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06/07/2013: 8th Ambassadors Tour to Showcase New Philippines

6 July 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The 8th Ambassadors, Consuls General and Tourism Directors Tour  (ACGTD) that will take place in Manila from July 9 to 12 will be an opportunity for close to 500 balikbayans from the United States and Canada to experience the new Philippines, Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr., said.

“More than just showing that it is more fun in the Philippines, this year’s program will allow balikbayans to see and experience for themselves the economic transformation taking place in a country that many of them have not visited in a long time or are visiting for the first time,” Ambassador Cuisia said.

A total of 490 participants from the United States and Canada will take part in the three-day annual program that was first staged in 2005. The tour, which includes visits to Manila, Corregidor, Cavite and Laguna, will be capped by a photo opportunity with President Aquino and a luncheon at Malacanang Palace.

Consul General Julius Torres of the Philippine Consulate General in Honolulu, who was designated as this year’s program coordinator, said that while the tour is meant to stimulate the Philippine economy by increasing tourism and visitor spending, it also seeks to instill a stronger sense of nationalism and love of country among participants and motivates them to become champions of Philippine initiatives.

"We want to promote Philippine tourism and reorient our Filipino Americans here and in other parts of the US and Canada with what's currently going on in the Philippines," Consul General Torres said. "Some have never been to the Philippines and have only read about it in the newspapers where all the reports are not rosy. We've seen this tour become a real eye-opening experience for people."

Ambassador Cuisia said the number of balikbayans taking part in this year’s program is more than the 374 who signed up last year. Of the 490 participants this year, 384 will be coming from Hawaii, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Guam and Washington D.C. The remaining 106 will be coming from Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Ottawa and Vancouver and will be led by Ambassador Leslie B. Gatan.

“For the eighth straight year, Honolulu has the distinction of bringing the biggest number of attendees to the tour,” according to Consul General Torres, who is accompanying 108 participants, including Mayor Alan Arakawa of Maui.

The other consuls general who will be leading the balikbayan delegations from their respective juridisctions in the United States and Canada are Marciano Paynor Jr., San Francisco; Mario De Leon, New York; Bayani Mangibin, Guam; Leo Herrera-Lim, Chicago; Hellen Barber-Dela Vega, Los Angeles; and Ariel Penaranda, Washington, D.C. and Jose Ampeso, Vancouver; Neil Frank Ferrer, Ottawa; and Junever Mahilum-West, Toronto.

Among the 38 balikbayans from the East Coast who are taking part in this year’s tour is Fe Martinez, President of the Philippine Independence Day Council Inc., which organizes the annual Independence Day Parade in New York.

"I and many other Filipino-Americans will have the chance to experience all that our country has to offer,” Martinez said. “This tour has truly rekindled our love for the Philippines and our desire to invite more visitors to the country."

Sen. Frank B. Aguon, who represents the 32nd District in Guam’s Legislature, said he is honored to participate in the program and sees it as an opportunity to broaden relations between the Philippines and Guam.

“I am excited about the opportunity to participate in the tour, visit with key leaders and representatives of the Philippines, acquire a first-hand understanding of the history of the Philippines and establish long-term relationships that will be mutually beneficial to the people of Guam and the Philippines,” Senator Aguon said.

He said he wants to explore the possibility of entering into a visa waiver program that will assist in bringing families together as well as economic opportunities that will enhance business partnerships and improve trade activities between Guam and the Philippines.

Among the participants is 16-year-old Cheryl Aurora Cruz of Los Angeles, who will be visiting the Philippines for the first time.

"This is my first time to visit the Philippines that's why I'm really excited. I am looking forward to visit the different schools in the Philippines, because I heard there are a lot of good schools there. I know it's going to be fun and I'm looking forward to a great tour," she said.

Honolulu-based Letty Tesoro Saban, who has been taking part in the tour since it was first staged in 2005, described it as a trip of a lifetime.

"We visit new places and we are always given very special treatment," said Saban, who migrated to Hawaii in 1971. "I've enjoyed having my picture taken with the past three presidents of the Philippines and having access to excellent shopping.”

Emerson Reyes, a community leader from Monterey, California, who has been participating in the tour since 2008, said he was able to invite relatives and friends to join this year’s program.

"This year, our young grandchildren are joining us and they are excited to wear their new Filipiniana dresses and have a photo opportunity with the President," he said.

According to Nita Oria of Chicago, who is joining the program with her husband Hilario, for the sixth time, said the tour is both educational and fun and is a must for everyone. “The accommodations, the service of everyone, the entertainment, and the food are all top of the line. It is a tour you will not regret joining,” she said. ###