By CLAIRE MORALES TRUE
LOS ANGELES/MANILA/PALAWAN – Yes, Virginia. Filipino American Hollywood actress Vanessa Hudgens is now the Global Tourism Ambassador of the Philippines.
No less than President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. presented the document making Vanessa as such during a call on the President in Malacanang.
The appointment was part of the administration’s ongoing efforts to promote Philippine tourism and raise the country’s global status, the President said.
The awarding was witnessed by several government officials, including Presidential Adviser on Creative Communications Paul Soriano and Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Christina Frasco.
Soriano is also the producer and director of an upcoming documentary on Hudgens’ family history and Filipino roots.
After the awarding which was made after her arrival from California and in between her shooting for a documentary that took her to El Nido, Palawan and other tourist sports like Intramuros, President Marcos told Hudgens that Malacanang Palace has held in its walls “a lot of history for the Philippines.”
“Beyond that, it has a lot of history for me. I lived here 20 years and now I’ve come back to live here again,” the chief executive said.
Other guests during the event include Hudgen’s mother Gina, who hails from Ozamiz City, and sister Stella who is also an actress, as well as private sector personalities such as PJ Lhuillier Group of Companies president and CEO Jean Henri Lhuillier and Vista Land and Lifescapes president and CEO Manuel Paolo Villar III.
Malacanang said the initiative is a branding campaign and marketing strategy aimed at attracting international tourists as the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Creative Arts (OPACC) and the DOT set their sights on creating opportunities to aggressively push for the resurgence of the Philippines as a travel destination.
The OPACC and DOT have selected Hudgens to become 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, 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.
To promote the country’s tourism sector and raise its global status, the OPACC, in collaboration with the DOT, has proposed to carry out projects focusing on the country’s branding including the invitation to Hudgens as one of its pioneering partners to kickstart the initiative.
In line with this, the OPACC and DOT are looking at producing a documentary project highlighting Hudgens’ homecoming to the Philippines, with an aim of reconnecting the Fil-Am actress with her roots and at the same time promote the country’s tourism industry.
The historical landmarks in Intramuros, the National Museum and El Nido in Palawan are the proposed destinations for the documentary project.
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), resulting in significant 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).
Born in Salinas, California, Vanessa, who loves pancit and adobo, has flown back to the United States after her whirlwind tour of the native country of her mother which he called “paradise.”
She said she will surely come back to the Philippines to know more about the country and the Filipinos and their culture.
Hours before flying home, Vanessa held a press conference at the Manila House in Bonifacio Global City.
She later recorded “Dahil Sa’yo” in the same room where she entertained interviews from reporters.
From there, she reportedly went to Intramuros in Manila to shoot more scenes for her documentary film.
Hours before he flew back to California, she figured in an exclusive interview with Paul Soriano’s wife, actress and singer Toni Gonzaga.
TV host Boy Abunda had his “fast talk” segment with Vanessa Hudgens during her press conference but thisd was reportedly cut short because it was only originally part of the conference.
But Vanessa reportedly gamely answered some of the questions of the popular TV host.
In one of the fast talk, the Hollywood actress was made to choose between choices like “sex or chocolates,” to which she gamely declared, “sex.”
When asked who could be seen inside if her heart is to be opened, she said, “Cole,” referring to her baseball star fiance Cole Tucker.
Soriano, who authorized the press conference, is the director behind Hudgens’ travel documentary about her Filipino heritage. The “High School Musical” star visited the country for the first time last month to shoot footage for the film.
Vanessa is set to tie the knot soon with Tucker but respectfully begged off to give further details, saying she is not comfortable answering such questions, and that she preferred to keep the details of her personal life private, and hoped that people respect her wishes.
She however said that if it were just her choice, she would consider marrying Tucker in Palawan, where she had been for a few days to soak up the sun together with her Filipina mom and sister Stella, according to a Philippine Star report.
In El Nido, Palawan, Vanessa had an early morning hike to view the majestic sceneries.
She later swam in the pristine waters of the island resort together with her mother and sister Stella.
It took more than 30 years for Vanessa to finally visit the Philippines and she was impressed all the way.
She said her “eye-opening” experience in Palawan and Manila came at a good time as she is now older and wiser and that she is able to focus on returning to her roots as she prepares to start her own family.
“I’m in my 30s now [and] I’m thinking about raising a family,” she said in a press conference in Bonifacio Global City as quoted by ABS-CBN. “And I want to be able to know my heritage so I can bring that forth, so that my kids can know their background [and] they can know more about their own blood.”
“[The Philippines] has always been on my list, of course, but it never happened,” she admitted. “I feel like everything happens when it’s meant to, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. [Now] I get to come here with my mom and my sister.”
Vanessa arrived in Manila last March 25, primarily for the filming of a travel documentary about her Filipino roots.
While she admitted that she was for the most part raised “very American,” Hudgens said her trip to the Philippines made her tap into other aspects of herself that turned out to be “very Filipino” all along.
“It’s been really interesting coming here, it’s beautiful and eye-opening… All these things that have just been innately stuck within me, I realize come from my heritage,” she said as ABS-CBN reported.
“I’m so obsessed with the use of natural elements, the rattan, the mother of pearl. It’s all just so beautiful to me, and something that I’ve always loved,” Hudgens cited as an example.
“And I’m like yeah, it makes sense because it’s Filipino,” added the actress, who wants to go to Cebu and Mindanao in the future.
Vanessa called Palawan a tropical paradise. It was one of the settings of her documentary which has the working title “The Awakening.,”
She sees the Philippines as a country that has “a little bit of everything,” and described it as a “really magical place.”
“It’s got paradise, it’s got a metropolitan city,” the actress said. “It’s got kindness, everybody is so warm, so friendly… I feel like I haven’t met anyone who seems like they’re having a bad day. The hospitality is unmatched.”