Obama's toast: Basketball, Pacquiao, and PH-US friendship
MANILA, Philippines – In a refreshing shift from the formalities of the day's events, United States President Barack Obama's toast at the state dinner in his honor was light and casual, and focused on his country's friendship with the Philippines.
On Monday evening, April 28, President Benigno Aquino III hosted Obama at Malacañang, where Obama thanked the Philippines for its "magnificent welcome" and "gracious hospitality."
He emphasized the two countries' common interests – specifically basketball, world champion Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao – and their appreciation for Filipino-Americans.
"We feel our spirit, our kalooban, in a friendship between our peoples that expresses itself in so many ways. There is our mutual obsession with basketball. There is our mutual admiration for Manny Pacquiao – even if, sometimes, his fight against Americans doesn’t turn out the way we’d like. There is our shared pride in the millions of Filipino-Americans who contribute to our nation every single day," he said.
Obama also took a moment to praise White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford, a Filipina who grew up in Manila and cooks them lumpia and adobo.
Charming and relaxed, Obama complimented the guests present at the dinner, telling the men, "You look very good, but I think you’ll agree that the women outshine you." He incorporated various Filipino words and greetings as well, delighting the 300 invited guests.
The guest of honor, who visited the Philippines for the first time, said his visit left a mark on him.
"I’ve only been here one day, but the kindness that you’ve shown me and the extraordinary hospitality that has been extended to us leave us with very warm feelings and reflects, I think, the legendary spirit of the Filipino people," Obama said.
Order of Sikatuna
Obama proposed a toast to Aquino, the alliance of the Philippines and the United States, and the friendship between their people.
He also honored Aquino's parents – the late former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr and former President Corazon Aquino – for their service to the country, as well as Aquino himself.
"Noynoy, you bear the scars of those who would have taken this nation backwards, and you carry on your family’s noble tradition of service in your commitment to the dignity and prosperity of the Filipino people," he said, addressing the President by his nickname.
Aquino expressed mutual admiration for Obama, upon whom he conferred the Order of Sikatuna, the highest recognition of diplomatic merit given by the Philippine government.
Aquino told Obama he deserved the order, "for your leadership and policies that assisted the Philippines in times of natural disaster, for helping uphold stability and peace by means of the rule of law in Southeast Asia, and for working with us to fundamentally raise the defense capacity of our country."
The order, "conferred on those who have fostered, and elevated, the bilateral partnership of our country with other nations," was accepted by Obama.
"I am deeply honored to receive the Order of Sikatuna. I accept it in the spirit in which it has been bestowed with the commitment to continue and to deepen the bonds between our two great nations," the US president said.
Aquino raised his glass to Obama's "good health, happiness, and success," as well as to "the continuing closeness and affection between Filipinos and Americans and to the realization of our common vision of a more stable, more prosperous, and more inclusive international community."
Philippines as inspiration
During his speech, Obama also hailed the strength of the victims of Typhoon Yolanda (international code: Haiyan). Obama mentioned recent typhoon victims in the United States over the weekend, and said they would use the Philippines as inspiration following the disaster. (READ: At least 18 killed as tornadoes strike southern US)
"After 'Yolanda,' America grieved with you and stood with you, but we were also inspired by your resilience and your determination to care for those who have been affected," he said.
"Tonight, our hearts actually grieve for some of our fellow Americans back home who have been devastated by very terrible storms and tornadoes, but we draw our strength from your example. For, even as we grieve, we know that we will recover and we will rebuild in these communities that have been affected because people will care after each other,"Obama said.
At the state dinner, Filipino performers – specifically the Madrigal Singers, Leo Valdez, Bituin Escalante, Apl de Ap, Kuh Ledesma, Powerdance Company and the Bayanihan Philippine Dance Company – entertained the President and his guests.
The menu included lobster kilawin carpaccio, seafood stew also known as seafood pochero, red dotted lapu-lapu with pili nut crust, US prime rib Inasal, Batangas-farmed vegetables, and coconut lychee ice cream for dessert.
The dinner was the final event of Obama's busy first day, that included a welcome ceremony at the Palace grounds, an expanded bilateral meeting, and a joint press conference with Aquino.
Obama is the first US president in nearly 11 years to visit the Philippines. His two-day state visit to the country is the final stop of his week-long Asian tour that brought him to Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia. – Rappler.com