By VENUS MAY H.SARMIENTO
PASAY CITY - The Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue (EDSA) was unusually empty. Business offices were closed. Not one student was seen sporting a uniform. It was a holiday in Metro Manila and a climate of revelry and excitement blanketed the Metropolis. Needless to say, it’s the APEC big day!
For most residents in Manila, APEC may have been associated with inconvenience. Or it also meant a week-long vacation to tourism hubs in the regions. For business establishments, it meant a 200 percent mark-up in sales. For security personnel, it meant nightmare. But for the Host Media Liaison Officers (HMLO), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation or APEC meant ‘history unfolding before our very eyes.’
The HMLOs are employees of the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) under the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) who were tapped by the Media Operations Committee of the National Organizing Council to handle the nitty-gritty and needs of the international media.
Each of the 20 HMLOs from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao were given an economy (that’s how APEC calls the member-countries) to handle. And we are not just talking about the delegates of economy, we are talking about the media group-- the group responsible to communicate to their economies, a blow-by-blow account of APEC activities.
While many of us are used to handling Presidential visits in the regions, the idea of having to deal with the international media who hold various norms and who speak different languages, escalated the emotions of everyone involved.
Barely two months before the APEC summit, a memorandum summoning the PIA employees (including this humble writer) to attend a briefing on APEC was sent to the information centers in the provinces. Trainings on courtesies, protocols and right decisions became our breakfast and lunch.
As the days progressed, we found ourselves meeting almost every two weeks. On the APEC month, we had to deal with each other’s faces as we were billeted together for two straight weeks.
As the social media capital, our colleagues knew that we will be utilizing social media for the day-to day events. Thus, techies among us coined the term “APECserye” to be used in every posting.
Anxiety, frustration, tiredness, sleepless nights, homesickness , counterparts freaking out (oh yes!), isolation (paging Emver) and early morning and late-night meetings characterized our two weeks. For a while we learned how to deal with tension and got used to arranging bilateral events, summits of chief executives, surprise events and spur of the moment meetings and guidelines.
Inconvenience comes with hosting, but it can also be rewarding. The mere thought of being able to give a helping hand to our country while hosting the biggest international economic event was a humbling experience.
Standing just 15 feet away from 21 economic leaders (that includes our very own, of course!), seeing them in the flesh and staying with all of them under one roof, is a story we will not get tired of telling to our children and our children’s children.
We had our share of emotional ups and downs, but at the end of the day, we want to believe that we have delivered the Filipino brand of hospitality to the world.
For Jonah (Australia), Pie (Brunei), Precie (Canada), Liezel (Chile), Fayette (China), Emver (Chinese Taipei), JM (Hongkong), Venus (Indonesia), Leeloo (Japan), Hazel (Korea), Mai (Malaysia), Marlon (Mexico), Gideon (New Zealand), Frank (PNG), Rey (Peru), Joseph (Russia), Josh (Singapore), Oliver (Thailand), Rachelle (USA) and Melva (Vietnam), this is one opportunity they are proud to have grabbed.
HMLOs’ gratitude goes to Sec. Sonny Coloma, Asec. Lito Nadal, DG Mari Oquinena , DDG Boy Galvez, our respective Regional Directors, Direk Pau, the Media Accreditation Relations Officers (MARO), team leaders, our student-volunteers and our counterpart Economy Media Liaison Officers. But most of all, we are grateful to the Lord Almighty for keeping us all safe and making the event a success.
History unfolded before our very eyes and yes, we were part of history! Mabuhay ang Pilipinas! (VHS/PIA-1Pangasinan)