After a long wait, Filipinos in Thailand finally had a chance to see President Rodrigo Roa Duterte. He won the most votes among the Overseas Filipino Voters registered in Thailand. His visit to Thailand was very much anticipated. There were many rumors on his possible arrival as early as July 2016. He did a very quick stop last November to pay respects to the late HM King Bhumipol Adulyadej before proceeding to Malaysia. Finally, this early March, we had received news that he was finally visiting Bangkok. He probably saved the best for last.
When we arrived at 2 pm, several of our kababayan were already patiently sitting in the waiting area at the Thaweethapisek School where the security clearance was being done by the Royal Thai Police and our volunteer marshalls. From there we were taken to the venue in small batches.
There was a lot of time to kill while waiting for the president’s arrival. A few days earlier the embassy contacted me asking if we can provide emcees for the program as well as handle the pre-arrival program to keep the expected 2000 guests entertained while waiting for the program to start. We took on the challenge with several of our members eager to play a role in the program being prepared for the president’s meeting with the Filipino community of Thailand.
While I already knew what numbers our members prepared, there were many more contributions from other members of the Filipino community in Thailand. After quickly arranging the sequence of the program and other program logistics, we were ready to start the pre-arrival program presentations.
We opened up with the emcees, Ms. Hyde Canosa and Mr. Noel Amador, immediately proceeded to warm up the crowd. At this stage we already saw how enthusiastic the audience was going to be. The all male group Vibrant Singers opened up the program. Their inspiring rendition of “You Raised Me Up” got the crowd cheering them on.
A classical piece “Escualo” by Astor Piazolla played by Miss Andrea Claudette Buga-ay on cello and Ms. Vernie May Zulueta on keyboard. Tatay Digong’s favorite song Louie Ocampo’s “Ikaw (ang bigay ng Maykapal)” was their second number where we asked one of the vocalists to sing the song. We were in the process of holding a contest to find the singer to interpret the song the president’s favorite song during the intermission of the main program. By the time we got to the third singer, we were told that the intermission was being scrapped due to lack of time. It was not a total loss because the first contestant, Mr. Paul Masangkay, did a very good rendition of the song.
Several singers did covers of Filipino songs. Miss Iris Tigley of Koronadal, South Cotabato did a great interpretation of ”Dakilang Lahi”. Ms. Blesil Cainoy sang “I Believe” and “Lipad ng Pangarap”.
Two Guitarists sang their original compositions. The first one was Mr. Frankie Villa L. Jangao singing ‘Bayani” a song he composed about President Duterte. Mr. Che Cisco D. Geolingo of Action Philippines sang a song about the yearnings of Filipino OFW’s entitled “Pagbabalik”
For me the greatest surprise of the afternoon was Ms. Maria Paz Samelo’s rendition of a poem she wrote specially for the occasion entitled ” Bandila’y Iwagayway”. Before the start of the show, Maria Paz was asking if we can play video of the Philippine flag as it is flying. Unfortunately, this was not possible. Something better happened. The crowd were given Philippine flags earlier on so they can wave these during the main program. So when Maria Paz uttered the line “Bandila’y Iwagayway”, the crowd enthusiastically waved their flags and cheered. It was a great sight to behold!
Two groups from Quick Servants did interpretative dances. Sunny and Joan danced to the song “Huwag Ka Nang Umiyak”, the JIL group danced to the songs, “Pinakamamahal Kong Bayan”. Culture Club members Mr. Noel Amador and Ms. Edel Ornopia danced a lively cha cha to the Visayan song “Gikumot Kumot”
Our folk dances were also represented with the Cordillera Cultural Dancers led by Culture Club PRO Ms. Cyntia Banag performed a Kalinga dance called “Tadok”, a celebratory dance of the Kalinga tribe to welcome important visitors. We ended the pre-arrival program with a Spanish era dance called “La Jota Moncadeña” which is a version of the Spanish “jota” as appropriated by the people of Moncada, Tarlac.
We had enough break before the president’s arrival. The crowd was already very excited. My own part as emcee of the main program, together with my very able co-emcee, Ms. Jane Blakely, was just about to start. However, inside, I was smiling and felt a lot of pride for our kababayan because I saw that our culture is very much alive in their hearts. May we keep this fire burning because our culture is what defines who we are as a people.
The Fil-Thai Cultural Friendship Club was founded in August 2016. Our main advocacy is to pursue and develop our culture in areas of dance, song, poetry, games, customs and traditions among the Filipinos in Thailand. Our main target are the younger generation of Filipinos living here who may not have a chance to be exposed to our rich culture because of years of living outside the Philippines.