DISPATCHES FROM THE PHILIPPINES
COURTESY OF ANDY G. ZAPATA JR.
Gov. Linda Lingle unveiled the statue of the "Filipino Sakada" yesterday at Port Salomague with Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis Chavit Singson, far right, and Vigan Vice Gov. Diogracias Victor Savellano, left of Lingle.
Lingle helps dedicate statue in Philippines
The governor honors immigrant workers as she tours Ilocos Sur with other officials
PORT SALOMAGUE, Philippines » In a simple ceremony that brought up emotions of pride and gratitude, Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle and city and provincial officials in Ilocos Sur unveiled a statue this weekend marking the departure point for many of Hawaii's Filipino contract plantation workers.
Star-Bulletin reporter Craig Gima is on assignment in the Philippines, where Gov. Linda Lingle is leading an official visit to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Filipino immigration to Hawaii.
The statue shows a plantation worker with his back bent over, holding a bolo knife to cut cane. It represents the hard work and strength of the Filipinos who came to Hawaii to make a new life for their children, said state Rep. Jun Abinsay.
Abinsay, Dr. and Mrs. Charlie Sonido, and the Ilocos Sur Association donated and raised $170,000 to have the statue cast and installed.
The mayor of Cabugao, where Port Salomague is located, said the sakadas who came to Hawaii demonstrated Filipino values of humility, hard work and frugality, and praised them for giving back to the community.
Lingle noted the bent back of the statue.
"That's the kind of life they had in the beginning," she said. "It was a hard life and a difficult life." The governor praised the sacrifices of the plantation workers who tried to make a better life for their grandchildren.
Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis Singson noted that the sakadas were the first organized overseas Filipino workers.
"They paved the way," he said. The statue, he said, "is a way of saying thanks."
Filipino workers overseas now send back more than $12 billion a year to the Philippine economy.
The first sakadas left from Manila in December 1906. Many of them were from Ilocos Sur and other northern provinces. Salomague was where the last group of sakadas departed for Hawaii's plantations in 1946.
Felix Befitel, 90, who rented Lingle a room on Molokai when she first came to Hawaii, was at the ceremony. His son Nelson, director of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, said the ceremony was an emotional one for his family.
It is Felix Befitel's first trip back to the Philippines in 60 years.
"This is where it all started for us," Nelson Befitel said.
Also at the ceremony was Nenita Carbonela of Cabugao and numerous relatives who make their living here fishing and farming. Carbonela's uncle Fred was a sakada who lives on Kauai, she said.
COURTESY OF ANDY G. ZAPATA JR.
Gov. Linda Lingle spoke to Bishop Ernesto Salgado in front of the historic Saint Paul Metropolitan Cathedral yesterday before touring the heritage village in the city of Vigan with Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis Chavit Singson.
Carbonela brought brothers and sisters to Hawaii and continues to send money and clothes and helped build a house for his family in Cabugao.
Abinsay said he felt strongly that there was a need for a statue to mark the place where the sakadas left for a new life. He is also hoping to turn a building where plantation managers recruited sakadas in Ilocos Sur into a museum.
"It struck me deeply," Abinsay said of the story of the sakadas. The representative grew up in this area and is not a descendent of sakadas. But Abinsay says he still remembers his roots, growing up in a poor barrio in Vigan without electricity and running water.
He returns to the area every year on volunteer missions.
After the unveiling of the statue, 100 red, green and white balloons were released into the air, and a wreath was laid at another marker for sakadas on a nearby pier.
As the governor and the delegation passed through Cabugao, people lined the streets. They waved paper Philippine, U.S. and Hawaiian flags as elementary school bands with schoolchildren in uniform played music.
Later, the governor and the rest of the Hawaii delegation arrived in Vigan and toured the historic city on horse-drawn carriages known as "kalesas." Singson took Lingle down cobblestone streets past displays that had been set up showing how local vendors make and sell pottery, textiles and sausage.
Lingle sampled Vigan specialties from street vendors who offered her "tinubong," a sticky rice with coconut and brown sugar steamed in bamboo; "bibinaka," a specialty cake; "salapusop," another sweet rice cake; and empanadas, which are fried and stuffed with meat.
"American Idol" finalist Jasmine Trias also rode a kalesa through Vigan and attracted as much or perhaps more attention than Lingle. Trias' free concert last night with dancers from Tihati's Polynesian Review attracted more than 2,000 fans to the Plaza Burgos in the center of town.
The concert Saturday night in Laoag City filled the city center with an estimated 10,000 fans, who sang along with Trias on most of her numbers.