mayors in some cities, particularly those in the metropolis, are elected by voters. City charters dictate how officials are selected. 

San Mateo County District 5 is home to Daly City, its largest city with over 101,000 residents.   It calls itself “Gateway to the Peninsula” as it opens up to the sliver of earth between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay all the way to Santa Clara County, whose capital is San Jose.

Fil-Am central

As a testament to its appeal to industries, San Mateo County hosts Genentech in South San Francisco, Oracle in Redwood City, Gilead in Foster City, and Facebook in Menlo Park. It is also the address of many community colleges and nonprofits – foundations and agencies alike.

Hillsborough and Atherton, where housing values are among the highest in the United States, nestle in the hills bordered by Interstate 280 in San Mateo County.

San Mateo County has just re-elected Philippine-born Robert Bernardo to the Harbor Commission, but he is the lone county official of Filipino descent since accountant Gerry Trias lost his 12-year title as County Controller in a stunning upset in 1998. 

Political visibility has long eluded Filipino Americans despite the existence of its own clubs affiliated with both Republican and Democratic Parties.

Filipino trailblazers

The community has marked more Fil-Am “firsts” in the past decade, but mainland Fil-Ams’  record pales in comparison to those in 50th state. Hawaii in the early 1990s elected the first Filipino American state chief executive, Governor Benjamin Cayetano governor. Hawaii’s state Legislature has elected many Assembly members and state Senators. 

Two years ago, the country’s first Filipino American, first Asian American and first woman Senate President took the gavel for Hawaii in the person of Filipino Korean American Donna Mercado Kim, who won the confidence of the governor and her peers.

Mercado Kim later sought the seat on the 1st Congressional District but was defeated by an Assembly representative who is also of Asian descent.

California still has its one and only Fil-Am member of the Assembly in Rob Bonta, who smashed poll results by taking over 80% to continue serving District 18 covering Oakland, San Leandro and his home city of Alameda.

Fil-Am Californians have had a few successes in their quest for county office.

Larry Asera made history by becoming the first known FilAm elected to the board of supervisors in Solano County in 1976, 3 years after being elected to the Vallejo City Council.

Lawyer Gloria Megino Ochoa holds the distinction of being the first Filipino American woman in the Golden State to take a seat on the board of supervisors when she served in Santa Barbara County.  

She might have gone to the US House of Representatives had Arianna Huffington’s ex-husband not dipped into his billions for a fun run on his way to a unsuccessfully defeating US Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Megino Ochoa returned to private practice in Sacramento after retiring as chief deputy legal counsel with the state Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Increasing visibility 

San Mateo County Fil-Am politicos blamed their invisibility in higher office to the “exclusionary” at-large or countywide system. They joined forces with civil rights lawyer Robert Rubin and ultimately placed in voters’ hands the way supervisors are chosen in all other counties.

Measure B, the ballot initiative was called, offered the electorate the choice of staying the only county in the state where supervisors are elected countywide, or moving forward and giving district residents the decision.

Measure B passed by a resounding 59%.

All but one of the sitting supervisors opposed it, as did Congress member Jackie Speier, the region representative to the US Legislature.

Proponents of countywide or at-large voting called it “fair and protected the rights of all voters.”

Critics assert that it disadvantages candidates from less-affluent communities. –