Philippine Ambassador Enhances Linkages Among Local Officials and Parliametarians in Hamilton, New Zealand
As the Philippine Embassy in New Zealand embarks on its continuing efforts to build closer relations between the Philippines and New Zealand at the political, economic and socio-cultural fields, further promote the positive image of the Philippines as the home of world-class talents and deepen understanding, goodwill and friendship among the people of New Zealand, Ambassador Virginia H. Benavidez called on several local officials and met some members of the Parliament in Hamilton, the fourth largest city of New Zealand on 21 October 2011. These series of calls and meetings outside of the capital city, Wellington are now an integral part of the Embassy’s visits to areas with sizeable number of Filipinos needing mobile consular services. Hand-in-hand with the delivery of more effective mobile consular services to the Filipino communities, Ambassador Benavidez is also giving priority to the broadening of contacts and networking with government officials, business groups, media and other sectors in various cities and districts in New Zealand as part of the key strategies that the Philippine Embassy is currently adopting to maximize its public, economic and cultural diplomacy thrusts. “By calling on the local officials at the same time that the mobile consular services are being conducted, I would be able to meet those directly involved with the welfare and activities of the Filipinos residing and working in their respective areas, learn first hand about the situation of Filipinos in various parts of New Zealand and impress upon both the Filipino community and local officials that the Embassy is ready to render assistance and support anytime,” Ambassador Benavidez said.
Ambassador Benavidez and Mayor HardakerAmbassador Benavidez, accompanied by Minister and Consul Giovanni E. Palec, called on Mayor Julie Hardaker of Hamilton City who acknowledged the active role that more than 1,500 members of the Filipino community continue to play in the local community development programs as well as their contributions to the multi-ethnic composition and features of the Waikato region. She gave an overview on the economic progress of the City and the establishment of the Innovation Centre where entrepreneurial talent and business prospects are being nurtured and developed for the benefit of the people with innovative approaches and strategies and for the potential investors who would like to partner with them and help them grow the business. On the economic strengths of Hamilton, Mayor Hardaker said that Hamilton has agricultural, light industries and information technology companies. Hamilton and the Waikato District are mainly dairy producing areas as its geography has plenty of flat lands ideal for grazing of the cows. They are trying to capitalize on the research and development (R&D) component of the University of Waikato and Waikato Institute of Technology. They have put up the Waikato Link that allows the commercial sector to look and tap into these researches that may be commercially viable. She puts it as “sharing knowledge with profit”.
Ambassador Benavidez thanked the Mayor for her deep appreciation of the Filipino community’s important roles and involvement in Hamilton’s development and stated that the worldwide recognition of New Zealand companies’ niches and expertise, especially in the IT field, are the areas where the Philippines and New Zealand could collaborate for mutual benefit. Ambassador Benavidez mentioned that the Philippines has a very strong, vibrant and globally recognized IT and business process outsourcing industry. There are opportunities for New Zealand and Philippine companies to work together considering that the Philippines already has an established regional and international network while New Zealand is known for its innovation and R&D.
Ambassador Benavidez called on Mr. James Lynn of the Office of Community Services (OCS) and Ms Jenny Nace who praised the local Filipino community for being very active in the local events or activities, whether these are organized by the OCS, the City Council or by the Waikato Filipino Association. Ms. Nace said that activities that enhance, retain or preserve the ethnic identity of the group are encouraged. Ambassador Benavidez conveyed her appreciation for the informative briefing, the favourable feedback on the contributions of the Filipino community in the Waikato region and their positive response to the holding of Filipino language and cultural enhancement classes.
Ambassador Benavidez then met with Police Superintendent Win Vander Velde, Pere Paea, the Police Liaison Officer for Pacifica and Ethnic Peoples in the Waikato District and Inspector Ambassador Benavidez and Police Superintendent Win Vander VeldeDana McDonald. Inspector McDonald had been to various parts of the Philippines to conduct lectures on Community relations and to search for the model police station under the New Zealand Police and Philippine National Police cooperation program.
Mr. McDonald mentioned that he was particularly impressed with the Philippines’ community or neighbourhood watch where the barangay official would be the first person to handle complaints before raising the matter to the Police authorities. He likened this to their Maori warden system and said that this was an effective way of lessening the burden on the Police and allowing the community to be involved more in the process. Inspector McDonald said that he learned more from his trips to the provinces.
Supt. Vander Velde said that Filipinos living in the Hamilton and Waikato area are considered good citizens and thanked the Police officials for their kind words and favourable impression of the Filipino community under their jurisdiction. There was a lively discussion on the nature and procedures being followed under the barangay system and its close linkage with the local police authorities in the Philippines.
Ambassador Benavidez proceeded to meet with Mr. Edgar Wilson of the Waikato Institute of Technology or Wintec who gave a tour and briefing of the premises and the thrust of Wintec. He emphasized that being a polytechnic institute, practical application was part of the curriculum. Mr. Wilson said that they had many foreign students from China, Malaysia, Somalia and Saudi Arabia. He mentioned a Filipino was among the first to be given a scholarship for ethnic students and he is now studying engineering in Wintec. Mr. Wilson pointed out the unique feature in of the caféteria which had computers on the table and is situated next to the library. Students can use the digital copies of the books as there is only one hard copy of the books retained and the extra copies were given to other institutions.
Ambassador Benavidez stated that the Wintec campus is really impressive with state-of-the-art technology readily available to the students and teachers and thanked Mr. Wilson for the information regarding the scholarship grant to the first Filipino who successfully passed the screening criteria and procedures.
In her meeting with the officers of the Waikato Community Trust headed by Dr Bev Gatenby, Chief Executive, Ambassador Benavidez was briefed on the formation of the Trust, its purposes and objectives. Many activities including cultural and heritage events such as the Pistang Pilipino in Hamilton and programs that promote and preserve the culture of an ethnic group are supported.
Ambassador Benavidez likewise met the leading members of Parliament representing Hamilton and the Waikato region who graced the Filipino Grand Reunion celebrations and took the opportunity to share with them the positive developments in the Philippines and the priority areas of cooperation between the Philippines and New Zealand. Their presence and public acknowledgement of the importance of the Filipinos in Hamilton and New Zealand were concrete indicators of the valuable and close people-to-people ties between the Filipinos and New Zealanders in the political, economic and socio-cultural levels.
The Filipinos in Hamilton have a good reputation with officials from the local government and charitable organizations for being active in their communities and as productive and law-abiding citizens and residents. The officials had high praises and deep appreciation for the contributions, support and cooperation of the Filipino community. In fact, the local community trust has always given support to several Filipino community events.
Through her highly informative meetings with the New Zealand officials, Ambassador Benavidez was able to gain a better insight and perspective about New Zealand, gain first hand information about the situation of Filipinos in local areas and highlight the Philippine Embassy’s readiness to serve with a smile, promote the welfare and protect the interests of the Filipino community in Hamilton and other parts of the country.