The invitation read that it was Rodrigo Roa Duterte, President of the Philippines, and Madam Cielito Avanceña who requested the pleasure of our company at the Asean Summit 2017 Gala Dinner.
Invited guests and delegates arrived at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza and were greeted by papier-mâché giants, normally seen in Angono, Rizal, during the Higantes Festival. The driveway leading to the hotel entrance had Sining Kumintang ng Batangas dancers performing in traditional period and regional clothes, giving guests a cultural glimpse of different regions.
There were more at the lobby entertaining the early arrivals who were requested to be there by 6 p.m. The Tribu Salognon of Jaro National High School synchronized their movements to drumbeats as cocktails were served.
Flags of paper lace
Meetings were still in progress but Manila’s leading names and faces were milling around Le Bar by sundown. Their invitations, with the Asean insignia and the yellow sun with a pair of hands in the Philippine flag’s royal blue, white and red, indicated formal business attire. Men wore either dark suits or barong tagalog. Several ladies came in Filipiniana, both cocktail-length and long gowns.
Hors d’oeuvres were plentiful and filling, inspired by local flavors. By half past seven, the doors to the Grand Ballroom were open and two former Philippine presidents, senators, members of the Lower House, diplomats and business leaders walked through the hallway with wood filigree panels set against the mirrored walls.
They passed under colorful borlas de pastillas paper cuts into the banquet area with the stage running a considerable length of the ballroom.
Patterns of the wood filigree backdrop were like snowflakes, owing to the white light. It was dramatic.
Each table had a centerpiece of a ball of sampaguita among the local birds of paradise and other tropical plants. Pastillas were inserted in the décor, their tassels of cutwork in traditional Bulacan art of paper wrapping adding color to the tasteful arrangements. Not a few of these were consumed as people waited for the VVVIPs to arrive. There were also dried mangoes dipped in dark and white chocolate, wrapped up and placed by each plate setting.
A quiet presence
As the heads of state finally entered the hall, followed by President Duterte, the illustrious guests angled for space on both sides of the red carpet. They were videoing the march and snapping IG photos.
The leaders made their way to the long table for all the heads of state which was oriented toward the stage. All other tables were set a few meters behind them, a subtle indication to maintain a distance from the country leaders. It was not to be.
After the president’s brief remarks, guests with a penchant for taking photos breached protocol a few times. Friends, who initially approached timidly and unnoticed, were warmly acknowledged by those seated at the head table. They were soon followed by more confident guests. There were photographs and selfies taken to the understandable consternation of members of the officialdom.
Ms Avanceña, widely known as Honeylet, stayed low key, obliging a few requests from friends before sitting down again at her place to President Duterte’s left. Earlier in the day, she had taken the spouses of the heads of state shopping, as per their request.
Nes Jardin was the artistic coordinator for the event, working on behalf of the Cultural Center of the Philippines of which he was president. The CCP organized the cultural presentations under the direction of Monino Duque. Eric Cruz designed the sets and Social Secretary Annalyn Tolentino coordinated the whole event.
The evening ended on a high note with outstanding performances by local artists. Those who stayed till the end loudly applauded the Filipino talent that did the country proud.
The entire evening deserved an ovation for serving up fine Philippine artistry on a grand scale. It was a sensorial feast right up to the dessert buffet at the foyer that departing guests yielded to before exiting.