PHL Embassies in New Zealand and Australia lead the highly successful inaugural visit Philippines 2015
The first ever Visit Philippines 2015 launched by the Philippine Embassies in Wellington and Canberra was conducted on 12-15 August 2015 led by Ambassador Virginia H. Benavidez and Ambassador Belen F. Anota, respectively in close collaboration with the Office of Asian and Pacific Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs, Tourism Promotions Board, Department of Tourism (DOT), Rajah Tours Philippines and Philippine Tours. Twenty-nine participants composed of Consul General Anne Jalandoon-Louis of the Philippine Consulate General in Sydney, Consul-General Arlene Gonzales-Macaisa of the Philippine Embassy in Wellington, Philippine Honorary Consul to Melbourne Felix J. Pintado, Philippine Honorary Consul to Queensland Councillor Margaret Grummit, Honorary Vice Consul to Auckland and Upper North Island Virginia Araneta-Russell and members of the Filipino communities from New Zealand and Australia experienced an inspiring and excellent meeting and interaction with Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras and Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert F. del Rosario and an absolutely meaningful, memorable and momentous 3-day tour of Metro-Manila and Taal, Batangas. Starting with DOT’s reception at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) on 12 August, the participants proceeded to Nobu Hotel, one of the newest 5-star hotels in the City of Dreams, Roxas Blvd, Pasay City where they were warmly welcomed by Mr. Jojo Clemente III, President, Ms. Jennylyn Pabilona-Santos and staff of Rajah Tours and Nobu Hotel. On 13 August, the doors of Malacañan Palace were opened when the participants made a courtesy call on Hon. Jose Rene Almendras, Secretary to the Cabinet who shared with them the remarkable and sustained growth story of the Philippines, the transformative leadership of President Benigno S. Aquino III anchored on good governance, transparency, accountability, inclusiveness and community driven progress, gains in poverty alleviation of the Filipino people and the positive economic momentum and related developments in the Philippines. An animated and interactive session with Secretary Almendras and souvenir photo taking with him, around the Heroes Hall and public places in Malacañan Palace were thoroughly enjoyed by the participants. They thanked Secretary Almendras for taking time out of his busy schedule to receive the group and for the great honor and distinct privilege of meeting him. A guided tour of the Presidential Museum and Library housed in Kalayaan Hall afforded the participants with a closer look into and deeper appreciation of the history, heritage, artistic repository and collections of the Philippine Presidency as well as the president’s official residence-Malacañan Palace. The lunch and cultural presentation at the famous Ilustrado Restaurant featured Filipino cuisine and colorful, beautiful and varied music and dances much to the delight and applause of the tour participants.
This was followed by another enriching and enlightening session with Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert F. Del Rosario who personally greeted each and every participant, shared with them the priorities and programs of the Department of Foreign Affairs especially those relating to the protection of Philippine maritime security in the West Philippine Sea and the collaborative efforts for the welfare and well-being of Filipinos abroad, interacted with them and thanked them for their generosity, contributions and assistance especially during times of disaster and great need. Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs for Policy Evan P. Garcia also shared with the participants various subjects of interest and relevance to Filipinos abroad. All of the participants were very much impressed and appreciative of the attention and importance given to them by Secretary Del Rosario and Undersecretary Garcia. While going through the various places in Manila, the tour guide showed and explained the history of the different “Charms of Old Manila” such as the historic Rizal monument, the walled city of Intramuros and San Agustin Church, among others. A welcome dinner of sumptuous cuisine with live band music for dancing at the Marriott Hotel was hosted by DOT’s Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) and capped a most enjoyable, exciting and educational first day of the inaugural Visit Philippines 2015. Ms. Michelle S. Alcantara, Domestic Promotions Department of the TPB welcomed the participants. Mrs. Alejandra “Dading” Clemente, Chairwoman of Rajah Tours and her staff were also present. For the second day on 14 August 2015, the participants were treated to a Heritage Tour of Taal, Batangas where visits were made to Basilica San Martin de Tours identified as the largest Catholic Church in Asia, Casas de Taal Tours of 19th century ancestral houses of stone which reverberate with life’s stories of local heroes who played vital roles in the Philippine Revolution such as the Casa Villavicencio, Marcella Agoncillo Museum, Villavicencio Wedding Gift House, Galleria Taal which is now a vintage camera museum, Agoncillo White House and the Apacible Museum, Casaysay Church and first-hand look into the making of renowned products such as “Balisong” (Batangas knife), Hand Embroidery and Panutsa (Peanut Brittle Candy). The lunch at Paradores del Castillo Hotel served mouth-watering and delicious native delicacies and well-known dishes of Taal, Batangas. The provincial journey was made even more enjoyable by stops along fruit stalls where the participants bought heaps of “lanzones”, “atis” and other fruits in season and along popular gasoline stations where Filipino delicacies, bags, shoes and handicrafts were taken home. When they returned to Makati, the participants were given a tour of Ayala Museum’s 60 dioramas depicting Philippine history, welcomed by Ayala Land’s President and CEO Mr. Tony T. Aquino who brought the good news on the great strides that the Philippines is experiencing in the political and economic arenas and the high importance and contributions of overseas Filipinos’ remittances, the burgeoning business process outsourcing industry and the opportunities for investments for Filipinos abroad and treated to a wonderful dinner amidst the elegant ambience and culturally rich surroundings of the museum.
From the beginning until the end of the inaugural tour, the participants from New Zealand and Australia developed friendship, camaraderie and goodwill and were one in their highly positive and most impressive evaluation of the resounding success of the programme which is aimed at deepening their appreciation of the Philippines’ beauty, rich history, heritage and culture, attracting Filipino communities and foreign tourists to visit various destinations and experience the warm and welcoming hospitality of the Filipino people, promoting medical tourism, health and wellness programs, retirement havens, among others in the country, assuring visitors and tourists that the Philippines is a safe place to travel, encouraging Filipino and foreign investments in real estate and tourism related projects and contributing to foreign exchange earnings of the economy. These objectives are the same ones since the inception of similar tours called “The Ambassadors, Consuls General and Tourism Directors Tour (ACGTDT) spearheaded by Philippine Foreign Service Posts in the United States, Canada and Europe. The original concept of the US ACGTDT was the brainchild of then Philippine Ambassador to the United States and currently Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert F. Del Rosario who started the programme in 2005. All of the participants to the Inaugural Visit Philippines 2015 for New Zealand and Australia were excited, enthralled and ecstatic in their feedback saying that “This is an experience of a lifetime,” “This is more than what we expected. On the first day alone, the trip is already worth it,” “The tour heightened our pride as Filipinos and the beauty of our islands, the warmth of our people, our rich history and culture, the excellent hotel accommodations and the expert and efficient way of handling our different activities made our stay awesome and fantastic,” and the opportunity to enter Malacañan Palace and the Department of Foreign Affairs and meet and interact with Cabinet Secretaries will always be part of our cherished memories.” “We will make sure that we join the next tours and we will tell our families and friends to be part of this wonderful program,” they all happily said.
With the successful completion of the first Visit Philippines Tour 2015 for New Zealand and Australia, this is expected to be annual flagship projects of the Philippine Embassies and Consulates in these countries. “We enjoin the Filipino communities, their friends, businessmen, tourists and other people to be part of this yearly project that will showcase the fact that indeed, ‘It’s More Fun in the Philippines’ and that you will surely meet our country’s most valuable resource – the Filipino people who are warm, hospitable, kind, compassionate, smiling, welcoming and talented beyond measure,” Ambassador Benavidez proudly stated.
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