MANILA, December 14, 2005 (STAR) By Craig Gima - Filipinos began a yearlong centennial celebration yesterday with a tribute to the first sakadas, contract plantation workers who began 100 years of immigration to Hawaii in December 1906.

Music, a multi-denominational church service and a reenactment of the sakadasí journey from the Philippines highlighted events yesterday morning at the Hawaii Convention Center.

A dinner last night attended by more than 1,200 people featured entertainment and speeches by the governor and other officials from Hawaii and the Philippines.

"Itís finally here," said Elias Beniga, chairman of the Filipino Centennial Commission, which has been planning the celebration of Filipino history and culture for the last three years.

Beniga said the celebration is not just for Filipinos.

But he said it is important to teach the next generation about where they have come from and the values of hard work, community, loyalty and family that immigrants brought with them.

"Itís a way for us to finally know who we are, what caused us to be here today," said Margie Pascua, whose grandparents came to Hawaii as laborers after World War II.

Laupo Garcia, 94, who has lived most of his life on Lanai after immigrating from the Philippines, said heíd never seen anything like the opening ceremonies yesterday morning.

His son Robert, who brought him to the festivities, said the centennial reminds him of the sacrifices his father made so that he could have a better life in Hawaii.

"I started to cry," Robert Garcia said.

Jose Molano Jr., chairman of the Philippine governmentís Commission on Filipinos Overseas, said Filipino-American immigrants are an important part of the economy, sending remittances back to the Philippines and investing in businesses and real estate.

The Philippine government is also planning on celebrating the centennial, Molano said. A postage stamp featuring Hawaii immigrants will be released in January and other ceremonies are being planned, he said.

Joseph "Ace" Durano, the Philippines secretary of tourism, spoke at the banquet last night as a representative of President Arroyo.

He is promoting travel to the Philippines during the centennial year.

Durano said the presidentís message to local Filipinos is that the Philippines is "very proud of the accomplishments of the Filipino community here in Hawaii and confident that the next 100 years will be as successful." ó Honolulu Star Bulletin

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved