Articles of the year 2012

Published on March 23rd, 2012

Into the twilight of my life I feel that I will have done a great injustice to myself if I do not pay a tribute to the Philippines, a country that has given me so much happiness, and pleasure. Not to mention the marvellous friends I made, and the many many good moments we shared. My reminiscences could not be complete without a chapter on the Philippines a period of my life when I fell in love with a whole People. I had never before met a whole Nation so warm and affectionate, and so devoid of artifice and arrogance. To meet an ex-miss Universe, just a few years after her term in office, and to be dazzled by her considerable beauty, but amazingly without any of the arrogance that a 'B' grade actress would assume as her norm in any other country was disarming and left a permanent impression of awe - at the unexpected combination of beauty and humility. The same can be said of the many business tycoons and industrialist as I met. None of them at any stage offered any gesture other than hospitality and warmth. This was in complete contrast to some Arab nationals who were so arrogant that their presence was considered a favour bestowed upon the rest.

I must admit that the most charming feature of the Filipino ladies was their complete lack of arrogance. They were indeed the epitome of the good graces taught in the finishing schools of Switzerland, or the convents of Italy.

The mixture of Spanish Filipino blood was a winning combination for it brought the aquiline features to the European to the warm colour of the Asian. The Filipino man was equally gracious and polite, and, in all my years in the Philippines there were never any nasty moments.

I was lucky that I observed the workings of the Filipino society at all levels, and was welcomed into their homes and their hearts.

On one of our first flights into Manila, we found ourselves sitting alongside Benny Toda, the President of Philippine Airlines. He introduced himself to us, and while chatting showed me a letter from the skipper of his yacht Shalimar, now working on the Royal Saudi Yacht. "Benny the Saudis are just like you, no sooner have they taken delivery of the present boat, they have ordered a bigger and better one for themselves." Signed yours truly Sir Richard. And added laughingly, "you know, many people have Filipino cooks, but I was the only Filipino that had an English Knight as a captain!" This self deprecating humour made him that much more charming. Soon we were propelled into the upper echelons of Filipino society.

One evening we went to a party with the son of the c-in-c of the Philippines army, and we were standing to one side with our hosts and an old dowager complete with a blue rinse, when someone came up and told my wife that Mrs Marcos wanted to know who she was. Without waiting for my wife's response, the dowager responded saying "She should come up herself." Adding to us. "She's quite an upstart you know." I was mortified, because I knew only too well the importance of the pecking order in Pakistan and the penalties that were applicable. Luckily for us, Mr Marcos had imposed Martial law in the Philippines, so in the company of Gen Espino's son we were relatively safe.

A short while later, my wife and I were invited to Benny's Private Island, and we flew there in two Beach craft King airs. One we went in and the servants followed in the second. The family priest accompanied us. After an hour's flight we came in to land on Hermana Major, Benny' private hideaway. 1200 acres of undeveloped, wild nature- with no buildings, except for two houses, the main house of seven bedrooms, and a guest house of 10 bedrooms, and the meticulous attention to the detail in the planning of all the aspects. For a start the Island was 1200 acres, kept au natural, i.e. no development, there was however an 18 hole golf course. Carefully maintained of course. Where the previously Presidents regularly visited played and played. On one side was a small beach with beautiful white sand. Just next to a cove where his boats were parked. A 40 foot yacht, a 36 foot sailboat assorted speedboats, even a two man submarine!

We left the next day back to Manila, and as it was Sumayra's birthday Benny's daughter threw a birthday party in her honour. These were the highlights of our introduction to Manila high life. We were always made to feel welcome and never any display of arrogance. The life style we witnessed exceeded anything we could have imagined, and was greater than any Arab princes we had heard of, without the frills-- or the attitude.