I was fortunately invited to join a group of diplomats and community leaders on the Visit Philippines 2015 Tour in August. The trip was to give a taste, to some Filipino opinion leaders from Australia and New Zealand, of some of the best of Philippines tourism, accessible from Manila.
We flew by courtesy of Philippine Airlines and stayed at the magnificent Five Star Japanese Nobu Hotel in the City of Dreams precinct, which also contains the Hyatt and Crown Hotels and a very large Casino, which is a short shuttle bus ride away from the Mall of Asia. For Australians, Manila offered a cheap, edgy and exotic experience, but now like Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok, it is aiming decidedly upmarket, but if you still want it the old way, chaos and excitement will be still there.
We lived safely in absolute luxury, sampling fantastic international food and experiencing some top tourist spots in air conditioned comfort. We were met by the Hon. Jose Rene Almendras: Secretary to the Cabinet and then had an exclusive guided tour of the Malacanan Palace, the Museum, Hall of Heroes, wonderful Library of the Malacanan Palace, which now constitute the main cultural centre of the Philippines, followed by a Filipino lunch and cultural show at the Ilustrado Restaurant. In the afternoon, we visited the Department of Foreign Affairs for an audience with the Secretary: The Hon. Albert F. del Rosario and then went on a Manila City tour, visiting ‘The Charms of Old Manila’, including: Rizal Park, Fort Santiago, San Augustine Church, Casa Manila, Intramuros and Baluarte de San Diego. Tired, but fascinated by a side of Manila I knew little about, we had a formal dinner and ball room dancing complete with dancing instructors (DI) held at the Marriot Hotel Diplomatic Hall.
Next day we went on a coach trip of about an hour to the towns Lemery and Taal, where, escorted by police and an ambulance, we saw: the Basilica of San Martin de Tours, which is the largest church in the country and has a magnificent silver tabernacle. We also visited the Casaysay area with its famous granite steps, Galleries and Craft Centres, where there were beautiful embroidery, Panutsa and Batangas Fan Knives on display. We had a traditional lunch at the Paradores del Castillo Hotel. A tiring, but very interesting day was concluded with dinner at the Ayala Museum.
I was immensely enriched by my experiences, both in terms of s side of the Philippines I knew little about, but found fascinating, and in travelling with such a delightful group of Filipino leaders including: The Hon. Belen, Anota, Philippine Ambassador to Australia, The Ambassador for New Zealand, the Hon. Ann Jalando-on Louis, the Consul Generals for NSW and as well as Consul General of Wellington New Zealand. We should all promote Philippines tourism by going home and introducing others to the wonders of our land. Next year, I should like to make a similar trip to Cebu or in other areas of the Philippines which I have not been visited. There is huge potential for tourism in the Philippines, which we can all promote.
Tagalog Association of Australia Balagtasan 2015
Invited by Danny Peralta, President of the Tagalog Association of Australia, The Filipiniana Friends Dancers from Bathurst performed two dances at the celebration held at the PABICO 55 CLUB in Mt Druitt.
In a program with the Sonata Singers and Lilian dos Reyes, they performed two dances: the popular traditional Subli Dance and the more exotic Moros Fan or Magkaugnay Dance. Congratulations and thanks to Roslyn Wilesmith-Perott, Marie Mabaquiao and our dance choreographer Sofia Sakay for all their hard work in practice and costume making and long journey across the mountains. Thanks also for our long suffering partners for their patience and support. It is so good to help keeping our culture alive, and having a good time in the process.
Aguman Capampangan of Australia Celebrates 25th Anniversary.
After the event some members of the Bathurst contingent, Marie, Sofia, Amy, Julie, Agnes and Mila rocked the night away at the Rooty Hill RSL, whereas Nenita Weekes, David Meacham, and Roslyn Wilesmith-Perott navigated the Western Suburbs maze, to eventually arrive at the magnificent Fairfield RSL Club, after heated discussion between ourselves and the Satnav system, which seems a lot better, if you know where you are going in the first place.
At the Club we went to the lovely Sapphire Lounge, set up cabaret style by the talented Benjie Ubago to enjoy the Sinukwan Festival with the Aguman Capampangan of Australia celebrating their 25th Anniversary, headed by the President Marivic Manalo. We were addressed by special guest speaker Mr Joey Marquez and entertained by some class acts, notably the PLCAA cultural and Glee singers headed by Dra Alexis Leones. And also the brilliant Marcus Rivera with his amazing tenor/ soprano voice.
After a large and tasty dinner, the place really rocked, with nearly everyone up on the floor, moving and grooving to a hot Filipino Band, who seemed to play forever. We drove to Penrith tired but happy and returned safely to Bathurst on Sunday. We stopped at the magnificently restored Hydro Majestic Hotel in Medlow Bath, in the Blue Mountains, which has gone decidedly upmarket. Anyone for afternoon high tea? Lovely cakes and sandwiches for three at just under two hundred dollars, a bit much for our intended pit stop and cup of tea. No wonder the Sydney Socialites used to bring their mistresses there to impress them in the 1920’s!
Balikbayan Box Threat
It has been a long tradition for Filipinos living overseas to periodically send gifts, usually in the form of clothing and household items to their relatives and loved ones. However, this custom may be under threat from the Bureau of Customs who are proposing to open the packages and check them for contraband and taxable items.
There has been a vigorous reaction to this, with huge petitions and demonstrations and the support of some Senators. Why the reaction? Well many of the goods are personal and used, and are of little value for trade purposes, and who is to know what will become of treasured items being mauled by poorly supervised customs officials? Many overseas workers are on low incomes and would probably stop sending things home if duty was charged by customs. Such actions make little sense both politically and economically, as the Government are only too happy to have Balikbayans prop up the domestic economy with gifts and remissions. Fortunately, the President has ordered a high-level investigation into this proposal, for which we must anxiously await the outcome.
This controversy arose as the Customs Officers believe some of the boxes are being used to avoid paying duty on imports and much worse to bring weapons, ammunition and drugs into the country. The incidence of this is probably quite small, but arms and drug dealers will use any opportunity to increase their trade and profits. Balikbayan boxes for years have contained gifts of love, but given a large cash incentive, it is only too easy to envisage some containing cocaine and automatic rifles. So the proposed searches, which are offensive to many, are certainly not stupid. Maybe a compromise could be where boxes are x-rayed and only opened if suspicious. Once again many may have to pay the price for the activities of an evil minority
Some wise words
Below are some extracts from a letter to young Filipinos by Dr Gideon Lasco, a physician and medical anthropologist, which I would like to share with you
“There always be people, Filipinos and foreigners alike, who will say negative things about our country, and I want you to be prepared for those moments when you will hear about them, when they say “I hate the Philippines,” you may feel hurt or confused. Critics rant about the corruption, the traffic, the laziness, the lack of discipline. They say Filipinos are hopeless, and call naive those who think otherwise. They compare us to other nations and lament how far we have been left behind.
It is easy to hate your country when you focus on the negative. But when I think of the Philippines, I do not think of the corrupt officials, the incessant road repairs, the disasters, the tragedies and what-could-have-beens, the mentalities that have often been ascribed to us. Yes, I have seen these things, and more. I have seen the sad plight of indigenous peoples; I have heard the sound of chainsaws and falling logs. I have heard moving stories of justice delayed, and justice denied. These things are real, and they are painful at times. But I do not allow them to eclipse my view of what the Philippines is—and what the Philippines can be.
Instead, I think of my family, my friends, and the people I have met in my travels that better represent what our country is all about. I think of my parents in Los Baños, and their passion for the church and the environment. I think of the park surrounded by stately acacia, the long drive surrounded by pili trees, and the comforting presence of Mount Makiling’s beautiful slopes. I think of my grandparents in San Pablo, our rambutan and lanzones trees, and the tranquillity of the Seven Lakes. I recall the honest woman in Maguindanao who picked up the cell phone I left in a jeepney, and, upon returning it to me, said: “I’m just being a good Muslim.” I think of the Batak family in Palawan who showed me hospitality on a stormy night, letting me stay in their house even at the expense of their comfort. I think of my mentors who have generously shared their time and wisdom, and my classmates and friends with whom I share happy memories. When I think of everyone in the country who has touched my life, I am overwhelmed by the goodwill they have shown, and it is the same goodwill that I vow to share with others.
And, of course, I think of the beauty of our land, from the captivating islands of Batanes and Tawi-Tawi to the volcanic majesties of Mayon and Kanlaon. I think of the beaches of the Visayan Islands with the hope that they would stay forever white, just as I hope that our mountains would stay forever green, and our seas forever blue.
Every country, like every person, has a dark side, and we must thirst for the inconvenient truths about our nation, and be willing to make the sacrifices they require of us. But they should never lead us to frustration, not just because of the brighter side that we sometimes refuse to see, but also because we can always do something to make our country a better place. We have suffered much, but like the sun that rises every morning, our smiles and hopes have not wavered”.