MANILA,  July 1, 2004
From Quirino Grandstand to Cebu City, the spotlight yesterday was not only on the country’s second woman president but also on the foreign dignitaries who graced President Arroyo’s inaugural, among them the highest ranking Filipino-American in the White House.

Susan Ralston, executive assistant to senior presidential adviser Karl Rove, was US President George W. Bush’s representative to the occasion along with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi and Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander of US forces in the Pacific.

Ralston, 36, was last in Manila during the state visit of President Bush in October last year.

Born in York, Pennsylvania, Ralston’s parents are Filipino; her father, Tom Bonzon, is from Rizal and her mother, Tita Lagman, from Quezon City.

In an interview with PeopleAsia magazine last year, she narrated that she grew up in Jacksonville, Florida and in Chicago in a "very close-knit community with a lot of Filipinos."

She said that she grew up with "the culture, heritage, and food" though she didn’t speak Tagalog.

As Rove’s executive assistant, she described her typical 13- to 15-hour work day as tough. Her job, she said, include "assisting her boss in strategic planning, political affairs, public liaison and inter-governmental affairs efforts at the White House."

Ralston has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Literature from the Loyola University in Chicago and a master’s in business administration from the Keller Graduate School in Arlington, Virginia.

Meanwhile, while there was no royal dignitary who came to attend the President’s inaugural, there was an American royalty by name who flew in for the occasion.

Former foreign affairs secretary Domingo Siazon Jr., who is now ambassador to Japan, wisecracked yesterday that the "American prince" among the international dignitaries who arrived for the occasion was Principi, who led the American delegation sent by Bush to Mrs. Arroyo’s inaugural.

"President Bush sends his congratulations to the President," Principi told reporters in Cebu City.

Principi was accompanied by an 18-member delegation to the inaugural party, including Ralston, Fargo and Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, who reported back to his old post at the US Embassy in Manila after a brief stint in Iraq.

In an interview with reporters, Ricciardone expressed the US government’s optimism in Mrs. Arroyo’s leadership.

"Whatever choice the Filipinos made by definition, it’s the right choice and we’re certainly delighted," Ricciardone said.

"Congratulations. We’re here with you before, we’re with you now and we’re gonna continue to support this country," he added.

Ricciardone flew into the country two days after the US-led coalition forces turned over the transition government to the Iraqis.

"I’m delighted to be back in the Philippines in its exciting moments. The time when the President is then elected, to the new energy in the government, to the new energy in the country. We’re here to support, to help out," Ricciardone said.

He described yesterday’s inaugural rites as "very steering."

Other dignitaries who attended Mrs. Arroyo’s inaugural included the First Lady of the Czech Republic Livia Klausova, Palau’s Vice President and Minister of Health Sandra Pierantozzi, Swaziland’s Deputy Prime Minister Albert Shabangu, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Joarinshdha Suchart, Spain’s Senate President Javier Rojo, China’s Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, Morocco’s Minister In Charge of International Affairs Fassi Fihri Taelb, South Korea’s Minister for Gender Equality Chi Eun Hoe, Myanmar’s Minister of Labor and Economic Cooperation U Tin Winn, Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for the Economy Dorodjatun Kuntjorojakti, Singapore’s Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Lee Yock Suan, Japanese Member of Congress Taro Nakayama, Cambodia’s Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Sun Saphoen, Hungary’s Political State Secretary Andras Barsony, France’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Renadu Muselier, and ASEAN Deputy Secretary-General Wilfredo Villacorta. — Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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