First Lady Dawn Amano-Ige and I just returned from a tremendous, enlightening, productive and rewarding trip to the Philippines with the Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii. We were fortunate enough to travel with about 50 business, government and community leaders from Hawaii, touring several provinces that included Manila, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur and Cebu.
We received an enthusiastic, energetic and respectful welcome from the incredibly warm people. We had the honor and privilege of participating in a wide variety of cultural events and activities in addition to the packed agenda of meetings with local business, government and community leaders.
Perhaps the highlight of the trip was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding and Cooperation (MOU) between the State of Hawaii and the League of Provinces, which represents all 81 provinces in the Philippines. The MOU establishes a partnership between the State of Hawaii and all Philippines provinces. It calls for creating a working group to plan joint initiatives, including opportunities for education, cultural and business exchanges. The MOU also recognizes that Filipinos constitute Hawaii’s largest ethnic group.
In an emotional ceremony, Dawn and I placed a wreath at Rizal Park to honor Philippine national hero Jose Rizal.
Before we left Manila, Dawn made a stop at the Kanlungan Sa Erma Orphanage. She brought them lunch, handed out some books from Hawaii, and read to them, including the book 'Too Many Mangos' by local author Tammy Paikai. After hearing the children’s stories, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. These children hold a special place in our hearts.
In Vigan, we paid our respects at the Sakada Memorial. These hard-working men arrived in Hawaii over 100 years ago to work as contract laborers in the plantation industry. We honor and recognize the Filipino community’s contribution to the history, economy, culture and heritage of Hawaii on December 20, "Sakada Day" in Hawaii.
This was my first visit to the Philippines and the first time a Hawaii governor has visited this beautiful country in about 10 years. In addition to the warmth of its people and the kind hospitality they offered us, we observed the Filipino people working hard together for the sake of their families and neighbors. They understand the value in working together to create stronger, more economically vibrant communities.
I can understand why people from the Philippines who live in Hawaii frequently return home for visits. The sense of the Aloha Spirit in Hawaii is the sense of the Mabuhay Spirit in the Philippines. We experienced it every day.
I’m incredibly grateful and thankful to the Filipino Chamber of Commerce delegates for making this trip to the Philippines a truly memorable and profitable experience. A big mahalo to Brandon Dela Cuz, Consul General Gina Jamoralin, Bennette Misalucha and many others for organizing this trip.
In the end, it really is about the people. Dawn and I enjoyed meeting each and every one. We fell in love with the spirit of the people of the Philippines. We look forward to visiting again someday and to working with our Filipino community here in Hawaii to continue building the bridge for future cultural, educational and business exchanges with the Philippines.