BELOW THE LINE
By AMBASSADOR JOSE ABETO ZAIDE
Prince Albert II of Monaco tested positive for COVID-19, making him the first head of state to publicly announce a diagnosis for the coronavirus-caused respiratory disease.
“His Serene Highness urges the people of Monaco to respect the measures of confinement and to limit contact with others to a minimum,” the palace’s statement said, adding that he will continue to work from his office and that he remains in contact with members of his government. The official statement from the city-state palace said despite the findings, the prince’s health “is not worrying at all.”
Prince Albert is one of the world’s wealthiest royals and is the head of state of one of the smallest countries on the planet, with about 40,000 residents. He was formally invested in 2005, succeeding his father, Prince Rainer, who introduced Monaco to the world by the happy choice of being married to Grace Kelly. Prince Albert is being treated by specialists from Princess Grace Hospital, named after his famous American screen icon mother.
The WHO reports that as of 26 March, there were nine coronavirus cases in Monaco. France, which surrounds the tiny Mediterranean country, is one of the most severely hit by the new virus with nearly 11,000 cases and more than 370 deaths.
I presented on 17 January 2007 my Letters of Credence to His Serene Highness, Prince Albert II, the 10th envoy to be received in the Monegasque Principality.
I was briefed and sherpa-ed by our doyen of honorary consuls general, Dr. Stephen Zuellig. Punctilious of Old World courtesies, Dr. Zuellig was at Nice airport when I arrived. He took three days off for these duties. The drive to Monaco was enough to brief me about the prince, his concern for the ecology (which took him to an Artic expedition to observe effects of global warming), antecedents of his mother Princess Grace’s foundation for children, recent visits to Manila of Princess Stefanie and Prince Andrea Casiraghi, the sweeping change of dramatis personae at the Palace and the government, and a crash course in Monegasque history.
We arrived at the Hermitage, which was above my budget but a measure of his hospitality. At the Philippine Consulate General around the block, we went through the protocol drill for the next day’s presentation of credentials. Dinner at the Casino Royale Hotel, champagne, Bordeaux red wine, and a Paul Ducasse menu that I dared not tease my Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alberto Romulo’s prescribed South Beach diet.
We were collected 9:30 the next morning by the chief of protocol, M. Panizzi, who was recovering from a knee surgery and ambled with a cane. Dr. Zuellig was also leaning on an elegant walking stick. A week earlier when I was under treatment at American hospital for a minor spinal problem, we would have made a threesome walking on three’s.
It was a splendid morning as most days are in Monte Carlo. M. Panizzi accompanied me in a black Maybach — the first and probably last time I would ride one. The Consul General followed in his Mercedes. With three carabinieri motorcycle escorts, Philippine flag fluttering on right fender of the Maybach, we arrived to Royal Palace Guards presenting arms, helmets of cock plumes in tricolor bunting. After trooping the colors, I was escorted by the chamberlain, Col. Luc Fringant up the baroque marble steps, and ushered to His Serene Highness where I delivered the rehearsed lines: J’ai l’honneur de remettre a Votre Altesse mes letters de créance.
The Prince introduced his suite, and we repaired for tête-a-tête (four eyes plus Chef de Cabinet M Georges Lisimachio as note taker). Not wishing to do violence to my pied noir French, I reverted into English. In reply to his query, I said that my president, Her Excellency, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, would brief Davos next week on her successful hosting of the 12th ASEAN summit in Cebu, where the eminent persons group pointed to an alternative to mushawarah and after our region of over 500 million population signed a wide-ranging agreement of unprecedented economic complementation with China’s 1.6 billion.
I presented the Prince with a shantung red-and-black-encased edition of UP Dean of Arts Tina Colayco’s Treasures of the Southeast Asia and conveyed the President’s invitation to re-visit the Philippines. The color returned to his cheeks as he recalled the state banquet in Malacañang, where a lissome Bayanihan dancer capped the evening by offering him a rose. He also remembered Amanpulo very well. I said we have several Amanpulos in our 7,107 islands, adding that the president’s invitation was in enlightened interest — a visit by the prince would be the best endorsement of Philippine tourism. This wasn’t mercantilist opportunism: a store in Monaco displays the autographed red Nike shoes used by the Prince at the 2000 Winter Olympics in Montreal. He remembered, saying that he regrets not having the time now to toboggan with Monaco’s bobsled team.
He was aware that his Minister of State for Public Works M. Robert Calgano recommends a cooperation program with Rina Lopez Bautista of Philippine Holdings Foundation Knowledge Channel. The program has both ETV and ecological impact on Verde Island off Batangas.
This envoy also had the temerity to ask for a photograph beside a large-as-life oil portrait of Princess Grace, aka Grace Kelly. Prince Albert said that his mother loved Paris, so they kept an apartment at 70 Avenue Foch (close to our number 26 Embassy Residence on the same street). The Chamberlain searched, and we overstayed the hospitality waiting in vain for the palace photographer. Was that a good excuse to return? Prince Albert said that Monaco will commemorate in May the 25th anniversary of her death. (How time flies!)
After lunch with Secretary of State Rene Nobella, Dr. Zuellig nudged me to other important personages. I called on the International Hydrographic Organization. Vice Admiral Alexandros Maratos (Greek) and Rear Admiral Kenneth Barbor (American) briefed us on the IHO, which complements the International Maritime Organization. Indonesia has its archipelagic highway for international traffic; Venezuela used IHO maps and struck oil. As an archipelago with strong maritime employment, we are fish in IHO and IOM waters. DFA’s MOAC may be principal beneficiary of the programs. The Philippines is represented in IHO by NAMRIA. About 60% of the member countries are represented by their navies, others by their coast guard or other ministries. The USA and UK seem to have Torrens Title on the secretariat, while the other member countries take turns at a remaining third slot. We may aspire for a seat. (A capital idea. Begin with lessons at Alliance Française).
Dr. Zuellig fetched me at 9.30 the next morning for a one-hour drive to his garden in Grasse, France. (An understatement: It was a five-hectare estate, a refuge of an old prior before sequestration by the Revolution. New wings were added seamlessly to the original cottage, converting it to what my plebian vocabulary might describe as a manor.) His last visit was three months ago. I suggested that teleconference should allow him to spend more time there. If he wants the old-fashioned face-to-face meetings, his executives could surely come to this refuge. Amidst the cornucopia of tastefully selected European antiques and Ming porcelain, a narra canopied bed of provenance and Filipino inlaid chest drawers are revealing of his preferred corner. A clipping advertised for sale a neighboring property that used to belong to Saddam Hussein. I passed up the soufflé after a light lunch to catch the Air France 6219 flight to return to the grey skies of Paris. I was gifted a dozen citrus fruits from his orchard, and I would squeeze the lemon at the Embassy Residence on Avenue Foch.
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