Uncle Bob goes to the Philippines

By Bob Santos
For the Northwest Asian Weekly

President Benigno Aquino III (left) and Bob Santos

The letter was dated Nov. 12, 2012 and said, “It is with great personal pleasure that I officially convey to you that you have been selected as one of the recipients of the Banaag Award of the 2012 Presidential Award for Outstanding Individuals and Organizations Overseas. This distinct honor being conferred upon you by the President of the Republic of the Philippines is a fitting recognition of your numerous accomplishments, your selfless dedication to the public and community service, as well as efforts to raise the status of Filipino Americans in U.S. mainstream society.” The letter was signed by Marciano Paynor, Consul General of the Philippines based in San Francisco, Calif.

I was going to be traveling to the Philippines for the first time ever.

The Presidential Awards for Filipino Individuals and Organizations Overseas are held every two years and are sponsored by the Commission on Oversees Filipinos in the office of the President of the Philippines. There are over 8.5 million Filipinos who work in 214 countries around the globe, and it is from this number that the recipients of the Presidential awards are selected.

The Awards are presented at Malacanan Palace by President Benigno Aquino.

This year, 25 individuals and four communities received awards, including the Filipino Community of Seattle, for their service to the community’s elderly and youth. Among the 25 individuals were doctors, some of whom were non-Filipino, but had practiced exclusively in the Filipino communities in their countries.

I was surprised to learn that 1.9 million Filipinos work in the oil fields of Saudi Arabia as engineers, medical professionals, accountants, and domestics.

Other individual awardees were Erik Spoelstra, head coach of the Miami Heat (he was unable to attend) and Allan Pineda, who is also known as apl.de.ap, of the popular hip hop group Black Eyed Peas.

Apl received an award for his philanthropy work. His foundation has built 30 schools with hundreds more planned in the poorer regions of the Philippines.

I was nominated for the award by Elaine Ko and Eileen Aparis. Eileen — who was schooled in Seattle, went out of Washington for college, and was selected as an Urban Fellow for the National Urban Fellows program out of New York — decided to see the world after graduation and ended up in the Philippines. There, she used her education, energy, and selflessness to help the country grow to be players at the table with the other fast growing economies of the region.

Eileen and her Filipino American friends were my hosts and guides through the night club scene. We would meet up with apl.de.ap and his entourage several nights and stay out until the early hours. One memorable night was a surprise birthday party for apl hosted at a private club by Eileen’s boss.

One other highlight of my trip was a tour of the Bayani Wall of Martyrs in Quezon City. The wall and museum are dedicated to Filipinos who were killed or lost during the Marcos dictatorship. Included on the wall are Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes, the only U.S. born Filipinos enshrined on the wall.

Domingo and Viernes were local community activists who supported our goals to preserve and develop Seattle’s International District, so people who immigrated to the United States had a strong community to join and live with. They also led the struggle to reform the Local 37 cannery workers union. They died in their efforts to raise awareness of deplorable human rights conditions in the Philippines under the Marcos dictatorship.

I will remember my trip for the wonderful reception and hospitality I received from everyone, the beautiful people I met, and, of course, the award from President Aquino. (end)

Bob Santos can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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