It was my first time to visit Pangasinan upon the invitation of Governor Ann Lorenzana of Rotary International District 3790 that covers the provinces of Tarlac all the way to Baguio, as one of their speakers in their Public Image Seminar.
We left Manila early in the morning and what used to be a 6-hour drive became a breeze through the NLEX. The drive was picturesque and we were hoping to stop in some spots but unfortunately, we lost our way somewhere in Tarlac and barely made it in time for the training which was held at the Sison Auditorium in Lingayen, just adjacent to their impressive government center.
I am in my second year as a member of the Rotary Public Image Committee (RPIC) in the Philippines and last year, because of the pandemic, most of my invitations were for virtual trainings. Thus it was a bit nerve-wracking to see a crowd of 400 Rotarians who registered for the event.
District Governor Ann Lorenzana (center) with (l-r) ARPICs Tonipi Parungao, Lilibeth Dela Cruz, Mate Espina and Josh Santos in Lingayen, Pangasinan.
It was fun to see many of them in super heroes costume as part of their theme and as speakers, our team composed of fellow Assistant Rotary Public Image Coordinators Tonipi Parungao, Lilibeth Dela Cruz and Josh Santos had to don superhero shirts as well.
I was surprised to find out that Governor Ann is an Ilonggo who grew up in Iloilo and spent her elementary years in Assumption College there. Her family migrated to Olongapo, Pampanga where she settles now but still goes back to Iloilo at least once a year to oversee their properties there.
Having an Ilonggo in a roomful of Rotarians speaking in various dialects was quite comforting plus the presence of my classmate District Governor Elect, Francis Cornejo, made my jitters go away.
The training ended late with the customary fellowship and the morning after, we woke up surprised to see the beach just a stone throw away from our hotel. But we had to leave early again to meet up with Past President Susan Simpao Czudai for brunch at Lola Nors in San Fernando, Pampanga.
I met Susan a couple of weeks ago in Davao when we attended the birthday bash and induction of former PNP Chief Archie Gamboa as President of the Rotary Club of Downtown Davao and husband of my classmate Governor-Elect, Twinkle. That’s another story to tell though as we were treated to a weekend of fun visiting Samal Island, all the way to Bukidnon where the Gamboa have their beautiful mountain retreat.
I was quite surprised when Susan told me that I wrote about her a couple of years ago in another local daily I used to write for. That article was sent to her by Rotarian Amelyn Bravo who actually gave me the story.
In the early stage of the pandemic, some Negrenses got stuck in Clark, Pampanga and needed assistance while the provincial government was facilitating their trip home. Amelyn reached out to Rotarians in that area and Susan was among those that responded along with Past District Governor Jess Nicdao.
These Rotarians responded to the call even if they have not met Amelyn personally and supplied their basic needs like water, alcohol, face masks and the likes. Jess who also owns several branches of Jollibee in that area gave out food to the trapped Negrenses.
It was very touching to hear that story again from Susan and to finally be able to thank her personally for they did for our kasimanwas. Indeed, when the call to serve is made, nobody blinks even when at that time, we were facing the unknown and for that, hats off to Susan and the rest of her group.
Back in Manila, I bumped into more Rotarians at the Charter House where I stayed including Past District Governor Louie Gonzaga who was in transit for a trip to Zamboanga, lawyers Maki Ascalon and Lorivic Mercado who were attending the ANP Trade Fair in Glorietta.
I would have wanted to stay on for the trade fair but mother duty calls as I had to return to my new Italian foster son, Nicolo Rettore, an AFS exchange student who will stay with me for the rest of the school year.