Washington “Wash” Sycip, died October 7
Washington Sycip, business tycoon and philanthropist, was flying over the Pacific Ocean en route to Vancouver when he died. He was 96. As head of the country’s largest accounting firm, SGV, which he founded in 1946, Sycip played an enormously influential role in the expansion of such key national industries as agricultural export, manufacturing and foreign investment. He was a major driving force in philanthropic work within the Philippine business community, spearheading projects in microfinance, poverty alleviation and entrepreneurship. He established the Asian Institute of Management, a top graduate school of business in Manila, and funded a US-Philippines
academic program, the Fulbright-Sycip distinguished lecturers’ award. Born in the Philippines of Chinese lineage, Sycip was educated at Columbia University in New York, and took US citizenship. During the war he served US military intelligence as a cryptologist. He modestly referred to himself as a “bookkeeper” and liked to say: “There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same.”
Leticia Ramos-Shahani, died March 20
Diplomat, senator, and the younger sister of former President Fidel V. Ramos, Shahani died peacefully, aged 87, in hospital after a protracted struggle against colon cancer. Her foreign postings included ambassadorships to Australia, Romania and Hungary, and the United Nations, which she served in various capacities. In 1986, after the EDSA revolution, Leticia returned to the Philippines and worked under the administration of President Corazon Aquino. During her stint as senator, from 1987 to 1998,
she founded a “Moral Recovery Program” that sought to identify the strengths and weaknesses of Filipino culture and character. She published two books, in 1991 and 1992, and convened a major seminar on the subject. Shahani strived to examine Filipino values. Her aim was to root out the ones that hampered national progress and encourage the traits that furthered social and economic development. She was an outspoken critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, and left him some unsolicited advice just a few months before her death: “We don’t need to make enemies to make new friends and that is the art of diplomacy. So, I think our President, if I may…has to take a beginners’ course in diplomacy.”
Eva Estrada Kalaw, died May 25
Kalaw, who died aged 96, was an energetic civic leader, educator and seasoned politician. She was married to the lawyer and businessman Teodoro Kalaw Jr., and was a cousin of Benigno Aquino Jr., the latter inviting her to be a guest senatorial candidate with the Liberal Party.
Earlier in her career, she was allied with the Nacionalista Party, under which she campaigned for the presidential candidacies of Ramon Magsaysay in 1953, and Claro M. Recto in 1957. During Kalaw’s second term as senator, she spoke out fiercely against President Ferdinand Marcos and, as a consequence, was twice thrown in prison. Speaking in honor of her, former Senator Rene Saguisag took the opportunity to obliquely attack the declaration of martial law in Mindanao, and those whom he perceived as President Duterte’s sycophantic devotees in the Senate and Congress: “We need the likes of Senator Eva today who will be asking the fullest questions—where is the invasion, who are the invaders, where is the rebellion, who are the rebels? But unfortunately, what we see now or hear are echoes, not voices.”
Ramon N. Villegas, died August 11
I was a student when I first met the art expert, collector and critic Ramon N. Villegas. I went to his jewelry shop in Manila with a vague idea to look at late 19th century heirlooms. I was keen to get a “feel” of elite lifestyles of the past and wanted to see the tangible, material things from that sumptuous bygone world. Ramon opened a few of his cabinets of treasures for me. He
pulled out drawers containing jeweled combs, rings, and necklaces. He uncovered photographs, unfolded letters, and told the stories associated with tables, chairs, and chests that once belonged to the old moneyed family of so- and so. He collected with avidity, erudition, and discernment. He was generous with his knowledge and time, and I was enthralled; his historical re-tellings were like gossipy anecdotes, filled with piquant, flavorsome details. His numerous works on ivory and wood carvings, gold, and silver, do not quite convey his wit and verve. Ramon died of a stroke while in his shop. The tributes I have read from his friends describe a man who was loved, admired and needed for his meticulous and careful eye, and his social flaws—his bluntness and irreverence. There was “no love lost for society types,” writes Lisa Guerrero Nakpil, “despite his expertise in all their de buena accoutrements.”
Danilo “Danny” Balete, died July 1
Pioneering wildlife biologist, conservationist, and the owner of a last name that could not be more appropriate to his profession, Danny died of heart failure at age of 56. Working with Lawrence Heaney, director of the Mammals Division at the Field Museum in Chicago, Danny pursued the question of what determines species diversity. Studying the wildlife in the dwindling
forests and mountainous areas of Luzon for over a decade, Danny and his team discovered 28 new species of non-flying mammal. His research overturned the notion, long accepted by scientists, that species diversity decreased in mountainous regions. Danny’s discoveries demonstrated that mountains could often be more diverse than the lowlands. In fact, harsh environments could generate, rather than suppress, diversity. The research went on to prove Luzon’s elevated environments were the most diverse places on earth. “This little mountain range right there has more endemic species of mammals than any country in continental Europe,” said Heaney. Studying biodiversity is an arduous and demanding field. It requires getting to grips with everything to do with a particular habitat and the elements that composed an ecosystem—understanding different evolutionary and geologic histories, interactions between plants and animals, climate, the impact of temperature, and weather, and so forth. Danny was committed to questions concerning biodiversity, and dedicated to Luzon’s mountainous peaks. He collaborated closely with NGOs and developed systems of learning with local communities. He was, apparently, especially fond of an enchanting creature called a cloud rat.
Isabel Granada, died November 4
Actress, singer, dancer and airplane pilot, Isabel Granada was only 41 when she died suddenly from an aneurysm. “What a pity. What a waste,” sighed my father deeply when he read the news. His reaction struck me as a little odd. As far as I know, of course I could be wrong, my
father hadn’t much taken an interest in the actress until now. Her career spanned decades—she had been in films since she was a child, yet my father hadn’t gone out of his way to watch her films, nor her live performances on stage, and hear her music. I think he found her different, not your usual, factory-produced star. He liked her looks. She was certainly photogenic. But her Hispanic-Filipino face was more interestingly expressive, less common, than the half-Western actress-models that currently proliferate Philippine cinema and television. She spoke Tagalog and English with a Spanish inflection, rather than the ubiquitous American twang. I looked at clips of her on Youtube. She gives the impression of being robust, passionate, and yet, somehow deeply wounded. “Everything I do is 100 percent,” she said. The untimely death of one so driven, and so much in life’s grip, is indeed a dreadful waste.