Maui mayor heads trip to Philippines for centennial
WAILUKU, Maui » Mayor Alan Arakawa will leave for the Philippines this week to mark the centennial of the first immigration of Filipino farm workers to Hawaii.
In the two-week trip, Arakawa is scheduled to meet with Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at the Malacanang Palace and to tour elementary schools and the University of the Northern Philippines.
In 1906, a group of 15 farm workers, also known as sakada, left the Philippines to come to the Big Island to work in sugarcane fields. Since then, the state's Filipino-American population has grown to more than 275,000, second only to California, where more than 1 million live.
Arakawa and his wife, Ann, will be joined by 100 Maui residents, including Apolonio Tabangcura, a native of the Philippines who gave 45 years of service to Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co.
The 79-year-old Tabangcura has returned to the Philippines about five times over the last 60 years. But he's never been back to the city of Cabugao in the province of Ilocos Sur, where he left for Hawaii in 1946.
"This is a very special trip for us," said Gloria Tabangcura, Apolonio's wife. "We can't wait to see the harbor where he left to get here."
Arakawa, who will visit the Philippines for the first time, is hoping to reinforce historic, cultural and economic ties and reaffirm diplomatic relationships between Maui and sister cities.
The county has at least five sister cities in the Ilocos region of the Philippines.
Arakawa said he grew up on his family farm, which employed as many as eight immigrants from the Philippines.
"And many Filipinos were also customers at our farm, so I heard a lot of stories about the Philippines," he said.
Aside from the sister cities, Arakawa will visit neighboring cities and towns and will conclude his visit in Tagaytay and Manila.
He will participate in the crowning of Mrs. Sakada Centennial 2006 in Cabugao on Monday, then sign documents formalizing and celebrating the sister-city relationship with the municipality of Cabugao.
Arakawa said he would do as much as possible to market Maui as a visitor destination for Filipinos.
County Public Information Officer Ellen Pelissero said the county will pay for the cost of the mayor's trip, estimated at $2,750. The mayor is paying for his wife's travel costs, she said.