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What is the best thing that happened to us during the pandemic? |

Sunday Lifestyle

What is the best thing that happened to us during the pandemic?

LIFE AND STYLE - Millet M. Mananquil - The Philippine Star
What is the best thing that happened to us during the pandemic?
Vietnam Ambassador Hoang Huy Chung presents a lacquer plate to Gambia Consul Agnes Huibonhoa while Sen. Sonny Angara looks on. Huibonhoa’s father was a Vietnamese real estate tycoon of old Saigon.
Photos by Millet Mananquil

The past two and a half years have brought darkness into our lives. We lost our loved ones to COVID-19.  Dreams were shattered. Emotions left more than just a painful stab in the heart. Jobs were lost, incomes disappeared, and suddenly the future became uncertain. But as we try to heal from the pain, it seems we can now look for light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

It was with this feeling of optimism and hope that Agnes Huibonhoa, Consul of Gambia, hosted a dinner get-together in her Consulate Office with friends from the Senate and the diplomatic corps. Agnes is an excellent host, as there is always not only fine cuisine but also enough food for thought as good conversation, spicy arguments and convivial laughter fill the air. Catering was by renowned chef Jessie Sincioco, whose reliable culinary repertoire is a favorite among diplomats and government leaders.

The guests talked about local and world politics, among other current topics. And inevitably, the pandemic. So I asked them: What is the best thing that happened to you — to us — during the pandemic?

Senator Edgardo “Sonny” Angara looks behind every cloud: “The silver lining for the pandemic is that it brought our families together. It also made us appreciate our frontliners and health workers even more. We took them for granted before, and now we realize how important they are.”

Host Agnes Huibonhoa with US Charge d’ Affaires Heather Variava and Billy Variava.

The answer of Senator Francis Tolentino is brief and straight to the point and it makes us ponder: “The pandemic made us realize the real essence of life.”

US Charge d’Affaires Heather Variava smilingly says: “The good thing about the pandemic is that it taught us to appreciate the small things in life, to find meaning in what is really important to us and our families. To remind us to value things like a beautiful day, a nice walk.”

Vietnamese Ambassador to the Philippines Hoang Huy Chung states:

“During the pandemic, people all over the world consolidated for one goal — to fight the COVID virus.”

For the Vatican’s envoy to the Philippines, Papal Nuncio Charles John Brown, “The best thing that happened to me during the pandemic was that I arrived here in the Philippines in November 2020, in full pandemic time. It has been a great source of happiness for me, to be here in this wonderful country. To find something joyful during an otherwise difficult period.”

Elizabeth “Betty” Sy, Consul of Iceland, declares: “I discovered that it’s possible to go into semi-retirement, after all, during the pandemic. There are days when you stay at home and do your work, do what you need to do. And there is time for you to follow your passions, indulge in your hobbies.”

Class picture: Seated in front are Eritrea Consul George Yang, Papal Nuncio Charles John Brown, US Charge d’Affaires Heather Variava and Sen. Francis Tolentino; standing at back are Iceland Consul Betty Sy, STAR’s Millet Mananquil, Sen. Sonny Angara, interior designer Maja Olivares Co, Gambia Consul Agnes Huibonhoa, Billy Variava and Vietnam Ambas-sador Hoang Huy Chung.

George Yang, the singing tycoon who is better known as McDonald’s founder in the Philippines, is also Consul of Eritrea, an African country. He says: “The pandemic gave us moments to be alone and have the chance to think: What is more important in life?”

Our dinner host, Consul Agnes Huibonhoa, declares: “It was during these difficult times that I realized that human relations are more important than material things, which are temporary. I came to see who the important people were in my life and who were the real friends. It was an opportunity to reconnect and show my love to the people I value the most.”

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Follow the author on Instagram and Facebook @milletmartinezmananquil. Email her at and

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