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DINING WITH DIPLOMACY : Sunday lunch with his family was a tradition that the new ambassador from the Philippines, Emmanuel Pelaez, maintained until his assignment.

July 24, 1986|BARBARA HANSEN | Times Staff Writer

The Philippines' new ambassador to the United States, Emmanuel Pelaez, is very much a family man. The Pelaez home in Ayala Alabang, a subdivision on the outskirts of Manila, was a lively place each weekend--doors opened to the breezes, children dashed about the yard or splashed in the pool and a barbecue smoked on the terrace.

"We have always made it a point that Sundays would be family reunion. The children come for lunch and spend the day with us," Edith Pelaez, said in an interview shortly before leaving the Philippines. The gatherings tended to be large because the Pelaezes have nine children--two now living in California--and 29 grandchildren.

This particular day was one of the last family gatherings before the couple left for Washington, where the ambassador presented his credentials to President Reagan on June 23, the formality that made his post official.

Despite the sudden rush produced by his appointment, the ambassador took time to relax, mix a cup of instant coffee for a visitor and talk about his long political career.

Elected as a congressman from Mindanao in 1949, Pelaez rose to become a senator, then vice president of the Philippines under Diosdado Macapagal, the last president before Ferdinand E. Marcos. During that time, he was assigned to serve as secretary of foreign affairs. When his term as vice president ended, Pelaez returned to the lower house, then again became a senator. In 1972, when Marcos established martial law, the senate was abolished and Pelaez returned to his initial interest, the practice of law. In 1978 he was elected to the Batasang Pambansa, an interim legislature. He retired in 1984 at the conclusion of that term.

Now 70, the ambassador is tall, lean and fit, appearing in excellent health despite a quadruple bypass in 1980. His special interest is rural development, and he speaks with pride of participating in a national rural electrification program that, he said, "brought electricity to more than 2 1/2 million people throughout the country."

Pelaez would have liked to continue in rural work. "This is where the problem is . . . the agricultural economy is not developed," he said. Nevertheless, he accepted Corazon Aquino's invitation to join her campaign and, after her election as president, the appointment to Washington.

"It's a job to be done. It's a challenge, " he said. "There is a need to project the Philippine image in a new light."

A scholarly man, Pelaez has collected books ranging from the works of the Filipino patriot Jose Rizal to those of Marcos and his wife Imelda. In his Manila home, bookcases line a wood-paneled den that also houses a collection of duck figures in wood, straw, brass and mother of pearl gathered by his wife.

Edith Pelaez is an unassuming woman who seemed slightly hesitant about uprooting her home and moving into the Washington limelight. "We have lived a quiet life," she observed. Her activities prior to leaving included auditioning a cook to go to Washington.

When lunch was served, one candidate's try-out chicken dish was included. Also arranged on the buffet were typical Filipino dishes such as pork and chicken adobo; paksiw, a preparation of river fish seasoned with vinegar and garlic; mongo, a savory mung bean stew, and dinuguan, which is a stew made with dried pork, pork blood and vinegar that is eaten with small sweet cakes called puto. Desserts were Leche Flan, French apple pie with a cheese topping, mocha cake roll and juicy, sweet watermelon from Santa Maria, Bulacan.

The ambassador, who is president of the Philippine Bible Society, started lunch by saying grace, tailoring his words to include a benediction for his overseas visitors.

Although the weather was hot, the dining room remained cool and breezy without aid from the ceiling fans. Lined with glass and greenery on one side, it looks through the living room to the lawn and pool on the other. Oriental screens are mounted on the walls, and a large centerpiece of shells decorates the table, which seats 24.

The Pelaezes have maintained a household staff, but that has not kept Edith Pelaez from working in the kitchen. She is so known for her adobo that a restaurateur in Japan sent a chef to Manila to learn how it was prepared. Other specialties include paella and cocido, both usually prepared in quantity for weekend gatherings.

Her father, who came from Pagsanjan in Laguna Province and served for years as provincial treasurer, was "a pretty good cook," she said. He was also a disciplinarian who believed in practical education.

"My father would always insist that I go to the market with the cook. We always had help, but he insisted that we do some work in the house," she said.

That teaching remained with her. When her husband was vice president, she still did the weekly marketing, and she often had to prepare meals for unexpected guests.

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