MANILA,  August
17, 2004 (STAR) By Sandy Araneta - Another honest Filipino cabbie makes the grade — this time in the Big Apple — and he has come home with honor to fulfill his simple dreams.

Filipino-American taxi driver Nestor Sulpico, 46, returned to the Philippines yesterday for a vacation, arriving at the NAIA on Asiana Airlines flight OZ-371 at 11:48 a.m. from New York via South Korea.

Sulpico became an instant celebrity after he returned $70,000 worth of rare black pearls left by a passenger in the New York taxi he was driving a few weeks ago. His story was picked up by CNN, BBC and ABS-CBN, the Department of Tourism (DOT) said in a statement.

Despite holding American citizenship, Sulpico spoke mostly in Filipino when interviewed by journalists upon his arrival. He is a native of Leganes, Iloilo.

During the interview, Sulpico showed modesty, saying that it is okay that he has become a celebrity because of his honesty and adding that he wants to return to the simple life, buy a house in the Philippines someday and retire to spend time with his wife and 18-year-old daughter.

Both his wife and child are living in Iloilo, away from the limelight. Sulpico was met at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) by representatives of the DOT and the media.

While he admitted to having fantasized about getting rich with the black pearls he found in his cab, Sulpico said his conscience told him it would be better if he were honest.

"I fantasized about becoming rich right away, but this is not my habit (taking what is not mine)," he said. "That is the reason why I returned (the pearls). In the first place, that was my decision. If I didn’t return the jewels, it would not have been good for Filipinos."

"(Filipinos) are not corrupt people... Filipinos are hard-working, honest," he said. "We should be proud of ourselves when we face other people in other countries. We work in other countries in order to improve our lives as well as our country."

"With this, it’s a start that we have proven ourselves, that we are not slaves in other countries and we should likewise help the President and the government," he added.

He said one of the reasons he came home was to accept the award the DOT will confer upon him as part of the department’s "Ganda ng Pilipinas, Galing ng Pilipino" campaign.

"I’m here for a visit and to receive the honor," he said. "I know that the President is offering me recognition and I am also thanking the Senate and Congress for this recognition."

Sulpico said he has been living in the United States, away from his family, for the last 15 years. He added that he only has friends in New York.

Apparently Sulpico married an American citizen while he was overseas, but added he is separated from his American wife and wants to return to his family in Iloilo.

Sulpico said he put up a computer business there, but that it folded up. Unfazed, Sulpico intends to start another business soon.

As a newcomer to New York, Sulpico said he had been mugged in the Bronx twice within six months and had been injured in one heist, sustaining a wound that required seven stitches to close.

He intends to return to New York in two weeks to attend to business.

"We want to set up a foundation in New York" that focuses on encouraging honesty, he said. "The act itself will become a spark, not only in the Philippines, but all throughout the world. Filipinos started this."

He said that when his story hit the headlines, his life changed dramatically. Now, when he goes to gasoline stations to fill his tank, the attendants don’t want to charge him for the fuel he purchases and restaurants want to give him free meals.

The owner of the pearls, Lawrence Policastro, an Italian Jew from Connecticut, got in Sulpico’s cab with some friends that fateful day that changed the cabbie’s life.

"I picked up three passengers at 82nd Street near Central Park, from an apartment in an upscale neighborhood at 11 p.m.," Sulpico said. "They’d been drinking. I brought them to a bar in Lower East Manhattan. This is where they forgot the bag (containing the black pearls)."

After dropping Policastro off, Sulpico picked up two passengers, "a man and a woman, around 20 or 21 years old." The passengers saw the bag and asked Sulpico whose it was. "That’s the time I saw the bag."

Sulpico said he checked the bag and saw the black pearls, with their tag prices and packaging still intact. He also saw a cellular phone in the bag.

"In 30 minutes, I called up the owner, since he left his cellphone in the bag," Sulpico said.

Now that he is back home, Sulpico said he will take the opportunity to obtain his birth certificate from the National Statistics Office (NSO) to apply for dual citizenship.

While he became an American citizen "sometime last year," Sulpico said "we should be proud to be Filipino... I will get my birthright that I am a Filipino. I was a Filipino when I went to the US, I am still a Filipino now that I have come home. I have no shame about being Filipino."

He was also asked to give his opinion on the matter of President Arroyo’s decision to capitulate to the demands of Iraqi militants to secure the release of their hostage, Filipino truck driver truck driver Angelo de la Cruz.

"I believe that the President did what she had to do," he said. "Though it’s unpopular in America... Life will take precedence over any other consideration. She is also a very courageous woman."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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