FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - September 10, 2020 - 12:00am

An idol has gone ahead of us, but we will forever stand in awe and appreciate the gifts she has left us and the next generations.

I am grateful to The Philippine STAR management for asking  Frank Sionil Jose (2001  National Artist Award for Literature)  to write a column for this paper. Doubly grateful I am to Frank, my own  idol, I must say, for his allowing me to retell his stories  about Gilda Cordero Fernando in my column today: Frank had known her so well, while I could only recall  bits and pieces of her life story during hello-and-goodbye encounters.

Frank starts his column of Aug. 31, 2020 thus: “With the passing of Gilda Cordero-Fernando last Thursday, we lost a great writer and cultural activist. She had so many qualities that ordinary writers do not have. She was also a book publisher, a fashion designer, a dramatist, a superb artist and, in a sense, a very profound critic of Filipino culture.”

Gilda, city-bred and with much of her fiction rooted in her middle-class Manila background, had set up a folk art section in Frank’s Solidaridad complex; this showed her deep interest in Philippine culture, providing artifacts from all over the country – the weaving, basketry and woodworks, papier mache and handicraft from the provinces, samples of creative pottery, brass betel nut containers from Mindanao.

She worked with Alfredo Roces on a series of books called The Filipino Heritage, illustrating this country’s history and culture. She ventured into book publishing, put out coffeetable books “that depicted not only her major interest as a cultural worker but also her commentary on the country’s social classes, fashion and architecture.”

Frank writes that Gilda went into painting, exhibitions of her work  adorning the gate of her house. Her art, writes Frank, is “abstract yet not truly abstract for the forms are recognizable. She had ventured into this fantasy world of distorted faces and dreamlike forms. It is also obvious that she could draw. There is something folksy about her art, and that could very  well be exquisite decorations for jeepneys.”

Gilda also wrote about food. It was always a pleasure to attend the intimate meals that she served in her house, recalls Frank, a gourmet aside from being a writer par excellence.

Frank and Gilda agreed on all things, even when it came to politics. “She was very much opposed to the Marcos dictatorship, and there was a time when she participated in the demonstrations against Marcos.”

In her autobiographical  essays, according to Frank, Gilda was “very candid about her feelings, her likes and dislikes. She was able to gather around her several young writers who were charmed not only by her exquisite prose but by the youthfulness of her views.”

Although she studied briefly and did not finish her masters degree  the Ateneo de Manila  University honored her with one of its highest awards. “Perhaps, in lieu of the MA degree that she did not finish, she felt that what she had already written could substitute for an MA thesis” that she did not finish.

Gilda’s response when she received the award, writes Frank, was “one of the most eloquent testaments of nationhood crafted by a Filipino writer.”

Frank nominated Gilda for the National Artist Award. “Looking  back and appraising her achievements and what she was as a person, I now realize that such an award is superfluous. Gilda is not only a National Artist. She is also a Filipino idol.”

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Maria Azucena Vera-Perez Maceda has passed away. Of the countless persons expressing their sadness over her demise is Sen. Grace Poe. Her statement says: “Manay Ichu will remain an inimitable beacon of generosity and greatness who touched many lives.”

The senator is the daughter of veteran actress Susan Roces, who worked with Sampaguita Pictures that was owned by the Vera-Perez family.

Sampaguita Pictures is the first and biggest film production company in the Philippines. It launched the careers of many of our movie heroes and heroines, like Susan Roces, Fernando Poe, Eddie Garcia, Amalia Fuentes, Barbara Perez, Robert Arevalo and  many others.

Manay Ichu dipped her finger into the exciting fray,  with her production of the blockbusters “Dyesebel,” and “Batch ’81.”

She helped found the Movie Workers Welfare Foundation (Mowelfund), the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP), the Philippine Motion Pictures Producers Association, the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines and the  Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP).

Ichu was married to the late Sen. Ernesto Maceda. She left behind their  children Emmanuel,  Ernesto Jr. (a columnist at The Philippine STAR),  Erwin, Edmond and Congressman Edward Maceda.

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Ethel Soliven-Timbol wrote 30 the other day. She and I  were working together at the Manila Bulletin in the  1960s. We were editing the page for the Young at Heart, a section close to the heart of the late Manila Bulletin publisher Hans Menzi, until she became  the paper’s society page editor, and I moved to Panorama magazine. Our  contemporaries were the late Letty Jimenez Magsanoc and Deedee Siytangco.

Let me quote the comments of Ethel’s friends in the media.   Nestor Cuartero’s post in Facebook: ”Ethel was a tough nut to crack. She was tough, all right, yet she could also be very funny and witty. She gave color to journalism by speaking her mind, what first came to it, regardless of the audience  and  circumstance.”

Cynthia Santiago writes: “Farewell, dearest Ethel. Media is dim today for we just lost a bright light, an icon, a friend. Ethel, you will be sorely missed.”

Bob Zozobrado writes: “Ethel was a mainstay in the many familiarization trips we had to the US and the Caribbean when I was still with the airline industry, simply because I  enjoyed her company. Her being very strict and ‘mataray’ was actually just an armor she’d wear when dealing with new  aquaintances in the PR field.”

Ethel left behind her children Bebeth, Alex and Dabi.

*      *      *

They were a picturesque sight – hundreds upon hundreds of men and women in shorts or knee-jagged Levis carrying bottles of water running  along Roxas Boulevard and heading towards the end of their journey – the Quirino Grandstand at the Luneta. There are dozens of fun runs but the most famous of them is Alay Lakad, an activity held every first Sunday of September for the past 47 years.  The 48th fun run should have been held last Sunday, but the coronavirus stepped in and put it on hold.

But not to worry. Frank Evaristo, president of Alay Lakad Foundation, says as soon as the air is clear,  the next fun run will be on again. He expects the same 5,000 or more participants to sign in for the event.

The foundation’s chair is President Duterte, and vice chair is Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo. The board of trustees is made up of Frank, John Siy, Domingo Yap, Rudy Bediones and many others, from civic and public organizations.

The “walking” activity started as a response  to the call of the late DSWD Secretary Estefania Aldaba Lim to enable out-of-school youths (OSYs) to attend school through scholarship programs, educational assistance, skills and livelihood trainings. Through the years, says Frank, Rotary Clubs International and the Philippine Chinese Federation have been  avid supporters of the walk-for-a-cause program. With the yearly fun runs,  more than 70,000 grants have enabled OSYs to attend school and livelihood trainings. This year, even without the fun run, students are provided materials as they pursue studies online.

Frank, a likeable fellow, has a BS in commerce degree from Letran University and a masters in business administration from Fordham University in New York. He was elected the 95th president of the Rotary Club of  Manila for the year 2014-2015.

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