Sister Cities Olongapo and Virginia Beach Celebrate Fruits of Dynamic Diplomacy

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia -- What was supposed to be a farewell tribute to a friend and collaborator of the government and people of Virginia Beach became a testament to the strength, dynamism and great promise of the Sister City relationship of Olongapo City and Virginia Beach.

At a luncheon dubbed Celebrating Five Years of Dynamic Diplomacy, Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. was lauded for the work he did during his tenure as Ambassador, with the City of Virginia Beach and the Filipino-American Community in the Tidewater Area.

Held at the Philippine Cultural Center in Virginia Beach, the program included a dance performance from the students of the School of Creative and Performing Arts; remarks from City Clerk Ruth Fraser, President of the Sister Cities Association of Virginia Beach; presentation of the flag of the Commonwealth of Virginia by State Delegate Ron Villanueva; and awarding of Resolutions of Commendation from the Virginia Beach City Council, the Virginia Beach Economic Development Authority (VB-EDA), and the Council of United Filipino Organizations of Tidewater (CUFOT).

In a formal resolution of the Virginia Beach City Council, which was read by Mayor Will Sessoms, the Council recognized the Ambassador for his “foresight, and seizing the many opportunities to bridge peace, security, economic ties, understanding, education and cultural ties between the Philippines and the United States,” His work was also compared as mirroring the “people to people program” established by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956 in order to foster international understanding. President Eisenhower and Ambassador Cuisia have also both been awarded the Philippine Order of the Sikatuna.

On behalf of CUFOT, its Chairman Dr Manuel Hipol invoked the old tradition of the Navy, with which the region is associated, and wished Ambassador Cuisia “fair wind and following seas,” as he leaves the United States.

At the same program, City Councilman James Wood also presented five Olongapo City Firefighters who are currently enrolled in a six-month firefighters and emergency medical technicians’ course at the Virginia Beach Firefighters Academy. Their attendance in the course is again part of the activities of the sister cities, and has been made possible by the efforts of the City Government, Rotary Club of Cape Henry, Rotary Club Foundation, and the local Fil-Am community.

After the luncheon, the Ambassador visited Tallwood High School, which also hosted a farewell celebration consisting of performances from the third batch of Olongapo City High School students currently spending a few weeks in Virginia Beach, and from representatives of previous Tallwood delegations to the Philippines.

The student exchange program between Tallwood High School and Olongapo City schools, including the Olongapo National High School, is the people-to-people pillar of the Sister City Agreement between Olongapo and Virginia Beach. Olongapo City has already sent two earlier delegations in 2014 and 2015, and Virginia Beach, through Tallwood’s Global Studies and World Languages Academy (GSWLA), will be sending its third delegation later this year.

The exchange program has been good not only for the students of Olongapo and of Tallwood High. “It has also enabled us, the chaperone teachers who come with the students every year, to learn of the newest strategies for an effective classroom, as well as update our pedagogical knowledge and techniques,” explained teachers Trifina Tagulao and Nicole Maldupana, who are the chaperones for this year.

But the experience has been life changing for the students themselves. Syd Ramirez and Yvonne Reyes, 9th and 10thgraders, respectively, from Olongapo, describe the opportunity to study alongside students of Tallwood High this year as a great opportunity to learn about other cultures, explore new places, meet new friends, and to understand the United States and Americans more, with whom Filipinos share a lot of in terms of values, culture, and history.

As eloquently narrated in a video presentation by the 2014 GSWLA delegation to the Philippines, “all students should have the chance to experience the program, to travel across the ocean, to learn of other cultures, to understand each other, to change the world, one friendship at a time.”

At the Virginia Beach Economic Development Office later in the day, Ambassador Cuisia was briefed by Director Warren Harris and Scott Hall on the initiatives undertaken on the economic side of the sister city relationship. They spoke about the establishment of the Virginia Beach Olongapo Business Development Foundation office, planned and ongoing investments by Virginia Beach companies in Olongapo City and the Subic-Clark corridor, and the possible trade visit by a delegation led by the Governor of Virginia. They also discussed the sister city ports agreement between the Virginia Ports Authority and Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority.

“I would like to think that I have made my small contribution in establishing this vibrant relationship between these two great cities. But credit for the great strides in the political, economic, and people-to-people achievements should really go to the leadership of Mayor Will Sessoms and Mayor Rolen Paulino, and the amazing work of their teams,” Ambassador Cuisia said in his remarks at the luncheon.

“We celebrate 70 years of Philippine-US diplomatic relations this year, and we see growing opportunities for our bilateral relations to expand and flourish. So I urge you to continue your part. Do build on the gains of our collaboration, and let the two cities be major parts of the story of the enduring friendship between the Philippines and the United States,” the Ambassador added.  - Philippine Embassy, Washington D.C., 21 April 2016.