Becoming a US citizen is the dream of majority of Filipinos (and other nationalities) in America.
The minority of those who don’t seek US citizenship – although they have been laboring there for decades – is a very small fraction, so small that you can count them with your fingers.
Francis Papica on the set of his GMA show
Among those few is one who can be called a genuine Filipino patriot: Francis Padua Papica.
A native of Goa, Camarines Sur, Francis was compelled to follow his family in the US right after graduation from high school. He took Art History at UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles) and graduated Cum Laude. Then he took Law (Juris Doctor) at Syracuse University in New York, also graduating Cum Laude.
His credentials are pretty impressive, but he had been forged then honed to what he is today by the hardships, challenges and discrimination he had gone through.
His family was well-off in the Philippines so adjusting to domesticity when he got to the US was the first challenge. The following year his father died, and as the eldest of three siblings he had to take on the responsibility of padre de familia.
Succinctly, he shares his story.
“Migrating to the US was very hard as I have lived a good life in the Philippines. I was 16 years old then. My parents went there first. I had no choice but to follow them. Less than a year after I followed, my father died.
“There are three of us siblings, I’m the eldest. My father had no life insurance when he died. We had nothing. Burying my father was even hard. So I was the first one that said that I really have to work. That’s the reason why I started working,” he shared.
His first job was as a janitor, which he said is a good thing because he realized how important money is.
“You can’t just give away money or squander it. That’s why I realized it was a blessing in disguise that I learned the importance of handling money, and hard work.”
The untimely death of his father made him persevere, maybe more than anybody else.
Possessing a brilliant mind with calculated frugality and a kind heart, Francis resolved to pay back – or in broader terms, pay it forward – thru a foundation he established to primarily support poor but intelligent students to finish college in his home province.
With some friends and one of his scholars Miss Universe 2010 4th Runner-Up Venus Raj
Established in 1997, the Francis Padua-Papica Foundation, Inc. (FPPFI), a non-profit, public benefit corporation is guided by three principles – Leadership, Scholarship, and Community Service. It encourages and acknowledges the outstanding individual achievements of young Filipino men and women.
One of the successful scholars of FPPFI is Miss Universe 2010 4th Runner-Up Venus Raj, who took Communication Arts Major in Journalism and graduated Cum Laude at Bicol University in Albay.
Big smile, big heart, big things to come
As a practicing lawyer in the US, Francis has had his share of racial discrimination.
Accompanying his client, although he looked good and well-dressed, he was asked by the lawyers around if he was the interpreter.
“I really didn’t know what to say at that point. Absolutely, no doubt about it, it was discrimination. So, next time around, I told myself, I gotta come out with something more witty. So when they came around, I said, if I were black you would have thought I was the accused. That may have stunned them so they really apologized. But that was one experience I’ll never forget,” he recalled.
A temporary schoolhouse that Francis wanted rebuilt permanently
Aside from the scholarships undertaken by his foundation, Francis also wants to build sturdier and permanent school buildings especially that the Bicol region is one of the most typhoon-prone areas in the country. A lot of these schoolhouses are made of wood and bamboo with nipa or cogon roof.
Last February, FPPFI spearheaded the 11th Annual Leadership Convention at the Jose M. Robredo Coliseum – a gathering of students and youth groups from the Province of Camarines Sur, focusing on the theme “Youth: Frontliners for Change.”
Francis believes that amid the challenges Filipinos experienced following last year’s super typhoon Yolanda, Bohol earthquake, economic turmoil, political and social issues, the youth are at the frontlines for change and need to face challenges that will still come head on.
FPPFI also runs the READ TO LIVE: Libro Ko Para Sa ’Yo program, a reading awareness project designed to encourage young people to devote time to read.
Francis said he has no formula for success, but his secret is hardship.
“The secret is hardship. You know, when you are poor, you have to strive and persevere hard. I never really considered myself as an intellectual, I never did. I never considered myself as really smart. I just work harder than most people do, ten times harder actually.
“You know, I believe in God more than anything else. Everything I wanted in life, all my dreams have been fulfilled because of my faith in God.
“I consider myself an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker). I want OFWs to never give up. There is always hope. If you persevere and you have faith in God, things will happen. That has always been the guiding force in my life,” he said.
On Independence Day, Francis declared:
PROUD TO BE PINOY. Happy 116th Philippine Independence Day. In all the 29 years that I have lived in the United States, I have never felt the need to change my citizenship. I AM and WILL ALWAYS BE, a proud FILIPINO. Proud to be carrying my brown Filipino passport anywhere in the world. Happy Independence Day.
Independence Day is a somber reminder that we need to be more vigilant as a people and not be complacent to the problems that plague our country. We need to act, and not complain; we need to be part of the solution and not as witnesses to the problem. Change must come from the people. Together, we will work toward a better tomorrow.
While there had been others who showed patriotic fervor – like Edu Manzano who tore his US passport when his Filipino citizenship was questioned when he ran for public office, or one who shows blatant unpatriotism like chess player Wesley So who wrote his federation that he is renouncing his Filipino-ness so he can make it to World’s Top 10 – no one is truly like Francis Padua Papica.
May his tribe increase amid this selfie generation, and his story inspire others to be patriotic whatever part of the globe they may be in at this time.
(Note: The author met Francis thru then-basketball superstar Vince Hizon around 10 years ago for a joint fundraising event for their respective foundations. The write-up came out in the Manila Times and Francis guested in the author’s program on Radio Veritas. Through Facebook, ties had been reconnected and each consider as pals as if there was no lull in the friendship at all.)