Imelda Cojuangco's real age? She was timeless

Ching M. Alano (The Philippine Star) - May 14, 2016 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines – With the passing of Imelda “Meldy” Ongsiako Cojuangco last May 10, the country lost a respected style icon and philanthropist. She was perpetually on the best-dressed list, along with style mavens Chona Kasten, Mary Prieto, and Tingting Cojuangco. While a genteel era has faded away, Meldy lives on through her assorted charitable works, foundations, and causes. Truly a beauty with a heart, Meldy reached out to the less fortunate despite her privileged background. With good friend Pitoy Moreno, fashion czar of Asia, she founded the Moreno Foundation that gives scholarships to deserving students at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts. She sat on the boards of various foundations and was the founding chairperson of the Cofradia de la Inmaculada Concepcion.  A Papal Awardee, she was also active in the Family Rosary Crusade of Fr. Peyton. She was one of the Blue Ladies of First Lady Imelda Marcos but found the Marcos years difficult as she did not have enough time for her children who were then growing up: Tonyboy, Choy, Mikey, Marvie, and Ningning.

Paying tribute to his beloved “Tata” during the funeral Mass at Santuario de San Antonio in Forbes, JJ C. Yulo unravels another facet of Meldy: that she was as down-to-earth as most of us, and how she loved watching teleseryes, eating mangga with suka, and shopping for bangketa finds!

JJ also unlocks a tightly guarded family secret: “The first secret I will reveal is Tata’s real age. She was timeless!”

Her doctors in the US who administered her annual checkups were baffled as to how old Meldy really was because her chart always listed her age as 40  — which went on for many, many years. Which made JJ forever 27.

Forever 40 and fortified, Meldy exuded a style that was uniquely hers.  Picture Meldy walking (or should we say gliding) into a room full of people who instantly turn their heads to admire her swan-like grace and statuesque figure.

JJ pictures Tata Meldy wearing chopsticks on her impeccable coiffeur, jeans bedazzled with sequins and studs, and bangketa-purchased floral silk house slippers.

Meldy simply defied fashion rules and made her own mark in local fashion. But deep down, JJ says she was just a probinsyana whose simple joys included receiving fresh flowers, curling up with a good book, watching a chick flick or teleserye, munching on green mangoes (the more sour, the better) to which she poured vinegar on top, and indulging in those sinfully chewy See’s chocolates without guilt.

She loved to eat — and indeed ate a lot! She was neither fussy nor demanding and ate whatever was served to her. Much to the envy of women perpetually on a diet, Meldy never weighed more than 80 lbs. Her friends could only ask her, “Where do you put all that food?”

During summers spent in the US, JJ relates that one of her favorite things to do was to drive to Costco with bosom friend Marietta Santos and eat hotdog with lots of mustard. She’d shell out 50 cents more for a diet Coke — make that caffeine-free. “Which was how she sustained her girlish figure,” JJ reveals. “Plus removing the inside of crusty bread because she said this would stay in the belly to make you fat, and eating only the crust of the pizza.”

Like you and me, Meldy had her own quirks. “She had OC (obsessive-compulsive) tendencies,” says JJ. “She’d eat the same thing for months, even years, on end. Like sotanghon heavy on the veggies, cheese on toast, gulaman with a can of pineapple and suha, and adobo.”

Truly, for the Cojuangcos, a lot of sweet memories are created when the family is gathered around the dining table. “Stories of my family unfold at the table — the dramatic sagas, the broken love stories, ushering in of more grandkids and great-grandkids, triumphs, aspirations and dreams, and fears. All these are shared while chomping on not-so-gourmet cooking which provides sustenance for the Cojuangco family,” JJ discloses.

More, while bonding here or abroad, JJ says, “Tata taught us the importance of family in the simplest and most meaningful way.”

Meldy was a stickler for cleanliness and hygiene. From her house to the interior of her car, it was spotlessly clean. She’d rate an 11 for personal hygiene. She brushed her teeth for two hours every day.  Which is why the Cojuangcos’ family dentist Lucy Bernardo loved her a lot, and which also explains why she passed away with a perfect set of pearly whites.

“Tata loved to be clean,” notes an amused JJ. “She created this signature nose-to-nose kiss because she said our noses are often cleaner than our lips.”

He adds, “San Antonio parish regulars knew when she was coming because somebody would come to wipe her seat down.”

The quintessential Miss Manners taught her grandchildren good manners and right conduct. She even taught them how to properly fold a napkin as one blows his/her nose. She wanted her grandchildren to be good as well as proper.  JJ points out, “She’d tell us to stop shaking our leg, elbows off the table, stand straight or else you will be a  hunchback. And better lose weight (emphasis on the last one).”

Like most people, Meldy loved shopping at Target and Marshalls. She was a hoarder — keeping stuff like shopping bags, wrapping paper, ribbons, pens, etc.

And yes, she was a movie fan. One of her all-time favorites was, believe it or not, RoboCop!

Meldy’s heart was for her family, but her soul was for God. She was a deeply religious woman. When the family would vacation in San Francisco, the grandchildren dreaded riding with her in the car because she would make them pray the rosary. Even the driver was not spared. Unfortunately, the grandchildren never really mastered the Mysteries of the Rosary, JJ laments.

Once, a grandson missed his flight because he couldn’t complete a prayer and Meldy wouldn’t let him go until he got it right.

When she lost her husband Monching, who became the first Filipino president of PLDT (Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company), the disconsolate widow rose above her grief by getting herself involved in church and charitable works.

Once, she told this writer in an exclusive STAR interview, “My biggest achievement — and greatest compliment — shall be when I hear people ask: ‘Look at that woman! Why is she serving others when she could be enjoying her time?’”

A staunch Marian devotee, Meldy spent her last years with Cofradia de la Inmaculada Concepcion Foundation of which she was the founding chairman. The foundation, now in its 37th year, has been teaching catechism and sponsoring the First Holy Communion of the poor children of the squatter areas of Tondo.

“She was a very strong leader, energetic, sympathetic, and charismatic,” says Danny Dolor, Cofradia de la Inmaculada Concepcion vice chairman. “She was an inspiration to all of us.”

Danny relates, “She would only attend Cofradia meetings and nothing else until she got really sick and couldn’t go out because of her skin allergy. Her doctor didn’t want her to go out of the house, she was told to avoid stress, not to be tense. But she would tell me not to tell the others if she wasn’t going so they would still go.”

Danny remembers their late-night conversations over the phone, mostly about Cofradia. “She asked me to take care of the young members of the group, like brother-and-sister Allan and Vicky Tengco, who were like her own children.”

Danny will forever remember Meldy’s thoughtful Christmas and birthday gifts and her beautiful simple notes written on beautiful and perfumed paper with envelope sealed with a sticker.

“She’d give me a Jo Malone scent, which she really loves,” says Tingting Cojuangco.

“Those privileged to be touched by her personally would know of her genuine sweetness and goodness to the very core,” says Fe Rodriguez, Cofradia de la Inmaculada Concepcion director. “Her favorite thing to ask of me was to send her favorite chicken oriental salad and she would specify it had to be enough for her whole family to share. Any kind of kindness given to her would be followed by a personal note, in her perfect handwriting, with lots of love and heart stickers. So very childlike!”

Exuding a childlike charm with her Jackie Onassis-like voice, Meldy was never seen getting angry, says Fe, or snapping at anyone. “She was gentle and truly mild-mannered.”

Fe hastens to add, “When we would have retreats out of town, she’d always make sure we had snacks. She’d pack food for the gods, empanada, etc. for everybody. She was kind not just to us but even to strangers who would randomly ask for donations. She built several churches and supported many priests and churches.”

“When my husband died many, many years ago,” Offie Recto, Cofradia director, begins to relate, “Monching and Meldy were there to console me by taking me for a trip all over Europe for more than two weeks.  They were really so kind and Monching always made me laugh because of his sense of humor.”

Until she got really sick, Meldy never had a yaya. When she had aneurysm, doctors said she was a walking time bomb. But she defied medical science when she survived her surgery and lived for more than 10 years after that.

“She passed away just the way she wanted it to be — no tubes and hospitalization,” Fe describes.

Surely, Meldy must be smiling down on us in her signature dark red outfit with a big flower on her hair.

Notably absent during the wake was Gretchen Barretto, Tonyboy’s significant other, who posted on her Instagram three days ago a photo of herself on board a light plane with the caption: “Off to a happy place.”



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