Reminiscing with nostalgia: the trip to Palo, Leyte, Philippines, Palo Alto’s first sister city

I’m sharing this article that I came across on Google (from – a piece I wrote and published in the Palo Alto Weekly soon after my husband and I visited Palo, Leyte, Philippines, the first sister city of Palo Alto, California. Reading my article (again) surged warm nostalgic memories.  For many years we were very active in Neighbors Abroad, one of numerous sister cities programs in the country that successfully bridged cities across oceans, through initiatives that fostered friendships, promoted inter-cultural understanding, and developed projects that contributed to the educational, socio-economic progress of communities.  Most meaningful were the resulting acceptance of cultural differences, celebration of similarities, and maintenance of personal as well as group friendships in the interest of peace in the global community.

Palo Alto adopted other foreign sister cities in the program: Albi, France; Enschede, Netherlands; Linköping, Sweden; Oaxaca, Mexico; and Tsuchiura, Japan. 


Publication Date: Wednesday Mar 24, 1999 (

A portrait of Palo, Palo Alto’s first sister city

by Linda P. Jacob

Editor’s note: Linda Jacob and her husband, Stanley, visited Palo in January as part of a trip to their native country with Harriet and Keith Clark, co-presidents of Neighbors Abroad. The Jacobs, who moved to Palo Alto 26 years ago, were making their first visit to the Philippines in a decade. Upon returning, Linda filed this report on life today in Palo Alto’s first sister city.

In the wee hours of Oct. 20, 1944, troops commanded by Gen. Douglas MacArthur stormed across Red Beach in the Philippine city of Palo. The soldiers met heavy Japanese resistance. The battle raged for several days and claimed hundreds of lives. But in the end, MacArthur fulfilled his “I shall return” promise of two years earlier, taking back the first Japanese-held stronghold in what would become many more months of island hopping until the war’s end.

Today on the shores of Red Beach is a reminder of the landmark World War II battle. On a stone memorial accompanying an eternal flame are inscribed the words, “In the spirit of reconciliation, peace, friendship and economic cooperation.”

The vision of peace and international harmony honored at Red Beach finds fresh meaning in the sister-city relationship of Palo and Palo Alto, now in its 36th year. For while in many respects the people of Palo and Palo Alto live worlds apart, the cares and concerns of some Paloans, as we found on our recent visit, could be voiced just as easily on Hamilton Avenue or Middlefield Road–the safety of kids getting to school; a child care center’s needs for more books.

Located in the province of Leyte, Palo is about 250 miles south of the country’s capital of Manila–roughly 75 minutes by plane.

Palo is an agricultural community of about 48,000 people. Its main products are rice and copra, dried coconut meat from which coconut oil is typically extracted. In keeping with its agricultural character, many of the town’s streets are lined with banana, papaya and jack fruit trees, and most of the people living in the outlying farms reside in thatched huts made from nipa palm fronds.

The town’s modest skyline is punctuated by the twin white towers of its cathedral. Palo, seat of the local archdiocese, is 90 percent Catholic.

While it maintains a small retail core, Palo has no industries other than agriculture and fishing to boost the local economy. Nonetheless, its downtown area buzzes with activity during the day. The streets are filled with two-passenger tricycles and “jeepneys,” brightly colored buses that serve as public transportation. Some vendors sell fruits and vegetables from street stalls. On weekends, many of the stalls sell used clothing that comes from the United States and other countries.

The town is the seat of several regional branches of national government offices, such as the Department of Education and National Irrigation Administration, which are vital sources of employment for many Paloans.

Its system of government, like that of the country, is democratic. Some 19,100 Paloans voted during the May 1998 elections. The city’s mayor, Federico Diamante, heads a council of 10 elected representatives. Under the mayor’s authority are 33 barangays (or barrios), each with its own barangay captain. The barangays have some degree of decision-making power for their areas and provide a forum for residents to discuss issues.

On our visit, we attended a meeting of a barangay that represents 193 households with a combined population of about 1,100. Parents at the meeting were worried about the safety of their kids as they walked to school during the rainy season. They discussed a solution proposed by the city’s engineer to build a larger spillway.

Also during the meeting, the barangay voted to ask the city’s children’s library to lend a few books each week to the day care center that looks after most of the small kids in the barangay. Another issue that came under discussion was a request from several women who wanted to start a sewing business to help the barangay. They asked the local leaders how they could obtain a sewing machine and enough material to get started.

Palo is not a wealthy city by U.S. standards, but its economic status is typical of most municipalities in the Philippines. The city earns about 5 million pesos (roughly $125,000) a year in tax revenue and receives a subsidy of 2.1 million pesos from the national government.

Palo has a provincial hospital supported by the province of Leyte. There are two private hospitals. An orphanage called Lingap Center is run by the Department of Social Welfare.

For law enforcement, Palo maintains a police force of 50 officers and a fire department of eight deputized firefighters with one fire truck.

The children of Palo typically receive a minimum of 10 years of education. Thirty-one of the 33 barangays have an elementary school that covers grades one through six. Students then move on to one of the city’s five high schools, four of which are public. Class sizes in high school are typically large. One school we visited, Palo National High School, assigns 60 students to each class. After high school, many students attend one of several colleges or universities in the provincial capital of Tacloban, about 20 miles away. The country’s premier university, the University of the Philippines, is in Manila, although a small branch is in Palo.

Due to the proximity of Leyte to the provinces of Cebu in the west and Samar in the north, Paloans generally speak Cebuano or Waray, soft-toned Filipino languages different from Pilipino (Tagalog), the national language. The majority of Paloans, however, can speak and understand some Tagalog. English is widely understood and spoken.

Linda P. Jacob

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