Apolitical

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of Politics for a while.

Because of the various posts in this blog, People think of Toto Gonzalez as pro-GMA, anti-GMA, pro-Estrada, anti-Estrada, pro-Ramos, anti-Ramos, pro-Aquino, anti-Aquino, pro-Marcos, anti-Marcos.  I couldn’t possibly be pro-Macapagal, anti-Macapagal, pro-Garcia, anti-Garcia simply because I wasn’t born yet.

The Truth is that I am NOT pro- or anti- ANYBODY.  Being all too human, I am just too aware of the humanity — the strengths as well as the weaknesses — in everybody.  I understand what it is like for most people, in most cases.

I’m going back to the pleasures of the past, when Life was not nearly as complicated as this one…

Filipino Business will support…

“LAHAT!!!  BIGYAN ANG LAHAT… PARA WALANG ANGAL!!!  Give everybody… so no one complains!!!”  declared Insouciant Heiress.

“LAHAT???!!!  All of them???  You can’t be serious…”

“I am.”

“Well, your dear cousin is running.  Is she included in LAHAT???”

“Dunno.”

“And what about you?”  I asked Powerful Lady, a force in Philippine Business.

“We have to get someone who is good for Business.  GMA is good for Philippine Business.  Somebody like her who knows his/her Economics…”

“Somebody like Manny?”

“Not quite.  We had difficulties with him and all those Camella Homes…”

“Somebody like Mar?”

“Maybe.  Now Mar really knows his Economics.  But he’s marrying Korina.  She’s not popular by the looks of it.  We have nothing against her.  But she might bring him down… you know the majority of voters.”

I turned to Irascible Industrialist.  “So if Danding supports Chiz, will you support him too?”

“Depends.  Hey, somebody will have to tell Chiz to go back to school.  He doesn’t make sense.  His figures don’t make sense.  Posturing at the podium ala JFK isn’t enough!”

“Why can’t he be more like Ralph?  Ralph went back to school and now he really knows his facts and figures.  Smart guy, that Ralph.  He’s got a brain!  Between him and Vilma, the presidency is a breath away.  I’d vote for Ralph anytime!”

“I agree with you about Ralph.”  interjected Powerful Lady.

“What about Gilbert?”

“That guy is great but the voters don’t know him.  He should have had more exposure these recent years.  It’s a pity his uncle Danding isn’t backing him.  Those Cojuangcos are divided:  Gilbert’s mother Ditas versus Danding.  Nikki’s beauty can be a real political asset, great for stupid voters, but those Cojuangcos have the darndest things to say about her…”

And I turned to Taipan.  I politely asked:  “Who will you support, sir?”  He smiled beatifically, as if he had not understood what I had asked.  “Who will you support for President next year, sir?”  He expertly turned the question around to me:  “Who will you support?”  “Does it matter who I will support, sir?”  He smiled and winked naughtily:  “Does it matter who I will support, my friend?”  “Of course, it matters, sir, very much!”  “To tell you the truth,” he whispered, “I will have to support everyone who asks, but I will give more to the one I know will win.”  “How do you know who will win, sir?”  “WE will make him win.  WE will make him win.”  And he smiled beatifically as if he had not spoken a word.  Like Buddha.

As for Toto Gonzalez, he will support himself.  Harharhar!   :P   :P   :P

In defense of PGMA

At a recent dinner, I had the serendipity to be seated directly across a powerful lady long considered a force in the Filipino business community, and she, of all people, had wonderful things to say about the president and the economic state of the nation…

“Tell me what’s happening now.  Are you pro- or anti- GMA?”

“You can’t brand me as pro-GMA.  We’re both strong women and we’ve had ‘run-ins.’  I’m ‘mataray’ and she’s ‘mataray.’  We had a shouting match in the chapel at Saint Luke’s [ Saint Luke's Medical Center in Quezon City ] when Mike was really sick.  But credit must be given where it is due.  In this case, to her.”  she qualified.

“Do you honestly think that we could be here partying if everything had fallen apart economically???  Do you know anyone here who really got affected badly?  You… were you badly affected?  No!  See what I mean?”  she asked.

“Not seriously, Thank God.  But we’re OK now.  Could be worse, you know.”  I replied.

She nodded in agreement.  “That’s because the economic buffers are in place.  That’s why we haven’t fallen apart.  She really knows her economics.”

“That’s her advantage over Erap.  Her expertise on economics.  Erap is an expert on every other thing — wine, women, and song — but economics.”  I recalled.

“If we go technical, I can tell you the figures of our current [ economic ] state… They’re actually good.”  she suggested.

“Oh please, spare me the figures!”  I mock-pleaded.

She declared:  “She’s the only president who has managed to make payments on our foreign debts.  The only one!!!  I talked to Say [ Central Bank Governor Amando Tetangco ]… ‘Where exactly are we???’  And he said:  ‘We’re out of IMF.'” [ IMF - International Monetary Fund ].

“We’re out of IMF???!!!”  I asked, incredulous.  Unbelievable because new loans from IMF were daily breakfast fare during the Marcos era.

She continued:  “Say said:  ‘Look, I’ve announced it several times already, but nobody’s paid attention!’ “

“Infrastructure is all over the place.  Roads, bridges, the works!  I talked with Alfred [ Alfredo Romualdez Jr. ] and he said roads and bridges are coming up all over the Visayas.  The action is outside Manila.  One has to see it to believe it!”  she explained excitedly.

“What about the supposed 40 % payment one has to make at the Malacanang palace for a deal to be approved?”  I inquired audaciously.

“Not true!  If you know Mike [ First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo ] as well and as long as I have, you know he’s not capable of it.  Too much of a gentleman.”

“What about the vicious rumor going around chichi social circles during the First Gentleman’s hospitalization:  that the President had spent much time in the Saint Luke’s presidential suite with her laptop recording the trail of USD $$$ and EE Euro placements remembered and dictated by her ailing husband, lest he die and the whereabouts of all that money be lost?”  I asked, curious about her version of the story, of which she had none.

“Not true!  He was really sick and she was really worried.”

“And what about the supposed 70 % cut of the Arroyos in the settlement of the Marcos USD $$$ and EE placements and properties?”  I naughtily asked.

“Not true!  Do you think they would agree?  Do you think Greggy would agree?  No way.  Not Greggy.”

The Odd Couple

The seniors of any society possess real treasures in terms of memories and experiences.  And it was my privilege and honor to have sat down a few days ago with some senior Kapampangan “kabalen” — powerful, influential, and prominent politicians in their time — who regaled me with so many of their memories, among them comic but genuine recollections of the first Kapampangan president, “Cong Dadong,” and his [ second ] wife, “Ache Eva”…

“First of all, Cong Dadong was not exactly the “poor boy from Lubao.”  True, he was not rich in the way the old line Spanish mestizo hacenderos of Lubao, Floridablanca, and Guagua were [ like the  Arrastia, the Toledo, the Toda, the Ynfante, the Velez, and the Gonzalez { originally Bravo } were ].  But destitute, he was definitely not.  His father, Urbano Macapagal, a poet, was actually already a political leader in the town.  The distinguished philanthropist Don Honorio Ventura of Bacolor, then the Secretary of the Interior during the Quezon presidency, saw the potential of Cong Dadong and financed his law studies at the University of Santo Tomas.  That was the start of something big.”

“When Cong Dadong first ran for representative of the first district of Pampanga in 1949 upon the urging of several local leaders to President Quirino, he earnestly requested the heiress Carmen ‘Mameng’ Angeles Buyson of Bacolor to desist from running for the office.  Mameng Buyson was a virtual shoo-in for Congresswoman because of her expensive, high education and her ‘hacendero’ family’s great wealth.  Cong Dadong reasoned to Mameng that a ‘poor Macapagal’ from Lubao could not win against a ‘rich Buyson’ from Bacolor.  In true ‘de buena familia’ form, Mameng graciously acceded to his request.  Cong Dadong won the seat by a landslide.”

“Well, Ache Purita, his first wife, died of sickness in 1943.  She was a sister of the handsome actor Rogelio de la Rosa.  Three years later in 1946, he married the Pangasinense, Ache Eva.  Ah, she was one difficult woman.  Basically a good woman, but a difficult one.”

“It was a ‘chicken and egg’ situation.  Ache Eva did not like us Capampangans because she felt that we discriminated her because she was Pangasinense, aside from the fact that she was the second wife when the first one, Ache Purita, was Capampangan and one really beautiful woman, outside and inside.”

Oh, that marriage had its share of quarrels like everyone else’s.  There was the time when his first grandchild with Ache Purita was baptized.  Cong Dadong arrived late dressed only in his “camisa chino” [ the buttoned undershirt of the "barong tagalog" ] and he seemed to be in sixes and sevens.  With obvious irritation, he explained that Ache Eva did not want him to attend, and in the ensuing argument she had torn his “barong tagalog” to shreds!  He requested liquor because he just wanted to drink.  He drank himself to stupor that night.  We all remember that well.”

“We joked him that he and Ache Eva were following in the footsteps of President Manuel Roxas and his First Lady Trinidad de Leon.  Cong Dadong just shook his head.  President Roxas and his First Lady Dona Trining were memorable for their marital squabbles, mainly because of his lady friend, Juanita MacIlvain — sometimes in plain view during functions, sometimes only the angry exchanges were heard behind those Malacanang rooms.  Many of our older colleagues attested to that.”

“One time, [ Congressman ] Francisco “Paquito” / “Quitong” Nepomuceno brought some Angeles town officials to the Malacanang palace to meet with Cong Dadong.  The waiting room had photographs of the presidents and their first ladies.  When one town official peered closely at the photo of Ache Eva, Paquito warned:  “E ca lalapit caya, abe!  Quietan na ca niyan!”  [ "Don't go near her, friend! She will bite you!" ].  They all laughed.  Well, to their amusement, the joke reached Ache Eva and she was livid!”

“Imelda Romualdez-Marcos was NOT the first Philippine first lady to have a collection of fine jewelry.  Evangelina Macaraeg-Macapagal preceded her to it.  And before Ache Eva, it was Leonila Dimataga-Garcia.  Ache Eva collected fine jewelry and she definitely preceded Imelda Marcos as a VIP client of Liding Miranda-Oledan.  Ache Eva had a very considerable collection!  Look at President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo closely during official functions, she wears beautiful jewelry which are NOT new but actually vintage.  Those are from Ache Eva and most likely purchased from Liding Oledan.  Ache Eva also bought from the other major Capampangan jewelers of the time like Tinay Gonzalez and Ache Ines Lugue-Sarmiento, the mother of Fe Sarmiento-Panlilio, who rose to the international big leagues during the Marcos years and became ‘The International Jeweller.'”

Guess Who???

It is the story circulating among Social Manila’s elegant dinner tables that in one lucid moment during her final days of illness at the ICU Intensive Care Unit of the Makati Medical Center, the dying Maria Corazon “Cory” Cojuangco-Aquino finally spoke about the masterminds and the assassins of her husband, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., on that fateful day of 21 August 1983.

The story of Cory in the ICU cannot be verified at present.

However, the truth about the Aquino assassination, if and when it is finally made public, is eagerly awaited by millions and millions of Filipinos around the world.

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With the recent passing of former President Maria Corazon “Cory” Cojuangco-Aquino, and as the 26th anniversary of that fateful day of 21 August 1983 fast approaches, One important question still looms in the minds of millions and millions of Filipinos just like you and I, here in the Philippines and elsewhere in the world…

WHO HAD NINOY AQUINO KILLED???

OK, OK, OK, President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos said that Rolando “Lando” Galman, whoever he was, did it.  Poor Rolando Galman.  They just fattened him for the kill, like “lechon.”  They didn’t even have the decency to fix him up for his final “one moment in time” press kit — no makeup artist, no hairdresser, no tailor, no society photographer.  Well, at least he had his fifteen minutes of fame, or notoriety, whichever.  I believe that Rolando Galman killed Ninoy Aquino as much as Yosemite Sam killed Daffy Duck in the “Merrie Melodies” cartoons.

But I do believe that President Ferdinand Marcos was far too intelligent, much too brilliant, and way too prescient to have ordered Ninoy Aquino’s assassination.  One must never forget that he was the ultimate master of the Filipino psyche.  Unless he was having a “stupid moment” and saying “What was I thinking?” which all humans have at some points of their lives anyway.

On the other hand, there is the persistent story that upon finally being informed of the assassination of Ninoy Aquino at the MIA Manila International Airport that afternoon, the already very ill President Ferdinand Marcos hurled an object, usually said to be a vase, towards his First Lady, Imelda Marcos.  At that time, it was said that he was not at the Malacanang palace;  he was supposed to have been confined at the new Kidney center of the Philippines in Quezon City.  Nurses outside the room swore that they heard a breakable object crash to the floor and invectives hurled by the very ill President at both Madame Marcos and General Ver.

There are people, mostly anti-Marcos, who claim that if that story was true, then President Marcos, First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos, and General Fabian Ver were just “play-acting”…

Another persistent story, certified true by close Marcos and Romualdez family members, was that upon being informed of the assassination of Ninoy Aquino at the MIA Manila International Airport, the already very ill and very weak President Marcos sat up on his hospital bed, as if from an electric shock, and declared:  “Oh no!  This is the end!  This is the end of all of us!!!”

One of my mentors, the deliciously, wickedly, incorruptibly corrupt Eminence Gris, never fails to remind me that everything boils down to MONEY.  “Pera lang yan.”  he insists.  If one has a question about anything, specially in politics and government, not only in the Philippines but everywhere else in the world, The answer is money.  Why did the USA wage war in Iraq?  Money.  Why did the USA have a financial meltdown?  Money.  Why does the USA do business with China?  Money.  Why did Communist China turn capitalist?  Money.  Why did Ferdinand Marcos remain as President of the Philippines for 21 years?  Money.  Why did the USA abandon Ferdinand Marcos and support Corazon Aquino during the EDSA Revolution?  Money.  Why do we have a never-ending Communist insurgency?  Money.  Why do we have a never-ending Islamic insurgency in Mindanao?  Money.  Why do all those candidates — Manny Villar, Mar Roxas, Gilbert Teodoro, Chiz Escudero, Loren Legarda, Jamby Madrigal, Bayani Fernando, Jejomar Binay, et. al. — want to become the President of the Philippines in 2010?  Money.

Why was Ninoy Aquino killed???  Because of money.

In the study of this 26 year-old mystery case, the crucial question is:  Who had the most to lose in terms of money — if Ninoy Aquino returned to the Philippines — before 21 August 1983???

President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos?

First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos?

Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Fabian C. Ver?

Vice Chief of Staff General Fidel V. Ramos?

Defense Minister Juan Ponce-Enrile?

Multimillionaire businessman Benjamin “Kokoy” Trinidad Romualdez, Imelda Marcos’ younger brother?

Multimillionaire businessman Eduardo “Danding” Murphy Cojuangco Jr.?

The CIA Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America?

The CPP Communist Party of the Philippines / The NPA New People’s Army / Jose Maria Sison?

Years ago, a top official of the Marcos administration, privy to the highest and innermost circles, and yes, almost a “crony,” told me, without revealing anything:  “You will have to wait until we are all dead, hijo.  Several are still alive and active in national politics and big business.  It was very complicated… It was not one, not two, not even three people involved, but several.  An entire cast of characters as exciting as a suspense thriller movie.  James Bond 007 had nothing to compare!  You will be surprised by who was actually involved as well as by who was actually not involved.  It was initially planned in a sports facility.  The intelligence operatives knew about it.  Even I knew it was going to happen.  I contemplated sending my family abroad.  But what could I do except wait for the moment of damnation… of all of us???”

Moment of damnation indeed.

And the moment of redemption for the Filipino people and their nation.

Post Script:  By February of 1985, one year before the EDSA Revolution, the Marcos administration was already faced with tremendous difficulties — including the worsening SLE systemic Lupus erythematosus of President Ferdinand Marcos — to the point that the First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos had quietly requested her family members:  “Pray.  Please pray and pray hard.  For it is all about to end.”

The Apex of Power

I assume that most of us have read through [ in whole or in part ] the major treatises on power, the most basic being Niccolo Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” to Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Bataille, Lacan, Foucault, Derrida all the way to the most recent works by O’Brien, et. al..

Given the nature and the requirements of political power, we need not wonder why our leaders act the way they do.  It’s all a natural, logical progression of political survival.

What are your musings???

Ultra Gloria

Whatever anyone says, she is still the most powerful lady in the land, and she can certainly order your head to roll if she wants.

I cannot comprehend how she has become so unpopular…

I still remember the time in 2000 when we were desperate to have her become the President of the Philippines, as we were quickly and surely sinking deeper and deeper [ as in Madonna's song "Deeper and Deeper"  :P   :P   :P ] under the leadership of President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, a handsome, charismatic, debonair, dapper, dashing, sexy alpha male / macho man whose temperament and habits were not quite suited to the demands of being the President of the Philippines.

I don’t know whom to believe…

The gentlemen say that she has the Philippine military effectively in her grip.  They are very happy with their generous compensations from the palace.  That is why she can scold and humiliate them openly and freely during cabinet meetings and other public affairs without fear of their retaliation.    That is why the gentlemen claim that we will no longer have any “coup d’ etat” during the remaining tenure of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo:  Every single key person from the top general to the mere barangay functionary from Aparri to Jolo is on a regular, considerable payroll from Malacanang Palace.

It sounds logical if you ask me.  Rather Machiavellian… and I daresay brilliant of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, if that is indeed what she has been doing.  After all, “Money makes the world go round” is a universally acknowledged reality.   :P

The Ladies say that the Philippine military has her effectively in their grip.  They claim that she cannot make a single move without the assent and support of her generals.  The ladies claim that the “balance of power” was much affected when the “Hyatt 11″ technocrats — eleven highly-qualified and principled Cabinet secretaries — withdrew their support from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo:  it paved the way for PGMA to be wholly dependent on her reliable and loyal military men and thus the power at the palace came to be monopolized by the Philippine military.

It doesn’t sound logical if you ask me, for the “Hyatt 11″ had no real political power [ probably moral power, but that's an entirely different question, we're dealing with reality here  :P ] but that’s what the ladies say.  They venture further that it was precisely at that time that the bigtime gambling lords and the USD $$$ multimillionaire industrialists further consolidated their influence / hold / grip on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo by putting their big money where their mouths and motives were.  Smart people if you ask me:  “Rub my back and I’ll rub yours.”   :P

The gays say that her couturiers can’t get her body proportions — particularly the proportion, construction, execution and movement of her “terno” sleeves — therefore her dresses, right and that she remains, on account of her short stature and difficult proportions, the couture nightmare that the legendary Ramon Valera once considered her to be, along with superstar Nora Aunor [ The Charice Pempengco of the early 1970s ].

Now, Trust The Gays to notice the darndest things about Anybody…

Granted, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is not the ethereally beautiful, tall, long-limbed, soignee swan that is the former First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos.  But then, how many Ladies are?  Neither were Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino, Amelita Ramos, Rosemarie Jimenez-Arenas, Ricky Reyes, nor Luisa Ejercito, G*ia Gomez, nor La*rni Enriquez.

By popular — or unpopular??? — demand.  Go, ravers and ranters!!!

Problems in Paradise

When I was in my early teens at the onset of the Reagan 1980s, the most popular television shows were “Dallas,”  “Dynasty,” and “Falcon Crest,” probably in keeping with the zeitgeist of materialism and excess.  All three series were about rich and powerful families and all the sordid and distasteful things that happened to them.

Also in those days, I very much enjoyed the novels and articles of the American writer Dominick Dunne:  “The Two Mrs. Grenvilles,”  “Fatal Charms:  And Other Tales of Today,”  “People Like Us,”  “An Inconvenient Woman,”  “The Mansions of Limbo,”  and the others.  I so delighted in them that I could easily visualize the characters in real life and effortlessly remember entire passages in the books.

As I grew older and as my circles grew ever wider, I realized that I did not need to watch American television nor read American books for that sort of entertainment [ not that I have stopped  :P ].  It was all happening in Manila all along.  And it was happening right before my very eyes…

Over lunch for two, The Matriarch of a Grand Clan spoke plainly of her many problems…

“My Brother wants to run for Mayor of our hometown next year and he is demanding that we release Php 500 million from the family funds to totally ensure his victory.  I think he is going to buy every single vote.  Oh, the money is there, no problem, but why should we release it just like that?  He is not the only one in the family.  We work hard and honestly for our money.  It shouldn’t be wasted.”

“My Sisters and I went to our lawyers yesterday.  We want to know how we can effectively block his unreasonable demand for funding.  TOO MUCH!!!  The next step is to hire bodyguards, perhaps Ex-Army straightshooters, for us and most everyone else in the family.  If he doesn’t get what he wants, he’s perfectly capable of shooting and killing even us, his siblings.”   

“And then he got into big trouble with four of his business partners.  He is threatening to kill them and they are threatening the same.  They already sent him a “barong tagalog” and a coffin.  But he is fearless, really fearless!!!  In fact, I don’t know what planet he came from.  I had to act before it all blows out of proportion and we all get killed.  I called Gloria, Mike, Noli, Manny, Johnny, and several others to help me smooth it out.  Thankfully they did.  I called the political favors back so now it is I who owe them favors.  Hay…”

“And then there was this one government official who would not back down.  He even refused to grant me an appointment.  It was a good thing that mutual friends knew he had the hots for this young actress.  But she was playing “hard to get” and refused to have anything to do with him.  I sent an emissary to her, with the message that I would pay anything, any amount she wanted, for her to entertain the official’s attentions and if necessary to go to bed with him with the condition that she must get him to decide IN MY FAVOR.  She quoted Php 40 million and I agreed.   She not only got him to decide in my favor, she even became his mistress and enjoyed his largesse.  She made money from both of us!!!  But then, both the official and I got what we wanted.  So All’s Well that Ends Well.”       

“And the matter of all those illegitimate children!!!  My God, he’s like a dog in heat:  children in every corner of town!!!  He has many more illegitimate children than his legitimate ones.  My poor legitimate nephews and nieces… what will be left of his estate to them, practically “nada”!!!  Can you imagine all these exotic creatures — some of them are sooooo dark!  Eeewww! —greeting and kissing me “Tita!”???  “Esas son hijas de las criadas, nada mas!!!” Worse, they will be carrying our family name!!!  Ay, just thinking about it will give me a cerebral aneurysm!!!” 

*unfinished*

Connections of Old

For those of you with no interest in history, specifically late 1800s Filipinas, then I suggest that you do not proceed because you will be bored to death with this blog post…

I was just happy that I was able to connect two articles that describe the same grand Tondo residence of Flaviano Abreu and his wife Saturnina Salazar from 1880 – 1900.  One was written in 1908 [ although she did not mention them directly ] by the visiting Edith Moses, the wife of an American commissioner, and the other was written by the owners’ grandson Victor Abreu Buencamino in the mid-1970s.

Edith Moses first wrote about her visit to Apalit, Pampanga and two dinners at the Arnedo-Sioco residence [ although she did not mention directly ] which took place on August 9-10, 1900.  By that time in 1900, the famous Capitan Joaquin and Capitana Maria Arnedo had already passed away [ + 1897 ].  Mrs. Moses was hosted by the four daughters of Felipe Buencamino Sr. and his deceased first wife, Juana Arnedo:  Maria, Soledad, Victoria, and Asuncion.  The dinner was attended by Eugenio Arnedo, a much younger half-brother of Juana Arnedo de Buencamino.  The whole entertainment was expertly supervised behind closed doors by Crispina Sioco Tanjutco, the spinster stepsister of Juana Arnedo de Buencamino.  As expected, the Arnedo dinners impressed Mrs. Moses & Company.  The descriptions are fascinating because they show us 21st century Filipinos truthfully how life was lived in those grand houses of the 19th century like the “Casa Manila” and the “Museo De La Salle” house museums…

Edith Moses wrote later that when they had returned to Manila, they encountered their Apalit hosts [ the Buencamino-Arnedo sisters ] in a carriage along the Luneta because they had accompanied their stepbrothers [ the Buencamino-Abreu brothers, Philip and Victor ] to the seaport where they had just boarded a ship to study in the United States of America.  The sisters requested Mrs. Moses to call on them at their Tondo residence, which was really not theirs but actually the paternal home of their stepmother, Guadalupe “Neneng” Abreu de Buencamino, who had married their father Felipe Buencamino Sr. a year after their mother Juana Arnedo de Buencamino passed away on 25 July 1883.  Guadalupe Abreu de Buencamino passed away one month after giving birth to her son Victor [ born February 1888 ]  in March 1888.

Out of politeness but rather involuntarily, Edith Moses & Co. went to call on the Buencamino-Arnedo Sisters at the by-all-descriptions grand residence of Flaviano Abreu and Saturnina Salazar along Calle Sagunto [ later called Calle Santo Cristo ] in Tondo, Manila…

“Manila, August 18, 1900.”

“The day before yesterday our Apalit friends called on us, but I was out.  Elena acted as hostess  and with a mixture of Spanish and Italian  she managed to amuse and entertain them.  In Manila if one wishes to be very polite he returns a first call the day it is made, but on no account must he defer his visit later than the following day.  Therefore, although the weather was stormy, we started yesterday for Tondo, where in true patriarchal fashion live the root and branches of this family.  Tondo is a quarter as near like Chinatown as you can picture it.  It is the dirtiest and most crowded part of Manila, but in spite of that fact some of the richest Filipino families reside there.  By the time we reached our destination our horses and carriage were covered with mud, as we had driven through water up to the hubs part of the time.”

…………

” … We had stopped before a huge building like a warehouse.  At the entrance was an immense door with a smaller one inclosed in one of its panels.  The correct number above it was the only thing that suggested that it was the right place.  After knocking several times three half-clad men appeared and answered “yes” to our question if Senor Carmona [ sic ] resided there.”

“The lower floor which we entered was an immense court paved with square stones, where there were at least ten carriages of different styles and sizes.  How many horses were in the stalls I could not tell, but I heard their stamping and snorting.  In the center was a fountain, but wet clothes pasted on boards suggested that it was used as a washtub.  Ten or twelve servants were engaged in various occupations, working over the horses, cleaning carriages, washing dishes, and all peering at us with interest.  Presently a small girl rang a great bell, pointed up the stairway, and we ascended the wide marble steps unattended, in true Manila style.  On reaching the top of the stairs we came to a large square hall where vistas of apartments opened on all sides.  The proportions of the room were fine and the beautiful rosewood floors shone like mirrors.  Servants were sauntering about but no one came forward.  We waited until our charming little hostess came running in to greet us and she led us to the drawing-room.  Filipino homes are furnished more simply than our own.  There are no carpets or rugs, and who would wish them in exchange for a highly polished rosewood or mahogany floor?  Even in the houses of the wealthy the furniture is principally of the Vienna bent-wood variety.  Chairs almost fill the rooms.  There is usually a hollow square in the center formed by a table at one side, with sofa opposite connected by rows of chairs.  Pictures are infrequent, but magnificent mirrors in elaborate gilt frames abound.  A piano of excruciating tone is never absent.  Cuspidors of pink, white, blue or green glass are symmetrically placed at the four corners of the hollow square.  Usually two or more natives in very dirty short bathing trunks are on hands and feet with rolls of burlap polishing the floors.  They rush from one end of the room to the other with astonishing rapidity.  The Filipinos call it “skating the floor.”

“All of these conditions were present in the drawing-room of the house we entered.  Instead of the usual bent-wood furniture, however, there were beautifully carved sofas and chairs, covered with ugly but heavy and costly velvet brocade.  The table was inlaid tortoise shell and brass of exquisite workmanship.  The piano was a grand Erard imported from Paris, but a total wreck musically.  There were several glass and gilt cabinets filled with bric-a-brac of the most varying kinds from beautiful and really artistic and valuable specimens of Sevres, porcelain, and bronze to miserable blue, white, and pink glass toys and china dogs of the cheapest and most vulgar sort.  The walls were hung with a heavy, dark paper detached in many places by reason of the dampness.  Two royal mirrors adorned the walls.  On the beautiful table was a cheap china bowl and two china vases filled with soiled artificial  flowers.  But what most attracted my astonished gaze were four painted tin cats standing around the table.”

“Our hostess sat beside me in a white dressing sack, at the other end sat Senor Garcia [ sic ], and beyond and opposite was a row of persons of all hues from almost black to very light brown; from the old man who I said wore his shirt outside his trousers, to Senor Lamberto [ sic ], one of the handsomest men I have met in Manila.  He was in Aguinaldo’s cabinet and very prominent politically.  He is pale and looks like a Spaniard, but is a mestizo.  We talked a few moments and then Elena was invited to play, which she did to the great delight of the company and to our agony.  I afterwards spoke of the difficulty in this climate of keeping a piano in tune on account of the rusting of the strings, but this did not appeal to them.  One of the ladies expressed surprise and said:  “Do you think so?  Why, our piano belonged to my grandmother and it is still very good.”  I had never heard a worse one.  But it is thought that as long as the instrument holds together it is good.  Afterwards one of the girls played and then Elena was urged to play again.  It was evidently the desire of our hosts to entertain us.  I was curious about the four painted tin cats.  The mystery was soon solved and I learned that they were not merely ornamental, for Dona Lucia [ sic ] was seized with a fit of coughing and to my astonishment she grasped one of the animals by the head and turning it around expectorated with great vigor into a cuspidor which was mysteriously constructed in or about its back.”

…………

Victor Abreu Buencamino wrote of his grandparents’ palatial Tondo residence:  “I would say I was not a typical Manila boy in my time.  Most boys were allowed to play  on sidewalks or in vacant lots in the neighborhood, but I wasn’t.  Instead, a few boys in the neighborhood, mostly from well-to-do families,  came over in the afternoon after school and played with us around the fountain in the patio of our compound.”

“But the games we played were the same as those played by boys of my generation:  ‘viola corcho’ or ‘luksong tinik’ [ jumping ], ‘tangga,’ ‘siklot’ [ pebble game ] and ‘sungka’ [ played with 'sigay' or seashells ], yoyo, ‘escondite’ [ hide-and-seek ], and ‘patintero’ [ structured tag ].”

“We played until the bells of Tondo church rang the vespers when we ran to the chapel upstairs where my Lola Ninay led the prayers before the images of Santo Nino de Tondo and many other saints.  In those days, the more images you had in your altar, the higher you rated in the congregation.”

“We prayed in Spanish, all of us in the household, including the servants.  Apparently, the friars did not encourage the propagation of the prayers in the Pilipino translation.  We children said our prayers aloud.  We thought the louder we said our prayers, the more God and Lola Ninay liked it.  I never really understood what the prayers meant, but I had all four main prayers so memorized I could rattle them all off in a flash.  I still do so to this day, only I now understand what the words mean.”

“Lola Ninay was the grande dame of the clan, but she was too preoccupied with her businesses and her community and social activities to manage her household.  So it was my auntie Adelaida who mothered me, for my mother, Guadalupe, had died while I was a month-old infant.”

“Our house on Sagunto Stree [ later named Sto. Cristo ] where I was born on 15 February 1888 was one of the biggest in that rather ritzy section of Tondo.  It was a rectangular affair about 20 to 25 meters, with an ‘entresuelo’ [ mezzanine ], a second floor and an ‘azotea’ or roof garden.  I remember that roof garden well because one early morning we climbed the narrow ladder to the top to watch what I thought then were exciting fireworks out in the bay.  Our house was so tall we had a good view of the bay and of the Cavite landfall beyond.”

“I was told later that the fireworks were the real thing.  Admiral George Dewey  lobbed a few shells as his fleet breezed into the bay and the Spanish squadron soon disappeared in flames.”

“There were a good number of parlors and bedrooms in the mezzanine and the second floor and I recall that friends of Lola Ninay would park in these apartments for weeks on end as her house guests.  It was not the custom of people then to stay in hotels.  Hotels were only for foreigners.  Good families felt slighted if their friends from the provinces did not honor them by staying in their homes.”

“There was a time some families evacuated to Sagunto from Baliwag and other Bulacan towns and from Pampanga and Bataan to avoid getting caught in the crossfire between Filipinos and Spaniards and later between Filipinos and Americans.  It was a lot of fun for me because I had more evacuee children to play with.”

“In the back portion of the ground floor beyond the patio was the stable.  There were about ten horses in all.  I particularly liked the one that pulled our Rockaway which took us to the Ateneo in the morning and picked us up after calisthenics in the afternoon.  In those days, going to school in a private four-wheeled rig was a status symbol.”

“Lola had a rig for all occasions.  In addition to the service ‘carromata’ [ two-wheeled vehicle for two to three passengers ], she had an ‘aquiles’ [ vehicle for four passengers on two rows of seats facing each other with door at the back ], a ‘caruaje’ [ milord ], and a ‘vis-a-vis,’ a four-wheeled affair pulled by two horses with two rows of seats facing one another in the cab.  Then there was the ‘Victoria,’ the deluxe version of the two-horse carriage with two drivers, usually in uniform, lashing their whips from atop.  We rode in the ‘Victoria’ only on gala occasions.”

“We were happy with these carriages and the great big horses, until, one day, I sensed something was wrong.  One by one, the horses were being slaughtered for food.  There was no food in the Divisoria nearby because the Americans had blockaded the city and no food could come in, not even the rice which they grew in Lola Ninay’s own farm in Calumpit.”

“Up to that time, we had plenty to eat.  There were full meals, even for breakfast:  ‘kare-kare’ [ oxtail stew in peanut sauce ], ‘puchero’ [ beef stewed with vegetables ], chicken and eggs and all the ‘ensaymadas’ [ sweet breads ] you could eat, washed down with thick chocolate.”

“We were not allowed to eat fruits in the morning.  Our elders said it was a sure way to get a tummy ache for fruits were heavy in the stomach.”

“They also told us to close our windows when we slept at night.  There were lethal kinds of ill wind that blew when people sinned and didn’t pray hard enough.”

“I remember that people prayed hard and often.  During fiestas in Tondo, there were processions where people carrying lighted candles prayed aloud or sang hymns as they marched past our house.  During those fiestas, the whole front side of our house was lighted with giant lanterns.  We kids watched the procession from our windows.  We were too small to march with the ‘colegialas,’ who wore smart uniforms and sang aloud as they marched in single file on both sides of the brightly lit image of the Sto. Nino.”

…………

“I quite agree with some observations that the reason the women’s lib movement never quite became a fad in this country is because the Filipina does not need to be liberated.  She’s in fact the ruler.  And that’s not a new phenomenon, either.”

“Take my grandmother, Dona Saturnina Salazar, for instance.  She was the dominant character in our young lives and in the lives of many other people in her day.  She was popularly known as ‘Dona Ninay Supot.’  It was the fashion then to label a clan, often derisively, with some distinguishing peculiarities.”

“Grandmother really inherited the ‘supot’ nomenclature from her father, Don Silvestre Salazar.  It seems that my great-grandfather, better known as ‘Nor Beteng,’ was almost always carrying a ‘supot’ — a money bag, actually.”

“For his main stock in trade was money lending, and he had to lug his ‘supot’ along to carry those heavy Mexican silver coins which he lent to market vendors in the morning and collected the following day.  He went home with ten additional silver pesos safely tucked in his ‘supot’ for every hundred he lent the previous dawn.  And that was how Dona Ninay carried the brand, ‘supot,’ too.”

“Her father went to Divisoria before the break of dawn to provide capital for stall lessees who bought their vegetables or fish or meat from wholesale suppliers in time to spread their wares for the early morning shoppers.  As a rule, these vendors would make enough profits during the day to feed their families and pay my great-grandfather his Shylock surcharge.  But it was also a rule that what was left of the vendor’s earnings would be wiped out during the night in either ‘monte’ or ‘jueteng’ [ number game of chance ] or an endless round of ‘tuba’ [ fermented coconut sap drink ] so the vendor had to approach my great-grandfather the following morning and borrow all over again at 10 per centum — per day!”

“Thus did the Buencamino forebears thrive.  In those days, usury was as dignified an industry as today’s big-time financing by reputable investment houses, today’s rates being no less usurious.”

“AND SO, DONA NINAY fell heir to a fortune that the ‘supot’ business built.  But compared with her old man, Dona Ninay was big league.  In time, she was ruling a conglomerate all her own:  tobacco, rice, real estate — and Las Vegas-style gambling.”

“Befitting one so high in society, Lola Ninay circulated in the flashiest of circles.  In those days, those in the money had one favorite pastime:  gambling.  And being smarter than the rest, Lola Ninay encouraged her wealthy friends to indulge in gambling while she provided the facilities.  It’s debatable to this day which gave her more returns, her trading business or her ‘monte’ and ‘jueteng’ operations, but whichever did so, the fact was that she was recognized as one of the better-heeled matrons in all Tondo.”

“I’ll never forget one time she paid off a ‘jueteng’ winner all of 75 thousand ‘pesillos,’  Mex.  Imagine that.  At the present inflated and still inflating value of the peso, that take could qualify her to open a bank with today’s required one-hundred-million-peso minimum capital.  And she did open a bank — as I’ll tell you later.”

“MY VIVID RECOLLECTION of Lola Ninay was her excursions to Barrio Sulipan in Apalit town, Pampanga.  She took me along on a number of her forays.  Lola Ninay’s household where we lived was not below what you might call now the Forbes Park variety.  But the nipa-thatched chateau of Capitan Joaquin Arnedo at Barrio Sulipan looked like something simply out of this world even to one used to staying in a huge town house.”

“You just didn’t walk in at the Arnedo villa and place your feet at his rows of ‘monte’ tables.  No sir.  You came strictly by invitation and one such invite from Capitan Joaquin was a sure mark that you had made the top rung of the day’s aristocracy.  Guests often included the ‘segundo cabo’ [ military representative ], the vice-governor general, and the archbishop of Manila.  Foreign dignitaries were often entertained there.”

“And of course, grandma Dona Ninay stood out among the scintillating guests.”

“Quite apart from being a social giant in her own right, Dona Ninay had another entree into the Monte Carlo of the Arnedos in Sulipan:  she and the Arnedos had a common son-in-law.”

“My father’s first wife, Juanita, was a daughter of the Arnedos, and after her death, Father wooed and married Dona Ninay’s daughter Guadalupe [ Neneng ], who was to become my mother.  Father seemed to have maintained a close relationship with the Arnedos even after the death of his Arnedo wife for whenever he had a very special visitor, he almost always entertained this guest at Sulipan.”

*unfinished*

DysPresidentiables

It will be the Season of DysPresidentiables here in the Philippines SOON.  And YES, I claim my copyright [ and "patent" and "trademark" and Everything the Philippine Intellectual Property Office can provide for me!!!  Harharhar!!! ] over the term “DysPresidentiables.”  I, Toto Gonzalez, invented it.  Just now.

Yes, fellow Filipinos, We will surely elect Another Loser.  Or They, the neocolonial American meddlers, will make us elect Another Loser.  Someone who can so capably Sink Us further into the Quagmire.  Someone “who will row us merrily down the stream” for the umpteenth time.

I’ve given up.  A long time ago.  *shakes head* 

You Inveterate Dreamers out there, tell Us what it’s All About this time!!!

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