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12/06/2015: TRIUMPHS, POSITIVE DEVELOPMENTS HIGHLIGHTED AT 117TH INDEPENDENCE DAY CELEBRATION

PRESS RELEASE
WDC-036-2015   
12 June 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C.—In commemoration of the 117th anniversary of the Proclamation of Philippine Independence, the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. looked back at major triumphs of the Philippines in the past year and honored outstanding Filipinos who have made significant contributions in raising the country’s profile in the United States.

“There is much to celebrate in terms of developments in the country, and this year’s Independence Day celebration is an opportunity to reflect on what the Philippines has achieved,” said Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. during the Embassy’s Vin d’Honneur on 11 June 2015 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

In his remarks, Ambassador Cuisia  welcomed about 400 guests to the Independence Day celebration by recalling significant milestones of the Philippines in the past year.

The envoy cited the country’s continuous positive economic trajectory, improvement in the recently-published Rule of Law Index of the World Justice Project, and the good governance platform of the Aquino Administration as reasons for celebration.

In a message to the Filipino community in the United States, Ambassador Cuisia noted, “This year’s theme, Kalayaan 2015: Tagumpay sa Pagbabagong Nasimulan, Abot Kamay na ng Bayan(Independence 2015: Triumphs Through Reforms Within Nation’s Reach) highlights our cumulative efforts to improve the quality of life of every Filipino even in the face of daunting challenges.”

“These triumphs are a tribute to our bayanihan spirit and resiliency as a people, and to our country’s positive transformation which the international community has welcomed with renewed confidence and hope,” added the Ambassador.

The Vin d’Honneur was also a celebration of the strong ties between the Philippines and the United States.

“The friendship between the Philippines and the US has deep historical roots, which include fighting side by side in wars for liberation. We are pleased that this friendship has continued to grow, with the US having the second largest tourism arrivals in the Philippines last year and the US consistently ranking as one of the top three trading partners of the Philippines for decades,” said Ambassador Cuisia.

“The most personal aspect of our relationship, however, is the Filipino community in the US. With close to 3.4 million Filipinos, we represent the 4th largest immigrant group in the US,” added Ambassador Cuisia.

Two Filipinos who have called the US their home yet strongly embody the bayanihan spirit were honored during the Vin d’Honneur —Dr. Conrado Gempesaw, President of St. John’s University and the first layperson to lead the Catholic university, and Rear Admiral Babette Bolivar, one of the highest-ranking Filipino-Americans in the US Navy.

The Embassy presented Dr. Gempesaw with a plaque of achievement for his commitment to promoting quality education for all. Through Dr. Gempesaw’s vision and leadership, he forwarded academic initiatives that advocate inclusiveness in higher learning.

Rear Admiral Babette Bolivar received a plaque for her excellence and meritorious conduct in exercising military command, and for inspiring men and women in uniform. She is the Filipino-American with the highest naval commissioned officer ranking.

Several American officials shared their well wishes for the Filipino people and reiterated the support of the US for the Philippines.

Congressman Matt Salmon, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific of the US House Committee on Foreign Relations, recognized the principled stand for regional peace, stability, security, and freedom of navigation and overflight the Philippines has practiced in the region, particularly in the South China Sea.

“We remain committed to honoring our long-standing alliances and partnerships with Asian countries in the region and the Philippines continues to contribute to regional peace and security in contested areas such as the South China Sea,” said Rep. Salmon.

Rep. Salmon stressed the importance of the arbitration case filed by the Philippines in peacefully settling the South China Sea issue and in preserving regional peace, security and stability. For this reason, he likewise expressed the hope that China will participate in the arbitral proceedings.

The Congressman also recognized the countless contributions of the Filipino-American community to economic growth, cultural understanding, and US politics.

In his speech, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald recalled moments in history when Filipinos showed courage in fighting for freedom, an act which he said deserves the trust and friendship of the American people.

“We forget today what a tinderbox Asia was in 1898 when the people of the Philippines declared their independence from Spain. Japan just fought a war with China and would find another one with Russia in a few years. China was on the verge of a civil war, the Boxer rebellion, and half a dozen of foreign powers were still jockeying for position in the region. There would be two world wars upcoming and a lot of suffering and sacrifices by the Filipino people before their independence would become a permanent reality,” said Secretary McDonald.

“Through all those years, the Filipino people were no less courageous, no less resourceful and no less deserving of freedom than any other people. And in their past sixty-nine years of peaceful independence, they have proven themselves fully deserving of our trust and our friendship,” Secretary McDonald added.

Congressman Ed Royce, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, also addressed guests and shared his best wishes and optimism for the future of Philippines-US relations.

Members of the Filipino-American community raved about the event, saying it was one of the best Independence Day celebrations they attended.

“This year’s celebration, held in one of Washington’s most prestigious venues, makes us even prouder to be part of this great community,” said one of the Filipino-American guests during the Vin d’Honneur.

Ambassador Cuisia ended on a high note by expressing his optimism towards future developments not only in the Philippines but also in the relations of the country with the US.

“Without a doubt, our alliance is enduring, forged by common sacrifices, anchored on a commitment to democratic values and deepened by a shared history. As we look towards the future, we can only see more positive developments in the political-security, economic and people to people relations,” said Ambassador Cuisia.

Other dignitaries who attended the Vin d’Honneur were Philippine Senator Alan Peter Cayetano; Philippine Congressman Scott Davies Lanete; former US Senator Joseph Tydings; US Congressman and Co-Chair of the US-Philippines Friendship Caucus Bobby Scott; US Congressman Bill Huizenga; Ambassador John Negroponte, Co-Chair of the US-Philippines Society; Scot Marciel, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the US Department of State; Maj. Gen. Leslie Smith, representing US Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno; as well as Ambassadors and various dignitaries from the US Government and Washington diplomatic community.

Representatives from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), think tanks, American businesses, foreign militaries, and religious organizations also joined the festivities. ###