Chicest fashion event

The SLIM Salvacion Lim-Higgins gala held last Tuesday evening, 24 November 2009, at the Museum of the Filipino People [ at the National Museum complex ] was, quite simply, THE Philippine fashion event of the year.  It honored the fashion achievements and career of a Chinese-Filipina couturiere who proved that she could measure up, inch for inch, to her European contemporaries, the gods of haute couture — Cristobal Balenciaga, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino Garavani, et. al..

If Ramon Oswalds Valera — with his penchant for line and magnificent embellishments — was the Filipino equivalent of both Cristobal Balenciaga and Christian Dior, Salvacion Lim-Higgins — with her talent for fabric manipulation and deft construction — was the Filipina equivalent of both Cristobal Balenciaga and Madame Gres.

The gala evening was also the launch of the ultrachic coffee table book “SLIM” on the oeuvre of the couturiere which was painstakingly put together by Salvacion Lim-Higgins’ only daughter Sandy and only son Mark, written by the articulate, witty, and edgy Lizza Nakpil [ a close and longtime family friend ], and designed by graphic designers du jour B & C.  In the spirit of sharing, the Higgins siblings also commissioned softbound copies of the book available for a more reasonable price accessible to fashion design students and teachers countrywide.

As the magnificent setting of the Beaux-Arts – style Museum of the Filipino People [ National Museum complex ] and its imposing Marble Hall practically demanded, Social Manila arrived in full force and in full DDG dropdeadgorgeous style, in a critical mass, according to social observers, unseen even during the Monique Lhuillier gala, and the Joe Salazar and the Ramon Valera retrospectives.

All of Manila’s socialites, establishment and newly-minted, senior and newly-ripened… Cristina Castaner-Ponce Enrile;  the very social blueblood Dolores “Loleng” Arguelles-Panlilio [ whose gown for a “Mancomunidad Pampanguena” ball was in the exhibit ];  Carlyn Manning;  the muse of artists, intellectuals, and multimillionaires, writer Gilda Cordero-Fernando;  Ching de las Alas-Montinola in a red gown;  influential “Philippine Daily Inquirer” publisher Marixi Rufino and husband Alex Prieto;  social lion Ado Escudero;  designer Criselda Lontok;  Conchitina Sevilla-Bernardo;  arts patroness Irene Marcos-Araneta;  banker Raul Tuason Manzano;  Gaita Araneta Fores;  Sunshine Lichauco de Leon;  Ino Manalo;  Michelline Syjuco;  Celine Lopez;  Wendy Puyat;  Miguel Rosales;  Cris Siguion-Reyna Villonco;  Joie Lhuillier;  Crickette Yu and husband Donnie Tantoco;  Hindy Weber and husband Gippy Tantoco;  fashion muse and camp icon Tessa Prieto-Valdes;  Frannie Aguinaldo-Jacinto;  Marit Yuchengco;  SLIM’s niece Jeannie Goulbourn;  Katrina Goulbourn-Feist;  SLIM’s niece Frances Lim;  jewelry designer Wynn Wynn Ong;  et. al..

All of Manila’s principal fashion designers were there:  long-established designers Pitoy Moreno, the iconic Christian Espiritu,  Frederick Peralta, Tony Cajucom, and Peter Lim;  creme de la creme doyen Inno Sotto;  uberexclusive Pepito Albert;  Hollywood success Ito Curata; Carla Sibal in Lanvin;  design genius Jojie Lloren;  society blueblood and favorite Rajo Laurel;  couture wizard Ivar Aseron;  Joey Samson;  Louis Claparols;  Kate Torralba;  Mich Dulce;  Jappy Gonzalez of the uberchic “Homme et Femme”;  show business doyen, designer, and professor Eric Pineda;  Lito Perez;  James Reyes;  Joel Escober;  fabulous Tina Daniac;  Martin Bautista;  new designer Gian Romano [ from Central Saint Martins, London ]…

The other powers of the Philippine fashion world were present in full force:  powerhouse editrix Thelma Sioson-San Juan;  Cosmo magazine EIC Myrza Sison;  Preview magazine editor Pauline Suaco-Juan in a fabulous Cary Santiago creation;  Faubourg Saint-Honore elegant fashion guru Rorie Carlos;  editor Katrina Araneta-Holigores;  top stylist Michael Salientes wearing an amazing, fully gold-sequined muff [ “Andre Leon Talley-ish,” according to fashionista Cecile Zamora-van Straten ];  uberstylish stylist siblings Liz Uy and Vince Uy;  Ingrid Chua-Go;  top make-up artists Denni Tan and Patrick Rosas;  high fashion arbiter Larry Leviste;  influential Jojo Liamson of Bench;  jewelry designer Oskar Atendido, et. al..

Also present were the high style trio of top investment banker Andrew Gan [ Beacon Holdings ], interior designer to “le gratin” Jonathan Matti, and top stylist J. Lee Cu-Unjieng.  Ditto the chicest of the chic, most stylish of the stylish twosome Chito Vijandre and Ricky Toledo;  Surface designer to “le gratin” Liliane “Tats” Rejante-Manahan had the crowd gushing with the chic yellow SLIM caftan of her legendary mother-in-law Elvira Ledesma-Manahan which she donned.  Tats’ great friend, aristocratic blueblood artist and designer Don Escudero, was also there.  Top production designer Gino Gonzales was in a Japanese-inspired ensemble in several shades of gray.  Aristocratic collector, museum donor [ Museo De La Salle ], and high style arbiter Jo Panlilio, taking a break from the spectacular decoration of his new pied-a-terre overlooking Roxas boulevard and Manila bay, was also there.

Easily the most expensively dressed and shod lady at the gala reception was the beautiful and statuesque Victoria “Vicky” Panlilio [ one of the swanlike daughters of the legendary international jeweller Fe S. Panlilio ], clad entirely in this season’s Chanel, eliciting discreet oohs and aahs from the very fashion savvy among the crowd gathered in the Marble Hall.  As one top fashion authority observed:  “To those who truly understood fashion, Vicky Panlilio stood out among the hundred beautifully dressed ladies at that reception.  Because she did not look like the usual Filipina lady:  She looked straight out of Park avenue.  She had that effortless look of the International Rich, like Dedes Zobel and Maricris Cardenas-Zobel.  Vicky P. wore her clothes easily, the clothes did not “wear her” at all;  She was in pants and she got away with it.  Unlike many of the ladies there who really dressed to the nines, short of an overhaul, one sensed that for Vicky P. it was just another party, and that the fabulous Chanel ensemble she wore was just one of the many that hung casually in her closets.  One instinctively knew that she dressed and lived like that everyday…”

The SLIM Gala was also significant as it was the passing of an era and the dawn of a new age…  It was not lost on the older guests that the grandes dames of times past — who would have reigned over such a glamorous, major social event — had finally gone, gone, gone.  NO MORE  Meldy Ongsiako-Cojuangco, no more Chito Madrigal-Collantes, no more Mary Hernandez-Prieto, no more Chona Recto-Kasten, no more Elvira Ledesma-Manahan, no more Pacita Ongsiako de los Reyes-Phillips, no more Conching Chuidian Sunico.  NO MORE Madame Imelda Romualdez-Marcos.  In their place have emerged younger and younger stylesetters, the new exemplars and arbiters of the New Crowd.

Fashionable Manila has forgotten that the fashion icon Imelda “Meldy” Ongsiako-Cojuangco was a loyal client of SLIM Salvacion Lim-Higgins during her younger years.  Meldy, Mrs. Ramon Cojuangco, lived in Santa Ana, Manila and would go to Vacion’s atelier along Avenida Rizal, even before the latter had moved uptown to posh Taft avenue.  It was only when Vacion had passed away that Meldy Cojuangco turned to Pitoy Moreno, now the designer most associated with her, for her evening dresses and gowns.

Although it was set in Manila, Philippines, the SLIM Gala was straight out of the “Runway” magazine fashion gala scene in the fashion cult movie “The Devil Wears Prada”…

Acknowledgments:  Mark Higgins, Sandy Higgins, Frances Lim, Caloy Campos, Jo Panlilio, Eric Pineda, Gino Gonzales, Larry Leviste, Don Escudero, et. al..




Dear Friends,


Let us help the people of Vallerhermoso town in Negros Oriental rebuild their Saint Francis of Assisi Parish Church and their Parochial School by buying their exceptionally creative but reasonably-priced Christmas stars and cards.

Please contact the Vallehermoso Helping Hands Foundation through Miss Tess Lopez for details.

God bless you,

Toto Gonzalez   🙂   🙂   🙂


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Inquirer Visayas
Stars of hope, cards to rebuild school
By Carla Gomez
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 21:43:00 11/20/2009

Filed Under: Education, Christmas

HELP REBUILD A school razed by fire. Buy cards and stars of hope this Christmas.

Fire destroyed the St. Francis High School in Vallehermoso town in Negros Oriental on Aug. 17, but it has rekindled the bayanihan spirit among students and members of the community, Tess Lopez of the Vallehermoso Helping Hands Foundation Inc., said.

“Buying a star and card is a meaningful gift to give this Christmas because we know that every purchase of these products will help ensure the educational future of hundreds of high school students,” Lopez said.

The stars are works of art of students of the burnt down school and the cards by pupils of the Vallehermoso Central Elementary School.

The Franciscan fathers built the school in the early 1950s. A one-story wooden building can accommodate about 500 students.

Since then, the school in the fourth-class municipality had graduated thousands of students, a number of whom have become professionals, Catholic priests and educators, Lopez said.

The school had encountered setbacks and inadequate educational facilities because of its relatively low tuition.

However, its dedicated teachers did not falter in giving a good Catholic education to its students, Lopez said.

Fr. Titus Em Zamora, one of the school administrators, was responsible for setting higher standards and imposing strict disciplinary measures to prepare the students for the challenges of a college life, she added.

But in the early morning of Aug. 17, disaster struck. Fire caused by faulty electrical wiring ruined the school and the nearby parish church.

It spread rapidly because the town did not have a fire truck, and nothing was saved, Lopez said.

Spirit of hope

Today, the school has been relocated to a nearby site, literally built from the ground up by community work. The parents built the classrooms from bamboo and nipa.

The present administrators, the Franciscan sisters headed by Sister Susan and academic coordinator Helen Parreño, are slowly trying to rebuild from the ashes, Lopez said.

With the help of the Vallehermoso Helping Hands Foundation Inc., Lopez said the students launched the star of hope “symbolizing that amidst the darkness, a star sparkles in the night lighting up a spirit of hope.”

The students have created beautifully handcrafted and brightly colored Christmas parol (lanterns). It is their contribution to help erect new classrooms, Lopez said.

“It is often said that during times of crises, the best of man comes out. Indeed, the fire has solicited the spirit of cooperation amongst the people of Vallehermoso,” she said.

Even the elementary pupils of the Central School of Vallehermoso have come up with their own paintings that were reproduced into note cards, packaged into sets of eight for sale.

In Bacolod City, the stars and cards will be available at the Negros Showroom.

Those interested may call Tess Lopez at 09178971567 or e-mail her at or at

Copyright 2009 Philippine Daily Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Outlaw In-Laws


The Family is powerful in the Southern Philippines, no doubt.  For many years now, as with many Filipino political families, they have lived with that singular mix of Great Power and Great Fear.  But today, in just one melee of guns and bullets in the beautiful farm country, Great Suffering has descended on the family as well.

All of Us are Victims of This Unspeakable Act.  But there will be no worse victims than those who ordered and those who perpetrated the act, for they themselves have cursed as yet unborn generations of their families;  they have already destroyed lives of their family members who are still to come into this world.  As The Book says:  “Better to tie a rock on to one’s neck and drown into the sea…”

Let there be no comments.  Enough has been said everywhere else.  Let us just sign our names in silence to signify our oneness with our countrymen in this time of national mourning and shame.

Karma for Cash


Believe me, in the 42 summers I have lived, I have seen enough of it to want to avoid it.  Despite that, I know it’s coming…  And it’s going to hit its exact targets, nothing more and nothing less.  The comforting thing is that I know, with absolute certainty, that it’s going to hit everyone else as well.  How much fun can that be???


Understanding and Sympathy

As the years have passed, as I have dutifully attended the countless funerals and funeral buffets of family and friends [ from Le Souffle to Sisig Atbp. ], I have realized — not too insightfully and not too intelligently — that Life is like a Book that has to be read from the beginning to the end.  It is only with one’s passing, like a book’s end, that an observer gains a fuller, clearer, more effective perspective of the deceased’s life, of the book’s plot so to speak.  Somehow, an observer finally finds the elusive answers to several of the nagging questions that pervaded the life of the one who had passed.  In that rare understanding always emerges a profound sympathy.  We finally realize that they too went through, pardon the term, a lot of shit.


It is my cheery hope that when my own rockabye time comes, even just one or two of my family and friends will understand and sympathize with, again pardon the term, all the shit I went through… and see right through all the elegance and the ease and the artifice to the endless torture and the hellish moments in one way or the other that it actually was…


02 November: All Souls’ Day

A 02 November 2009 entry from my daily journal:

“***02 November:  All Souls’ day.  During Lola Charing’s lifetime [ up to 02 November 1976 ], and up to 1984, All Souls’ day meant a 7:30 a.m. holy mass at the Gonzalez mausoleum at the Apalit Catholic Cemetery and afterwards a nice traditional Capampangan / Filipino breakfast prepared by Lola Ising [ Elisa Arnedo – Sazon, Lola Charing’s youngest sister ] at the [ former Buencamino – Arnedo ]  Arnedo – Espiritu / “Lolo Ariong’s” Governor Macario Arnedo’s / the Saint Peter’s Mission House in Barrio Capalangan.  No questions, no ifs or buts.  Well, THAT was another life…”

“On hindsight after all these years [ 01 November 2009 ], after the clandestine sale of the remaining Arnedo – Espiritu antiques at the [ former Buencamino – Arnedo ] Arnedo – Espiritu / “Lolo Ariong’s” Governor Macario Arnedo’s / Saint Peter’s mission house, several major pieces of which were actually Lola Charing’s inheritance which she hesitated to take from her parents’ house, in April 1984 by Tita Erlinda “Linda” Arnedo Sazon – Badenhop to the emergent Malabon collector Antonio “Tony” Gutierrez [ which inevitably resulted in rehashed, deep – seated resentments among the three Arnedo – Espiritu branches — between the Gonzalez, the Ballesteros, and the Sazon ], the Gonzalez somehow seemed less inclined to gather for the traditional breakfast in that house after the All Souls’ day holy mass at the Gonzalez mausoleum.  From 1984 onwards, Brother Andrew started adjusting the traditional All Souls’ day holy mass and breakfast to suit his constant traveling schedule [ before or after 02 November depending on his whims ] and somehow it just unraveled year after year until it was NO MORE, no longer a family tradition.  Farewell to another part of the family’s soul.”


When I was young, 02 November meant leaving the house at 6:00 a.m. sharp with the whole family for the hour-long trip to Apalit, Pampanga.  Lola Charing and Tito Hector left her house, ditto Tito Melo and Tita Leonie and their family.  And Brother Andrew from De La Salle University, sometimes with Fr. Cornelius Hulsbosch or Fr. Luke Moortgart, if the parish priest of Apalit was unavailable.

By 7:15 a.m., we had all arrived in our various cars at the Apalit Catholic Cemetery.  Lola Charing’s majordomo, Bito, had already been preparing the Gonzalez mausoleum for two days, decorating it with candles in ornate candelabra, flowers, live white Japanese chrysanthemum plants in their pots [ high style!!! ], and roses from Lola Charing’s garden, in elegant, old porcelain and silver vases.  Benches and kneelers had been borrowed from the Apalit church.  The priest would usually ask how many in the group would be receiving holy communion.  And by 7:30 a.m., the holy mass would begin.

The All Souls’ day holy mass did not take long.  It was over in half an hour, and then the priest would bless all the gravestones, with Brother Andrew directing him.  The family would exchange pleasantries, however briefly, with all the friends and the loyal old retainers who had come for the mass.  That done, we boarded our respective cars for the 15 minute trip to Barrio / Barangay Capalangan, to the old Arnedo-Espiritu residence where Lola Ising [ Lola Charing’s youngest sister ] and her family stayed, for the traditional Capampangan breakfast which all of us eagerly anticipated.

Our awaited Capampangan breakfast was served on ancient stoneware platters with a violet Greek key pattern which had been with the Arnedos for ages.  There was native chocolate, neither “eh” nor “ah,” made from homemade “tableas” and carabao’s milk, and whipped to a froth with a wooden “batirol” in an ancient brass “chocolatera”;  there was good freshly-brewed “barako” coffee;  Chinese jasmine tea;  warm carabao’s milk for the children.  There were exquisitely fresh Capalangan teeny-tiny white “puto” and glutinous “cuchinta” which we kiddies could consume by the handfuls;  Native “suman” and “kakanin” of all kinds;  “San Nicolas” and several kinds of traditional bread from the Padilla bakery in Sulipan;  “champorado” chocolate porridge for the kiddies.  There was the ubiquitous “pistou,” really a “scattered omelet” [ the eggs were mixed in with the contents ] with ground pork [ or was it ground beef? ], Spanish chorizos [ erroneously termed “de Bilbao”; actually “Cudahy” made in New Jersey, USA ], diced potatoes, green peas, garbanzos, julienned red and green peppers, etc..  Fresh “daing” dried fish.  “adobo del diablo,” twice-fried chicken and pork “adobo” stew with all the innards swimming in oil.  “pindang baka” dry beef tapa;  “kare-kare” oxtail stew.  “pindang damulag” preserved carabao beef, almost sour.  “longganisa ni Oray” vinegary and garlicky Calumpit “longganizas” which were Gonzalez family favorites from prewar;  “Hoc Shiu” Chinese ham, cooked “en dulce” style;  pork longganiza;  “burung babi” [ pork tocino ];  crisp “lechon kawali”;  and “menudo” long-simmered pork leg stew.  Served on saucers was genuine “sasa” vinegar from Hagonoy.  Traditional “pan de sal,” still big then, crusty on the outside and soft in the inside.  And of course, steaming “sinangag” rice [ steamed rice fried with garlic cloves ].  For dessert, there were native fruits of the season freshly picked from the garden, “tibuc-tibuc” [ similar to “maja blanca” ] of carabao’s milk, “leche flan” of carabao’s milk, and the ubiquitous “fruit salad” made with Nestle cream and homemade mayonnaise.  Native homemade candies.  THAT was the Gonzalez and the Arnedo idea of a big family breakfast, but really more Arnedo.  It was only during that Apalit breakfast, once a year, that Brother Andrew dispensed with his elegant and expensive European predilections and went totally native, totally Capampangan.   😛   😛   😛