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Mel Tiangco’s home hits the front page |

Modern Living

Mel Tiangco’s home hits the front page

- Tanya T. Lara -
When Mel Tiangco casually shows us photos of her mother’s house, we can’t help but wonder out loud how similar the two houses are – the house she grew up in with her parents and eight siblings and the house she now occupies with two of her four children.

The sofas are covered in similar damask fabric, there’s the preponderance of carved wooden furnishings, the love of bringing the outdoor in with the living room opening into the lanai, and even the themes of the paintings, particularly the one in Mel’s foyer, are almost the same.

The similarity strikes her anew. "Inside my mother’s house, one wall was covered by a mural, the theme was nationalist, a painting depicting Sikatuna."

She gestures at the foyer and says, "That’s our family picture."

There is a painting there – a harvest scene that we didn’t give much thought to when we first entered Mel’s house. Later, we realize that when she said "family picture," she didn’t mean it as a metaphor.

It is the family portrait.

Like any self-respecting harvest painting, it depicts a carabao and people wearing salakot. Only on closer inspection do we see that the lady sitting under the shade of a tree with a basket on her lap is indeed Mel Tiangco. Her son, singer Wency Cornejo, is sitting beside her, his pants rolled up to his calves like a farmer’s. Her three other children – Ana Teresa, Melanie and Jose Miguel – have their hands full of the land’s bounty.

Mel answers the question on our mind when she says, "Of course, there’s no husband there because I’m a single mother."

While gazing at the painting, maybe we should be humming the tune of Magpakailan Man, the theme and title of the drama show Mel hosts on Channel 7. After all, her life is as colorful as any of the stories featured on the show, full of struggles and triumphs, of comings and goings.

The foyer sets the tone of the Tiangco home. It’s a traditional home with a lot of vertical decorative fluting. The layered tray ceiling features handcarved cornices that echo the detailing on some of the furniture pieces. All in all, the house speaks of a woman who values craftsmanship. The furniture were custom made and built by an export company in Pampanga, which specializes in restoring and reproducing period furniture for mansions in the United States.

"I like wood because it makes the house very warm and gives it that elegant aspect. I didn’t want it stiff. But in the beginning, my children didn’t like it. They said, ‘Ma, ano ba yang bahay mo?’ I said, it’s very me!" Mel says with a laugh. "They said it looked so formal. Sabi ko, no it doesn’t, tayo ang magbibigay ng buhay sa bahay and sure enough that’s what happened."

Her children Wency andAna Teresa and their families live with her in this six-bedroom house in Quezon City. Mel also likes to entertain close friends and her staff at Channel 7 and at the GMA Kapuso Foundation, of which she serves as executive director.

"During the Christmas season, almost every day we have dinners or parties here. I like people coming to the house, especially if they eat here, kasi daw suwerte. I like entertaining, nothing formal, cowboy-cowboy lang."

One of her long-time staffers and GMA Kapuso Foundation operations manager, Menchi Silvestre, reveals that Mel likes to serve guests herself during these parties, a practice we witness when lunch is served in the lanai during the interview.

Okay, so maybe she doesn’t cook (the barbecue was bought from a nearby restaurant) but Mel likes to personally train her household help on the everyday routine in the house. You can’t possibly expect a woman to do it all plus anchor two weekly shows and a five-days-a-week newscast, can you?

For most of her adult life, Mel Tiangco has lived and worked in Quezon City. She knows by heart the distances and the time, down to the minute, to get from home to work. She tells us: It took exactly six minutes to drive to work from the house she used to rent in Project 6 to the studios of Channel 4 when it was still located on Bohol Avenue. Five years ago, she moved into this house that she built in this QC village, from another house that was in the same area, and now it takes her exactly 10 minutes to get to the GMA compound, give or take another 10 if there’s traffic.

"I can’t imagine if I live in Parañaque or Alabang or kahit Greenhills lang. Dito, pag may nakalimutan ako I can send the driver home. I’ve gotten used to this area and find it very convenient."

So when she was having this house built, her brief to architect Benzon Vivar was straightforward. "I told him I wanted something simple but elegant. I want the rooms to be really well designed, the spaces to be defined."

The house has a simple, efficient layout. When you walk through the front door, you can either turn right or go straight past the staircase and through another door. If you go straight, this would take you to what Mel calls the "barracks" – the TV room, the family dining room and the kitchen. If you go right, this takes you to the formal living room and the dining room.

For both these rooms, Mel threw in a few eclectic pieces to add appeal to the room, otherwise, it would be too formal what with the heavy drapery and the wooden furniture. In the dining room, to break the monotony of wood, Mel topped the heavily carved base of the table with a thick glass embossed with a floral design on the underside. The chairs, though carved with stylized flowers and echoing the carved borders on the ceiling, don’t have a solid back, allowing for a visual breathing space. Beside the table is a Cambodian cabinet turned into a bar with extendable overleaf. On top of it is a framed Last Supper piece.

"This is very cheap, you can get it anywhere. But this belonged to my mother. I remember that when I was as young as three years old it was already hanging in our dining room." Mel had the piece gold-leafed and framed. "To me, it’s priceless because it belonged to my mother. Pinag-awayan pa namin ’yan ng kapatid ko," she adds with a laugh.

On one end of the room is a large China cabinet and on the other end are sliding doors to the lanai. "The dining table is for 12. When there are more guests, we use the lanai."

This outdoor space serves the same visual function for the living room – allowing the eyes to wander to the garden outside. Opposite the sofa are artworks close to Mel’s heart. A painting of a flower was acquired from a fundraising event of St. Luke’s Medical Center and the four smaller ones carry a European flavor. "I got these from Vienna in 2001," she says.

On her trips abroad, Mel has her priorities straight: First, she goes to the museums (the Louvre in Paris is her favorite), then to home stores. On one of these trips, she bought a beautiful blue glass sculpture of a lady in Switzerland. Other furnishings and accessories, though European made, were bought locally, such as the Lladro sculpture of a woman (a unique one actually, because it is not your typical Lladro color) and a French cabinet that she turned into a stereo cabinet.

The piece that really means soemthing to Mel is a portrait of her made by prisoners. It’s on wood rather than canvas. The image was literally burned into the wood, giving it a patina of age. On the back is a touching dedication from the prisoners she helped back in the early 1990s.

Mel and Jesuit priest Fr. Vic Labao helped build a skills training center by repairing a dilapidated shack on the prison grounds. According to Mel, the priest discovered that one of the prisoners was a master baker, so they initially supplied ovens and the rest of the prisoners were taught how to bake bread. To get the livelihood going, Bureau of Corrections head Vicente Vinarao ordered all the prison facilities to order their bread from this bakery. "It did so well it expanded to tailoring and candle making. The prisoners took out a loan and were able to pay it at interest. That was so good. It lasted about four years. Now, it doesn’t exist anymore. When we started it, it was Vinarao who gave us the land, yung sumunod, siguro pinagkainteresan nila, binawi yung lupa from the prisoners. Sayang, it was a project whose objective was to give the prisoners self-respect, so that when their kids came to visit, may iaabot silang pera."

Today, as executive director of GMA Kapuso Foundation, Mel helps choose and implement humanitarian and charitable projects. One of them is Unang Hakbang sa Kinabukasan, a program to keep kids in school by giving school materials to children in Grade 1. "A study says that many children get out of school at Grade 1 because wala silang gamit. Perhaps after one week the child realizes yung kapitbahay niya may lapis at papel, siya wala. Pinapasukan ng inferiority complex. We started this six years ago in Metro Manila, working hand in hand with the DECS to identify the poorest communities. Now we’re doing it in Mindanao as well."

Another project in Mindanao was to rehabilitate school buildings that were "caught in the crossfire." Mel says it wasn’t just the physical structures they were repairing, but also the psychological impact of the unrest."

With such projects, you’d think Mel Tiangco was eyeing public office. She shakes her head when she says, "I don’t see my future in politics because I’m a simple person at heart. I like the simple life despite the facade and trappings. Ayoko ng magulong buhay. During my interview with President Arroyo for Biodata, she said as soon s she sat down, ‘Mel, in three years you’ll be in my senate slate.’ I said, ‘I’m sorry ma’am, I am apolitical, there’s no politics in me.’ She said, ‘But you’re going to be a shoo-in.’ It’s not the first offer…every time there’s an election since 1992…Sabay-sabay kami noon nina Noli de Castro in saying hindi tayo tatakbo, o sila tumatakbo and I‘m still saying the same line."

Her TV partner for 17 years, Jay Sonza, is now running for the senate. Though Mel has never really publicly admitted that they were real-life partners, stories of their relationship and later an acrimonious breakup surfaced many years ago. Still, the pair continued with their show Partners with Mel and Jay on Channel 7 until Jay decided to run, effectively banning himself from TV shows during the campaign period.

Did he ask for her advice before he threw in his hat in the race? "No, he just ran," she says.

Does Mel consider their relationship friendly? "It’s more professional than anything. We used to work together for a long time. It’s not friendship, it’s professional," is all she’d say for the record.

Two Sundays ago, she started her show Partners with Mel alone. And despite Mel’s hesitation of going solo (she initially wanted GMA management to look for a replacement partner), the show was a success. "Wow! It was fantastic. The first episode was the other day, the ratings were grabe. At least 10 points difference. Partners had 29 percent, Sharon had 19. Ang taba-taba naman ng puso ko. I told myself, tama siguro ang management."

If Mel’s personal life is something to go by, going solo professionally may be a great decision. This is a woman who raised four kids by herself (her eldest was 11 years old and her youngest was 5 when she and her husband separated).

Today, her best piece of advice to single mothers is "Take charge of your life, itigil na ang sisihan, itigil na yung expecting from other people. I’m not saying they should not assert their rights as wife and mother, ang gusto kong sabihin sa kanila is not to get stuck in that stage."
* * *
The GMA Kapuso Foundation is holding a fun run tomorrow, February 29. Assembly is at the Quirino Grandstand at 5 a.m. The run will start at 6 a.m. and will end at the Bayview Hotel for the 3-kilometer run, at Casino Filipino for the 5k, and at the Department of Foreign affairs for the 10k. Proceeds from the fun run will go to the Unang Hakbang sa Kinabukasan and the reconstruction of school buildings in Mindanao.

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