MANILA,  August
16, 2004 (STAR) CITIZEN OF THE WORLD By Edu Jarque - Meet Diosdado Ignacio Jose Maria Macapagal Arroyo, a law student in his senior year, and Maria Victoria Celina Salomon Manotok, a young hands-on mother on temporary leave from the corporate world. Both are doting parents to six-month-old first-born Eva Victoria, or EV. Meet the presidential son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the First Gentleman, lawyer-businessman Jose Miguel Arroyo.

One of the most modest, low profile, unassuming couples in town, both are ordinary individuals, with a clear concept on the purpose of life and with distinct dreams they eagerly wish to pursue. And mind you, they have both their feet firmly planted on the ground.

Kakai, from Vickikai which is a play on words from her old nickname Vicky, is what her aunt calls her – con mucho cariño at that. Dato is so named for obvious reasons as there can only be one Dadong. Together with darling daughter EV, who has started to crawl backwards (rather unique, isn’t it?), they have settled in a Malacañang Palace apartment that was formerly the living quarters of Bongbong Marcos.

Although they are very appreciative of the rare privilege of residing at the official home of the Chief Executive of the land, they respect, value and hold dear the historical merit of the building, its interiors and fixtures. They have absolutely refrained from making major renovations nor modifications, as they honor the sanctity of the place. Besides, they have always fully realized they are but fleeting tenants of "a house that belongs to every citizen of the nation."

The couple agrees that the family’s La Vista home is the ideal dwelling place for reasons – personal and otherwise – too many to mention. However, being residents at the Palace by the river – no matter how temporary it may be – has its own perks, they quickly admit. "Dato’s family like most Filipinos’ is a close-knit one," declares Kakai. "And having all of them from the First Couple to Luli to Mikey, Angela and Michaela nearby – where we almost share walls – is certainly a huge plus. Please, make that plus, plus, plus."

The members of the First Family live busy enriching lives throughout the week. "But we always somehow find the time to get together for a Sunday meal," Dato volunteers. Most Saturdays on the other hand are spent with Kakai’s side of the family – her parents Rufino Luis and Cynthia Manotok, sister Veronica and brothers Carlo and Luigi – at Alabang. "Whenever Dato is out of town, EV and I sleep over," comments Kakai.

When pressed about the downside, Kakai had to stop for a moment. "I guess," she finally confesses, "I am not used to having too many people around – many people are holding office just a floor below. The official goings-on never seem to end in the halls, suites and rooms where local heroes, foreign dignitaries and many others are received and entertained during special events. It’s where celebrations of historical significance as well as Cabinet and other top level meetings are conducted. We have to be more than just presentable at every given time for you never know who you will bump into along the corridors. But come to think of it, it’s a very, very small price to pay."

Wary of the President’s new six-year mandate, but not dependent on it whatsoever, Kakai affirms that when EV turns one or shortly thereafter, she would "slowly but surely try to rejoin the world of investment banking and even perhaps be an entrepreneur. I certainly must do something – otherwise I would go crazy, "she claims."

Meanwhile, Dato plans to pursue a masteral degree. "I may not practice law, but rather go into business attending to the family’s real estate properties that have remained idle all these years. Knowledge of the law," he continues, "provides an excellent foundation for successful business undertakings."

Travel is one passion they both share in earnest. This they shared with me one late afternoon last week at their compact-yet-cozy slice-of-history area called home-for-now – the Palace of Malacañang.

THE PHILIPPINE STAR: What do you remember most about your first trip abroad?

KAKAI ARROYO: Not much as I was only four years old. I remember only fragments of that very first trip which I took with my parents to the States.

DATO ARROYO: I don’t remember mine either. I must have also been around four years old.

What won’t you leave home without?

Kakai: A medical kit. We wouldn’t want to let a cold, fever, stomachache or other malady to make us miserable during a trip. I especially bring along some antihistamines, as Dato is allergic to certain foods.

Dato: I always bring my Swiss knife. It’s really very useful, all-purpose talaga. You can remove almost all the little hassles with the use of a Swiss knife.

How do you pass time at the airport?

Kakai: Usually, we have snacks and a few drinks at the lounge. At the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, we treat ourselves to a pre-flight massage. In foreign airports, I browse through the shops and do some last-minute shopping.

Dato: I always look for something to eat. I’m not a shopper.

Your favorite city abroad?

Kakai: Rome, because of its overwhelming sense of history and culture.

Dato: I think it’s a toss-up between Barcelona and San Francisco. They both have a very laid-back culture, really great food, and very friendly Filipinos – as opposed to other cities where the resident Filipinos think too highly of themselves and actually look down on other Filipinos.

What is the first thing you do upon checking in at the hotel?

Kakai: We both unpack our suitcases. We like our clothes neatly folded in the drawers or hung in the closet, to minimize wrinkling.

Dato: Aside from that, I make sure to check out the bathroom and the view from the window. I don’t know why, but I just have to.

What would you consider a must-do activity in every foreign city you visit?

Kakai and Dato: Definitely have a taste of the local cuisine as we both love to eat.

What is your favorite spot in the Philippines?

Kakai: I’ve always been fond of Boracay. The beach is beautiful, the people are friendly, and it’s an endless party!

Dato: For me, it would have to be a tie between Bicol and Bacolod. I always go for the areas where the pace is laid-back, the food is great and the people go out of their way to make you feel at home.

What do you miss most when you’re away from home?

Kakai: Long massages, which are ridiculously expensive in other countries. San Miguel beer, in countries where this is not available. Filipino food like sinigang, kare-kare and tuyo.

Dato: San Miguel beer and local TV!

What is the best travel advice you were given?

Kakai: The best advice ever given to us was to have photocopies of the relevant pages of our passports and visas in case these get lost or stolen. It’s a great inconvenience to renew these travel documents, and having copies available lessens a lot of the hassle.

Dato: Aside from that, the most practical advice I’ve ever received was to separate amounts of money in different pockets. That way, in case one pocket gets picked, I still have enough money to go around or go back to the hotel.

Describe your most memorable trip.

Kakai and Dato: Our honeymoon has to be the memorable trip we’ve gone on together. The day after our wedding, we flew to the United States to be with PGMA during her State Visit. It was then that we met the US President, the First Lady and other renowned US government officials and personalities. We stayed at the Blair House, which is the Presidential Guest House and we were also able to visit certain areas of the White House which is not open to the public.

From the States we flew to Europe – without the Philippine contingent this time – for our real honeymoon. We met up with friends in Barcelona, where we spent late nights feasting on Spanish food, cerveza and sangria in Barceloneta and Rambla de Catalunia. From Barcelona we flew to Rome, stayed a few days, and then drove to Florence. We love Italy because aside from the cultural experience, you can eat in any hole-in-the-wall and still have a wonderful culinary celebration.

From Florence we took an overnight train, for the experience of it, to Paris. This was probably the worst part of our trip, because we had two big pieces of luggage plus our handcarried bags. We did not only have to lug these around, but we had to endure a very cramped cabin because of the luggage. On top of that, the aircon in the train was not working! Our night was hardly restful and we swore not to take a train in Europe again.

After a few days in Paris, we flew to Amsterdam where we met up with friends again. The city is so small that we were able to take in the sights in one day.

What’s the strangest thing you have done in a trip?

Kakai: Bring a palm tree all the way from Manila for my aunt, who was then residing in Kuwait. This was back in 1987, when I was 12 years old.

Another strange thing I’ve done is enter the United Kingdom without a visa! That’s because I was pickpocketed on my way back to London from Paris. I lost most of the things in my handbag, including my passport. Good thing my British friends vouched for me, and I was allowed to pass through.

Dato: Repeat a conversation over and over with my friend on our way to Candaba, Pampanga which is a two-hour ride just to annoy our other companions in the car.

What’s your favorite meal and drink that you always order?

Kakai: When we are in the States we make it a point to go to steak houses. For drinks, it has always been Coke Light for me and Regular Coke for Dato.

Dato: My favorite is Morton’s. We make it a point though to try all sorts of local beer, wherever we are.

Favorite museum?

Kakai: The Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam.

Dato: I’m not really a museum person, but I found the museum at the Vatican very interesting.

Favorite landmark?

Kakai: My favorite is the Trevi Fountain in Rome when it’s not teeming with tourists. It looks like a very romantic place to hang out in.

Dato: The Mayon Volcano! I think it’s the most beautiful thing to see in the whole world.

Favorite musical?

Kakai: Phantom of the Opera.

Dato: I don’t really go for musicals. I watch them, but I don’t have any favorite.

Name a movie you could see over and over again.

Kakai: None in particular. I don’t have the patience to see any movie more than twice.

Dato: Road Trip or any other film where you don’t have to think and you keep on laughing.

Name a book you would recommend others to read.

Kakai: Books by Dan Brown – The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, Digital Fortress. Aside from that I have read all the books of the Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader series. The Bathroom Readers are full of short articles where you can pick up a lot of interesting historical trivia. They’re perfect for long trips.

Dato: Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Anyone at any age can read it and still be profoundly affected by it.

What would I find on top of your working table?

Kakai: A laptop computer for checking e-mail.

Dato: A laptop, a lamp, some books, ballpens and lots of paper I should’ve thrown away a long time ago.

What would I find on top of your nighttable?

Kakai: Both our cell phones, rosaries, a pocket book and a bottle of water.

Dato: My work table doubles as my night table.

What would I find under your bed?

Kakai: Just our slippers, probably.

Dato: Dust. Lots of it.

The sounds that distract you most.

Kakai: Only loud snoring and loud chewing.

Dato: I don’t really get distracted by specific sounds.

Famous persons you’ve met abroad.

Kakai and Dato: Pope John Paul II, American President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, Queen Sofia of Spain, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, US Secretary of State Colin Powell, Chef Wolfgang Puck, movie producer Dean Devlin.

What do you most enjoy doing on a Sunday?

Kakai: We enjoy just sleeping in, and waking up in time for lunch.

Dato: And I play basketball on Sunday afternoons.

Who is your ideal traveling companion?

Kakai: Dato because I eat well when I’m with him. Otherwise, I’d probably be too busy to sit down and eat when I’m abroad.

Dato: I don’t think I’m allowed to mention any name other than Kakai. Hehehe!

Name an event anywhere in the world you would like to participate in.

Kakai: The carnivals in Rio de Janeiro. Dato also wants to run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.

Dato: The Oktoberfest in Germany, the Peñafrancia in Naga, the Masskara in Bacolod and the Pahiyas in Quezon.

What are your pasalubong – inbound and outbound?

Kakai: When we visit relatives abroad, we bring them Goldilocks mamon and polvoron, peanuts, local magazines and CDs of OPM artists.

When we come home from a trip, on the other hand, we bring home T-shirts, which are the easiest to pack and do not take too much luggage space.

Dato: Coming home from a trip, you can never go wrong with cigarettes.

Let’s fill in the blanks. Where in the world…only in the Philippines.

Kakai and Dato: Where in the world would you find a host who would be willing to starve himself and his family, borrow more money than he can afford to repay, and give up whatever comfort he and his family have, just to make a guest feel comfortable and at home? Proudly, only in the Philippines.

If I had more time I would…

Kakai and Dato: … explore every nook and cranny of the Philippines.

Aside from unpacking your suitcase, what is the first thing you would do upon returning home?

Kakai: The first thing we do is have a big meal! I don’t really enjoy airline food so I tend to be famished upon arriving.

Dato: I usually take a nap after that big meal.

Name a city you have never visited but would like to someday.

Kakai: Lisbon.

Dato: I would like to visit Davao City. I accompanied my mom there once, but it was only for around three hours, so I don’t count it as a visit. I’d like to really see, explore and experience the place.

Name a country you wish to explore.

Kakai: Aside from the Philippines, I’d like to explore Greece and Turkey.

Dato: I’d like to explore the Philippines.

What would you say is the best part of travel?

Kakai and Dato: (On traveling abroad) The best part of travel is enriching one’s perspective of the Philippines in relation to other nations. We sometimes fail to appreciate our own country and tend to think it is inferior to others. But when we’re traveling, we get to affirm that it’s really not that bad. In fact, in certain aspects, we are even better off. For instance, there are some more advanced countries where the airports are less efficient than ours. Our people speak English a lot better than citizens of other countries, which makes travel easier. And, of course, we have a lot of wonderful tourist attractions – foremost of which are the beaches which are among the best in the world. In summary, we think that traveling increases our pride in being Filipinos.

(On domestic travel) The best part of travel is that you get to see and appreciate the beauty of the Philippines firsthand, and it fills you with wonder and awe whenever you see a place that is more beautiful than you ever imagined or read it would be. You become proud and without realizing it, become a better and more informed promotion and marketing agent for our country whenever you travel abroad.

What would you say then is the worst part of travel?

Kakai and Dato: We hate meeting Filipinos abroad who have renounced their being Filipinos and look at their country as inferior. Bwiset yung mga yun.

If you could reside anywhere in the world aside from the Philippines where would it be?

Kakai: Suburban Pennsylvania. The state is so charmingly beautiful. Nature has really been preserved, with greenery and woodland creatures co-existing with people, amid a modern environment. It’s not too fast-paced yet not too backward either.

Dato: Either in Spain or in San Francisco – again because of the place, the food and the people.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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