MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C., certainly showed how “it’s more fun in the Philippines” by opening its doors to the public for the first time, and regaling would-be American tourists with traditional Filipino songs and dances, while feeding them lechon.
Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose L. Cuisia Jr. reported more than 6,000 people, mostly American residents in the D.C. area, trooped to the embassy on May 3, during Passport D.C. World Embassy Tour, which was organized by the District of Columbia Cultural Tourism Office.
Passport D.C. is an annual event where foreign embassies in the area have an open house to give the public a taste of their countries’ culture and traditions. More than 50 embassies joined the event, but this was the first time the Philippines Embassy joined. It was gamely supported by the Filipino community, which helped mount dances and martial-arts exhibitions, and donated Filipino food, as well.
Jollibee Foods Corp., with its 30 branches in the US, offered its popular Chickenjoy and peach-mango pie to guests, while its sister firm Red Ribbon donated mamon.
“It’s the most successful cultural diplomacy event undertaken by the Philippines here in the United States. It was simply overwhelming,” said Cuisia, who was just recently in Manila for the state visit of US President Barack Obama.
“For six hours on Saturday, we were able to let other people know why it’s more fun in the Philippines,” he said, adding that the event was a tremendous success, since the embassy was only expecting a maximum of 3,000 visitors. Passport D.C. veteran participants noted that the Philippines came close to Australia’s record-breaking 7,000 visitors last year.
The participation of the Philippine Embassy in the event is part of the government’s strong push to attract more mainstream Americans to visit the Philippines.
Last year 652,626 visitors arrived from the United States, mostly balikbayan (returning Filipinos) who have made the US their home, or Filipino-American descendants of earlier immigrants.
In an interview with the BusinessMirror, Tourism Promotions Board Chief Operating Officer Domingo Ramon Enerio III said: “We are reviewing our marketing plans for the US to focus sharply on mainstream Americans. With the use of the social media and digital marketing, joint campaigns with tour operators, especially dive operators, and the establishment of ‘tourism showrooms’ in San Francisco and New York before the year-end. We will also focus on business tourism and MICE [meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions].”
The Department of Tourism, which lent standees and gave out flyers of major Philippines destinations during the Philippines Embassy open house, is targeting to attract some 1 million visitors from the US this year.
According to embassy spokesman Elmer Cato, people started streaming into the embassy grounds on Massachusetts Avenue even before the gates opened at 10 a.m. “Many said the Philippines was their first destination for the day because the Washington Post listed it as among the embassies to visit for this year’s event,” he said.
Margaret Ely, in her blog for the Washington Post on May 1, advised readers to make a stop at the Philippine Embassy: “Try suckling pig and watch a fashion show with traditional outfits or demonstrations of martial arts and wood carving.”
Aside from Filipino dance, music and martial arts, the embassy also gave visitors a taste of Filipino cuisine by serving them lechon, chicharon, pancit, lumpia and turon, as well as calamansi juice, popsicles made from local Filipino fruits. Much of the food was donated by Filipino-owned restaurants and companies, like Bistro 7107, Filipino Global, Northstar, Lumpia, Pancit Atbp, Luming’s, Tito Al’s and Magnolia.
Minister and Consul for Cultural Affairs Emil Fernandez said the Ati-Atihan costumes and the tinikling lessons were “instant hits” among those who went to the embassy.
“Many of the visitors said they also were impressed by the wood and fruit sculptures prepared by the Paete Woodcarvers Association. Also popular was the exhibit at the Romulo Hall of photographs of the Danajon Bank taken by members of the International League of Conservation Photographers, as well as the Filipiniana piña gown collection of fashion designer Cathy Ebrada Cleveland.”
The fiesta-like atmosphere at the embassy was highlighted by Filipino dances, like the Sakuting, Aray, Pagapir, Pansak Pindulas, Tinikling, Salip-Banga, Pangalay and Asik performed by Mabuhay Inc., Club Filipino of Georgetown University, the Philippine Cultural Society of George Washington University and the Migrant Heritage Commission.
Visitors were also treated to an exhibition of Filipino martial arts, such as arnis and escrima, courtesy of D.C. Lightning Scientific Arnis of Virginia and Pinakatay Arnis Sigidas of Maryland. The open house was capped by classical Filipino music performed by the Northern Virginia Rondalla.
Fernandez said many guests “expressed interest” in visiting the Philippines, especially after briefly experiencing the Filipinos’ well-known hospitality during the open house, and looking through the Department of Tourism’s brochures.