Gala dinner kicks off ‘balikbayan’ campaign

Emma Ruth delivers welcome remarks. Photos by Ivan Roque

By Elton Lugay

Like an ‘ilustrado’ soiree at the turn of the century, more than 200 community leaders and Philippine government officials resplendent in their ‘barong’ and ‘terno’ gathered at a gala event promoting the Pinoy Homecoming and Balikbayan Plus campaign of the Department of Tourism (DOT).

The dinner, commemorating the declaration of 2011 to 2016 as Pinoy Homecoming Years, was held June 23 at Lighthouse International. The guests of honors were led by Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim; Senators Edgardo Angara and Franklin Drilon; Congressmen Florencio Miraflores, Edgar San Luis and Joaquin Carlos Nava; former Ambassador Willy Gaa; and Consul General in New York Mario de Leon Jr.

“Pinoy Homecoming invites Filipino organizations, business groups and individuals to come visit the Philippines at any time of the year,” said Emma Ruth Yulo, tourism director in New York.

“I am deeply moved by your deep allegiance to the homeland,” said Drilon in his address to the community. “We miss you all back home.”

Angara praised the FilAm leaders for “fostering unity” in the northeast.

Lim and Lorenzo Formoso, chief operating officer of Duty Free Philippines gave audio-visual presentations.

“We would like to support the President in his vision to prioritize our Filipino kababayans abroad upon their return and enjoy their homeland for visits,” said Lim. “My job is to bring as many visitors as possible to the Philippines. I want to reintroduce you to the things in the Philippines that may have changed but have retained their essence.”

This year, the DOT is looking to bring in 764,580 visitors from the U.S. and 134,904 from Canada. By its estimates, this translates to almost P22 billion in tourism receipts.

Balikbayans may avail of tangible benefits, such as scholarships and discounts at select establishments and within Duty Free stores.

The musical performance was provided by April Talangbayan, Efren Recana, Charisse Nicole Trinidad and the Philippine Chamber Rondalla of New Jersey. Filipino delicacies Pancit Malabon, Ginataang Hipon, mango wine and San Miguel beer were served at dinnertime.

Men in white. Community leader Vivian Veloso of Jaycees at center

Women in their colorful finery

“This event is a great networking opportunity and I’m glad that we’re invited,” said Rachelle Ocampo of Pilipino American Unity for Progress. “I hope to meet more people and build more bridges so that we can inform others of the resources we have available for them.”

Elton Lugay is a journalist, publicist and community events organizer.

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