Because she has so many descendants in Manila and abroad, her life story is constantly retold. And because she wrote a priceless memoir during her sunset years, future generations, family and otherwise, will have the privilege of knowing the truly remarkable lady.
The life of Victoria Lopez de Araneta was not a fairy tale, as commonly perceived by the younger generations; she was a flesh-and-blood woman of substance who triumphed over the turbulent times she lived through. Although she never lacked for resources, indeed was affluent, throughout her long life, she found it challenging, even difficult, from the start to the finish. She was born in 1907 to the sugar planter Eusebio Lopez y Villanueva and to the beautiful heiress Ana Ledesma y Villalobos. During her early years, she was raised in Manila by her aunt Carmen Lopez and uncle Atty. Salvador Laguda, whom she held with the utmost affection all her life. It was the emergent time when the sugar fortunes of the Lopez family of Iloilo were burgeoning in all directions, making them among the richest in the Visayas and even in Manila. Victoria was educated, along with the other “herederas” from Iloilo, at the Assumption Convent in Manila, the school of choice for the daughters of the rich. She enjoyed an active social life, often chaperoned by her first cousin Eugenio “Ening” Lopez y Hofilena [ who would become the postwar tycoon Eugenio Lopez Sr.. ]. Victoria Lopez y Ledesma married the young Atty. Salvador Araneta y Zaragoza of the prominent Manila family in 1927 and the two happily settled into a preordained life of business, philanthropy, and society [ in that order ]; they built a lovely European-style home, the famous “Victoneta 1933” in Mandaluyong, one of Manila’s most splendid residences during prewar. Salvador and Victoria had five daughters: Maria del Carmen, Ana Marie, Maria Victoria, Maria Lina, and Maria Regina.
She founded the charitable White Cross Society with good friends like Mercedes Zobel de McMicking. Like the leading ladies of the day, she went to the pioneering Filipina couturieres Pacita Longos, Purita Escurdia, Mary Esteban, Mina Roa, and the young Ramon Valera for her traditional “ternos.” The couple hosted elegant gatherings for their family and friends — who made up most of established Manila society — at their villa and were noted for them.
World War II shattered Salvador and Victoria’s comfortable life, as it did everyone else’s. Amidst the hardships and horrors of war, she found within herself the courage, the pragmatism, not to mention the quick wits to survive it all. Victoria sold her beautiful dresses, shoes, bed linens, curtains, etc.. She engaged in the buy – and – sell of everyday necessities from the Admiral apartments along Dewey boulevard so she could gather food for her family. She packed away her remaining possessions and carted them off for storage at the White Cross. She bade farewell to her beautiful “Victoneta 1933” and had a premonition that she would never see it again, that it would be destroyed. Then the family left Manila and headed for Baguio to be with the Araneta and the Lopez clans, where after a few transfers they eventually ended up in primitive huts in the faraway mountains of Long-Long. “Victoneta 1933” had the misfortune of being destroyed at the war’s end by a bomb left by the Japanese in the chapel; about 70 people were killed. In early April of 1945, the Aranetas and the Lopezes embarked on a five-day trek on foot [ !!! ] through thirteen mountains to seek safety in the American territory in Tubao, La Union.
After World War II, Victoria Lopez de Araneta became a changed woman, with all the positive attributes of entrepreneurship, industriousness, frugality, social conscience, and charity retained but much of her youthful frivolities gone. It seemed that, with the sales of her couture dresses during the war, her luxe mindset went as well. As much as she upheld and maintained correctness and elegance in her appearance postwar, still wearing the traditional “terno” as she managed her multifarious businesses every day, and despite her rapidly expanding fortunes, she declined to indulge in the luxury and extravagance of the wardrobe of her prewar days, when she was a cynosure of fashion in Manila. After the war, Victoria finally came into her own, with several significant accomplishments, and she did not have to prove anything to anyone. With characteristic independence, she preferred to design and create her own “ternos,” assisted by Simeona, her seamstress-in-residence at her new home in Malabon, “Victoneta II” better known as the “White House.”
The 1950s – 60s saw Victoria Lopez de Araneta at her professional zenith. It was during that time that the couple established RFM Republic Flour Mills, FEATI Industries, AIA Feed Mills, Republic Soya, Premier Paper, Rizal Lighterage Corporation, Republic Consolidated, and Conglomerate Securities and Financing Corporation, Araneta University [ from the AIA Araneta Institute of Agriculture founded in 1946 ], FEATI University [ from the FEATI Institute of Technology founded in 1946 ], FEATI Bank & Trust Company [ later Citytrust Bank ]. From 1950 – 52, she was the president of both the FEATI Institute of Technology and the AIA. In 1960, she became the president of the FEATI University, a position which she held until 1981. Aside from those responsibilities, Victoria had many involvements: a stake at Central Lopez in Sagay, Negros Occidental [ as a daughter of Eusebio Lopez y Villanueva ]; national chairman of the NEPA National Economic Protectionism Association Women’s chapter from 1934-60s; treasurer of FEATI [ Far Eastern Air Transportation Inc.; formerly INAEC ] in 1945, board member of FEATI Institute of Technology [ popularly known as Far Eastern School of Aeronautics ] in 1945 ; far-ranging real estate developments; supported the charitable White Cross and the Zonta club. She was awarded the Doctor of Business Administration, “honoris causa,” by the PWU Philippine Women’s University in recognition of her business and management achievements. She had been awarded by the Catholic church the “Pro Ecclesia e Pontifice,” the “Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and Malta,” and the “Order of Malta, Cross of Merit” for her considerable contributions. And, last but not the least, as a Lopez lady, she was a most formidable negotiator in business. She was, and is still, often described by Lopez family members as “multidimensional” as well as a “multitasker.”
Salvador and Victoria Araneta were visiting their daughters in San Francisco when President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law on 21 September 1972. They decided to remain there in self – imposed exile until martial law would be lifted, but it became apparent that it would become a protracted situation. For the second time in their lives, they bid their elegant home — this time “Victoneta II” or the “White House” in Malabon — goodbye. Salvador Araneta was a man of uncompromisingly high ideals and was a vocal critic of President Marcos, so a return to Manila was not advisable; immediately after the declaration of martial law, a group of soldiers had already come to the Admiral looking for him. From San Francisco, the couple transferred to Vancouver in Canada in 1975. It was there that they spent their last years, in the company of family, treasured possessions, and memories. Salvador continued his intellectual and altruistic pursuits, wrote prodigiously about political affairs, conferred endlessly with visiting intelligentsia and politicos from Manila, traveled all over the United States to discuss his ideas, ceaselessly discoursed on the possible solutions to the manifold problems of his country, and worked tirelessly in various high political circles to influence beneficial policies for the Philippines. Victoria, always the businesswoman, managed her various enterprises “long – distance” effectively, entertained family and friends from Manila, and wrote a priceless, insightful memoir that serves as insider, patrician Filipino social history from the early 1900s to the 1970s. Salvador passed away in 1982, Victoria followed in 1988; both were interred in Manila.
Acknowledgments: “VLA” ebook by Bettina Araneta Teodoro; Regina Lopez Araneta-Teodoro; Carmen Lopez Araneta-Segovia.