KEN IGE / KIGE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Rose Brombacher, above right, along with some other fortunate people, greeted Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo yesterday at the Filipino Community Center in Waipahu. Brombacher is from Waipahu but now lives in Germany.
Mabuhay, Presidente!In her first visit to Hawaii as president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo praised the "sakadas," the original sugar plantation immigrants to Hawaii; promised to help Filipino veterans win full U.S. military benefits; and called the next generation of Filipino Americans "heroes of the future."
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At least 200 people showed up at the new Filipino Community Center yesterday afternoon hoping to meet the president. The event was supposed to be limited to invited guests, but organizers said that despite security concerns they could not turn people away, and many were able to get close to her.
Arroyo stopped in Hawaii on her way to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders summit in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
She left Hawaii this morning.
Arroyo also met yesterday with U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye and Commander in Chief of Pacific Forces Adm. Thomas Fargo about security and economic issues. She had lunch with Gov. Ben Cayetano, the first U.S. governor of Filipino ancestry, and local business and political leaders, and was the guest of honor at a $50-a-plate dinner for about 1,200 people organized by the local Filipino community.
But the main reason for her stopover in Hawaii was to see the new FilCom Center, billed as the largest of its kind outside of Manila.
Roland Casamina, the center's president, said people showed up at noon, two hours before Arroyo was scheduled to appear, to get a glimpse of her.
"They wanted to be sure they got in," he said.
Casamina said an elderly man, a sakada, told him: "How often do we get to see a president in my lifetime? I finally did."
Arroyo described the FilCom Center as "fantastic, fabulous."
She also met informally with about 200 people, including sakadas, Filipino veterans and students from Waipahu High School and the University of Hawaii.
Arroyo entered the packed banquet room to raucous applause and cheers of "Mabuhay!" -- a traditional Filipino greeting.
KEN IGE / KIGE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Arroyo walked with Gov. Ben and Vicky Cayetano during the community center visit.
She spoke to the gathering in Tagalog, and told the sakadas that the center "is a symbol of the accomplishments of Filipinos in Hawaii, and you are the reason for that," Casamina said. He said she thanked them for their contributions and told them, "Because of all of you, we Filipinos are better off."
She told the veterans that she talked with Inouye about a bill that has passed the U.S. House that would give Filipino veterans in Hawaii better medical benefits, and a bill to give them the same benefits as U.S. soldiers who fought in the Philippines during World War II.
She said she will also push the issue with President Bush.
Asked about the chances of the bill to give Filipino veterans full benefits, Inouye said there was a time that people said the chances were impossible, but it has made it this far.
"I don't give up," he added.
Art Caleda, executive vice president of the group World War II Fil-Am Veterans, said: "This is the greatest moment for the veterans, to have an audience with her. The veterans feel so great, and they are so alive after 56 years of waiting in frustration for our benefits, and she was the one who took upon herself to bring to the attention of President George W. Bush the problems, predicaments and concerns of the veterans."
Arroyo also planted a narra tree at the center in a gesture symbolizing the bond between Hawaii's Filipino community and their roots in the Philippines. The narra tree is the national tree of the Philippines.
Patricio Erroc, a sakada who immigrated to the United States, said he was happy and proud that Arroyo came to the center.
"We like to show her we are not sleeping. We are working hard to accomplish something," he said.
KEN IGE / KIGE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo planted a narra tree, the national tree of the Philippines, during her visit yesterday to the Filipino Community Center in Waipahu. To the right was Gov. Ben Cayetano.
Members of Katipunan, the Philippine club at the University of Hawaii, shouted "Mabuhay, Presidente!" as Arroyo left the center. Katrina Guerrero said she and the other club members came to the community center in hopes of seeing the president.
"This is the closest thing to the Philippines," she said, adding that seeing the president helps her get in touch with her culture.
Hawaii has a strong Filipino-American community and presence. According to Census 2000 figures, Hawaii's 170,635 Filipinos make up about 14 percent of the state population. Filipinos first came to Hawaii to work the sugar plantations in the early 1900s.
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RONEN ZILBERMAN / ASSOCIATED PRESS
President Arroyo was greeted yesterday by members of the Hawaii Filipino Community at the Filipino Community Center in Waipahu.
Her travels around Honolulu disrupted traffic from Waikiki to Waipahu yesterday but Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's departure today caused only minor traffic delays for morning commuters.
Oahu traffic slows to a crawl
Police shut down portions of the H-1 Freeway and Nimitz Highway from 7:30 to about 8:30 this morning, but the west-bound presidential motorcade did not have nearly the same impact as her arrival yesterday.
The traffic tie-up yesterday began with Arroyo's 20-minute ride from the airport to the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Traffic worsened as she traveled around the islands for her engagements, and an accident in her motorcade involving a motorcycle officer added to concerns over traffic.
Police said the injured officer, who was not identified, was traveling to the Filipino Community Center when his motorcycle "went down," according to a police spokeswoman. He suffered leg abrasions, she said.
Police scheduled a news conference today to address concerns by the public about how police handled the traffic situation.
Arroyo arrived at about 7:15 a.m. on a flight from Manila. Police closed sections of Nimitz Highway beginning at 7:30 a.m. as the motorcade traveled from the airport to the Hilton Hawaiian Village.
Other roadways were closed when she left the Hilton just before noon to get to a lunch at Washington Place and traveled to the Filipino Community Center via the H-1 freeway after 1:30 p.m.
Police closed down a good portion of Kalakaua Avenue, backing up lunchtime traffic along all intersecting roads from Kapiolani Boulevard to Beretania Street, frustrating hundreds of drivers.
At Diamond Nails in McCully, owner Kristen Le said her customers arrived late for appointments yesterday. "They were stuck in Ala Moana for 15 to 20 minutes."
Other shops and restaurants in McCully and Waikiki experienced a low customer count.
Manager Sam Kim of Island PCS said only a handful of customers walked into the store yesterday morning. "I kind of expected it because of (the road closures)."
Honolulu resident Sean Liao said it took nearly a half-hour to drive from the university to Ala Moana, nearly twice as long as his normal daily commute.
"Everything was moving really slow," said Liao who works as a cashier at a coffee shop at McCully Shopping Center.
Star-Bulletin reporters Craig Gima, Rod Antone and Rosemarie Bernardo contributed to this report.
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