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Palace spokesperson is Manila’s face in China TV’s worldwide feature of “Spring Festival”

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Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, born a Tiger in Chinese astrology, will be the face and voice of the Filipino people when Beijing’s China Central Television (CCTV) presents its international feature on how the Chinese New Year or “Spring Festival” is celebrated worldwide in the year of the Dragon on January 23.

Lacierda was interviewed at his office in Malacanang last week by the bureau chief of the CCTV in the Philippines, Ms. Lulu Wang, who had set up its operations here a year ago with chief producer/cameraman and husband, Zhang Chen.

In the Philippines, this year’s celebrations of the Chinese New Year is special in that for the first time it will be a “non-working holiday,” as mandated in Presidential Proclamation 295 signed by President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.

Lacierda would not say, however, what role he possibly played in shaping the decision to declare the Chinese New Year a legal holiday, which was first announced just weeks after Aquino’s State Visit to China in September last year.

Lacierda, 50 years old this year, is a second-generation Filipino-Chinese whose father migrated to the Philippines at age 11 from the Chinese southern port province of Fujian (capital city: Xiamen). He said he has been studying Chinese at grade school.

(Not even Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who pursued Manila-Beijing relations in the purview of a “golden friendship,” did not come out with such a holiday during her nine-year presidency.)

In the interview, which will be among those to be broadcast out of CCTV’s main headquarters in Beijing, Lacierda ends his segment by greeting viewers both in China and abroad with the Mandarin equivalent of “Happy New Year and May You Earn More Money.” Even if CCTV has a media exchange program with the governmental People’s Television 4 (PTV4), it is not clear if the feature would be seen in the Philippines.

Surprisingly, though, despite his being used to the limelight and before a TV camera practically every day, Lacierda fidgeted about speaking in Mandarin to a world audience. His lingua franca at work is English, which he handles with much ease. And so he practiced his Mandarin lines a few times before going on-camera with CCTV.

That Lacierda has a working knowledge of “putonghua” (spoken standard Chinese or Mandarin) was not generally known to the public until he sat in at an interview of President Aquino by Manila-based Chinese journalists just before the Chief Executive went to China.

As Aquino’s spokesperson in China, Lacierda thought it wise to brush up on his Mandarin. He enrolled in a one-one-one conversation class at the Confucius Institute at the H. V. dela Costa campus of the Ateneo de Manila University. His teacher at Confucius vouches for his facility with the language.

The Ateneo law graduate and former university professor is possibly the only one in the inner circle of President Benigno C. Aquino III who speaks and writes Chinese, and he would also refer to International Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares and politician Jocelyn Limkaichong as other “Tsinoys” (Filipinos of Chinese ancestry) in government service who could make the Filipino community in the Philippines proud of their origin. Of course, there is Lacierda’s principal, President Aquino, who’s ancestral ties with China is well-documented.

Wang was at the Aquino interview and chancing on Lacierda conversed with him briefly. Wang later told friends that she was impressed by the Palace man’s “quite fluent” Mandarin. “He was so good,” she expressed. Thus, it was easy for CCTV to decide on getting Lacierda to represent the Philippines for the “spring” feature.

Proclamation 295 described the Chinese New Year -- which is a movable date -- as “one of the most revered and festive events celebrated not only in China but also in the Philippines by both Chinese Filipinos and ordinary Filipinos as well.”
”The joint celebration is a manifestation of our solidarity with our Chinese Filipino brethren who have been part of our lives in many respects as a country and as a people,” it said.

Commenting on the the Proclamation, Lacierda told Wang that ”personally, I am pleased that it has been declared a special holiday, and hopefully it will go on for a long time.”

It is said that every Filipino has some Chinese blood in him, said Lacierda, noting that though this may be anecdotal, the fact remains that the Philippines is one country “that has a tolerant attitude toward Chinese people...and precisely our histories show that we have common concerns.”

He did not elucidate, simply mentioned the Western Philippine Sea in passing, but pointed out that the Philippines will sorely miss Beijing’s latest ambassador to Manila, Liu Jianchao, “as one of the most-loved ambassadors” Manila ever had -- “a good diplomat” and a “good communicator.”

Liu left the Philippines quietly in December, after being conferred the “Order of Sikatuna” by Aquino. Along with Lacierda, Liu was a prominent face on Philippine TV when Aquino visited China

Filipinos of Chinese ancestry compose the largest ethnic group in the Philippines. Their communities all over the country is considered “a strong and stable presence,” contributing to the enhancement of Filipino culture and bringing pride to society because of their many high-level successes in all fields including business, fashion, banking, entrepreneurship and retailing.

The Chinese Spring Festival is a time for family reunions and delicious feasts, thus fostering a strong sense of family and loyalty. Among the many visitors expected in the Philippines during the Spring Festival are mainland Chinese with relatives here, mostly residing in famous Chinatowns and districts such as Binondo and Greenhills.

Common Chinese greetings in the New Year include “gong xi fat cai,” and “xin nian kuai le” (both wishes for prosperity and happiness). Children prefer “gong xi fa cái, hóng bao ná lái" or "Happy New Year, now give me a red envelope.”) Red envelopes signify money, and, indeed, cash goes with the envelope.

Nowadays, even non-Chinese events where gift-giving is part of the ritual, such “hong ba” or red envelopes are used.
And when the interview indeed, off-camera, Lacierda did his turn with Wang and Zhang, who happen to be a married couple, and asked: “Don’t you plan to have children?”

Wang responded: “Since we are both the only child of our parents, we can have two children.”
A quick but relevant lesson in Chinese family system.

By Gloria Jane Baylon




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