Just call me ‘Mr. Money’

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Much has been written about the Philippines-China business forum held on October 29 at Dusit Thani Manila Hotel in Makati City. Enough of the hard stuff. Let me share with you some of the sidelights in the forum that The Manila Times organized.

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In an event where 200 people were expected to participate and 300 came, how can one not consider it a success?

With eight big names – former President Fidel V. Ramos, Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, former Foreign Secretary Roberto Romulo, Texas-based geopolitical analyst Rodger Baker, Shanghai-based business consultant Richard Cant, Chinese Embassy’s First Secretary for Economic Afairs Wang Yang, and Pricewater House consultants Scott Qian and Alexander Cabrera – giving their assessment of the Philippine-China relations and sharing a piece of their mind on how the ties could be improved, the day was worth it.

At the forum, Ramos, a Protestant, spoke like a religious preacher. When he was called to the rostrum, the former president bent down and reached for a copy of his speech tucked in his socks.

He said he may be an ex-president, but he is not yet expired. Then, he asked a lady in the audience, who happened to be the Times editor in chief Neri Tenorio, and demonstrated the art of greeting with pleasantries. The former president managed to plant four kisses on a lady’s cheeks with consent, and to the delight of his audience.

To draw more attention, Ramos started off asking the audience to stand up and offer a hand of friendship to the people around them. It was like going to that kind of Catholic Mass where the priest asks the Mass goers to greet their seatmates and tell them something uplifting or words like “Salamat, buhay ka pa.”

He prepared a 2, 052-word, seven-page keynote speech but read only a little more than one page and, toward the end of speaking extemporaneously, threw away his copy. When somebody from the audience picked it up to keep it, his aide asked for the copy back and told the person who got it that Ramos has been doing it all the time. It was a trick not known to most in the audience.

Sounding like a pastor, Ramos spoke about approaching the territorial disputes with China in ways that can be found in the Bible.

Each time he delivered a sentence or two in Filipino, he paused and said,” Translation: The Philippines and China are okay.”

Before ending his speech, Ramos asked the audience again to stand up, do his thumbs up sign and his signature jump while saying, “Kaya natin ito!”

In the many years that I was a reporter, I had a rare chance to cover Fidel Ramos even when he was president. My recollection of covering him was on two occasions that he raised his voice and castigated female reporters who were egging him on questions about security. Those were in what we called “ambush” interviews outside the Malacañang Palace after his meeting with then President Corazon Aquino. He was chief of the Armed Forces then. I did not hear or see him before with those antics he showed at the forum.

After Ramos, Baker, vice-president for East Asia-Pacific Analysis of the US-based Stratfor Global Intelligence, presented an incisive analysis of the conflicting interests in the South China Sea from the geopolitical and economic perspective. He made forecasts on the direction of Chinese policy, as well as the challenges and opportunities presented by the shifts.

Baker was quite formal. But in an informal meeting with some of the Times staff two days before the forum, Baker shared some of his experiences on his first visit to Manila. He said he took the LRT and got pushed and squeezed on Saturday, but the MRT ride to Quezon City on Sunday was less chaotic.

He said he also had time to go around Glorietta and enjoyed chicken inasal there.

During the afternoon session, Romulo showed up with a black sling bag. It was a portable oxygen supply that he uses when he runs short of breath.

The other speakers were quite serious, but when Scott Qian, director of Pricewaterhouse Coopers- China, took the rostrum, the audience came alive again.

He said his surname is pronounced as “chien” or “tsien” that literally means money.

“You can just call me Mr. Money,” Qian said, to the delight of the audience.

The discussions in the day-long forum were quite heavy stuff and these amusing wake-uppers were necessary to keep the audience from getting bored and sleepy.

Comments are welcome at tvalderama@yahoo.com

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