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Five ambassadors and their style of music diplomacy |

Sunday Lifestyle

Five ambassadors and their style of music diplomacy

LIFE AND STYLE - Millet M. Mananquil - The Philippine Star
Five ambassadors and their style of music diplomacy
Singers extraordinaire: US Ambassador MaryKay Carlson, French Ambassador Michele Boccoz, Australian Ambassador Hae Kyong Yu.

Before US Ambassador MaryKay Carlson assumed her post in the Philippines, she was told by friends: “The Filipinos are a very warm and wonderful people. You will love them.”

However, she was warned about two things: “Traffic. You have to deal with traffic.

“Secondly, you must learn to sing. Filipinos love singing.”

Ambassador Carlson whispered this to me, but it seems it was the loudest whisper during a dinner of 18 people hosted by Senator Loren Legarda last week.

Soon enough, the guests were clapping their hands and coaxing Carlson to sing. She graciously went to the mike, together with the other ambassadors present. Her amiable husband, retired Foreign Service officer Aubrey Carlson, certainly approved.

There was Korean Ambassador Inchul Kim, and we quickly reminded him: “Your Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol recently sang American Pie during a reception hosted by President Joe Biden at the White House.” With a song in his gentlemanly heart, Ambassador Kim went forward, laughing.

(From left) Working overtime: Former Justice Undersecretary Emmeline Villar and Senator Loren Legarda, Annyeong, mate: Korean Ambassador Inchul Kim and Ambassador Yu and Super voices: SM tycoon Hans Sy and Ambassador Kim.

And so did the vivacious Australian Ambassador Hae Kyong Yu, who formed a trio with US Ambassador Carlson and French Ambassador Michele Boccoz who did not lose her elegant poise when the three women ambassadors sang Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called to Say I Love You.

Senator Mark Villar did an Elvis Presley song with CNN broadcast journalist Rico Hizon, I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You. A popular choice that night, as it was also sung by SM boss Hans Sy together with Ambassador Kim. Woman of power Alice Eduardo preferred to listen and applaud together with Hans’ lovely wife Carol Sy.

Ambassadors Kim and Yu chose a Barbra Streisand number, You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore. Yu did an encore, singing Stand By Me, with Hizon.

Senator Legarda and health advocate, former Justice Undersecretary Emmeline Villar did justice to the Carpenters’ I Won’t Last a Day Without You. More applause from hotelier-turned-STAR columnist Monique Toda and two beauty queens-turned-cultural leader and history maven respectively, Margie Moran Floirendo and Gemma Cruz Araneta, and La Paz, Tarlac councilor Robert Mananquil.

First to arrive that night was Italian Ambassador Marco Clemente who joined us for cocktails and had to leave early for an Italian Embassy event at the BGC. Ambassador Clemente did not join the singing, but he gave a huge gift of music to the Filipinos last December 2022 when he sponsored Puccini’s opera Turandot at the Cultural Center of the Philippines together with culture patron Nedy Tantoco. He even devoted a matinee show, for free, to schoolchildren.

So there. Five ambassadors bringing their brand of music diplomacy to the Philippines, revealing their hidden talents and their relaxed side. How did they end up together in a dinner that night?

The dinner was actually a birthday dinner hosted by Loren for me, but happily it turned out to be a celebration of friendships as well. Loren and I drew out a list of our common friends who are near and dear to both of us.

The ties that bind are deeper than just friendships. Loren has received commendations twice, in 2018 and in 2022, from the Italian government for fostering closer bilateral relations with our country, especially in bringing the PH back to the Venice Biennale after 51-year hiatus.

From the French government, Loren received a legionnaire commendation for her work on climate and environment, as she sponsored the Paris agreement on climate in the Senate.

Perfect host: Sen. Legarda is flanked by US Ambassador Carlson and Aubrey Carlson. On the wall is Loren’s portrait by National Artist BenCab.

Loren sponsored the Senate concurrence to the defense treaty of Australia, SOFVA status of forces agreement between the Philippines and Australia.

As for South Korea, Loren is a commissioner in the global committee on adaptation, founded by former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.

I first met Korean Ambassador Kim and his beautiful wife Jae Kim during a dinner hosted by restaurateurs Rikki Dee and his wife Beng Dee. So engaging were our conversations on Korean history, culture and, of course, K-drama and oppas.

Australian Ambassador Yu and I rode the historic inaugural flight to Perth piloted by Philippine Airlines president Capt. Stanley Ng himself. It has been a happy, hoppy friendship with Yu who considers Perth her home.

French Ambassador Boccoz has been my seatmate at many a lifestyle event, starting from the Tatler Ball which resumed in 2022. And it was at a cultural event that I first met US Ambassador Carlson — the opera Turandot.

These five ambassadors have traveled to many Philippine scenic places, and so I asked each one their favorite.

US Ambassador Carlson: “So far, my favorite is Baguio, not only because of the beauty of the mountains and the peaceful atmosphere. But also because we have a beautiful Ambassadors’ Residence there which is so steeped in history.” Built in 1937, the Residence was taken over by the Japanese for three years during World War 2. It was in this Residence that the Japanese forces led by Tomoyuki Yamashita (yes, he of the fabled hidden treasures) signed the instrument of surrender to the Philippine government, a slice of history painted by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo, based on a photograph. Another painting by Amorsolo which still hangs here is the portrait of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Australian Ambassador Yu: “I really enjoyed my trip to Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur and Abra. I experienced the wonderful and wide range of natural beauty, culture and history of these regions. Here I also learned so much about the Filipino people.”

Korean Ambassador Kim: “I was really overpowered by Tagaytay’s scenic landscapes.”

French Ambassador Boccoz: ”I fell in love with Banaue because of its beauty. The thousands of years of human care and skill made the beauty of this place. Even though it is at risk now because the skills are getting lost, Banaue is beautiful, delicate and deeply moving.”

(From left)They’ve got it all: Alice Eduardo, Carol Sy and Hans Sy, Lovely three: Monique Toda, Gemma Cruz Araneta, Ambassador Yu, Power couple: Senator Mark Villar and Em-meline Villar and Culture lovers: STAR Lifestyle editor Millet Mananquil, Italian Ambassador Marco Clemente and CCP president Margie Moran Floirendo.

Italian Ambassador Clemente: “Of course, the Cultural Center of the Philippines is my favorite place in the country. The CCP is the beacon of Philippine culture, a remarkable architectural landmark, the place where I experienced so many beautiful performances showcasing classical music, including Turandot which is the only full staged opera I ever saw in the Philippines. It made me feel at home.”

Providing soothing music during the dinner was flutist Ray Sison a former member of the Manila Symphony Orchestra. “He has been playing the flute for my special dinners these past 20 years.”

With her eye for detail, Loren presented a lovely dinner table with exquisite blooms, piña placemats and napkins. “Maybe after this dinner I will put these together for a top and skirt,” she mused. The tablescape went well with the Filipino dishes prepared by chef Gilbert Pangilinan, starting with piniritong kabute, gabi chips with tinapa dip; seafood binakol soup inside a coconut; fried hito, mustasa and fermented rice. The main dish was the seabass inasal with steamed vegetables. Dessert was the refreshing mango sago. For drinks, we had pandan and tanglad juice.

If all dinners were as filled with music, laughter, style and substance as this, I look forward to an encore.

(From left)In the news: CNN PH broadcast journalist Rico Hizon and Senator Mark Villar, Excellence: Ambassadors Boccoz and Carlson,and Carol Sy, Foursome: Ambassador Marco Clemente, Robert Mananquil, Ambassador Inchul Kim, Rico Hizon and Long table for 18 lit up by a chandelier from Cebu made with coconut shells.

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

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