By Bert Eljera
LAS VEGAS – A Filipino-American lawyer has been appointed the new executive director of the first and oldest Asian- American legal and human rights advocacy group based in San Francisco.
Christopher Punongbayan will take over the Asian American Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus in June after the current co-executive director, Heon-Ju-Rho, has decided to step down.
For the past year, Punongbayan and Rho have been sharing the post, but Rho has decided to move to Los Angeles, a statement in the non-profit group’s website said.
” I write to you with great humility and enthusiasm as the incoming executive director,” said Punongbayan in a statement also posted on the website. ” I have witnessed our organization thrive in my five and a half years here, and am so excited by what’s to come.”
Established in 1972, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, formerly known simply Asian Law Caucus, is the nation’s oldest legal and civil rights advocacy group, focusing on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.
It provides legal services in the areas of human rights, immigration, housing, and labor relations.
“Even though it has been 42 years since our founding, the need for an unwavering, courageous voice for civil rights is clearer than ever,” Punongbayan said.
He said the group should keep it’s mission to “respond to the direct legal needs for those who cannot afford a lawyer during these challenging economic times.”
Punongbayan joined Asian Law Caucus in 2008, and headed the non-profit group’s various community programs. When it decided to try a joint executive program last year, he was appointed with Rho.
For the past 25 years, Punongbayan has been active in the Asian-American community. In 2004, he was a recipient of the Ford Foundation New Voices Fellowship while serving as advocacy director of Filipinos for Affirmative Action.
He also served on the board for the South of Market Community Action Network and various youth, LGBT and other non-profit groups in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Punongbayan is a graduate of Brown University and UCLA Law School, critical race concentration and public interest law and policy program.