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Bacolod City, PhilippinesTuesday, June 23, 2009
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with Ninfa Leonardia
OPINIONS

The poor, penniless widow

Ninfa Leonardia

That she blows! That’s the line I thought of upon reading a news report about the incomparable former first lady of the Philippines, the former beauty queen from Tacloban, weeping over her sad fate after the Justice Department refused to return her jewelry that was valued at a whopping P16 Billion! The saddest part was the fact that she must have known that the former Justice Secretary, Raul Gonzalez, had already given orders to have them given back to her.

* * *

Unfortunately for her, Gonzalez was yanked out of the Justice Department with a suddenness that must have shocked him as profoundly as it did her. And the one who took over, is not inclined to let the cache go, saying they are part of ill-gotten wealth, and therefore belonged to the government. Now those were not just ordinary sparklers, they consisted of necklaces, chokers, coronets, bracelets, rings, pendants, that had value worth a king’s ransom. Who wouldn’t grieve over them?

* * *

When the Marcoses were in power, especially during the days after her husband had declared Martial Law and changed forever the attitudes and principles of many Filipinos, my late friend, lawyer Ed Gasataya, who used to work in Malacañang, told us that her landlady was an aunt of Imelda who often got invited to socials in the palace. According to Ed (short for Eduviges) her landlady once narrated to them how she and the other relatives of Imelda were gifted with precious things after the parties.

* * *

The landlady said her niece would take them to her bedroom and show them her jewelry collection which never failed to awe them. Once, she reportedly said, the first lady took out a small silk sack that held several handfuls of “suelto (unmounted)” diamonds of various sizes. She said the lady would dig her hand into the sack and draw out a handful of the gems, then let them fall slowly near a lampshade, creating a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors as the light hit them! Later, she said, each would be given a small one, a souvenir of the visit. That must have been one reason why nobody would refuse her invitations.

* * *

But in yesterday’s media reports, we see and read of an Imelda, teary-eyed as she mourned her misfortune and pitiful state today. This while gesturing with a hand bearing a 22-carat diamond ring, which, she said, was her engagement ring, given by her late husband, President Ferdinand Marcos, who was just a senator when they got married in Baguio after an 11-day courtship. But nobody I know can remember seeing that diamond during their wedding, nor during the early days of his presidency. Now she laments being a poor, helpless widow, struggling, in her own words, to make herself presentable. Reporters could not help recalling that when she won her first case in that New York court, she told the media: “I won on my birthday. I was alone, widowed, helpless, penniless, countryless.” And she also warned those prosecuting her that according to the Bible, “There is a special place in hell for those who oppress widows and orphans.” En garde, Madam Justice Secretary! By the way, her birthday is on July 2.

* * *

Meanwhile, the Health Department has confirmed that we already have one casualty to the A(H1N1) virus, and it is a 49-year-old woman who also had symptoms of other ailments before she contracted the virus. I understand the fatality had not traveled abroad and probably got infected here. There was a report from Vietnam that should make us more vigilant about monitoring outsiders coming into the country. In Hanoi, it was reported, some travelers were found to have taken anti-fever medications before flying to the country, so that their symptoms were not noticed when they were checked at the airport. That should cue our own Health Department people.

* * *

The members of Rotary International District 3850 held their joint induction rites last night at the newest addition to the L’Fisher Hotel, an immense hall that is going to be the answer to the city’s lack of a convention site for gatherings of thousands of people. I don’t know yet what its name is, but trust it to the members of the Ciocon family to think of an appropriate one. Anyway, the hall was full, and the guest speaker was Senator, and former House Speaker Manny Villar, who seemed to be very popular with the Rotarians and their guests.

* * *

Somebody in our table said that it looks as if Villar’s slogan “Hirap at Tiyaga” connects very well with the people, especially those who have experienced poverty. I can’t translate the slogan very well, my Tagalog is quite poor (like many people in Bacolod who complain about the Tagalog songs and prayers in their churches), but I think “Industry and Perseverance” is quite near the point. Maybe that is why, despite all the attacks against him from his fellow senators, especially, he continues to rate well in the surveys. Still, there is still a long way to go before 2010.*

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