Gregory “Greg” P. Alabado



Youth and Student Days at UP

Greg Alabado was born in Tondo’s Mary Johnston Hospital from a family of modest means. They lived in the Bangkusay neighborhood of this rough-and-tumble district of Manila. Following graduation from Manila’s Jose Abad Santos High School in 1950, Greg, at age 15, was accepted at the University of the Philippines, College of Engineering.

The Diliman campus then had hundreds of hectares of barren land with the exception of a few concrete structures housing the university administration, library, and classrooms besides the dozens of quonset huts in its central section. Most of the military style quonset huts were used as living quarters for faculty, employees, and their families.

There were only very few trees. Yes, there was a lot of elbow room and breathing room then that just outside the campus perimeter was like being in San Diego’s backcountry. On two Arbor Days in a row, Greg remembered answering the call for volunteers to plant acacia trees. It was hard work but they had a lot of fun doing it.

A few of Greg’s classmates had their own vehicles, mostly jeeps configured like little versions of the Hummers now. On occasions, a classmate would pile on as many riders as could be accommodated on a jeep for their own version of ‘happy hour’ in Ma Mon Luk in Quiapo. On the way back to campus after sundown, the driver would often times drive straight through, up and over the curb, instead of negotiating the rotunda circle around the Quezon Memorial and they would all be shaking and rattling, and yelling and giggling, as the jeep drove off the curb and back onto the road again.

Greg lived at home and commuted to and from Diliman. Hanging around with his classmates, he used to get a kick out of carrying on serious conversations, say, with an Ilocano and/or a Visayan. For us to be able to fully understand each other, we sometimes spoke in English with our own typical accents because the Tagalog national language wasn’t common knowledge then.

In his 3½ years in Diliman, there was never a dull moment for Greg. He didn’t stand out as any kind of an Engineering wizard but he confessed that his social activities and campus life took up more of his time than his academic subjects warranted. Two areas that kept him pretty occupied were his Tau Alpha fraternity and advanced ROTC activities. Yet, by the nature of the beasts, each was about as different and divergent as one could imagine.

Looking back, he now begins to wonder how he was able to reconcile the lollygagging fraternity life which was the exact opposite of the stiff, regimented character of the ROTC. The Tau Alpha kept its members busy during initiations, Christmas Lantern Parade, the Engineering Smoker, and the Engineering-Pharmacy playday party. Advanced ROTC required its members to attend military science classes after regular academic hours in addition to marching at weekly parades on the campus parade ground and at the Luneta on special occasions.

When the Department of Military Science & Tactics built a Cadet Officers Quarters, Greg was one of the dozen or so selected to live there. Although living there didn’t cost them anything, nonetheless, they had to observe strict compliance with the military way of life like observing reveille in the morning and taps in the evening, standing ready for inspection of the quarters that they themselves cleaned, and the berthing spaces where they slept. But these quarters also served Greg’s needs in a roundabout way.

Recruitment into the US Navy

After first learning in 1953 of the recruiting of Filipinos by the U.S. Navy at the Naval Station Sangley Point, Cavite, Greg promptly corresponded with the Recruiting Office, using the Cadet quarters as his return address. The Recruiting office scheduled him to take the written test one day and the physical exam on another day. He took both exams without his family’s knowledge.

He later received notification in the mail that he passed both exams making him qualified to enlist but under one condition. He couldn’t be sworn in until he obtained a written permission from his father because he was only 19 years old. Greg’s father was disappointed and livid when he learned of his intention but in the end he gave him his blessings. Greg was sworn in as a Navy recruit on December 14, 1953.

Joining the U.S. Navy could be looked at as a cop-out for him. At Diliman, Greg’s best subjects were English, Philosophy, and other general education subjects but he was weak in Math. He repeated two Math subjects during his time in U.P. Not receiving a passing grade on two or three subjects wasn’t outside of the ordinary. However, he became self-conscious about the matter fearing he could get booted out of the university. There wasn’t really a real threat that he would be forced out of U.P. but when the opportunity to make a graceful exit by joining the Navy came, Greg jumped at the opportunity.

To his knowledge, he was the first U.P. student to leave U.P. Diliman to join the U.S. Navy in 1953. The following year, varsity basketball player William Anderson and an advanced ROTC student by the name of Diomampo also enlisted in the Navy. When he visited U.P. a few years after joining the Navy, the secretary in the ROTC admin office informed him that ROTC Commandant, Colonel Joaquin Hidalgo, had submitted his name as among the graduates of Class 1954 and that Lt. Constante Quiaoit had his diploma. Unfortunately, Greg never got to see Lt. Quiaoit to get his diploma. He was on Army active duty as an aide to a general when the helicopter they were riding in crashed and there were no survivors.

The schooling and training he received at U.P. had helped Greg during his early years in the Navy. During recruit training at the Naval Training Center, San Diego, he was selected as a Recruit Company Commander and was subsequently promoted to Recruit Battalion Commander, the first Filipino to hold the rank during recruit training.

After boot camp he joined other Filipinos at Steward School also in San Diego. Greg’s first duty station following Steward School was the USS Wasp (CVS-18), an anti-submarine aircraft carrier. Overall, he served a tour of duty on six ships and three shore stations. Because non-citizen Filipinos were recruited under the Navy’s Direct Procurement program, they could work only as stewards serving food to officers and cleaning their living quarters.

The Wasp was homeported in North Island in San Diego. During local sea operations, Greg was up early to serve in the wardroom but at 6:30 a.m. he would serve at the daily Catholic mass celebrated by Father Kelley, a Navy chaplain, in one of the ship’s Squadron Ready Rooms. There were not many qualified to serve mass then because the mass and responses were in Latin.

Before Father Kelley left for another duty station, he was able to expedite having Greg’s job rating changed from steward to electrician’s mate by prodding the Admin officer to forward Greg’s request for a change in rating instead of sitting on it. He was one of the first Filipinos to have his job rating changed to an engineering specialty.

The electrical division had about 120 personnel with only one Black. So Greg found himself the only Filipino in “E” Division. He was apprehensive at first because he felt like an odd ball in the bunch. Somehow, he later led a sheltered life even as he found himself at the bottom of the totem pole in the division. Three senior petty officers had planned going back to college when their enlistment was up and Greg wound up helping them in their college algebra correspondence courses after hours, two nights a week. Greg noticed that being closely associated to these petty officers made others shy away from him and no one gave him a hard time which new sailors in a division usually had to put up with.

Greg spent one enlistment on the Wasp. But it was also on the Wasp that he advanced from an apprentice rank to First Class Petty Officer in three and a half years, a record that was published in the “Navy Times”, and also among one of the youngest at age 22½ at the time of his promotion in 1957.

When he was stationed at the Naval Station Subic Bay in 1960, he learned that his childhood sweetheart in Tondo was still single. Under the circumstances, he thought there was no use wasting time so in the same year he married Fely Villanueva Ramos. Upon completion of his tour of duty in Subic, they sailed together on a transport ship to Fort Mason in San Francisco to begin a new life and raise a family in the U.S. mainland.

Greg’s Navy career spanned 21 years, 7 months. He was promoted to Chief Petty Officer in 1962 and was appointed to Chief Warrant Officer in 1967, ending his naval career in 1975. Some aspects of his Navy service while on active duty may be found in the Navy Log section of the Navy Memorial web site at

Transition into Civilian Life and Community Work

Greg’s line of work in the Navy was in the electrical field. After obtaining his Associate degree in Public Administration from the University of Guam when he was stationed in Guam, he seriously thought of finding a job in the public sector after leaving the Navy. So when he retired from the Navy in 1975 he continued taking college courses in San Diego under the GI Bill and earned, in succession, a Business Administration degree, an MBA, and a JD degree.

Greg first worked as a Technical Writer for a marine engineering firm for two years prior to moving to the San Diego County Housing Authority working as a Housing Specialist. He was later hired by the City of Chula Vista and worked as an Administrative Analyst beginning in 1979. He became a Transit Analyst and was later promoted to the position of Public Transit Administrator for the City. In the latter capacity, Greg managed the City’s public transportation system dealing with accelerated growth, from a population of 68,000 in 1981 to 160,000 in 1998, the year he retired from City service.

At various times Greg was involved with Filipino American groups, as president of the South Bay Filipino American Community Association in 1977 and as Speaker of the House of Delegates of the Council of Philippine American Organizations (COPAO) in 1999.

Following retirement from the City in 1998, Greg began his community volunteer work. He worked as an adult literacy tutor and served briefly as a Reserved Deputy Probation Officer. He was a member of San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy’s ‘Asian Pacific Islander Advisory Board’; ‘2001 Chula Vista Civilian Police Task Force’; ‘2002 Chula Vista Library Strategic Plan Committee’; ‘Chula Vista General Plan Update Steering Committee’; and the San Diego Association of Governments’ (SANDAG) ‘Regional Planning Stakeholders Working Group.’ He is currently a member of the Chula Vista Housing Advisory Commission.

Greg is a member of the Filipino American Military Officers Association, the Bonita Optimist Club, the Retired Public Employees Association, and the Military Officers Association of America, Sweetwater Chapter. He and his wife, Fely, have lived in Chula Vista since 1974 and raised two sons and two daughters.

During the Commissioners banquet at San Diego Country Club in 2004, the Chula Vista City Council recognized Greg’s various volunteer activities and to acknowledged his unselfish work in the community, the Council awarded Greg the City’s 2003 Annual Botterman Humanitarian Award.