Baptiste returns with greater understanding of Filipinos

Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories on Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste’s trip to the Philippines.

LIHU’E — The biggest benefit of his 16-day trip to the Philippines to foster sister-city relationships with Kaua’i was the bolstering of his understanding of the Filipino culture and how to help members of the Filipino community on Kaua’i, Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste said Tuesday.

“I have come to understand better the people I serve, and understand why they work so hard, why the values are as they are,” Baptiste told reporters in a meeting in his office at the Lihu’e Civic Center Mo’ikeha Building.

That insight will enable him to better serve the needs of members of the Filipino community, who make up 26 percent of the island’s population, as he strives to serve all residents of the island, Baptiste said.

His visit, he said, also helped foster sister-city relationships with communities in the Philippines and Kaua’i, and could result in strengthening nursing and engineering programs there that could bring more qualified nurses and engineers to Hawai’i and the Mainland.

Baptiste met Tuesday with reporters to give an update on his trip to the Philippine Islands from Jan. 3. to Jan. 16, as part of a 175-member delegation there that was led by Gov. Linda Lingle.

The Hawaii-Philippine Centennial trip was aimed at fostering stronger ties between Hawai’i and the Philippines, and to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Filipinos to Hawai’i in 1906.

Among the highlights of his trip was his chat in Manila with Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Baptiste said.

Their discussion revolved around the decentralization of the Philippines government, the reported instability of her presidency, and other issues, Baptiste said.

From the discussions, Baptiste said it was his impression that the state of her control over the government “is not exactly as portrayed in the media,” and that, in the past few years, Arroyo has “shored up her presidency.”

“She seemed very confident that her tenure will remain,” Baptiste said.

Baptiste said he was heartened to be part of a group of people who brought medical equipment to the Vicente Sotto Memorial Hospital in Cebu, an island south of the main island, Luzon, where Manila is located.

The equipment offering was arranged between members of the Rotary Club of Poipu Beach and their counterparts in the Philippines.

“It was very gratifying to bring something that they can really use,” Baptiste said.

If he had his way, he said, he would ship to the Philippines things that are still useful there, but are thrown out by Kauaians every day.

“Many of the things we throw away, they can use, e.g., computers, books, decommissioned fire trucks and police vehicles,” Baptiste said.

Filipinos appreciate the help they receive through sister-city relationships with Kaua’i, he said.

Kauaians like Edwin Navarro and Jim Iloreta, who traveled to the Philippines on the trip, not at taxpayers’ expense, were seen as heroes for the help they brought to the Filipinos there, Baptiste said.

Navarro and leaders with the Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative, for instance, have set up a library in a province, and have staged drives on Kaua’i to stock the shelves with books to help Filipino children, in line with the ambitions of government leaders there, Baptiste said.

If he had his way, Baptiste added, he would like to set up nursing and engineering exchange programs to facilitate the employment of qualified Filipino nurses and engineers in Hawai’i and on the Mainland.

That could happen if the curricula of colleges in the Philippines can be tinkered with, and the nurses and engineers are properly accredited and meet U.S. industry standards, Baptiste said.

He came away with the idea of developing a nursing-ex-change program after visiting the town of Urdaneta, one of Kaua’i’s sister-cities, where many nurses live.

“We plan to discuss the education component with (Chancellor) Peggy Cha at Kaua’i Community College, as well as others, to see how a program like this can become a reality,” Baptiste said.

Tomorrow: Solid waste solutions?

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