Most years a traditional reception –now called a “Vin d’honneur”– takes place at Malacañan Palace to mark the New Year. In the time of the Commonwealth, when my father was very young, it always took place on January first, since January 1 is the feast –or saint’s– day of people named Manuel (my father and I always greet edeach other “happy feast-day!” right after saying “happy New Year!”). President Roxas, also named Manuel, was also insistent on the New Year’s day reception. Other presidents until Marcos also followed the tradition, called simply a reception or an “at home”.
In times past, the annual New Year’ reception was quite a social event. By the time of the Marcoses, it became more of a partisan thing, and the traditional “open house” sense of things has utterly disappeared today. My father wrote this letter to me on Jan. 13, 1987, and it marks, perhaps, the Last Hurrah of the Old, pre-Martial Law, Society: In fact it was the first time my father and many members of the other presidential families had entered the palace since before Martial Law.
Note to the reader: Tia Nini is my father’s sister, Mrs. Nini Quezon Avanceña; Tita Vicky is Mrs. Vicky Qurino Delgado (then Mrs. Gonzalez and newly widowed); Doña Trining and Inday Garcia were the widows of Presidents Roxas and Garcia, respectively; Ruby Roxas Roxas is the daughter of Pres. Roxas and the aunt of Sen. Manuel A.Roxas II; “Madame Mrs.” was how my dad referred to Cory Aquino in his letters to me; Tio Andres is my father’s first cousin, Dr. Andres Aragon Angara.
Tia Nini and I attended the Malacañan reception. The palace, at least the two halls where the reception was held, is really in bad taste, three brown domes in the ceiling of the large hall which used to be plain and tastefully open overlooking the Pasig. Someone said it is sealed and bulletproof. The hall leading there has two galleries overlooking it –with so many little chandeliers Tia Nini says they look like stores for lighting fixtures. As we went through the reception line, Madame Mrs. passed me along very quickly, whereas the Vice-President gave me a warm abrazo and Mrs. Laurel and I exchanged kisses. Chief Justice Teehankee greeted me warmly and wanted to talk, but there were people behind me, so we agreed to talk later, but I moved around so much there was no chance. [A friend] gave me the news –rumors really– that Tita Vicky was going to wed. We arrived at the same time and she said definitely NO. For the first time, perhaps since 1946, all the Presidential families were present -Doña Trining and Ruby Roxas Roxas, Vicky Quirino Gonzalez, Jun Magsaysay & son (Luz and daughter were not there), Inday Garcia & Linda Garcia Campos –her husband Nanding addressed me as Ambassador and instantly corrected himself, saying he got confused because he had just been talking to the Argentine Ambassador. The Spanish Ambassador Pedro Ortiz Armenggol said good-bye because for Spain –by now he has left. He introduced me to Señor Salas, the Charge d’Affaires, and both promised to facilitate visas as before –“although the Spanish police had warned them to keep me out.” –Ha! Gonzalez of Tourism was there…
It is a pity no one thought of taking a shot of the former Presidential families –doubtless another opportunity will not arrive for long. I had –Tita Vicky & I, that is, had a chat with Gen. Ramos. He danced endlessly, and quite well, once the dancing had started, which I had not expected at an afternoon reception. Madame Mrs. left unnoticed and a toast was not offered, which I found odd. If there was any champagne, it must have been very scarce. All I saw, except for one or two glasses of some yellow drink, were Cokes. The Cardinal was missing, but the nuncio was there as dean of the diplomatic corps. I exchanged a few words with Mitra, Sonny Belmonte who is an important Minister (I forget of what) whom I promptly misidentified in relation to his parents, thinking he was the son of UST professors, whereas he is the son of Fiscal and Mrs. Belmonte of Baguio… I used to see Minister Belmonte as a young boy. In fact his face is about the same. Heherson Alvarez, Minister of Agrarian Reform, I think, and said to be an opponent of Raul Manglapus, was very friendly to me. Tia Nini spent her time with a woman lawyer from UP… called Heidi something (I forget) who is supposed to be brilliant & a fighter. The Minister of Protocol Miguel Perez Rubio spoke to me and especially to Vicky. The high point of the evening to me (apart from being in such a gathering of the new gov’t people, so many of whom spoke of Lolo enthusiastically) was meeting Cong. Solarz, who also spoke of Lolo whom apparently he quotes. I told Soc Rodrigo how you had said he was in charge of the style of the Constitution (which I criticized, the style, I mean) and he said it was handed to him that way and there was precious little he could do to improve it, and there were very few lawyers in the Convention. Tia Nini chatted with Gen. Ileto the Minister of Defence, but by the time I found out & told Tia Nini I wanted to meet him, he was gone. Tita Vicky introduced me to the US Ambassador Bosworth who does not even seem to have smiled. Minister of Health Alran Bengzon & wife Nini, daughter of Tio Andres, were there and of course pleasant as always, calling me Tio Nonong. I introduced him to Ruby Roxas.
One pres. family was missing (not the Macapagals: they were there). Which makes me wonder if that’s why there was such a good attendance –for the first time “since 1946.”
A snapshot of a palace reception, 1987. It seems like a snaphot of an extinct world. Have we traveled that far in such a short time?