125th Philippine Independence Day Celebration
By Ricky Matthew
(above:) Wellington Filipino Choir Photo / Migrant News
WELLINGTON – On the 18th of June the vibrant city of Wellington came alive as it hosted the grand celebration of the 125th Philippine Independence Day at the Sky Stadium. The event, which commemorated the Philippines’ historic journey towards freedom, attracted a diverse range of attendees, who gathered to honour the significant milestone in Philippine history. With a variety of activities and special guests, the festivities showcased the rich culture and traditions of the Philippines.
The event was graced with the presence of notable figures such as the new Philippine Ambassador Her Excellency Kira Christianne D. Azucena and National Party Deputy Leader Nicola Willis, which added prestige to the occasion.
The event kicked off with a solemn mass led by Rev. Father Ron Bennett, the Otari Parish Priest. This was followed by a reflection on the struggles and triumphs that led to Philippine independence.
Throughout the day the celebrations continued with a series of captivating performances and showcases. The Wellington Filipino Choir mesmerized the audience with their melodic harmonies, showcasing the musical prowess and cultural heritage of the Filipino people. Meanwhile, sports enthusiasts engaged in the super six 3×3 basketball pop-up tournament, a testament to the Filipinos’ love for the game.
Damien Ekenasio, the General Manager at Capital Zone Basketball Trust and a former 17-season player with the Wellington Saints, expressed his excitement about the competition. “There were about 10 teams today. The big turnout is because Filipino people love their basketball,” he acknowledged, highlighting the sport’s popularity within the community. “Filipinos are very fast and aggressive. Passionate is the word. And they make up for their lack of height with a lot of heart.”
Another highlight of the event was the variety show, featuring renowned Filipino comedy duo Ang Diva At Ang Pilya. Composed of Jhong Diva and LJ Pilya, the duo delighted the crowd with their musical performances and a trivia contest. Jhong Diva expressed his excitement to perform at the event as he had experienced an unexpected two year stay in the Philippines due to travel restrictions caused by the pandemic, only returning last year. He said. “I went back home to the Philippines before Covid and I was stranded there for two years. Now that I am back we are excited to be putting on shows to remind people that we are still here.”
Throughout the day interviews with attendees provided insights into their personal connections with Filipino culture and independence.
Elena Taraeka, a half-Filipino attendee, expressed her reasons for attending the event. “To experience a bit more of my culture, you know, because I am not around it all the time,” she shared. Having visited the Philippines twice before, she acknowledged the expense of travel, but found solace in events like this that brought the essence of her heritage closer to home. She eagerly looked forward to indulging in the Filipino cuisine, a highlight of the event, as she mentioned. “I only have Filipino food at special events like these. My mum also cooks Filipino food.”
Kiwi-European Kate McCray, who harbours a deep fondness for Filipino cuisine, was thrilled to be part of the celebrations. “I love Filipino food,” she exclaimed. When asked about her favourite dish, she replied. “I like the Filipino BBQ.” Although she had not yet visited the Philippines, Kate expressed her desire to explore the country and learn more about its vibrant culture. Her partner, hailing from Manila, has provided her with the basics of Filipino traditions and she has taken an active interest in learning Tagalog.
Amidst the festivities, William and Marie, a European and Filipina couple and proud new parents, found themselves captivated by the jubilant atmosphere and the opportunity to expose their child to Filipino culture and heritage. “I’m here because it’s the Philippine’s anniversary and to give our little one a feel for the culture,” William explained.
As the day unfolded attendees immersed themselves in the cultural extravaganza; cherishing the music, performances, cuisine and the palpable sense of camaraderie and patriotism.
The 125th Philippine Independence Day celebration in Wellington served as a testament to the enduring spirit and rich heritage of the Filipino people, fostering a sense of patriotism and appreciation for those who fought for Philippine Independence 125 years ago.
The Philippines was initially colonised by Spain in the 16th century, enduring over 300 years of Spanish colonial rule. As the Filipino people grew increasingly discontented with Spanish oppression, uprisings and rebellions emerged throughout the archipelago. Notable figures like Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio played pivotal roles in awakening national consciousness in the Philippines.
Every year in the middle of June, Filipinos across the world celebrate the patriotism and cultural pride that Rizal and Bonifacio ignited in the Philippines. This celebration extends even to distant places like Wellington, New Zealand, halfway across the globe.
Yet strangely the place did not seem crowded. I’m not sure if it was the sheer size of the place, or whether the masses congregated in one area and didn’t venture far from the main church, but I didn’t feel overwhelmed by tourists in the monastery.
Headed over Lions Bridge and made our way to the Sofia Synagogue, then sheltered in the Central Market Hall until the recurrent (but short-lived) mid-afternoon rain passed.
Feeling refreshed after an espresso, we walked a short distance to the small but welcoming Banya Bashi Mosque, then descended into the ancient Serdica complex.