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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Charice dazzles guests at RP embassy

Teenage singing sensation Charice dazzled the guests and Filipino American Rep. Steve Austria, a new member of the US Congress, lifted their spirits at a reception at the Philippine embassy to celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States.

Charice, a surprise appearance at the reception on Monday, belted “One Moment in Time” and then did a haunting rendition of “God Bless America” that left many spellbound.

The power of her voice in a small, enclosed auditorium like the Romulo Hall where the reception was held literally blew people away. Many were left gasping for breath. Others could only mumble “Oh, my God.”

Austria, a first-generation Filipino-American member of the US Congress, in a passionate speech called on all Filipino-Americans to involve themselves more in mainstream politics and speak with one voice so they can make a difference.

“Yes, we can,” he said, echoing Obama’s famous campaign mantra.

He said he was very proud of his Filipino heritage passed on by his father, the late Dr. Clemente Austria of Tiaong, Quezon, a World War II veteran who came to the US to study medicine.

“It was so important in my family, and especially to my father, that we knew and understood Filipino traditions and customs,” he said.

The newly minted congressman, a Republican from Ohio, said he looked forward to working with the Philippine embassy and Ambassador Willy Gaa “on issues near and dear to us” and hoped to visit the Philippines soon.

His last visit was in 1977, a high school graduation gift by his father to him.

Austria arrived at the tail-end of the reception when many guests had already left because he was caught in a two-hour traffic jam while traveling the less than five-mile (8 km) distance from Capitol Hill to the Philippine embassy.

Hoards of people from all over the country have converged in Washington for Obama’s historic inauguration, and thousands of police and national guardsmen have been called in from other states to help secure the capital, especially the parade route between Capitol Hill and the White House.

Up to two million spectators are expected to turn out for the ceremony, though the final figure may be smaller because of freezing weather forecast for the whole day.

Ambassador Gaa in a welcome address said Obama had universal appeal and under his administration the Philippines looked forward to even greater cooperation and stronger alliance with the US.

“We will intensify our partnership in reducing poverty (in the Philippines) under the Millennium Challenge Account. We will intensify our efforts for the passage of the veterans equity bill,” he said. “We will promote human rights.”

Gaa told reporters the unexpected presence of Charice “spiced up” the reception. “I’m happy she was able to make it at such short notice,” he said.

Charice herself said she more or less invited herself to the reception when she heard about it because she wanted to “sing for Pinoys.”

After her two numbers at the embassy she had to rush to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel to perform at the Pearl Presidential Inaugural Gala organized by the Asian Pacific American community.

On Sunday night Charice sang “God Bless America” at The People’s Inaugural Gala at the Grand Hyatt Hotel and brought the house down.

Witnesses said she also brought some people to tears, an amazing feat considering that was the first time she sang that song in public, according to her.

“I’m honored and blessed to be invited to perform in the inaugural balls here in Washington. It’s a great honor for a Pinoy,” she said.

On the other hand, another Filipino-American student has been chosen to witness Obama’s inauguration.

Gabriel Angelo Yap Millare was invited to attend the ceremony, and will even sit in the front row.

Apart from witnessing the historic inauguration, Millare was invited to attend the inaugural convention, giving him the opportunity to rub elbows with Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, former State Secretary Colin Powell and former US vice president and environmentalist Al Gore.

Millare is a two-time Presidential Academic Excellence awardee. While at the Barbara Bush School in San Antonio, Texas, Millare was a delegate to the Junior National Leaders Conference in Washington where he had the opportunity to meet America’s top political leaders.

Other Filipino students invited to the historic ceremony are Luisa Kristabel “Abbey” Manliclic, Paul Michael Thomas Cruz and Anna Marie Liwanag.

Consul General Domingo Nolasco, who oversaw the preparations for the reception, said about 140 of 200 invited guests attended, a good turnout considering many other receptions, galas and parties for Obama were being held in Washington at about the same time.

In addition to the 10 official balls that President and Mrs. Obama and Vice President and Mrs. Joe Biden are most likely to attend on Tuesday, there are a gazillion other parties in town.

During the reception, about 30 Filipinos held a peaceful protest outside the embassy demanding an end to US military aid to the Philippines.

The protesters, mostly from Kararungan, Bayan USA and the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, urged the Obama administration to “withdraw US support to the unpopular Arroyo regime.”

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