Together with the newly appointed consul general of the Philippines to Alaska, Jenny Gomez Strickler of Juneau, Reps. Cathy Muñoz and Bob Herron led Alaska’s first official trip to the Philippines last week.
The trip arose out of a visit that Vice Gov. Gabrielle “Billie” Calizo-Quimpo, the second highest ranking official in the Philippine province of Aklan, made to Juneau, when she met with city and state representatives. After that informal exchange, the provincial government invited the Alaska State Legislature to visit Aklan.
“It was a very full adventure, full of interesting meetings and great friendships,” said Muñoz Tuesday, shortly after arriving in Seattle. “We had a wonderful time.”
Muñoz, Herron, Strickler and three others, including Bartlett Regional Hospital nurse (http://bit.ly/QbpIia) and “in-country coordinator” Victoria Roldan, spent the first two days of their trip in Manila, the Philippines’ capital city.
While in Manila, Muñoz said, the Alaska delegation met with both American and Philippine officials, including U.S. Ambassador Harry Thomas and Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr. of Quezon City, Speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives.
The delegation had a request in to meet with President Benigno Aquino III, about which Muñoz expressed optimism last month (http://bit.ly/Wzo3pB). But Aquino was in Cambodia during the Alaska visit and so was unavailable.
A joint statement from the offices of Muñoz and Herron said a letter from Gov. Sean Parnell and other gifts were left with Marciano Paynor, United States consul general to the Philippines, to be given to Aquino.
Muñoz said the Philippines, in addition to being the home country of some 25,000 Alaskans, represents an ideal market for Alaska’s seafood exports. She suggested that the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute could hold a seafood exhibition in Manila in the future.
“The Philippines is one of the fastest growing economies in the Asia-Pacific, but it’s a market that is … not targeted for Alaskan products,” said Muñoz, adding, “The Philippines is a market that we haven’t really acknowledged.”
Muñoz and Herron also laid wreaths at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, the largest cemetery in the Pacific region for U.S. casualties of World War II.
The Philippines, then a U.S. territory, was in the process of becoming an independent nation when war broke out and it was occupied by Japan. It became a republic in 1946, after the war ended.
After their two days in Manila, the delegation traveled to Aklan, Calizo-Quimpo’s home province and the home province of about 800 Juneau residents of Filipino descent, according to Muñoz.
Muñoz said a large crowd met the Alaska delegation at the airport in Aklan, including some Juneau residents. Upon the Alaskans’ arrival in Kalibo, the provincial capital, they were greeted by hundreds of Ati-Atihan dancers, cheering crowds and a parade that required several blocks of the city center to be cordoned off.
“It was an overpowering experience,” said Muñoz of the greetings. “It was incomparable to anything I’ve ever experienced.”
Muñoz added, “It was really truly remarkable to see … the homeplace of so many of our Juneau residents.”
While in Aklan, Muñoz and Herron met with Calizo-Quimpo and Gov. Carlito S. Marquez, business leaders, and leaders of Aklan State University, who expressed an interest in forming an exchange relationship with the University of Alaska Southeast’s Fisheries Technology Program.
“I met with the president of the Aklan State University, and they are very interested in developing a relationship with our university’s school of fisheries,” Muñoz said.
Muñoz added, “The other area that we’re very interested in is developing a sister city or sister province relationship between the City and Borough of Juneau and the province of Aklan.”
The Juneau Sister Cities Committee last month tasked Geny Del Rosario with reaching out to officials in Kalibo to determine whether they would be interested in a potential sister city relationship with Juneau (http://bit.ly/TcSg8q). Juneau has a sister city in the Philippines, Camiling, but that relationship is long dormant.
Mayor Merrill Sanford said Wednesday that he is interested in ties with Kalibo. He said the Borough Assembly will need to follow up on the contact in the trip.
“We’re trying to open up those communications formally. Sometimes when you’re dealing with a complete different country, you have to go through these steps,” Sanford said. He added, “It would be neat for us to be able to move forward on an active sister city in the Philippines.”
After seven days in the Philippines and a trans-Pacific flight back to the U.S., Muñoz said she was “amazingly jet-lagged.” But she still offered high praise for the Philippines and the province of Aklan.
“Aklan’s a beautiful place to visit, and I would encourage Alaskans who are thinking about going to Asia to consider a trip to the Philippines,” said Muñoz. “The people are the most gracious that I’ve met anywhere in the world, and the country is beautiful.”
Herron and Strickler could not be reached for comment.
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at email@example.com.