NatGeo peeks into PNoy’s Palace

David Yu Santos
'Inside Malacañang' is shown on the NatGeo channel

MANILA, Philippines – The National Geographic Channel (NatGeo) promised a “guided-tour” of the most-coveted office in the Philippines: Malacañang. It delivered, yes, but ended up disappointing some viewers.

On Sunday (March 18) evening, after much publicity and anticipation, Inside Malacañang, produced by Filipina writer and director Marnie Manicad, premiered on NatGeo.

The documentary opened with a typical morning in Malacañang: from the President’s “clothes being pressed” to his car being “meticulously checked.” The presidential palace, after all, is no ordinary household. NatGeo interviewed President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, who spoke about what living in the Palace meant to presidents.

Undersecretary Manuel “Manolo” Quezon, presidential grandson, historian and one of the administration’s communications officials, provided insights on the 2-century-old presidential residence, where “decisions on the welfare of more than 90 million Filipinos are made.”

Inside Malacañang became a hot trending topic on Twitter when it started airing at 9 pm Sunday, climbing from the No 9 spot to No 1 by the end of the show.

Twitter followers were all praises for the documentary’s skillful camerawork (led by director of photography Rain Yamson and his team of cameramen: Dindo David, John Javelona and Benjo Borja); catchy musical scoring (by Nani Naguit); and narration by the “very familiar” voice of theater and film, actor Jonee Gamboa.

But others said it fell short of their expectations.

The documentary showed rare videoclips, including a footage taken minutes after the 1987 ambush on Noynoy Aquino and his security aides during one of the coup attempts against his mother. There’s also a footage of Mrs Aquino taking the presidential ferry by the Pasig River to be evacuated.

But on Twitter, Quezon disputed this, describing the documentary’s description of this particular video clip as an “error.” He tweeted: “(Then) Pres (Cory) Aquino went to the park to see casualties. Not to be evacuated.”

Inside Malacañang, which took 2 years to make, featured 4 of the President’s most trusted aides: Presidential Security Group (PSG) commander Col Ramon Mateo Dizon, close-in security aide Senior Police Officer 4 Lito Africano, photographer Jay Morales and personal food tester Senior Police Officer 3 Jaime Castro.

Among the 4, Castro perhaps drew most of the viewers’ curiosity since it’s not very often that the public gets to know who tastes the food of presidents.

FOOD TESTER. SPO3 Jaime Castro uses a flashlight to inspect the food to be served to President Noynoy Aquino for discoloration that may cause poisoning or contamination. (Videograb from National Geographic Channel)

“You cannot assassinate the President only by means of bullets, but also by means of food,” Castro, who also served as the food tester of President Cory Aquino more than 2 decades ago, said in the interview.

Fondly called “Caster,” he thoroughly checks the food of the President and conducts background investigation on the cooks and waiters who prepare presidential meals. The documentary featured Castro with his flashlight, which he uses to spot food discoloration.

After the Palace kitchen, Inside Malacañang showed the President’s elite security troops, who were caught on camera training for an assault in case the President is abducted.

Dizon admitted in the interview that the President’s decision to prohibit the use of “wang-wang,” or siren, while traveling is something that his security team, given the choice, would rather not heed.

Because of Aquino’s policy against the use of “wang-wang,” Dizon said that each time the convoy stops at traffic lights, PSG members have to disembark from their vehicles to secure the parameters of the presidential car.

A footage of Dizon inspecting the presidential convoy showed some “anti-tank weapons” in the trunk of one of the vehicles.

Anti-tank firearms are shown being kept inside one of the car in the presidential convoy. (Videograb from National Geographic Channel)

Courting controversy?

The President’s bodyguard, SPO4 Africano, is said to be very close to Aquino. Since his boss is also a shooter, Africano was taught the President’s “trademark shot” and carries a 45-caliber pistol, which Mr Aquino also keeps, according to the documentary.

Inside Malacañang also featured Aquino’s in-house photographer, Jay Morales, the man with the “smiley disposition.”

When the hour-long program ended, Twitter was abuzz with mixed reactions. While quite a number said that they were impressed, several others said it fell short of their expectations.

Twitter users Cheyenne Villarais (@polziieee), Tonix Alejo III (@tonixthethird) and Yna Gorospe (@YnahGorospe) were not happy about it.

Writer and director Manny Castaneda (@mannycastaneda) “saw nothing interesting in the docu,” while netizens Clarence Sario (@PinkJadedKnight) and Kleina Guillen (@iannekleina) said they expected the documentary to feature the Palace’s collections and “chamber of secrets.”

Inside Malacañang was followed by another documentary on NatGeo, Inside the Obama White House,” which chronicled President Barack Obama’s presidential activities through the eyes and lens of his photographer, Pete Souza.

This is not the first time that an extensive documentary on Malacañang was produced for TV.

In June 2010, Probe Productions Inc produced a 2-part series for ABS-CBN on the presidential palace entitled “Road to Malacañang,” to commemorate the inaugural of the country’s 15th President, Noynoy Aquino. –

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