Excellence and erudition: Salvador “Badong” F. Bernal, 1945 – 2011

26 October 2011, Wednesday, was a sad day for Filipino arts and culture.  Production designer par excellence, design doyen, scholar and researcher, cinephile, poet, ADMU Ateneo de Manila University professor, CCP Cultural Center of the Philippines stalwart, “Father of Philippine Stage Design,” and National Artist for Theater and Design Salvador Floro Bernal “left the scene,” so to speak.

That midmorning [ at 9:00 a.m. ], he had gone downstairs to give instructions to the staff for the day, including what he had decided for lunch, and returned to his bedroom.  There, he rested on his couch.

He did not wake up for lunch.

Salvador Bernal, “Sir Badong” to his talented proteges and students, finally saw “the greatest production” he had always wanted to see…


His unexpected passing caused much grief among his professional family, specially his proteges and students.

Badong used to tell his close circle that the men in his family passed away of heart problems in their 50s.  “He thought he was ‘overstaying’…” recalled Rafael del Casal.

“If you had the chance to know him, if you became close to him, you would have known that, despite that cantankerous temperament, he had a heart of gold…  He was a pure soul.”  reminisced artist Rafael del Casal.


From the Malacanang palace:  “We are saddened by news that National Artist for Theater and Design Salvador Bernal passed away in the afternoon of Oct. 26, 2011. We join our countrymen in mourning the death of one of our cultural pillars, and extend our deepest sympathies to his family and the entire artistic community.”

“Beyond his impressive career as an artist, he made it his mission, as a teacher, to pass on his knowledge to those who will have to stand in his place in the coming generations. He did his part to ensure that Philippine Art will continue to be dynamic and relevant, even as the torch is passed from old masters like him to emerging talents in the nation’s artistic landscape.”

From the NCCA National Commission for Culture and the Arts:  “[The death of] Salvador Bernal is a great loss to Philippine Arts as he has contributed greatly to the growth of theater design in the country.”


His bier was most elegant, even more than the ones I had seen at the chichi “Capilla del Senor” and the “Capilla de la Virgen” mortuary chapels of the Santuario de San Antonio in Forbes Park and at the Heritage Memorial Park in recent memory.  After all, it was the collaboration of several leading artists known for the excellence of their tastes:  artist Rafael del Casal, production designer Gino Gonzales, floral designer Tony Padilla, and lighting designer Shoko Matsumoto.  It was all green and white:  sprays of various white flowers [ the largest lilies from Holland I had seen to date, among others ] set on beds of deep green tropical plants and topiaries accented by a few thick candles on verdigris bronze stands and carefully lit by a few halogen spotlights set the stage for an impeccable elegance.  There was not a single wrong note.  And because Salvador Bernal was a National Artist of the Philippines, a pair of uniformed guards, standing at attention, flanked his bier.  It would have been pretentious anywhere else but it looked completely appropriate there.

The leading lights of Manila’s artistic world and its concentric circles filed past his bier…  arts patroness Irene Marcos-Araneta, women’s issues advocate and onetime thespian Sonia Malasarte-Roco [ widow of former senator Raul Roco ], top singer and composer Jim Paredes and his sister Lory, thespian Noni Buencamino, director Laurice Guillen, director Alexander “Alex” Cortez, ballet doyenne Alice Reyes, dance doyenne Denisa Reyes, ballerina Edna Vida, soprano Fides Cuyugan-Asensio, artist Ed Alegre, painter Lao Lianben and his wife Lilia, top art dealer Vita Sarenas, theater benefactor and onetime thespian Atty. Jose “Tito” C. Tesoro, doyenne of the Manila museum world and longtime Ayala Museum curator Sonia P. Ner, esteemed Filipiniana scholar Dr. Nicanor “Nic” Tiongson, National Artist for Literature Bienvenido “Bien” Lumbera, doyenne and muse of the Manila literati/culturati Gilda Cordero-Fernando, the Prior of the Santo Domingo church Rev. Fr. Giuseppe Pietro Arsciwals, O.P., the longtime ADMU president Rev. Fr. Bienvenido F. Nebres. S.J., the Bishop of Cubao Honesto D. Ongtioco, D.D., et. al..

Former First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos, who began the CCP Cultural Center of the Philippines from 1966-69 [ the institution which Badong gave most of his professional life ], could not attend the wake but she mourned his passing and sent beautiful flowers.  President Benigno Aquino III also sent a wreath from Malacanang palace, as Salvador Bernal was a National Artist of the Philippines.


[ Two of my dear friends, Rafael del Casal and Gino Gonzales, were proteges of Salvador Bernal.  Artist Rafael del Casal has become the favorite portraitist of long-established Manila society and has also become the much sought after consultant on church renovations in the country, following his spectacularly beautiful and successful redesign of the Immaculate Conception cathedral in Quezon City.  ADMU-educated Gino Gonzales, acknowledged as Badong’s “nino bonito,” took postgraduate studies at NYU New York University and through the years has become the top production designer in the Philippines. ]

[ Another dear friend, Eric Pineda, was a student of Salvador Bernal and followed his professor’s career into costume design.  As Badong occasionally said, costume design segued naturally into fashion design.  Aside from costume designs for television and theater productions, Eric Pineda has become a sought after designer of evening gowns for famous actresses and of wedding gowns and entourages, following the elegant wedding dress he created for actress Sunshine Cruz on her wedding to character actor Cesar Montano in 2000. ]

[ Another friend, Atty. Teresa “Tessa” / “Tabs” Bernal Tabora-Ledesma is a niece of Salvador Bernal, her mother being his sister Teresita Bernal-Tabora.  She and my younger brother Atty. Adolfo Reyes Gonzalez were contemporaries and good friends from their ADMU Ateneo de Manila University Law School days. ]



A personal reminiscence:

It was May 1999, and it was 6 months before my gemologist sister Rosario Clemencia “Rocelle” Reyes Gonzalez would marry the banker Nicanor Narciso Damaso “Danny” Padilla Lizares on 05 December 1999 at the Santuario de San Antonio.  She had always liked wearing late 1800s style “traje de mestiza” [ wrongly called a “Maria Clara” according to Filipiniana historian and scholar Martin “Sonny” Imperial Tinio Jr. “It’s called a ‘traje de mestiza’ .”  he stated definitively. ] and she had decided that such an elaborate “period” dress, executed to the last authentic detail, would be her wedding gown.  The dress would be a copy of one worn by our paternal great grandmother Florencia Rodriguez Sioco when she married Dr. Joaquin Lopez Gonzalez in July 1883.  Since the embroidery details were not visible in the antique photograph, collector Joey Panlilio suggested that the embroidery designs be derived from Filipino maestro Justiniano Asuncion’s famous 1870s portrait of the pretty Agueda Paterno [ Jaime C. Laya collection ].

Because Rocelle was the only daughter and the youngest to boot, our businesswoman mother Pilar Quiason Reyes-Gonzalez sent word through me to her future “consuegra” / “comadre” / “balae ” the affluent and patrician Maria “Mary” de los Reyes Padilla-Lizares that she would take care of her daughter’s wedding gown — certainly no expense would be spared — as well as those of the entourage as part of her contributions to the wedding expenses.  Mary Padilla-Lizares graciously agreed to my mother’s handling the wedding gown but generously stated that she would take care of all the entourage gowns, which were to be designed and executed by her de los Reyes relative Paching Valera-de la Fuente, niece of the late, great Ramon Valera [ daughter of Jaime Valera and Trinidad “Neneching” de los Reyes Reyes-Valera ].

Joey Panlilio insisted that only THE Salvador Bernal, and not any other couturier in Manila however favored by society, could recreate a genuine, late 1800s “traje de mestiza,”  So off to Badong the three of us went…

It was an altogether pleasant appointment.  Badong received us with his peculiar mix of dryness and cordiality.  He recalled that he had created the gown of another socially prominent Padilla wedding some years back, who expectedly enough, was a relative of Danny’s.  We showed him the 1883 photo of Lola Florencia Sioco-Gonzalez as well as an enlarged xerox copy of Justiniano Asuncion’s 1870s portrait of Agueda Paterno.  Studying the photos, he explained that the “traje de mestiza” underwent several adaptations through the decades, and that the silhouette, “the line,” of the 1870s was slightly different from the 1880s, although we could adapt the embroidery designs from the 1870s to the 1880s.  He suggested that we go to Lumban, Laguna and look for a competent embroiderer who could execute the designs on “pina liniwan” [ plain pina fabric ].  He inquired as to what the fabric of the skirt would be, as the 1800s originals were usually either of Chinese silk or European silk velvet/brocade/damask, and Joey Panlilio suggested “Chinese silk, thick Chinese silk.”  So off to Hong Kong it would be for the fabric…  Badong would take care of the “tapis” overskirt, since a married woman, by tradition then, already wore a “tapis.”

What I remember vividly was that, unlike other couturiers, Badong was completely disinterested in the monetary aspect of the contract;  he was not interested in the charges.  “It won’t be much, just the work.  Most of the materials are coming from you.”  he assured.


Three months before the wedding in August 1999, with all the materials already in Badong’s atelier, we three made a visit to discuss the final design and details of the “traje de mestiza” wedding gown.  Joey Panlilio had brought a xerox photo of Princess Margaret’s 1960 wedding gown of white silk organza by Norman Hartnell because he thought that the skirt, made of 30 meters of fabric, should turn out like that, with a great train.  Badong studied the photo, unfazed.

A full mock-up of the “traje de mestiza” wedding gown in muslin already stood in the center of Badong’s atelier.  Rocelle was made to fit it and was asked to move in all directions, with Badong casting a critical eye, detailing further instructions to his head seamstress and the team as they nipped and tucked in certain sections, with the faithful assistant Maria “Marietta” Arcega making her own observations.  The results of the fitting were very satisfactory and Badong was all set.  Comically enough, Joey Panlilio, wanting to get the feel of the recreated “traje de mestiza,” insisted on fitting the muslin components himself, to the bemusement of Badong.

Amidst the spirited discussions, a puzzled and irritated Badong turned to Rocelle, the bride-to-be, and asked:  “Wait a minute… just WHO is getting married here???  Isn’t it you, hija?”

Embarrassed, Joey and I kept quiet instantly, and merely looked at Rocelle and Badong…

“What do you want, hija?  What do you really want?  This is all about you, not any of us…”  he asked her earnestly, wanting to accommodate her requests, if any.

“It’s OK, it’s OK…”  she answered sweetly.

“Very well then, we’ll see what we can do.  Everything’s here:  materials, references…  Three months to go, right?  That’s enough time.”


Characteristically professional as ever, the “traje de mestiza” wedding gown of Rosario Clemencia “Rocelle” Reyes Gonzalez from the atelier of Salvador Bernal arrived in big boxes with his expert and faithful assistant Maria “Marietta” Arcega, irons, ironing boards, floor mats, special hangers, and all kinds of equipment in tow on the morning of 05 December 1999.  After lunch, the make-up artists and the hairdressers did their parts, then Rocelle was dressed by our mother, Pilar Reyes-Gonzalez, Marietta of Badong, and Joey Panlilio [ who was an expert in the correct installation of “panuelos,” as taught to him by his grandmother, the leonine and elegant Luz Sarmiento-Panlilio ], assisted by a battalion of househelp.  The Santuario de San Antonio wedding was set for 6:00 p.m.

The embroidered pina “camisa” blouse and “panuelo” fichu collar had been embellished with hundreds of tiny pearls.  The “camisa” was expertly and faultlessly cut and constructed in the style of the 1880s, with billowing sleeves that were gathered just below the shoulder.  The “panuelo” had been lined with a sheer stiff fabric to enhance its line when worn.  Badong had created a lovely “tapis” overskirt  also of embroidered pina fabric [ which covered 3/4 of the “saya” of peach-colored Chinese silk ], embellished with thousands of tiny pearls, edged by handknotted silk tassels.  The “saya” skirt was a tour de force of sheer theater with yards and yards of thick, peach-colored Chinese silk [ 20 yards had been purchased in Hong Kong ].  It was where Badong’s superb costume design skills entered:  realizing that the fuller-than-full skirt, cut in the bias, along with its petticoat, would be heavy and hang awkwardly from the waist, he constructed an entire dress, sleeveless at the top [ over which would be worn the “camisa” and the “panuelo” ], so that the weight would be shared by the waist and the shoulders, therefore enhancing the fall of the skirt.  Despite all of that, Rocelle recalled:  “My ‘traje de mestiza’ wedding dress was surprisingly light, and it was easy to move around in it, it was not heavy at all.  It was cool and not warm to the body.”  Therein lay the genius of Salvador Bernal in the tradition of the great couturiers like Cristobal Balenciaga:  despite a dress being a glamorous piece-de-resistance, it was always light and comfortable for the wearer.

Thus, it came to pass that Rosario Clemencia Reyes Gonzalez, Mrs. Nicanor Narciso Damaso Padilla Lizares, in her 1880s-style “traje de mestiza” wedding gown, became one of the most memorable, one of the most elegant, needless to say one of the most beautiful of brides ever to walk down the aisle of the Santuario de San Antonio church in Forbes Park.

Thanks to the erudite genius of Salvador Bernal.



Birthday boy & girls

We gathered last night for dinner at “El Cirkulo,” not for the usual weekly lunch, to celebrate Jackie’s, Pinky’s, and Joe Mari’s October birthdays.  There were Nening, Marivic, Rica, Salie, Jiji, Mary, and I.

The food is always good, if not great, at Chef Jay Gamboa’s “El Cirkulo.”  And the service is good too [ a rarity in this city ].  We had an array of “tapas,” platefuls of them.  For the mains, Marivic had ordered “Slow Roasted U.S. Beef Belly,” “Slow Roasted Lamb,” and the veggie delight “Paella Montana.”  Matched with a very good Miguel Torres red, it all made for a lovely meal.

Rica gingerly pointed to the deadly “chicharon” in front of us and I made an incredulous face.  “You like that???”  “Gawd, that’s dangerous!  But I’ll eat it anyhow… hahahah…”  my lips smacking.

I related:  “You people have an idea of how ‘chicharon’ is usually the ‘last meal’ of so many ER cases???!!!  That’s according to the doctors at Makati Med and Saint Luke’s!!!”  The group laughed.

Marivic had brought a light chocolate birthday cake for our 3 merry celebrants.  She had sent her secretary on a wild goose chase to scour Makati for the perfect birthday cake.  “It was the only cake shop that would write all their names right there and then!  See… there’s Jackie, and Pinky, and Joe Mari!”   “We should have gotten from Marta, but you have to order the cake way ahead for them to write down names…”

The buzz was still about the successful “Angels & Monsters” auction of rare Filipino art and antiques by Boy V. at the LaO’ Center last 27 September, Tuesday, which I missed because of a business meeting but which Marivic and Joe Mari were able to attend [ although I had seen and studied everything the late afternoon before along with the gang — Paul & Co. — just as the items had been installed for exhibition ].  The great thing about the “Angels & Monsters” selection was that it consisted of Filipino art and antiques of such high quality and rarity that had not been seen en masse in some 20 years;  several of the items came from a major collector [ a sugar trader originally from Malabon ] with exquisite taste and the most exacting standards;  thus the major collectors and the Manila antique world were agog.  It was the usual crowd of “Cote de LaO’ ” — Boy V., Omeng, Kit, Tony M., Paul and Hetty, Renee, Stanley and Abbie, Joe Mari, Randy, et. al. joined by several “invisible” buyers — and it was a lot of fun, as always.

“Sold!!!”  enthused Marivic.

“Toto, even the 3 ‘blandon’ [ large silver candlestand(s);  1800s ] sold, for youknowwhat…”  Joe Mari related.

“Well, who do you think it was?”  I asked.

“Wouldn’t it be Stephen Z.?”  I speculated.

“Not Butch and Ollie?”

“Not Butch and Ollie.  Only art for them — Asian art — their furnishings are totally modern.”  Marivic recalled.

“Manoling and Rose?”  guessed Joe Mari.

“But they don’t need to buy anything… They already have the most gorgeous things…”  I opined.

“Unbelievable…”  I shook my head in delighted disbelief.

Characteristically, the group was already making plans for the annual Christmas party.  At Mary’s in Dasma.  Theme:  Spanish.  Marivic took charge of the food assignments.  “I make very good ‘rabo de toro’!”  Nening said, and we all agreed.

“Your ‘galantina de pollo,’ Toto!”

“But our ‘galantina de pollo,’ although good, is not pure Spanish.  It’s French-Spanish-Pampango…”  I protested.

“Never mind, it’s good!”  Marivic declared.  “I’m going to make sure the paella is goooood!!!  Last time we ordered, it was…”  she shuddered.


“Relleno de pollo then?”  someone chimed.  “Ay, that’s so ‘plebe’… all those raisins!”  I countered.

As usual, I got assigned the desserts.  Rica blurted:  “What if I brought [ your ] ‘Tarta Madrid’???!!!  Hahahah!!!”

Then the inevitable line of veteran party planners came up:  “Why don’t we just have it catered and spare ourselves all the trouble???”  Hahahah!!!

“What happened to our tours???  Our travel plans?”

“Batanes in January.  Because Gigi said so.  Gigi L. not Jiji S..  She said:  ‘I’m sick and tired of those Pampanga and Laguna tours!!!  I want something more exciting…  Let’s go to Batanes!!!’ ”  I related.

“We’re also going to Iloilo and Bacolod in February.  Joe Mari will help us with Iloilo;  Adjie and Nena in Bacolod.”  I continued.

“What’s next?  Shanghai?”

“There’s the Bangkok Jewelry Fair in January…”

After dinner, Chef Jay’s sister Malu Gamboa greeted the group charmingly and inquired about our dinner, which we all replied had been very good.  “I really admire the way their family manages their restaurants.”  I commented.

“They’re very hands-on.”  agreed Marivic.

And there was the inevitable social responsibility / philanthropic dimension to the dinner…  Rising from her seat, Nening declared:  “Girls!  We’re going to the Santo Domingo church in Quezon city next Friday, 21 October, 2:00 in the afternoon.  We’re visiting Our Lady of the Rosary “La Naval de Manila.”  And they’re making many improvements in the church.  We’re going to see where we can help out.  Game???  Who’s going?”

And just like that, even with Roman Catholicism just a tad unfashionable in Manila these days [ except in the ranks of the affluent and powerful Opus Dei ], swamped as it is with all sorts of extremely fashionable Christian fundamentalists in Hermes and Ferragamo…

“I’m going!”


“Count me in!”

“See you there!”

By themselves, those positive responses were already miracles…  what with everybody’s “donor fatigue”…

Leaving the place, it was so nice to bump into the coterie of Jimmy & Connie, Vivian, Jenny, Sonny & Bal at the lobby as they had had dinner at “Tsukiji.”

All the right food at the right place with all the right people.   🙂   🙂   🙂

“Pinag de Candaba 2011”

One of the worst things we learned from America is that one can actually manipulate Nature for man’s benefit.  Well, we can now add it to the list of America’s alarmingly increasing ills.  After all, it was the Americans who had the bright [ and really stupid, in my thinking ] idea of ruining the magnificent beaches of Manila Bay [ just think of how Manila could have been the Asian counterpart of the French Riviera!!! ], filling them in to construct a nondescript road which they called “Dewey boulevard”…

But one should not fight Nature.

It happened with typhoon “Milenyo.”  It happened with typhoon “Ondoy.”  And it happened again with typhoon “Pedring.”  And it will happen again and again…

Centuries ago, the Central Luzon plains were occupied by a great body of water, the “Pinag de Candaba.”  And one of the settlements on its perimeter was the forerunner of the town of Calumpit.

The perimeter of the great lake was dotted with the pre-Hispanic settlements of the present-day towns of Calumpit, Pulilan, Plaridel [ Quingua ], Baliuag, and San Miguel de Mayumo in Bulacan;  San Isidro and Cabiao in Nueva Ecija;  Arayat, Candaba, Santa Ana, Mexico, San Simon, and Apalit, Pampanga.

Various historical articles relate that up to the 1930s, there was a considerable body of water where the Candaba swamp is located now.

So up to the present day, every time rainfall water accumulates, the “Pinag de Candaba” reclaims its natural, ages-old boundaries…

One shouldn’t fight Nature.  One should learn to live with its natural rhythms.

In fact, one should just build floating houses…  silly as it sounds…