The Late Doña Amanda Madrigal Through The Eyes Of Her Daughters
This feature story was originally titled as Of Mothers & Daughters, and was published in the January 2008 issue of Tatler Philippines.
The eulogies of the daughters of the late Doña Amanda Carina Jose Abad Santos vda de Madrigal (she died October 11, 2007, at the age of 86) make for a pleasant read. They ooze with love, warmth and charm that they do not make the reader feel, not for one moment, like an intruder. Though kept at bay as a mere observer, the reader nevertheless feels so much welcome because of the hospitality of the invitation to view vignettes of charmed lives bonded by blood and characterised by parallelisms. “My mother, every evening, would make a scrambled egg in the fluffy manner that Chu-Chu favoured to make sure that her thin and finicky eldest daughter would eat something,” writes Maria Rosanna “Tana” Madrigal-Gelb, the youngest of Doña Mandy’s three daughters.
“At a time when few homes had swimming pools, my mom and her two sisters, Tita Lucita and Tita Vicky, trained as swimmers and even went to compete at the Asian Olympics,” says the “finicky eldest daughter,” Maria Susana “Chu-Chu” Madrigal-Eduque, introducing the first-generation female triumvirate.
And from the middle daughter, Maria Anna Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal-Valade: “From my mother I learnt that history was something not only well and truly real but well and truly, even intimately, relevant to our lives.”
That history is prominently and constantly mentioned in the Madrigal household is understandable. Looming large, even in death, through three generations now is the maternal side’s patriarch and the country’s national hero, Jose Abad Santos. The chief justice of the Supreme Court, to whom the Commonwealth president Manuel Luis Quezon entrusted the government when he had to flee the Japanese conquerors, refused to bow to the imperial administration. Though he admired the Japanese for their nationalism, discipline and honesty and despite pleadings from his son, he refused to recognise their authority over the country.
“When my grandfather was about to be shot,” says the now-senator Jamby, “the Japanese soldiers asked him if he wanted to be blindfolded. He refused. They offered him a last cigarette and he declined. He faced the barrels of their guns with absolute equanimity, the kind of inner peace that is the supreme expression of independence.” The incensed colonisers brought the unwavering Filipino to Mindanao where he was last seen. To this day, every Abad Santos heir cherishes the words the illustrious ancestor said before he was led away: “It is a rare opportunity to be given a chance to die for one’s country.”
Fast-forward three decades, more or less, and this same tenacity for one’s beliefs was put to a test again. Of her parents’ marriage, Senator Jamby’s foremost impression is that “they had an understanding so complete it required no outward exhibition of emotion.” Except one day, she says, during martial law when “my father chose to send us away from the country so he could stand alone to face his tormentors.” The late Don Antonio Madrigal whose family holds vast properties and runs large companies was feeling the pressure to bow to the Marcos Dictatorship, which he staunchly refused. The daughter of Jose Abad Santos relived the horror and the anguish of separation; her daughters experienced first-hand what they had only heard as stories.
The fifties-style Madrigal house in Quezon City holds countless precious memories for three sisters growing up in a life of privilege. Occupying a prominent spot in the centre of the living room is a Steinway piano, the wedding gift of Don Antonio to his wife Doña Mandy. Since the house was built in 1953, the piano has not left its spot, just a few adjustments to where it faced.
“My mom was musically gifted. She was an opera student and an accomplished pianist,” says Tana. “Many Saturday mornings we would wake up hearing her play her favourite pieces such as "Rustles of Spring" by Frederic Chopin and "Dream of Love", or "Liebestraum", by Franz Liszt.”
As the three sisters extol their mother’s virtues through vivid memories, they reveal, without realising it, their own portraits.
Though they’ve inherited more than just one characteristic of their mother, one could immediately see the organisational skills of Doña Mandy in Chu-Chu, her passion for history in Jamby and her artistic leanings in Tana. Unconsciously too, each sister recalls the qualities that she herself prominently exhibits.
“There is a photograph of my mother taken in our flat in Menlo Park, California, in the mid-seventies,” recalls Tana, the bohemian and nature’s daughter. “She is seated at the centre of an ornately carved Burmese loveseat. She is wearing a striking tawny tiger skin caftan.” This picture she contrasts with Doña Amanda’s Amorsolo portrait where she is demurely dressed in a pink-feathered Christian Dior ball gown. “[My mother] has been transformed into an empress or earth mother seated on her tiger throne … She was fearless even in her dress style, in her choice of colour. Boring beige was not in her palette.”
The history lover of the three is also the one who continued the bloodline’s political streak. “The freedom from self-doubt, the liberty from insecurity, my mother has always enjoyed; and this has enabled me, as a public servant, to turn my back on traditional politics,” the young senator on her second term says.
Of all her mother’s qualities, Chu-Chu immediately mentions her strong love for her husband and her children. “She was as fierce as a tiger when it came to defending her cubs,” she says. “You can say that she figuratively sees red whenever the welfare of her family is at risk.”
And she remembers when her younger daughter, Michaela, broke her arm and had to go under the knife. “My mom knew that the hospital’s main anaesthesiologist, who was her good friend too, was getting on in years and was not as mentally alert. She requested this friend to get an assistant who was more capable. Before the operation, my mom engaged her friend in conversation so that the assistant ended up attending to my daughter,” relates Chu-Chu.
Though all of them grew up steeped in the finer things in life, Senator Jamby is the one who articulates her strict adherence to etiquette and protocol. During this cover pictorial for instance, she explains the details of what makes a table setting perfect, presents the proper tropical butler’s uniform and shows the very formal English way of writing dates, with the month in the Roman style and the date and the year in Arabic. “For instance,” she demonstrates, “a table cloth is ironed for a second time on the table itself so no creases show. We grew up with these things and we sometimes take it for granted. Until we see it done otherwise,” she says. In fact, her regular lunches in the Senate are presented with such formal trappings that colleagues vie to be invited to them.
She is also the one most interested in art and culture of the three. Chu-Chu remembers a family trip to Vienna when her mother was able to secure only two tickets to a good opera. When she asked who among her daughters would want to accompany her, it was the middle child who raised her hand immediately.
“And remember that time when we were in this museum in Japan?” echoes Tana. “I felt so sorry for our guide. Jamby would not let him translate every Japanese script.”
Besides playing the piano and singing opera, Doña Mandy, her daughters say, also painted, made pottery, collected antiques and loved beautiful flowers around her.
During the pictorial, Senator Jamby’s house was brightened up with the largest and loveliest hydrangeas in purple shades. “I have trained my butler to do flower arrangements and he buys them every week, or more often when necessary, in Dangwa (the wholesale flower market in Manila),” she says. She inherited most of the family paintings and rare chinoiserie that escaped destruction in China’s Cultural Revolution; the houses of the other two sisters also brim with wonderful artworks, acquired or inherited.
A love for dogs is another trait all three sisters got from their mother; they just all differ in the type of dogs they favour. Chu-Chu’s is a poodle, who came to the pictorial all beautifully trimmed and wearing a set of four black boots. Senator Jamby’s is a whippet while Tana’s is the feared pit bull.
If there is any one factor that is quite noticeable in this family tree, it is that it is replete with female members. Moreover, they’ve come in sets of three for three generations now. Out of the five Abad Santos siblings, there were three sisters. Doña Mandy gave birth to three daughters, who in turn produced only three girls in the next generation, two from Chu-Chu and one from Tana.
“I have vivid and fond memories of three sisters busily supervising in the kitchen the fixing of endless dozens of their special chicken salad sandwiches, enough to feed a battalion of growing kids and hungry husbands,” so writes Tana in her eulogy. “Although they were preparing for at least three dozen people, my mother always remembered to set aside a few special sandwiches without onions for myself, her daughter who could not abide the strong smell of onions.”
The closeness of the three Abad Santos sisters was such that, Tana remembers, “they called each other up every day or, more likely, three times a day, gossiping in Capampangan (the dialect of the province of Pampanga). Collectively they raised all of us cousins. It felt like we each had access to three mothers.”
The next set of three sisters is as close as their predecessors were. During a follow-up interview with Chu-Chu and Tana, Senator Jamby called soon enough, asking about the photographs taken during the cover pictorial. “We call each other almost every day,” Chu-Chu admits.
But it was at the death of their mother that the three realised how close their bond is. She died in the midst of her daughters, their husbands and their children—all save Senator Jamby. She had just flown to Amsterdam as a guest of the Dutch Senate. Before she left, she had asked Tana if Mama was feeling fine and if she could go. At that time, Tana, with whom Doña Mandy had stayed since the death of her husband a year and a half ago, noticed that indeed, her mother’s health had perked up a bit. As Senator Jamby was walking towards the Senate building, she got the news on her mobile phone.
“Her first reaction was to ask us if we could wait for her before burying Mom,” Chu-Chu says. She was taken aback by that question, she says. “Never in my mind had I, nor Tana, thought of burying our mother without our sister,” she says
On the average, the three are just one year apart from each other. While they kept their own sets of friends, they always did some things together. Travelling is one. “We grew up travelling at least once a year,” Chu-Chu says. The eldest daughter had one room to herself in the old house; the other two shared.
While sharing many things in common with the mother, the three, however, have their own individual personalities, gleaned from their likes and dislikes even early on in their lives. Chu-Chu collected dolls; Jamby loved horses and museums; Tana was crazy about animals, all kinds. “I dreamt of being a veterinarian,” she says.
This side of her sister reminded Chu-Chu of their days in boarding school when Tana kept a pet hamster in their room. “I hated that hamster!” she now confesses to Tana. “It kept me up all night when it would play on the wheel inside its cage.” The story goes that one day, Tana’s pet hamster mysteriously disappeared. To this day, Chu-Chu is held responsible for that disappearance.
Parties were also so much a part of the old Madrigal house. “My father believed it was better for his daughters to bring their friends over than for them to go out partying,” Chu-Chu says. They also went to boarding school in England but for college, each pursued her own educational inclinations but all in colleges or universities abroad.
When they were home, though, the Madrigal house teemed with fun and friends. With three beautiful and well-educated girls, the line of admirers and suitors (“Pretendientes, my mom called them,” says Chu-Chu) must have been a long one. Tana agrees but adds, “They were all visiting Chu-Chu, though, ‘cause Jamby and I were too young.”
They have their own families now and are living in their own separate homes, which again are separate statements of their individual personalities. The eldest has chosen a modern style, the middle one favouring tradition by staying in the old home and the youngest, the flower child, preferring a colourful Mexican-Asian mix.
The similarities, however, seem to outweigh the differences. Today, the bloodline has its next set of three girls: Alexandra Amanda and Michaela, daughters of Chu-Chu, and Serena, daughter of Tana. The three cousins are now strengthening their bond, as did their mothers and grandmothers before them. Alexandra, for instance, shares her mother’s sense of philanthropy. At 17, she is very much involved with Habitat for Humanity and is the housing-for-the-poor movement’s face for 2008. Chu-Chu, when she was still in school, was a member of Nayong Kabataan, among other civic organisations. “You were always into that,” Tana comments.
Serena has inherited Tana’s and Doña Mandy’s painting skills; and the clothes of her Auntie Chu-Chu, who wears the same size as her niece, not her own daughters’. Hand-me-downs were, however, not common amongst Chu-Chu and her sisters. “Somehow my father didn’t like us to do that,” she says. “But I would borrow your gowns, like your Ramon Valera,” reminds Tana.
It’s not always hunky-dory with the sisters, however. They admit to having their share of spats, even more with each other than with friends, relatives or classmates; but in the end, home is still where the heart is and nothing offers a haven warmer than strong sisterhood. It is the same with the younger three. At the pictorial, Michaela was complaining to her mom about her sister Alexandra. But after she had said everything she needed to say, the 14-year-old remarked, “No matter how angry I am, I cannot not call her Ate (title of respect for an older sister).”
The genealogical characteristics are clearly being passed on to the next generation. Ironically, it was the young Amanda, her grandmother’s namesake, who put it so perfectly in her eulogy: “My story does not end here, because my story will not have an ending.”
As long as the memories are treasured, the similarities appreciated and the parallelisms acknowledged, the story of this bloodline will, indeed, not have an ending.
MAKE-UP CLAIRE SEELIN-DIOKNO AND OMAR ERMITA OF SHU UEMURA; HAIR: RICK DIOKNO OF KIEHL’S STYLIST SERIES
- Photography Giampiero Gastaldi
- Make-Up Claire Seelin-Diokno and Omar Ermita of Shu Uemura
- Hair Rick Diokno of Kiehl's Stylist Series