By Jon D. Melegrito
A Farewell to the “People’s Ambassador”
Flanked by Mrs. Vicky Cuisia and US-Philippine Friendship Society President John F. Maisto, Amb. Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. sings the last line of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” (his favorite karaoke song) following a musical tribute at a farewell dinner in his honor. (Photo by Jon Melegrito)
The Honorable Jose L. Cuisia, Jr., - the longest-serving Philippine Ambassador to the United States – is stepping down this month after almost six years in this plum diplomatic post. He said he and his wife, Vicky, are looking forward to returning home and resuming his life in the private sector where he served as Central Bank Governor for three years. He also squelched speculations that he will succeed Albert del Rosario as Secretary of Foreign Affairs. “I just want to go home and be with my grandchildren,” he said.
But before flying back to Manila, he intends to complete his plan of visiting all 50 states in the U.S.. “I’ve gone to 42 already,” he points out, “but I may only get to three before I leave – possibly Wyoming, Alabama and Oklahoma.”
The Ambassador made these remarks at a farewell dinner on May 20 at a Maryland Country Club. Representatives from more than 30 community organizations, the US-Philippine Friendship Society and other dignitaries paid tribute to the “People’s Ambassador” and his many accomplishments, and praised his legacy of “institutionalizing unity and cooperation” in providing humanitarian assistance to the Philippines.
The “Despedida” was hosted by the Philippine Humanitarian Coalition (PHC) – an organization he founded in November 2013 shortly after Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines. More than 40 Filipino American organizations responded to his call to unite behind the recovery, rehabilitation and rebuilding efforts.
“There are numerous Filipino-American organizations in the Metro DC area alone, each one with its own goals and mandate,” the Ambassador said last year during the second anniversary of Haiyan. “Some people said it would be impossible to get these organizations together for one cause. In the case of Typhoon Haiyan, however, the genuine desire to help our kababayan in need was much greater than any individual organization’s goal or mandate. It was in this light, two years ago that the Philippine Humanitarian Coalition was born.”
The community partnership with the Philippine Embassy and US-Philippine Society raised $100,000, which went directly to Haiyan victims through grants given to ten community organizations. One such grant was a Book Outreach Project for school children in Leyte to replace some of the books and other educational resources that were lost and destroyed by Haiyan’s onslaught.
Amb. and Mrs. Cuisia are passionate believers in youth leadership. Among his initiatives soon after he assumed his post is an immersion program in the Philippines called Filipino Youth Leadership Program (FYLPro).
FYLPro identifies 10 outstanding Filipino-American leaders in the U.S. for a week-long, all-expense paid trip to the Philippines to meet leaders in various fields and strengthen the ties between the U.S. and the Philippines. After their trip, these leaders are expected to “give back.”
Jessica Caloza of Los Angeles, Calif., a 2015 alumna, credits FYLPro for giving her a “newfound awareness of my role as a young leader in helping address challenges facing Filipinos in the Philippines and abroad. When I came back last year, I was more connected, engaged, and committed to finding solutions and expanding opportunities that can benefit our community.” Caloza works in the Office of Immigrant Affairs for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
FYLPRO President Bea Rico urges high-performing and passionate Filipino young professionals with strong interests in “making meaningful and life-long connections back to the Philippines, developing leadership potential, contributing to the growth of the Filipino community,” to apply for the program.
Another of his initiatives is a “Merienda with the Philippine Embassy and Youth Roundtable,” held each Spring at college campuses in the Washington, D.C. area. At his last appearance before Filipino American students, held at the Catholic University of America on 24 April 2016, Ambassador Cuisia thanked the Filipino-American youth for their support of the Embassy’s advocacies and initiatives, especially to the Merienda that served as an avenue for youth engagement in the past 5 years.
This year’s Merienda was co-organized by the Philippine Embassy and the Filipino Intercollegiate Networking Dialogue (FIND) – District VI, and centered on the theme of Leadership, with a focus on Advocacy, Collaboration, Culture, Media and Mentorship.
Consular Building Makeover
Rejuvenating the old Philippine Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue and turning the century-old brick building into a “gem” is another of Amb. and Mrs. Cuisia’s proud achievement. Condemned and unused for nearly 20 years, the original four-story building will soon house the embassy’s consular offices and services – thanks to the Ambassador’s fundraising skills and connections.
During his stint as Ambassador between 2001-2006, Albert Del Rosario wanted to rehabilitate the building but couldn’t get the needed funding. Apparently, the Philippine Government did not have enough money in its coffers to proceed. It was not until Ambassador Cuisia took over, after years of stalled plans, that renovation finally went underway in 2015.
“I take this opportunity to congratulate Ambassador and Mrs. Cuisia for being so proactive, so hands on, and for their stick-to-itiveness in seeing this project through until its completion,” said Del Rosario during the building’s inaugural in February. He applauded Ambassador Cuisia who “succeeded, where I had failed.”
At the May 20 farewell dinner, PHC Director Vicky Navarro said of the ambassador’s legacy: “It’s not yet the finish line. There’s more to come.”