Imelda Marcos lauds Sonya Mathay, the friend who stood by her when others fled

CYBER PROUST - Jojo G. Silvestre (The Philippine Star) - December 2, 2012 - 12:00am

How to remember someone who hardly talked, who kept quiet and preferred to listen, while everyone around her told stories, is quite a task. And yet, one need not search far for the right words to describe the late Sonya Mathay. Simply said, she was a quiet, gentle and caring lady.   

It was in her silence that Sonya Mathay was most eloquent. And it was from  her serenity that she drew strength.    

Twenty-four hours after the demise of her dear friend Dr. Eleuterio “Teyet” Pascual, Sonya died, as though she meant it to be that way.  People, she must have thought, would be talking about the raconteur, art collector and controversial personality Teyet. What better time to go than when the attention was focused on someone else?

And yet, those who loved her remembered. Those who were aware of her good deeds spoke fondly of her.

Sonya, in the 1970s to the middle 1980s, had her share of the limelight, although it was said that she hardly enjoyed it. As the wife of then vice governor of Metro Manila Ysmael Mathay Jr., she too cut inaugural ribbons and crowned beauty queens. And when invited, she joined the First Lady of the Philippines and Metro Manila Governor Imelda Romualdez Marcos in making the rounds of the latter’s many social development projects in Metro Manila. These were her duties to fulfill and as a social observer once commented, “Sonya was detached from the ‘grandeur and glory’ that came with the territory.” Although she and Ma’am were friends, Sonya was neither a Blue Lady nor a fixture in the Palace.   

“I knew her husband, Mel, more because he was my vice governor for 11 years. So, Sonya and I would meet only during official functions,” recalled Imelda Marcos, who, after coming from the interment of the remains of Sonya, granted this interview at the Dasmariñas Village home of her bosom friend, Lulu Tinio.

Imelda continued: “When I came back from exile and stayed at the Philippine Plaza’s Imperial Suite which was offered to me by its owners, because I had no place to live, Sonya would visit me. She saw that after so many years when thousands of people swarmed around me, I was all of a sudden by my lonesome self. No more friends and deprived of things. So, she came often. I knew then that I had a true friend in her.

“After a while, when I was beginning to feel that the Philippine Plaza was too public for me,” Imelda continued, “Sonya looked for a place for me and found this house in Forbes Park. And again, she would come to visit me.”  

While, this time, the living arrangements were a lot more comfortable and homey, something was still amiss. For all the stateliness of the place, it lacked the “little things” that Imelda was used to, like those great artworks created by the masters. Besides, she was even lonelier, surrounded as she was by snooty neighbors.

Sonya Mathay found a solution to her friend’s woes. She told Imelda, “Ma’am, I have an apartment at the Pacific Plaza. I know you have no cash. You don’t have to pay rent. But if you finally have the resources and you want to buy it, just pay me.”

Five years after, the former First Lady’s relatives bought the place for her, “so that I have a place naman,” she said. As the Asian crisis had driven prices up, the value of the property was naturally five times as much as when Imelda began living in the apartment. It was worth it because while she could enjoy utmost privacy, she lived across a dear old friend from her Palace days.

“It was so nice of her because she placed me naman on the floor where Teyet happened to live,” she related. And Teyet naman, on the other hand, was so generous that he put a number of art pieces in the apartment. So, my life became a little rosier and better.” 

Sonya, not surprisingly, “continued visiting me to make sure I was okay. During special occasions, she would also give me a little something, sometimes things I took a fancy to at 168 Mall. She would remember my birthdays,” said Imelda.

Thus, with Sonya coming often, Teyet literally just around the corner, and Lulu remaining faithful as a constant companion of Ma’am from their Malacañang days, there emerged a special friendship that became even stronger through time. When I asked Imelda if it was some kind of a “barkadahan,” she clarified, “No, I would not say so. Instead, we were one in spirit in what was right and what was beautiful because we were all lovers of the arts.”

Imelda then explained how their foursome — she with Teyet, Sonya and Lulu — had withstood the seasons of life. For starters, she said that they were close enough to her during the Marcos years “to know the truth.”

While Teyet, like Sonya and Lulu, was my constant companion, he also was “my defender. When we were in public, and my security staff took care of my wellbeing and safety, Teyet stood guard against those who would vilify me to my face. ‘Why? What do you know about this?’ he would ask them. He never tolerated those who threw dirty looks at me. Or even when I was not around, he was very protective of me. He made sure that no one told lies about me. Kaya gustong gusto ko siyang kasama. Walang puwedeng umirap sa akin.” 

It mattered, she added, that Teyet was credible and respected, being a scholar, a doctor of chemistry who acquired his degree from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology where Einstein had graduated.

Teyet, she said, “was recommended to me when I needed to spruce up the Palace after we moved in. It was not only in disarray, it was collapsing. The air conditioning was bad. So, after the repair, the next step was to decorate it. When I asked the interior decorator who had good pieces, he said it was Teyet. That was when I sought his help. Not only did he have a good aesthetic sense, he was also an expert in knowing if the painting was genuine because he was a chemist. He knew the composition of what was genuine and centuries-old. He was a good researcher. So, our friendship was good for both of us. It was not a one-way traffic.”     

On Lulu Tinio, she revealed, “We had been friends even when I was still single. It’s so nice also to be with her because she is a grand-niece of Jose Rizal, because her father’s mother was Saturnina, Rizal’s sister. So, you see, she comes from a family with nationalist commitment.”  

Going back to Sonya, she said, “she became family to me as she was there at all times.” She then suggested that I ask Lulu what her memories of Sonya were.

Lulu, for her part, recalled how “Sonya would just listen and smile while Teyet told funny stories. They were actually a good pair because Teyet had a ready audience in her. He always teased her because she was so quiet.” 

She shared that she, Imelda and Teyet were invited now and then to Sunday luncheons at the Mathay home where “you could see that Sonya really enjoyed being with her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Being with them was the highlight of her week.” Sonya decorated her home simply in the “rustic Filipino” style, thus creating a cozy ambience while making her family and guests comfortable and relaxed.  As one friend commented, “I truly like her home. It is most appreciated by people who prefer understated elegance.”

Imelda noted that those luncheons were always a happy occasion, “and it made me feel good just looking at the love radiating from her to her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.”  

A thoughtful mother, Sonya would, on special occasions, give her children cards on which she would write how much she loved and cared for them, and how so much they meant to her. That she would express her innermost sentiments by writing was in keeping with her character as a woman who did not easily blurt out her feelings.    

Lulu remembered a “Sonya who, when she was not with us, was busy working.” While it was common knowledge that she was in the real estate business, among other ventures, she never talked about her entrepreneurial successes, although many are aware that, to her last days, she was actively managing her office at home. According to her secretary, Lucy Alvero, “Ma’am Sonya was a very nice boss who always remembered our birthdays and who always kept her cool even if she had a reason to scold or get mad. She was a very kind person.”  

A constant Marian devotee, Sonya was a member of the board of trustees of the Cofradia de la Inmaculada Concepcion which holds an annual Marian procession and Triduum of Masses and sponsors the First Communion of children from depressed areas. Sonya served as Hermana Mayor of the annual festivity honoring the Virgin Mary. “Sonya was a great, gentle and extremely nice lady. How she lived her life, in the midst of earthly challenges, affirmed her strong faith in God.”

The best words about her were spoken by husband Mel Mathay in the necrological rites in her honor. He mentioned about Sonya visiting Imelda Marcos on her return from her exile because, as she herself told him, she wanted to ease the pain in the former First Lady’s heart. He said that Sonya was a truly generous human being and a real friend. To aptly describe his beloved, he said, “Madali siyang kausapin,” referring to how she gladly helped those who came to seek her assistance. To those who were present, it was clearly an avowal of his sincere affection and admiration for Sonya who raised their children very well and kept them together since he himself was busy serving the government and the people. 

Sonya’s final resting place in the Heritage Park is a garden on which stands a beautiful “home.” Right beside her, a place has been reserved for the man she always loved and cherished. 

Sonya is now smiling in heaven, while listening to cherubs’ songs.  And yes, to Teyet’s jokes, too.        

* * *

 For comments, please write to cyber.proust@yahoo.com.



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