His Excellency Victor G. Garcia III
On behalf of my family, the embassy staff, and the Filipino organizations based in Austria, I would like to greet you and your fellow Igorots of Europe, and congratulate you on this second Igorot European Consultation, with the theme. "Our Cordillera People's Culture, Our Heritage." Hosting this event is a notable achievement of the Igorot Association Austria.
The heritage of Cordilleran ancient culture and tradition is still most evident today: the world-famous Ifugao rice terraces carved by human hands from thousands of years ago; the ancient burial caves in Sagada; the well- preserved sacred mummies of Benguet's ancestral peoples; the Chico river and its turbulent but enlightening political story; the pristine mountain forests that are home to untold stories of past Philippine highland history. These are but some evidences of the unique character of the peoples of the Cordilleras as we see them today: their resiliency as a people, representative of the Filipino character of bravery, heroism, and valor.
Autonomy has long been a dream of the Cordillera people, and several referenda towards this end, as mandated in the Constitution, had been conducted but with no visible results yet. Autonomy in this sense must not be viewed as total independence from the National Government, but more as an equal partner of the National Government in terms of looking after the welfare of the peoples of the region. It is therefore the hope of many that one day, the Cordillera region will not only achieve its goal of autonomy, but also enhance its role as an integral and productive part of the Philippines, contributing its own share in the progress of our nation.
In this respect, it is noteworthy to cite President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's intensified efforts to tap our international bilateral partners to bring progress to the Philippines and its various regions, especially the most depressed among them. Her recent state visit to the United States, for instance, has produced manifold results for partnership. According to Secretary of Foreign Affairs Blas F. Ople, the series of RP-US agreements on joint scientific research, narcotics law enforcement, remittance flows, agriculture and reintegration of ex-MNLF combatants and other matters of mutual concern reflect the broad nature of RP-US relations. According to Secretary Ople: “The partnership between the two countries goes beyond counter-terrorism and defence issues. Both sides have agreed to embark on joint programs meant to spur peace and development in the Philippines.” While immediate impacts of the President's efforts may not be readily forthcoming, their contribution on peace and development in our country and in all its regional entities including the Cordilleras will no doubt be substantive in the long term.
Sa pagkakataong ita, nagpapasalamat aka sa malaking tulong ng mga Filipino organizations katulad ng Igorot chapters sa buong Europa sa nag- iisang hangarin natin na umangat ang Pilipinas mula sa kahirapan.
A landmark opportunity for Filipinos abroad, like the members of the Igorot Association chapters here in Europe, to participate in crafting the future destiny of our country will be a reality by 2004 through Overseas Absentee Voting, which was recently signed into law by the President. Under this law, all qualified Filipinos abroad will be able to participate in national elections for President, Vice-President, Senators and Sectoral Representatives through designated polling centers in Philippine embassies, including the Philippine Embassy here in Vienna. I therefore call upon all members of the Igorot Association chapters throughout Europe to take advantage of this first-ever chance to select our country's leaders so that your voices can be heard in the halls of our Government by participating in the electoral exercises next year. Through your meaningful exercise of your voting rights, you will thus be able to help Government in alleviating poverty and contributing to development of our country by careful choice of our national leaders.
In conclusion, I salute your efforts to undertake these consultations in a spirit of harmony, unity and solidarity, not only as fellow-Igorots but as Filipinos living as foreigners in this continent. In this regard, I commend the outstanding contributions of Mr. Patrick Bounggick, Sr. and all those involved in the preparations for this historic event.
Mabuhay kayong lahat at biyayain sana ng Panginoon ang inyong pagpupulong!