CONSUL GENERAL’S CORNER
Emil T. Fernandez
Filipinos in Hawai‘i Lead Participants in 2023 VIP Tour
After a three-year hiatus, the Very Important Pinoy (VIP) Tour resumed this year with a packed itinerary from July 17 to 23 with stops in Manila, Iloilo and Boracay. The largest contingent hailed from the State of Hawai‘i, led by Consul General Emil Fernandez, with 120 of the 292-strong U.S.-wide delegation coming from the Aloha State.
Officials of other Philippine Consulates in the U.S. who took part in the tour included Consul General Neil Ferrer and Consul Vanessa Bago-Llona of San Francisco, Consul General Senen Mangalile of New York, Deputy Consul General Alnee Gamble of Los Angeles, and Honorary Consul Audie de Castro of San Diego.
Hawai‘i’s commendable turnout can be traced to the Consulate’s aggressive promotion efforts and tremendous support extended by several local travel agencies including Maui-based Noble Travel, Four Seasons Travel, Aloha Tours and Travel, Everlasting Travel, JTB USA as well as the Honolulu office of Philippine Airlines, capably headed by its Area Manager Sol Solleza.
The tour began on July 17 with the traditional wreath-laying ceremony at the monument of our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. Present during the activity, which included a 21-gun salute by the Philippine military, were Manila City Vice Mayor John Marvin “Yul Servo” Nieto and Captain Teodoro Bolonio of the Philippine Navy. Lunch followed at the historic Manila Hotel courtesy of Philippine Airlines.
The highlight of the tour’s first day was a call on President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. at Malacañang Palace. The President warmly welcomed the group, expressing gratitude to them for visiting the country. In his remarks, he acknowledged the significant contributions of overseas Filipinos to the Philippine economy and society. He also emphasized the revival of tourism and its significance to the country’s further development.
The day concluded with a dinner graciously hosted by the Tourism Promotions Board, led by its Chief Operating Officer, Maria Margarita Montemayor Nograles, and Deputy Chief Operating Officer, Charles Aames Bautista, at the Manila Peninsula Hotel in Makati.
From Manila, the group proceeded to the progressive city of Iloilo, where they were fêted to a sumptuous dinner by Mayor Jerry Treñas at the city’s Convention Center. The buffet featured delectable Ilonggo and international dishes and a lively Dinagyang dance performed by 2023 Aliwan Fiesta street dance competition champion Tribu Parianon. Vice Mayor Jeffrey Ganzon and City Council members were also present at the event.
In Iloilo, delegates had the opportunity to visit several beautiful churches, including the Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva in Miagao, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Other destinations included the Museum of Philippine Maritime History, Nelly Garden, Jolo Cathedral, Molo House and Balai Ilonggo. Participants were then provided the option to choose from several activities on their second day, including a culinary tour, adventure tour at Damires Hills or Isla de Gigantes day tour.
The group trooped to Boracay, Aklan by bus enabling them to have a view of the countryside and a lunch break at Roxas City, Capiz, where they filled themselves with fresh seafood, including oysters, crabs and shrimps.
Later that evening, Vice Governor Reynaldo Quimpo personally welcomed the participants at Seawind Restaurant in Boracay on behalf of Aklan Governor Jose Enrique Miraflores. The Vice Governor was joined by his lovely wife, Mrs. Gabrielle Calizo-Quimpo, who was a former Vice Governor and member of the House of Representatives.
Evident was how the beaches of Boracay were cleaned and how the town progressed through the years to include significantly more hotels and commercial establishments. Apart from enjoying several water activities, participants had the choice of experiencing the kawa hot bath in Tibiao Antique, go river tubing at the Blue Lagoon & Cold Springs, or trek Ibajay to reach Nawidwid Falls and Mount Balinsasayaw.
One week in the Philippines is certainly not enough but no matter how short, this year’s VIP Tour provided many with a welcome respite from life in the U.S. and a chance to learn of developments firsthand and be reacquainted with sights and tastes of our beloved islands.
Emil T. Fernandez is the current Consul General of the Philippines stationed in Honolulu. He graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Management Economics. Prior to his appointment to Hawai‘i, Fernandez served as Deputy Consul General in Frankfurt, Germany. His other foreign assignments included Washington, D.C. (2010–2016), Santiago, Chile (2005–2008) and Caracas, Venezuela (2002–2005). In Manila, Fernandez held several important positions, including Executive Director of the Office of Asian & Pacific Affairs (2016–2018), Director for Southern Europe of the Office of European Affairs (2009–2010), Special Assistant to the Undersecretary for International Economic Relations (2008–2009) and Acting Director of the Office of ASEAN Affairs (1999–2001).