All eyes were not only on President Rodrigo Duterte at the recently concluded Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit but also on his beautiful partner Honeylet Avanceña.
It was a rare occasion, indeed, for the 47-year-old Avanceña to publicly appear for an official function alongside President Duterte. So, it became a curiosity for those who have only seen her in a few instances during the 2016 presidential campaign.
But it was the wish of the President to have his significant other to have a role at the welcome ceremony of the ASEAN leaders and to play host to the ASEAN spouses last Saturday, April 29. This was reported by the ASEAN National Organizing Committee and Ambassador Marciano Paynor, Jr.
Protocol dictates that hosting duties are officially assumed by the First Lady. Although Duterte did not specifically designate someone for the task, Avanceña played the role twice already: First, during the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Davao City early this year, where she hosted the former’s spouse, Akie Abe, and second, at the recently concluded ASEAN Summit.
Reports also indicated that Paynor commented on Avanceña as a host, “She can hold her own definitely.”
Clad in a business suit in black and green ensemble designed by Davao-based designer Aris Escarilla, Avanceña welcomed ASEAN leaders namely: Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on Saturday morning.
As the summit proceeded, she then toured the leaders’ spouses at the National Museum, where cultural presentations and a luncheon was prepared.
In reports by other news outfits, National Museum’s Jeremy Barns noted during the tour that Avanceña was “very conversant in the art history of the Philippines.”
Highlights of the tour included a weaving demonstration from the women of Palawan and T’boli tribe as well as a photo opportunity with Juan Luna’s painting, The Spoliarium.
The tour was attended by Indonesian first lady Iriana Widodo, Naly Sisoulith of Laos, Naraporn Chan-o-cha of Thailand, and Tran Nguyet Thu of Vietnam.
During the welcome ceremony and the museum tour, reports observed the warm demeanor of Avanceña. She would, for instance, be seen leading the spouses around the museum and exchanging pleasantries with the ladies. Her cool and charming presence has been received with praises by observers. The well-poised Avanceña, after all, is a former beauty queen.
Avanceña has one daughter with Duterte, 12-year-old Veronica or “Kitty,” whom her mother once said in an interview is being raised as much as possible away from the public eye, and just like any other regular kid.
Avanceña is a former health professional in the US who became a businesswoman after returning to Davao. She runs a meat shop and a donut franchise, among others.
It was not only President Duterte who has no official First Lady. The sisters of then President Noynoy Aquino, Ballsy Aquino-Cruz, Pinky Aquino-Abelleda, Viel Aquino-Dee, and Kris Aquino assumed the role.