MUFI IN MANILA
Trip showcases bridge between cultures
The Honolulu mayor and two Councilmen trade aloha with the Filipino people
FIVE thousand miles of Pacific Ocean separate Honolulu from the Philippines, but a multitude of personal, cultural and economic bridges tie the two together, as I saw first-hand on a visit last week to Manila and the Ilocos region to the north, the homeland for a majority of Hawaii Filipinos.
Honolulu City Councilmen Romy Cachola and Nestor Garcia and I led a delegation of 24 Filipino community leaders to the Philippines virtually on the eve of the kickoff of Hawaii's Filipino Centennial celebration, which officially began yesterday in Honolulu. The celebration marks 100 years since the first sakadas journeyed to Hawaii. In addition, the City and County of Honolulu is nearing the midpoint of the year-long observance of its own centennial.
Part of our mission to the Philippines was to promote both centennial celebrations. I extended an invitation to visit Honolulu to top Filipino business leaders in addresses to the American Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club of Makati, the Ilocos Norte Chamber of Commerce and the Chinese Chamber of Commerce as well as to government leaders during receptions with Honolulu's sister-city mayors.
Mission accomplished: We received firm commitments from Manila Mayor Lito Atienza and Laoag Mayor Michael Farinas to participate in the Filipino Centennial Trade Exposition Dec. 13-16, 2006, at the Hawaii Convention Center. Honolulu is co-sponsoring that expo, which will culminate the Filipino centennial. I also met with Philippine Congressional leaders and came away with an endorsement of the Filipino Trade Expo by influential Sen. Mar Roxas, the Economic Affairs and Trade and Commerce chairman.
COURTESY MAYOR'S OFFICE
Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann joined Manila Mayor Lito Atienza for a ride on Manila's light rail transit line. Hannemann is wearing a barang, a traditional Filipino shirt.
Manila has been a sister city of Honolulu since 1980, under an agreement forged by the late Honolulu City Councilman Rudy Pacarro and Ramon Bagatsing, the mayor of Manila at the time. On this visit, I was accompanied by Bagatsing's grandson, Manila's current Deputy Mayor Don Bagatsing, when I laid a wreath in front of the Jose Rizal monument.
Mayor Atienza himself is a huge fan of Honolulu, where he lived for a year. His usual business attire is an aloha shirt. He loves to sing and knows many Hawaiian songs. We sang "Blue Hawaii" at the lavish reception he held for us on our arrival in the Philippines. The outpouring of aloha, from children in a rainbow of regional costumes performing folk dances to the crowds chanting our names, moved some of us to tears.
Mayor Atienza accompanied us when we visited Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at Malacanang Palace. There, I was introduced to Ariel Abadilla, who became the Philippines' consul general in Honolulu this week, just in time to participate in the opening events of the Filipino Centennial Celebration.
I also touted the centennials when I appeared on "Magandang Umaga Bayan -- Good Morning Philippines" on the giant ABS-CBN network. In addition, I met with Gabby Lopez, the CEO of ABS-CBN, who also committed to promote both centennials through its television networks serving the Philippines and Filipinos worldwide.
In my meetings at the U.S. Embassy, Acting Deputy Chief of Mission Scott Bellard advised us that participants of Honolulu's trade expo next year should submit their visa applications early to ensure sufficient review and processing time.
I also made the time to visit with approximately 100 partner organizations of the Consuelo Zobel Alger Foundation to explore new opportunities for the City and County of Honolulu to continue its support of the foundation's programs in Hawaii and the Philippines that improve the quality of life of disadvantaged children, women and families. The Consuelo Foundation has provided $2 million annually to its partners, of which $400,000 was spent in Honolulu last year.
Efforts such as its shelter program have resulted in the Rotary Club of Honolulu organizing an Aloha Mission to assist with the rehabilitation of dormitories. In our sister city of Baguio, Filipino caseworkers who lack training in child abuse cases have been trained by Honolulu Police Department officers to process child sex abuse cases.
If you think traffic is bad on Oahu, downtown Manila's streets are far more congested. And they would be even worse without the light rail transit system, which opened in 1984 and carries 300,000 passengers each day. Riding the LRT reinforced my conviction that Honolulu needs a transit system, as Manila, given its success, seeks to further expand its system.
Councilman Cachola is a native of Vigan in Ilocos Sur, where we were again greeted by Governor Chavit Singson and Vigan Mayor Ferdinand Medina with music, banners and throngs of people.
We reaffirmed Honolulu's sister-city relationships with Vigan and Laoag City, the capital of Ilocos Norte and met with Ilocos Norte Governor Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
In Bacarra I had the honor of crowning the town's queen for 2005. I also met her predecessor, who's from Ewa Beach, and whose parents -- dad is a chef at Ko Olina and mom is a nurse -- immigrated to Hawaii from Bacarra.
Accompanied by Bacarra Mayor Phillip Corpus Velasco, we met many other current and former Oahu residents at the Bacarra Fiesta, which draws many expatriates every year. Friendly faces from Honolulu and the gracious hospitality of all the people we met throughout Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur were touching. In fact, in Vigan and Bacarra, I was honored through resolutions that made me an adopted son of both towns.
I firmly believe that we blazed a firm trail for Gov. Linda Lingle to have a successful trip to the Philippines when she and Kauai Mayor Bryan Baptiste lead a delegation to the Philippines next month and when Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa visits in April.
More than that, I believe our trip helped strengthen the ties that bind the Philippines and Honolulu that were started 100 years ago. Indeed, the best is yet to come!