Any person who owns a painting by the late President Cory Aquino is never just a mere collector. They are a chosen few who have earned the special affection of the global icon of democracy, expressed through the gift of her artistry.
To commemorate the fourth anniversary of her death, close friends, relatives, colleagues and foundations shared their cherished Cory Aquino paintings and other artworks in an exhibit aptly titled Gift of Self. On view from July 29 to August 2 at the Lobby Lounge of the equally historic Manila Hotel, the exhibit will be biggest showcase of her artworks to date, with more than 80 pieces on display.
Organized by the Adamson University and Mrs. Aquino’s former spokesperson, Deedee Siytangco, with the help of her daughter Sandee Marasigan, Gift of Self aims to remember “Tita Cory”—her generosity, humility and her passion for art—through her prolific body of work.
During the exhibit’s press preview on Thursday at the Champagne Room of the Manila Hotel, The Sunday Times Magazine (STM) came to know more about one of the world’s most beloved leaders through the fond memories of some of her closest friends and supporters.
GEORGE AND MARY TY
Metrobank Foundation president Aniceto “Chito” Sobrepeña spoke in behalf of Metrobank owners, George and Mary Ty, who lent the most number of Cory Aquino artworks for Monday’s exhibit.
Sobrepeña, who served as Cabinet Secretary in the late President’s administration, told STM how the special relationship between the Tys and the Aquinos began: “Tita Cory had been chairman of the advisory board of the Metrobank Foundation for 16 years—from 1993 up to the time of her death. So, in the course of their professional and personal relationship the Tys and the President became very good friends.”
The close ties, added Sobrepeña can best be deemed from one of the paintings Mrs. Aquino gave to Mary Ty, which she titled “Sisters and Friends Forever.” He stood up and showed the artwork with two women side by side, an uncommon theme for Mrs. Aquino’s usual paintings of flowers, hearts and rosaries.
Sobrepeña further noted, “It was also very seldom that Tita Cory would name her paintings, but she did with this one, and shows just how close she was with the Ty family and the Metrobank Foundation.”
A staunch advocate of the arts, which is one of the foundation’s priorities, the former cabinet secretary shared that Mrs. Aquino never missed a meeting when she was chairman of the board. “She would attend every one of them, and she would only be absent when she got sick. We were very proud to be associated with the late President in such a special way.”
For Sobrepeña, the Gift of Self is not only a celebration of Mrs. Aquino’s artistry, “but the great friendships of the [late]President.”
He explained, “She was selfless in giving her artworks to mark special occasions in her friends’ lives, just as she was selfless in giving herself to the whole country.”
From the Ty family alone, 22 paintings will be on display at the exhibit.
ELVIRA ONG CHAN
Gentle lady Elvira Ong Chan is one of Mrs. Aquino’s closest friends whom she also met through the Metrobank Foundation prior to her involvement as chairman of the board.
How they became friends is a touching story, which Ong graciously shared with STM.
It was the year that Metrobank Foundation held its very first painting competition in 1984.
Still the height of the dictatorship, many entries from the younger artists showed discontent for government, with one such painting by Alfonso Medilo depicting the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, just the previous year. It was entitled “Pieces of Truth.”
“It was one of the top 10 winners out of 700 artists who entered their paintings, and when I saw it, I said to myself I wanted to give it to the family,” Chan recalled. “However, I didn’t know anyone of the Aquinos. Still, I tried to find ways through a friend, who knew a relative of theirs. And finally, I got an appointment [to meet up with Mrs. Aquino].”
Chan and some of her friends pooled together some money to buy the piece from the artist, and wrapped it up, all ready to give to the grieving widow.
“When she opened it, she was very quiet, and she looked at it for a long time. I was suddenly afraid I did the wrong thing,” Chan continued. “But then, she began talking to us as if she had known us all these years. She talked about her family and what they were like. She even told us about Kris’ ambition to be a movie star!”
While it was already a memorable meeting, Chan received something even more meaningful the following day—one that would seal their friendship forever. “She sent a letter for me and my friend. It read, ‘Dear Elvira, today would have been my 30th wedding anniversary with Ninoy. I would like to believe [the painting]is Ninoy’s way of greeting me through strangers like you.’ It was a two-page letter with her beautiful handwriting. And among many things, she ended, ‘With concerned people like you, I believe there will be better things for the country’.”
Through the years, Chan, who is now Executive Vice President of Metrobank Foundation, would learn more about the woman who would be president. “She was a very thoughtful person. You would never really feel she was a former president because she would put you at ease right away. You would feel everyone is special to her, and even after her term, she was never conscious of what she had been.”
More somberly, Chan opened up, “She was one of the persons I loved most in my life. Days before she died, when she was already very sick, Balsy [Mrs. Aquino’s daughter] called me to say her mom kept reminding her to greet me on my birthday. I miss her dearly.”
For the exhibit, Chan lent two framed canvass bags, which the late President hand-painted.
CESAR AND CHRISTINA SARINO
President Aquino’s former Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Cesar Sarino was represented by his wife Christina at Thursday’s press preview. Teena, as she is fondly called by Mrs. Aquino, actually became one of the late President’s painting buddies when she decided to begin lessons with artist Jeffrey Consumo.
“She asked me to join in her painting classes and that was how we became friends. I can remember that the classes were so much fun. We were always laughing,” the gracious lady continued. “That was back in February 1998 [although Mrs. Aquino was said to have started her lessons in 1996]. We were a small group of 10 with her close friends, and two of her sisters.”
It was during these weekly painting sessions that Christina came to truly discover the late President’s personality. She described, “She was really so warm, humble and down to earth. Very giving of her self. Even with the way she paints, you see her personality and soul—bright and so colorful. I think that reflected her true herself.”
Christina confessed she is very protective of her Cory Aquino paintings, which is why she and her husband agreed to only lend a single piece. Laughing, she quickly added, “Takot ako eh, baka mawala, baka may mangyari. Kahit na ilang araw lang, parang anak mo na mawawala sa bahay mo ‘yung painting. [I’m afraid the painting would get lost or something bad might happen to it. Even just for a few days, I feel as if I have a child who left home].”
Christina Sarino is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Philippine International Convention Center, and still continues to paint in her free time
JOSE AND MARILYN PARDO
Former Finance Secretary Jose “Titoy” Pardo and his wife Marilyn are lending three precious Cory Aquino paintings—two on canvass and one on wood—for the Gift of Self exhibit. Among these, Pardo says it is the “Roses and Rosary” Series 5 on wood that he is fond of the most.
He told STM, “For me, the painting is symbolic in many ways. It has a rosary, and I would like to think that it is the rosary she received from Sister Lucia of Fatima during one of her visits to Rome.”
Pardo had once held this very rosary in his own hands. “When I underwent open heart surgery, Mrs. Aquino came to the house and lent me the rosary [Sister Lucia] had given her. It was wrapped around my hand during my surgery, and with prayer, I recovered fast and fully regained my health. Shortly thereafter, she gave me the painting.”
His former boss would also give him her artworks during his birthdays, including one of the acrylic pieces for the exhibit. “She gave this to me on my birthday, and surprised me by [personally]dropping by my office. That was April 24, 2000 and I was then Secretary of Finance. And always, with her being a highly-admired and respected leader of the country, we feel very happy to be gifted with her work.”
MANNY AND CYNTHIA VILLAR
WHILE the Villars are famed for their extensive collection of paintings, first time Sen. Cynthia Villar said that she and her husband, former Senator Manny Villar, consider “Rosary and Roses” Series 6 by Cory Aquino as their most special piece.
Fondly recalling the story behind the painting, “It was a gift from Tita Cory to Manny in late 1997,” she began. “I remember going to her art show at St. Scholastica, and telling her, ‘I hope you could give me reprints of your paintings. Because you know, I went to the Aquino Museum at Hacienda Luisita to get some,’”
To her surprise—and delight—Mrs. Aquino humbly answered: “No, I want to give Manny a real painting; nahiya lang ako sa kanya kasi alam ko ang collection nya ng painting ang gaganda.”
“I replied, ‘Of course not! We will be honored to have one’,” the lady senator continued, “And so she sent the piece through then Sen. Noynoy Aquino to give to my husband.”
Asked how she got involved with the upcoming exhibit, Sen. Villar related, “Deedee is a good friend and she asked me if I can lend a painting that Tita Cory gave to us. These are all paintings given to friends and families, kaya maganda . . . Hindi ka naman kasi makakakuha niyan unless binigay nya sa iyo. [It is a wonderful exhibit because they are paintings that have been given to friends and families, because none of us would have had these unless she gave them to us].”
The niece of Ninoy Aquino, Maria Montelibano was the former executive director of Radio/TV Malacanang during the Cory Aquino administration. These were the years Montelibano believed she became a better person.
“My relationship with her [during her administration]made me a better person. As you know, there were several coup d’etats back then, and many times we thought it was the end. But it wasn’t, and I said, there really is a God. She was so prayerful and spiritual and that rubbed off on me. It changed my perspective on how to live life,” she related.
For the exhibit, Montelibano has lent two hand-painted throw pillows by Mrs. Aquino.
Asked if she knew why the former President also seemed to enjoy painting on other materials other than canvass, she said, “She was trying to be adventurous. She started with wood and later ventured onto cards, throw pillows and bags. This was her way of expressing herself and she was very prolific.”
But more importantly for Montelibano, the artworks given by her Tita Cory to friends and relatives, “was her way of showing her gratitude for what they have done.”
Montelibano currently serves as the executive director of the EDSA People Power Commission.
Executive Secretary Paquito “Jojo” Ochoa Jr., who is lending his sole Cory Aquino painting to the exhibit, sent the following statement to The Sunday Times Magazine: “Tita Cory touched many people with her generosity, and I was blessed that she shared one of the products of her creativity with me and my family. The painting is a priceless memento that, like Tita Cory’s innumerable contributions to our country, I will always cherish.”