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A Mexican wave for Tabako (2)


 José Abeto  Zaide

José Abeto Zaide

By José Abeto Zaide


After the welcome honors in Vienna, President Fidel V. Ramos peeled off from Austrian President Thomas Klestil’s protocol towards something he had espied in the welcoming crowd.  A photo of PFVR smiling at a mother holding up a toddler waving a mini-Philippine flag would make the front page of the next morning’s Der Standard.

* * *

Presidential Chief of Protocol Ambassador Marciano Paynor Jr. had cued us that the key to success at Filipino community convocations during Presidential visits is the animo of the crowd.  He recalled how a cadenced flag-waving and foot-stomping in Canberra peaked to a crescendo and fired up Ramos.  We knew that Mr. Ramos would arrive in Vienna fresh from a robust welcome by 5,000 OFWs at a Kuwaiti stadium.  And our 900-something (the maximum permitted by the fire department at the Vienna Hilton ballroom) would pale in comparison.

But I had an equalizer.  We would give Tabako a Mexican wave, or the “ola” of football stadium.  We practiced once at a meeting with Filipino community leaders. I instructed all leaders to sit in the front row, trusting that all others behind will follow.  My deputy, Minister Victoria Bataclan, rehearsed this again 15 minutes before the arrival of the President.

The Vienna visit was one of the few where the presidential couple did not have to agonize over a tinikling number.  Instead, we offered arias by soprano Camille Lopez, Amela Fortuna, Christiana Serafin, tenor Abdul Candao, and Aries Caces at the piano.  After the peroration by Filipino leaders, I said that my role was only to introduce the president to the Filipino community (30 associations at last count) who wished to greet him as one Filipino nation.  On cue, the leftmost leader rose, shouting a lung-bursting, “Mabuhay ang Pilipinas! Mabuhay si Pangulong Fidel V.Ramos!” followed by the raising and lowering of both arms…and the Mexican wave flowed from left to right. The band broke into Johann Strauss’ Radetzsky March; everyone cadenced clapping in tune with the march.  At the end, the leader seated rightmost shouted again, “Mabuay ang Pilipinas! Mabuhay ang Pangulong Fidel V. Ramos!” and the Mexican wave flowed in the reverse direction, cadenced clapping, and Radezsky March all over again.  Joining the exercise were Christopher Rabe, who flew in from Dusseldorf to write a half-page interview of Mr. Ramos for the trade journal Handelsblatt.  Among enthusiastic Mexican waving cheerleaders were Roberto R. Romulo, Rizalino Navarro, Senator Alberto Romulo, Andres Soriano III, Tony Boy Cojuangco, and the rest of the traveling taipans.

PFVR whipped up the crowd.  He tossed his Philippine centennial baseball cap, and the crowd dove for it like the bleachers grasping for a home-run baseball.  Ramos began his spiel about the Filipino being the best in his field…A Filipina champion welder…a Filipino champion hairstylist…the tandem of the Filipino nation pushing from below and OFWs pulling from abroad (like bibingka baked on top and below)…Wall Street Journal statistics showing the PH outstripping South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong in drawing investments.  Reviving hopes and spirited enthusiasm for PH (“Back in Business in Asia!), he cast a spell that evening and throughout the visit.  Many, including discriminating free lance journalists like Pat Sutter, swung from objecting to Cha-Cha (charter change) to endorsing Mr. Ramos for 1998!

We had a good luncheon speech for PFVR at his meeting with his Austrian host.  Because of excellent rapport, we had collaborated with Austrian Ambassador Wolfgang Jilly and Dr. Franz Berner on the Austrian draft.  I had alerted DFA Undersecretary Rod Severino not to touch our draft (after reassuring him by sending the drafts of the speeches of both the Philippine and the Austrian presidents).  After listening to the concert of the two presidents, Rod gave me the supreme compliment, “You have just made history!” (Apropos to Vienna, I rather thought that we had conducted a symphony.)

At the Wolf Heurigen, the Presidential Couple planted a grape vine and supped on schweinehackse, wurst, and the vinter’s auslese wein.  Towards the end of the repertoire of the Austrian accordion player and his accompanying tenor, the musicians hesitantly announced they would try another number…which  the tenor proceeded to sing accent-free…”Maalala mo kaya?” (This had been rehearsed it with the Presidential Guards advance party.)  PFVR got to his feet and joined them in his campaign song number.

We gifted the First Couple with two Augarten porcelain pieces.  The artist Gus Albor painted a meandering river of gold on white porcelain for the Piso-Piso para sa Pasig of Madame Ming Ramos.  Our Consul General in Salzburg Peter Wagner and his wife Elisabeth led the way for the other honorary Consuls Fritz Karl Rauchdobler (Linz), Reinhard Pitchmann (Bregenz), Josef Kastelic (Slovenia), and Wolfgang Rossbacher (Carinthia) who all contributed towards an Augarten porcelain figure of a military equestrian for Tabako, whose code-name we knew to be The Horseman.

As the President and the First Lady Madame Ming Ramos stood up to catch their plane, faint notes wafted into the room.  The music came closer… the painter Gus Albor strumming guitar…my officers and staff bolstered by the other painter Manny Baldemor as principal tenor…everyone serenading the First Couple… “Maalala mo kaya…” as they walked to their waiting plane…

Culled from the book Bababa, ba? Anecdotes of a Foreign Service Officer.


FEEDBACK: joseabetozaide@gmail.com

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