Friday, June 20, 2008

In Celebration of Beatriz Romualdez Francia’s Life

By Enrique Francia

Family and friends, thank you for gathering with us tonight for the third night of prayers for my mother, Beatriz Romualdez Francia. Many of us are understandably in mourning for the loss of her beautiful, compassionate and creative presence in our lives. However, I believe my mom is in a better place, free now of the suffering and physical hardships which beset her during the last 15 years of her life. Let us now remember and celebrate her wonderful life with joy and help her on her journey to the light.

These are some of the many roles my mother played during her lifetime: Poet, artist, sculptor, writer, journalist, Cambridge student, Philippine Women’s University high school graduate, graduate of St. Theresa’s college, fellow student and confidante, intellectual, semi-orphaned daughter of a Romualdez, historian, granddaughter of two framers of of the Philippine Constitution (Justice Norberto Romualdez and Conrado Benitez), clothing designer, composer, playwright, furniture designer, businesswoman, innovator, cultural trendsetter, patron of the arts, philanthropist, loving wife and mother, daughter, older sister, friend, mystic: my mom was a veritable fountain of creative energy, a Renaissance woman who played all of these roles and more during her life. Although I am only her son and my memories of her life are necessarily incomplete (since many of you knew her in various capacities which I was too young to comprehend), and although I didn’t completely understand all the varied hats my mom wore during her long and productive life, I will now attempt to recall some of our selected memories of my mother as she played these roles.

For many of you, my mother was a dear older sister, encouraging to her younger siblings, providing much encouragement and love. The other night I listened to your memories of my mom. Tita Tess remembered how my mom, a talented artist in her own right, lavished praise upon her first attempts at painting. My mom was very encouraging of other people’s creative efforts, especially those of people close to her such as her family and friends. Tita Charito recalled how my mother encouraged her to write poetry and became upset when Tita Chat threw away her poems during a moment of self-doubt. For my mom, self-expression was a gift which was to be encouraged not just in herself but in other people as well.

My mom used to recall to me the particular tragedy of her early life, growing up without a father (Francisco Romualdez) who disappeared without a trace during World War II. I think my mom sublimated this early loss in her life and in turn lavished her love on others without expecting anything in return, a way of compensating for this void, this lack of her biological father during her early life. For example, Tita Ditas recalled to me how my mom started the Austria family tradition of gift-giving at Christmas time, a way of creating stronger bonds within the family. My mom also took it upon herself to help rescue this house from bank foreclosure when Lola Amy died, with the generous financial assistance of my other grandmother Lola Alice’s “boyfriend” and suitor Colonel Guevara.

Many of you will recall that my mom was the founder of two of Manila’s most famous modern cultural institutions, Black Angel Discotheque and Los Indios Bravos Café. Black Angel was famous as Manila’s very first nightclub which sparked the nightclub scene in Metro Manila. Los Indios Bravos was of course the near-legendary coffee shop she started in Malate which was a meeting place for artists, intellectuals, rebels, diplomats, spies and bohemians during the 60’s and early 70’s. Fittingly for a café named after Jose Rizal’s 19th century nationalist ilustrado club in Europe, this café reestablished a center of indigenous cultural activity which still resonates in Pinoy culture today. This café was the predecessor for all the other café’s which were to follow, sowing a seed and setting a precedent for Manila’s cultural scene. At Indios, many artists and writers met and engaged in a creative ferment, going on to make an artistic impact throughout the Philippines and beyond. My mother used to recall to me how she befriended several struggling poets and artists and, recognizing their artistic potential, allowed them to live in the rooms above Indios for free, giving them time and resources to be able to pursue their craft.

When my mom married my dad, Tita Tess recalled how my mom designed her own costumes, a fantastic lace creation recalling the character “Little Bo Peep” of the nursery rhymes. Apparently, besides being a dress designer, my mom was also somewhat of a fashion trendsetter during the 70’s, helping to popularize various colorful styles of the soon-to-be omnipresent “hippie look.”

During the 1970’s my mother was a pioneering journalist who wrote several important articles predicting the imminence of Martial Law, for which she was imprisoned. The Martial Law regime of the Marcoses raided her café, falsely accused her of various crimes, briefly imprisoned her and shut down her once-flourishing business, a trauma which was to impact her for the rest of her life. My mom used to recall to me how my dad brought me to the jail where they were holding her in an attempt to have them take pity on her and release her. Apparently I was a pretty cute child, because this tactic seems to have worked and she was released soon after. My mom and dad were among the very first plaintiffs to file a human-rights violation lawsuit against Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, a pioneering action which attempted to win a measure of justice for many of the victims of the vile Martial Law regime. Unfortunately, in this country that Ninotchka Rosca aptly labeled as “amnesiac,” the travails of the Martial Law victims were to be later forgotten in endless legal battles in the courts of the Philippines and United States. However, I believe that remembering the past is one small way of giving meaning to its apparently meaningless and random flux, a minor victory against the looming amnesia in our oligarchy-dominated and western-culture obsessed country.

Never one to rest on her laurels, my mom became a playwright soon after her arrest by the Marcos regime. This is where I begin to enter the picture. I recall crying as a child when my parents “borrowed” my plastic menagerie consisting of various zoo animals. These animals were used as models and later became reincarnated in larger forms as the carousel on the set for “Mahal,” the Philippines’ first rock musical play. I recall that my 5 year old mind finally understood the meaning of temporarily sacrificing my toys as I watched the play and listened to its wonderful music with delight. Many of the rehearsals for this play took place right here in this living room and outside in Lola Amy’s wonderful garden, which is now gone. As you have heard from the wonderful songs from Mahal, the songs focused on rediscovering the past, particularly those long-lost “indigenous” pre-western aspects of Filipino identity. This search for a long-lost eden, a concern for Filipino intellectuals ever since the days of Jose Rizal, was for my mom one small but necessary step in reclaiming a coherent identity and a dignity for a Filipino culture which she felt was at times confused and hesitant about itself.

My mother and my late father Henry Francia also established the Manila Film Society, an institution which showed classic films of Filipino and world cinema to local audiences. This institution was so popular that it was copied and coopted by Imelda Marcos, an action which was unfortunately repeated many times during my mother’s life. A creative person who was not very interested in copyrights and ownership, my mother created and created, and gave away much to others, rarely thinking of trying to reap from what she had sowed.

As a way of compensating for what she felt had been her accidental role in helping the “Iron Butterfly’s” rise to power as a journalist, my mom wrote a massive biography of Imelda titled “Imelda and the Clans.” This book is not only a biography of one individual, it is also an insightful study of Filipino culture, particularly some of its anti-democratic tendencies toward clannishness and oligarchy, tendencies which I hope can be partially addressed through working to understand them deeply as my mom tried to do.

Later I lived with my mom, dad and sister in the United States, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area. My mother and father started an import-export business, “El Galleon de Manila,” which sought to introduce Filipino culture in the form of artworks and handicrafts to American buyers. My mom even helped to design some of their products such as the furniture which were later copied and replicated by many restaurants throughout Manila and beyond.

In 1993 my mom suffered the catastrophic brain tumor, the angioblastic meningioma which rendered her bedridden and partially paralyzed for the last 15 years of her life. This was a tragedy which indelibly left its mark on my late father, myself and my sister. My mom bore her suffering very well, considering the full magnitude of her debilitations. My dad lovingly took care of her for 11 years until his untimely passing in 2004. We were fortunate and eternally blessed to have Mercy Sapong enter our lives. Mercy, her beloved Visayan caregiver and constant companion for the last 5 years of my mom’s life, was (and still is) optimistic and cheerful, not only providing excellent physical care but also wonderful psychic and emotional support, even until the last few minutes of my mother’s life. Mercy was courageous and resourceful enough to slip in unobserved into the hospital room during the last few minutes of my mom’s life, ensuring that my mom departed this world feeling loved and supported, an action for which I will personally be forever grateful. Maraming maraming salamat Mercy para sa inyong mahusay, mabait at walang-kapagurang pag-aalaga sa aming ina.

At this point I’d like to thank everybody who pitched in to help with my mom’s funeral arrangements. I’d like to thank the Austria family for their very generous financial contributions, their time and for allowing us to have my mom’s wake here in their beautiful home, also my mother’s childhood home. Also I’m sure my mom appreciated, and even now appreciates, your support for her during her final brief hospital stay. I’d also like to thank Tita Lita for her time and all her help to my mom, not just now but when she shared her home with my mom and my sister after my father’s death in 2004. I’d like to thank my sister Francesca for making it financially possible for me to be here and for all of her other contributions. I’d like to thank Tita Myrna and Tita Joseph for finding the priests for the mass here for my mom, and for all of their assistance and love they showed to my mom during her handicapped condition. Also, although my dad is not physically here, I’d like to thank him for all of his loving care, service and concern for my mom. Thanks dad.

Ngayon, sa sandaling ito, susubukan ko’ng manalumpati ng sandali sa ating wika. Ipagpaumanhin po ninyo sana ang anumang mga pagkakamali. Ang aking yumaong ina ay isang “mystikong” tao na may maraming alternatibong pananampalataya, kabilang ang kanyang mga paniniwala sa mga aspeto ng “Hinduism” at “Buddhism.” Naniwala ang nanay ko na ang kamatayan ay hindi katapusan at pamumuksa, sapagkat naniwala siya sa pag-iral ng ating walang-kamatayang kaluluwa. Naniwala din siya sa “reincarnation,” ang paniniwala na, pagkatapos ng kamatayan, babalik ang tao sa ibang anyo. Noong isang araw, nakausap namin ni Francesca (kapatid ko) si “Lama Kenzong,” isang “lama” o pare ng Tibetan Buddhism, na niyaya namin ni Francesca na magdasal para sa aming ina. Ipinaliwanag ni Lama Kenzong, noong nabanggit ko yung pagkamatay ng nanay namin, ang paniniwala nilang mga Tibetan Buddhist na ang katawan ng tao ay katulad ng isang “rental” o upahang-tirahan na pansmantalang gagamitin ng isang tao bago lumipat sa ibang anyo. Naalaala ko rin ang pagsusimikap ng aking inang lumikha ng buhay na tunay na kanya, buhay na tunay na nagsasaad ng kanyang walang-katulad na pagkatao, at ang kanyang pananampalataya na, mula sa dating anyo sa nakaraang buhay, lilipat lang ang tao sa ibang anyo. Noong muling narinig ko ang mga lyrics ng kantang isinulat ng nanay ko, ang kantang “Mahal,” naalaala ko ang mga paniniwalang ito ng aking ina na waring ipinapahiwatig ng himig:

Noong narinig ko muli ang mga katagang ito, naisip ko na sana patuloy na siyang naglalakbay papalapit doon sa kanyang magandang pulo, malaya na sa pagdurusa ng kasalukuyan, patungo sa liwanag. Salamat po, ina, para sa aking buhay, ang pinakamahalagang regalong natanggap ko sa inyo, sa isang buhay na punong-puno ng inyong pagmamalasakit sa amin. Sana’y malaya, maligaya at matiwasay na po kayo ngayon.


glenlorndave said...

Hi Enrique (you must be Elfie?)

Perhaps, you don't remember me for you were still in your knee pants when I used to spend time with your dad, Henry and mom Betsy at your place in Mariposa and with other friends like Lynn Erba, Bobby Cuenca, Jorge Ortoll, Ramon Faustmann, Gina Camus, etc.

I am not sure you were around when we were all after a huge rat which we eventually caught using a "palangana" and a "sako", which your dad Henry eliminated using his "bolo" outside the house.

Anyway, here's a link to a print, entitled,"Water Temple" which I titled after your mom's poem. She had a copy of this, and I hope you can find it at your place somewhere:

Also, how do I get a copy of the book, "Imelda and the Clan". I was the one who enhanced and printed all the photos featured in that book. Your dad helped complete my darkroom so I could work on this project in BF Homes.

Can I link your blog site to this etching so that people can read about your stories about your mom Betsy? Missing your Mom Betsy and Dad Henry too. Take care, God bless. - Tito Glenn (Bautista)

shak said...

Dear Enrique,

My name is Shakuntala Tambimuttu, daughter of the Tambimuttu that your mother wrote about in her fantastic article "God's Younger Brother, Alias Tutti Frutti the Loonie". The copy I have of her article ends with "To be continued". Do you know if your mother ever wrote a second part to this article? I'm trying to research my father and I think your mother's piece is an invaluable gem. If you wish to, please write to me at Thanks so much! Shakuntala Tambimuttu

Jazmayeli de Escazu said...

I loved your parents and I owe them a great deal. I came to the Philippines because of them. I stayed with Betsy in the Austria house in Mariposa. I was a "Little Bo Peep" bridesmaid at your parents wedding. I lived in one of the Rooms above Los Indios Bravos. Your parents introduced me to all of Manila's intellectual and cultural leading lights. And they introduced me to my future husband and father of my children, the artist, Bencab. My life changed completely because of a chance meeting with Henry and Betsy on a boat from Tokyo to Hong Kong. Instead of travelling on to Vietnam and reporting on the war, I travelled to the Philippines and reported on life under the Marcoses and martial law.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this precious bit of history. I was a U.P. student who frequented the technical rehearsals of your mom's play, "Mahal", at the CCP -- if only just to vicariously experience its spectacle and befriend the stellar cast. I was a huge fan. There is much to be said how awesome the "Mahal" production was. If you could scan the souvenir programme and photos from it, please do share them here -- as a continuation of this memory, and a testament to that mythical era.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this precious bit of history. I was a U.P. student who frequented the technical rehearsals of your mom's play, "Mahal", at the CCP -- if only just to vicariously experience its spectacle and befriend the stellar cast. I was a huge fan. There is much to be said how awesome the "Mahal" production was. If you could scan the souvenir programme and photos from it, please do share them here -- as a continuation of this memory, and a testament to that mythical era.