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How to hold a town reunion in the Philippines

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hiri3 (320x214)After more than 40 years (some even 50 years) of being absent from their hometown in the Philippines, a score or so baby boomers who left the town of Sipocot, Camarines Sur in Bicol in the Philippines returned last 21 June 2013 and held a town reunion.

Some from USA, Europe and Australia and many from other parts of the Philippines from Cagayan in the North to Mindanao in the South who had worked and established their careers and families away from their place of childhood and teenage years met last 21 June 2013 in Sipocot for the town reunion called “Hiriiingan sa Pinaghalean” (Town Reunion).

The date chosen was four days before Sipocot town fiesta, and two days before a big high school reunion for the town’s long-running private high school the St John’s Academy, the pride of many of the town’s baby boomers. It turned out some of the big extended families in the town hosted separate welcome reception for those who arrived from the U.S. and Europe.

Through a handful of homesick mostly mature men and women, the idea of a town reunion was galvanised through active networking from early in 2012 by email and Facebook. The group mostly in their 50s and 60s now included a former Philippine cabinet secretary, a former NBI agent, and a few businessmen including the networking group’s instigator Mr Jose Orogo, a marketing general manager from Valenzuela Bulacan.

Locals of Sipocot and the provincial capital Naga City such as Tomas Crecini, Mar Castilla, Deity and Che Avengoza, Joel and Dulia Celaje, Ronald Lontac, were in constant contact via cyberspace  with U.S. residents Greg Castilla, Renato “Natoy” Villacorte, Serafin Gaor Escarilla, Arcadio Morada, Leo Castilla and a few more. From Sydney,  Renato Perdon, Nonoy Perdon,  Josie Vilacorte Ilagan and to some exent Ceres Sabando, all of Sydney belong to their Facebook site.

Not all the overseas connection were able to come, but the presence of the town’s sons who made good in the national government made the town reunion even more significant. Former cabinet undersecretary Horace Templo, General Jimmy Lazar, and General Edwin Vargas pressed the flesh with many Sipocot residents including old classmates, childhood chums and teenage buddies.

Sisters Ceres Sabando from Sydney and Nelia Sabando Ford of London were both welcomed in the “Hirilingan” and a subsequent smaller clan reunion of the Sabando, Midem and Castilla families. Many were glad to see former teen “dama” whiz kid and now retired U.S. engineer Renato “Natoy Villcorte, and former Jesuit and likewise retired author and  academic Greg Castilla.

Though they were not able to come, U.S. residents Hermito San Jose and Serafin Escarilla were so moved by the initiative , they donated some amount to help the project get off the ground.

A committee of local residents with the help of Sipocot town Mayor Oggie Astor made possible a grand welcome for the homecoming including a motorcade along the town’s main streets, and  a daylong reception at the town’s recently completed community function centre beside the municipal hall.

GNN TV 48 based in Naga City provided TV coverage for the event in addition to an advance interview with overseas residents coming to the “Hirilingan” which publicised the event in the GNN TV program “Inside Bicol”. Likewise, Sydney resident, historian and author Renato Perdon donated copies of his book “Memoir of Sipocot”  which were distributed to most participants.

After the town reunion, designated project treasurer Greg Castilla reported the reunion had an excess of some ten thousands in Philippine currency to which a few already commented would be a good seed amount for another and perhaps, bigger town reunion.