x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

New Filipino diplomat backs plans for Dubai social centre

The new Filipino consul-general in Dubai supports plans for a new social centre in the emirate, which Filipinos in Dubai have for years been pushing for.

The new Filipino consul-general in Dubai is supporting plans by the community to build its own social centre in the emirate.

"I would like to see this happen," said Frank Cimafranca, who arrived in Dubai in November for his sixth diplomatic posting. "It's a community initiative but requires coordination with the authorities here."

For years, Filipino community groups have held Independence Day celebrations and other events inside hotels, sport stadiums, at Al Nasr Leisureland and in Dubai parks.

Egyptians and Sudanese, however, hold social, cultural and sports activities inside their own social clubs on Oud Metha Road, said Robert Ramos, 44, a businessman and former president of an umbrella organisation in Dubai and the Northern Emirates.

"It has been a dream of many community leaders for more than 20 years," he said. "It should be a joint effort which requires approval by the Dubai government, the support by the Philippine government and the Filipino community and the provision of funds to build it."

Filipinos in Ras Al Khaimah were fortunate to have built their own social club when a plot of land was donated by the RAK government in 1991.

Emmanuel Mascarina, 54, a businessman in RAK who has lived in the UAE since 1991, said the community raised funds to build the centre on the 2,364 square metre plot in the Julan area.

The Filipino Club Socio-Cultural and Sports Centre in RAK has a basketball court, multipurpose hall, stage, cafeteria, office, stockroom and playground.

"It is really a blessing for the more than 6,000 Filipinos in Ras Al Khaimah," said Benigno Navarro, 40, the club's president. "We are able to hold many activities inside the centre. I wish we can also build our own Filipino school."

Next to the centre is a Bangladeshi Islamic school and a Sudanese social club.

"We could not have not done it without the Philippine Embassy's help," said Mr Mascarina, who served as the club's president from 1991 to 2000.

"It was given to us to be used for sports activities, and remains the property of the RAK government."

The Philippine consulate, which has consular jurisdiction over Filipinos in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, was established in 2004. Previously, embassy officials in Abu Dhabi had to travel to the six emirates to provide consular services.

Grace Princesa, the Philippine ambassador to the UAE, said establishing community centres in the different emirates, where her compatriots could meet, was a top priority.

If allowed by UAE authorities, the centres could be used to conduct financial literacy courses and reintegration programmes, she said.

In November, an international campaign to encourage expatriate Filipinos and their families to save and invest in their country was launched at Abu Dhabi National Theatre.

"If Filipinos have a social centre in Ras Al Khaimah, I don't see any reason why it can't be done in Dubai," said Mr Cimafranca, who has been in the foreign service for the past 32 years.

"But it is best pursued at a diplomatic level."

rruiz@thenational.ae