SANTIAGO, CHILE, (VIA PLDT),  November 22, 2004
Si, hablo Español.

President Arroyo used her proficiency in the Spanish language to endear herself to the host of this year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, President Ricardo Escobar—Lagos.

The Chilean leader was all ears to Mrs. Arroyo during their closed-door meeting at the Salon Providencia of the Sheraton Hotel Santiago before the opening of the two-day APEC summit on Saturday.

She wowed her Spanish-speaking host with her command of his native tongue.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye told representatives of the Philippine media here that Mrs. Arroyo spoke in Spanish throughout her 15-minute talk with her Chilean counterpart.

Bunye confessed having difficulty following the exchanges between the two leaders. But he said he was able to take some notes and do a rough translation thanks to the Spanish courses he took in college.

Until 1987, Filipino college students were required to study Spanish, which was once one of the Philippines’ three official languages along with English and Tagalog-based Filipino.

Also present during the meeting were Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo and Ambassador to Chile Consuelo Puyat—Reyes, who also speaks Spanish.

Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo also spoke Spanish in her meeting with Panamanian President Martin Torrijos last Friday.

Mrs. Arroyo had a three-hour stopover in Panama on her way to the APEC summit from San Francisco, California where she received an honorary degree from the University of San Francisco.

Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo and Torrijos talked for almost 30 minutes. In his rough translation for the Philippine media, Bunye quoted Mrs. Arroyo as being thankful for her chance to visit Panama.

"This has been a very good experience for me. I have read about the Panama Canal only in history books. Now I have seen it in person," he said.

Mrs. Arroyo and Torrijos later held a joint press conference for members of the Panamanian media, who were also "impressed" by her command of Spanish.

"We were touched that President Arroyo speaks our language very fluently. We are so impressed by her," Bunye quoted unnamed Panamanian journalists.

But Filipino reporters here could only take Bunye at his word. The reporters were upset over the spartan media arrangements for the APEC summit trip that prevented them from covering the Panama meeting.

No members of the media flew aboard the chartered Lear jet that Mrs. Arroyo and her entourage had been using as official transport.

Known as a polyglot, Mrs. Arroyo is also expected to use her fluency in Spanish during her meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox after the APEC summit.

Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo, who was born in Pampanga, spoke Spanish as her second-language and uses the language regularly with her husband, First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo.

Bunye said that Mrs. Arroyo spoke fluent French during the Asia—Europe Meeting held earlier this year in Vietnam.

Mrs. Arroyo was able to put her linguistic abilities to practical use in the last elections, where she received her largest margin of victory in the Cebuano-speaking areas of the Visayas.

But Mrs. Arroyo appears to lack fluency in the one language spoken by more people around the world than any other language.

Mrs. Arroyo spoke in English during her meeting with Chinese—Taipei leader Lee Yuan Tseh at the Salon Isadora of the Club La Union Las Condes. — Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved