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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 25, 2009

Philippine governor a big draw at Waipahu dinner

Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Gov. Michael Marcos Keon, of the Philippine province of Ilocos Norte, exchanged a fist bump with Miss Teen United Laoaguenia Florelei Baris after she gave him a lei.

NORMAN SHAPIRO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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WAIPAHU A sold-out audience of 420 people greeted Gov. Michael Marcos Keon of the Philippine province of Ilocos Norte at a dinner last night at the Filipino Community Center, delighted to connect with the area where many Filipinos in Hawai'i have family roots.

"They want to reach out to the people of the Philippines," Keon said. "They're starved for this. This gives them an opportunity to touch base."

The dinner and reception was the second public appearance for Keon since arriving here last weekend. This is the first trip he's made to the Islands since being elected governor in 2007.

Keon said he wanted to use last night's event to familiarize himself with the Filipino community in Hawai'i and to talk about their ancestral province.

Health care is one of Keon's major concerns. One of last night's attendees was Dr. Danilo Ablan, president of the Honolulu-based medical mission group Sirmata Vision.

Sirmata Vision has been sending medical equipment to the Philippines for the last five years. "I don't expect to get anything from this," Ablan said of the reception with Keon "I expect to give."

According to the Census, there are an estimated 240,000 people of Filipino ancestry in Hawai'i, and between 150,000 and 175,000 of them hail from Ilocos Norte.

Last night's event was organized by the Ilocos Nortenians of America. Singers and dancers entertained, and co-emcee Edith Pascua told the audience, "You may have thought the governor reminds you of a certain Hollywood actor."

"Robert DeNiro!" a man blurted out, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Keon gave a speech making a point first in English, then repeating it in Ilocano. The governor told the audience of the new convention center in Ilocos Norte, and of $50 million received in the form of a European Commission Grant for health care programs. He also spoke of developments in agriculture, education and tourism programs.

On Sunday, Keon was greeted by an estimated 2,000 people during his first appearance at Blaisdell Park. The governor has scheduled another public appearance Monday evening at the Philippine Consulate General in Nu'uanu.