TACLOBAN CITY- A real princess stepped inside a “reel” palace in the city for an hour and expressed her “amazement” on how the place remained well-maintained. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand, whose family is considered to be the world’s richest royals with fortune of $30 billion based on Forbes 2015 listing, visited the Santo Niño Shrine and Museum, known mostly as the palatial house of former first lady and now Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Marcos.
Her visit to the said museum was part of her itinerary during her two-day visit in Leyte that ended on Wednesday, January 20. The 21-room palatial structure, located along Real Street, this city, is under control of the government through the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), claiming it was part of the so-called Marcos ill-gotten wealth. Annabelle Arpon, staff of the PCGG-8 who served as guide to the Princess in her “room-to-room” visit of the shrine, said she finds her to be “very simple.” “Well, we usually picture a princess with a tiara on her head and wearing a very nice gown. But in her case, she came here as if she was just an ordinary guest. No tiara, no gown. She was just wearing something like a blouse and pants,” she said.
“She is very simple. But she is a princess that is why I was also in awe. It’s my first time to encounter a real princess,” Arpon, whose been serving as a guide for guests visiting the shrine since 1989, she added. Arpon said that the princess arrived at the shrine at 9:45 am on Wednesday. She left the shrine almost an hour later. She was welcomed by Juliette Romualdez during her tour to the shrine. Romualdez is the sister-in-law of Marcos. The former first lady was said to be close to the princess’ mother, Queen Sirikit. “We were briefed that she would not see all the 21 rooms here. But during her visit, she actually went inside all the rooms and lingered for almost three or five minutes in every room she was in,” she said. And using her camera, she also took pictures in every room, designed differently from each other, and even seen to have taken some notes using a small notebook.
“According to her aide, the Princess described the shrine as the best she ever visited,”Arpon said. And in the guest list, the Princess wrote a comment of “well kept.”
Arpon said that she received from the Thai princess, handed to her by a staff, a miniature designed Buddhist temple as a gift. The shrine, built in 1979-1980 during the remaining years of the Marcos regime, is undergoing renovation after it sustained damages when it was hit by supertyphoon “Yolanda” in 2013. Found inside the shrine, once described by Marcos as her summer house, are numerous Russian icons, oriental jars and paintings by some of the country’s national artists like Malang and ivory-made statues. It has also an Olympic-sized swimming pool and state dining room located at the second floor. Each of the guest rooms are decorated with different motifs of the country’s regions.
A chapel also greets the visitors with the image of Santo Niño, the patron of Tacloban. Renoir Dauag, regional PCGG representative, said that they were happy that a royalty visited the shrine. “We were happy that her visit to the shrine was included in her itinerary. This could help encourage, among foreign tourists especially, to visit the Santo Niño Shrine and Museum,” he said. Aside from the Santo Niño Shrine and Museum, the Thai princess also visited the Santo Niño Church and the MacArthur National Landing Memorial National Park in Palo town.
The Thai princess visited Leyte to personally lead in the turn -over of a two-classroom at the Banayon Elementary School in Dagami town, Leyte.
She also lead in the turn-over of livelihood assistance involving mushroom production, tilapia raising to the locals still reeling in the aftermath of Yolanda’s destruction.
Dagami, more than 30 kms away from Tacloban, was one of the areas in Leyte hit by Yolanda.