Birkinmania: The Hermes Birkins of Manila

Of course, it’s tacky to ask one’s freespending socialite friends, whether they are genuine establishment, fabulously nouveau riche, or the irrepressible wannabes, “How many Birkins do you have?” but one might as well ask as there seems to be a raging contest going on in walk-in closets and in chichi lunches and teas…

And I am NOT talking about the AAAs and the First Class fakes available at every “tiangge”…

“I only have 6.  But my daughter has 10.”

“She has assiduously collected 8.   She keeps them by her bedside to watch over them.”  ( Probably the only things she owns? )

“She has quite a number of them:  1 from Taipan I’s son, 1 from Taipan II’s son , 1 from Taipan III’s lesbian daughter, 1 from Senator IV, 1 from Senator V, 1 from Congressman VI, 1 from Congressman VII, 1 from Mayor VIII, 1 from Mayor IX, et. al..  She has more than 12?”

“I have 18.  And I want more…!!!”

“She freaked out when the ‘yaya’ carrying her Birkin was sandwiched between the elevator doors at Pacific Plaza towers.  She nearly died!!!  Well, the pobrecita ‘yaya’ was fired ASAP.”

“She has some 2 dozen Hermes Birkins among hundreds of  really nice bags in her 300 m2 walk-in closet in Forbes Park.  But she stopped using the Bs when JP and then DP started using them.  Hahahah!  Just wait until they move into the ‘hood!”  

“You should have seen her when her hubby’s champion golden retriever dragged her fuchsia pink Birkin through the dining room to the living room to the ‘lanai’ and made the bag his lunch.  She cried for days and days over her tattered bag!!!  It was as bad as when their big Cristal Baccarat chandelier in the dining room fell just before a dinner party years ago.  Maybe there’s something wrong with the feng shui of their house… ”  

“That’s her retinue:  There’s the ‘yaya’ with the smartphone, the ‘yaya’ with the Birkin, the ‘yaya’ with the child, the ‘yaya’ with the child’s bag, the gay ‘alalay,’ the bodyguard with the big umbrella, the bodyguard with the small umbrella, and the 2 drivers ( of 8 ), one for the day and one for the night.  Nice life.”

A taipan’s beautiful wife said:  “Toto, just to let you know that I am sick and tired of seeing women parading their Birkin for everyone to see, so I have been using mine as a gym bag to the horror of friends who love to show theirs off. Mine is stuffed with a water bottle (sometimes wet) and a towel and some snacks. Doesn’t that remind you of IRM who would parade her diamonds on her head (tiara) when Elizabeth Taylor in the same event wore hers underneath her ball gown, on her ankles, apparently the headlines the next day say:  ‘ The jewelry that Imelda wore on her head, Elizabeth Taylor wore on her feet.’ Not sure how accurate the story is though, but was widely gossiped about then….Hahaha… And just so you know, mine are real!!! Even if I shop at 168, I also shop at Hermes in PARIS!”

“Of course, I’m not going to pay attention to my bags, whatever they are.  What am I, nouveau riche???”  ( She isn’t, but megarich just the same. )

“Puh-leeze!!!  None of that stuff for me!!!  Why would I want to look like them ( a litany of “new tacky names” )???  Yes, we had them when nobody did but now…  EEEeeewww!!!  I’m happy with the darling little bags I pick up in places not known to THOSE people, thank you.”

“Hermes Birkins ( and Kellys ) are simply beautiful bags.  They come in such pretty colors, and they’re so well-made, like a genuine Paris couture gown!  They are the only reasons why I buy one every now and then.  The fact that they cost more shouldn’t be an issue or a factor.  If you like them, that is enough justification to purchase.”  reflected a doyenne of establishment society. 

“This is a very beautiful bag,” explained a rich, genuinely establishment society magazine editrix to her wide-eyed staff, “look at the quality of the leather, the fittings.   Observe how neatly and precisely it’s sewn together, you can tell that so much expert effort was expended to create it.  I want you to look at it, smell it, feel it.  In the future, girls, should you have the requisite resources, you should invest in bags of high quality like this Hermes Birkin.”        

The last word came from a ranking Frenchwoman who, with great curiosity and the requisite Gallic snobbery, asked her Filipino Spanish mestizo friend:  “I was in Manila and I observed that Filipina women use their Birkins in the evenings…  Don’t they know it’s a day bag?”

To which the diplomatic friend helplessly and haplessly replied:  The Philippines is a tropical country.  It’s warm.  There’s really no distinction between day and evening wear.”

“Palusot”!!!  ( Lame excuse!!! )   😛   😛   😛

The one and only Dolphy

From the mid-1980s to the 1990s, my good friend Jo Panlilio ( Jose Maria Ricardo Yaptinchay-Abad Panlilio ) and I used to see Dolphy, the King of Comedy, having “merienda” with his friends, usually 2 to 3, during our weekly afternoon forays to “Za’s Cafe” at “Hizon’s” bakeshop in Ermita, usually after our jaunts to interior decorator Edgar Ramirez’s Aladdin’s cave of decorative delights on Remedios circle in Malate.  It was well-known that “Hizon’s” bakeshop was Dolphy’s favorite hangout.  And we couldn’t agree more.  During that time, the famous ”Lola Cecing” ( Inocencia Flores Hizon-Zamora originally of Mexico, Pampanga;  first married Carlos Ramos and then married Eduardo Zamora Sr. ) was still alive and held sway over her flourishing baking and restaurant business which served some of the best Kapampangan goodies and food in town.  We would see Lola Cecing busily supervising the kitchen operations through the glass panels which showed her immaculate kitchen. 

*unfinished ( there is a punch line to this )*

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…


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.


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.


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.


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..


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

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… ”


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.


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…”


“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!!!   😦   😦   😦



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.


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!!!   😀   😀   😀

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


Lunch out

Not only the good food, and the scintillating company, but the cool air, the trees, plants, flowers, and the colorful “koi” fishes in the various ponds that make dining at practically everyone’s favorite resto in distant Tagaytay, no matter how frequent, so pleasant…

Shine on, Silver Moon!

Bette Davies once quipped:  “Old age is no place for sissies.”

She was right.

So this is what it’s like to get old…

Holy Week 2012 reflections

At the start of Holy Week 2012, I decided that I would visit two people very dear to me:  73 year old fellow aesthete “Cong Albert” Albert Salgado Paloma [ cousin of my Gonzalez-Salgado cousins ] and my great grandaunt, nearly 102 years old “Imang Bets” Beatriz Tiamson Rodriguez [ Rodriguez first cousin of my paternal great grandmother Florencia Rodriguez Sioco-Gonzalez, o 1860 – + 1925 ], both living in San Fernando, Pampanga…


Cong Albert was in great spirits despite his kidney ailment.  His kidney treatment actually allowed him to eat anything, so we shared a luxurious “Bacalao ala Vizcaina” and a decadent “Lamb Shank Caldereta,” both unforgettably delicious.  Bishop Socrates “Soc” Villegas in Dagupan, a good friend and client of his, had just sent him a bag of king prawns, so he was thinking of making a nice “Sinigang”…

Illness had barely dampened Cong Albert’s spirits and he was his usual acerb, comic self.  We talked about the latest goings-on of our relatives and friends and as always, it made for very interesting conversation.


Dear ol’ Imang Bets was seated upright on her bed, propped up on several pillows.  There was a lunchtime variety show on the TV, but she was looking blankly into space, muttering prayers.  I introduced myself, greeted her, and she took both my hands and kissed them.  But she could no longer recognize me.  It was alright, it was enough that I was with her.  There were some dark marks on her arms and legs;  Her assistant Charing explained that she got them during a bad fall some months ago and they had not recovered [ but what can one expect at + 100 years old? ].  Imang Bets told me that “Apung Misericordia” was in the house with her [ an antique wooden image of the Crucified Christ that was the center of Rodriguez family devotion for generations ].  She kept repeating a prayer that sounded like “Dear Jesus, forgive us our sins…”  Charing apologized that there was no big “ensaimada” nor my favorite “mamon tostado” in stock, which they usually served for “merienda” during my visits.  But it was enough, it was really enough, that I was there with dearest Imang Bets for a while.


Cong Albert and Imang Bets.  Two people who make my world rock.  45 years have taught me not to take anyone or anything for granted.  Because one day…


In the late afternoon, I stayed in the family burial ground for over an hour, seated on a prewar, precast bench, looking with deep affection at the gravestones and remembering all the people I had loved, and lost, to something we all call “eternity” which is something none of us fully understand…

Chez Romualdez

“Could you be at the ROMUALDEZ house in Pandacan tomorrow 9am?  We need your advice.”

TXT msg from Cindy R.V., +63917…, 08.15am

“OK.  Anything for you, dear.”

TXT msg from Toto G., +63915…, 08.16am


30 January 2011, Friday, 09:45 a.m.

Pandacan, seemingly exotic as it sounds, is not difficult to get to.  From Makati, you go through Osmena highway [ former South Superhighway ], right to President Quirino avenue, and turn right just before Nagtahan bridge [ just 20 minutes from Makati CBD with moderate traffic ];  from Quezon city and Manila you simply take Arsenio H. Lacson [ former Governor Forbes ] to Nagtahan bridge and then turn left immediately.  You will pass the “Caritas” Manila office on your right.  After crossing the little bridge, you will see the now white-painted, stately Romualdez residence on your right.  You have arrived.

I hardly recognized the white-painted house when I came upon it.  I was used to its unpainted, almost unkempt look during the post-EDSA revolution years, when the Marcos and the Romualdez families were unfashionable and the Aquino and the Cojuangco had replaced them in what most Filipinos thought was karmic tit-for-tat.

Mandoy’s daughter Eliza, an archaeologist by profession, had long been working on the structure.

Poling’s daughter Cindy and her daughter Naynay had brought in the popular and dynamic Pastor Ed, who so kindly and generously agreed to assist the family in preparing the house.  Cindy’s sister Raqui and sister-in-law Evelyn were also there.

And then, 45 minutes after I came, the Beautiful One finally arrived at 10:30 a.m..  She glided effortlessly up the “escalera principal” principal stairway amid a flurry of staff and security men.

The Romualdezes had long been residents of — in fact, practically natives if you will — of Pandacan, an “arrabal” district of Manila.  The Romualdez progenitor, the Sangley trader Pei Ling Po and his wife Victoria de los Angeles settled there.  Their descendant, the Chinese mestizo Daniel Romualdez was a “cabeza de barangay” of the place.  He married the beautiful Spanish mestiza Trinidad Lopez y Crisostomo of Tolosa, Leyte and they had three sons:  Norberto, Miguel, and Vicente Orestes.  Daniel met Trinidad when her silversmith father, Fray Francisco Lopez OFM, was assigned as “cura parroco” parish priest of Pandacan from his previous post in Basey, Samar.

Norberto first married Mariquita Marquez;  after she passed away, he married Beatriz Buz.  Norberto became Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.  Miguel married Brigida Zialcita and he became Mayor of Manila.  Vicente Orestes first married Juanita Acereda;  after she passed away, he married the quietly beautiful “interna” Remedios Trinidad of Baliuag, Bulacan and Capiz province.  Vicente Orestes Romualdez and Remedios Trinidad were the parents of former First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos.

The present Romualdez “bahay-na-bato” ancestral home in Pandacan was not built by the Romualdez nor by the Lopez.  It was built sometime in the early 1900s by a de Jesus gentleman who was married to a Legarda y Roces lady.  To this day, the intertwined initials J, L, and R are still found in some of the carved panels on the exterior of the house.  De Jesus was an inveterate gambler and philanderer who lost everything;  he mortgaged his house to the bank and forthwith lost it.  Col. Jacobo Zobel rushed to his good friend Manila Mayor Miguel Romualdez and told him what a good deal the forfeited de Jesus-Legarda y Roces house in Pandacan was.  Miguel purchased it from the bank and it became his residence for life.

As it was nearing lunchtime…

“Naku, mga Romualdez yan, mahilig sa pagkain ang mga iyan!”  Madame snapped.

“Maniwala ka Toto, noon, sinama ko silang lahat sa bapor mula Manila papuntang Leyte.  Nagbaon kami ng mga hamon.  Akalain mo, pagdating namin sa Leyte, ubos ang lahat ng hamon!”  recalled Madame.

“Eh di para ho kayong si ‘Mrs. Payme’ sa ‘Dance-O-Rama’ na naghanap ng nawawalang hamon sa mga boarders niya?”  I rejoined jokingly.  Those at the table who remembered “Dance-O-Rama” laughed.

She smiled beatifically.  I didn’t know if Madame Imelda Romualdez-Marcos ever watched Susan Roces’ hilarious “Dance-O-Rama”… the way most of our “Martial Law Babies” generation did…


05 January 2011, Thursday, 5:00 p.m.

Madame had hung a framed, large photograph of her ancestor, Fray Francisco Lopez OFM, above the Louis XV-style sofa in the sala.  He was a handsome, albeit chubby man.  Raqui, Eliza, Marivic, and I looked at it and tried to place the face…  his descendants concurred that his face was “so Romualdez”…

“Looks like my brother… ”  Raqui thought.

“Looks like Alfred…”

“Uhm, looks like Martin…”  I opined.

“See?  He thinks he looks like Martin!”

Marivic turned to Eliza… “Didn’t Daniel look like that when he was a boy?  He was cute and chubby…”

“You should see Daniel now… he’s slim and he’s got abs!”  Eliza recalled.

“Gee, can you imagine what Daniel could do with this house???!!!”


Tita Lulu arrived, the last of the loyal Blue Ladies, looking fresh and rested…

“Ma’am, namatay ho si Tito Pabling…”  I informed Madame.

“Ay, kamamatay lang ng kapatid ko, at ng pamangkin ko…”  Madame responded, then turning to Tita Lulu… “Namatay daw si Pabling!  Kumusta na si Loleng?”

“Oo, kahapon ng alas kuwatro… Nasa ‘Heritage’… ”  Tita Lulu replied.


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.   🙂   🙂   🙂

« Older entries Newer entries »