117th Anniversary of Philippine Independence
The sparkle of the reception room at Tel Aviv’s Sheraton Hotel, normally outstanding, faded into insignificance besides the ladies and gentlemen in national regalia and costumes of the host country. The elegance of the fabrics, the designs, the embroidery and the colors were breathtaking. The “star”, modest as she is, was no doubt Ms. Octavia Leeman Imperial, the charming wife of his Excellency Nathaniel G. Imperial, Ambassador of the Republic of the Philippines to the State of Israel, the host of the glamorous event.
The invitees included many distinguished Ambassadors, Consuls and other members of the Diplomatic Corps in Israel, including, to name just two, Ambassador Branco Kesic of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Ambassador Sisa Ngombane of South Africa. Many Military Attachés graced the room in their own smart elegance, adding to the dazzle, including Captain Sophia Baranes of the Foreign Relations Section of the Israel Defense Forces, a rose among the “thorns”. Travel personalities included Boaz Waksman, Chairman of Ophir Tours, and David Hojman, CEO of Maman Aviation (which also represents Philippine Airlines in Israel). The who’s who of Israeli society mingled easily with the many diplomats and members of Filipino society in Israel.
A presentation of the national anthems of both countries signaled the start of the formal part of the evening. Philippine-Israel relations have always been warm and this was reiterated by the Ambassador in his welcome address to the guests. He remarked on the fine bilateral relations between his country and Israel stretching back to 1957, and made special mention of the large numbers of Filipino care-givers working in Israel and the almost universally good conditions under which they work “… the best working conditions in the Middle East”, as well as the number of Filipino students benefitting from their agricultural studies through the Granot AgroStudies Program in Israel. The Ambassador also quoted figures and statistics about the Philippine Republic’s economic stability and its importance in the Far East and as a member of ASEAN, and of APEC.
His Excellency touched on the growth in bi-lateral tourism between the two countries, and the importance of high-level visits by leaders of each country, to the other. He concluded by raising a toast to the good health of Israel’s Prime Minister and President, and to the continuing vibrant good Philippine-Israel relations.
In response, and representing the State of Israel, Mark Sofer, Deputy Director General and Head of the Asia & Pacific Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs thanked the Ambassador and read out a letter of greetings and congratulations from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to H.E. Mr. Benigno Simeon Aquino III, President of the Republic of the Philippines. The Prime Minister’s letter made grateful mention of the fateful decision of the Philippine government to provide safe haven to thousands of Jews fleeing the Nazi atrocities in WW2, and also of the favorable Philippine vote at the United Nations in 1947, when Israel’s re-establishment was in question.
Mr. Sofer related how his own experiences in Manila confirmed just how open, warm and welcoming Filipinos are, so much so that when he mentioned to some of them the welcome that the distressed Jewish refugees had received, the locals were surprised that it could even have been any other way. Ambassador Imperial and Mr. Sofer then jointly cut into a beautiful cake bearing the flags of both countries as a fitting end to the introductions.
Perhaps the highlight of the evening was the really amazing performance presented by the “Sindaw Philippines Performing Arts Group”. The group is in Israel thanks to cooperation between the Embassy and the Philippine National Commission for Culture and the Arts. They will also be performing at the Philippines Tourism & Country Fair at the Castra Mall in Haifa on 17-18 June, a joint project of the Mall and Haifa Municipality.
The dancers were breathtaking in their elegance and style. Brilliant costumes, stamp-your-feet-tempo music, exquisite singing and unusual exhibits of timing, balance and joie-de-vivre.
Congratulations Philippines, and may the next 117 years take you to even higher plains of success and peaceful advancement.
Photos Silvia Golan