Arroyo scions Marilou, Luli, Dina on GMA, Mike Arroyo, and the foundation in honor of their grandmother Lourdes Tuason de Arroyo

WILL SOON FLOURISH - Wilson Lee Flores (The Philippine Star) - December 5, 2015 - 9:00am

‘My father (Mike Arroyo) unabashedly claims he is under the saya,’ says Luli Arroyo-Bernas

Unknown to most people, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s husband former, former First Gentleman Atty. Jose Miguel “Mike” Tuason Arroyo, is the seventh-generation descendant of the Philippines’ wealthiest business tycoon of the mid-1700s, the Chinese immigrant Son Tua who also became known as the philanthropist Don Antonio Tuason.

The Tuason patriarch was founder of the socially prominent landlord clan which used to own tens of thousands of hectares in Metro Manila called haciendas Sta. Mesa, Mariquina (now spelled “Marikina”), Diliman and Nagtahan. These Tuason lands included the present-day University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University and much of Quezon City.

The La Vista mansion of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her husband overlooking the Marikina Valley stands on land that used to be part of the Tuason haciendas.

On his father’s side, Mike’s paternal grandfather was Iloilo’s prominent pre-war Senator Jose Maria Arroyo. The Arroyo Fountain of Iloilo City, built in honor of this senator, is a prominent landmark located in front of the old Iloilo Provincial Capitol.

How was GMA as a daughter-in-law?

GMA’s late mother-in-law was Doña Lourdes “Lulu” Tuason de Arroyo, a gentle and soft-spoken philanthropist. Her surviving children Atty. Mike Arroyo and Maria Lourdes “Marilou” Arroyo Lesaca, grandchildren led by Evangeline Lourdes “Luli” Macapagal Arroyo-Bernas (whose husband is talented investment banker and chef J. Aloysius “Luigi” Bernas) and Bernardina “Dina” Jacinto Arroyo-Tantoco (daughter of the late Congressman Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo, Jr. and wife of Paolo Tantoco of the Rustan’s Group) have established the Lourdes Tuason de Arroyo Foundation to continue her tradition of charities in scholarships, socio-civic, arts and religious causes.

How was Doña Lulu as a mother-in-law to the strong-willed former presidential daughter, future two-term president and economics professor Dr. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, especially since they lived for many years together at the La Vista mansion?

Luli Arroyo-Bernas said of her grandmother: “As a mother-in-law, our late grandmother never imposed anything on our mom. They lived in the same house. My mother said that our grandmother never gave her any problems, that she never imposed anything on her. They never clashed in running the household, we had a mayordoma (household overseer). She deferred to my mom.”

How was GMA — the workaholic leader and no-nonsense economist — as a daughter-in-law? Marilou Arroyo-Lesaca, the only daughter of Doña Lulu and wife of award-winning violinist John Lesaca, recalled: “My sister-in-law Gloria has always been mabait (good) to our late mother, whom we call Mommy Lou. She never made makialam (meddled)… very quiet, always studying, having her masters and doctorate degrees. They were very close, in fact, Gloria liked our mom’s foods. She liked our Mommy Lou’s kakanin, atchara, manggang dalok, lengua, the sara Diablo (cooked with Turkey remains), almondigas meatball soup, egg with tomato sauce, Chinese ham with rice and milk and sugar, etc.”

Lesaca added: “In fact, it was Gloria who suggested retiring Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) NCR regional director Marita S. Capadocia to become the executive director of our late mother’s LTA Foundation. Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has always been a very good and caring daughter-in-law to our Mommy Lou.”

The late Congressman Iggy Arroyo was a good family man

On the late Doña Lourdes Tuason de Arroyo’s youngest son the late Congressman Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo, Jr., his daughter Dina A. Tantoco remembers him as “a good man and a great father” who had innate optimism and faith in God.

Marilou A. Lesaca recalled: “We in the family called our brother by the nickname ‘Ignacito,’ but he used ‘Iggy’ in public for easier recall in politics. Mga sutil, pilyo kami noon (We used to be mischievous). He was a very good person and he was also the politician among us three siblings.”

Marilou explained that Iggy’s first wife Marilen Jacinto is the sister of her first husband, musician and businessman Ramon “RJ” Jacinto. Iggy’s second wife is Alicia “Aleli” Arroyo.

When I asked about Iggy’s third wife Grace Ibuna, Marilou responded: “Grace Ibuna was not Ignacito’s wife, she was a mistress. Doon lang nasira ‘yung buhay ni Ignacito (It was only with her that Ignacito’s life was ruined). We got to see him less and less because of her.”

How is GMA’S health? how is ex-fg as a husband?

How is the health of ex-President GMA, now under hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City? We hear that various other politicians, like Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago and even former rival Erap’s son Senator JV Ejercito, have asked for more humane treatment for the former president, such as house arrest. Luli A. Bernas said: “Our mother is now under pain management, that is the only thing we can do for her.”

How is the health of the former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, who underwent a heart procedure before? Luli A. Bernas replied: “Our father is better, he continues with cardiac rehabilitation.”

What about the general public impression that Atty. Mike Arroyo is “under the shadow” of her strong-willed leader wife ex-President and now Congresswoman Gloria M. Arroto? Luli A. Arroyo laughs, saying: “He is unabashed when he says that he is ‘under the saya’ (under the skirt) of our mom. He always claims that.”

When I remarked that Atty. Mike Arroyo is head of the Tuason-Arroyo clan and of their Lourdes Tuason de Arroyo Foundation, yet it seems that their family and the LTA Foundation tend to be more matriarchal, Marilou A. Lesaca, Luli A. Bernas and Dina A. Tantoco laughed. They then agreed to my suggestion to have a group picture beside the portrait of their matriarch.

Colorful history of Doña Lulu Tuason Arroyo’s ancestor

Luli Arroyo Bernas said that before, she had thought their ancestor, the entrepreneurial Chinese immigrant Son Tua, also later known as Don Antonio Tuason, “was the cook of the Spaniards, that was my understanding before.” He was actually a self-made merchant who became very wealthy, a philanthropist respected even by the Spanish colonizers.

For having funded the defense of the besieged Spanish colonial regime from the 1762 invasion of the British colonizers, Tuason in 1764 was rewarded with vast land holdings, exemption of his descendants from tribute taxes for two generations and he was the only person in Philippine history who was elevated into Spanish nobility with a noble title (“mayorazgo”) by royal decree of King Carlos IV of Spain.

Tuason family lore — told to me by the late Ambassador John Quimson’s late mother Doña Consuelo “Tutung” Tuason Quimson (later remarried to Dr. Carlos Casas) — recalls that the Spanish authorities awarded their Chinese ancestor lands which Son Tua would traverse on horseback from sunrise to sunset. The wise Chinese trader had many different horses prepared and waiting in different stations, so he always had fresh horses and was able to cover huge tracts of land in one day from Binondo to Marikina.

In the 21st century, Don Antonio Tuason’s descendants — through the Lourdes Tuason de Arroyo Foundation — plan to continue his legacy of philanthropy and LTA’s numerous quiet civic works.

Luli Arroyo-Bernas said: “Much of the charitable works and donations of LTA Foundation will focus on those areas which used to be part of the Tuason haciendas such as Santa Mesa, Diliman, Quezon City, Nagtahan, Marikina, also our mother’s home province of Pampanga, my brother’s constituents in Camarines Sur and other places.”

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