Arroyo hails Filipino achievements
|Arroyo in Hawai'i photos|
Speaking to descendants of the first Filipino immigrants to the Islands, Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo praised the strides Filipinos have made in Hawai'i but said she hopes for a day when leaving the Philippines for work is not a necessity.
"We continue to work hard to bring the benefits of the world home ... so that in our lifetime we can see a Philippines where Filipinos will be able to come home to a job and a quality of life that compares to life here in Hawai'i, a quality of life that compares to the life of descendants of the sakadas," Arroyo said, addressing dignitaries and more than 100 descendants of Filipino plantation workers.
"To the Filipinos here in Hawai'i, congratulations for what you have achieved and thank you for keeping our ... traditions alive and strong."
The speech at the Filipino Community Center, where a statue of a sakada harvesting sugar cane was unveiled, was part of a whirlwind day of meetings and speaking engagements in the Islands for the Philippine president, who last came to Hawai'i in 2002. She was set to leave for the Philippines by early this morning.
Last night, Arroyo met with Gov. Linda Lingle during a two-hour reception at Washington Place. Also in attendance were members of Arroyo's government and leaders of Philippine provinces.
Though much of her trip went smoothly, a group of about 15 human-rights activists gathered outside the Filipino Community Center minutes after the president arrived. The group shouted "no aloha for Arroyo" as attendees looked on.
In the afternoon, as Arroyo's motorcade zipped from The Kahala Hotel to Waipahu and then back into town, traffic along the H-1 Freeway slowed considerably. Traffic on surface roads also backed up, as police blocked lanes for the president's limousine. Arroyo's visit coincided with a University of Hawai'i football game, creating headaches for those heading to Aloha Stadium yesterday afternoon.
Also, few members of the public turned out in the late afternoon at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl for Arroyo's unveiling of a plaque dedicated to Filipino and American soldiers who fought in the Philippines during World War II.
At the last minute, workers took hundreds of unfilled chairs away.
Arroyo fans weren't deterred.
"How many chances do you get to see the president of your country?" asked 26-year-old Jerome Bautista, a Filipino-American studying at Hawai'i Pacific University who was wrapped in a full-sized Philippines flag as he watched ceremonies at Punchbowl yesterday. "It gives me even more pride in my Filipino heritage."
At the Filipino Community Center event, which was by invitation only, Arroyo praised community members who had planned festivities for the 100th anniversary of Filipino immigration to the Islands. She also dedicated the sakada statue, which is a replica of one in Port Salomague. Geminiano Arre, Jr., president of the Fil-Com Center, said the statue serves as a reminder of "our humble beginnings."
The marker, a gift from the Philippine government, will remain at the center.
"It is an honor and privilege," Arre told attendees. "Fil-Com stands as a proud symbol of the Filipino presence and achievements in Hawai'i."
Several members of the president's cabinet attended the event, along with U.S. Sens. Dan Akaka and Daniel K. Inouye. The two Hawai'i senators also attended the Punchbowl ceremonies, where Arroyo discussed the strong relationship between the United States and the Philippines. Since World War II, she said, ties between the two countries have grown and matured. Today, she said, the two are partners in Iraq, Afghanistan and a worldwide war on terrorism, including efforts to end uprisings in the Philippines.
"Our heroes fought together in the greatest war in history. That's why we are free today and have a strong, modern, confident relationship with the United States," Arroyo said, adding that, "Filipino-Americans provide the bond that seals that relationship, and I'm confident that friendship will endure forever."
In his speech, Inouye pledged to continue efforts to fully recognize Filipinos who fought in and alongside the U.S. military during World War II.
"They fought, suffered and in many cases died shoulder to shoulder, and we will continue our fight to to have them recognized for their service," Inouye said.
"When you work together, miracles do happen."
Arroyo's remarks were cheered heartily by several hundred World War II vets, who waited for up to three hours under sunny, then threatening skies to hear her speak and unveil the memorial.
"It's a tremendous feeling to know that both countries are still working together," said Rosindo Tejada, who grew up in Hawai'i and served in the First Filipino American Battalion in World War II. "The plaque is just something extra.
"Right now, I'm just proud to be Filipino."