, JANUARY 13, 2007 (STAR) It won’t just be a picnic for the spouses of Asia-Pacific leaders this weekend — it will also be fireworks, sumptuous meals and even a choreographed "boat ballet."

While presidents and prime ministers are grappling with poverty, terrorism and the state of East Asia’s economies, their wives (and husbands) will be getting the full-on cultural experience in Cebu.

Leading the charge will be First Gentleman Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo, who will lead the two-day program for five spouses of ASEAN leaders.

Mr. Arroyo flew in with President Arroyo and daughter Evangeline Lourdes or "Luli" to give his ASEAN counterparts" a "picnic" and a "holiday" in this province.

"What we have learned from the First Gentleman is that the program for the spouses should be just as important as that of the heads of state," said Margot Osmeña, wife of Cebu mayor Tomas Osmeña, and chairperson of the spouses committee.

"What we want to do is show something of our culture, the people and life in Cebu. Because at the end of the day, we don’t have that many museums," she said.

"Our visitors will see the province’s rich culture and history. We will also showcase Cebu as a festival island," she added.

The country’s second city after the capital Manila, Cebu is a study in contrasts – slums of crushing poverty bunched next to glittering beachfront resorts.

Christmas lights and decorations still adorned the streets to add glitter at night in the countryside atmosphere of this place.

It’s also where famed Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan met his doom, killed by local warriors in the Battle of Mactan in 1521.

"We don’t really want to play that part up too much," Osmeña said.

But a re-enactment of the battle of Mactan, called "Kadaungan sa Mactan" will be part of the festivities for the weekend, which she said would look at the influences of the Spanish, Malays and Chinese on the culture of the Philippines.

The party will be wined and dined by the First Gentleman on Saturday night in an old customs house overlooking the sea and known locally as the Malacañang of the South, which will also showcase the different products of Cebu, especially the province’s world-class furniture and accessories.

The next day, the spouses will go on a guided tour of Cebu’s historical landmarks starting with the unveiling of the bamboo sculpture at the ASEAN Friendship Park in Talamban.

The copper-made sculpture features 10 big bamboos, representing the 10 ASEAN member-countries intermingled with six small bamboos representing ASEAN’s dialogue partners–Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, New Zealand and China.

The sculpture showcases the "unity and spirit of the ASEAN and its dialogue partners," Osmeña said.

They will be later treated to a fireworks show as well as a choreographed maritime display billed as a "boat ballet."

On Sunday there will be a bus tour, a performance by children’s choirs and that old staple of romance – a picnic in the park, complete with balloons and cotton candies.

They will also pass by Osmeña Boulevard where dancers in Filipiniana costumes will line the streets to showcase 10 of Cebu’s festivals.

Upon reaching Colon, the country’s oldest street, the spouses will find themselves in Cebu’s Chinatown. The streets will be adorned with Chinese lanterns.

The last stop will be Cebu’s famous landmark –Magellan Cross –where candle vendors will perform the Sinulog dance.

After a brief stopover, the spouses will return to the Capitol along the same route for lunch to be hosted by the provincial government and the Mandaue City government.

But while the government and local officials in Cebu want to put on the best possible show, it’s not clear how many spouses will even bother to turn up.

Only five had confirmed their attendance. While all the 16 leaders were expected to be present, only the better—halves of the South Korean President and the prime ministers of Thailand, India, Indonesia and Japan, would arrive on Sunday.

Summit spokesman Victoriano Lecaros said some leaders customarily do not bring their spouses on such trips. – Aurea Calica, AFP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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