MANILA DECEMBER 31, 2011 (STARweek Magazine) By Aurea Calica, (Cover photo by Willy Perez) - Three-year-old Gyl Ouaei Pilapil stood beside President Aquino and stared at him throughout the Christmas party for the Malacañang Press Corps (MPC) at the Palace the night of Dec. 15.

Unmindful of other people, even those seated at the presidential table, she sat next to the President, who chatted briefly with her. When the little girl transferred to another chair, she still kept her eyes on the President, and followed him during the picture taking with the MPC members, who were allowed to bring their families and friends for a taste of Christmas at the Palace.

The girl’s father Jaime said his daughter would see Aquino in the news and would call him “Mr. President.” The occasion would surely be one of Gyl Ouaei’s most memorable Christmases, one she will treasure when she grows up and looks at photographs of herself in a dainty princess dress, being carried by no less than the President of the Philippines.

Deo de Guzman of Radio Mindanao Network’s dzXL had a different reason for this being a memorable Christmas in Malacañang. He took the opportunity to propose to his girlfriend of 10 years, Theresa Fernando, in the middle of an intermission number during the party.

The brightly lit Palace grounds exude Christmas cheer.

De Guzman was singing “How Did You Know” when he approached his girlfriend and led her to the center of the Heroes Hall where the party was being held and told her: “Alam mo, Theresa, 10 years na tayo next month. And this song really… is our story. Kasi yung first words, ‘You asked for my name,’ totoo yun, you really asked for my name. And this night, I want this to be very special for you. Dahil ngayon, ika nga ni General Eduardo Oban (retired Armed Forces chief of staff), dalawang beses lang kita gusto makasama (there are only two times I want to be with you) – and that is now and forever.”

The stunned – and slightly embarrassed – girlfriend just smiled but could not readily answer as De Guzman took out from his pocket a box with a ring inside and asked: “Will you marry me?”

The audience greeted the proposal with loud screams, while others became teary eyed.

“Seryoso ka (Are you serious)?” Fernando asked.

“Naghihintay ang mahal na Pangulo (Our dear President is waiting),” De Guzman said, to roars of laughter from the crowd.

“Yes,” she finally replied, drawing much more cheers and shrieks from the audience.

The President watched the engagement with obvious amusement and delight, but declined when the crowd shouted: “Ninong, ninong!”

President Aquino, carrying Gyl Ouaei, is joined by members of the Malacañang Press Corps and their families.

Aquino countered: “Wag naman ninong. Pwede pa abay. May balak pa ako (Not as godfather. Maybe a secondary sponsor. I still have plans).” Folk belief has it that a single man should not stand as principal sponsor at a wedding as this will make him lose his chance of getting married.

The President shared light moments with the media that night in the spirit of Christmas.

Aquino told the MPC members that he was giving them importance because they had become the ones closest to him apart from the Presidential Security Group, who accompany and secure him wherever he would go. MPC members cover the President in all his activities open for the media both here and abroad.

“Close kayo sa akin kaya binigyan ko kayo ng importansya. Kung medyo mataray kami at times, pagpasensyahan na ho ninyo, hindi na ho uso talaga ang pahingahan ngayon (You’re close to me so I want to give you importance. If at times we’re quite stern, please understand that in these times we cannot afford to be lax). I guess, from our end, what is important is at least there’s one night that is devoted to fun, na hindi naman tayo parating (that we are not always) adversarial,” the President shared.

And fun it was, as he did sing and dance a bit with the MPC members during the party. The President apparently enjoyed the music being played by the band, but of course no one would know if that was enough to take the political developments off his mind even just for a little while. Two days after the party, powerful typhoon “Sendong” hit Mindanao with devastating force, and Aquino oversaw government efforts in search and rescue as well as relief and rehabilitation for the thousands of victims of the flashfloods caused by torrential rains.

During Christmas, the historic Palace becomes a beautiful garden with the decorations designed by Mike Sandoval and highlighted by a 6.6-meter high Christmas tree made from recycled steel and garlands standing at the Kalayaan grounds. It is decorated with 125 lanterns and 32 sets of LED lights.

“Our Christmas trees are not real as we recycle and use them every year to save money. Also, we put up our decors early so using live trees is not an option as they will turn brown before Christmas,” said Malacañang social secretary Susan Reyes.

Deo de Guzman took the opportunity to make a memorable proposal to his girlfriend Theresa Fernando.

The lighting of the Christmas tree on Dec. 1 was led by Aquino as he reminded the people about the spirit of giving and concern for others.

The President said the essence of the various traditions and symbols of the celebration of Christmas must not be lost in the bustle of preparations and holiday activity.

He noted the lanterns would remind the Filipinos of what led the three kings in their journey to find the real Savior and King of mankind.

The President said the evergreen tree, during the old times, was used for Christmas as this could withstand even the harshest winter. Aquino added it became a symbol of hope for Christians – the coldness would pass and be replaced by warmth, love and eternal hope.

The lights, according to him, would represent what Jesus Christ gave to mankind – the wholehearted offering of one’s life so others would be saved and have eternal life.

From children to parents to lovers to a President and whoever we are, whatever we are going through, we take time to celebrate this very love from God through customs and traditions that we know best and which become more special by the memories that we make and the joy that we share.

The President congratulates the newly-engaged couple, but politely declines to be their ninong.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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