The beautiful Maita Gomez

Why “the beautiful Maita Gomez”?  Because she was BEAUTIFUL, even at 65.  Effortless beauty, inside and out.  She was a natural who did not need enhancements of any sort, much less maquillage, she looked great just the way she was.  Nobody looked better with hair quickly swept up to a bun, T-shirt, shorts, slippers, with the long, long limbs and the ubiquitous cigarette between those elegant fingers.  Nobody sounded better than that fashionable contralto of a husky, smoky voice speaking that razor sharp wit with its singular blend of “colegiala” and “activista” humor from SanLo to Sierra Madre.  She had an interesting way of folding and unfolding herself on a chair or on a sofa, like a swan and a peacock at rest.  She was one of those rare creatures born to be beautiful, and beautiful she was to the end.

It wasn’t just physical beauty that Maita possessed.  Far more alluring than her beauty was her sophisticated, complicated mind, which she wielded like a deadly weapon.  She also had a big heart — for the unfortunate, the marginalized, the uneducated.  She was born to the landed aristocracy, and her inborn sense of “noblesse oblige” eventually manifested itself in an unusual, passionate concern for the peasants who tilled the land.  Her passion for their welfare exceeded their quotidian needs and realities.  And it would have all happened even without her socialist-communist involvements.  She had a superior intellect which distilled and meshed the theories of the great socialist and communist thinkers — Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Robert Owen, Charles Fourier, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zhedong, et. al. — into one cogent reality on which she gauged the social ills of Philippine life.  The thing with Maita was that she never bandied, never gave on, the many fantastic things she knew.  It was all behind that alluring, mysterious smile from a life which, despite its obvious privileges, had known many contradictions, struggles, and hardships.  If you were lucky and she liked you enough, you could ferret them out, one by one…

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12 July 2012, Thursday, 5:45 p.m., barangay Pariancillo, Mexico town, Pampanga.  A – MRMF Assumption Mother Rosa Memorial Foundation tour of Pampanga.  We — Estrellita I C “Lilit” Liwag-Castillo, Elizabeth “Lillibeth” dL Victoria-Fajardo, Maria Visitacion N F C “Mavis” Villanueva-Chua, Maria Cristina “Cris” Recto-Ricafort, Maria Rosario “Chary” Festejo-Locsin, Josefa “Blee” Enriquez-Atienza, Rosalie “Salie” G Henson-Naguiat, & I — had just enjoyed an interesting demonstration of “panecillos de San Nicolas” by Pampanga cuisine doyenne Lilian Lising-Borromeo, and were boarding the van when a worried Salie H Naguiat, A – MRMF prex, announced that she had just received a TXT msg from Gemma Cruz that “Maita Gomez has just passed away.”  That, when we were just talking about the 5 pretty Gomez-Favis girls who were at the Assumption on the way to Mexico town…

What???!!!  It must be a bad joke, a joke in the worst taste, I told myself, shaking my head.  None of the ladies believed it either, it must have been some miscommunication.  Besides, I didn’t want to ruin my mood for Tito Ado’s birthday celebration at his “Little House” at the Villa Escudero the next day.  I was in a party mood!!!

But at 10:52:41 p.m., I received a TXT msg from my dear friend Gino Gonzales, the top production designer:  “Hi Toto, did Maita Gomez really pass away?”  I held my breath for a moment because it was the second time I had heard of Maita’s purported passing…  I replied:  “I don’t know, Gino.  Please confirm.”

13 July 2012, Friday, 11:51:37 a.m..  SLEX southbound between the Bicutan and Sucat exits on the way to the Villa Escudero.  TXT msg from “Maita Gomez” but actually from Pog ( Antares Gomez Bartolome, Maita’s son ):  “Maita’s remains lie in state on the second floor of Funeraria Paz at Manila Memorial Park in Sucat, Paranaque.  Mass will be held at 7pm tonight and at 11am on Sunday.  Cremation will be on Sunday, July 15, at 2pm.”

OhmyGod.  So it was true…???!!!  Why???  How???

TXT msg from Pog:  “Yeah.  Crazy.  Lola’s freaked.  But mostly because she didn’t get her quota of priests.”

TXT msg from Pog:  “Yeah, it’s Pog.  She went for a nap after breakfast and didn’t come down for lunch.  Michael found her in bed at around 2.”

I couldn’t believe it.  I was stunned.  But first I had to attend a big, happy birthday lunch party with “a cast of thousands” a hundred kilometers south…

At Tito Ado’s birthday lunch for 2,000 of his most intimate friends [ I’m exagg, but close ], Marivic and I found out from Patis that Tita Choleng Tan, Tita Elsie Escudero’s BFF and Ambassador Benny’s sister, had just passed away last Monday.  What???  Yes, she was in her early 90s but she was healthy.  I remembered Tita Choleng beating Marivic to a pretty antique “peineta” ( tortoiseshell comb with a crest ) which Patis was handling from Sonny’s collection at Tito Ado’s birthday dinner last year 2011.  Ay, this week was something else…

From the day-long birthday celebration at the Villa Escudero in San Pablo, Laguna, we drove through the SLEX to the “Funeraria Paz” at the Manila Memorial Park on Sucat road in Paranaque city, to the wake of dear Maita Gomez, who had suddenly passed away yesterday during a midday nap ( between 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. ), from a massive stroke or a massive heart attack we did not know ( but more likely the former ), 12 July 2012, Thursday…

13 July 2012, Friday, 8:15 p.m., “Funeraria Paz,” Manila Memorial Park, Sucat road, Paranaque city.

Unlike her younger sister Ditas’ wake just 7 weeks before ( 16 – 21 May 2012 ) where the mood was so light and carefree, Maita’s wake, because of her sudden, shocking passing was a more sober, sadder affair.  Her children Melissa, Luis, Pog, Kris, & Michael were OK but expectedly in shock.  Seeing me, Maita’s 90something mother Tita Cecing exclaimed:  “We haven’t even finished mourning for the other one ( Ditas ), and here comes another ( Maita )!!!”  Maita’s younger sister Cita ( the Audrey Hepburn to Maita’s Ingrid Bergman ), cool and composed during Ditas’ wake, was despondent.  I myself was lachrymose, shattered by the loss of another dear friend so soon after the other one, who happened to be her younger sister Ditas.

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I made my way to the end of the chapel and was surprised that dear Maita was not in a coffin, but simply put on top of a bed of countless white roses by no less than her BFF, high society floral artist Toni Serrano-Parsons ( actually, she was laid out on a gurney, hidden by all the roses ).  She was made up heavily and did not look at all like herself;  poor Maita looked like a 70something Spanish mestiza fattened on a diet of butifarras, chorizos, and jamon Iberico bellota, which she wasn’t at all.  She was wearing a day dress but her whole body was incongruously wrapped in 1950s ivory colored “jusi” with multicolored “suksok” patterns with a “panuelo” fichu collar around her shoulders to boot ( the vintage “jusi” was from the stock of her late aunt, Beatriz “Betty” Gonzalez Favis-Gonzalez, who in the 1950s was in partnership with [ Elia Lubianoff? ] to design and produce stylish and colorful “jusi” textiles for the local and international fashion industry ).

One classmate from the Assumption complained that her make-up made her look like a senior SM saleslady.

“Oh, how interesting.  She’s not in a coffin…”  I was surprised.

“She didn’t really wear make-up…”  observed a dear friend.

“Snow White!”  a gay friend of Maita’s exclaimed.

“And the Seven Dwarfs?”  the gay friend’s companion countered.

“Pobrecita Maita.  She’s laid out like a dessert table.”  sniped one Spanish mestiza lady ( probably a Gonzalez de Pangasinan “prima” ).

“Hey, it’s really practical of you guys not to put her in a coffin anymore since she’ll be cremated anyway.  It would have been a waste of money.  Very good decision!”  I commended her sons.

“No, it wasn’t about the coffin…”  explained Pog.

“She’s claustrophobic…  she never wanted to be in a coffin.”  continued Pog.

“As if she would know?  Ha ha ha.”  Bonjin Bolinao mused.  Tony Martino just smiled.

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The congregation of family and friends had assembled in the main chapel at 9:00 p.m. ( Friday, 13 July 2012 ) for the pre-cremation ceremonies…

Seeing her up close as she was brought to the altar, I just had to sidle up to her son Pog:  “Egadz Pog!  Who did her make-up?  I can see her complaining ( in that trademark smoky voice ):  ‘OhmyGod!  Who did my make-up?  It doesn’t look like me!!!’ ”

“Yeah, burn it!”  Pog countered wittily, imitating his mom.

And with that punch line, I took my leave of the beautiful Maita.

Until we meet again, my dear, dear, dear friend and “prima,” one of the most beautiful of Filipina women ever, in spirit, heart, mind, and body.

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Maita’s friends were in full force during her wake:  BFF Toni Serrano-Parsons, former sister-in-law Luli Ysmael Perez-Rubio,   Marilou Andrews, Elvira Benitez Araneta, Mariel Cacho, Nikki Marquez-Lim Coseteng, Gina LaO’ Lopez, Lisa Jacinto, Laida Lim, Baboo Mondonedo, Tata Poblador, beauty queen Aurora Pijuan, Cielito Nieto, Paz Laguda Sotto, et. al..

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[ +Margarita Juana “Maita” Gonzalez-Favis Gomez, 23 May 1947 – 12 July 2012. ]

5 Comments

  1. Adele Pedro said,

    August 23, 2012 at 11:12 am

    Thank you, Maita. Another life well-lived.

  2. Myles Garcia said,

    July 21, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    Wow. What a life well lived! Good for Maita.

    Never knew her, although I might’ve seen her around UP once or twice.

    She was the total opposite of many Manila girls I knew–the total antithesis, especially of one classmate (at UP) who graduated St. Paul; and then went to UP for a year, but never got comfortable with the more proletariat setting of UP. She was a daughter of some middling military officer (pre-matrial law, Marcos I years). In our freshman year there, she only socialized with the Manilans from the elite schools, and openly disdained mixing with the, uhmmm….non-Manilans.

    Then in a total reversal of what Maita did; this misguided colegiala transferred to…Assumption-San Lo! (Readers, don’t get me wrong, all my cousins and most neighbors went to the 2 Assumptions, so I know the product very well.) Next time I saw this superficial Paulinian was when she was in a quick trip back to UP :…merely to pick up her transcript” she said. But she had this weird glow which showed that she was back in the safe, burgis surroundings of a convent school. Poor thing, Assumption’s new liability; UP’s gain! 🙂 ) Hinda naman maganda.

    But I digress. If only Manila had more women like Maita.

    Rest in peace, girl. You earned it.

  3. Enrique Bustos said,

    July 17, 2012 at 4:37 am

    Maita Gomez, lovely soul: Rebel-intellectual will always be a beauty queen
    Filomeno Sta. Ana III

    Nnote: Filomeno Sta. Ana III wrote this piece on Maita sometime in March 2011, but it went unpublished. Sta. Ana shares it now so they can, he says, get to know more about Maita Gomez, “always described as the beauty queen turned revolutionary.” He adds: “She was more than that, and there was no contradiction in her being a fashion model/beauty queen and being an activist.”)

    Friends or acquaintances, those born in the 1950s and 1960s, remember Maita as the fashion model and beauty queen turned revolutionary. And Maita has been described and stereotyped in that manner through the years, elevating her to the status of a living legend or heroine. Maita feels uncomfortable being described as such. It is not that she is embarrassed about her colorful past. Neither does she want friends to forget her transition from high society to living a dangerous life. It is just that the stereotype is restrictive and can even be a liability.

    I recall for example that I recommended Maita to be a resource person on the economics of mining for a public affairs broadcast. Maita knows this field well; she’s the current coordinator of Bantay Kita, a non-governmental organization whose mission is to have transparency of contracts and revenues in the extractive industries. The show’s producer thought I wasn’t serious about my recommendation. She said: “But she’s a beauty queen,” suggesting that Maita’s image as a beauty queen is what the audience will pick up, not why mining is harming development.

    The stereotyping is likewise unfair to Maita, for it conceals her other qualities. Singling out her past—her being a beauty queen and an amazon sidetracks us from appreciating that she’s a hardworking professional; that she’s good at performing simultaneous tasks; that she has the uncanny ability to produce the resources to make both ends meet; that she is generous to a fault even to strangers (she’d buy all the remaining sampaguita garlands peddled by syndicated street children so they could retire early from the night’s work); that she has a pusong mamon; and above all, that she’s a protective daughter, mother and lola.

    Maita has received awards for her beauty and for her activism, yet she’s nonchalant about this. But one honor that Maita will greatly value is being recognized as a good and outstanding mom. She’s a caring, loving mom. She encourages her children to be independent and treats them as her barkada. When her children are in trouble, she prays for them and even asks friends like my wife Mae to offer novenas for them.

    But when any of her children are wronged or mistreated, the motherly Maita is transformed into a fighter. Her being a fighter is thus essentially about fighting injustice and subjugation. She has fought for her daughter and her sons in the same manner that she has fought for the Filipino masses.

    Maita’s life as a celebrated fashion model and her life as an armed underground activist were not contradictory at all. Her experience as a fashion model prepared her for the sacrifices and rigor of revolutionary life. After all, being a fashion model entailed long hours of work, perseverance, and tenacity. For Maita, it was not at all glamorous.

    Some of Maita’s old friends observe that the pre-activist Maita they knew was no different from the radicalized Maita. Yael, whom Maita fondly treats as her niece, thinks that Maita is at heart an Assumptionista. That is, a convent-bred woman disposed to virtue, innocence, compassion, and charity. It just happens that these traits can make dedicated revolutionaries.

    And so, we can see a continuum in Maita’s life as a colegiala and a society-page celebrity on the one hand and her life as a rebel and now as a civil society advocate.

    In our recent trip to Paris (this piece was written in March last year), that continuum played out. Maita was serious about our participation in a conference on the extractive industries. She woke up early to register and to attend pre-conference briefings. She reprimanded me for not joining her in the meetings as I opted to visit Auvers-Sur-Oise. She phoned me, and asked me to immediately return to Paris.

    But on another occasion, she got bored with a plenary session and proposed to me that we go to Montmarte. And at Montmarte, she bought an attractive painting, though I discouraged her because of the cost, which she intended to give to her son. Not armed with enough cash, she had to withdraw money from the ATM, making her poorer by several hundred euros.

    Maita is galante, even when she doesn’t have money. In Paris, she did not hesitate to spend. On my birthday, she and another friend, Rina, treated me to a splendid dinner at a high-end Parisian bistro.

    But the best moment of the trip was about her encounter with a young and hip African musician donning loose, multi-colored trousers. They met while smoking outside the hotel premises. The man initiated the conversation, obviously interested in Maita. He even managed to get Maita’s room number, leading to his next question: “Would you like to have sex with me?”

    Maita’s quick retort: “Hey, I could be your grandma.” Not disheartened, the musician said, “I like older women, and I honestly thought you are in your 30s.” That of course flattered the senior citizen Maita. Pressing on, the musician said, “you’ll like me because a young man doesn’t get tired having sex.”

    To end the conversation, Maita curtly told the dude to back off because at her age, she no longer enjoys sex.

    Be that as it may, the story only shows that in the eyes of the young generation, and even among strangers, Maita remains a beauty queen.

  4. Chiqui Mabanta said,

    July 17, 2012 at 2:29 am

    Another good one! It’s weird I didn’t really go up close to get a good look at Maita. I guess it was really shocking — a lot more shocking than Ditas’s. So bizarre because Maita was the one I was communicating with the most. In fact I almost texted her to ask the details (of her wake!) ay yay yay… Sad they are gone😦

  5. 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.


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