by Manuel L. Quezon III
SOMEONE recently asked me about the origins of the Vin d’Honneur held in the Palace’s Rizal Hall last January 9. I tried doing research on the origins of the Vin d’Honneur and only came up with a French tradition of offering a libation (originally to the Gods) for the prosperity and success of newly-married couples. Then I suppose it became a type of formal reception for the diplomatic corps, in which a toast is offered. The tradition, either way, is thoroughly French. So how did it arrive in the Philippines?
The Vin d’Honneur is a recent development as far as our Republic’s ceremonials are concerned. It only dates back to the Aquino administration, and replaced the more traditional New Year’s reception that used to be held in Malacanang on January 1. The New Year’s reception was actually an “open house,” during which not only diplomats but officialdom and the public would be welcome to drop by the Palace and greet the president of the Philippines and family. The actual origins date back to the Quezon administration because New Year’s day is the feast or name day of people named Manuel. The practice was restored during the Roxas administration because President Roxas was not only named Manuel, but his birthday also fell on January 1. Thereafter, every president from Quirino to Marcos continued the tradition of the New Year’s reception, with its relative informality and, according to the recollections of some people I’ve spoken to, the liberal consumption of liquor.
Since the Aquino administration, of course, the New Year reception not only has been given a new name, but it’s no longer held on New Year’s day. It’s also far more formal, and the emphasis is no longer on the reception line and people milling about and touring the Palace, but instead on a relatively brief ceremony involving the President making a speech, then offering a toast, which is returned by the Papal Nuncio who is the dean of the diplomatic corps.
Even if we are now under the Fifth Republic, the practices associated with having an open house at Malacanang is a Third Republic tradition that would be nice to restore. Security concerns since the Marcos years means that most of the time, the Palace itself is off-limits to the public. And yet it would be a psychologically healthy thing if our presidents would symbolically remind themselves and the public from time to time, that they are tenants. And that the Palace is properly the property of the public. There is no better way to do this than to have an open house, allowing, if not the public at large, then at least symbolic delegations from different sectors, to come and visit and see the Palace.
The Americans, when they ruled this country, regularly held “at home” or “open house” days during which Filipinos would be invited to visit the Palace -a psychologically good public-relations practice. Open houses were held during the Commonwealth and the Republic, but it was, of course, President Magsaysay who outdid all his predecessors in granting access to the public. Overwhelmed by the number of visitors, access had to be scaled back. But the idea that the public had a right to go to the Palace persisted. The first chief of presidential protocol, Ambassador Manuel Zamora (father of San Juan representative Ronaldo Zamora), who served every administration from Quezon to Marcos, recalled during the Garcia era that, “they just come, you know. Some delegations send telegrams, or write ahead, but most just come, and these, well, most are in bakya [clogs] and old-time dresses, and they bring their own baon [packed lunch] and they have just enough money for a day’s tour of the City, so we have a trained group of Presidential guides, and the people are taken through all the public rooms…”
Some day it would be nice for selected delegations from different sectors, or families selected by lottery from the different provinces, to receive an invitation to the Palace to lunch or have merienda with the first family, perhaps once every couple of months, if only as a symbolic reminder that in a Republic, the presidential palace is a national palace. I beleive that in Singapore, this is done on a regular basis by the largely ceremonial President of Singapore. We have a far older national palace, a far older institution of the presidency and, if you look back, a far older tradition of hospitality for the public than today’s Vin d’Honneur.