FRESNO – Meeting with almost 900 Filipino Americans from Fresno and nearby counties like Stockton, Bakersfield, Modesto and Merced, you can say Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took Fresno by ‘storm’ – literally. The meeting was the President’s first official activity in her 10-day working visit to the United States.
Held at the Fresno Convention Center last Sunday, June 23, the meeting started with a Mass followed by a short speech and a video conference with the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) and cabinet officials who were in Malacanang early Monday (Manila time).
Reaching out to the community
In her short speech, President Arroyo called on the FilAm community to extend her assistance to victims of typhoon ‘Frank’ (international codename: Fengshen) in the Philippines.
“Ngayon may bagyong dumaan sa Pilipinas na aasahan na naman ang lahat ng gustong tumulong,” the President said in her opening statement from Fresno.
“To our FilAm brothers and sisters, for your generosity towards the less fortunate in the Philippines, and for your commitment to enhance development in our motherland, salamat!” she said.
The President also lauded her kababayans in the US for their doing so much without losing their bonds of affection for their motherland and their inherent pride in their Filipino heritage. Every year, FilAms send all forms of assistance to schools, hometowns, provinces and local organizations.
“From medical and dental missions, to educational and internet support, to humanitarian and charitable causes, Filipino Americans are ever ready to help the land of your forefathers,” she said.
She then again appealed for any assistance to the typhoon victims that could be coursed through the various embassies and consulates via disaster-relief donation accounts.
A milestone and a trip down memory lane
The President’s visit to Fresno isn’t her first. In 1999, the then Vice President Arroyo was invited by the Chamber of Commerce as a guest speaker. Titus Versoza, who was with her that time, shared an interesting story about it. “After the event, we all drove to San Francisco, sabi ng Preside nte that time, kami naman ang taya sa dinner.” Of course, there was no way that Versoza would let Arroyo pay for dinner, but he had only $80.00 in his pocket, plus another $20 or $30 of his own money in his pocket so he wasn’t sure that it could cover everything they ordered. Since they also chose a Chinese restaurant which did not accept any credit cards, Versoza prayed that what he had will be enough. Luckily, the bill amounted to just $90.00. “There was even extra cash for tip,” Versoza said.
Arroyo extended her gratitude towards the hospitality given to her by Versoza’s group that time, “We will never forget the generous hospitality in Fresno,” she said that time to Versoza. But what makes this story more interesting is what Versoza said to Arroyo. “Madame Vice President, pagbalik nyo ng Fresno, presidente na kayo,” he said and to this the then Vice President Arroyo humbly replied, “Mahirap mangyari ‘yan.” Nine years later, Versoza’s statement then proved to be true.
Always a working President
In spite of being the US, the President remained in close contact with her office to remain informed of what is happening in the Philippines. Prior to the video conference in Fresno, she had already had a teleconference shortly after arriving in San Francisco last Saturday night. Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said, “The President is very concerned about what is happening,” he said and added, “She has been getting updates and gave specific instructions on what to do about the situation. She is actually personally handling this herself.”
Before meeting with the Filipino community, the President also visited the Community Regional Medical Center (CRMC) in the agricultural city of Fresno.
“Bumisita ako ngayon para ipaalam sa inyo na ipinagmamalaki namin ang ating mga medical practitioners dito sa Amerika,” she said.
There are about 2,000 Filipino nurses and medical practitioners gainfully employed at CRMC. In the past seven years, some 5,976 Filipino nurses were deployed to the US to fill up the 130,000 vacancies for nurses and physical therapists, according to Acting Labor Secretary Marianito Roque.