We Filipinos should take pride that a fellow Filipino now shares the Nobel Prize stage with some of the world’s great men and women, like Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Albert Einstein, and our friends Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar and Jose Ramos Horta of East Timor.
Journalist Maria Ressa’s winning this year’s Nobel Prize for Peace is an honor for our country and the Filipino people. She is the first Filipino to receive one of the world’s most illustrious awards.
We remember meeting a number of Nobel Prize laureates when we addressed the Astana Economic Forum in Kazakhstan in May 2011, on invitation by our friend, then Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Among them was the late Nobel Prize laureate in Economics, the celebrated genius-mathematician, Dr. John Nash of Princeton University. His life story inspired the 2001 biographical film, “A Beautiful Mind,” played by Hollywood actor Rusell Crowe and which became an international blockbuster.
In our brief conversation, we told him that our US-based eldest daughter, Sandra, earned her doctorate in Chemistry from Princeton.
Astana, now Nur-Sultan, is the capital of Kazakhstan, an oil-rich Central Asian country and the ninth largest country in the world. It is bordered on the north by Russia, on the east by China, and on the south by former Soviet republics of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.
We have fond memories of Kazakhstan and President Nazarbayev, a visionary leader, reformist, and modernizer. He served as his country’s first president from 1990 to 2019. President Nazarbayev visited Manila in November, 2003.
Our International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) held its 10th governing council meeting and fifth general assembly in Astana in March and September, 2009, respectively, hosted by the ruling Nur Otan Party led by then President Nazarbayev. Nur Otan sits in the governing council of ICAPP, which represents some 350 ruling and opposition parties from 52 countries in Asia.
We in ICAPP bestowed President Nazarbayev the “ICAPP Achievement and Service to Humanity Award” in 2011 for his contributions in fostering dialogue, cooperation, peace, security, and economic development in Asia and the global community.
We also had the privilege of addressing the international conference on “From the ban of nuclear tests to a world free of nuclear weapons” in August, 2012 and, earlier, the 12th party congress of the Nur Otan in February, 2011.
We had an unforgettable experience of a lifetime when we traversed the then frozen Ural River on foot. We literally walked on water from Asia to Europe and back, accompanied by Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed of Pakistan, our then foreign policy advisor Ed Castro, and Japanese journalist Kiyoshi Wakamiya. The Ural Riverflows through Kazakhstan and Russia and is one of the longest rivers in the world.
President Nazarbayev and the Kazakhstan government conferred this columnist in December, 2011, the “Dostyk” (Friendship) Award, a state award given “to individuals for fruitful activity in the field of international and civil consensus in society and for merits and deeds in promoting peace, friendship, and cooperation between countries and peoples,” for which we will always be grateful.
We hope our next president and the next Congress will build on the political, economic, inter-party, and inter-parliamentary cooperation between the Philippines and Kazakhstan, as well as the other Central Asian countries.
It was in October, 2019 when we last traveled abroad for a month-long vacation with wife Gina in Lourdes and in the south of France, following our then hectic schedule of meetings and speaking engagements in Asia and the international community.
A few months later, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Since then, we have not been able to travel and we chose to spend most of our time in our home in Dagupan, a few meters away from the Lingayen Gulf.
We accepted then a gracious and most enjoyable invitation from the famous couple, Christian Baverey, scion of a great industrialist French family from Lyon and his wife, Tetta Agustin, who is highly-regarded in Europe’s prestigious fashion houses and who continues to do active charity work when she and her husband visit the Philippines every year.
We boarded their yacht Tosca, named after their bright and beautiful daughter, lawyer and successful entrepreneur in Brazil and Portugal, and sailed the Mediterranean with brief stops in Nice, Monaco, the Italian coastal waters of San Remo, Lavagne, Portofino, and Sta. Margherita in the French and Italian Mediterranean.
Meanwhile, we continue to storm heaven with prayers that this raging pandemic will soon be contained as the deaths, losses of livelihood, economic damages, among others, are truly heart-breaking.