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IN MY HEART: FilAm Vanessa Hudgens discovers, enjoys ‘paradise’ in her mother’s homeland

At a time when the waters of the West Philippine Sea and the South China are getting warmer due to tensions between the United States and China and their Asia Pacific allies, it was cool that popular Hollywood actress Vanessa Hudgens recently dipped into the turquoise waters of paradise-like El Nido in Palawan.

It was not just cooling off after a long 12-hour and hectic trip to Manila from California, but fulfilling a lifetime dream to explore and discover her roots in the native country of her Filipina mother Gina Guangco Hudgens, who hails from Ozamis City.

From her posts and reports from local and foreign media, Vanessa, in floral bikini, at times accompanied by her mother and fellow actress sister Stella, was seen soaking up the sun, basking and kayaking in the blue waters and lagoon of El Nido’s Bacuit Bay off the amazing world class Pangulasian island resort and the Miniloc island.

The Filipino American star, who is proud of her Filipino heritage, had one word to describe the place she explored – “Paradise” – which she wrote herself on Instagram, adding the hashtag #foreverphilippines, as she shared her unforgettable experience.

Later in media interviews, Vanessa described it as a “really magical place.” She elucidated: “It’s got paradise, it’s got a metropolitan city. It’s got kindness, everybody is so warm, so friendly…The hospitality is unmatched.”

I know how Vanessa feels in “paradise” that is El Nido as I had explored its Pangulasian and Miniloc islands myself years before her, swimming and playing with rainbow colored fishes, dancing and enjoying wine, juice and native dishes and fruits prepared by natives under coconut trees, hiking as the sun rises and sets while the waves murmer and birds chirp, among others.

And retiring to the island resort hotel after a hectic tour and island hopping, ensconced in first-class and comfortable sofa, and later retiring in immaculate white beds, one can watch satellite-fed television shows not only of the Philippines but also in the United States, as if you have not left America. And thanks to modern technology, surprise of all surprises while in an isolated island miles away, one can dial the phone in your room and connect to America and elsewhere and talk to your friends or relatives as if they were just in the next door!

There are some experiences though that Vanessa enjoyed which I did not while on vacation there. One, she tried dancing the “tinikling” with bamboo poles during impromptu program at lunch break in an island where she partook of a plate of chicken adobo displayed on banana leaves, something that she shunned for years since turning a pescatarian. Then the catamaran cruise befitting of a celebrity like her. During my and friends’ island hopping, we took only an ordinary boat, but the experience is unique as you can touch the cool sea waters and touch almost the small and big fishes following us.

What’s heartwarming about Vanessa is that she flew in not only for a well deserved vacation and rest and enjoy “paradise” but to do a documentary about her and her family, especially her Filipino roots. That documentary film to be done by award-winning director Paul Soriano, who happens to be also the Presidential Adviser on Creative Communications to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., is shot in Manila and Palawan and other places. Already with the title, “The Awakening,” the film would be a big boost to the country as it tries to attract more investors and tourists to be able to recover from the debilitating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, natural calamities induced by climate change, among others.

Realizing such importance, President Marcos Jr., upon recommendation of Presidential Adviser Paul Soriano and Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco, readily conferred the title of Global Tourism Ambassador for the Philippines in fitting ceremonies in Malacanang in what the government described as part of the administration’s ongoing efforts to promote Philippine tourism and raise the country’s global status.

A Malacanang announcement stated the Office of Presidential Adviser on Creative Communications (OPACC) headed by Paul Soriano and the Department of Tourism selected Vanessa Hudgens as the Philippines’ Global Tourism Ambassador given her huge following on Instagram (49 million), Twitter (6.5 million), Facebook (17 million) and YouTube (239,000). As a digital influencer, Vanessa Hudgens is seen to take part in a range of future initiatives to promote the nation’s unique culture and assist the country in reaching a wider global audience, creating awareness and conveying the Philippine brand as a tourist destination.

Before returning to California, the Hollywood star shot more scenes for her documentary at the historical landmarks in Intramuros, and will visit the National Museum for her documentary project. Already, she admitted she is looking forward to her next visit, adding, hopefully for a longer period to discover more about the Filipinos and the Philippines.

Hudgens made her film debut in the movie Thirteen (2003) and rose to prominence as Gabriella Montez in the High School Musical film series (2006-2008), triggering her mainstream media success, including her signing with Hollywood Records.

Hudgens also co-produced several films such as The Knight Before Christmas (2019) and the three installments of The Princess Switch (2018, 2020, 2021).

Good luck Miss Vanessa Hudgens, proud Filipino American star. Till next visit. (alfred.gabot@gmail.com)