Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Jessica Sanchez & Manny Pacquiao

It's not yet July 4th but here's the greeting anyway...
Today, having just arrived back in Manila about 12 hours ago after my 24-hour trip from Prague to Manila via Istanbul and Hong Kong, I fought jetlag and the pretty heavy rains to drive over from Makati to the U.S. Embassy along Roxas Boulevard to join the party that US Ambassador Harry Thomas threw for the US Independence Day celebrations in the embassy ballroom.

What a nice party it was – full of the casualness and joviality that makes America a great and democratic society, embracing energy and enthusiasm instead of formality and protocol.

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Of course, when the world’s leading superpower throws a party, you can be assured that everyone who got one of those beautiful July 4th invitation cards will be going. The ballroom of the embassy in Manila is not very big, but when I looked around it, I certainly saw everyone who mattered in government, business and the diplomatic corps.

I arrived at the US Embassy at about 630 PM. And for those who have not set foot in a US Embassy for a function, let me describe the process of arriving as a guest of the ambassador.

First, your secretary has to call in your car and plate number days in advance. This is double-checked at the outer gates by the car security team and a computer team who assumedly have your records stored, along with the physical invitation, which you must bring with you.


Every embassy function is quite security-conscious especially about people joining uninvited; but there are two embassies that are extremely strict about security compared to the others, and these are the United States and one other country that I shall leave you to guess but I shall call X.

X’s security protocol is almost as strict as that of the US. At the last X embassy function, I actually found myself at Security Level 1 (there were 3 security levels for this function) guaranteeing for the identity of a very senior government official who did not bring his invitation, and who was not recognized by the guards.

I had to tell the guards exactly who he was. Then, as we finally went up the staircase together to Security Level 2, I whispered to the senior government official: “Sir, I never imagined that I’d be guaranteeing for a senior official from the Palace.”


Anyway, tonight, security was just as strict. There were several vehicle checks, and at the last vehicle check, my car was actually physically enclosed between two gates and surrounded by guards so that they could open almost everything up -- or at least look under the car, and open up the front and back hoods.

It’s tight, I know, but of course, it’s understandable, considering the pretty precarious world we live in. I for one was glad that it was so strict, so I could enjoy the US Embassy party in peace, knowing that the guards were doing their jobs.

Once inside, however, everything does an about-face and it’s all fun and informality. As I’d arrived just a few minutes early, I went to look for Ambassador Thomas, who was seated in a corner of the front reception room by himself, waiting for Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio of the Department of Foreign Affairs to arrive.

“Ambassador, thank you for inviting me to your party,” I said to him. “I thought I should greet you in advance before everyone else arrives and it becomes impossible to say even a word to you.” We had a short and nice chat and then it was time for the party to officially begin.

The embassy honor guards strode down the hall carrying the flags of the US and the Philippines, and then the anthems of the two countries were sung. Two very short speeches followed. Ambassador Thomas thanked his guests for coming in spite of the rains – and he did this in flawless Tagalog.


Then in English, he spoke about our two countries and mentioned the contemporary examples of Jessica Sanchez and Manny Pacquiao, as two icons both the Philippines and the US admire.

Ambassador Thomas said: “They both know how to win with grace and lose with dignity.” Everyone certainly liked how he phrased these turn of events.

The party continued afterwards with a military band playing lively music and lots of delicious American food available around booths in the terrace. It was a really nice party.


As I was on my way out, earlier than usual as I was ready to crash into bed after posting this blog, coincidentally I bumped into the Ambassador of X and his wife. The Ambassador of X country said to me: “We’re waiting for the fireworks. It should be beautiful.”

I would have loved to wait as well, but my bed was calling my name. Happy Independence Day, America, from all of us at Travelife Magazine.


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