The Embassy recently celebrated the 112th Anniversary of Philippine Independence. This is usually the biggest event that an embassy prepares for in a year, barring a Presidential visit or major international summit now and then. It's also known as the one day in a year the embassy people take out their national costumes from the closet, barong tagalog for the men and baro't saya or terno for women.
Depending on the embassy and the taste of the Ambassador, the celebration of Philippine Independence can be as simple as a flag raising ceremony at the chancery to as extravagant as a diplomatic reception in an expensive venue.
For this year, the Embassy decided to lump together the celebrations for the Independence Day and the Migrant Workers' Day in one weekend. For the Friday activities, a singing contest, a beauty contest, and some cultural performances were lined up for the Filipinos working in our host country. For the main event, a flag raising ceremony and the reading of messages from the leaders of our government was scheduled on the Saturday, to be followed by a breakfast salo-salo for invited community leaders and guests.
Everything was simple enough, except that the date of Philippine Independence just happens to fall in the hottest period of summer in this part of the world. If I told an ongoing narrative of what was happening during the celebrations, I'd have to label the style as "stream of losing consciousness technique."
The Friday celebration was held in a giant tent. There was air conditioning but there was no way the AC was winning against the weather, especially with the entire place jam-packed with people. Just my luck I decided to come to the event in a suit. I instantly became a leaky water pipe from all the sweat coming out of me the moment I stepped into the place.
The event started with speeches from my boss, your friendly neighborhood Third World Diplomat, and other embassy officials. After my speech, I resolved to stick to my attire, and my consciousness, whatever happens.
Then the singing competition started. There were really talented people who joined. However, there were also who those just happened to be blessed by "lakas ng loob." Some went as modern as Josh Groban. Some went oldie, as in Basil Valdez and Engelbert Humperdinck old.
I always love it when contestants in singing competitions come up with performances that are, as Simon Cowell would put it, karaoke. There were those who belted out songs that are staples in Pinoy drinking sessions. Also, sounding like you had one drink too many always gets a plus point from me. And when a lady put on a performance worthy of the stage in a Manila beer house, with matching outfit to boot, my applause found a worthy recipient. [Disclaimer: no alcohol was served here as the country we are in is on the conservative side] [Disclaimer 2: "My Way" was not sung by any contestant so bloodshed was averted]
With dehydration setting in, I finally decided that the coat had to go. So much for my stand against the heat. No matter how much water I took in, it felt like I was just sweating it quickly.
During the entire day, selected Filipino community groups put on performances of native dances from the different regions of the Philippines.
Feeling like Miguel Cotto against Manny Pacquiao in my stand against the heat, I was slowly getting woozy after the haymakers thrown by the weather. The necktie had to go. If this continued, I'd have to go home in my underpants.
The beauty contest started and my wife Cay had to leave my side as she was one of the judges. Around this time, I was dressed like an overweight ballroom dancer as a few buttons were already undone in my shirt to allow me to lower my body temperature.
Beauty is all about personal taste so whatever the judges' decisions were was already as fair as it can be. I won't add any more comment. Besides, this isn't Miss Universe so there was none of these to, uh, root hard for.
The candidates were made to parade in their casual attires, national costumes,
and evening gowns.
There was also a talent portion in the contest. Some went nationalistic and showed their talent in folk dances. Some showed unique talent like belly dancing. Some went pop like singing Lady Gaga. While some just did stuff that was more suited for Little Miss Philippines.
The winner, an OFW nurse, was crowned by virtue of her winning reply in the question and answer portion. And no, she did not mention "world peace" in her response.
After the announcement of winners, my boss told me to quickly put on my entire getup as I had awarding duties. As in "pin the sash" and "crown the winner with a tiara" stuff.
The program, and my unplanned sauna session, finally ended and the only thing I could think of was turning the AC on full in my house.
The next day saw the Philippine Independence Day commemoration proper at the Embassy. It was barong tagalog time. The heat was a bit less punishing and the barong had better ventilation.
I had flag raising duties and was tasked with reading the Secretary of Foreign Affairs' message. My boss, naturally, read the message from the President of the Philippines.
The Embassy had the look of a Philippine barangay during fiestas, with banderitas everywhere.
The breakfast salo-salo was served buffet style, to evoke the feeling of a Filipino family gathering during mealtime. There were no set tables to allow everyone to mingle around and have friendly chats. This being a Filipino breakfast, there was of course the staple "silog." It was up to them to make their meal a "tapsilog," "tocilog," "hotsilog," or a combination of them all.
There was also hot champorado to warm our Pinoy bellies.
The event ended after the non-stop "kodakan" that Filipinos are so fond of. I went home and felt strange. Was it the feeling of patriotism that engulfed my soul after pulling off a successful celebration of our "Araw ng Kalayaan"?
As it turned out, it was flu that I caught because of the weather, and which left me bedridden.
But of course, there was patriotism too.