Exploring Malacañang with the First Gentleman

STAR BYTES - Butch Francisco -
Before Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972, security wasn’t all that tight around the Malacañang grounds. In fact, there were passenger jeepneys going to Quiapo that passed through Aviles Street (now J.P. Laurel) – right in front of the Palace gates.

Marcos – obviously – wasn’t that paranoid yet about his and his family’s security. People who had business being in Malacañang were allowed to come and go as they pleased – without going through a thorough security check.

As a kid, I had access to Malacañang because one of my godfathers was the Palace’s chief engineer. However, I no longer remember much of the old Malacañang (I know that a great part of it was renovated and refurbished during the Martial Law years) – except for the fact that its interiors were dark and musty.

Actually, I have better recollection of the Mansion House in Baguio – particularly the gray rubber carpet that lined its staircase. (I remember that the material looked like the rubber matting in our car.)

I never had the opportunity to visit Malacañang again during the Martial Law period. The only time I returned there was after the EDSA revolution in 1986 – when Imelda Marcos’ 3,000 pairs of shoes and other personal belongings were turned into museum pieces by the Aquino administration.

And to this day, I haven’t had the chance to return to the Mansion House because I absolutely have no access there anymore.

I was therefore excited to see both the Malacañang and the Mansion House featured (in separate episodes) in the late Saturday night show of lawyer Mike Arroyo on Channel 4. (Yes, the First Gentleman is now a TV star!)

Entitled Explore With Mike, the program is being hosted by Arroyo himself – with the help of a co-host named Patricia Bermudez.

The Malacañang feature was interesting because Patricia and Arroyo gave the public – through the magic of television – a very extensive tour of the Palace. The show brought the viewers even to the supposedly private areas of Malacañang – like the bedroom of Presidential daughter Luli Arroyo and even that of the First Couple. (Their sleeping quarters were quite simple and didn’t look very big on TV.)

Actually, I enjoyed even more the show’s feature on the Mansion House last Saturday because it provided me with information about the Malacañang of the North that I didn’t know before. Through this program, I found out that the Mansion House was built in 1908 for the governor-general of the United States of America. It was destroyed during the liberation period in 1945, but was rehabilitated two years later – in 1947.

Like in the Malacañang feature, Arroyo and Patricia were again on hand to give the viewers a tour of the Mansion House. The two hosts brought us to the greenhouse, to the Ceremonial Hall, the State Dining Room and to the bedrooms (all with white quilted bedspread) of the First Family. No, I didn’t see the gray rubber carpet on the staircase. Imelda must have had that burned a long time ago.

As a television host, Arroyo isn’t formal at all. He’s never stiff or rigid. Why, he’s even more relaxed than those overzealous tour guides of Disneyland and Universal Studios.

In the Mansion House episode, Arroyo and Patricia had as tag-along a group of children from the different schools of Baguio. During the tour, Arroyo gamely answered all of the kids’ queries. One of the boys even asked him if he had a lot of rivals for Gloria Macapagal’s affections during their courtship stage. Yes, Gloria had a lot of suitors – "pero ako ang nagwagi kasi ako ang pinaka-pogi," Arroyo jokingly told the bunch of kids. This, of course, drew guffaws from everyone – and I thought it was so nice of him to have done away with protocol and started bantering with the children. His young guests felt so relaxed in his presence that one of them – at one point of the tour – even quipped, "Puede n’yo ba kaming i-adopt?"

Arroyo’s only setback as a television host is his soft voice that always seems tired. And there are instances when he sounds like he is gurgling Listerine during his spiels.

Of course, there’s also the matter of his hefty size. With his frame, he eats up practically half of the screen.

But then, I don’t expect him to overhaul himself just to suit the needs of television. For one thing, hosting a TV show is not even a career for him.

And right now, I’m just pleased with the fact that I get to watch on TV the husband of the President of the Philippines acting and behaving like the rest of us human beings.

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