Remarks of Consul General Henry S. Bensurto Jr. IkatlongUlatsaPamayanan

Kalayaan Hall, 22 February 2019

“Spark*Connect*Empower*: 2018 in Review”

  1. Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen.

 

  1. On behalf of my wife Mariza, my son Matthew, the officers and staff of the Philippine Consulate General, including our colleagues from the attached agencies – the Department of Tourism, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Philippine National Police, the Social Security System, and the Philippine Center Management Board, allow me to greet all of you a Happy New Year!

 

  1. Thank you for coming to tonight’s event. Now on its third year, the Consul General’s UlatsaPamayanan is an annual tradition for us to welcome the new year in the company of our beloved community, as we take stock of and celebrate what we have accomplished over the past year, and look with optimism and excitement towards the year ahead.

 

  1. 2018 was a momentous year for both the Consulate and our Community as we have achieved much together, in the spirit of partnership and cooperation. You, our community, play a shared and pivotal role in our goal of nation-building.  This is because the Filipino diaspora is deeply embedded in our national consciousness and plays a significant role in our country’s development.  Conscious of the vast potential of our diaspora, we at the Consulate anchor all our undertakings in the Spark*Connect*Empower movement.

 

  1. We have recognized the need to reach out to the Filipino-American community, across all generations. We accomplished this through programs that spark interest and pride in our roots and the motherland. We know that so much can be gained if there exists a platform through which we are able to build networks and partnerships among individuals and communities, whether here in the Bay Area or back home in the Philippines.  As such, we sought to pursue activities that connect Filipinos and Filipino-Americans with each other, with their community, with their country, and with their heritage.  Our aspiration is to bolster an empowered community that elevates the profile and influence of the Filipino and Filipino-American community in the U.S.; a Filipino American community that, in turn, empowers Kababayans back home.

 

  1. Last year, this vision became a reality as we formally launched the Spark*Connect*Empower movement in the presence of His Excellency Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez. It was a grand occasion for everyone in the community to be part of the birth of a movement that we hope to be the cornerstone of a more empowered diaspora.

 

  1. Through the signing of partnership agreements with various organizations, agencies, companies, and individuals both from the United States and in the Philippines, we have developed a network of partners who will implement and push the movement forward. With these partnerships, the SCE movement is becoming part of the public consciousness and we hope to further expand such partnerships in the year ahead.  To date, we have a total of 58 partners, with more organizations signifying their interest to sign in 2019.

 

  1. Perhaps the most tangible demonstration of our community partnership is through the website, com, which serves as a powerful information platform for both the Consulate and the Community to promote activities in line with the ideals of the SCE. We encourage everyone in the Community to utilize the website as it is a tool towards achieving a more connected and empowered diaspora.

 

POLITICAL ADVOCACIES

  1. In 2018, the Consulate organized a number of events and engaged with the government, non-governmental organizations, the academe, and Filipino community organizations, to advance Philippine national interests.

 

  1. The Consulate partnered with the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Homeland Security to host a day-long seminar and engagement event for the Bay Area consular corps on 18 April 2018, Wednesday, at the Kalayaan Hall. The event sought to familiarize the consular corps on the various functions and activities of U.S. federal agencies and offices, and to provide consulates an opportunity to network directly with the U.S. officers and personnel involved in immigration and assistance-to-nationals matters. Seventy (70) U.S. Government officials and members of the consular corps, including several Consuls General, participated in the event.

 

  1. We also held an Interactive Dialogue with the San Francisco Police Department to ensure that our kababayans are made aware of the services they may avail of from the police.This was attended by members of the community and our other partners.

 

  1. In cooperation with the International Organization for Migration and Filipino Community groups, we facilitated a Workshop on Engaging Diasporas last August, focusing on how the Filipino diaspora can assist in disaster preparedness in the Philippines.

 

  1. We also celebrated eighteen years of partnership with the Filipino-American Law Enforcement Officers Association (FALEO), which spans a variety of joint activities with Philippine law enforcement agencies. This includes, but is not limited to: skills training, sharing of best practices and knowledge in policing, providing supplies and other donations, and engaging Filipino communities at the grassroots level.

 

  1. We are also proud to recognize FALEO, which received the 2018 Presidential Awards for Filipino Individuals and Organizations Overseas last December. FALEO received the LINKAPIL Award, conferred on Filipino individuals and organizations for exceptional and significant contributions to the reconstruction, progress and development of the Philippines.

 

  1. To raise awareness among Filipinos overseas that they can contribute directly and partner with the Philippine National Police (PNP) in all law enforcement, security and safety-related concerns involving their families and relatives back in the Philippines, the PNP launched its Global Police Community Relations program dubbed as “Pulis Global PCR” at the Kalayaan Hall last September.

 

  1. The Philippines continues to be at the forefront in the fight against climate change.Secretary Emmanuel M. De Guzman, Vice Chair of the Climate Change Commission (CCC), visited San Francisco to attend a three-day Global Climate Action Summit from 12 to 15 September 2018. The Philippines renewed its commitment, alongside other countries, to pursue the agreements reached during the COP 21 summit in Paris in 2015. During his visit, Secretary De Guzman, on behalf of the CCC, signed the SCE partnership agreement with the Consulate.

 

  1. Among the consular corps, my wife Mariza and I have done our best to represent the Philippines.Since 2017, I have served as Dean of the San Francisco Consular Corps, an organization comprising 78 Consulates, representing one of the largest diplomatic communities in the U.S. The SFCC gathers monthly to discuss topics of interest for the Consular Corps.

 

  1. I am also proud to report that Mariza was re-elected as President of the League of San Francisco Consular Corps, or LSFCC, on 08 June 2018. LSFCC is a non-profit, apolitical, non-partisan organization founded in 1989 composed of spouses and partners of members of the San Francisco Consular Corps, as well as retired diplomats. A number of activities were held by the LSFCC, including a call on SF District Attorney George Gascon, a talk by Pakistani educator and philanthropist Dr. Shahida Jaffrey, and visits to Angel Island and Año Nuevo State Park.

 

  1. In addition, an exhibit on World War II memorabilia was on display at the Consulate’s 6th floor lobby. Army uniforms, medals, photos, books and clippings all pertaining to the war were exhibited for one week. The items were part of the collection of Mr. Edgar de Leon, a member of the Bataan Legacy Project and a relative of a Filipino soldier who served during the war.

 

  1. In preparation for the 2019 Philippine Midterm Elections, we intensified the registration of overseas Filipinos in our jurisdiction. We have also made it easier to register as overseas voters by integrating the process with our consular processing workflow. We are pleased to announce thatthe Consulate has registered 18,705 new overseas voters, bringing a total of 59,162 registered voters for the 2019 Philippine Midterm Elections.  We hope that all registered voters will be able to exercise their right of suffrage and vote during the elections.

 

TRADE, INVESTMENT, AND TOURISM PROMOTION

  1. In the area of economic development, the Philippines has much to be thankful for. The country grew at 6.2%, and remains one of the fastest growing economies in Asia.

 

  1. Here in the United States, we do our part in the national endeavor to pursuesustainable economic development, poverty alleviation,and a more prosperous life for all Filipinos.This is accomplished through trade, investment, and tourism promotion activities hand-in-hand with the Department of Trade and Industry, headed by Commissioner CelynneLayug, and the Department of Tourism, headed byour newly arrived Director Soleil Tropicales, under the One Country Team Approach.

 

  1. In 2018, we launched Spark 447, which serves as the economic component of the SCE movement. It is envisioned to be a shared working space at the Philippine Center, which start-ups can use as a hub for developing their platforms and for them to interact with each other, akin to what we call a “tambayan.” The website, spark447.com, is now live.

 

  1. The Philippine startup ecosystem is a promising industry as more and more Filipinos, in particular Millennials, opt to start their own companies rather than work in existing corporate establishments. Given these developments, we embarked on activities that promote the Philippines as a potential player in the global startup community.

 

  1. We have launched a series of activities called “Start Up, Meet Up” which aims to provide an opportunity for start-ups in the Philippines to learn from the best practices of successful start-ups in Silicon Valley and to serve as a platform to network and connect with each other.

 

  1. A “StartUpMeetUp” was held last 09 May 2018 and featured Philippine startup companies participating in the StartUp World Cup Finals, namely Ayannah, Beam and Go, Qwikwire, Techshake, Zennya, and STORM Technologies. George Fuerlinger of Austria’s Go Silicon Valley provided practical advice on how to capture the fast-hcanging landscape of technology and innovation in Silicon Valley.

 

  1. Another “StartUpMeetUp” was held on 10 September 2018, entitled “Fostering Innovation and Collaborative Culture in Companies and Organizations.” The event was attended by Filipino-American startup groups, businessmen, students, members of the Filipino community in the Bay Area, and a delegation from the Philippines called “ENGAGE” consisting of representatives from a broad range of companies in the start-up and innovation sectors. The event generated lively discussions on the importance of innovation and collaboration to ensure that companies are able to thrive in today’s fast-changing business environment.

 

  1. We have also launched Spark Chats, which is a forum to discuss emerging trends and opportunities in business through a series of fireside chats that generate open discussions from participants.

 

  1. A “Spark Chats” event entitled “Ecosystem Connect” was held simultaneously in Manila on 14 November and San Francisco on 13 November 2018, in coordination with the U.S. Embassy in Manila, in celebration of Global Entrepreneurship Week. The event gathered experts in the startup industry in both countries to discuss emerging global trends and opportunities for Filipino start-ups. Two panels were set-up: one at the Philippine Center in San Francisco, and the other at the American Spaces facility in the U.S. Embassy in Manila. The event generated lively discussions on the issues and concerns facing the start-ups industry, particularly in emerging markets such as the Philippines.

 

  1. In coordination with the Science and Technology Advisory Council – Silicon Valley (STAC-SV), the Consulate organized a Spark Chats event featuring Ms. Carolina V. Dominguez, President and CEO of John Clements Consultants. The talk aimed to present employment opportunities for Filipino-Americans in the Bay Area who are thinking of pursuing careers in the Philippines, using Ms. Dominguez’s own personal story and experience in the human resource industry.

 

  1. Last May, we hosted a Roundtable Business Dinner with Ambassador Romualdez, DTI Undersecretary CeferinoRodolfo, other officials from the Philippines, and 20 C-level executives and representatives from IT, technology, health and life sciences sectors, among others. City governments of Daly City and Santa Clara were also represented at the meeting along with key business organizations like Bay Area Council and California business chambers.

 

  1. In coordination with the U.S. Embassy in Manila, we hosted a Cybersecurity Reverse Trade Mission, with officials from DICT and other agencies who held business meetings with various companies in Silicon Valley to learn about their best practices in cybersecurity and dealing with cyber attacks.

 

  1. To promote Philippine cuisine and food products, we facilitated the participation of 17 Filipino food companies at the 2018 Winter Fancy Food Show, the largest trade show for food products in the West Coast, in coordination with DTI’s Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM). These companies showcased Philippine premium quality specialty food products such as pili nut, guyabano-based product, canned tuna, virgin coconut oil, coco sugar and other coconut-based products, dried tropical fruits, fruit preserves, ice cream, snacks, canned/processed meats, condiments. According to CITEM’s initial report, the Philippine exhibitors generated a total of booked and negotiated sales amounting to US$52 million, with the century tuna, dried fruits and tapioca flour as best sellers. Preliminary report estimated that there were 336 buyers who visited the different companies in the pavilion.

 

  1. Our Consulate, represented by Trade Commissioner Layug, attended the “Discover Global Markets: Indo-Pacific Opportunities” event last December 10-12 in Salt Lake City, Utah. This event was organized by the US Department of Commerce and Utah District Export Council, and presented opportunities in the aerospace market in the Indo-Pacific region. It gathered the global leaders across the aerospace, defense, and security sectors.  We participated in the workshop sessions and business meetings for opportunities to pitch to Utah companies about the Philippines and networking opportunities to connect with Utah business chambers that could be potential strategic partners in implementing joint events that would complement the Philippines and Utah’s economic initiatives.

 

  1. Silicon Valley is the world’s innovation hub and the origin of most “disruptive” technologies predicted to upend the status quo of current industries. It is critical for the Philippines to not fall behind in terms of innovation, technology adoption, and skills development especially among the students who will become the country’s future workforce and startup entrepreneurs. As such, we acknowledge the efforts of organizations such asPhilDev, STAC, Panalo Solutions, FASTER, and Manila Valley, among others, for their efforts and partnership in invigorating the Filipino-American IT community in the Bay Area and the emerging startup ecosystem in the Philippines.

 

  1. We continue to encourage tourists to “Experience the Philippines” through road shows, product launches, and participation in travel conferences. One of our premier events is the Ambassadors’ Tour, which has been re-branded in 2019 as the “Very Important Pinoy” Tour.

 

  1. The 12thAmbassadors’ Tour in 2018 was a resounding success, with the Consulate facilitating the participation of 50 people in the tour. We thank the Philippine Airlines, Pacific Air Leisure and Rajah Tours for helping us ensure that the San Francisco delegation was taken care of. A pre-departure orientation seminar was held prior to the Tour, and travel kits were prepared for each member of the delegation.  The 2018 Tour brought the participants to Manila, Cebu and Bohol, and many of them expressed their intention to join the Tour again.

 

  1. For 2019, the Ambassadors’ Tour has been re-named as the “Very Important Pinoy” Tour to showcase the Philippines in its branding. This year, we have an exciting itinerary planned out, with the participants scheduled to go to Manila, Bataan, Clark, and El Nido. Our Consulate has been given the privilege of spearheading preparations for the VIP Tour.  We launched the Tour last November, earlier than usual, to encourage interested participants to plan ahead and consider joining the Tour.  We hope that you will come and join us in experiencing our country’s natural beauty and unparalleled hospitality.

 

  1. We are making an innovation for this year’s Tour as we will have an add-on Tour called “Filgrimage,” marketed primarily for millennials. Filgrimage was the brainchild of Mr. Tony Olaes, founder of The Filipino School in San Diego, and aims to introduce and connect Filipino-Americans with their Filipino roots and empower them to contribute through social tourism. Our Consulate has included “Filgrimage” as an official activity, to follow the VIP Tour, as its objectives are in line with the SCE movement.  Through its focus on social tourism, in partnership with Gawad Kalinga, young Fil-Ams are able to help build houses for the underprivileged.  This year’s Filgrimage will have participants go to historical sites in Intramuros and Corregidor, and have them build houses at a Gawad Kalinga community in Cavite.  We hope you can encourage young Filipino-Americans to join us for Filgrimage.

 

  1. Last August, we hosted a talk by Thomas Graham on Social Tourism in the Philippines, to highlight opportunities for tourism that focus on making transformational changes in both the tourists and the communities that they visit in the country. Graham is a journalist and social entrepreneur who founded Make a Difference (MAD) Travel, which promotes social tourism in the Philippines.

 

  1. I am pleased to report that in 2018, the Philippines welcomed a record 7.1 million tourists, of which 1 million were from the United States. The country was also named as one of the 15 travel and tourism powerhouses by the World Travel and Tourism Council’s “Power and Performance Report” released last September. Aside from the Philippines now being regarded as a premiere travel destination, tourism boosts the livelihood of millions of ordinary Filipinos living and working in areas dependent on tourism.

 

ADMINISTRATIVE, CONSULAR, AND ASSISTANCE-TO-NATIONALS

  1. The Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco is the home of the Filipinos in the Bay Area and beyond. Just like in the Philippines, we always strive to ensure that our home is in order and that everyone who enters feels comfortable and safe. In this regard, we continuously improve not only our processes and procedures but also our facilities and physical space. With these improvements, we wish to spark a sense of pride in all those who visit the Consulate and instill a sense of love of country through their home in the Bay Area.

 

  1. Since the two buildings’ acquisition, their elevators have yet to be upgraded or modernized. Though still in working condition, it has been imperative for these facilities to be modernized to ensure the safety of the Consulate General’s personnel and of course, the transacting public. Construction work has been ongoing since the start of this year and is expected to be finished in the first quarter of 2020. At the end of the project, we will have “smart” elevators of the highest technology, befitting the stature of the Consulate.

 

  1. To further streamline the processing of consular applications especially in the queuing of applicants, we have set-up an electronic ticketing kiosk, which uses infrared printing. The ticketing kiosk, which provides applicants with their number for the queue, also provides information on which waiting area to proceed to and information on where the consular section is. Further, the technology is also equipped with a bar code reader, which allows clients who have appointments for passport and dual citizenship applications.

 

  1. On 03 September 2018, our Consulate implemented its electronic appointment system for its dual citizenship applicants and oath-taking of qualified applicants was done once-a-week. We have adopted an online appointment system in response to the need for dual citizenship applicants to understand the value and importance of reacquisition of Philippine citizenship, not so much as a legal right, but as an identity the applicants will be willing and proud to accept and embrace, as part of the SCE movement. We introduced this new system to the public through a media blitz, including my guesting atBalitang America to discuss the new system and procedure. As a result, the processing of dual citizenship applications has been streamlined and efficient, making the procedure comfortable for the public. Oath taking during the once-a-week ceremony and held in a solemn and dignified manner, complete with a talk by our partner agencies in the beginning (DTI, DOT, PNP and SSS) and remarks by the solemnizing officer in the Kalayaan Hall, has lent more meaning to one’s reacquisition of Filipino citizenship.

 

  1. To ensure that our transacting public is able to wait comfortably, we installed ergonomically designed chairs for the second and sixth floor waiting areas.

 

  1. After a successful renovation and modernization of the facilities for the transacting public in the past few years (Kalayaan Hall, consular transacting and waiting areas), we have endeavored in 2018 to facilitate the upgrading of the Consulate’s facilities for its internal clients — its own personnel.

 

  1. Since the carpets of the Consulate floors were in dire need of replacement, our Consulate, in coordination with the Philippine Center Management Board (PCMB), was able to recarpet the entire second and sixth floors of the building adding professionalism, dignity and character to the interiors of the building.

 

  1. In line with this and also in coordination with the PCMB, we further upgraded our facilities for our personnel and the transacting public through the wood panel flooring installation of all of the Consulate’s executive offices, as well as the personnel’s lounge, PCMB office, and the Social Hall.

 

  1. Aside from furnishing the Carlos P. Romulo Hall with historic photos of Secretary Carlos P. Romulo secured by the Consulate, we have endeavored to ensure that the space is even more presentable and dignified. The addition of the faux fire place in 2018 has truly upgraded the look, feel and functionality of the hall. We have since held a number of events and meetings at Romulo Hall, especially for small group gatherings.

 

  1. Did you know that the Philippine Consulate General, including its attached agencies, is comprised of a lean team of forty-five (45) people? Our jurisdiction spans ten (10) states, all the way to Alaska in the north and Colorado to the east, with over one million Filipinos under our care. Mindful of the cost and inconvenience of travel, we strived to make it easier for Filipinos and Filipino Americans to access our consular services through the consular outreach program.

 

  1. In 2018, we conductedfourteen (14) consular outreach missions and delivered 4,789services to multiple cities and states. This means thatfourteen(14) weekends of the fifty-two (52) weekends in a year were spent on the road, working, so that we can meet the consular needs of our Kababayansin our jurisdiction. This also means that we have less weekends and holidays than most government employees, but we do this gladly in the name of public service.  Furthermore, we were able to do this despite having a limited budget for consular outreach.

 

  1. We thank our outreach partners in Anchorage, Boise, Fresno, Juneau, Lovell, Milpitas, Portland, Sacramento, Salinas, Seattle, Snohomish, Stockton, Tacoma and Tukwila for providing the Communities a way to avail themselves of consular services without needing to travel all the way to San Francisco. These organizations volunteer their time and efforts without payment to serve their respective Filipino communities, and that, for us, is a true demonstration of Bayanihan

 

  1. We are pleased to report that we have continued our partnership with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) California Chapter in providing free legal consultations every first Friday of the month to the Filipino-American community in the Bay Area as part of its advocacy to give back to the Community.

 

COMMUNITY & CULTURAL

 

  1. San Francisco is mostly known as the cultural, financial and commercial capital of Northern California. With the unique characteristics of San Francisco, the rest of the Bay Area, and the other states under the jurisdiction of the Consulate General, we deem it necessary to prioritize the effective promotion of Filipino culture and heritage and engaging the Filipino community among its goals.

 

  1. With the SCE as our framework, the Consulate, in cooperation with the Filipino American community, the Consular Corps and US and Philippine government and non-government institutions, implemented and participated in close to 170 events in 2018, including Independence Day activities, other cultural activities, training on Philippine culture, lecture and seminars, exhibits, etc.

 

  1. Several events were held in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area in commemoration of the 120th anniversary of Philippine Independence. Independence Day festivities kicked off in Vallejo on 02 June 2018 with the PistasaNayon, a Filipino festival in celebration of Philippine Independence Day organized by the Filipino Cultural Committee of Vallejo. The Filipino Fiesta of Sacramento was also organized by the Filipino American community in Sacramento on 03 June 2018.

 

  1. On 11 June, and 14 June, special ceremonies were hosted by the Mayor of Daly City, Filipino-American Juslyn Manalo, and San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa, respectively, in celebration of Philippine Independence Day. The City of San Jose also commemorated Philippine Independence with a flag raising ceremony on 12 June at the San Jose City Hall. The Consulate also supported and attended a number of Filipino community-led activities related to the Independence Day celebrations.

 

  1. On 12 June, the Consulate hosted a flag raising ceremony and breakfast at the Social Hall of the Philippine Center. The Office of the Mayor of San Francisco also hosted a flag raising ceremony at the City Hall, which was attended by a few Filipino American city officials and community leaders.

 

  1. On 9 June, the Consulate presented a Concert and Gala Reception in commemoration of the 120th Anniversary of the Proclamation of Philippine Independence. The concert and gala reception were held on the same day at the Marines Memorial Theater and the Philippine Center. The program featured a rigodon de honor, a traditional dance performance by members of the Filipino Community to welcome guests to the event. In 2018, Consul Andre C. Estanislao and Balitang America anchor Henni Espinosa led the traditional dance. As in previous years, the Consulate honored members of the Community who, through their work, have lifted the profile of the Filipino-American Community.

 

  1. The concert was opened by the San Francisco Boys Chorus, dubbed by many as “the voice of San Francisco.” Conductor Ian Robertson led 14 boys, including the Consul General’s son, Henry Matthew, to render a few songs for the Community. This year’s concert headliner was Dr. Raul Sunico, whose repertoire included Rachmaninoff, Chopin and Debussy, as well as sentimental favorites by Filipino composers George Canseco and Felipe de Leon.

 

  1. The Gala Reception featured the best of Philippine cuisine as guests were provided with “passports” that allowed them access to the Kalayaan Hall and the 2nd and 6th floors of the Building. Each of the floors had the culinary themes of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, featuring the three major Philippine islands’ distinct cuisines. The Consulate partnered with vendors to showcase Filipino chefs and Filipino food for guests to enjoy. The event culminated in dancing at the Kalayaan Hall.

 

  1. The Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco, working with the KalayaanSF Committee, and in partnership with The Filipino Channel (TFC), commemorated the 120th Anniversary of the Proclamation of Philippine Independence with an outdoor festival on 16 June 2018 at Union Square, San Francisco. The Festival, which first took place in 2011, continues to grow bigger every year. Union Square, which is at the heart of downtown San Francisco, was filled with everything Filipino. Every corner became a performance venue for young Fil-Am singers and dancers. Five food booths afforded festival-goers a taste of Philippine cuisine. Booths displayed an array of wares from Filipino businesses, from Filipino publishers, textiles, shirts, and many more. The Festival, which was attended by over 12,000 people, culminated in an outdoor concert where a fashion show featuring the designs of Anthony Cruz Legarda, the in-house designer of Autism Hearts Foundation, showcased painted piña fabrics by persons with autism.

 

  1. The 2018 Kalayaan Heroes were once again presented to the Community at the Festival. The Heroes were able to meet and greet the Community, where they were asked questions about their civic engagements and activities, and were later presented to the audience at the beginning of TFC Hour. The Heroes have become a mainstay during the KalayaanSF events, with the hope that through their example, FilAms would be inspired and be proud of their Filipino roots, and actively contribute to uplifting the profile of the Filipino Community in the United States.

 

  1. The Consulate kicked off the outdoor concert with the battlecry of “Pinoyako, proud ako!” to inspire the FilAm Community to be proud of their roots and heritage. Last year’s concert was headlined by Jaya and Jay-R, who both grew up in the West Coast and understood the Consulate’s desire to spark, connect and empower the Filipino diaspora. Their energy and performances moved the crowd to dance in Union Square, until the end of the Festival.

 

  1. On 02 February, I addressed the Filipino-American Community at the second annual Report to the Community at the Kalayaan Hall of the Philippine Center. I underscored that “the community, is the Consulate’s partner in nation-building.” I also emphasized then as I will emphasize now that “the community’s successes are our collective triumphs, and the people’s challenges are also collectively ours to bear and overcome.”

 

  1. In an unprecedented event, young diplomats from the United States, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Peru, Spain, the United Kingdom, and other countries attended “Philippines: After Hours,” a social networking event hosted by the Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco, in collaboration with Protocol Professionals Inc. and the Young Diplomats Club (YDC), at the Kalayaan Hall of the Philippine Center on 15 March 2018. It was the first time that the Philippines hosted an event for the YDC, a private organization, which serves as a networking social group for young diplomats, through quarterly events that are held in various and unique Bay Area settings.

 

  1. Filipino-American History Month kicked off at SF Asian Art Museum in October with the Hinabi Project. I led the Filipino-American community in San Francisco in opening the celebration of the Filipino-American History Month, held yearly every October, which featured the 2018 iteration of The Hinabi Project (THP), at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. The year 2018’s The Hinabi Project dubbed, “Mountain Spirits: Textiles and Folk Arts of Cordilleras and Ilokos,” featured textiles and folk arts of said regions and was led by the Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc. The Mills Building on Montgomery Street in San Francisco ran the exhibit of indigenous Philippine textiles from the regions from 17 September until 7 December 2018.

 

  1. During the event, Ms. Carmen Colet, president of the Manila-San Francisco Sister City Committee, and Commissioner at the Asian Art Museum Commission and Foundation, handed over a donation for the Filipino Fund for Acquisitions to Ms. Deborah Clearwaters, Director of Education and Interpretation of the Asian Art Museum.

 

  1. The Consulate continued to support various activities in celebration of Filipino-American History Month in October, including the 13th Anniversary of Filipino American Celebration at San Francisco City Hall on 19 October 2018.San Francisco Mayor London N. Breed presented a Special Proclamation to the Consul General, as the Philippines’ top government representative in San Francisco, at the San Francisco City Hall proclaiming October 2018 as Filipino American History Month in the city and county of San Francisco. The Proclamation also honored posthumously Dr. Dawn BohulanoMabalon, a Filipino community historian, social activist and San Francisco State University professor, who co-founded Stockton’s Little Manila Foundation. She penned the award-winning book Little Manila is in the Heart: The Making of the Filipina/o American Community in Stockton, California.

 

  1. Aside from Dr. Mabalon, the Proclamation also honored the West Bay Pilipino Multi-Service Center on its 50th Anniversary. It is the oldest nonprofit corporation in Northern California that continues to serve the Filipino community. On behalf of the Filipino-American community in San Francisco, I thanked Mayor Breed for the honor and for allowing the celebration of Filipino American History Month at the City Hall.

 

  1. As part of the FilAm History Month, a collaborative painting exhibition by Anthony Palomo and Mike Carrion,was curated for Filipino American History Month 2018and exhibited at the Kalayaan Hall. KABILAAN depicts the Philippine Diaspora: the life, aspirations, and dreams of Filipino immigrants in the U.S., including those still in the motherland, who may be seeking greener pastures in America. KABILAAN was also a thoughtful homage to the forefathers and those who came before, recognizing their great sacrifice to pave the way for those who arrived years later. The times may be different, changes may be in place, but for many kababayans (fellowmen), it is a continuing struggle to find and preserve oneself in today’s world. My Letter to the Editor featuring the Kabilaanexhibit, saw print in the 27 October 2018 edition of San Francisco Chronicle.

 

  1. The annual Pistahan Parade and Festival event was organized by the Filipino American Arts Exposition on 09 August 2018. It started with a parade along Market Street in San Francisco in the morning of 09 August, and ended at Yerba Buena Gardens where the Festival was held.

 

  1. In observance of International Women’s Day, a special flag ceremony was held at the Philippine Center Lobby on Thursday, 08 March 2018. The video wall at the Philippine Center lobby featured the banner on International Women’s Day, as well as photos of past female Kalayaan Heroes, Filipino-American women who have made a difference in the United States, through their numerous and significant contributions towards Philippine development, and whose actions have brought a greater public awareness and appreciation of the contributions of Filipino-Americans to the greater community.

 

  1. The Consul General General honored the women of the Philippine Consulate by giving them a symbolic rose of gratitude. The Consul General underscored the personnel’s passion, dedication and love of country. On 08 March, our frontline personnel donned purple corsages in observance of International Women’s Day, symbolizing support for the promotion of women’s rights and the fight to stop violence against women and girls. This also sought to bring awareness to the transacting public on the occasion being celebrated on that day, and the advocacies related thereto.

 

  1. Family members and friends of Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino came together to commemorate the late Senator’s 31st Death Anniversary in an event on 20 August 2018 at the Kalayaan Hall of the Philippine Center. This event known as “Friends Meeting Friends, Remembering Ninoy Aquino” started with a Eucharistic celebration by Fr. Arnold Zamora, Pastor of the Holy Name of Jesus Parish.

 

  1. The Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco commemorated World Autism Awareness Month by holding a special flag-raising ceremony held at the Philippine Center Lobby on 02 April 2018, and hosting the Autism Hearts Foundation Exhibit, featuring the artwork of young adults within the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

 

  1. On Human Rights Day, 10 December, the Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco joined the global Campaign to End Violence Against Women through an interactive discussion on intimate partner violence with resource persons from the Alliance for Community Empowerment (ALLICE). Consulate personnel wore orange ribbons on their sleeves in solidarity with the UN Women campaign, “Orange the World, End Violence against Women and Girls.” The Consulate invited ALLICE Founder Ms. Cherie Querol Moreno and ALLICE Vice President Ms. Elsa Agasid as resource speakers. Consulate personnel were briefed on the causes and effects of domestic violence. They actively participated in the discussions, which enabled them to know more about the telltale signs of abuse, the patterns and cycles of intimate partner violence, and available resources to attend to victims. The resource speakers emphasized the importance of listening to victims with empathy.

 

  1. The Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco (PCGSF) held the annual Christmas Party for Seniors at the Kalayaan Hall of the Philippine Center on 6 December 2018. Weorganized the celebration in cooperation with the Pilipino Senior Research Center (PSRC), the San Francisco Bay Area Ateneans (SFBAA), and the Philippine Nurses Association in Northern California (PNANC). Some 150 Filipino-American seniors from the Bay Area attended the Christmas party. The event provided the seniors an opportunity to celebrate Christmas with singing, dancing, and parlor games. The seniors also feasted on traditional Filipino Christmas dishes, such as pancitguisado, chicken adobo, bibingka, and ube ice cream. Ateneo alumni, PNANC officers, and some volunteers distributed gifts and bags of goodies to the attendees.

 

  1. The Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco held the annual PaskuhansaKonsulado at the Philippine Center on Sutter Street which featured the lighting of Pampanga Parols (Christmas Lanterns) adorning the façade of the Philippine Center. The Paskuhan mirrored Christmas traditions observed in the Philippines. A simbanggabi (evening Mass) was celebrated by Fr. Arnold Zamora before the program proper, and a brief procession was held in the Consulate’s premises during which the figurine of the baby Jesus was laid in the manger by my family, my wife, Mariza, and my son, Matthew Bensurto, accompanied by Filipino-American community leaders, and representatives from the Philippine Consulate, including its attached agencies.

 

  1. In my Christmas message, I emphasized that the annual Paskuhan was conceived to bring the Philippines closer to the Filipino-American Community and to keep alive Filipino traditions and customs, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area. I thanked the Filipino-American community for celebrating the traditional Paskuhan with the Consulate as well as the City Government of San Fernando, Pampanga for the beautiful parols. In line with the SCE Movement, I encouraged the community to help in building back some of the disaster-affected communities in the Philippines and in the United States, especially after the wildfires in California and earthquake in Alaska. “

 

  1. The merriment was complete with Christmas caroling as three chorale groups sang for and with the community. The St. Catherine Vocal Ensemble led by Mr. Joseph Namoc, the Sincerity Girls Ensemble led by Mr. Henry Torres, and the Bessie Carmichael School children’s choir led by Mr. Peter Sroka, provided yuletide entertainment. Guests also enjoyed the Christmas nochebuena, which featured lechon (roast pig), bibingka (rice cake), and other traditional holiday food, with the support of Filipino American community leaders and organizations.

 

  1. The Consulate participated in several traditional Filipino Christmas celebrations, primarily the simbanggabi (mass at night), led by various Filipino American communities in the Bay Area.

 

  1. The Consulate attended the 11th annual Simbang Gabi Commissioning Mass and Parol (lantern) lighting at St. Mary’s Cathedral on December 5, which ushered in the novena Masses in a number of parishes of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Consulate officers and staff also attended a few simbanggabi, followed by reception and fellowship after the Mass. The Consulate’s choir, the Philippine Center Choir, also rendered Filipino Christmas songs in some Masses including a culminating dawn Mass on 24 December at Flanagan Center in San Francisco.

 

  1. In one of my remarks, I underscored that the Filipino community’s continued leadership in institutionalizing the Simbang Gabi in many parishes brought about a Filipino tradition that has diffused to various communities in San Francisco and the Bay Area. “Through our celebration and other festivities, we show the world a part of ourselves and who we are as a people.”

 

  1. On December 8, the Philippine Consulate participated in the Parol Lantern Festival and Parade in Yerba Buena Lane, Jessie Square and St. Patrick’s Church. Organized by the Bayanihan Community Center and SOMA Pilipinas, the festivities with the theme, “A Gathering of Lights,” featured parol-making contests and workshops, the parade of lights, and a feast of traditional Filipino delicacies. The Consulate’s lighted Bahay-Kubo parol, made of recycled wood, hay, and recycled paper, led the parade of lanterns. It symbolized the Bayanihan spirit that Filipinos wish to foster not only among those in the United States, but the entire Filipino diaspora worldwide. The Bahay-Kubo represented unity in diversity among overseas Filipinos and the Philippine Consulate’s thrust to spark the Filipino spirit among communities, encourage them to connect with one another, empower them to proudly promote Philippine heritage and culture to the world, and contribute to nation-building.

 

CLOSING

  1. As we begin 2019, I am uplifted by the spirit of cooperation I have seen over the past year. The SCE Movement could not have moved forward without the support given by our partners, and you, the Filipino-American Community in the Bay Area. Rest assured that we shall continue supporting you in your activities that help promote our Filipino culture, heritage and values.

 

  1. We hope that you will continue partnering with us in 2019, as we have many great activities planned in line with the SCE movement. We have, in fact, already launched new programs last month, such as “Spark Philippines” which promotes the best of our country’s cuisine and our tourism, and “Spark-BIZ” which puts a spotlight on Filipino companies operating here in the United States. We invite you to join us as we continue to Spark, Connect, and Empower in 2019.

 

  1. Everything that we do, especially the selfless acts and volunteer efforts of the community, who give their time, energy, and service to the cause of nation-building, exemplify the best of what the Filipino can accomplish.

 

  1. Mabuhay ang Filipino-American Community! Pinoyako! Proud ako!