Lourdes Tuason de Arroyo lived a double life. As the genteel matriarch of one of the most landed families in the Philippines, she pursued a very quiet passion of helping others, which took her out of the comforts of her well appointed home, to voluntarily endure the kind of service to community that is unheard of from an aristocrat like herself.
As Lourdes’ 110th birth anniversary approaches, her granddaughter Luli Bernas-Arroyo—who, like her in many ways has preferred to stay behind the scenes of their prominent family—speaks to The Sunday Times Magazine to reveal the lesser known side of a woman whom she is proud to recognize as the driving force of their family to this very day.
Born on August 10, 1907 to Don Demetrio Tuason and Donya Natividad Zaragoza, Lulu, as Lourdes Tuason was fondly called, was one of the few Filipinas of her generation born with the proverbial golden spoon in her mouth. Her roots further go back to one of Manila’s oldest and most prominent families—that of Don Antonio Tuason’s who was, in fact, once known as the wealthiest man in the archipelago.
More notably, Don Antonio was the only Filipino history to be elevated to Spanish nobility by decree of King Carlos 4th in recognition of his service to the conquistadors back in the 1800s. As such, the man was rewarded with vast lands, which today comprise of Diliman, Marikina, Sta. Mesa and parts of Binondo, among others.
Meanwhile, noble and rich as the young Lulu may be because of her father’s accomplishments, she is remembered to have remained “a humble and gentle” lady throughout her life.
The fifth of seven children, Lulu eventually married a gentleman by the name of Eduardo Danding Matute at the tender age of 17 in 1924. They were later blessed with five children of their own, namely Joe, Manolo, Eddie, Menchi, and Nucay. Unfortunately, a decade and a half after they wed, Danding passed away in 1939.
Fate proved to have a plan for the young widow as Lulu soon found love again to a man 10 years her junior. She married Ignacio Lacson Arroyo, son of senator Jose Maria Arroyo of Iloilo, in January 31, 1942. This second marriage blessed Lulu with three more children, namely Jose Miguel (Mike), Maria Lourdes (Marilou) and Ignacio Rafael (Iggy).
The siblings like to believe serendipity played a part in their parents’ love story, for as it turned out, Lulu had met Ignacio—then a student sidelining as a tourist guide—when she vacationed in Italy with her late husband and the rest of the family. Little did she know he would become a very important part of her storied life.
Lulu, the matriarch
On the one side, Lourdes Tuason de Arroyo became known as the devoted housewife who took great care of her children from both marriages. She was also much admired for her impeccable etiquette, as well as her gentle ways.
Marilou, Lulu’s only daughter from her second marriage, recalled how their mother never raised her voice at them, nor did she ever impose her will as her generation of parents had been wont to do. She raised her children by setting examples, from how they should behave all the way to the kind of virtues and principles they should uphold.
“I really can’t recall a time when she got mad at us,” Marilou shook her head. “With a mother like that, you can already imagine how lovable she was a grandmother.”
Called “Mamilou” by her grandchildren, Luli Arroyo-Bernas, in turn, has very vivid memories of the gentle lady.
“I remember our La Vista home where our quarters were on the left side, and Mamilou’s on the right,” she began. “Back then, every morning and especially on weekends, my cousins and I would wake up and excitedly go to her side of the house and spend time with her. Mamilou loved to crochet or knit—that’s my fondest memory of her because she made me clothes as a child that I’ve even passed down to my own.”
Luli further remembered how much her grandmother liked to be around family—even if it was just to listen quietly to their chatter, and not be part of the conversation.
“On Sundays, we would have a big family meal where all the siblings and cousins would eat out, and after lunch, would gather around the living room to catch up,” continued Luli. “My grandmother had this round sofa with a backrest, and when she sat there with everyone busy chatting around her, she almost always fell asleep!
“And as soon as people stop talking and start to leave for home, she would wake up and go, ‘Oh what happened? Why did you stop talking?’ just as the noise dies down. So you can see, she felt most comfortable and happiest with the whole family at home.”
Teasingly labeled as the “favorite apo” (grandchild), Luli went on to share how her Mamilou took to bringing her along on spur-of-the-moment trips around the city.
“Another thing she liked to do—at least with me—was to whisk me off into the car with her and visit friends, or even just go around the city. Kasi [Because] at that time wala namang traffic [back then, heavy traffic was non-existent], so I really just enjoyed the time we spent together.”
Rich with Mamilou anecdotes, she added, “She also loved good food and traveling. That [traveling]was something she really encouraged the rest of the family to do because she believed that part of a good education is to see other cities, other provinces, and other countries. She said that’s how you will get to know the world around you, because you can’t just be isolated in your little village.”
Mamilou, the silent philanthropist
While known by all as the devoted matriarch of the Arroyo clan, there is another side that the family’s beloved Mamilou preferred to keep to herself. That is, her equally passionate commitment to philanthropy.
“It was only when she passed away that we learned so many stories about how she helped people,” Luli both proudly and sentimentally related.
Lourdes Tuason de Arroyo passed on at the age of 70 on July 8, 1978, having raised a closely-knit family, while quietly having helped so many more.
While the Arroyos have always known their beloved matriarch to be kindhearted and generous, they had no idea that her charitable ways went as far as volunteering to sweep floors and clear out bedpans at the charity ward of Philippine General Hospital (PGH).
“We really only found out how she went out of her way to comfort the sick to the best of her capacity after she died,” added Luli.
Besides her work at the PGH, she continuously donated to the spiritual formation of would-be priest and nuns; as well as an anonymous patron of Filipino music, arts, crafts and industries, quick to lend financial support to deserving groups and individuals in society.
“Based on her work, we saw her vision was to promote opportunities for communities in health, culture, and education,” Luli encapsulated.
Though the family was initially surprised that their matriarch had literally gone done on her hands and knees for others, they never found it curious that she did so. After all, Mamilou was always quick to lend a helping hand in any way possible to those immediately around her.
“She was very involved in the lives of our household help,” Luli explained. “So many of them were able to go to school because of her. If they did well too, she’d even give them bonuses and prizes.
“We had a driver whose son became a doctor, while some other helpers’ children became accountants and professionals from different degrees. Some of the staff stayed with Mamilou until they died, or because of their love for her, their children eventually came to work for the family. But by and large, Mamilou made sure most of them got an education and encouraged them to move on and build better lives for themselves and their families.”
The well-loved lady
While Luli’s cousin, Dina Arroyo-Tantoco—daughter of the late congressman Iggy Arroyo—never met her Mamilou, the family’s memories of her grandmother have kept her alive in heart as in theirs.
“Even our neighbors have so many fond memories of her, and she really was so well-loved,” she related. “They would tell me how she was so gentle and so kind, and as everyone likes to recall, she never raised her voice.”
According to Dina, the Arroyo’s neighbors were always excited and grateful to tell her about how her grandmother had helped them.
“I remember, back in the ‘80s when there was still no boarders in La Vista [now a private subdivision in Quezon City], we used to just run down the road and play. And all these people [from the less fortunate area of Marikina]who knew I was Mamilou’s granddaughter always came up to me with stories of how she helped them, whether they needed to fix their homes, bring their sick child to the doctor, and in so many other ways.”
What Dina loves most about the memories she hears about her grandmother from people other than her family is that she never trumpeted her charitable works.
“That’s the thing, she never told anyone about everything she did. Hindi siya nagyabang [she never boasted about them]or had them broadcasted or written about. I once asked my aunt why did she do that, and she simply told me, ‘Because somebody had to do it’.”
As for her family, Lourdes Tuason de Arroyo trusted that even without telling them, they would simply follow her example of helping those in their community that had less than them in life.
“It was really just by her action that she hoped that her children and descendants would learn to do the same thing,” Luli reiterated.
It is for her quiet yet exceptional life that the Arroyos decided to establish the Lourdes Tuason de Arroyo Foundation in 2012, which also marked their beloved Mamilou’s 105th birth anniversary. And in trademark Mamilou fashion, the clan has also decided to keep
the work of the foundation as low-key as she did.
“We were just talking and reminiscing about her one day several years ago, and we came to ask ourselves what was it would have wanted us to continue from her life,” Luli recalled again. “It was then we decided to consolidate all our charitable works under her name to honor her memory and legacy.”
Involving both Mamilou’s children and grandchildren as board members, along with long-time Arroyo family associate Marita Capadocia as executive director (to lead the development and implementation of the programs) the Lourdes Tuason de Arroyo Foundation was formed three years ago. Everything flowed from there because everyone knew what the foundation’s focus should be—the very advocacies that their matriarch had supported through scholarships, volunteerism (especially to help the sick), support for spiritual vocations, and artistic endowments.
Son Mike, for example, spearheads medical and dental charities, which include such projects as dentures for the elderly, wheelchairs for the disabled, and free check-ups in different communities. He is further involved in livelihood programs in Pampanga, where his wife former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo continues to serve as congresswoman, even from her detention.
Daughter Marilou, on the other hand, chose to continue assisting seminarians and novices in their education, from scholarships to providing board and lodging.
Grandchildren Luli and Dina, as well as their other cousins, have taken on their Mamilou’s fondness for arts and culture, via scholarships for deserving music students, particularly those keen on string instruments like the violin, whose sound their grandmother had always loved. Their scholars are spread out in such institutions like the Balara Elementary School in Pansol, Quezon City and San Vicente Elementary School in Diliman, Quezon City. The cousins are further determined that these children pursue their talent and passion all the way to a college education and beyond.
“Our ultimate goal is to form an orchestra for these young musicians’ and turn their talents into a viable livelihood,” Luli explained.
Though relatively young, the foundation aims to expand their charities’ reach, determined to live the kind of life their matriarch had exemplified.
Also conscious of keeping their work in quiet dignity, the Arroyo cousins, nevertheless agreed to this feature as an exception in the lead up to Lourdes Tuason de Arroyo’s 110th birth anniversary in 2017.
“It is really a milestone for this family,” Luli acknowledged. “And my dad will also be turning 70 in 2016.”
As such, the foundation is poised to increase its activities and programs in the next two years, beginning with the funding of 70 livelihood projects to commemorate Mike’s 70 years.
Health, livelihood and education grants, especially for the poor communities of the old Tuason properties in Diliman, Sta. Mesa and Marikina, are already in the planning stages.
“They will all be propagated under the project banner ‘IKKAW,’ which stands for ‘(Ng)Ipin’ to provide dentures for elderly indigents; ‘Kalusugan’ for healthcare assistance; ‘Kabuhayan’ or micro-financing for groups of 20 individuals; ‘Aral’ or music scholarships as well as funding for seminarians; and lastly, ‘Wheelchair’ donations.”
“My grandmother was always a believer of ‘noblesse oblige,’ or as the Bible puts it in Luke 12:48, ‘From everyone who has been given much, much will be required’,” Luli rounded up. “She has long passed this on to every member of our family, and so we know that we must do our part in making sure that we have this positive contribution to society and help communities help themselves out of poverty. Just as Mamilou showed us, we vow to help children and to help families.”
Photo by DJ DIOSINA AND FROM LOURDES TUASON DE ARROYO FOUNDATION