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County officials take enlightening trip to the Philippines

By Staff | Mar 22, 2012

Maui County officials celebrate the official signing of the Sister City Agreement Memorandum with Badoc, Ilocos Norte.

WAILUKU – In early February, County Council Chair Danny Mateo, Council Members Don Couch and Gladys Baisa, Managing Director Keith Regan, Assistant Chief of Staff Kit Zulueta and I had the esteemed pleasure of visiting the Philippines for the official signing of our Sister City Agreement Memorandum with Mayor Arlene Torralba of Badoc, Ilocos Norte.

It was a whirlwind trip that accomplished much in a very short time, but more importantly was an invaluable opportunity to gain a deeper understanding and connection to the culture, beliefs and traditions of our Filipino community.

Visiting Badoc, Ilocos Norte was a remarkable experience. We were humbled to be met with such a warm welcome and feeling of aloha so far away from home. Even after the signing, Mayor Torralba and her husband, Vice Mayor Thomas Torralba, were both kind enough to take us on a personal guided tour of Badoc.

The Filipino people carry a strong sense of pride for their heritage and have deep gratitude for their forefathers and mothers that have paved the way for today’s generation. This was clearly conveyed and apparent in all that they do and everywhere they went. They are a hardworking people that do not take for granted having a job, no matter how important or small the job may seem to others. Everyone there seemed truly happy to be of service and to have a job.

On the first day of our trip oversees, we stayed in Manila, where we took a tour of one of Manila’s best museums, the Ayala Museum. We learned about the history of the Philippines and their early relationship with the United States and with other countries, all of which allowed us to even better appreciate the Filipino culture.

Seeing this great pride for culture and history, and having the opportunity to learn about it on my visit, caused me to reflect deeply on how much our county is lacking in the department of cultural education for our visitors. The Hawaiian people have an equally strong respect and love for their own heritage, and I feel that it our responsibility as leaders to help perpetuate this culture in its homeland, so that visitors can understand that they are not just visiting a beautiful island when they come – they are visiting the home of the Hawaiian people. I would love to see a collaboration between the visitor industry and community organizations to establish and promote a prominent and distinguished Hawaiian cultural/educational center that truly represents the heritage of Maui County.

We met with Mary Grace Tirona, the undersecretary for the Commission on Filipinos Overseas, who educated us about current issues in the Philippines and the relationship status between the Philippines and Maui. We visited Makati and its mayor, Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr., who explained to us the differences in their government structure to ours and the challenges that he is facing today. We stopped by Makati’s Council Chambers and met with various councilors. It was very interesting to observe another country in their political arena and to compare it to ourselves here at home.

After Makati, we made our way to meet with Mayor Herbert Baustista, Vice Mayor Josephine Belmonte and Council Members of Quezon City and Mayor Alfredo Valdez of San Nicolas. Both Quezon City and San Nicolas are Sister Cities of Maui County.

To me, the most significant aspect of our travels and many stops along the way was that we were provided the chance to compare the workings of their government with our own here in Maui. The people have great respect for government officials and hold their leaders in the highest regard. These sentiments were relayed to us throughout our journey across the country. It was an invaluable opportunity to be able to experience the functions and operations of a government from a different country, which introduced me to new ideas that could be implemented here in Maui County. I was fascinated to see that they recycle their plastic and Styrofoam waste into school desks and reusable shopping bags, and I would love to utilize similar recycling plans here in Maui County.

The next day, we were joined by Mayor Ediboy Cobangbang as we visited Port Salomague in Cabugao, Ilocos Sur. It was very interesting to learn that Port Salomague is the exact place where the first 11 Filipino immigrants left for Hawaii in 1906. At the end of our trip, we visited with Mayor Mauricio Domogan and city officials of Baguio City, where official dialogue has been exchanged to possibly become Sister Cities sometime in the near future.

I was impressed that such a high percentage of elected officials were women and how young some of the top leaders are. It was quite refreshing to see young, energetic, innovative and forward-thinking individuals of today’s generation to be in these important leadership positions.

The most captivating aspect of the Filipino government was their Youth Council. As a part of the Sanguhiang Bakataan kids youth program, one youth between the ages of 15-21 years old is elected to represent the youth of 142 barangays (districts) and participates as a voting member of the council. I feel this is a great way to encourage the involvement of the younger generations with the government process, and that this is something we should work to incorporate within our own county government.

I think it could certainly help improve voter registration and voter turnout for the younger voting demographic, if the youth felt that their voices and needs were being represented. I honestly believe that the lack of participation by the youth in Maui County is actually a deflated sense of representation for things that matter to them at the council level. I really found a deep appreciation for the fact that the Filipino government makes a concerted effort to reach out to their youth to ensure everyone’s voices are heard. I would love to see something like this here in Maui County.