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Newsmakers

65th anniversary of Phl-Swiss ties: ‘We are for democracy’

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
65th anniversary of Phl-Swiss ties: âWe are for democracyâ

Switzerland has always been known for its neutrality but in the coming May presidential elections in the Philippines, Swiss Ambassador Alain Gaschen said Switzerland has taken a stand: “We hope Filipinos will go out and vote, and choose the person they believe is best for the country.”

“We are on the side of democracy,” Gaschen told me at the sidelines of a media reception in his Makati residence in celebration of the Philippines’ and Switzerland’s 65th year of diplomatic ties.

He also paid tribute to journalist Maria Ressa, the first Filipino to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and who along with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, was the first journalist to receive it in over eight decades.

Earlier, Gaschen said in his welcome speech that the media was close to the Swiss Embassy’s heart because, “We like freedom of the press, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression.

“And freedom of expression is seen as a precondition for democracy and lasting peace. This was actually the main motivation of the Nobel Peace committee to give the Nobel Peace Prize to Maria Ressa. And I think though she’s not here today, she needs to be recognized.

“And I think that she would agree with me, when I say that the media have a crucial role to fight disinformation. We’ve seen a lot of disinformation during COVID, about the origin of the virus, about the vaccines, about some drugs, about pretty much everything; we see fake news every day in social media. And we saw a lot of and we continue to see a lot of disinformation, around Ukraine, in Europe, about peace. And so there is a war in Ukraine, there is also a war on disinformation,” he stressed.

Switzerland has historically been a neutral state. “We remain neutral,” Gaschen said, adding, “But we are not indifferent. Meaning, we defend our core values, rule of law, human rights, the UN Charter, basically the sovereignty of the states, the territorial integrity. So, yes, we follow the sanctions of the EU. And we will continue to fight for those rights and values and principles. And this is something that is deep into our DNA. This is part of our identity and the solidarity that goes with it.”

Swiss Ambassador Alain Gaschen.

(Switzerland has adopted EU sanctions against Russia. “Switzerland’s status as a neutral state remains unchanged. Neutrality does not imply to be indifferent with regard to violations of international law. Measures adopted by the Federal Council are in accordance with Switzerland’s international law obligations as a neutral state,” said a statement posted by the Swiss Embassy on social media.)

He ended his speech by proudly displaying the logo of the 65th anniversary of Philippine-Swiss ties, which bears a big smile.

“I like this logo, because this is about a relationship. And it’s about stories that we will tell this year. And it’s a smile. And I like this smile because in the last two years, we couldn’t see the smiles behind the masks. And maybe we didn’t smile that much because, well, it was kind of difficult.”

In closing, I asked the ambassador what he admires about Filipinos. Without batting an eyelash, he said, “Their resilience.”

“During COVID, during Typhoon Odette, during (difficult) times, Filipinos will not complain, they will just find solutions. And basically many were at home, lost their job, no work, no pay. And then they did something, they sold goods through Facebook, they found ways to actually find another income, livelihood solutions. They have huge solidarity.”

And this has rubbed off even on Swiss nationals who visit the Philippines, like this Swiss who had just visited typhoon-ravaged Siargao before Odette struck.

“We met him in Manila, and he was on his way back to Switzerland. And then he said, ‘No, I cannot do that.’ He went back to Siargao and he’s preparing meals for the ones that have nothing.”

That’s Philippine-Swiss friendship for you. A reason, indeed, to smile.

Villa ‘Bridgerton’ in New Manila

Members of the “ton” recently descended upon Quezon City as Netflix opened the doors of its very own Villa Bridgerton in New Manila. For this, the streaming giant renovated an existing mansion — located at 35 Broadway Avenue — to celebrate the upcoming debut of Bridgerton season two on March 25.

The result was nothing short of spectacular. Guests were welcomed in a driveway, where a romantic carriage bedecked with spring flowers awaited. Uniformed footmen (models, by the looks of it) in powdered wigs, and equally tall and elegant maids also welcomed every “lord” and “lady,” as we entered the sitting room, which came complete with Regency-period inspired wallpapers, furnishing, a string quartet and a lavish tablescape that would probably impress Lady Whistledown herself.

Gaschen with the Philippine Star’s Andrew Masigan and CNN’s Rico Hizon.

Paintings of the handsome Viscount Anthony and the other Bridgertons, along with Queen Charlotte, the Sharma sisters and other members of the onscreen ton also hung on the mansion’s walls. The master bedroom was even furnished to include a closet-full of period costumes, should one want to feel like a Regency-era debutante.

Last but not the least, the grounds were also dressed up, not just with tables and flowers, but with croquet balls and wooden mallets, for our afternoon promenade.  Echoing the Queen’s thoughts in the season two trailer, Villa Bridgerton was, indeed, a “genius idea” — and that is why, perhaps, Netflix “thought it!” *

(For those who want to live like a Bridgerton for a day, Netflix is also opening the doors of Villa Bridgerton to the public from March 25 to April 3 for free. Book your appointment at villabridgerton.com. The ton, after all, waits for no one!)

(You may e-mail me at [email protected]. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

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