August Is the Cruelest Month

Old friends have just vanished, all within weeks—days—of each other:  Mae Gaffud, President Fidel V. Ramos’ loyal assistant who has been with him since his palace days and who was responsible for converting Malacañang into a real museum during the Ramos years, from the hate-Marcos propaganda showcase that it had been; my tocayo Jaime Ladao, pioneer in Philippine credit information and ratings; Perla Velasco, an Imelda Romualdez-Marcos efficient and professional secretary; and a relative who was also a business friend.

Gone too is Tina Jacinto, the elegant, soft-spoken and charming Manila Bulletin chronicler of Manila events. A member of the distinguished Hidalgo family of Marinduque and Camarines and wife of celebrated photographer Rupert Jacinto, Tina was a gracious and ever-smiling presence at diplomatic receptions, charity balls, and private celebrations. Her widely read column, beautifully recorded by Rupert, will be missed.

Tina Jacinto, photo by Noel Pabalete

My neighbor—we live one block apart—writer, publisher, producer, painter and art patron, foodie, fashionista and model, shopkeeper, and all around unpredictable (she’d been trying to matchmake me and an unsuspecting mutual friend for years) Gilda Cordero Fernando lived up to her continuing prediction that she was going—she organized an advance wake for herself years ago.  María Makiling would be at home in her Locsin-designed pavilion-in-a-jungle Quezon City home. Books and masterpieces are all over, not worshipped collector pieces but furnishings to be lived with. Her street gate and kitchen cabinet doors are paintings. Grandchildren performed on an Abueva sculpture.  A bathroom wall is an installation of broken crockery, sharp edges threatening delicate body parts.  

I first met Gilda when she was running her Ermita shop named “Junque” where I spent many a Saturday afternoon enjoying her company and browsing folk art—textiles, toys, paper cutouts, santos, baskets, wooden clogs. The books she published (GCF Books) were firsts—educational and enjoyable must-reads on architecture, furniture and furnishings, traditional lifestyle, on all things Filipino. Saying she wanted to declutter, she gave me books containing her short stories; tell-all autobiographical tidbits like how she and her husband-to-be spent many a love-in-the-afternoon tryst on her way home; and sad pieces like how she felt on visiting her old Quiapo home after the family moved away. She staged a fabulous musical production at the Cultural Center’s main theater that had an antique three-mirror tocador floating up; was a designer and stunning fashion model too. It’s hard to imagine how a vibrant, joyful, and unique personality is but a memory.

Gilda Cordero Fernando

Scion of old and distinguished Manila families, Dr. Benito J. Legarda, Jr. was by training an economist, a colleague in the Central Bank of the Philippines where he was deputy governor for economic research and I, deputy governor for supervision and examination. He was a man of many interests—maps, books, art (notably santos), numismatics—covering all areas of Filipino cultural creativity and was an authority in all. He wrote the definitive work on the 19th century Philippine economy (After the Galleons) that was an expansion of his Harvard Ph.D. thesis; books on the Filipino-American War (The Hills of Sampaloc) and World War II (Occupation: 1942-1945); and numerous articles on his areas of interest. A concert habitue, he was a strong supporter of the Manila Symphony Society and, as numismatist, he was responsible for creation of the Central Bank Money Museum and its outstanding collection of Philippine coins and paper money and the pioneering publication, Barilla.

Dr. Benito J. Legarda, Jr.

A reserved gentleman with old world manners, Dr. Legarda was a charming person when you got to know him, generous in sharing what he knew. As Central Bank deputy governors, we used to run into each other at Ermita antique shops during lunch breaks and over the years, at the annual Dia del Libro, Arroceros Park events, CCP concerts, numismatic bazaars, Philippine Map Collectors Society meetings. He was a true nationalist, a scholar, a man of great knowledge. Few are like him.

The brilliant and unassuming Ignacio “Atio” Maramba and I were group heads at SGV, working under our hardworking Management Services Division bosses Cesar E.A. Virata and Roberto V. Ongpin. We later went our separate ways, he to international finance and development at the World Bank and I to the Philippine government and corporate world. He returned to the Philippines and the last time we saw each other was over lunch at his house near Sta. Scholastica College, still the same good and friendly man, doing NGO work and, at that lunch, going out of his way to further the cause of music education.

Jorge Allan R. Tengco

Mention cultural heritage and the name Jorge Allan R. Tengco or JAR comes up. The young businessman who was with transport giant Baliwag Transit, Inc. was an expert on Philippine religious imagery, tireless in promoting and organizing traditional religious processions as spiritual and cultural events. He built an enormous collection of life-sized images and tableaux, the grandest of which have been featured in the spectacular Good Friday Procession of his hometown, Baliwag, Bulacan and in Intramuros’ December Grand Marian Procession. He was generous with his expertise, time, and resources, serving as president of the Cofradia de la Immaculada Concepción Foundation, chair of the Bulacan Tourism Council. His many friends, laymen, and ecclesiastics alike and numerous charitable and spiritual organizations will miss JAR.

Faith tells us that death is a transition, but then T.S. Eliot reminds us, 

“Your shadow at morning standing behind you 
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you: 
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

Note:  The Waste Land by Anglo-American poet T.S. Eliot (published in 1922) is considered one of the most important poems of the 20th century.

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