BALIKBAYANI République | Tony Alabastro
A commemorative record of achievements as guest workers’ and Philippine Embassy’s legacy to host country being home away from home is born during a Filipino pioneers’ afternoon meeting.
In coastal village Penanjong, COVID-19-free Brunei’s third largest Tutong district, past public school and Jalan Palau, the get-together rocks and rolls in a mansion whose private waterfall cascades near a South China Sea beach.
History-loving Ambassador Christopher Montero encourages “OFWs to document your contributions to Brunei before and after Independence. Ambassadors come and go. You are the constants who provide messages and ideas to strengthen the community.”
Hajah Siti Noraizah aka Andy Borja-Latif serves native merienda for 25 Fil-ipino pioneers with up to 45 years Brunei work experience, and Philippine Embassy key officers.
Andy Latif narrates: “I came to Brunei in 1975, got married in 1976. I started working with Brunei government under the Economic Development Board as Tourism Officer in 1978 and put up Tourist Information Centre at Brunei International Airport arrival hall in 1979.
“I made Brunei’s first Tourist Guidebook in cooperation with Language and Literature Department, and Radio Broadcasting Brunei. There was no television yet. Three Malay staff assisted. Tourists get free Guidebooks.
“Guidebook contained information on Kampong Ayer (centuries-old Water Village on stilts), Churchill Memorial Museum, Parliament House (Lapau), Brunei Shell, airlines, travel agents directory. Bandar’s three hotels were Sheraton Utama, Brunei Hotel, and Ang’s Hotel. Kuala Belait had Sentosa Hotel, Seaview Hotel. There was no Istana Nurul Iman (Palace of the Light of Faith) yet.
“I resigned in 1984 after Brunei independence, and helped our company, Zura Travel Agency Sdn Bhd: The first to employ Filipino staff; first PAL representative and top three agent until PAL closed in Brunei; and Aziz Latif Company, which employed over 100 Filipino engineers, architects, accountants, drivers, admin staff, laborers.
“When Istana was built and finished within two years in January 1984, Filipino workers were sometimes stranded at the airport. When we stayed in Bandar Ong Sum Ping, Immigration called me about them. Quickly we fetched and sent them to employers or accommodations even at night. There was no Philippine Embassy yet.”
Nurse Luisa Cabangon says Andy Latif picked her up at Brunei airport when she arrived in 1983 and took her to nurses quarters near the old General Hospital in town before RIPAS Hospital was built.
Young Joffree Bumatay made Brunei visits to engineer-father Joseph, who arrived 1974, and mother Thelma, who taught Home Science,1976.
An engineer, Joffree in 1986 worked on Brunei’s main water supply running through 57-km pipeline in a Tutong jungle from the Binutan Dam.
“I bumped five water buffaloes and wrecked five cars in foggy Tutong. It took 30 people to load on a lorry the buffalo’s carcass, which provided a week’s meat supply our 2,000 workers. Brunei law prohibits stray animals on the road,” says Joeffre.
He also helped extend Brunei international airport to accommodate longer and wider American 747 passenger jets in 1986-88.