Adios, Don Zafiro

The month of June 2009 began with shocking news…  I was at “Gallery Frames” along Osmena Highway at about 5:00 p.m., having some beautiful old prints set in pretty Spanish gilt frames when my cellphone rang.  It was my dear friend Maria Teresa “Tess” Zamora Lopez, and she had distressing news…

“Toto, Zaffy Ledesma passed away today.  He died in his sleep.  I’ve spoken with Lourdes, one of the first to know.  Elen is in Hong Kong.  Belen didn’t know even if she’s in Iloilo…”

[ Lourdes Lopez Jison-Ledesma;  Elena Lopez Jison-Golez;  Belen Grageda ]

I froze in shock.  Zaffy Ledesma???  He wasn’t even old!!!  And he was careful about his health!!!  Although he liked to smoke, so…


The first time I ever heard of Mr. Zafiro “Zaffy” Ledesma was in the mid-1990s after a tour of Joey Panlilio & Co. to Iloilo.  The amusing story — which has since become an urban legend — was that when the grand seigneur from Pampanga [ Panlilio ] met the grand seigneur from Iloilo [ Ledesma ], verbal one-upmanship ensued.  The Pampangueno stuck out his aristocratic nose at the Ilonggo and the Ilonggo did likewise to the Pampangueno.  However, when I finally had the chance to ask Zaffy about that supposed episode, he said it never happened.  Actually, given the aristocratic, courtly dispositions of both Joey Panlilio and Zaffy Ledesma, it probably never did.

I finally met THE Zafiro “Zaffy” Ledesma just before the funeral mass of Manong Frank Jison [ Francisco Lopez Jison ] at a function hall in the Jaro Cathedral complex in early August 2007.  Manong Frank’s daughter Elen Jison-Golez introduced me to him.  He was lean, wearing moutarde and brown tones;  I thought him dapper.  We shook hands, he muttered a few words, and he went right back to chatting with two ladies, most likely relatives.

The first time I had a conversation with Zaffy was that very evening in a corner of the immense reception room at the Nelly Gardens while we were all waiting to go to dinner…

“You like history!  How do you find Iloilo?  Is it your first time here?”  Zaffy inquired.

“It’s beautiful.  I’ve been here before.  There is so much history all around…”  I gestured at the Nelly Gardens living room.

“What and who are your sources?  You must be careful about your sources!”

“Many good, old books.  Various Lopezes, various Ledesmas.  Specially you, I hope!”

“You have to be careful:  even among Lopezes and Ledesmas you can be told the wrong things…”

“I know…  I do a lot of crosschecks, counter-references.  Thank you for the advice.”

“You’ve visited our museum?”  he asked.

“Yes, I have.  It’s well-done.”

“You are from Pampanga… We have nothing to compare… We did not have those huge, old mansions;  the food, oh the food;  the French porcelain, silver, and crystal;  European royalty visiting…”

[ I thought it was odd of Zaffy to say that, but as usual he was factual and correct:  Old Pampanga rice and sugar fortunes from the 1820s predated those of 1870s Iloilo and Negros sugar fortunes by about 50 years. ]

“I am from Pampanga but I certainly don’t think it has a monopoly of old world wealth and high style… ”

“Perhaps.”  he reflected.

I continued:  “I’m interested in the histories of the Lopez and the Ledesma clans.  I gather that much of turn of the 20th century Iloilo was mainly about the Lopez and the Ledesma…”

“Ah, the Ledesma… They were reclusive, They were eccentric.  The windows of their houses were all closed!!!  They retreated to their own worlds…”  Zaffy reminisced with a wry smile.  He continued in snappy Ilonggo which made everybody else laugh but I didn’t understand it.

“According to the senior Lopez family members  like your Manang Vic [ the late Victoria Lopez de Araneta ], the Ledesma were the true aristocrats of old Iloilo:  refined, cultivated intellectuals and artists.  The old Lopez on the other hand, were all businessmen and moneymakers.”

“True…”  Zaffy agreed.


I so enjoyed those casually elegant evenings, one after the other, at the storied Nelly Gardens in Jaro, Iloilo of the Lopez-Hofilena family [ devolved to the Jison-Lopez, and on to the Ledesma-Jison and the Golez-Jison ].  My  visit of several days was courtesy of Elen Jison-Golez.  At about 6:30 p.m., We — Manang Lourdes, Manong Arturo, Elen, Elen’s daughters Frannie, Cecile, and Isabel, Zaffy, and Manang Belen —would gather before dinner in that corner of the immense reception room [ where the telephone was located ], nearest the palatial dining room, and enjoy cocktails and conversation.  Zaffy was trim, handsome in an offhand way, usually smoking cigarettes, and was a lively raconteur of the day’s events.  In the company of close Ledesma and Lopez family and dear friends, Zaffy’s trademark snobbishness and aloofness in public gave way to a patrician warmth, sincerity, and solicitousness.  I admired the way the gentleman of the old school looked in his dark sports shirt, jeans, and sneakers —  so contemporary, chic, and casual, yet so dignified and yes, expensive-looking.  He always had the wittiest, sometimes the most acidic, things to say about everyone who mattered in Iloilo.

Adios, Don Zafiro Ledesma.  It was an honor and a pleasure to have known you.  I regret that we will not be having dinners together anymore.  And I will forever miss those lectures and tours you had planned for us Visayas / Iloilo history enthusiasts from “Imperial Manila.”   😦


  1. Christina Knoell said,

    June 9, 2016 at 3:50 am

    I’m in shock. Learning this news seven years after his passing leaves me mournful. I loved Zaffy. We were good friends. We laughed and laughed and laughed. We had a very unique connection. I would tell him stories and he wanted to hear them again and again. The last time I hugged him good-bye was in April 1998. I have thought of him so often since, for so many years. What a special human being. There will always be a special place for him in my heart. Forever and always.

  2. July 13, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    zafito was a good family friend i often go visit museo iloilo just to have a good talk he has a high pitched voice that i can still remember thanks for posting this

  3. vince solatorio said,

    June 12, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    zafiro ledesma the former mayor of iloilo and zafiro ledesma the former head of iloilo museo are the same person?

  4. September 17, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    To Lixmila Serrano:

    The mother of Tatay Vito, former chief of National Cottage Industry Development Authority (NACIDA) and Drs Alejandro and Ernesto Rivera was Jovita Alfaraz Rivera. Who was your grandmother? My greatgrandfather was Antonio Alfaraz, first cousin of Jovita. I wish to correspond with you via email. My email address is Thanks!

  5. September 17, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    To Lixmila Serrano:

    The mother of Tatay Vito, former chief of National Cottage Industry Development Authority (NACIDA) and Drs Alejandro and Ernesto Rivera was Jovita Alfaraz Rivera. Who was your grandmother? My greatgrandfather was Antonio Alfaraz, first cousin of Jovita. I wish to correspond with you via email ( Thanks!

  6. Julio Ledesma Arenas said,

    February 3, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    37 Calle Ortiz

    I’d like to share a conversation that I had with Zaffy’s uncle Celso, whom I’ve interacted with more. as he was their family’s MD at their Hda. in Calatrava the town next to northbound from San Carlos.
    It was during the wake of my Godmother and Aunt Julieta Nov. ’09. I’d have kept silent but Manang Elens’ demise which for the life of me remained unbeknowst till Jan. again stumbling upon it here, Toto’s mission field I suppose amongst others is Herald, Chronicle, Vanity Fair,and all such and none such publications at a magazine kiosk- Grand Central Station. Perhaps if he chose such a pursuit the establishment would itself be a STATEMENT even there.
    I digress, but when we’d finished with the ‘synching” [true kin can catch up like a Iphone 6-7yrs of synching in 6minutes. Prims’ our default whats to be of Calle Ortiz? And the response I recieved I don’t know why_ but even as Im endeavoring to tie-up loose ends and unfinished business in our branch of the clan, In typically a ‘da Jules’-dont stare at the abyss- just leap wth. If ever you guys are contemplating it’s sale Im interested.
    If only to slowly gather critical mass so that I can put all the Residences I have the stewardship of under some Trust; to preserve their HERITAGE. His Grandfather T’yo Cesar Ledesma at one point took over the management of all my Lolo Julios’ estates as he among the boys and Manang Vic’s Lola Ana were the closest among their 13 other siblingss.
    This given the proverbial Generational Phaseshift already well documented all over this PORTAL- this is TOTO’s true Legacy; it isnt a This its a HERE. I forgot all about this till of late as my wife and I have initiated the process that will result in a moving to a residence that can accomodate two Adoloscents and DIOS Mediante a newborn by the time our 20th yr. at the Alexandra comes to pass. She gave the “are you nuts? look that only she can manage whilst her face remained a mask stoic…she wasn’t acting. “on the flight over you were nyayayaaaing of your to do list and we hadnt even seated ourselves and she heard the …if ever you decide you want to…”
    the House in the book with the Eagles.. what are you..WE going to do with it. We dont even go to ILOILO, I don’t know but I think of my new Idol ‘Damaso’ and what it is He is doing and I the willies if God forbid this Heritage residence morphed into. God Forbid.
    Am I biting of more than I can chew Definitely which is why I’ve posted this here attn: Messrs. Toto and Sr.Joey whom I’ve yet meet. Please a penny or two even for your thoughts.
    Deo Favante TOTO

    ambot sa imo_ jules

  7. Lixmila Serrano said,

    October 27, 2010 at 3:07 am

    In item#5 there was a mention of the late Jovito Rivera, husband of Jesusa Ledesma. I have been looking for this couple or at least family of theirs who can lead me to contact my other family members. Jovito, Ernesto and Alejandro Rivera are my uncles. Their mother is my grandmother’s sister. I tried to contact Dr. Alejandro Rivera and Dr. Ernesto Rivera. I left a note to one doctor at Iloilo Doctors Hospital to help me be connected with the Rivera’s last September 2010. Noone got back to me.

    My wish is to be connected to Uncle Jovito and Auntie Jesusa’s children. I lost contact with them when I went abroad. The last time I was in contact with Uncle Jovito and daughter Maryann was in HK mid- 1980’s. My remembered this family to have helped me a lot. Uncle Jovito and Auntie Jesusa had been my inspiration and role models in life. I wondered how my 2nd cousins are doing? If someone out there can help me locate them… I would like to be in contact with them to at least say thank you for all the help they’d given me. I will not be where I am right now, without the Ledesma-Rivera family.
    God bless…

  8. Mike Caling said,

    February 7, 2010 at 1:47 pm


    There will be a Manila book launching of Mike Santos’ “Estilo Ilonggo” and an Iloilo and Bacolod launching on March 3 and 4 respectively.

  9. Adrian Lizares said,

    July 16, 2009 at 12:18 am

    Tatzi! I spoke to Mike Santos and he has been working double to get the book done by October i think I heard him mention it. A trip to Iloilo must accompany the book launch I guess…

  10. Tats Rejante-Manahan said,

    July 5, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    Perhaps we should all convene in Iloilo for the launching of Mike Santos’s book Estilo Ilonggo. That was the book Z was working on. Does anyone know when the book launching will be? It will be in Iloilo I suppose?

  11. Tats Rejante-Manahan said,

    July 5, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    And I thought the ALL CAPS TEXTS was because he didn’t want to wear reading glasses! But yes, the mere fact that they were in total caps called immediate attention…imperial attention!

    Adjie, come to think of it, I don’t know who put on a fierier flamenco…Zaffy or me. I think Zaffy.

  12. Adrian Lizares said,

    July 4, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    Oh and Tats, I was there at the Sanagustin Iloilo when you were dancing and Z was doing his own performance akin to admiration of your being! I recall it so vividly – it all comes back to me now!!!

  13. Adrian Lizares said,

    July 4, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    I recall with some amount of good humor Zaffy’s sordid little tale of one of his relations who got embroiled (literally) by a huge vat of molten steel which accidentally broke loose from its fastenings and poured all its contents on the poor gentleman and this during opening day or so.

    Not that I find another man’s tragedy my pleasure, but it was the way the stories came forth as we drove around Iloilo, Jaro & Molo, the banter, and commentary, plus the juiciest both ancient and current gossip which mainly contained anecdotes and all based on facts (for he said them with so much conviction) filled the miles and miles of ronda around Iloilo – about Iloilo – am hard pressed to recall all those estroyas narrated during the cocktail hours though…

    Alas when one of these good ones whom we know pass on too soon we are but left with these memories, I smile and think – it is good to have these remain in my thoughts – and life goes on…

  14. Mike Caling said,

    July 1, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Very true Martin!

    I often told Zaffy that net etiquette on the use of capital letters meant either you are angry, mad or insulting but he said he did not give a damn. He used CAPITAL letters all the time because what he was texting was “irportant” (important) and it demands full attention!

    Only Zaffy could get away with that!

  15. July 1, 2009 at 1:53 pm



    I remember that!!! 😀 😀 😀

  16. Martin Ledesma Jamora said,

    June 30, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    It has already been a month today that Tito Zaf has passed away.
    To his friends, everyone who was there at the wake and funeral,
    and to everyone who has remembered-here or elsewhere-thank you.

    I have included excerpts from the eulogy written by myself and my cousin, Ana Ledesma Zaldarriaga. It was read by Ana and my brother Patrick at his funeral mass last June 3rd. [though some of the message may have been lost due to the sound system and the readers’ tears]


    Each and everyone one of us has countless stories to tell about Zaffy that are individual and personal, from encounters at the Museo, the mall, a social event, or an intimate gathering at Ortiz. Even if you knew him for five minutes of fifty years, your experience with Zaf was always as unique as he was at the moment. However, your experience was never the same as his – because in his brilliant mind, there were other conversations, questions, and comments running wild while you were still in actual conversation. Zaf lived in the moment while observing the moment and recalling moments of the past. So there will be no stories about Zaf, because a story implies a beginning, a middle and an end; and Zaf didn’t live a life with a straight plot.

    Why so many interpretations of this one man? We can speculate as to the answer to this question, but this is the one we can offer. Zaf was a bridge, a connection, a intermediary. For the family, he was a literal link crossing geographical boundaries from the kitchen table to New York, Madrid, Bacolod, Manila, Iloilo. He was the Ledesma switchboard, family encyclopedia and repository of all history, deaths, births and relations. If you needed a crucial piece of family information or news, the latest chismis or had a question about a current trend, you would call Zaffy. As his family looked to him as the bridge to this world, he looked to them to bring the rest of the world to him.

    So while he kept the family together, he also preserved the generations before and prepared the generations to follow. He did all this at 37 Calle Ortiz, the family house, a heritage site, a living Ledesma legacy. Living is the key word because despite the concrete and cement, even the stone eagles were full of spirit that followed his will.
    The presentation of Ortiz was dependent on how he wanted to present himself and on what he wanted you to see. Doors open and closed depending on who you were, and the occurrences in time. He expressed himself fully in the house through gestures of design, floral arrangements, wallpaper textures and colors of paint, a secret language communicated in bits and pieces that few could decipher but enough to satisfy most public curiosities. He was always adamant that the house was not a museum despite the historical documents and artifacts because if you looked at Ortiz just as history, you would miss all that was living there…Angie the eagle, Stahl the harlequin Great Dane, the loyal staff that guarded the history alongside him.

    Zaffy eventually built his own modern house, but it served only temporary respite because he was rooted in the garden and rare wooden foundations of Ortiz. The two separate residences only spoke to how he could not be separated from Ortiz, and more importantly, that one man could have both worlds, old and new. Zaffy actually showed us that life does not not have to be mutually exclusive, but at least in his world, a Calder can exist next to a Luna, Buen Calubayan graffiti can be scrawled on silk wall paper and tradition can be upheld even in modern times. Most of you believed him to be a private man, but if you were privileged enough to visit, you actually met the most intimate part of him in what you saw, heard, smelled and touched in Ortiz. Even with the daily dusting and sweeping, his personal touch was on every chandelier glass, hung picture, and polished silver and china. It would be more appropriate to say he wasn’t secretive at all because despite certain doors being closed, or photos covered, the kitchen window across from where he sat every day was always open, and it was up to you to understand what you could see.

    Zaffy was also the bridge to the historical past of Iloilo city, spending the recent years settling into his latest role as archivist and debunker of assumptions, myths, and falsehoods. He sought to protect the dwindling evidence of old Iloilo with his gloves, tweezers and meticulous eye, and became a forensic investigator of the truth. As all good detectives, he relished in the process more than the result of his searches. His measure for accuracy was driven by his passion for truth because in truth was pureness: whether bad or good, beautiful or ugly, sane or lunatic. Some might have felt him to be politically incorrect at times, brash, vulgar and even shocking. He said the first thing that came to mind, but in his outrageous outbursts, there was always a ring of truth. If he ever said anything about you, it should have meant something that he had any reaction at all.

    Valid! His newest expression for something that was appropriate, correct, proper, legitimate, pure. Valid. In this word, his approval or disapproval of a person, object, trend or movement was summarized. Status and wealth did not equate to validity in his eyes, and neither bishop, beggar nor Butterscotch diplomat were spared. He set his own standard for what was real. For Zaffy, it was that truth and purity can only be measured by talent, action, intention and heart.

    He was also the bridge that led to freedom of expression, encouraging people to shape their own lives outside the boundaries of religion, politics and etiquette. He was a teacher to all he met in the subjects of art, dress, conversation and taste. But before he had his informal and formal students, there were us-his nieces and nephews – his children. French lessons, film showings of specifics clips, and fingerpainting were the lessons of the day. Formal birthday parties at innocent ages were interrupted by gifts of art and landscape prints. All of his teachings were later replicated and expanded as lessons to his friends, colleagues and children at the museum. While he tried to impart his knowledge to his students, his real legacy was his philosophy more than his opinions and critiques. His way of thinking has permeated into our daily consciousness. What would Zaffy think? What would Zaffy say? Without knowing it , our small decisions were influenced by his silent scrutiny and invisible rulebook. The reality is that we can’t ever definitively know what Zaffy would think or say, because he himself was always changing the standards. He had seasonal favorites, and passing fancies from music to film and people. He would immerse himself completely in his choice of the moment, but once he was saturated, he would move on and never look back. Regardless of his change and choice, all of that was still Zaffy. So all we can do now, is hold on to some simple lessons that never changed:

    If you want to be heard, speak emphatically or with an accent.
    If you want to communicate clearly, use a bold black marker.
    To avoid miscommunication, text in CAPITAL letters only.
    And lastly, repetition works. Repetition works.

    All in all, Zaffy was a collector of all things. Stories, artifacts, documents, art, anything and everything that would meet his standard and deservedly be called a masterpiece. His pursuit reached across the world, collecting while never having to leave his home of Iloilo City. With his passing, we have now become the collectors of all things Zaffy.
    Our memories and personal experience of him – as a father, uncle, brother, master storyteller or friend – are a testament to his immortality and omnipresence. It is not a question of how we will remember him: Zaffy ko na siya, Zaffy mo na siya, Zaffy ta na siya tanan.

    Zaffy lived his life searching for masterpieces and treasures.
    Zaf, you have exceeded your own expectations. You are our own rare masterpiece.

  17. Mike Caling said,

    June 30, 2009 at 3:38 pm


    Zaffy was waiting for Paquito’s comment and planned visit to Iloilo and do a little shop talk.

    The two could have had a party and exchange notes on family history. Zaffy had a lot of documents to show him.

    It could now be told that Zaffy did a little research for Mr. Rafa Ortigas. The paper he did gave the Ortigas Family closure on a certain issue of the pass.
    The two became pals and when Zaffy died, Mr. Ortigas sent his condolences to the family.

    It was sad that Mr. Rafa Ortigas also passed away three weeks after Zaffy’s death.

    As Mike Santos and Audie said and I add, there is a great party in heaven with Zaffy around.

  18. Tats Rejante-Manahan said,

    June 28, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    I agree, Adjie. Toto, this blog is precious for those of us who knew and loved Zaffy. Mike C., it’s better than an article in a magazine or a newspaper. It’s private…among us lang. Perhaps the way Zaffy would have wanted.

    I will never forget the day I met Zaffy.My going to Iloilo was quite serendipitous. I was a last minute stand-in for the Fundacion Centro Flamenco group that went to Iloilo to perform for Dia de Espana. At the fashion show of Patis, I noticed a tall aristocratic gentleman gesturing dramatically with his cane, dressed in a crisp barong. Amused, I asked our host, Elen Golez who he was, and she said he was her cousin, Zaffy Ledesma. I asked her if he could be related to my husband, Johnny. She led me to Zaffy, introduced me and asked him. Zaffy, with arched eyebrows and a big grin said ” Of course, we are related!”, then quickly rattled off the facts of our 4 degrees of separation. He told me he would be at our performance the next day at San Agustin.

    The next day, I stood with my back turned to the audience in between two other girls. The curtain rose, and as we slowly turned to face the audience, I heard a booming voice ” Guaaapppppa! Guaaaappppaaa! Tats Manahan! Prima!” I struggled hard to concentrate on the steps I had learned just 2 days before, trying not to get distracted, because as I danced closer to the apron of the stage, I saw Zaffy wildly waving his arms at me, throwing what looked like red roses! ( Mike S., I didn’t know about “graciosa” Phew!)

    Lunch the next day was at Nelly Garden. Zaffy was there again ( with Mike Santos). This time, he started telling me about how much he knew about my work, asking me questions about this house and that project I had worked on. I was totally amazed at how much he knew. Only later did I find out that he was a passionate researcher about anything and everything, relatives included.

    From that day, our friendship was cemented. My daughters who met him later, were instantly taken by Zaffy. They adored him! Having grown up in Manila, they wanted to have a province, and they both adopted Iloilo as their province on account of their Tito Zaffy.

    They say you can’t choose relatives. But in this case, I am only too fortunate and lucky to have chosen and be chosen by someone like Zaffy Ledesma to be related to.

    And you, dear Toto, keep memories like these alive to be shared.

  19. Adrian Lizares said,

    June 24, 2009 at 6:40 am

    It is very sad to see that Zaffy has now left us, the last time I was in Iloilo he almost looked as if he was teetering on the brink of health then all of a sudden the news of his demise.

    Gone are all the stories that makes Iloilo the place of our roots and more, because Zaffy knew them all and recounted them with so much zeal and gusto, Alas, no one has recorded his stories, but everyone remembers them well, I know I do.

    But you Toto, you just keep on going and writing all these great stories in your blog, and when posterity comes to call it will all be here for everyone to see!

  20. Elena Lopez Jison-Golez said,

    June 23, 2009 at 1:26 am

    Ga – Pls print for Zaf’s family


    My dear, dear Elén,

    Toto’s poignant description of Zaffy brought him back to life. When Toto ended with his adios, I felt a pinch within.

    I was in Madison, Wisconsin, when I received news of Zaffy’s untimely demise. “Oh my God,” I exclaimed to myself. I felt a big loss, fueled by the guilty that dear Zaffy had not seen the book which he helped us do, Estilo Ilonggo. Too bad, because we hope to have it out in a quarter of a year.

    The first time I met Zaffy was at a dinner he prepared for the Pamintuan sisters, Patís and Peanut, his childhood friends. I came along to be introduced to Zaffy, who would be our major collaborator. Who was this man, I wondered as we rode to his house, and what would his house be like?

    When we reached the destination, I recognized the house. It was the house I admired a couple of years back, while walking from the pier to the main street with Ronnie for another project. I wondered then what manner of earthly lord owned the mansion in beaux arts style, whose fence posts had menacing finials in the form of eagles with wings spread out. What lives did the owners live? At the back of my mind I wondered if the owners were mortals, like those of us walking by the fence!

    That night with Patís and Peanut, as I alighted from the van, I was both delighted and intimidated at the prospect of entering the very house I admired. It was dramatically lit. The entrance was partly open, promising a grand, varnished interior. A man in white stood outside the door. He was tall, lanky, dark and distinguished. He had a big warm smile for Patís and Peanut. It was Zaffy, the custodian of the house for the third Ledesma generation, and I was intimidated. It must have been his hooded eyes, which betrayed some Caucasian ancestry and made him look aristocratic and aloof.

    After he greeted the Pamintuan Sisters, I was introduced to him. “Welcome,” he said in his deep voice and style that I thought would have befitted Count Dracula. Thereafter, he ushered us into the house. It was very much removed from the decay of the street outside. It was a well-kept European mansion and it looked like Don Celso, the original owner and Zaffy’s great uncle, would emerge from one of the rooms! We dined in style and witnessed a tertulia.

    Overwhelmed and awestruck, I was quiet that night. I just listened to the coversation between the Pamintuan Sisters and Zaffy. Zaffy’s Ilonggo sounded as old world as he looked. It was not the Ilonggo I heard in the streets. I did not understand it but I wished I spoke it, because it was elegant. His Spanish also had an old world manner, not the Spanish they speak today. When he spoke Tagalog, it was also with the endearing Ilonggo cadence. But when he spoke English, it was with a refined touch of British accent. But the substance of what he said was more important. Zaffy had unbeatable command of history, that of Iloilo and its people. And he shared this willingly, spiced with a sense of humor, which often reflected the aristocrat within him, underneath his plain, white shirt and jeans façade.

    Later on, I discovered the kid inside Zaffy. At the grand tertulia marking the Día de España, Zaffy cheered the participants of the fashion show. To some he shouted “Guapa!” and to others, “Graciosa!” Then he turned to me and explained. To those that were not beautiful he said “Graciosa!”

    In the course our work together, Zaffy warmed up to me the way he was warm to Patís and Peanut on that first night. On separate occasions, he gave me very special presents – a Peruvian painting of the Blessed Mother and that round, flat ecclesiastical silver paraphernalia that holds the priest’s host during mass. But the best thing Zaffy ever did for me was to dub me Honorary Ilonggo, as we sat with you at the porch of the Nelly Gardens House. “In a previous life,” he said, “you were a fish the Nelly Gardens pond, and I was a frog!” Then he burst out laughing, as he exhaled cigarette smoke.

    Today, Zaffy has gone ahead. Now I know for sure that the owners of Don Celso’s house are mortal. They are not only intimidating but also also funny, down to earth, aristocratic and lovable all at once.

    I look forward to seeing Zaffy again. Perhaps he will teach me how to strum the celestial guitar if, I am fortunate enough to enter the pearly gates. Or who knows? Maybe I will myself reincarnate as a fish (again) in the Nelly Gardens pond and be greeted “Welcome” by a frog with hooded eyes named Zaffy!

    Goodbye, dear Zaffy. God keep your gentle and genteel soul!

    We, Elén, are fortunate to have had him. Take heart. We are losing him only for a while.




    [ A letter from Vicente Roman “Mike” Santos to Elena “Elen” Lopez Jison-Golez ]

    — Toto Gonzalez

  21. Audie Gemora said,

    June 22, 2009 at 3:24 am

    I bawled singing at his funeral cause I will miss him so terribly much. Iloilo will never be the same without my favorite cousin. But I take great comfort that he has now joined T Gilda, T Zaffy, his brother Dondi, Lola Paz, Manang Lil even my Mom and father…all the old souls whose memory he lived to keep alive while he was here. A grand reunion even bigger than the ones at Nelly Garden.

  22. ana said,

    June 20, 2009 at 6:47 pm

    Can you please give more details larry? Was Dona Charing’s Funeral a filipino extravaganza? What exactly made the ceremonies pompous? We filipinos have very eccentric traditions when it comes to funerals… I totally agree with you that it takes a gay son to make sure that a funeral or even any occasion elegant.. haha! The most bizarre funeral i have heard of is an “all-pink” funeral of an octogenarian! .. I hope though that solemnity isn’t lost amidst all the pomp and splendor of the funerals of those grandees… As toto once wrote in this blog, a filipino wake and funeral, most of the times, seem more like a party!

  23. Mike Caling said,

    June 18, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    After the funeral mass at St. Clement’s the hearse carrying Zaffy’s remains drove to Nelly Garden. Starting at the gate the household help and other retainers were in line and bowed when he passed by.

    The hearse then stopped for a brief moment on the port cochere where Elen, her sister Lourdes and members of the family on the front steps waved goodbye. It then proceeded out in the other gate for the crematorium.

    Zaffy spent a lot of wonderful time with his cousins at Nelly Garden. It was a very fitting farewell from the family and house he loved. Elen had a small bouquet of flowers for Zaffy with a card saying “Bon Voyage!”

  24. zippo said,

    June 18, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    basta i hate people who still give gaudy wreaths (with tacky ribbons which advertise the wreath giver’s name — usually politicos) even when the family has clearly announced “in lieu of flowers….”

    does the family have to print “ayaw namin ng coronang bulaklak!” in the obituary for these people to get the message? ang titigas ng ulo!

    i’m upset because, a few years ago, i actually spent the last night of my grandfather’s wake in the makati med emergency room being shot with steroids as i had a really bad asthma attack from all those politicos’ flowers! as the eldest grandson, i was supposed to say the eulogy the following morning — needless to say the eulogy i prepared was never given as i had no voice the following morning.

  25. HRH said,

    June 18, 2009 at 5:48 am

    ..but don’t you think the late president FEM funeral is more dramatic too..i remember madame walked barefoot in her black terno and veil..

    HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s funeral was elegant and well planned too even years before her death during the early 90’s it was planned to the last was given a secret code named Operation Lion, i believe some of the late Princess of Wales funeral details were based from the secret plan..

  26. Larry Leviste said,

    June 18, 2009 at 12:35 am

    The most elegant winter funeral I have EVER witnessed was Emperor Hirohito’s.

    Lots of tradional culture like monks with ancient gongs and chants.

    In the thick white snow, very elegant and majestic.

    Then a vintage Rolls HEARSE with the casket.

    The world leaders only offering simple flowers, hushed with IMELDA in a lace guipure lace terno and veil.

    MOST of the American presidents funerals, recently REAGAN’S was elegant.

    OF course, beyond reproach nor slight was PRINCESS DIANA’S funeral from start to finish with her brother’s EULOGY and Elton John’s Candle in the Wind. NOW that was veddy elegant and planned like the precision of a TRUE public funerals.

    But I wish to add, very PRIVATE ones like the ones in New York where you are issued inivitations to the viewing, or the mass or the small reception for the mourners.

    JACKIE Bouvier Kennedy Onassis Templesman was incredibly low key and elegant.

    Locally, Dona Rosario Escudero’s funeral was THE ultimate in taste execution and pomp. Son Ado Escudero and nephew Don Escudero made sure.

    ELEGANCE means it is comfortable with taste and respect and tenderness for the dear departed.

    I once asked my mom how SHE would eventually like hers.

    Like Meldy Co told Ado and Danny Dolor, ” Kayo na ang bahala. ”

    I guess it takes a gay son to make super the FUNERAL is elegant, Elegance said Diana Vreeland, ” is the refusal. ”

    There, my comprehensive answer to your proposition.

  27. ana said,

    June 16, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    i know it’s kind of morbid but just to start a discussion, what’s an ELEGANT funeral for you TOTO and to all the READERS?

  28. June 16, 2009 at 8:31 am


    My email address is .

    But by all means, please post your stories right here to share with everyone!!!


    Toto Gonzalez 🙂

  29. dalokkanon said,

    June 15, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    I have a few more amusing stories to share, can you send me your email address.

  30. Mike Caling said,

    June 14, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    …..after Dondi (Rizal Laguda Ledesma), Zaffy’s youngest brother died last February, “Angie” their pet eagle (an Iloilo icon) in the famous Ledesma House died after a month.

    Housed in her ornate cage in the balcony she lorded over Calle Ortiz for more than 20 years. People always pointed her out that after she died, Zaffy’s poor old mayordoma had to answer the gate bell as ordinary people began to ask where the eagle was.

    Zaffy tired of hearing the gate bell rang so often, placed a huge black ribbon bow on the cage for all to see and to declare that the eagle was dead.

    The Ledesma family also grieved on Angie’s passing. Zaffy had to called his clan in Spain and in the US to sadly break the news. He was ordered to give Angie a decent burial in the family garden.

    Thus the nod of the of the black ribbons at his wake at his beloved Museo.

  31. Tats Rejante-Manahan said,

    June 14, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    ….and the tribute at the Museo was alternately sentimental and funny. Elen’s funny and tender eulogy…Zaffy’s favorite songs, Ilonggo play, poetry delivered by his favorite Ilonggo actor….and the white flower arrangements swathed elegantly in black ribbons. Very Victorian and old world. Just like Zaffy. Visiting Iloilo will never be the same.

  32. britelite said,

    June 13, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    Audie his cousin sang beautifully in funeral mass and left us misty-eyed. Zaffy will be missed but then he is in a better place now.

  33. HRH said,

    June 13, 2009 at 5:16 am

    ….those grand ladies must be having tea in heaven by now..and we only have meldy,bea and mely, i wonder who else qualifies..

  34. Larry Leviste said,

    June 13, 2009 at 2:29 am


    And perhaps to add my own sorrow at the passing of MAMA MARY PRIETO.

    At last, the real GANG OF FOUR, Chona, Chito, Mary and Conching are truly TOGETHER FOREVER in the Heavenly Loving Embrace of Our Father.

    And what does that make of us, moved from the Mabuhay Lounge into the PRE BOARDING LANE.

    Make sure you have your BOARDING PASS, PLEASE.

    I’ve had mine since l984. LOLZ

  35. Jules Ledesma Arenas said,

    June 11, 2009 at 1:43 am

    Zaffy’s Dusk

    -dusk’s grey…. grim , sullen…
    -Zaffy’s gone…
    -his toils– eternal….

    deo favante- T. Zaffy’09
    julio iv

  36. Marietta Ledesma Cuenco-Cuyegkeng said,

    June 10, 2009 at 8:31 am

    It was truly a shock to learn about dear cousin Zafito’s untimely passing while we were in Vancouver, Canada enroute to Boston. His younger brother Dondi had just passed away months before after a brief illness. I still remember how gracious and sincerely appreciative Zafito was when I called him in Iloilo to offer our deep sympathy and prayers on Dondi’s passing.

    We had left Iloilo after my grandparents passed away, going there very rarely, and only for funerals, the last one being that of my uncle, Jovito Rivera, husband of my mother’s youngest sister Jesusa, to whom she was particularly close to. It was my duty to go… my parents had passed away by then.

    After that, the last visit I made was with Marivic Vazquez and Joe Mari Trenas for the opening of the newly renovated “Museo Iloilo”… Patis Tesoro, Don Ado Escudero & Co., Ino Manalo [ another relative ], were there too. We had a blast as we were joined by Adjie Lizares from Bacolod and some guests from Cebu like Chari V. Aboitiz and Garrison Rousseau… Chari’s sister, Amalie Azanza came from Manila… there was quite a group, even the famous landscape artist, Shirley Sanders and her daughter….

    I remember it was at the Nelly Gardens where a lovely dinner was prepared by Elen’s staff ( she was abroad )… Ino Manalo, Zafito and I posed for a photo in the beautiful living room because he, Zafito, said we relatives should have a souvenir shot… little did I know that was the last time I would see him.

    Indeed, Zafito was one of a kind, always gracious, solicitous, genteel — truly a gentleman of the old school.

    We shall always remember you with fondness and affection.

    Marietta C. Cuyegkeng

  37. Maria Teresa Zamora Lopez said,

    June 3, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Tess Lopez

  38. Elena Lopez Jison-Golez said,

    June 3, 2009 at 8:00 am

    Elen J. Golez

  39. Alexandra Laguda Sotto said,

    June 2, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    Zafito was Iloilo and Iloilo was Zafito. He loved the place so much that he never wanted to venture out of it. He embodied its heritage, culture, and tradition. He was an expert on every family tree of the families that mattered.

    Zafito had every kind word for everyone he met. He will be sorely missed.

  40. Regina Lopez Araneta-Teodoro said,

    June 2, 2009 at 10:02 am

    Zaffy Ledesma was “Mr. Iloilo,” and he represented and preserved
    the best of a Golden Era.

    He was a Ledesma, a Lopez, and a Villanueva. Truly Old Iloilo.

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