Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Royalty in Manila

Royalty in Manila

Updated 06:43am (Mla time) Oct 13, 2004
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the October 13, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

EYEBROWS rise in mock surprise whenever I mention something I read in Vic Agustin's Cocktales column in the Business section of the Inquirer. People who hold a stereotype of historians insist that I be completely immersed in archival sources or boring academic journals. However, I maintain that knowing the present is always a good way of understanding the past.

I make no apologies for being a compulsive reader. My reading materials range from erudite etymological entries in the Oxford English Dictionary to the nutritional information on the back of an instant “mami” [noodles] package.

What caught my eye in a recent Cocktales column was the coming visit of Princess Caroline of Monaco to beneficiaries of her charitable organization in Manila. Normally that's something you would find in Maurice Arcache's adjective-ridden photo-column, but Cocktales focused on the fund-raising dinner and how physical proximity to the princess will reflect the amount of the donation.

Manila is no stranger to royalty; we have been receiving them since the 19th century. The National Archives has bundles of documents on the preparations for the visit of Grand Duke Alexis of Russia and the Duque de Edimburgo. Itineraries for royal visitors usually included a trip to Taal Lake and, of course, a grand ball in Malacañang and a similarly glittering meal with the Arnedos of Sulipan town in Pampanga province. Street decorations and security arrangements were detailed. One of the odd rules prohibited horse-drawn carriages on Puente Colgante for the duration of the royal visit. Colonial officials didn't want any unwelcome news of carriages falling into the Pasig River so the Colgante or Hanging Bridge was reserved for pedestrians for a while.

Sometimes we had higher-ranking visitors like Norodom I of Cambodia, grandfather of the flamboyant Norodom Sihanouk, who recently abdicated and is now in self-imposed exile in Beijing. Materials on the visit of Norodom I are quite voluminous. They include the decorations he bestowed on everyone who took part in providing him with hospitality. Unfortunately, the side story I have been looking for is not in the archives. It seems that the king was smitten with a young lady from Bulacan province whom he gifted with a jeweled pendant, which is now one of the trinkets worn by the image of Our Lady of the Rosary or "La Naval" in the Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City. If newspapers of the time had the ancestor of Cocktales, it would have made my research easier.

Royalty always makes society news and has generated specialty publications like Hola! and Hello!, which chronicle the lives of kings and queens all the way down to lowly barons. Aside from keeping patrons occupied under hair dryers or keeping them still as they get a manicure/pedicure or have their eyebrows threaded, royalty is a childhood dream. Boys talk about battles and slaying dragons, but girls talk about marrying a prince and living happily ever after. Unfortunately, for those in their 20s, eligible princes are either toddlers or too old.

Frankly, royalty can be very ordinary if they are not in costume. I remember the grown-ups preparing to meet a certain Prince Alfonso Hohenlohe in the Puerto Azul resort outside Manila when I was still a child. I stood in the background admiring a stately man in a bush jacket named Stilianapolous who turned out to be the Philippine ambassador to the United Kingdom. The balding potbellied man in faded jeans, T-shirt and espadrilles I ignored was actually the prince.

Once I stood beside Diana, Princess of Wales, in the South Kensington McDonald's as she bought burgers for her sons and ran off before people recognized her.

The Philippine embassy in London is so well placed that while eating “adobo” and “kare-kare” in the dining room, you can look out into the driveway of Kensington Palace and see the royals go in and out. But sighting Elizabeth II was more difficult, although I recognized her funny hat inside a speeding limousine one day as I waited for a bus on Trafalgar Square.

In 1997 when Charles, Prince of Wales, visited Manila, I was only interested in watching him receive a tarsier from Bohol province. Matthew Gould from the British Embassy was in charge of this event and his major worry was that the tarsier might bite or pee on the prince.

Many people do not know that Edward, better known in later life as the Duke of Windsor, visited Manila on May 13-15, 1922, when he was still Prince of Wales. He carried a physical memento of this visit, a scar over his right eyebrow. This was not the result of an assassination attempt or a bar brawl. Edward was wounded while he was playing polo at the Manila Polo Club, which was then in Pasay City. He didn't fall off the horse after being hit by the ball, but he was reported to have collapsed in the stables. Governor-General Leonard Wood, a doctor, prescribed an anti-tetanus shot on top of the three stitches required to close the wound. Despite this, the prince insisted on returning to the field but was persuaded by the doctors to rest.

Our footnotes on British history happen to be the British occupation of Manila in 1762 to 1765 and a scar on the face of the Prince of Wales who later gave up the throne for Wallis Simpson.

Would the once and future king have had such a romantic history if he didn't play polo in Manila that day? We will never know.

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