‘Sakadas’ honored at official kickoff of Filipino centennial

NUKOLI‘I — The yearlong observance of the 100th year of Filipino immigration to Hawai‘i officially opened at the Kauai Beach Hotel & Resort recently.

Attended by over 500 Filipinos and their friends, it was a night filled not only with nostalgia for the vibrant, happy, yet hard lives in the plantation camps, but also a realization that those lives laid the foundation by which Filipinos can, today, claim a better life.

The festivities opened with an invocation by Dr. Antolin Apalla Jr., followed by the singing of the national anthems of the United States and the Philippines, and the Hawai‘i state song, by members of the Kauai Filipino Centennial Chorale, directed by Helen M. Sina.

Welcoming remarks were offered by Oscar Portugal, executive secretary of the Kauai Filipino Chamber of Commerce.

Members of Bailes de Oro, headed by Jose Bulatao Jr. and consisting of senior citizens from the Westside, kicked off the entertainment portion of the evening, presenting native Filipino folk dances to members of the enthusiastic crowd.

Speakers for the evening included Elias Beniga, chairman of the Hawaii Filipino Centennial Celebration Commission; Ron Agor, outgoing president of the Kauai Filipino Chamber of Commerce; and Sonia Topenio, incoming president of the Kauai Filipino Chamber of Commerce.

Kauai Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste spoke of his recent trip to the Philippines, commenting on the beauty of the country, the warm hospitality of its people, and his greater understanding of the strength of the Filipino culture.

Judge Kathleen N.A. Watanabe of the Fifth Circuit Court was the keynote speaker.

In her speech, she recognized her humble roots here on the island, and the role her parents played in inspiring her pursuit of a better life.

A product of public schools, she noted that hard work, excellence and perseverance were some of the keys that enabled her to be where she is today.

The evening was celebrated in three parts.

First, 12 Kaua‘i Sakadas, who were the honorees of the evening, were recognized with plaques, lei, and the Hawaii Filipino Centennial Medal of Honor.

“Sakada” refers to those Filipinos recruited by leaders of the Hawaii Sugar Planters Association specifically to work in the sugar and pineapple plantations between 1906 and 1946.)

The honorees included Isidoro Abuan, Alfredo Ballesteros, Epifanio Batangan, Juanito Buza, Mauro Cadavona, Emilio Diaz, Jose Gante, Andres Gaor, Hermogenes Sagadraca, Gregorio Oroc (the oldest at 102), Mauro Valvieja, and Placido Domingo Sr.

While they were being honored, the Kauai Filipino Centennial Chorale members serenaded them with three Filipino love songs: “Dalagang Filipina,” “Maalaala Mo Kaya,” and “Aking Bituin.”

The music offered the Sakadas and the other attendees the opportunity to reminisce about the lives they left behind in the old country, and their struggles and joys in the plantation camps on Kaua‘i.

The second part of the program was the induction of the leadership of the 2006 Kauai Filipino Chamber of Commerce, by Watanabe.

They are: Sonia Topenio, president; Ernie Pasion, vice president; E. Lynn Spears, secretary; and Domi Bucasas, treasurer.

The board of directors include Angel Acorda, Dr. Antolin Apalla, Belma Baris, Ben Beniga, Elesther Calipjo, Dr. Arnulfo Diaz, Eugene Jimenez, Rhoda Libre, Dr. Ramon de la Pena, Cesar Portugal, Rudy Sina and Liza Trinidad.

Ron Agor is the immediate past president. County Councilwoman Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho is legal counsel, and Oscar Portugal is executive secretary.

In addition, the Annual Distinguished Service Awards were given to four individuals in recognition of excellence in their fields of endeavor.

The awardees included Eugene Jimenez, government service; Sonia I. Topenio, banking; Ernesto G. Pasion, finance; and Dr. William A. Renti Cruz, healthcare and medicine.

Jimenez is a former director of finance for the County of Kaua‘i. He also served as deputy finance director during the administration of former Mayor Maryanne Kusaka, heading the Treasury, Purchasing, Accounting, Real Property and Information System Divisions.

He was also the housing administrator in the administrations of former Mayors Eduardo E. Malapit and the late Tony T. Kunimura. As head of the County Housing Agency, he took charge of all the development, rehabilitation, and housing-assistance programs of the county.

He also effectively administered the county Community Development Block Grant program. A graduate of Kaua‘i High School, Jimenez earned his master’s degree in guidance and counseling, and bachelor’s degree in psychology, from Adams State College in Colorado.

He also pursued post-graduate studies in gerontology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

After 27 years of government service, Jimenez has retired, and enjoys traveling, going on luxury cruises, fishing, and real estate. He lives in Koloa with his wife Lorraine.

Topenio is currently vice president of Bank of Hawaii. Her responsibilities include managing the Lihu‘e and Po‘ipu branches, and, the Kauai Processing Center.

She graduated form Kaua‘i High School, and obtained her bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.

She started with Bank of Hawaii as a management trainee, and moved up to other, higher positions. She was recently promoted to her current position.

Prior to becoming this year’s president of the Kauai Filipino Chamber of Commerce, she served as its vice president and treasurer.

She is also actively involved with the Kauai Filipino Centennial Celebration Committee, the Rotary Club of Kapaa, and Lihu‘e Urban Core Design.

She was a member of the Kauai Workforce Investment Board, and the Board of Review, County of Kaua‘i. Topenio is a recipient of the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce’s Outstanding Leadership Award for Women in Business in 2004. She lives in Lihu‘e with husband Eddie and sons Tyler and Robert.

Pasion is currently the deputy county clerk of the County of Kaua‘i. He moved to Kaua‘i from Chicago in 1991 to establish a child care center in Lihu‘e (now operated by Kauai Economic Opportunity, Inc. officials). Pasion has broad experience in financial management. His skills include financial reporting, analysis, budgeting, planning, asset management, policies, and controls.

As director of finance and division controller of Illinois Tool Works Corporation, he supervised and managed a staff of 24 located in Illinois, Iowa, Mississippi, Tennessee, and California.

He has extensive experience as a controller in such places as Wales, Belgium, and Japan.

A major accomplishment in finance was his development of a three-year decentralization program to transfer management and control of financial functions at Signode Corporations.

Pasion earned his master’s degree in business administration at Roosevelt University in Chicago, and graduated from St. Williams College in the Philippines with a bachelor’s degree in commerce. He lives in Kalaheo with his wife Edie.

Renti Cruz had been a practicing physician for more than 44 years before he retired recently. He was born in Kekaha, and attended Kekaha School till the fourth grade. He traveled to the Philippines in 1947, and completed his schooling in Urdaneta, Pangasinan.

He attended the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, where he obtained his degree in pre-medicine, and later his doctor of medicine.

Moving to Minneapolis, he took his internship. He went on to earn his obstetrics and gynecology credentials at Pontiac, Mich. Renti Cruz began practicing medicine at Wilcox Memorial Hospital in 1962, and retired in 2005, noting that he had delivered more than 2,500 babies.

His community involvement includes membership in the Filipino Catholic Club, the Kauai Filipino Community Council, and the Kauai Filipino Chamber of Commerce.

He is also actively involved in the Holy Cross Parish Council and the Vicariate Youth Group. Renti Cruz lives in Kalaheo with his wife Sally.

The third part of the program represents the future. Members of a youth string ensemble, Ethereal Harmony, or “EH,” directed by Helen Sina, dazzled the audience with their rendition of classical Filipino love songs “Katakataka,” “Hating Gabi,” and “Sa Libis ng Nayon.”

They also accompanied soprano Jovita Garces in her rendition of “Ikaw ay Akin.” Violinists included Alexis Jacalne, Zylo Jacalne, Cara Owan and Daniel Sagadraca. Maica Jacalne played keyboard.

The young people are all teenagers attending local schools. Their performance speaks to the resiliency of the Filipino culture as it lives in the hearts of Filipinos wherever they may be.

The hosts for the evening were Jennifer Sandrowski and Jose Bulatao Jr. D’Ohana Band provided music for dancing.

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