By Helen Flores (The Philippine Star)
Despite travel warnings, around 200 mostly balikbayan tourists from the United States arrived in the country this week to visit various attractions, including President Duterte’s bailiwick Davao City, and explore possible investments. File
MANILA, Philippines - Despite travel warnings, around 200 mostly balikbayan tourists from the United States arrived in the country this week to visit various attractions, including President Duterte’s bailiwick Davao City, and explore possible investments.
The tourists are hoping to get a glimpse of Duterte during their stay in his hometown, said Philippine Consul General in San Francisco Henry Bensurto.
Philippine Consul General in New York Ma. Theresa Dizon-de Vega said for the first time the Ambassador’s Tour – a joint promotion project of the Department of Tourism, Department of Foreign Affairs and the Tourism Promotions Board – brought participants to the southern Philippines.
“I think the fact that despite the situation in Marawi, we were getting delegates, they were still registering a few days before the tour, is a show of confidence that everything is OK in the country… There’s a sense of confidence and assurance and support for the President and the country. They are all just proud to be Filipinos,” De Vega said.
De Vega said the arrival of tourists from the US is “very significant” in light of the negative image of the country as a result of the declaration of martial law in Mindanao and the travel advisories issued by foreign governments, including the US and Canada.
The tour started with a wreath-laying ceremony at the monument of Jose Rizal in Rizal Park, Manila last Tuesday and will conclude on Saturday.
Some of the places visited by the group were the National Museum, Metropolitan Museum and Fort Santiago in Manila.
They were also expected to visit the Davao Crocodile Park, Malagos Garden Resort, a 12-hectare nature theme park in Davao; and the Hijo banana plantation in Tagum City.
Bensurto said most of the visitors supported Duterte during last year’s election and would like to express their continued support and confidence in his administration.
“Despite martial law there are more significant matters that should not be overlooked. This is the first time in Philippine history that the president comes from the south, and that’s very significant,” Bensurto said.
“President Duterte won overwhelmingly among Filipinos based in the US, and part of his mandate you can trace to Filipinos based in North America,” he said.
De Vega said the delegation is composed of people from the business, medical and IT sectors; couples and their young children; as well as retirees. They were also joined by mayors of Bellevue, Nebraska and National City in California.
“There are many first-timers. It’s a good mix,” De Vega said.
“This is a perfect place for people in the US to visit… the Philippines has so much to offer,” National City Mayor Ron Morrison said.
He said 40 percent of the population in National City are Filipinos.
Bensurto said the tour also aims to “instill” Filipino culture among the millennials who were born and raised in the US.
“The second, third and fourth generations have already overtaken the migration of the first generation. It’s important that we are able to instill the Filipino spirit in the new generation because there will be no urgency and imperative to give back from these generations if they don’t see any attachment. We have to create a bridge that links them to the origin of their ancestors,” he said.
“We want to immerse them, give them actual experience of the Philippines,” he added.
De Vega noted that tourist arrivals from the US increased from 14 to 19 percent in the second quarter of this year.
Philippine Consul General in Los Angeles Adelio Angelito Cruz said the visit of Filipino-Americans in the country this year also aims to “reinvigorate” US-Philippines bilateral relations.
“We are meeting with the Davao City Chamber of Commerce. We’re hoping to explore possible business ventures and investment and export opportunities in Davao City,” he said.
The Philippines and US relations turned sour after Duterte hit former US president Barack Obama for criticizing his brutal war against illegal drugs.
Now on its 11th year, the Ambassador’s Tour aims “to further boost the image of the Philippines abroad,” De Vega said.
“After this tour they become ambassadors of the country in their own communities,” she said.