Abra… cad… Abra!

We were in the group of Patis Tesoro and the other members of the “Katutubo” Foundation… 

We thought we had seen Everything in Vigan and in Laoag…

But faraway Abra was quite a revelation…

I noticed that many Abrenas were very pretty.  The “Tingguians” — the original inhabitants of Abra — were of Malay and Chinese descent.  The racial mix was further improved — improbably — by the arrival of the American engineers, teachers, and other professionals during the first years of the American regime in the early 1900s.

The Abrenas were pretty and insouciant — possessed of a “joie de vivre” that was still distinct from that of the “je ne sais quoi” of the Vigenas.   We were told that the Abrenas were the “Bacolodnons of the North” and that Abra was the “Negros of the North” in the sense that the women and the province effortlessly paralleled the social, chichi behavior and the ease of life of that famed southern province.

Even the food in Abra was a cut above traditional Ilocano fare.  The various “Lechon” served to us — at Governor Valera’s, at the Bobila Sisters’ resthouse, and at the Bobilas’ residence in town — were all memorable because the pigs were young, the rind incomparably crisp, the pork flesh tender and devoid of any odors, and the taste sweet and milky.  Truly unforgettable!!! 

In those days, The delicious “Lechon” of Abra was only Php 500.00/xx.  So many people in adjacent Ilocos Sur would travel to Bangued in Abra just to get their “lechon”…

We were treated by Governor Valera to authentic “Jumping Salad” [ of big live shrimps ] in Ilocano vinegar along the banks of the wide and very picturesque Abra River.  But we were prohibited from jumping into the river because of the presence of poisonous river snakes…

We were reminded by Patis Tesoro that the legendary couturier Ramon Oswalds Valera was from Abra Province…    

Abra Governor Vicsyd Valera and his wife Maria Zita Claustro Valera.

“La Soeurs Bobila” The Bobila Sisters.

We could never forget the Bobila Sisters as they hosted an elegant dinner at their home.  They were dressed in couture long gowns, the various tables were beautifully set with elegant china, crystal, and silver and the room was airconditioned, and before the dinner they occupied themselves with “hostess duties” — the myriad details of the party such as appetizers, cocktails, the appropriate wines and liquors, the correct glassware, etc..  All that cosmopolitan chic in faraway, bucolic Abra!!!  

Marilyn Carino Dent-Smith.  She was a 1960s girl…

She was so Hip!!!  She was the epitome of Abrena Cool. 

“O. Valera” Hotel / “Oval Era” Hotel, Bangued.

Our hotel room’s bathroom was very memorable because when one opened the faucet, the shower would run, and when one opened the shower, the toilet would flush.  When one flushed the toilet, the faucet would run, and so forth and so on… We finally made a game out of it.  It was delightfully Surreal!!!

A “Bal Populaire” at the Bangued Town Plaza.

Lady Valerie, herself an Abrena.

There was this young, small, gay choreographer who really, really danced to the groove…!!!

The Gabriela Silang Museum, Tayum.

One could really feel the centuries past as everything was thickly coated with dust.  

The “Palacio Carino.”

We met the cosmopolitan gentleman Rosarito Antonio “Chato” Carino and his wife.

My good friend and I were pleasantly disoriented as the gentlemanly and hospitable Mr. Carino elegantly offered us expensive vintage Chateau Margaux in antique crystal glasses on silver trays amidst old paintings and antique European furniture on the ground floor of their palace-in-the-works in faraway Tayum, Abra.    

We were stunned to realize that The “Palacio Carino” was the only place in the Philippines that could rival Dr. Eleuterio “Teyet” Pascual’s magnificently-crowded, Mario Praz-style Makati pied-a-terre…

Years later, Rosarito Antonio Carino’s brother Jose Maria Carino would write the authoritative book on the artist Jose Honorato Lozano, who specialized in the rare art of “Letras y Figuras” in 19th century Filipinas. 



The Wonderful People of Vigan, Ilocos Sur

Ilocanos have a reputation for Austerity.

But We never realized that they are such a fun-loving people.






Patrician Iloilo


It truly was Lopez land…  Everybody who was Somebody who was Anybody was descended from or related to the prominent Lopez Clan, all descendants of the patriarchs Basilio Lopez and Sabina Jalandoni.

And if they weren’t Lopez, they were Ledesma, the other prominent clan of the city and the province.

Occasionally, they were both.  And because they were both, they were also descended from the Villanueva, the first of the grand Iloilo families.

“Le Trianon Rose.”

The Sanson-Montinola ancestral house.  It was poetically described by the artist Fernando Zobel y Montojo as “the most beautiful example of Antillan architecture.”

The “Sala” still had a beautiful and very fine suite of late 19th century “Carlos Tres” style furniture.  The antique fanciers in the group admired the pieces at length…

The “Nelly Gardens,” the famous 1928 Beaux-Arts style villa of Vicente Lopez y Villanueva and Elena Hofilena y Javelona.  It devolved to their younger daughter Lilia Hofilena Lopez who married Francisco Lopez Jison of Silay, Negros Occidental [ her Lopez second cousin ].

“Angelicum” School.  The very elegant 1937 French Mediterranean-style mansion of Emiliano Lizares y Alunan and Concepcion Gamboa y Ledesma designed by the Paris-trained architect Andres Luna San Pedro.  The Lizares-Gamboa family was the most elegant branch of the wealthy Lizares-Alunan Clan of Talisay, Negros Occidental.  Their Lizares cousins in Negros referred to them as “de guantes” [ “with gloves” ].  It was the childhood home of Manila society legends Emilianito Lizares Jr., Letty Lizares-del Rosario, and Sonia Lizares-Corominas.

To paraphrase Adrian Villasor Lizares:  “In PreWar Iloilo, if one was a lady, but had not yet combed her hair or fixed herself up, she had better not come near any Lizares lady because for sure she would look like their “yayas.”  Coiffure was essential in the daily life of the ladies.  They took hours to put themselves together, and those were after hours of prayers!  And they always turned out stunning.  The daughter of Adela Lizares-Mapa, [ Tita ] Estrella Mapa-Ybiernas, was very close to Aurora Aragon-Quezon and held a high position in that First Lady’s circle.  She had a lot of “ternos,” spending thousands of pesos on them every month.”

My friend reminded me that Emiliano and Concepcion Lizares and their family had actually hosted the Baron and Baroness Maurice de Rothschild in that French-style manse just before the War.  Baron Maurice was the father of Baron Edmond de Rothschild of Compagnie Financiere fame, the owner of the Club Med resorts and other prestigious leisure companies.


The Lopez-Vito manse.  The intact Collection of Remedios Jalandoni de Lopez-Vito.  The very refined Mariflor Lopez-Vito graciously showed us around.



The Beaux-Arts style Ledesma manse.  Tita Emma Ledesma’s kitchen made some of the most delicious “lumpias” in Iloilo.


Tita Emma liked to go to Bacolod City to play at the “Casino Filipino” there.

The Lazaro [ formerly Melliza ] ancestral house.

Miss Lazaro was very kind as we proceeded to stomp all over her extremely well-kept home.


The Locsin ancestral house.

“For what???”  asked the lady with the expensive Assumption College / Saint Scholastica’s College accent.

Woops.  The lady had been “doing” her face.  On the long dining room table.  Scattered on the French-polished surface were a standing round mirror and the best cosmetics:  Chanel, Lancome, Christian Dior, Prescriptives, Clinique, Shiseido, Shue Uemura.  No inexpensive Maybelline and Cover Girl.

The lady had been very busy.  We had interrupted her afternoon “grand toilette.”  She was probably getting ready for “mah-jong” with her “amigas”…

I thought that the most interesting thing in the Locsin house was their PreWar white-painted “paminggalan” [ food storage cabinet ].  The three round tiers inside the cabinet were set on a pin so that these rotated.  Thus, it was easier to look for something.  It was the product of an imaginative mind!

The Avancena ancestral house.


The Mabilog ancestral house.


The Villanueva weavers.


iloilo71.jpg iloilo81.jpg

Chichi Bacolod

We wouldn’t have had it any other way…  We had to be guided by a genuine Bacolodnon “peaches-and-cream” beauty on our first visit to Bacolod City in Negros Occidental.  And it had to be our dear friend, Alexandra “Alexie” Javellana Claparols, of that legendary Talisay family, the Claparols-Lacson Araneta, who brought us around.

The Claparols-Javellana residence, Bacolod City.

Tito Eddie Lacson Claparols’ soaring den / library / study was one of the most elegant I had ever seen here in the Philippines…

The frankly palatial Aniceto Lacson y Ledesma mansion, Talisay.

Aniceto Lacson y Ledesma married Rosario Araneta [ Cabunsol ] y Emilia.

Aniceto Lacson y Ledesma had declared himself the “King of Negros” and it was his “Chateau de Versailles”…

I thought that it was the “Chateau de Versailles” at “Talisailles”…!!!  Sounds chic, doesn’t it???

The man had an ego the size of planet Earth.

It was every bit as unbelievably grand as Martin “Sonny” Imperial Tinio Jr. had long described it to be…

The mansion devolved to Aniceto’s and Rosario’s daughter, Carmen Lacson y Araneta, who married Ricardo Claparols y Deig.

And yes, the controversial and fabulous Rose Lacson Hancock Porteous of Australia is a real granddaughter of the controversial and fabulous Aniceto Lacson y Ledesma!

The Balcells-Claparols residence, Talisay.  Tita Carmita Lacson Claparols-Balcells.

Sprinkled around Tita Carmita Claparols-Balcells’ living room was the original suite of [ imported ] 1880s Renaissance Revival-style furniture from the family mansion… still upholstered in the original rose-colored silk!

But what struck us — the visitors from Manila — the most was the sight of a large, motionless “tuko” gecko posing outside one of Tita Carmita’s living room windows.  It was the size of a small alligator!

Tita Carmita had built an entirely new bedroom just to house the famous 1880s, “Ah Tay” style Lacson-Araneta “cama de medio cielo” and the “aparador de tres lunas” from the family mansion… The bed and the “aparador” were justifiably magnificent aside from their sterling provenance and were understandably highly-desired pieces by top Manila antique collectors.

With the aristocratic Tita Carmita at a distance, the gays in the group waxed nostalgic as they reminisced a half-naked Philip Salvador, in all his nubile glory, lounging on that very “cama de medio cielo” in Lino Brocka’s “Gumising Ka, Maruja.”  They thought that the only thing lacking was Kris Aquino.

The Rossello-Claparols residence, Talisay.  Tita Layette Lacson Claparols-Rossello.

Tita Layette liked to make pasta.  And newly-made pasta in all its delightful incarnations wound sinuously around her dining table, dining chairs, settees, side chairs, coffee table, and side tables…

She had some pieces of extravagant 1880s Chinese Ch’ing Dynasty mother-of-pearl inlaid furniture from the family mansion — a chess table among them — casually tossed about in her entrance hall.

Tita Layette had inherited the entire “Ah Tay”-style dining room suite of the family mansion.  They were exquisite pieces guaranteed to provoke uninhibited collecting lust among top Manila antique collectors.   She had the long sectional dining table, the dining chairs, and the two corner cabinets with display shelves where some of the Lacson-Araneta china and silver had been stored.  The two corner cabinets with their display shelves were too tall for her dining room, so she dismantled these and used the shelves independently.  Her friends commented that they had never seen prettier pieces.

When we asked the practical Tita Layette if she missed living in their ancestral mansion, she grimaced and frankly complained:  “I hated supervising the cleaning in that house!  Too big!  Too dusty!  No, no, no… I’ll never live there again!”

The Claparols-Medina residence, Talisay.

The Gaston Hacienda Santa Rosalia, Manapla.

It was the mansion used in director Peque Gallaga’s magnum opus “Oro, Plata, Mata.”

We saw the big concrete shoe where the character played by Joel Torre lost his virginity in the film…

Tita Mila Gaston.  She was an elegant lady…

All the girls in the group had a crush on Jomi Gaston.  The gays too.

It was unfortunate that the very charming and very witty Monsignor Guillermo “GG” Gaston was not around at the time…

“The Chapel of the Cartwheels.”  It was utterly chic and redolent of the French heritage and sensibilities of the Gaston family, in particular of Monsignor GG…

The Lizares-Alunan [ Efigenio Lizares y Treyes and Enrica Alunan y Labayen ] mansion, Talisay.  It was well-maintained, high Negrense elegance as Sonny Tinio had always raved about.

At the turn of the “escalera principal” [ principal stairway ], a big picture hung of the powerful Lizares matriarch “Capitana Dicang,” Enrica Alunan de Lizares, seated on a settee and flanked by President Manuel Quezon and by Vice-President Sergio Osmena.  A friend quipped:  “Says it All!!!”

What was fun was that very loud rock music was booming from a bedroom of that 19th century house, causing everything to jiggle and wiggle… including the termites I thought.

The Simplicio Lizares y Alunan mansion, Talisay.  A masterpiece of Art Deco interior design and decoration by the architect Juan Nakpil.  Everything about the house was extraordinary; the architectural detailing was superb.

The Lizares-Villasor residence [ originally the Panlilio-Lizares ], Talisay.  A nice 1950s house.  There was a luminous Fernando Amorsolo portrait of the Panlilio-Lizares matriarch, Encarnacion Lizares de Panlilio [ daughter of “Tana Dicang” Enrica Alunan de Lizares ], who married Adriano Panlilio y Tizon from faraway Mexico, Pampanga.

“Balay Negrense,” the Gaston mansion, Silay.

Bernardino Jalandoni mansion, Silay.

“Panciteria Ideal,” Silay.  We ate the famous “lumpia”…

“Pendy’s.”  We had their famous “yema” cake…

Suarez residence, Bacolod City.  Boy Suarez was an affable gentleman.  There was a very unusual and rare tall 1870s “aparador” entirely of Chinese-style piercework.  It had been used as a prop in the 1982 film “Oro, Plata, Mata” by Peque Gallaga.  It had been damaged during transport but had been lovingly restored.

One morning, a dear, tall male friend finally succumbed to a long-held temptation and gathered the bedsheets in the masters’ bedroom and created draped couture “gowns” for him to pose before the magnificent, 1880s, “Ah Tay”-style “tremor” mirrored dresser of Rosario Araneta de Lacson, the wife of Aniceto Lacson.  It was the only piece of furniture that Eduardo “Eddie” Lacson Claparols had requested from the family mansion, only because his mother, Carmen Lacson de Claparols, used to comb her hair before it.  It had also been used by his wife, Celia Javellana-Claparols.

“Casa Grande” Antiques, Bacolod City.  Ernest Baker.  After chatting up a storm while looking at all the delightful antiques in stock, Ernest was very insistent that we meet his business partner, Herbert “Herbie” Montilla Tomkins:  “He will love you two!!!”

And so we were introduced to an American / Spanish mestizo gentleman who sat leisurely fanning himself on a wrought iron armchair in an airy “lanai.”  He was cordial, pleasant, and distant.  However, he soon became visibly amused with our conversation, a prattle of style.  Somehow, the talk veered to the English style of decoration…  And he recalled:  “I remember, there was this Hollywood hostess who dipped her chair covers in tea, so that they would not look new…”

Sounded like the Colefax & Fowler doyenne Nancy Perkins Lancaster.  But Hollywood???  Nooooo…

“Her name is at the tip of my tongue… I will remember in a while…”  insisted a concentrating, close-eyed Joey Panlilio, who was no stranger to the international set — having seen so much of it because of his grandaunt the international jeweller Fe S. Panlilio, during the Marcos era and afterwards —  and who knew his international social history very well.

The ice was stylishly broken when Joey Panlilio finally remembered the name of the Hollywood hostess:  “Edith Meyer-Guest!!!  That’s the name, Herbie!!!”

“You lovely people!!!”  Herbie exclaimed with a big smile, opening his arms in amazement to embrace us.

And voila!!!  We were instantly Herbie Montilla Tomkins’ newest dear friends!!!  *LOLSZ!!!*

“Balay Dako,” Hacienda Montilla-Veraguth, Ubay, Pulupandan.  It was a large “bahay na bato,” older and even larger in floor area than the palatial Lacson-Araneta [ Claparols ] mansion in Talisay town.

Herbie Montilla Tomkins and Ernest Baker.

‘L’ Fisher Hotel.


It was almost too chic…

And to our incredible surprise, The grand gentleman Herbie Montilla Tomkins sent his uniformed chauffeur and vintage limousine to bring us in authentic “Kahirup” style to the airport…!!!

That was a very memorable first time in Bacolod City!!!   🙂   🙂   🙂


*”Ah Tay” was a Chinese cabinetmaker from Binondo who made the most beautifully carved furniture with the most elegant lines in the late 19th century.  Actually, he sought to reproduce the elegance of Spanish and French furniture, and he succeeded to a remarkable degree.  The splendid architectural details and exquisite furniture of the Aniceto Lacson y Ledesma mansion are described as “Ah Tay” in style because they exhibit the crisp carving and the elegant lines which were trademarks of the renowned Chinese cabinetmaker.  Lacson-Araneta family tradition says that “a Chinese furnituremaker and his entire team from Manila were recruited by Aniceto Lacson to produce all the carved woodwork of his intended residence and that it took them three years to finish the project.”  For all we know, it may have been the redoubtable “Ah Tay”  himself and his team who worked on the monumental Lacson-Araneta mansion.

*Of all the Victorian-style furniture in various Philippine collections claiming to have been produced by “Ah Tay,” only two pieces — I repeat, only two — can be certified to have come directly from him:  a pair of elegant “narra” wood “vajillera” [ china ] cabinets with crests of stylized Prince of Wales feathers which are now in the dining room of the “Big House” [ the main house ] at the Villa Escudero in San Pablo, Laguna.  Arsenio and Rosario Escudero had purchased them directly from the aging “Ah Tay” himself during the 1920s!

The Garden I remember

I grew up in a garden…

“Zephirine Drouhin” roses.

“Alba” roses.


“La Naval de Manila” at the Santo Domingo Church

NS del Rosario de La Naval

It is the traditional feast day that Manila society has forgotten…

It used to be that Manila’s grandest ladies and gentlemen — from the Tuason, Legarda, Prieto, Valdes, Roxas, de Ayala, Zobel, Zaragoza, Araneta, Ortigas, Vargas, Madrigal, Cojuangco, and other affluent families — spearheaded the preparations for the annual event in honor of “Nuestra Senora del Santisimo Rosario” Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary…

Felix Roxas y Fernandez [ o 1864 – + 1936 ], Mayor of Manila from 1905 – 1917, recalled the “La Naval de Manila” novena at the Santo Domingo church in Intramuros and wrote in 1936:  “”Up to the age of nine [ in 1873 ], I remained under the care of my aunts who strove zealously to undertake the responsibility of my early education.  All of them very devout women, they frequently took me along  to the religious festivities, specially to the church of Santo Domingo during the nine-day novena of the Most Holy Rosary.  The devotion to this Virgin, who is venerated in this church, has not diminished a bit in spite of the changes and social transformations in these islands.  Last night [ October 1936 ], for example, the torrential downpour that continued during the hours of prayer was not an obstacle to the filling of the church by a devoted crowd anxious to take part in saying its prayer to the legendary Virgin, to hear the sermon of the priest who preached from the pulpit, and to witness the solemn rites of those ceremonies.””

The great Dominican feast of “La Naval de Manila” pays tribute to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who, as “Nuestra Senora del Santisimo Rosario” Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, wrought unbelievable naval victories for the Spaniards over the Dutch invaders of these islands in a series of battles in 1646.  What made the Spanish victories more miraculous was that they only had two worn galleons, the “Encarnacion” and the “Rosario,” that battled the more numerous, and better-armed, fifteen Dutch frigates.


Manila society venerated the magnificent and beautiful image of “Nuestra Senora del Santisimo Rosario,” a legacy of the Spanish Governor General Luis Perez Dasmarinas to the Manila Dominicans in 1593.  It was carved from [ elephant ] ivory by a Chinese sculptor under the supervision of Captain Hernando de los Rios Coronel .  The image is garbed in yards of precious “tisu de oro” cloth of gold embroidered with silver gilt thread.  The crowns of Our Lady and the Child Jesus are of high-karat gold and are studded with many precious jewels, the gifts of generations, indeed centuries, of affluent devotees.

Felix Roxas inquired with the prewar Spanish Dominicans about the origin of the image of the “Santo Rosario”…  “”I have often asked myself if the actual image of the Virgin was imported or done by some local carver.  My investigations uncovered the following facts:”

“The community of Dominican friars arrived from Mexico prior to the arrival of the Augustinians, the Franciscans, and the Jesuits in the Philippines [ Actually, the Augustinians were the first to arrive in 1565, the Dominicans arrived in 1587 . — T.G. ].  About the last years of the XVI century, on the same site where the church of Santo Domingo is actually located in Intramuros, they erected a chapel where the Virgin of the Rosary, the image about two feet high, was venerated, the same image still conserved in an urn lying between the two towers of the belfries at the outer facade of the church.  This original image was replaced by the present one which we owe to the chisel of a Chinese carver who executed the work without the intention of becoming a great artist, and completed it as if he were guided by a divine inspiration, something he himself did not take into account.”

“From August 16, 1587, this image has attracted the devotion of Catholic believers, who have multiplied manyfold, encouraged by the favors they received from her.  From the very beginning both the the Virgin and the infant Jesus in her arms have appeared with crowns on their heads.  In this way they were venerated until Pope Pius IX prepared a ritual decreeing that the coronation of images of Virgins should be done by the highest ecclesiastical authority of each land beginning with the coronation of the Virgin of Savona, Italy, who was crowned by Pope Pius IX himself.  Others followed this tradition, such as that of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico, who was crowned by a delegate of His Holiness.  The turn of the Philippine images came in this century in the following order:  The image worshipped in the church of Santo Domingo in Manila; that of Penafrancia in Nueva Caceres, Camarines Sur; that of Manaoag in Pangasinan; and last, that of Antipolo, recently crowned with great solemnity in the Manila Cathedral.  The last-named coronation was special:  the Apostolic Delegate crowned the Virgin and the Archbishop of Manila crowned the infant Jesus [ sic ], each one by special instructions from His Holiness.””

[ “Nuestra Senora de la Paz y Buenviaje” The Virgin of Antipolo is actually a depiction of the “Immaculate Conception” and she does not carry the Infant Jesus as part of her iconography.  Felix Roxas must have confused her canonical coronation with another revered image of Our Lady. ]


Historian Basilidez Bautista explained that during the Spanish era, it was the tradition of rich and devout Filipino families, specially those of Spanish extraction, to consider the “Santo Rosario” as another “heiress” to the family jewels.  An entire lot was always apportioned and forthwith donated to the Virgin.

Three of the Virgin’s legendary jewels are “the carbuncle,” the Roxas “granada de oro,” and the Roxas “concha.”

“The carbuncle” is a mythologized large red gemstone that was believed to have crowned the forehead of a large serpent that inhabited the Pasig river.  It was immortalized in a story by National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin, an ardent devotee of the “Santo Rosario.”  However, artist Rafael del Casal, who was privy to the Dominicans and to the image of the “Santo Rosario,” says — to great disappointment — that it does not exist.  He knows that the largest red stone in the collection of the Virgin is neither a ruby nor a garnet but paste which looks like faceted red glass and is set in the “AM” / “Auspice Maria” / “Ave Maria” cipher on the Virgin’s 19th century “plata” silver gilt dress.  Mr. del Casal thinks that “the carbuncle” could have also referred to a pearl, and recalls that the Virgin has two big pearls which are set as drops dangling below the orbs in her two gold crowns.  A pear-shaped pearl like the internationally famous and centuries-old “La Peregrina” [ currently owned by actress Elizabeth Taylor ] is set in the 1811 Crown and an L-shaped baroque pearl is set in the 1907 crown for the Virgin’s canonical coronation.

Mr. del Casal is of the opinion that Nick Joaquin’s story of “the carbuncle” is actually a metaphor for the triumph of Christianity over paganism.

The Roxas “granada de oro” [ golden pomegranate ] and the Roxas “concha” [ shell ] had a more historic — and royal — provenance:  King Norodom I of Cambodia visited the Philippines in 1872.  At a ball given by the Arnedos in Sulipan, Apalit, Pampanga he met and fell in love with Josefa “Pepita” Roxas y Manio of nearby Calumpit, Bulacan.  But he could not further his intentions because of their different religions.  Before his departure, he gave Josefa Roxas a precious, pomegranate-shaped jewel [ called the “granada de oro” ] encrusted with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and pearls and her sister Ana Roxas a smaller shell-shaped one [ called the “concha” ] also encrusted with precious stones.  Both Josefa’s “granada de oro” and Ana’s “concha” were donated by the sisters and their brother Rev. Fr. Manuel Roxas to the “Santo Rosario” at the Santo Domingo church in Intramuros.  The “concha” was inscribed “S.M. El Rey de Cambodia A La Sta. Ana Rojas 1872” [ “His Majesty The King of Cambodia to Senorita Ana Rojas 1872” ].  Most unfortunately, the “granada de oro” was lost after prewar.  It was last seen — hanging from the neck of the “Nino Jesus” — in a published photograph of the “Santo Rosario” in a supplement of the “Philippines Free Press” on 03 May 1930.  That same photograph showed the “concha” pinned to the hem of the embroidered garment of the “Nino Jesus.”  Unfortunately, decades later, the “concha” also disappeared upon the death of Rev. Fr. Augusto Antonio, O.P., the chaplain of the Virgin, in 1982.  He had carefully kept it in his bedroom for scholarly study and it could no longer be found after he died.


It actually rained torrentially during the canonical coronation of the “Nuestra Senora del Santisimo Rosario de ‘La Naval de Manila'” on 05 October 1907…

Felix Roxas reminisced the canonical coronation of the “Santo Rosario” in 1906 [ sic ], which took place during his tenure as Mayor of Manila, and wrote in 1936:

“”I remember the glorious day of the fifth of October, 1906 [ sic ], when the canonical coronation of our Lady of the Rosary, who was venerated in the Santo Domingo church in Intramuros, was pompously celebrated in this city by order of Pope Pius X.”

“At that time, in anticipation of the said day, the prior of the Santo Domingo convent announced to the faithful devotees who used to fill the pews of the church that from that time on Manila had nothing to envy the renowned sanctuaries of Zaragoza, Lourdes, Monserrat, Begona, and many other sites selected by the Most Holy Virgin Mary as the throne of her mercies.”

“On the day set for the coronation ceremonies, as foreseen, there was an extraordinarily large crowd consisting of delegations from the provinces, carried by their devotion to the Virgin of the Rosary, anxious to witness the event.  The organizing committee in charge of the ceremonies secured a permit from me to erect a stage for the ecclesiastical authorities and lay guests invited to the memorable event on Magallanes Drive.”

“Preferential seats at the center of the stage near an altar were given to Governor General James Smith, the Commissioners, Chief Justice Arellano of the Supreme Court, the undersigned as Mayor and other officials of the insular and city governments.”

“An incessant and persistent rain fell at the precise moment when the image of the Virgin passed near the small altar where the Papal delegate, Monsignor Guidi, assisted by Mons. Petrelli as secretary, was preparing to place the crowns on the infant Jesus and on the Virgin.  Despite the rain the Governor General, who was a Catholic, calmly assisted them in the coronation rites.”

“Dona Encarnacion Roxas, the sponsor of the coronation, and her retinue of ladies, without abandoning their posts and in proof of their devotion, brilliantly fulfilled their obligation of carrying and delivering the crowns adorned with a valuable collection of precious stones.”

“From this moment almost all of those who took part and witnessed those rites firmly believed they had crowned the Virgin of the Rosary as the patroness of the Philippines.””

……. “At the risk of being repetitious, I want to relate that it was in the afternoon of October 5, 1906 [ sic ], when, in the midst of a torrential downpour, high dignitaries of the church, of the government and of the Filipino people gathered around the platform erected beside the Ayuntamiento building toward Magallanes Drive for the ceremonies.””…….

Procesion de La Naval


From his sickbed, Felix Roxas wrote in October 1936:  “”This afternoon, if the weather permits, this image will leave in a procession that will start from the Santo Domingo Church and tour around the streets of Intramuros.  Devotees will have the opportunity to look upon her once more, enthroned on the brightly lit carriage to spark the human imagination in beholding her at the height of her glory.””

In its last days of glory prewar, all of Manila society, dressed in their grandest, congregated at the Santo Domingo church inside Intramuros for the annual “La Naval de Manila” procession, which was always celebrated every second Sunday of October.

The “La Naval de Manila” procession in prewar featured only ten Dominican images interspersed with the “estandartes” banners of the fifteen mysteries of the holy rosary.   Yet, it was already the longest and the grandest of the Intramuros processions.  It was headed by the image of San Pedro de Verona, … Santa Rosa de Lima, and those of Santo Tomas de Aquino, Santo Domingo de Guzman, San Jose, and the “festejada,” the “Santo Rosario.”

Manila oldtimers remember that it was the time-honored custom for the faithful to kneel reverently, even on the Intramuros streets, as the image of the “Santo Rosario” passed by during the annual “La Naval de Manila” procession.  It was a tradition that was portrayed on film by director Lamberto Avellana in his screen adaptation of Nick Joaquin’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Filipino.”


Just before the war, Sor Catalina de la Visitacion [ the “heredera” / heiress Vicenta Osmena y Rafols of the affluent and venerable Cebu clan;  she funded the establishment of the “Colegio de Santa Catalina de Matsuyama” in Shikoku, Japan ] of the Dominican sisters initiated — with her own substantial donation — a fund drive for the construction of a new, large, and magnificent “carroza triunfal” [ boat-shaped carriage ] entirely of solid silver [ 85 % ], an absolute masterpiece of the “Talleres de Maximo Vicente,” for the use of the Virgin during the “La Naval de Manila” processions.  Carmen “Mengay” Reyes de Reyes [ Mrs. Vicente Cecilio Reyes ], the current “camarera” of the “Santo Rosario,” told Rafael del Casal that the prewar devotees had donated real silver coins [ 85 % ] for the “carroza triunfal.”  Mr. del Casal also met the old Ireneo Taruc, a longtime silversmith at the “Talleres de Maximo Vicente,” who as a 19 year-old apprentice had labored on the elaborate silverwork of the “carroza triunfal” just before the war.  He too, remembered that it was entirely of solid silver.     Unfortunately, it was burned inside the Santo Domingo church and convent in Intramuros during the war.

The present, simpler “carroza triunfal” was a memorable work of the “taller” of Santiago Santos in postwar [ in 1946 ].  The workshop was located at the back of the University of Santo Tomas.


The image of the “Santo Rosario,” along with the other treasures of the Manila Dominicans — the gold chalices, monstrances, reliquaries, ecclesiastical accoutrements,  silver tabernacles, candlesticks, torcheres, missal stands, banners, ornate ewers and basins, important centuries-old documents, and many other valuables — had been stored by the Spanish Dominicans in their large vault located on the ground floor of the church complex.  The late Rev. Fr. Augusto Antonio, O.P. described the Santo Domingo church vault to Rafael del Casal as having had very thick walls.  As the fire raged for three days and nights, and while the Manila Dominicans prayed for the safety of their greatest treasure — the 350 year-old miraculous image of the “Santo Rosario” — the great and terrible possibility loomed that the image of the Virgin would not survive the extreme heat from the fire which had completely permeated the vault — and the entire church complex as well…

According to Carmen Reyes de Reyes, by that time [ prewar ] the regalia of the “Santo Rosario” — the 1811 and the 1907 gold “coronas” [ crowns ] of the mother and child, the 1811 gold “rostrillo” and “aureola,” the gold “cetros” [ scepters ] and “baston” [ cane ], and the many donated jewels —  were no longer stored inside the “tesoro del convento” of the Santo Domingo church and convent in Intramuros, but secreted in the vaults of the old “Monte de Piedad” Bank in Santa Cruz, Manila.  That is where her great treasure stayed throughout the war.

An eyewitness recounted:

“”In December of 1941, the Japanese warplanes bombed Intramuros.  One of the first casualties was the Santo Domingo church and convent.  The towers were destroyed and only the walls were left.  The church and the convent burned for many days.  Wisely enough, days before the bombings, The Dominican friars had stored the centuries-old image of the “Santo Rosario” and her more precious vestments in the “tesoro del convento” the convent treasury, which faced Plaza Isabel II.  But because of the intensity of the fire, no one really knew if the image of the “Santo Rosario” had survived…””


But she did, miraculously as always.  The extreme heat of the fire had bent, twisted, deformed, and in fact almost melted several of the important gold and silver objects.  But  the 350 year old [ elephant ] ivory and hardwood image of the “Santo Rosario” actually survived the conflagration which had consumed her beautiful, rose-colored, Gothic-style temple from 1875 — the Santo Domingo church and convent in Intramuros, a masterpiece by the Europe-trained, patrician architect Felix Roxas Sr. — and it also finally laid waste to the historic site of her home beside the Pasig River since 1593.

An eyewitness recounted:

“”The prior of the Santo Domingo church and convent, Rev. Fr. Aurelio Valbuena, O.P. — a respected and trusted man — decided to transfer the image of the ‘Santo Rosario’ and the other church treasures to a safer place, to the University of Santo Tomas in Sampaloc District.  That was, of course, if she survived…”

“On 30 December 1941, three days before the entry of the Japanese ground forces, the Japanese air force had started the aerial bombardment of the city.  Electricity had been cut off;  blackouts were the norm.  Word went around that massive looting would take place.  Rev. Fr. Aurelio Valbuena, O.P., the Prior of the Santo Domingo church and convent, was advised by well-meaning friends and devotees to finally secure the treasures of the Manila Dominicans, paramount of which was the centuries-old ivory image of the “Santo Rosario.”

“And so, on 30 December 1941, at 4:00 p.m., everyone concerned — the Manila Dominicans, their friends and devotees of the “Santo Rosario,” two Augustinian Recollect priests, and some Manila policemen — got together at the ruins of the Santo Domingo church and convent in Intramuros to see if the ivory image of the ‘Santo Rosario’ had possibly survived the conflagration within the confines of the “tesoro del convento” the convent treasury, and if so, to bring her to relative safety at the University of Santo Tomas in Sampaloc…”

“The vault door of solid metal was extremely difficult to open.  The group initially thought of blowing it up with a grenade but they found out that it would not be necessary…”

“They decided to use an acetylene torch.  But the vault door resisted to a remarkable degree.”

“Nearly four hours later just before 8:00 p.m., They were still firing away at the mechanism of the vault door in complete darkness [ electricity had been cut off; blackouts had been imposed ].  It was very difficult to open!!!”

“Finally, by 8:00 p.m., They had already succeeded in making a small opening… A few minutes later, the mechanism finally gave way and they were able to force the vault door open…”

“The Dominican priests were eager to enter the vault but an infernal, boiling heat gushed out from it so they had to retreat!!!”

“But from the vault entrance, They saw that the image of the ‘Santo Rosario’ was intact.  She had survived!!!”

“Tears of happiness gushed forth as they all immediately knelt down on the wet stone floor of the convent and prayed the “Salve” aloud.  They had never prayed more intently.  The silence, the blackout, the faint moonlight, the deep shadows, the wet walls… all contributed to the dramatic, almost ‘theatrical’ experience…”

“The silence was broken by the bursting of canned goods in the convent ‘almacen’ storerooms.  All the factors:  the darkness, the bombings, the fear, the assault… all contributed to the great emotion of the scene.””

After the image of the Virgin was retrieved from the smoking vault by the Spanish Dominicans, the Ortigas brothers, their Ramirez-Ortigas nephews, along with some other brave souls, undertook the perilous and heroic task of transporting her secretly, in a rundown “camioneta” truck through the back streets of Sampaloc district, to the chapel of the University of Santo Tomas, where she remained throughout the war.

“”The image of the ‘Santo Rosario’ was wrapped in a thick blanket.  Her image as well as the wooden boxes containing her elaborate vestments were all loaded in the same truck.”

“The truck exited through the Colegio de San Juan de Letran side…”

“The silent caravan made its way to the University of Santo Tomas through the dark and deserted streets.”

“The truck was followed by several other cars who escorted the “Santo Rosario” to the University of Santo Tomas.”

“Several people were waiting for the rescuers at the University of Santo Tomas.  In fact, there was quite a crowd waiting to receive the ‘silent procession’ from Intramuros.”

“Although the ‘Santo Rosario’ was not appropriately dressed, the priests lifted the thick blanket so she could be seen by the assemblage.  The crowd knelt reverently and gratefully prayed the “Salve”…

“The Virgin was saved!!!”

“The next day, some priests returned to the ruins of the Santo Domingo church, to the “tesoro del convento” the treasury, to retrieve boxes of documents of lesser value, but these had already disappeared in the intervening hours.  Had they not retrieved the image of the ‘Santo Rosario’ the previous night, she too, might have disappeared!!!”

“The most important thing is that the historical Virgin is still venerated at the new Santo Domingo church with the vestments, jewels, and crowns given to her by the Filipino nation.””


Rev. Fr. Augusto Antonio, O.P. [ + 1981 ], chaplain of the Virgin, was the last aristocratic Dominican holdover from the old Santo Domingo of Intramuros.  His tenure saw the last vestiges of the elite protocol and patrician elegance which surrounded the legendary “Santo Rosario.”

After his passing, it was left to Carmen “Mengay” Reyes de Reyes [ Mrs. Vicente Cecilio Reyes ], the longtime, tradition-bound “camarera” of the image [ a lady of genuinely “de buena familia” belonging to the old, wealthy, and prominent de los Reyes clan of Cavite [ Crisanto de los Reyes ] and the Reyes clan of Manila [ Capitan Francisco Reyes ]; all the previous “camareras” of the “Santo Rosario” were absolutely “de buena familia” in order to fully understand the traditions of the image ], and an aristocratic lay holdover from the old Santo Domingo of Intramuros, to carry on the centuries-old traditions dictating the proper procedures in the conservation and preservation of the hallowed image of the “Santo Rosario.”


As the eminent Dr. Nicanor Tiongson of the UP University of the Philippines observed:  “The devotion to ‘Nuestra Senora de La Naval’ was always traditionally aristocratic in nature.”



*According to the memoirs of Felix Roxas y Fernandez [ o 1864 – + 1936 ], Mayor of Manila from 1905 – 1917, Josefa and Ana Roxas y Manio were the sisters of Rev. Fr. Manuel Roxas y Manio and were the children of Rafael Roxas y Arroyo, one of the twelve sons [ actually fifteen children ] of Antonio Roxas and Lucina Arroyo of Binondo.  According to Felix himself, Antonio Roxas was the progenitor of the “poor” branch of the Roxases.  He further said that these Roxases “spelled their surname interchangeably with an “x” or a “j” and were often mistaken for the proletariat” [ it explains why the inscription on the Roxas “Concha” was “… A La Sta. Ana Rojas…” ].  Antonio Roxas was a brother of Domingo Roxas [ + 1843 ], the progenitor of the very rich Roxas-de Ayala-Zobel-Soriano clan.  Antonio and Domingo Roxas were two of the three, or five, children of Mariano Roxas and Ana Maria de Ureta.

The Roxas y Manio siblings were the first cousins of Felix along with Rosa Roxas de Zaragoza [ daughter of Mariano Leon Roxas y Arroyo and Carmen Arce; married to Jose Zaragoza y Aranquizna { + 1895 }, the publisher of the much-admired sophisticated magazine “La Ilustracion Filipina,” which ran from 1890-95 ], the mother of Carmen Zaragoza y Roxas, who married the famous lawyer { Atty. } Gregorio Araneta y Soriano Ditching of Molo, Iloilo.  The prominent couple Gregorio and Carmen had fourteen children — Carmen [ died young ], Jose [ married Mercedes Lopez ], Salvador [ married Victoria Lopez y Ledesma ], Consuelo [ married Jesus Cuesta ], Pacita [ married Luis Lopez Obieta ], J. Antonio [ married Margarita Rebullida ], Rosa [ married Manuel Alcuaz ], Ramon [ married Rita Valdes ], Teresa [ married Antonio Albert ], Vicente [ married Paz Zaragoza ], Concepcion [ died young ], Margarita [ married Raha Singh ], Luis Maria [ married Emma Benitez ], and Rev. Fr. Francisco “Fritz,” S.J.  — and were known as “Los Araneta de R. Hidalgo.”

Another first cousin was Felix’s sister, Lucina Roxas y Fernandez, who married Enrique Brias de Coya.  The parents of Felix and Lucina were the prominent architect Felix Roxas y Arroyo { Sr. } [ o ca. 1820 ] and Cornelia “Concha” Fernandez.  Felix Roxas y Arroyo { Sr. } had designed, among others, the Neo-Gothic Santo Domingo church and convent in Intramuros, completed in 1875.  He also designed the Neo-Renaissance San Ignacio church, also in Intramuros, begun in 1878 but completed 11 years later in 1889, after his death.

Also a first cousin was the unfortunate Francisco L. Roxas y Reyes — the only son of Juan Roxas y Arroyo and Vicenta Reyes of Binondo — a rich and prominent businessman who, despite his being a “consejero” adviser to the administration [ along with his second cousin Pedro Pablo “Perico” Roxas ], was accused of sedition by the King’s representative Fiscal Castanos in late August of 1896, imprisoned in Fort Santiago, and executed on 08 January 1897.  He was married to Maria Elio, a Spanish lady from an influential family from Yarte, Pamplona.  They had six children:  Salvador, Maria Vicenta, Juan, Presentacion, Carmen, and Javier.

Another branch of the family was that of the painter Felipe Roxas y Arroyo [ o 1840 – + 1899 ] married to Raymunda Chuidian.  He lived and died in Paris.

Yet another branch of the family was that of Andres Roxas y Arroyo married to Eleuteria Punzalan.  They settled in Calauan, Laguna.

[ *Rev. Fr. Augusto Antonio, O.P. should have been the first Filipino to become a Dominican priest in 1946.  But he gave way to Rev. Fr. _____ Vargas, O.P., who gained that distinction.  Fr. Augusto Antonio was of Chinese ancestry; his original family name was Tantungco.  His mother, Maria Tantungco-Antonio, was from the Tambunting clan.  According to him, his mother, who was devoutly Catholic, had strongly opposed the family’s entry into the pawnshop business, and that her opposition had caused a bitter feud in her extended Tambunting family. ]


“Santo Rosario” of deepest affections

September 27, 2011 at 10:59 am (1800s Filipinas, 1900s Philippines, 19th century Filipino Art, 2000s Philippines, Current Events, Family Traditions, Filipino Art, Personal, Random memories, Religious Traditions, The Global Crowd, The Manilenos, The Past)

Christmas dinner


For decades, our family celebrated its main Christmas gathering on the evening of 25 December.

It was always something to look forward to.


The food we always knew…




Antipolo in May

We would leave the house at 4:00 a.m..

The sanctuary of “Nuestra Senora de la Paz y Buenviaje” Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage in Antipolo…

As a child, I had no idea that it was a Filipino tradition — patrician and pedestrian — that stretched back hundreds of years…


Felix Roxas y Fernandez, Mayor of Manila from 1905 – 1917,  gave us a very good idea of what a pilgrimage to Antipolo was like in the 1880s…

“”Pilgrimages to the Antipolo shrine have lost their primitive flavor to the modern means of transportation.  Twenty five years ago, we still felt enthusiasm over that typically Filipino trip, which was made in “bancas” up to Taytay, and from there to the previously rented house, in comfortable hammocks.  From the month of May on, ribbons would festoon the “bancas” moored at Colgante pier [ near the Quinta market ], announcing that the season to venerate Our Lady of Antipolo had begun.”

“Filipino families thought up complicated preparations for this amusing and interesting trip.  All — the young and old — would prepare different suits of “jusi” and “sinamay” for the length of their stay in those [ Antipolo ] hills.  Getting together all necessary provisions was, for each group, a serious and difficult matter.  They had to provide themselves with sleeping mats, bed linen, pillows, pots, huge frying pans, silverware and a complete kitchen battery; and forget about beds, tables, chairs, and wash-stands, since living would be done in the rustic manner, on the fresh and ventilated bamboo floors of the nipa huts.”

“On the date of departure, the “bancas” would wait since dawn in the selected embarkment point until their noisy passengers arrived; then the loading of passengers and their effects would begin.  Things were always forgotten or unprovided for, causing quick return trips in “calesas” and “carromatas” and the inevitable delays.  Once the trip began, each one would settle down in his designated place.   Then outbreaks of gaiety would occur, gladdening everyone.  Children would investigate all packages in search of sweetmeats, [ appetites would awaken from the very start of the trip ], young men seemed to feel their heartbeats quickening for their lady-loves, the elders would smile in anticipation of their pleasure over the afternoon “panguingue,” or card sessions; and the boatmen, contentedly thinking of their pay, would row near the Pasig’s banks to avoid its powerful currents.  The travelers would very curiously note and comment on the palatial houses of San Miguel district, of Malacanang with its balcony followed by a gigantic tree, Concordia College and Pandacan, the scene chosen by Rizal in his “Noli” [ 1 ] as the site for the novel’s romantic scenes; Dona Geronima’s Cave, pointed out by the children with fear of its macabre tradition; and Bangbang of Pasig, where a stop to rest the boatmen and travelers was a traditional must.  Philippine ceramics was extensively exhibited there.  Pedro Paterno would find such a variety of articles there, some rare pieces for his ceramics collection, which he would display to all visitors in his residence at 16 Sauco, Madrid.”

“Forty five minutes later, after the “Bitukang Manok” stream — where alms were asked of the travelers by means of rods and nets — one arrived in Taytay where there would be a general transfer.  A new transportation agreement would be worked out, complete with penny-saving haggling.  Quick-witted young men would finish the trip on horseback, either to display their horsemanship or to take advantage of the opportunity to keep near their beloved’s hammock, as if they were pages of bygone days escorting their ladies.  At dusk one would arrive in Antipolo.”

“The town would be alive and swarming with people: from its very outskirts, populated by Chinese and filled with the sound of cymbals, their peculiar “shouted” songs and the smell of the joss-sticks offered to Confucius while red candles were burning before the image of the town’s patron Saint, to the town’s centre, where smiling and talkative Manila acquaintances would greet one another in the midst of the noise created by the Cosmorama’s Organ, the guitars and the chanting of countless beggars scattered everywhere.  Upon arriving at the rented house, the travelers would hurriedly unpack their bags and “tampipis” [ 2 ] and rush to the sanctuary, to kneel before the image of the Blessed Virgin, brightly lit up by the flame of the innumerable candles constantly left there by the devout.”

“The old women left behind to attend to the housekeeping chores would prepare supper, which all would attack hungrily once they perceived the perfume  of those dishes adroitly flavored with cashew and alibangbang leaves.  Each family would manage, eat and sleep according to the facilities at hand:  let us, then, let down the curtains on them, leaving them in complete [ and discreet ] liberty, and wait until next morning when they would go to pray to the Blessed Virgin, and with them visit the church’s atrium, which constituted the true auditorium  of that pilgrimage-place and where all out-of-town pilgrims would meet with joy.””


1 ]  The site is presently occupied by the Republic Flour Mills  [ April 1970 ]

2 ]  “Tampipis” are local valises made of split bamboo.


Comedy Relief: The Cool Leaf

It was the early 1970s, and 1960s flower power had already evolved to 1970s sex, drugs, and rock and roll…

President Ferdinand Marcos had already declared Martial Law.  The Chinese drug dealer “Lim Seng” had been executed by firing squad and it had been broadcast on national television.  All Filipinos, including the political opposition, towed the line.

But no matter what one does, the zeitgeist prevails.  The 1970s was really the era of sex, drugs, and rock and roll…

And “pot” — marijuana — “Cannabis sativa” was the opiate of the times…

It was “hip” and it was widely available.  And as it was in the spirit of the times, many young people experimented with it.  Including the older ones of my generation.

Pare Bits, the majordomo, was a gifted gardener.  Anything he planted grew, and grew well.  Somehow, he found some seeds from the mischievous teenagers, and avid plantsman that he was, planted them on the ground.  They grew, and how…!!!

The marijuana plants were tall with pretty flowers.  They were attractive plants as long as nobody knew what they were…

Soon after the plants had grown, Lola Charing noticed them during one of her afternoon walkabouts.  She, the avid plantswoman, did not know what they were but nevertheless found them attractive, and forthwith ordered a snickering Pare Bits to propagate them so that they could embellish that part of the garden with their lush growth…

So the teenagers had an inexhaustible supply of “pot”… and the sought-after “top growth” at that!!!

Lola Charing’s elegant house stood a mere 30 meters from a police station, and yet the policemen stationed there never “sniffed” anything about the forbidden plants flourishing on the other side of the wall.

Lola Charing’s rose garden was justly famous.  One step into the property and the visitor was greeted with the heavenly scent of hundreds of blooming roses.  The rose cuttings were purchased in the United States, with some coming further afield from England and France.  The rose plants were carefully tended by a staff of gardeners, since they did not thrive as naturally and as easily in Manila’s weather as they did abroad.  Organic fertilizers, synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, and fungicides were applied regularly.  Lola Charing supervised her garden every morning and every afternoon.

So it was perfectly natural that Lola Charing’s family, relatives, and many friends would walk around her beautiful rose garden and admire her plants whenever they would visit her…

Her youngest son, Brother Andrew [ of the De La Salle Brothers ] — who was intellectually brilliant but amusingly naive regarding everyday matters — noticed the remarkably lush growth of the tall plants along the length of the wall where the roses never grew successfully…  He thought that that portion of the garden looked nice, for once.  Decisive man that he was, he directed Pare Bits to plant even more of the unfamiliar but attractive plant so that portion of the garden would improve…!!!

Lola Charing Escudero, a close friend of Lola Charing’s, was an avid plantswoman whose quiet but determined resolve was to raise every single pretty flowering plant in existence at the Villa Escudero in San Pablo, Laguna.  She saw the tall plants with the pretty flowers, wondered what they were called since she had never seen them before, inquired with Pare Bits as to how they were grown, and made him promise to bring her the seeds the next time when he would be sent by my Lola Charing on an errand to the Villa Escudero…!!!???

Lola Gely Lopez, Lola Charing’s best friend, did notice the unusual plants and wondered where in her own beautiful garden they could be incorporated.  A lady of style, elegance, chic, and fashion, she had a “nose” for the “latest,” and she instinctively knew that those plants were the latest in the gardening scene…!!!

Priests and nuns often came to Lola Charing to ask for donations. The Carmelite Sisters came at least once a week to ask Lola Charing, a T.O.C.D. [ Tercera Orden de las Carmelitas Descalzas ] Third Order Carmelite herself, for a little help and to avail of roses and other flowers for their chapel.  The nuns too, unknowingly snipped from the lush marijuana plants for their floral arrangements.

The high point came when Lola Charing was showing Rufino Cardinal Santos around her rose garden after lunch.  Even he found the the tall plants with pretty flowers — arrayed in one long border — remarkably pretty!!!  Bwahahah!!!






All’s Well that Ends Well

It all flourished until the cure-all “Comfrey” plant came along…

Lola Charing ordered that whole border of plants spanning one side of the garden to be cleared so that the panacea “Comfrey” plant — touted to cure diabetes and a host of other diseases — could be raised.  To the end, she never knew that those pretty plants she admired were marijuana plants.

And so, that delightfully naughty episode in our gardening history came to an end.   😛   😛   😛

Sarrat, Ilocos Norte, 1983

I visited Sarrat, Ilocos Norte again in 1991.  By that time, the 18th-19th century Santa Monica church was already being reconstructed after its destruction by a strong earthquake in the mid-1980s.  Although my scholarly friends astutely observed that the reconstruction of the facade no longer captured the baroque architectural details of the original, I thought that the rebuilding was still a worthwhile heroic effort.  Inside, long wooden beams supported the new roof, and the church interior was still impressive with a severe elegance that reminded me of the personal style of the Duquesa de Lerma which the Spanish master of couture Cristobal Balenciaga so admired…

The Santa Monica church and convent in Sarrat, Ilocos Norte had to be one of the most beautifully located church complexes in the Philippines.  To the right of the church was a picturesque, wide sandy river, flanked by thousands of swaying, tall, graceful trees.  The church complex itself was planted with many trees and flowering shrubs.  The town was quiet, and when we were there during mid-afternoon, all we could hear were the whispers of the breezes and the rustling of the leaves.  We all concurred that it was a very beautiful, almost enchanted place…

The place had such high style potential that I comically thought:  “How elegant… Wouldn’t “Sarrat” sound so chic in French???  As in “Marat”???”

While my scholarly friends observed, criticized, evaluated, discussed, and debated the merits of the church reconstruction, I quietly stood at the narthex, gazed at the really long nave, and stared at the main altar flanked by the two preceding, slightly protruding side altars…

In my mind, it was 11 June 1983, and it was the wedding of Irene Romualdez Marcos to Gregorio Benitez Araneta…

In justice to the bride Irene Romualdez Marcos, what she really wanted was a small, private wedding with only the Araneta and the Marcos families and their close friends in attendance.  It was her mother, the First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos, who wanted a superproduction on the scale of the British royal weddings.  It was also thought that President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos gave his reluctant assent to the superproduction because it pleased him immensely that the wedding would be held in his mother’s [ Josefa Edralin-Marcos ], “Nana Sepa’s,” quiet hometown of Sarrat, Ilocos Norte.

Important antique dealers Severina “Viring” de Asis and Maria Cristina “Kit” Ongpin-Roxas trucked in stocks of antique and reproduction furniture and decorations — virtual “rolling stores” of antiques — all the way north to Sarrat town in audacious bids to furnish the instant “bahay na bato” ancestral houses of the Marcos and the Edralin clans.  They were successful and their stocks were “sold out” before the 11 June wedding.

Dr. Eleuterio “Teyet” Pascual, who oversaw the preparations at the church and at the reception, recounted to us how, upon “instructions,” he directed the whitewashing of Luis Ma. Araneta’s 24 18th and 19th century wooden torcheres ( and some reproductions ) with their precious patinated polychromy, which were to decorate the main altar.  Luis Ma. Araneta — an arts and antiques connoisseur and collector with the most discriminating tastes comparable to the great Parisian collectors Arturo Lopez-Willshaw, Antenor Patino, and Jose Espirito Santo — became terribly upset with the “vandalism” of his antique torcheres.  ( Many years later, Irene Marcos-Araneta sent her father-in-law Luis Ma. Araneta’s ruined torcheres one by one to the esteemed, Italy-trained, trompe l’oeil artiste Liliane “Tats” Rejante-Manahan who was able to carefully strip the offending white paint of Dr. Pascual and restore their precious antique pink and blue polychromy. )

Luis Ma. Araneta was an arts and antiques connoisseur with highly discriminating tastes, a most elegant bon vivant, a gentleman of the old school, and a patrician of the highest level.  He was the father of the groom and he knew very well that, according to Filipino tradition, it was his obligation to undertake all the expenses for the wedding.  His son was marrying a daughter of the extremely powerful Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.  He knew that the Marcoses were superrich and could pay effortlessly for everything, or even have everything for free by force, but his noblesse oblige prevailed.  He was an Araneta de R. Hidalgo after all, a member of one of Manila’s most prominent families, and nothing less was expected of him.

The eminent artists Salvador Bernal and Monino Duque of the CCP the Cultural Center of the Philippines were tasked to head the production design of the whole affair.

The entire stock of colonial Filipino costumes at the CCP was brought to Sarrat to dress its excited townsfolk.  There was a directive that the people would have to be dressed in “turn of the century Filipino costume” if they would walk the town streets on the day of the wedding, so as not to ruin the colonial ambience so carefully executed.

The First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos ordered Sarrat town’s main road to “bloom” with white, pink, and red bougainvilleas.  In the weeks prior to the wedding, the willing and excited schoolteachers of Sarrat were kept busy crafting old-style crepe paper bougainvillea flowers which were later attached to the actual bougainvillea plants lining the road.  The effect was pretty and charming and impressed the wedding guests from Manila and abroad who thought they were all real flowers.   

Mother and daughter, the First Lady and the bride, differed on the flowers for the 3 principal altars of the church.  The bride, always the sensible daughter of an Ilocano father, had planned to use traditional paper flowers made of Japanese crepe paper, a traditional Filipino craft from the 1800s.  But the First Lady absolutely would not hear of it:  only fresh, imported, and expensive flowers would do.  In the wee hours of the morning on the very day of the wedding, a large shipment of beautiful flowers from Hawaii arrived at the church.  The First Lady won.  

Large and magnificent fresh floral arrangements were frozen in great blocks of ice and installed every few meters on the side aisles along with electric fans.  Apart from being splendidly decorative, the frozen bouquets also served to cool the church as fans blew the icy air to the wedding guests.  

Mother and daughter, the First Lady and the bride, also differed on the color of the carpet that would be laid on the long nave of the church.  The First Lady wanted red “for royalty.”  The bride, possessed of a far higher aesthetic sense, wanted green, because she knew it would look better.  Somehow, a comic scheme was worked out between Irene and Rexor Ver wherein the First Lady saw a red carpet laid out when she inspected the church after midnight on the very day of the wedding.  At 4:00 a.m., Rexor Ver and his assistants finally laid out the green carpet for the bride.  Irene won over her mother on that one.  After the wedding celebrations, the Central Bank governor and avid heritage advocate Jaime Laya espied the rolled-up long green carpet among the production discards and promptly asked for it.  He had it sent down to Manila and laid out at the new “Casa Manila” house museum in Intramuros, where it served its purpose and protected the magnificent “narra” wood floors and “escalera principal” grand staircase for more than 20 years.  Thousands of local and foreign tourists and innumerable wedding reception guests at the elegant “Casa Manila” had no idea — but would have been thrilled had they known — that they were walking on the very same green carpet that lined the nave of the Santa Monica church in Sarrat during the legendary Araneta-Marcos wedding of 1983…

The talented Salvador Bernal had been assigned to design and construct all the “barong tagalog” of the men of the Marcos family and of the entourage.  Characteristic of his excellence and professionalism, all the “barong tagalog” were completed and appeared on time, except, inexplicably enough, for the most important one:  President Ferdinand Marcos’.  “Ay, wala si Daddy!!!”  the bride exclaimed in surprise and dismay.

President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos finally wore a “barong tagalog” by presidential tailor Edgar Aquino modeled after those which appeared in 1902.  The latter was renowned for impeccable “barong tagalog” of the highest quality:  featuring exclusive, and elegant embroidery, exhibiting flawless cutting, an unrivaled “fall,” and a perfect fit on the wearer.  That was why President Marcos looked as distinguished as he did.

The First Lady, Madame Imelda Romualdez-Marcos, was supposed to wear a gown by Italian couturier Renato Balestra, but the white “terno” [ Filipino gown with “butterfly” sleeves ] by Filipino maestro Joe Salazar was so beautiful and fitted so perfectly that she decided to wear it at the last moment.

The bride, Irene Romualdez Marcos, dutifully wore the wedding gown designed by Renato Balestra.  The prominent Italian couturier and his lady assistants promptly attended to the bride as she alighted from the carriage at the church entrance.

The groom, Gregorio Benitez Araneta, wore a “barong Tagalog” by Italian Giovanni Sanna.

The elder sister of the bride, Ma. Imelda “Imee” Romualdez Marcos, ever the rebel, was absolutely determined not to look like her mother, the First Lady.  She wore a witty “terno” by Salvador Bernal that was ingeniously crafted out of dozens of embroidered “pina” pineapple fabric placemats from “Tesoro’s” [ the premiere Philippine handicrafts store ].  She had come from Hawaii and was dark as soot.  She was out of the country before the wedding so she could not be measured by Bernal for her gown, so he ended up bringing a sewing machine, his faithful assistant Marietta Arcega, and Imee’s fitting form mannequin all the way to Sarrat to finally construct the unconventional but elegant “terno” Imee Marcos would wear.

Very beautiful was the current girlfriend of Ferdinand “Bonget” Romualdez Marcos Jr. at that time, the high society model Claudia Lopez Bermudez, daughter of the legendary society beauty Diana Jean Barnes Lopez [ certainly the most beautiful of the beautiful daughters of the hacendero Enrique Solis Lopez of Balayan, Batangas and his lovely wife of English-French descent, Wendy Payne Barnes of England ], Manila’s version of Scarlett O’Hara.  The young Claudia was unforgettable in a white strapless dress with a single orchid on her ear.  She looked like the proverbial White Rose.  She was so beautiful that she could have been arrested for being more attractive than the Marcos ladies that very important day, had she not been the current girlfriend of the only Marcos son.

The four “madrinas” godmothers of the couple — Imelda Ongsiako-Cojuangco, Elvira Ledesma-Manahan, Conchita Romualdez-Yap, and Helena Benitez — were all dressed by the redoubtable Salvacion “Vacion” Lim-Higgins a.k.a. “SLIM,” at that time Manila’s greatest living couturiere.  Their various gowns were inspired by the paintings of early 19th century Filipino master Damian Domingo.

The bride had been carrying a beautiful bouquet, a marvelous antique ivory fan, and a magnificent diamond rosary when she boarded the antique carriage with the President for the church.  However, with the merry melee upon their arrival at the church, she forgot the beautiful bouquet and the marvelous antique ivory fan in the carriage [ the antique ivory fan could no longer be found afterwards ].  Thus, the bride walked down the aisle with no bridal bouquet, but only a simply magnificent and magnificently simple diamond rosary…

Some weeks before the June wedding, 2 waist-length necklaces — one of diamond briolettes [ the bigger diamonds were about +- 7 carats each but with a yellowish brown color ] and the other of ruby briolettes — “from Malacanang” were sent to a prominent Manila jeweler’s for “restringing.”  The jeweler warned the secretary that the sharp edges of the diamonds would eventually slash through the strings and that it was infinitely more advisable that the diamonds and the rubies be strung with metal wire.

Memorable was the moment, witnessed by the congregation and by millions more on the television coverage of the NMPC the National Media Production Center, when the First Lady, Madame Imelda Romualdez-Marcos, the mother of the bride, haughtily refused the proffered arm of the patrician Luis Ma. Zaragoza Araneta, the father of the groom.  Luis belonged to a venerable family in the highest ranks of the Manila aristocracy and that snub signified to all Filipinos that the old order, “The Oligarchs,” had finally collapsed in the face of the Marcos “New Society”  [ which succeeded in creating new ones of its own ].

[ Perhaps, it was a case of tit for tat.  Those who knew Madame Imelda Romualdez-Marcos well, way before her remarkable political ascendancy recounted how long-established Manila society — of which Luis Ma. Araneta and his socialite friends like Pacita de los Reyes-Phillips, Conching Chuidian Sunico, Chito Madrigal-Vazquez-Collantes, Imelda Ongsiako-Cojuangco, Chona Recto-Ysmael-Kasten, Elvira Ledesma-Manahan, et. al. were at the top of the social heap — had, on several occasions, paid scant attention, indeed snubbed her during her early days of “social insignificance.”  It was actually nothing personal, it was simply the way the social insiders treated all the social outsiders;  it was, is, and will always be that way.  However, they were unaware, as everybody else, of the dizzyingly spectacular destiny of the impecunious but undeniably beautiful “provinciana”;  the destined First Lady had the memory of an elephant and did not forget anything, least of all social slights. ]

[ The evening before the wedding, Luis Ma. Araneta and several of his close friends gathered for an intimate party in his room at the Fort Ilocandia hotel — an attempt to relive the happy days of yore, perhaps the days before Ferdinand Marcos.  Present were the remaining creme de la creme of old Manila society — Imelda Ongsiako-Cojuangco, Elvira Ledesma-Manahan, et. al. — who had somehow survived the installation of the new social order of the Marcos “New Society.”  President Marcos and the First Lady were conspicuously not present at the intimate gathering.  Whether they were or were not invited was the subject of conjecture.  In any case, their obvious absence was a cause for concern:  there were expected reprisals and repercussions from the all-powerful First Couple. ]

Forever etched in my mind was the vision of the exceedingly pretty Imelda Ongsiako-Cojuangco, an otherworldly apparition in white lace by Salvacion Lim-Higgins, looking every inch like a grand lady in the coterie of the Empress Eugenie [ Eugenia de Montijo de Bonaparte ] in Second Empire Paris as painted by Franz-Xavier Winterhalter.  She literally floated up the nave with such exceptional delicacy and grace to take her place at the altar as a principal sponsor.

Elvira Ledesma-Manahan did not look quite as spectacular as Imelda Ongsiako-Cojuangco.  Her “tapis” [ overskirt ] made her look like a country laundress washing at the village stream.  She gestured towards her friend Imelda Cojuangco and commented:  “I thought we were supposed to wear ‘Filipina dress’…  What’s that?!  What’s she wearing?”

Stunning was the glittering cord used to bind the couple during the ceremony:  it was a suitably lengthy “Diamonds by the Yard” from premiere American jeweler Harry Winston.

Seven OB vans to record the occasion were parked at the back of the Santa Monica church.  The media command central was at the commodious sacristy.  Juan “Johnny” Ledesma Manahan, a childhood friend of the groom’s, was the director for the media coverage of the wedding ( son of Elvira Ledesma-Manahan, a great friend of Luis Ma. Araneta’s;  Elvira was a second mother to Luis’ children Patty. Greggy, and Elvira );  Luis’ and Elvira’s children grew up close, like siblings ).

During the reception, President Ferdinand Marcos, as always, spoke brilliantly.  He asked the Araneta family to stand up so he could acknowledge them properly:  “May I request the Aranetas to rise…”  None of them did immediately, not because of hauteur as widely perceived, but because of their old world modesty and reserve.  Then his own daughter Irene Romualdez Marcos-Araneta, the newest Araneta family member, stood up, and that became the signal for the several members of the old Araneta-Zaragoza clan present to stand up as well.

After the wedding, word had it that the powerful industrialist Enrique “ENZO” Zobel developed a rather bad stomach on the flight back to Manila.  It was a story that quickly made the rounds of high business, political, and social circles.  Leading couturier Pitoy Moreno also developed a bad stomach.  The guests remembered that purified drinking water had run out during the reception, so they conjectured that the local, mineralized water of Sarrat could have caused the upset stomachs of the Manilans.

True, it was not the wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London two years before, which ostensibly inspired it.  But it was a singularly beautiful and elegant Filipino occasion on its own, the very definition of what is now termed and reminisced with awe as “Marcosian splendor.”  For all their Bourbon excesses, President Ferdinand Marcos and Madame Imelda Romualdez Marcos certainly gave the Filipinos some very memorable moments in their history.


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