Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Farewell to Louie Lagdameo and Pacing Manglapus

Despite all the problems our country faces, it’s good that people have not forgotten to take in a good musicale or attend art shows. This being “rest day” from politics, let’s indulge in culture. Last Tuesday evening my husband and I were invited to the grand opening of composer Andrew Lloyd Weber’s memorable musicale, “Cats,” at the CCP by Citi Group. It’s great that this production, which has hitherto been seen only by those able to travel to the world’s theater capitals such as New York and London, is now playing in our city.

The musicale is woven around the world of feline creatures, the “Jellicle cats,” led by their wise old leader with the biblical name of “Deuteronomy.” Their furry costumes, complete with long tails, and movements recreated those of cats, but they lived, loved and quarreled just like humans. Spun by Webber and director Trevor Nunn from immortal British poet T. S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” this first English musical is exciting and the Australian cast has superb singers and dancers. But it was our very own Lea Salonga as the glamour cat Grizabella, who, not surprisingly, captivated the audience with her powerful second rendition of the hauntingly beautiful theme song, “Memory.” As Lea’s voice soared to the rafters, the audience responded with rousing acclamation. I quipped to new Ambassador to Washington Johnny Santos, whom I sat next to, that the clamor for Lea looked like a hometown decision. Johnny laughed and said, “Well, nandiyan din yan, pero talagang magaling si Lea.” Indeed she was. Catch “Cats” until Aug. 22.

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For the second year Manila’s art dealers, led by Bonafide Art Galleries Organization (BAGO) president and Gallery BIG owner Jonathan Sy, mounted a big exhibit, “MANILART 10,” that opened last Thursday, July 29, until today at the SMX Convention Center in the Mall of Asia complex. The rains failed to dampen the enthusiasm of art connoisseurs who flocked to the glittering opening, so much so that the wine ran out. Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia cut the ribbon, assisted by NCCA Chair Vilma Labrador, who co-sponsor the show together with the Department of Tourism. MANILART 10 showcases some 70 booths that feature 1,000 paintings and sculptures by over 400 of RP’s most respected names as well as the brightest new stars in the art firmament. Raffle prizes such as gift certificates to exclusive resorts, offered by my daughter Christine’s popular, glossy bi-monthly travel magazine, “TraveLife,” and the grand prize of a jewelry set from leading jeweler “Janina for Jul Dizon” added to the excitement.

I was quite pleasantly surprised to realize how many art dealers have sprouted over the years, and more so to see the seriousness of today’s art collectors, most of them successful young professionals.

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Last weekend, while I was in Negros Occidental, I learned that my good friend Amado Luis “Louie” Lagdameo, had passed away and would be buried last Tuesday. Missing his funeral, I called up Francis Manglapus two days later, to inquire about Louie’s passing, and to my shock Francis told me his mother, Pacita LaO Manglapus, 88, widow of the late Senator and one time presidential candidate Raul Manglapus, had just passed away that morning. I quickly condoled with him and mused over this coincidence about two departed friends I had known in earlier years.

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Louie Lagdameo is a big loss to the Lakas-NUCD party, for he was truly its Christian-Democratic ideologue. Possessed of manners and speech befitting a gentleman of the old school, Louie was a first-rate intellectual and the job assigned by his party of both nobles and ruffians suited his temperament and background. Louie and I were disciples of famed Jesuit political scientist Fr. Pacifico A. Ortiz, former President of the Ateneo University and a delegate from Rizal to the 1971 Constitutional Convention. Back in the early ‘60s, we worked together at the Padre Faura campus as assistants to Fr.Ortiz, who was at that time the Regent of the Ateneo College of Law; the three of us spent many a lunch break at a small Italian restaurant across the Ateneo, the “Cucina Italiana,” which for Louie and me was also a continuing education in politics, washed down with chianti. Thus, it was no small wonder that I would spend 28 years of my life later as a political writer after Ninoy Aquino’s assassination in 1983, 25 of them as a political columnist for the Inquirer.

Louie and I worked in an office-cum-library called “Rizal Room,” in the law school’s second floor, surrounded by floor to ceiling shelves of the finest books on politics assembled in this country. But it was also at that time that romance blossomed between Louie and a lovely doe-eyed girl named Chinggay Diaz, a mass communications graduate of the Catholic University of America and daughter of the famed terror of lawyers, Justice Pompeyo Diaz. Chinggay shared Rizal Room with us as Fr. Leo Larkin’s assistant and she and Louie ended up with a beautiful wedding in Malate Church. Condolences to Chinggay over the passing of such a fine gentleman. .

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The svelte Pacita laO came from one of Manila’s oldest and prominent families, with sizable landholdings from the side of her maternal grandfather, longtime Manila City Engineer Tomas Arguelles (her dad, Gabriel laO was Dean of the UST College of Law). Pacing was the second of four glamorous laO girls, the three others being Nena who married a Manotoc; Chita who became Ms. Geny Lopez, and Techie, who married the West Pointer Jimmy Velasquez, who later became among the principal architects of the Makati development of the Ayalas. Pacing married a politician from Ilocos Sur, Raul Manglapus, who was also an orator in three languages and a musician par excellence. While working in the Rizal Room with Fr. Ortiz, Raul’s dear friend, I would disappear into the seminar room next door where he would from time to time conduct a lecture on the evolution of jazz from the tribal jungles of Africa and the swampy settlements of the Mississippi, demonstrating their music with his bongo drums. I would be completely enthralled. For years I followed Raul’s Executive Combo with Bobby Manosa, Bert del Rosario and other amateur musicians in their rehearsals.

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I actually met Pacing Manglapus when as a part-time feature writer in the early ’60s, my early assignment was to do a pictorial-interview of the wives of well-known politicians. My extremely talented photographer, Joe Gabor (who later married Mina Tapia) did some fabulous photos of the socialite senator’s wife. In their 52 years of marriage, Pacing and Raul were inseparable--- one of the best marriages I’ve seen. For their 50th wedding they went back to the same Washington D.C. chapel they wedded in in 1947. They were even buried the same date, July 31, Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, she yesterday and Raul in 1999! When martial law was declared, Raul, an anti-Marcos Con-Con delegate like my boss, Fr. Ortiz, was in Tokyo for a speaking engagement; he decided to go straight to the US. His 51-year old wife Pacing and her three sons in Manila made a dramatic escape aboard a small kumpit on the high seas: from Cebu to Sibutu and Sabah, where they were refused entry at first because they had no papers. They had to stay on the kumpit for three days, subsisting on pan de sal and Pacing refusing to answer nature’s call the entire time.

In their 13 years of exile in the US, the former socialite, who had never boiled an egg in her life, quickly realized she had to augment her activist professor-husband’s meager income and she converted her house in Virginia into a day-care center which she ran for years. That’s why the accusation against them and other exiles like the Alvarezes, that they were “steak commandoes” in the US, was a joke. In the two years after Raul’s death, Pacing reclused herself from friends, but after two years she put an end to her grief and began to socialize with Eggie Apostol and other friends in dance sessions in Eggie’s home. Yesterday she must have eagerly walked into her beloved Raul’s embrace.

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