THIRD EYE - Ramon J. Farolan - The Philippine Star

“Billie Mary” was her given name but when classmates would tease her because they considered it more of a boy’s name, her father decided to call her “Betty.” And for the rest of her life, she was Betty to all except perhaps to her Ama (Chinese yaya) who called her number one, since she was the eldest in the family.

Betty and I were classmates at UP High in Diliman but, being an irregular student taking subjects in different classes, we did not have many occasions for getting together. Her father, Go Puan Seng, and my father, Modesto Farolan, were both in the newspaper business – The Fookien Times and the Philippines Herald, respectively. They became close friends and compadres, with one being the godfather to children of the other.

During his service abroad, when coming home for consultations, my father would sometimes stay at the ancestral home of the Go family along E. Rodriguez Avenue in Quezon City. Many of our Christmas celebrations that included jumping over bonfires were held at their place.

After graduating from high school in 1951, I moved on to the Philippine Military Academy while Betty took up English at the University of the Philippines. Here she would experience the prejudice against her Chinese roots. Although born and raised in the Philippines, the University classified her as a foreign student since her father held dual citizenship and was both Filipino and Chinese. During the traditional lantern parade, she would be grouped with the float for foreign students.

Betty would be the first Filipino of Chinese ancestry to win a position in the UP Student Council, and she would be re-elected twice. It was after her victory in UP student politics that others of Chinese ancestry or with Chinese names would have the courage to run for office. Later in life, she would become a member of the powerful UP Board of Regents.

How Betty became Mrs. Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte Jr., is another story. They met at the summit of Mt. Sto. Tomas in Baguio during a weekend climb. He was taking up law while earning some money as a reporter with the Manila Chronicle. He would go with a company vehicle that was used in delivering the paper to Baguio, usually leaving Manila at ungodly hours and arriving in Baguio early the following morning, just in time for him to wash up before seeing Betty.

But this was the least of his problems. In those days it was unheard of for anyone from a conservative Chinese family to marry a Filipino. The Chinese community was strongly opposed to the marriage, with one prominent member saying that “Betty would be selling her birthright by marrying a Filipino.”

Her father convinced Betty to take up an MA in English and American Literature at Claremont Graduate School near Los Angeles. Perhaps, it was a way of testing the strength of the relationship but after a wait of five more years, they decided to get married. It had to be abroad. Mr. Go Puan Seng and Ambassador Narciso Ramos (father of president Fidel V. Ramos), who was our envoy to Taiwan, made all the arrangements. Sonny’s parents were present but no family member of Betty was with her during the wedding in Taipei. Conservative tradition could not be set aside.

The marriage would produce a Speaker of the House of Representatives, two mayors of Quezon City, the president and chief executive officer of the leading newspaper in the country and successful business executives in other fields.

In October 1986, after my retirement from the military service, one of my first callers was Betty. She asked if I could join her at The Philippine STAR, one of two newspapers she had founded before and after the EDSA Revolution. Could I write a column, possibly once a week? I told her I had no experience writing columns and in retirement I wanted to lower my golf handicap by spending more time on the greens. She replied, “Wonderful, enjoy your retirement!”

A week later, she was on the phone again and, in her cheerful happy manner, was asking if I was ready for some work. I said, “Betty, I have a couple of golf games lined up for the next few weeks. I don’t think I can make it.” She said, “Have a great time.”

After a few days, she was telling me I had a lot of experience that should make for interesting reading, and popped the same question. So, I finally agreed to write a column, and after each one, Betty would be on the phone telling me what a great column I had that week. I started at The Philippine STAR and after an absence of roughly 20 years, it was Betty’s son Miguel who welcomed me back.

During the early years of Quezon City, when it was considered as out in the boondocks away from Manila, my parents-in-law built their house along a dirt road that connected E. Rodriguez Avenue to Aurora Boulevard. It was called Valley Road, because it was between two elevated grounds. What made the location so attractive was a narrow creek with clear, blue running water. My grandmother-in-law was English and the house would be built along English architecture lines. You won’t find anything similar in the whole of Quezon City.

Today we reside at the same place. The creek is no longer what it used to be. The street has been paved with concrete and is now Betty Go Belmonte Street. When people ask for my address, I am reminded of a lovely lady, small in stature, soft and gentle in spirit, but in times of struggle, strong as the finest steel. Her presence made a huge impact not only on my life but on that of millions of her fellow countrymen whose lives were uplifted by her care and compassion. Yesterday was Betty’s 89th birth anniversary.

vuukle comment


  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with