President Benigno S. Aquino III visited with a delegaton of Phil-Am representatives at Baruch College during his visit to New York on Sep 23, 2010.
President Aquino's Address at Mason Hall, Baruch College, New York
by Bill Strileckis
On Thursday, Sep 23, 2010, newly elected president Benigno S. Aquino III visited New York City to attend the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly. While in New York, he spoke to an audience of approximately 1,000 representatives of the Filipino - American community at Baruch College in Manhattan. I was fortunate to be a part of the audience that evening at Mason Hall. We had arrived around 5:00 PM and already there was a line that stretched around the building! No one seemed to mind though, as most of us were in good spirits, and waited patiently as the line moved slowly. Even jaded New Yorkers, used to seeing lines at any time for just about any reason, stopped and asked why we were lined up outside Mason Hall (wearing suit coats and dresses!).
President Aquino arrived after 7:00 PM to a standing ovation, accompanied by Ambassador Willie Gaa, Consul General Cecilia Rebong, philanthropist and supporter Loida Nicholas Lewis, Secretaries Cesar Purisima, Greg Domingo, Rene Almendras, and Bert Romulo. He was met at the entrance by a welcoming committee of representatives from area Phil-Am community organizations, among them newly-elected PAMAS President Lidy Chan.
First to speak was Loida Nicholas Lewis, who welcomed the President, and then recited a list of suggested actions the president might pursue to open his term of office. Her list, unabashedly, included tapping the energy of Stateside Filipinos, who could give both political and financial support to the President's goals of bringing economic parity to the country. She also asked him to speak with President Obama about extending Medicare to Philippine hospitals so that Fil-Am retirees could return to their homeland without worrying about health costs and medical services.
The San Lorenzo Choir followed Ms. Lewis with a rendition of "Bagong Pilipino". Philippine Ambassador Willie Gaa gave a short introduction, and then President Aquino took to the podium. He started by announcing that he was putting aside his prepared speech "nanggagaling po sa puso talaga itong ating mga sasabihin" ("in order to speak to you from the heart"). Judging from the thunderous applause he received, the audience appreciated his candor.
The president appeared relaxed, speaking in Tagalog, thanking the members of the audience for coming to New York from around the region. He first made special mention of the delegation from Massachusetts, where he had many fond memories growing up. He then mentioned each delegation in turn, and each acknowledged him loudly. Though we tried our best, we couldn't make more noise than our New York counterparts, outnumbering us on their home turf!
He addressed Mrs. Lewis' list of requests honestly, saying that while many of the items were possible, others might require some further consideration. He couldn't promise immediate results, but would take her suggestions seriously. He then spoke of his reason for coming to New York, to attend the opening of the U.N. General Assembly. He used the occasion to explain some key economic developments in the Philippines and announce several initiatives that he had explored with business and government leaders here. One item proposed in the US Congress may create thousands of manufacturing jobs if passed into law, and asked the community for their support in its passage.
The president spoke for over an hour, and left to a standing ovation and an auditorium of excited, almost delirious, "mga kababayan". While many may not have been supporters before, he made a very lasting impression on the members of his audience that night. I believe he convinced most of them of his sincerity and his willingness to do what is best for the Philippines.