The new way to go

“The moment I wake up, before I put on my make-up, I say a little prayer for you… oh yes I do… ”

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Bye-bye dearest, dearest, dearest Ditas!!!

It was a passing like no other…

Ditas’ friends through the years [ as were her siblings’ ] were all there:  Elvira Araneta, Joe Assad, Bien Benitez, Bonjin Bolinao, Boom Buencamino, Louie Cruz, Didit & Aurora Diaz, Ricky Gallaga, Lory & Eddie Guidotti, Chiqui Mabanta, Tony Martino, Raymond Rebueno, and many, many more…

Famous violinist Coke Bolipata serenaded her one evening.

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06 May 2012, Sunday, 4:30 p.m..

I was doing some work in the study when my dear, dear, dear friend Ditas Gomez uncharacteristically called at 4:30 p.m….  uncharacteristic because she wasn’t usually up before sundown…  After all, we usually chatted from 1:00 – 4:00 a.m….

“Hey, come and visit me ‘cuz I have to tell you something, something important…”  Ditas requested, casually.

“You can tell me now!”

“Hmm… it’s best said in friggin’ movin’ livin’ color… really… ”  she insisted.

“What?  C’mon, tell me now, Ditas!”

“I have cancer.”  she said plainly.

“Oh.  Cancer of the what?  Cancer of the bad hair day?  Cancer of the joints?  Cancer of the CDs?  Cancer of the cats?”  I asked, pretending to be casual about it.

“Cancer of the liver.  It came from the Hepa – C virus.  Y’ know:  sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll in those days [ the late 1960s ]…  I have three months to go…”  she stated plainly.  Stoically.

“Oh God, Ditas.  I hope you’re not in pain…”  I inquired, genuinely concerned, and shocked to the core.

“Not really.  Sometimes.”

“Well, there was this one time I came from the bathroom and I fell before I could reach my bed!  Hahahah!  And I couldn’t get up.  Wow…  That’s what I call getting old!  I was facedown for about an hour…  Wow…  Hahahah!  Finally my bones rearranged themselves, got together or something, and I was able to get up.  Ay, that was something else!  Hahahah!  Que va!”  she recalled, laughing.

“You must have needed a good smoke after that, huh?  Hahahah!”  I joked, knowing it was one of her fave things to do.

“You bet!  I just vegged the day out!”

“I’m taking this alternative medicine…  Reiji mushrooms…  they power up your immunity!!!”

“What was upsetting you all this time???  Cancer is nothing but stress…”

“It must have been all those bad vibes at Ramona…  I told you to get outta there a long time ago…  the bad “feng shui” was all over…  Of course, you finally did…  but looks like the damage has been done… ”  I conjectured.

“Well, ******* and all that… but so much more!!!”

“Does your family know?”  I asked earnestly.

“No.  I haven’t told them.  Well…  Naty and Patty… they’re in the States…”

“Maita?”

“No.  Because Maita is a blabbermouth.  One time I told her I had an infection and she told Baboo and Baboo told everybody.  I mean, I didn’t mind everybody knowing about it, but I did mind everybody being ‘concerned’ about it.  Just not mah style, ya know…  Hahahah!”

“Actually, I didn’t mind what Maita and Baboo did.  I just didn’t like the idea of everybody… ya know…  feeling sorry for me?  I mean, mah sickness is mah own f*ckin’ business!  Que va!”

“Tita Cecing?  She’s your mom, she has to know!”  I insisted.

“No!  Because knowing Mom, she’ll worry to death… and she’ll get cancer… and she’ll die!  No way!”  she protested.

“Ay naku, Ditas…  OK, whatever you want…”  the awful truth had begun to sink in.

“I want a parteeeee when I’m gone!”  Ditas requested.

“Well, a parteeeee you’re gonna get, Ditas!!!”  I rejoined.

“Visit me, ha?”  she reminded.

***After we hung up at 6:30 p.m., I had to sit quickly on a big chair to steady myself from the shocking news, if not, I would have fallen to the floor.  Dearest Ditas with cancer?  Three months to gooooo???  WTF???!!!  F*CK!!!!!!!!   :O   :O   :O

I so wept inside of me…

That time, I had not realized that it was the last time I would speak with dearest Ditas.  The last time — that was IT!!!   :(   :(  😦

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Mercedes Tomasa “Ditas” Gonzalez-Favis Gomez.  Ditas was a “free spirit” from the pyschedelic Sixties…  Throughout her life she retained that magical youthfulness from that era which enabled her to fully understand and easily empathize with the youth of all the generations that came afterwards.  She had a unique, forgiving, fresh perspective, specially of artistic people, of which she was one.  Nothing new shocked her, everything new delighted her.  Eccentric was exciting, Radical was relevant, and Weird was wonderful.  Although a full, redblooded, vah-vah-voom woman who appreciated “real men” [ and that was said with a lot of sass and jazz  ;P ], she embraced her many LGBT friends with unconditional affection and endless understanding.  And they took her in sincerely as one of their own, to her genuine delight.

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It was as Ditas wanted it exactly:  No more tears.  Just togetherness, smiles, jokes, laughter, singing, dancing, and remembering all the good times that were, somehow still are, and still could be.  And then joyfully going on to the next new thing.  It’s “the new way to go,” and I totally like it.  Absolutely!!!   :D   :D  😀

[ + Mercedes Tomasa “Ditas” Gonzalez-Favis Gomez, 22 September 1951 – 16 May 2012 ]

 

16 Comments

  1. Juan Miguel Gomez said,

    March 29, 2015 at 9:04 am

    In Memory Of Cecilia Favis Gomez

  2. Juan Miguel Gomez said,

    July 15, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    In memory of Patty G.

  3. Juan Miguel Gomez said,

    September 4, 2012 at 11:54 pm

    In memory of Ditas,

  4. Chiqui Mabanta said,

    July 21, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    oops, excuse typos. sleepy 🙂

  5. Chiqui Mabanta said,

    July 21, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    One of my favourite memories of Ditas was during the Golden Age of Malate (the 90s). We were walking up and down Nakpil Street (both drunk) and I saw a motorcycle outside Insomnia (one of the classic Nakpil bars, now closed). I said, “I wanna ride that, now” So Ditas enters Insomnia (I follow) and says to the waiter, “Kaninong motorsiklo yan?” The waiter reluctantly says, “Maam, kay Sir Dexter po”. “Saan siya?” Ditas demands. The waiter leads us to Dexter who’s with a big group of people (all the regulars of Insomnia). I silently follow. Ditas declares out loud: “Dexter, my friend Chiqui wants to ride on your motorcycle. Can you take her for a ride?” His girlfriend then looked at him with an expression (my interpretation anyway) like, “There’s no way you’re gonna take this drunken girl for a ride.” He looks back at his girlfriend with a “Can I?” look and proceeds to take me for a round around Roxas Boulevard. It was exactly what I needed (cool wind on my face). Then took my back to Nakpil where Ditas was waiting. Very cool. Thanks for the mempries, Ditas.

    * In memory of Dexter too, who died years later in a motorcycle accident.

  6. July 17, 2012 at 4:33 am

    Naty:

    Thank you for posting this! I always wanted to get the full text from Maita but, as we all know now, I never got around to it.

    I will never forget Maita reciting this, reading it from a cellphone ( or a tablet? ) to family & friends during Ditas 40th day commemoration. Everybody was already “into it,” when after the line “… and the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live… ” the text disappeared and Maita couldn’t continue. She made a characteristic dry, droll comment and the rest of us broke out in laughter…!!!

    “Oh wow, it disappeared!!! Whatthe…?” Maita wondered.

    “Pucha, pare!!!” Boom Buencamino mock-cussed, imitating Ditas’ expression.

    “The last line disappeared!?” many of us asked.

    “How Gomez!!! This is sooo Gomez! Hahahah!” Lory & Eddie Guidotti laughed.

    “Pucha, pare!!!” Bonjin Bolinao rejoined, imitating Ditas.

    To dearest Ditas & dearest Maita, thank you for the great memories!!!

    Thank you, Naty!!!

    Cheers!!!

    Toto Gonzalez

  7. Chiqui Mabanta said,

    July 17, 2012 at 2:09 am

    Hi Toto!!! thanks for writing this!🙂

  8. JM Gomez said,

    July 16, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    Mercedes Tomasa Gomez
    What’s in a name? For some it’s the meaning of who you are in this life. For Ditas, Mercedes Tomasa, to alleviate one’s suffering times two. Tomasa means a twin.

    As humans life demands our goodness and for all the expression of that goodness is a greatness because of all the struggles we have to overcome to get to the core of who we are. Ditas found that greatness in her compassion and love for the artist, the poor the animals. So much so that even the cats in her neighborhood felt her presence leave and gathered in her apartment building to pay their respects – even they knew.

    There’s a song that goes:
    ”It’s the heart afraid of breaking That never learns to dance
    It’s the dream afraid of waking that never takes the chance
    It’s the one who won’t be taken
    Who cannot seem to give
    And the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live” The Rose
    Ditas danced, took a chance and embraced her death like her life. She is my sister-friend. I will always have four sisters because her spirit lives with me and with all who loved her.

    Naty

    ( “Naty” Favis Gomez is the youngest sister of Maita & Ditas Gomez, based in CA, USA — Toto Gonzalez )

  9. July 16, 2012 at 3:23 am

    Hi Chiqui!

    It’s Toto Gonzalez. We just saw each other with Bonjin Bolinao and Tony Martino at Maita Gomez’s wake Friday night. 🙂

  10. Chiqui Mabanta said,

    July 16, 2012 at 1:31 am

    Hi! who’s this?? trying to guess whose blog this is. What a nice piece on Ditas

  11. Enrique Bustos said,

    July 15, 2012 at 3:36 am

    A life full of color & drama
    By Marra PL. Lanot (The Philippine Star)

    Once upon a time, a young couple fell deeply in love with each other and went on to get married against their parents’ wishes. The woman Cecilia Gonzalez Favis and the man Jose Gonzalez Gomez were cousins, who belonged to an old-rich family that owned one of the biggest, if not the biggest, hacienda in the Philippines, the Hacienda Esperanza in Bautista, Pangasinan. Against all odds, they turned a deaf ear to gossip of clan and friends and moved to Baguio to raise a family.

    On May 23, 1947, their first baby was born and christened Margarita F. Gomez. Now, relatives were almost sure there would be something wrong with the baby. But she seemed all right, nothing abnormal with her physical features nor with her mind. What they didn’t know was that the tyke, Maita, didn’t grow up a typical member of the family, for she didn’t act like a true-blue burgis. Nobody understood why she was always getting lost somewhere, why she kept befriending the neighbors, the vendors, the Igorots, and giving away her clothes and shoes, why, above all, she enjoyed having dinner with them in her parents’ house, instead of inviting only those of her class. Perhaps some figured she was “weird,” after all.

    Soon, Maita, the eldest of five girls and two boys, was sent to Manila to study there, where she lived with her maternal grandmother Lola Ramona in Malate. Later, her sister, parents, and whole family followed, stayed in Ramona Apartments, and then moved to San Lorenzo Village, Makati.

    At Assumption High in San Lorenzo, Maita had an average grade of 97-98. But when a nun tore the hem of Maita’s skirt because it showed half her knee, Maita didn’t want to go back to Assumption. She transferred to St. Scholastica’s College in Manila, where soon, the sisters talked to Maita’s mother to have Maita moved to yet another school.

    At St. Scho, for the first time, she went downtown, and her grades slid. Because her friends were like her, “living in a glass bubble,” she was surprised students went to school so that they could help their parents. “Nagulat ako. St. Scho pa lang iyon, ha!”

    This tall, thin, gangly, awkward teenager never thought she was pretty. She was also naughty, boyish, different in appearance, quite unorthodox. Overprotected by her parents, Maita, together with her sister, was made by her father to read a certain number of books before they could go to the movies. At 12, Maita read Henry Miller, and at 16, Nietzsche. She also read Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, William Faulkner, Emily Bronte, Return of the Native, Wuthering Heights, Camus, Sartre, James Joyce, Aldous Huxley, Saul Bellow, and Earl Stanley Gardner and the mysteries. Besides reading, she enjoyed summer vacations in Pangasinan.

    At 13, Maita rammed through a glass door on Christmas Eve and was rushed to San Juan de Dios Hospital in San Juan. She went home after she was stitched on her forehead, her eye, and her arms. After lunch on Christmas Day, she went to a movie, a 5’7” youth all scars and bandage, turning the left side of her face away from people. Now, she wishes to see that doctor who did a very good job healing her face: “I have to thank him. I always like to go back to people who helped me, whether they like me or not.”

    Lola Ramona gave Maita a high school graduation gift, a free four-month trip around world — to Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas. “It was the best education. I learned many different ways of looking at things, and developed a less parochial attitude,” enthuses Maita. She wanted to study abroad, but her father said, “No,” so that he could keep an eye on her.

    The intellectual Maita never related to her mother’s role. She dreamed of being a psychiatrist. Again, the father objected: “You’re just going to get married.” She was allowed to take up pre-med, where her average grade was 1.25, which was higher than what was required for female students. And for the first time, she took the bus.

    Still circulating in high society, Maita was spotted by Pitoy Moreno in a party. He asked the mother of Conchitina Sevilla to ask Maita’s mother if Maita could model for Pitoy once. Maita did, not knowing how to model clothes. There was a contest in Australia to study modelling and work, with free board and lodging and allowance. In Australia, she learned hard work. She was on call, attended workshops, ate at 7 a.m., ate standing up at 3 to 4 p.m. For less than a year, she had a good experience in Hong Kong, Australia and the Philippines. When she came back, she modeled every day for a year, and went with Pitoy to Europe, and learned professionalism and some PR skills.

    Maita was also selected as one of Manila’s Five Prettiest. Then, on a modeling stint at the Araneta Coliseum, the Top 10 models were chosen and interviewed. None of the models knew what was happening until Maita was named Miss Philippines and was to join the Miss International contest in London. She refused, but finally left four days later with Pitoy, lost her luggage and was almost late for the pageant.

    What happened was Ferdie Villar wanted to sell his Miss Philippines franchise. But he couldn’t without first sending a candidate to the Miss International tilt, because if he didn’t, he would lose his franchise and wouldn’t be able to sell it. Maita lost, and Villar sold the franchise to Stella Marquez Araneta.

    After modeling for one year, Maita, then 20, got hitched in l968. When her boyfriend proposed marriage in a party, Maita consulted friends, then said yes. In the middle of the night, they looked for Mayor Antonio Villegas in Forbes Park to wed them. Then, Mayor Villegas went to Maita’s parents and informed them, “I just married off your daughter.”

    Maita stayed for one year in Philadelphia, where hubby finished schooling, while Maita cooked their meals. Then, it was another year in New York, where hubby worked as a trainee in a stockbroker firm, studied in a business school and passed the board exam. He was hired by a stockbroker company in the Philippines, and the two returned in 1970, with Maita pregnant. Here, daughter Melissa Perez Rubio was born.

    They stayed a few months in Lola Ramona’s Ramona Apartments, and since Maita’s mother-in-law was a businesswoman, Maita’s husband didn’t expect Maita to be a housewife. So, Maita went back to U.P.

    At U.P., the bedrock of student activism, Maita befriended poor students, went to her first demo against the Vietnam War, got her first exposure in the rural areas on a medical mission, where she collected medicines, donations, etc. Hubby didn’t like Maita’s interests nor her speaking to people in Tagalog, and complained that “my wife has become a communist.” From AB, pre-med, she shifted to Philosophy. “The movement appealed to all my deepest beliefs. My involvement translated ideals into action.”

    When martial law swooped down, Maita’s husband forced her to choose between him and her activities. Maita hadn’t planned on leaving him, but she chose out. She ran to her father, who lived a block away, but her father also made her choose. She left home.

    She went underground, improved her Tagalog by reading Liwayway, worked for an underground paper, and ate fish and bagoong. In 1973, she was arrested in Baguio, then transferred to Camp Olivas. She was not tortured, although she kept mum. She soon escaped prison and lived in the countryside from 1973 to the ’80s. Maita recalls, teary-eyed, how the people sheltered her in times of danger, how they shared with her what little they had.

    States Maita: “Decent poor people have incredible courage because they face the same vicissitudes in life we face without nothing, without a bank account, without connections, no electricity, no back-up system. They’re so incredibly brave just to face their day-to-day life. I have come to appreciate their intelligence and their scientific knowledge. They live with nature. They know the laws of nature so intimately. I find this fascinating and admirable. I find that the poor are such generous people. Really, they are the children of God.”

    She lived “an inspired life” for three years in the Bicol mountains and three years in Central Luzon. So, when she was transferred to Metro Manila with a reward on her head, she felt demoralized. She was captured, brought to a hospital in Camp Crame due to illness, and was placed under house arrest. She was so despondent she shacked up with another guy, for what reason, none of her friends could fathom.

    She became active again when Ninoy Aquino was killed. She organized WOMB (Women for the Ouster of Marcos and Boycott) and GABRIELA. She campaigned abroad against Ferdinand Marcos. She was spending so much time helping others, her then current partner again forced her to choose — him or her friends. Naturally, she chose out.

    Maita went on to co-found Abanse Pinay! and ran in 1987 as representative of the fifth district of Manila under Liberal Party-Kaiba. She lost, partly because she registered only Margarita Bartolome and did not include her more famous name, Maita Gomez.

    After 10 years of devotion to the nationalist movement, she got into other various things like helping shape the pilot Women’s Studies at St. Scholastica’s; finishing A.B., Sociology at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines; turning to religion, living like a hermit, and rediscovering her family of five children (Melissa, now 31 and married; Luis, 26; Antares, 21; Kris, 20; Michael, 13); taking up M.A. in Development Economics at U.P.; working at MERALCO; teaching at De La Salle University and St. Scholastica’s; and writing research studies and columns and articles in English and Filipino on women and war crimes, marketing, environment, etc.

    Less than a year ago, Maita got 15 women to invest in Women Work Well Foundation to help women find paying jobs. Her office, where she’s involved in management, gives training for applicants who may work in offices as janitor, gardener, driver, and the like. Maita may have quit the movement, but she’s still an activist. “I believe that every person has to live for something greater than you or your life becomes so petty,” she explains.

    Now, she’s happy being of help to the needy and being herself. She’s kind but a strict boss. She spoils her children, but her children know when she really puts her foot down. Tired of being used, she avers: “I hate public attention simply because all of it is objectification…My self-esteem is not tied up with publicity at all. I’m an accidental public figure. I never sought being a public figure.” And that’s why she has junked any idea for a biopic on her.

    Maita has no vitriolic bone in her, just honesty all over. “I’m a burgis who’s not a burgis, masa who’s not masa. I’m neither one, I’m a bit of an island…I can be very kind and very gullible. But I can also be harsh. I’m not confrontational, but I’m always civil. If you don’t know me, then, okay, don’t know me na lang!”

    Cecilia Favis Gomez, 85, is now quite at peace, knowing that her daughter Maita has returned to the Roman Catholic faith, is safe with her own children in Ramona Apartments, is, above all, glad doing what she wants to do. They visit each other as often as possible — Doña Cecilia lives only a few doors away —converse in Spanish, and share newbits and recipes. Maita Gomez has come a long way, and nobody knows where she’ll turn next.

    (The Leader, February-March 2003)

    Update

    On the afternoon of July 12, 2012, Maita Gomez was found dead by her son in her house in Quezon City. She had had a heart attack while sleeping. Even in death, Maita chose to keep a low profile.

    Beneath the calm demeanor, though, was an ever questioning mind and a very restless spirit. On April 16, 2009, according to the Wikipedia, Maita became founding co-chair of the Makabayan Koalisyon ng Mamamayan (Makabayan). The coalition is composed of partylists Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Anakpawis, Kabataan, Courage, Migrante, Alliance of Concerned Teachers, and Katribu. (This, she did not divulge in my last interview with her, maybe because she was an expert in united-front work.)

    I last talked to Maita in February 2012. As of that time, Maita had gone back to school to earn her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. She then taught at the De la Salle University School of Business and Economics and at the University of the Philippines-Manila Department of Social Sciences. She liked teaching because it’s “nice to be in touch with young people, but I like to build.”

    She became active at the Action for Economic Reforms (AER) and urged that local government units should effect just tax collection in order to generate much-needed revenues. She concentrated on her work at Bantay Kitá, a network of civil-society organizations that advocate transparency in the extractive industries such as mining. Dealing with ecological issues, Maita travels a lot around the Philippines to monitor, research and give talks on how to protect, disabuse and try to find solutions to problems affecting, say, minerals and miners.

    Maita shunned publicity to the point that she tended to forget anything written about her. No matter how much a public figure she was, she would rather dote on her grandchild in Manila and two in the province. She led, she said, a “very quiet life” as a homebody, and prayed every day.

    But who knows, she might yet stir some sort of revolution somewhere in the beyond.

    No way to explain paradox of rich beauty queen/revolutionary
    By: Thelma Sioson San Juan
    Philippine Daily Inquirer

    Toni Parsons was only too willing to grant the request of her bosom friend, Maita Gomez, that the latter’s remains be placed on a “stretcher,” instead of in a coffin. On Friday, as the Inquirer was interviewing her on the phone, Parsons was in a rush to go to the funeral parlor where she would be arranging the bier that would carry the body of Gomez who had died the afternoon before.

    “She must have thought a coffin too elaborate or expensive. So she told her children early on that she would prefer that her body lie in state on a stretcher,” she said.

    “I will use all white roses to cover (the stretcher) and they would be like a mantle (on which Maita’s body rests). Just like that of Grace Kelly (the actress and Princess of Monaco),” said Parsons, who pioneered floral styling in the Philippines and is renowned for her lovely flowers and gardens.

    Gomez died presumably during an afternoon nap last Thursday. Even in death—at 65, not 64 as previously reported—she shunned the extravagant ways of the class she was born into and embraced what to her would be the simple and unadorned, in this case the “stretcher.”

    Even to people who knew her and were familiar with how she embraced the life of a revolutionary, Gomez’s preference for a gurney, over a coffin, might still come as a surprise.

    But then the entire life of the 1967 Miss Philippines Maita Gomez was a surprise to Philippine society.

    To anybody, rich or poor, who was old enough to read the newspapers and watch television in the 1960s and 1970s, Gomez was always big news—in reality, a paradox society couldn’t quite explain fully.

    Why would a girl like her, who had everything, give all that up—including husband and child—to live and fight in the mountains?

    Born to the landed clans of both her mother (Favis) and father (the Gomezes of Pangasinan), Gomez was bred in exclusive girls’ schools—Assumption, where she was said to be in the same batch as former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. She became one of the country’s top models, then won the Miss Philippines title in 1967 and represented the country in the Miss World contest in Britain. She married into the prominent Perez-Rubio clan, and with husband Carlos (Cookie) had a daughter, Melissa.

    Society models

    For two decades in the 1960s and 1970s, young women from the wealthier classes—such as Toni Serrano (later to marry Parsons), Maita Gomez, Trina Yujuico (later to marry Kalaw), and immediately before them, Conchitina Sevilla (later, Bernardo), Pearlie Arcache (later, Morales), Cherry Pie Villongco, Joji Felix Velarde—were the toast of society and media. They had the social pedigree and breeding, the elite education, the stunning beauty and regal bearing that made them the perfect mannequins of social dowager Conchita (“Tita Conching”) Sunico who ran the Karilagan cultural group, and of couturier Jose “Pitoy” Moreno. Sunico and Moreno would stage fashion shows for the local and international elites.

    Moreno in particular would take these beautiful young women with him when he toured his fashion collections to various foreign capitals, from Tokyo to Paris, where they would model his designs before elite audiences that included royalty and heads of state. To the world, women like Toni Serrano and Maita Gomez symbolized the beautiful Filipina.

    The allure of today’s “it” girls could never compare with the glamour and elegance of these women, which was innate and not the product of big-brand marketing.

    However, these women didn’t stay in the limelight indefinitely. They married into families just as prominent as theirs, raised families, pursued their individual interests—but in a low-key manner, as was expected of them.

    Broke the mold

    Gomez, however, broke the mold. After she married Perez-Rubio—dressed in an iconoclastic Pitoy Moreno bridal mini dress—and gave birth to a daughter, she joined the communist, or the national democratic, movement that was gaining ground in the 1970s and went underground.

    “I think the turning point for her was the typhoon that devastated Central Luzon in the early 1970s (‘Yoling’),” Parsons recalled.

    “She saw the suffering of people (as she went to the typhoon-devastated areas) and decided to up her level of involvement in the movement. She went full-time and underground,” she said.

    Sometime after taking off for the mountains, so to speak, Gomez returned to get her daughter Melissa who was about four or five at the time. Her former husband had a second family by then. Melissa spent her childhood years underground, a toddler romping around in the rebels’ jungle lair—or at least that was the image that played in the minds of the Establishment that Gomez had left behind.

    Uncommonly strong friendship

    Interestingly, through all those years, the friendship between Parsons and Gomez somehow survived. Parsons would get feelers or messages from Gomez, just to touch base.

    Parsons recalled one particularly dramatic episode: “She sent feelers to me one day, asking to borrow our home in Baguio—their family also had a house in Baguio, by the way. She said she wanted to rest. We let her use the house in Baguio. Soon after, while our family was in New York, we suddenly got a call from the military wanting to interview us about our ties to Maita. Turned out, they had found printing paraphernalia in our house. By then, Maita had escaped with Melissa.”

    It is touching how Parsons looks back on such exciting episodes in her and her friend’s lives, not with regret or a sense of outrage, but with nostalgia and affection. Their friendship must have been such as to cut across circumstances and time.

    She and Gomez were supposed to have dinner last Tuesday, or two days before Gomez died. The dinner did not push through because one of their friends couldn’t make it.

    The two had known each other for more than four decades, going back to the 1960s when Conching Sunico would round up Manila’s pretty young women in her house, to see who among them would make good models.

    “Maita was 5 ft 11, with a regal bearing, so she really stood out anywhere … she and I lived in San Lorenzo (Village in Makati) so we were together often, even in Pitoy’s shows in the United States and Europe. Maita was even sent to June Daly Watkins finishing school in Australia to train in modeling,” Parsons said.

    Resurfaces from underground

    Before the first Edsa People Power Revolution in 1986, Gomez sent feelers to Parsons expressing a desire to resurface, to end her life in the underground.

    “Angel Ramos, the daughter of Gen. [later President] Fidel Ramos, was a friend so through her, Gen. Ramos facilitated everything,” Parsons recalled.

    “We went to his house. By then, Maita was pregnant. She looked like she had gone through a lot. Even her teeth were bad. Ramos took her under his wing, put her in the military hospital where her medical needs were taken care of. She gave birth to Luis, her son with a man in the movement who was killed in an encounter,” she said.

    Rejoining society

    By the time Gomez rejoined society, her daughter Melissa was already 10. The girl was reunited with her father’s second family, then already based in the US. Melissa herself would grow up to be a stunning beauty, a favorite cover girl of the lifestyle glossies and commercial ad model. She would have a brief stint in show biz where she would also be linked to a handsome young actor, Richard Gomez.

    Back in mainstream society, Gomez moved in political or nationalist circles. She married musician activist Heber Bertolome, with whom she had two sons. She took up a master’s degree in economics at the University of the Philippines. Through all this, she was in the protest or reform movements, even as she shied away from the limelight. She never really returned to the glamour world.

    “When the mother of Conchitina (Sevilla Bernardo) died a few years ago, I was able to convince her to come with me to the wake, telling her that Nang Sevilla did so much for us. As a society editor, she wrote so much about us,” Parsons said.

    “Maita went with me, and you could see her bearing. The moment she walked into the room, heads turned. She still looked stunning, yet simple. People rushed to her, welcoming her back. But I felt she really didn’t like that [kind of] attention in that social milieu. It made her an introvert that night,” she said.

    While she didn’t enjoy high society anymore, Gomez embraced political causes. She ran for a congressional seat in the fifth district of Manila in 1987, but lost.

    “I believe she really could have won that election. Her official name was Maita Bartolome, yet people knew her as Maita Gomez. So many ballots bearing Maita Gomez were nullified,” Parsons said.

    Raised 5 children

    Her marriage to Bartolome ended. She had another relationship, and had another son. In the succeeding years, she had strong advocacies, particularly for the environment, taught economics at De La Salle University, and worked with nongovernment organizations.

    She had five children (not four as previously reported). Melissa, the only girl, is now married to Marcelino Ugarte, a corporate executive with whom she has a daughter and son. Eldest son Luis has a child. The three other sons are Antares, Cris and Michael.

    “She raised her children well, sent them through school,” Parsons said.

    “While she was born to a wealthy, landed family, with properties as well [the landmark Ramona Apartments in Manila belongs to the clan of Gomez’s mother], she also struggled to bring up her family,” Parsons said.

    “It’s been a tough life. You admire her for that,” she said.

    Looking forward to retirement

    Gomez retired from her NGO work last March and was looking forward to retiring in a lake house on an islet she had bought in Laguna. “I am tired, she told me,” Parsons said. “She was looking forward to enjoying a quiet life in that house.”

    Gomez’s mother, the former Cecilia Favis, is now more than 90 years old. She has outlived her two daughters; another daughter, Ditas, died little more than a month ago.

    Asked just what kind of person her friend Maita really was, Parsons said: “She really does what she believes in. You can’t ever sway her.”

    To Maita Gomez, the beauty queen-turned-revolutionary, life was about decisions and choices made. That must have been one life worth living.

    The Left held her up as a symbol of the Filipino bourgeoisie awakened to a nationalist consciousness to fight for the masses. The military—indeed the Establishment—used her also, after she resurfaced from the underground, as an example of how a rebel could return to the mainstream of society and work from there.

  12. Dupi Gomez Cogan said,

    June 1, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    Wow, this was sad and sweet and smile-generating yet still so sad. I send my love to you all….to us all. Remember, give a prayer; Get a prayer. Ditas is now with my son Nick. Still makes me so sad after 7 years. All I know is the the sad never really gets “better”, it just gets “different”.

    Fondly,
    Cousin Dupi (Daughter of Fernando)

  13. May 28, 2012 at 6:47 am

    Larry:

    So true, so true. You’re so right!!!

    Yes, we must all learn to “live light,” free of emotional baggage. It’s the only way to a truly happy life.

    And yes, I’m glad to have another dear friend rooting for me from “the other side”…

    Cheers!!!

    Toto Gonzalez

  14. Larry Leviste said,

    May 28, 2012 at 12:18 am

    STRESS is CANCER, no two ways about it, our insides becomes so toxic when we are stressing out. Negative thoughts, judging others, nasty gossiping WILL cause cancer tumors to grow relentlessly. I have 2 DOCTOR sisters and they have AGREED.

    Just last year, I lost 4 BFF who harbored unresolved issues of hate and loathing, they learned NOT to truly forgive NOR thank GOD daily. They had bitterness and bile, they bitched and kvetched whenever we had time for each other. THEY taught me a LOT but they died much too young.

    GOOD NIGHT Sweet Ditas, you are now a shining new star in the sky.

  15. Alicia Perez said,

    May 24, 2012 at 10:32 am

    Don’t forget her “Fruitcake ni Mother”… For many years, I didn’t have to buy a good fruitcake for Christmas…

    Ay, Ditas, we will miss you…

    Alicia Perez

  16. george shaw said,

    May 23, 2012 at 12:22 am

    a wonderful person! likeable as much as her wonderful sans rival, you can never have enough of it…


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