A Valentine Memory

“Great! That’s it!” Nick Joaquin (aka Quijano de Manila), the Filipino National Artist for Literature clapped his hands. Under the light of the tiffany lamp his eyes sparkled. “That’s it!” he repeated as though we could all read his mind.

nick-joaquin-2
Filipino National Artist for Literature, Nick Joaquin 

“What? What’s it?” I asked. We were sitting around the centre table at Los Indios Bravos Café, in Manila where I had been regaling everyone all night with anecdotes about my unfortunate dating experiences since arriving in their city.

“My article for the Valentine issue of Free Press. The cover story. You know, like Latins are Lousy Lovers. This time we’ll have you saying Filipinos are lousy lovers. Can you imagine the reaction?” Nick was obviously delighted.

“I didn’t say they were lousy, Nick – just a bit geographically challenged – a bit awkward!” I retorted. “Clumsy, actually, was the word I used!”

“Filipinos are clumsy lovers!” he echoed. “The whole male population will be up in arms, Caroline. Do it for me, please!”

“I don’t think it would be a very good idea,” I mumbled.

Jack Crockett, the US Cultural Attache, and Virgie Moreno, the resident poet, ignored me adding their own endorsement to Nick’s idea.

virgie-moreno
Filipina Award-Winning Poet, Virgie R Moreno

“Go on, Caroline! It will be fantastic! “

“Nick will write such a great article. It will be such fun! “

And so it was. On 14 February 1969 Nick’s article, accompanied by some very provocative photos of me, was published in the most widely read magazine, the opposition’s Philippines’ Free Press Magazine. Talk about instant celebrity. Despite the fact I was already hosting my own TV show, writing my own column, had made several forgettable appearances in local movies and had been a controversial guest on many TV talk shows, nothing I had done so far could compare to the furore caused by Nick’s tongue-in-cheek article.

In fact it touched such a raw nerve that the content is often resurrected and discussed to this day. In a supremely macho male population Nick had released a nuclear bomb. The reaction was immediate, devastating and widespread. Every hot-blooded Filipino male was out to get me – either into bed or out of the country. The media had a field day. All hell had broken loose. And Nick had known it all along. It was his joke at my expense.

A few of the names had been changed in the article but, despite this, most were recognizable. A winner of the Asian PEN award for short-story writing, Nick’s biting piece mocked every fumbling attempt at seducing me. Starting with my first date with an actor, Johnny Garcia, and ending with the then Presidential Press Secretary, Kit Tatad, Nick poked fun at them all.

I had noticed Johnny hanging around Indios Bravos for a few nights observing me shyly from behind his glass before plucking up the courage to invite me out. Each night he was dressed in a scarlet Lacoste polo shirt chosen, I suspected, to set off his tanned skin, well-contoured biceps and jet black hair.

“Should I go?” I asked the poet Betsy Romualdez, feeling like a teenager all over again. “How should I behave? How do girls around here behave on their first date?”

betsyfrancia
Betsy Romualdez, poet and owner of Los Indios Bravos Cafe

In a typically Filipino way Betsy described Johnny’s family history. Instinctively, it seemed, she knew whom he was related to, whether the Garcia family was amply provided for, what his parents’ professions were and how and where they lived. I had already noticed that whenever people meet for the first time in the Philippines there appears to be a need to identify each other by their family connections, background, region of birth and their relationship to more well known people with the same surname. And so it was with Johnny.

“He’s related to the Garcias of Pangasinan, his uncle is a Senator and he graduated from Ateneo summa con laude,” Betsy assured me, as if these facts were bound to affect my decision to go out on a date with him. I played along with her.

“Well, that seals it then. Highly suitable material. How can I possibly turn him down?” I laughed.

“Besides, Caroline,” she smiled, “he’s very good looking, hindi ba?” I certainly couldn’t deny that. Johnny was taller than the average Filipino, athletic, smooth-skinned and muscular. To me his looks were far more persuasive than his family connections and, for that reason alone it didn’t take much persistence on Johnny’s part to persuade me.

Johnny showed up the next night, not in his familiar red Lacoste but uncharacteristically attired in a formal suit, clean shaven, smelling of cologne and carrying a bouquet of red roses. He was obviously taking this date thing seriously.

I flashed my eyes at him, graciously received the bouquet, offered him my hand and winked back at the Indios Bravos crowd who were craning their necks for a better view of this new pairing. Then, with as much dignity I could muster, I stepped out onto the bustling pavement and into his metallic grey Toyota saloon.

The conversation at dinner was stilted. Johnny was nervous and, for some reason, so was I. But by the time his alcohol consumption had increased to near toxic levels and we had progressed to the intimate floorshows of the Roxas Boulevard nightclubs, he loosened up. At around 3am, after enduring a couple of hours of incoherent chatter and some increasingly desperate groping under the table in a darkened corner, I suggested it might be time to head home. We climbed back into his sleek Toyota. Before long I realized something was not quite right. Although I was fairly new in Manila, I knew enough to realize that home was in one direction and that Johnny was heading full tilt in the opposite one.

“Hey, Johnny, you’re going the wrong way,” I complained, hoping it was only the alcohol that was impairing his geographical antennae. Johnny paid no attention. He slammed his foot harder down on the accelerator and continued to speed the wrong way up Roxas Boulevard.

“Would you please stop the car,” I shouted imperiously. “I want to go home!”

Johnny looked at me in despair. Clearly inebriated beyond help he turned the car into a convenient unlit lay-by, slammed on the brakes and came to an abrupt halt. Smiling foolishly, he lunged out to grab me.

“Can you blame me for wanting you?” he asked, panting in my ear, “Can you blame me for how I feel right now?” He looked sheepishly down at the swelling between his legs. “Please, Caroline, let me make love to you!”

“Are you mad?” I asked, my British indignation rising up again, “I don’t even know you!”

“But, but…” he stammered, “you’re always writing about sex. You must want it too!”

“I wasn’t writing about it seriously,” I laughed, “I was poking fun at it. You obviously don’t appreciate the difference. In England it’s called satire!” By now I was pissed off. Johnny’s prying hands were venturing like free-ranging tentacles all over my body trying to gain an entrance somewhere, anywhere.

“Please, please,” he whimpered, desperately trying to locate buttons, zips or fasteners on my dress that would give way to his impatient fingers.

I removed his hands forcefully and replaced them on the steering wheel.

“Would you please drive me home now!” I ordered, “before I start shouting for help!”

Johnny looked totally dejected. But undaunted and with great care not to do himself an injury he would later regret he started to unzip his trousers.

“If you won’t let me make love to you, would you watch while I masturbate in front of you?”

What? Had I heard correctly? This was, perhaps, the most outrageous suggestion any man had ever made to me on any date, let alone a first one – and a Valentine one at that! This required some thought. I realized that if I didn’t accede to his bizarre request I could be stranded in the lay-by struggling all night until my resistance finally wore thin or, alternatively, I would have get out of the car and walk home by myself. Not a good idea at the best of times for a girl alone in downtown Manila but almost certainly a life-threatening activity for a foreign blonde in the early hours of the morning.

“OK,” I replied, “you win. Let’s get it over with. But, if you have to do it, please aim it out of your window!”

I was joking, of course, but to my astonishment he took me at my word. Eagerly he rolled down his window and, kneeling somewhat unstably on the car seat, he managed somehow to direct his bulging penis into the dark outside. Thankfully not much pumping was needed before he moaned into orgasm and sank back into his seat exhausted. Feeling slightly sorry for him, I removed the pleated white handkerchief from his top pocket and mopped his sweating brow. I left the rest of the mopping up exercise to him. He smiled wanly.

“That was good!” he whispered, “thank you!” He feebly replaced his still dripping penis and zipped up his trousers.

“Good for you, maybe,” I thought sarcastically, “but pretty bloody unpleasant for me”. It was certainly not the after-dinner cabaret I had been expecting on my first date in Manila. Not fully appreciating my revulsion at the spectacle he had just forced me to witness, Johnny invited me out on a second date before we parted that night.

Not bloody likely, I thought.

“You and I could make beautiful music together!” he said reading my mind, as if these magic words would be enough to persuade me. I groaned, instantly recollecting a moment in my New York days when my boyfriend, Joe Dever, had introduced my friend Caterine Milinaire to his old army colleague, the author of “The Green Berets”, Robin Moore. Immediately infatuated by her, Robin had turned to us when Caterine was out of earshot and whispered, “If only she would go out with me, she and I could make the most beautiful music together!” Joe and I had raised our eyebrows at one another.

The date with Johnny was swiftly followed by lunch with a newspaper journalist, Armando Manalo. I felt secure in accepting his invitation as Armando invited me out in the presence of his wife. He said he wanted to interview me for his column in the Manila Chronicle.

All above board, it seemed. Wrong again. For, as soon as lunch was over, I found out Armando had very different and far less literary designs on me. In the car on the way home he miraculously lost his wit, his conversation and his wedding ring all at the same time. From one minute to the next he had turned from a fairly average middle-aged journalist into the man most dreaded by women, the lonely predator on the attack. Before I realized what was happening he had whisked me off to some rundown motel in Pasay City for some “sex games”. This time I wasn’t about to hang around to witness or participate in some bizarre sex act. I leapt out of the car, slamming the door in his face and ran back down the driveway into the seedy motel-infested streets of Pasay City.

A few weeks later when Nick Joaquin’s tongue-in-cheek cover story about me was printed in the Free Press, Armando grabbed his chance. Incensed by his rejection, he paid me back big time.

“Miss Kennedy’s confessions in the newspapers,” he wrote, “have kicked up a storm. As the storm has shown no signs of subsiding, the principal beneficiary is the Indios Bravos Café where males of all variety nightly line up at the Café’s door, loudly demanding entrance and impatient to improve their virility. “

Armando went further saying that making love for me was obviously no different from shaking hands.

“This much can be said of Miss Kennedy. She is the only woman hereabouts to have achieved national celebrity by making a career of shaking hands.” Not content with being the author of these stinging remarks, Armando joined the noisy chorus of offended males accusing me of being a corruptor of morals of Filipina women and demanding my immediate deportation. It struck me then that Armando must have been a rarity among his journalistic colleagues in Manila. It was evident from his article that he was pro press censorship and anti freedom of speech.

After Johnny and Armando another Indios Bravos regular made his move on me. Jolico Cuadra, a curly-haired romantic poet with piercing eyes, was a loner. I was told he was married but if he was he never brought his wife to the Café. Instead, almost every night he would sit alone drinking at a corner table observing us all and composing poems about us that he scribbled on his napkins. Without even a glimpse of its flawless beauty, he published a poem in the Philippines Free Press dedicated to my navel, entitled “The Eye of Eternity”.

I was grateful to Jolico because one night he saved me from the advances of a black-leather -clad American lesbian truck driver , named Nancy, who was determined to seduce me. Hearing my cries for help emanating from the ladies toilet, a seriously inebriated Jolico barged inside clutching a wooden chair determined to show no mercy towards my attacker. He hit the astonished woman over the head until she dropped senseless to the ground. Needless to say she never tried to mess with me again.

A friend of Betsy’s, Juni Kalaw, was next to prove his intentions towards me were entirely dishonourable. I’d heard a lot from her about this reclusive millionaire playboy and the endless string of beautiful women he had seduced in his “ultimate bachelor pad” in Quezon City and my curiosity was aroused. So when Juni invited me to a candlelit dinner at his home I accepted immediately. But the evening was doomed from the start.

As I entered the house it was like a taxidermist’s workshop. Real zebra skin rugs covered the floors, stuffed antelope heads, their glass eyes reflecting the candlelight, hung gloomily from the walls and the footstool under Juni’s Gucci-clad feet was crafted from real elephants’ feet.

“All trophies, “ he proudly informed me, “from my hunting safaris to Africa.”

Instead of standing wide-eyed in admiration of his skills with a rifle, I decided that anyone as ecologically unfriendly as Juni Kalaw was not someone I would want to boast about knowing intimately. There was another reason too. I couldn’t help wondering that if his living room furniture was made up almost entirely of dead animal parts, did I even dare contemplate what poor animals had surrendered their lives to enhance the interior furnishings of his bedroom? So, despite Juni’s increasingly persuasive attempts to lure me inside to see for myself, I made my excuses and left.

Sadly none of these feeble attempts at dating had taught me to quit while I was ahead. The next man to turn his unwelcome attentions to me was the much-feared Mayor of Pampanga, the homicidal maniac, “Banjo” Laurel. “Banjo” was notorious throughout the Philippines for his penchant for killing anyone who displeased him.

“If you even dare smile at him and he disapproves, he’ll murder you!” Betsy had informed me. “You’re mad if you write anything about him. You’re asking for trouble. I mean it,” she warned.

I wish I had heeded her advice. At that moment I foolishly believed “Banjo’s” reputation was probably more of a PR exercise instigated by him to scare his many critics. I also believed that people who live by fear, die by fear and I wasn’t about to be scared off that easily. Like many young people I assumed I was safe from harm, untouchable and indestructible. So I wrote another satirical article implying that “Banjo’s” lack of height and non-existent sex drive were probably the root cause of his anger. In order to be a real man he probably felt he needed to intimidate, torture and kill his opponents, all textbook psychiatric-speak.

While the article amused most readers, it did not go down at all well with its anti-hero, the diminutive Mayor. Incensed to a point of distraction, “Banjo” immediately dispatched his armed henchmen after me with instructions to apprehend me and bring me back to him so he could punish me in his own way.

Perhaps I was right. Perhaps I was indestructible. Perhaps there was a guardian angel sitting on my shoulder. For, by some stroke of good fortune, I had moved out of my first floor room above the Cafe to another bedsit the very day his bodyguards burst into the café brandishing automatic machine guns.

“I never told them where you were.” Cesar the head-waiter joked the next day, “I said you’d probably be back late. So they hung around waiting for you all night. They were so drunk but they wouldn’t go home. They told me they didn’t dare go back to Banjo without you.”

I lived in fear for the next few weeks, avoiding all my usual haunts. Until that time, despite my friends’ repeated warnings, I had happily wandered all over town, taken taxis and shown up at meetings, functions and parties all alone. But now I had no choice. I was on Banjo’s hit-list, everyone expected me to be kidnapped, raped or murdered at any moment. From now on there were no more solitary outings. I would need a chaperone everywhere I went. Banjo could strike at any time, I was told, and I had to take the threat seriously.

One day I was watching television when a newscaster interrupted the show with the news that Mayor Banjo Laurel of Pampanga was believed to be dead. The helicopter he was in had exploded on take-off. There were probably no survivors and foul play was suspected. A few days later, police gave the results of their investigation to the media.

“The helicopter’s fuel tank was tampered with, possibly by someone very close to the Mayor.” I breathed a sigh of relief. I was now free to wander the streets of Manila alone again.

Another habituee of Café Indios Bravos invited me out on a date soon after Banjo’s premature death. Francisco “Kit” Tatad, a respected young leftwing journalist. Kit so wanted to impress me that he actually bought a man’s shirt I’d designed for my Indios Bravos boutique, even plucking up the courage to wear it one evening. Anyone who was willing to go that far, I reckoned, must have wanted to make a good impression on me. But it was immediately obvious when I saw him wearing it that I was not cut out to be a men’s fashion designer. But, entirely unabashed, determined and attired in my frilly white pirate shirt Kit made his first move.

Kit had two big plusses in his favour. He was vehemently anti-Marcos as I was – and, more importantly, he had a sense of humour. So, despite the unpleasant experiences I’d suffered with my other “suitors”, when Kit invited me out I decided this date would certainly be more fun.

Kit, at least, was, it turns out, a gentleman. He neither tried to coerce me nor persuade me to go to bed with him, either on our first date or any subsequent dates we had together. He did, however, apply increasing pressure for us to get married – at first in a humorous way but progressively in a more serious manner. I was relieved when he went off to France for a holiday hoping that his marital intentions would have been deflated by an overdose of French culture by the time he returned.

kit-tatad
A much later photograph of Kit Tatad as Senator

But to my dismay he showed up at the Cafe one night following his return clutching the glossy brochure of Fontainebleau, a drawing pad and a pencil and proceeded to design “our” house, a miniature palace of Versailles, which would be sited in his home state of Batangas. I tried to explain I wasn’t interested either in marriage to him or being held like a captive princess in some remote fairytale castle but I’m not sure he wanted to believe me.

“Just a bout of nerves, cherie,” he joked. “You’ll come round to it. It’s just a matter of time. I’m willing to wait! Anyway it’ll take a while to build the house.”

It was useless to argue. I let it go and suggested it was getting late, Indios Bravos was about to close and that he might want to finish off his architectural sketches at home.

When I’d shut the door of the Café after him, I sat down beside Betsy.

“What the hell do I have to say to get this guy to understand I’m not interested in marrying him?”

Betsy shrugged her shoulders.

“And where the hell does he get the money to build something like that?” I asked, “You told me yourself he’s not from a wealthy family. His salary at the newspaper wouldn’t cover it. How does he do it?”

Again Betsy shrugged her shoulders. “I have my suspicions,” she said.

“Suspicions? What suspicions, for heaven’s sake?” I was intrigued. “Tell me.”

“Haven’t you noticed anything about Kit since he got back?” Betsy eyed me, “Haven’t you wondered why we avoid political gossip when he’s in Indios Bravos these days?”

What was she trying to tell me? I thought about what she could mean. But deep down I knew there was only one obvious answer. Oh, my God, it was true. How could I have been so blinkered? I couldn’t believe it. Others with fewer morals, yes, but Kit of all people?

Betsy nodded. “He’ll probably tell you himself when he’s more certain about you.”

Kit Tatad, you bastard, I thought. You renegade, you double-dealing piece of shit! You sold out, didn’t you? You sold out to Marcos, along with all the others. I realized now the only reason he’d been dating me was to get closer to the Indios Bravos crowd and, like Marcos’s henchman, General Menzi, was probably charged to report back to Malacanang Palace. I felt like a complete idiot. How could I have been so stupid? How could I have put my friends at risk?

“God, Betsy, I’m really sorry,” was all I could think of to say. Inside I was desperately trying to remember my conversations with Kit. Had I given anything away about who was saying what to whom, about the strength of anti-Marcos feeling among the Café regulars, about the local drug scene, about anything and everything?

Betsy put her arm around my shoulder. “Don’t feel bad,” she smiled, “we’re used to spies in here. But what are you going to say to Kit?”

“I’ll tell him to go to hell. But first I’ll ask him how much money did it take for him to sell out? What was his price? And then I’ll ask him just how much it costs to build the Palace of Versailles in his backyard.”

Betsy looked at me. I stuck my finger down my throat and pretended to retch. We convulsed into a fit of giggles.

“Rumour is he’s going to be the next Presidential Press Secretary!” She nudged me in the ribs, “Now tell me honestly, Caroline, wouldn’t you want to be the wife of the Presidential Press Secretary? Think of the perks!” She nudged me again. “Just joking!”

“It does sound good. I might just give it some thought!” I lied.

Fortunately I never ran into Kit again. But I duly noted he was at Marcos’s side the night before the President declared martial law. Perhaps he was even there for the few nights before when the President “communed with God so he could receive His blessing” for what he was about to do to his country. And the very next morning, Friday 22nd September 1972, there was Kit at the military camp, Camp Aguinaldo, at the very heart of the Philippines Defence establishment, standing side by side with the architect of martial law, Defence Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile.

As every vestige of democracy was stripped from his country, as the economy was plunged further into debt, as every dissident, many of them his former friends and colleagues, were rounded up and imprisoned, as the Filipinos were deprived of their civil liberties, Kit Tatad was in on the planning stages and execution in the Philippines’ darkest hour. I can never forgive him for that. (* Kit Tatad later became a Senator).

Parts of Nick Joaquin’s Valentine article about me were immediately reproduced in the International Herald Tribune, Asiaweek and the South China Morning Post. To the more enlightened in Manila I became a refreshing novelty, willing to speak my mind on any subject, particularly taboo ones, such as sex, politics and religion but to certain sensitive political and religious groups I provoked a very different response.

It didn’t take long for the latter group to decide I was “totally immoral”, without any redeeming attributes, and brand me “a bad example to all Filipina women”. Provoked into action by their communal outrage, the Immigration Minister, Narciso Reyes, summoned me to his office at the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation and threatened me with immediate removal from the country as an undesirable alien.

This move by the Minister infuriated me and I was prepared to storm into his office all guns blazing. My visa was valid, there was still freedom of speech in the country and I hadn’t broken any rules so, in my opinion, he had absolutely no right to boot me out of the country. It didn’t help my cause that the Philippines Free Press was an Opposition paper, its publisher, editor and columnists were some of Marcos’s most dedicated opponents.

Egged on by the Indios Bravos regulars to throw the law back in the Minister’s face, to stand up for my right to remain in the country and to fight for my entitlement to write as I pleased, I spent the next few days rehearsing what I was going to say to him. Several friends told me that if all else failed I should offer him money under the table, preferably American “greenbacks”, of course.

“Greenbacks can buy anything in this country,” they said. I winced at the idea of passing a handful of dollars through the gap beneath the Minister’s pedestal desk. That, in my mind, was blatant corruption and I bristled at the thought of involving myself in any such dubious transaction.

“Don’t take it literally,” they laughed. “It doesn’t have to be underhand. In fact it can be quite blatant. It’s called greasing the palm. It’s easy. It’s a fact of life here”

I was indignant. I retorted that I was English and in England we didn’t countenance that type of thing! (How wrong I was on that score!)

When the moment came, however, true to character, my carefully prepared speech simply evaporated and I had to accept that I was once again a failure. Instead of giving the Minister a piece of my mind, I sat opposite him trembling, eyes downcast, meek, apologetic and pleading. I was clearly at his mercy and he and I both knew it. But instead of exploiting the situation to the full, as I expected him to do, he simply sat there and smiled at me, tapping his manicured nails in rhythm on his desk.

Eventually he broke the silence.

“What am I going to do with you, Miss Kennedy?” he asked.

I thought maybe this was my cue for offering him a financial incentive to do something positive. But, besides being a route I didn’t want to go down, I had no idea what my particular case was worth to him. How much would it cost me to prevent him from rescinding my visa? How much was it worth to me to stay in his country? And would he expect me to pay more if he granted me leave to stay unconditionally? I didn’t want to insult him by offering too little but at the same time I feared offering too much and setting a precedent. Nor did I want to fumble in my purse, pull out some dollars only to discover to my embarrassment that Narciso Reyes was the only honest Minister in Ferdinand Marcos’s government.

I raised my eyes to look at him. Could I tell just from looking at him whether he was honest or not? There he was, a plump, middle-aged man with graying hair and smooth shiny cheeks, tapping his fingernails on the surface of his second-hand desk. He was dressed in a pale grey-green sharkskin suit, probably fashionable in Manila in the late Sixties but at least a decade past its sell by date in London. Was this a man open to bribery?

Before I could even guess at an answer he asked, “Tell me truthfully, is it true what you say about Filipino lovers?”

Oh, here we go again, I thought. Now I knew why I had been summoned to his office. He simply wanted to meet the insolent girl who had managed to upset almost the entire Filipino male population. He was no different from all the others. His virility, too, had been challenged. And he probably wanted me to grovel apologetically at his feet.

Narciso Reyes didn’t realize it then but with that remark he had lost control of the situation. From past experience I knew that all I had to do now was flatter his masculinity, show some remorse and tell him it was only meant as a joke, a novelty item for the Valentine’s Day newspapers.

I offered him my hand in truce. Looking into his eyes I said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Reyes, but of course when Nick Joaquin wrote that piece I hadn’t met you yet!” This line had worked before on several red-blooded males who had taken offence at Nick’s article.

I could tell by his sigh of relief that was all he wanted to hear. His shiny cheeks broke into a wide grin revealing a perfect set of fluoride teeth. He locked his hand around mine and squeezed it.

“Ah,” he said, “so we’re not all that lousy?”

“Of course not, Minister. Heavens, I hope you didn’t think..? I didn’t mean a word of it. I was simply poking some fun, Mr. Reyes, honestly!” I was well rehearsed. Unblinking, I continued to stare into his eyes.

He squeezed my hand again and then let go.

“In that case we understand each other, don’t we?” he winked. “But there’s just one other thing we need to clear up before you go.”

“Yes?”

Maybe this was the request for money I had been waiting for.

“The films you’ve been making, Caroline. Are you being paid for them? You know, of course, on a tourist’s visa you’re not supposed to be earning money in our country and I wouldn’t like to have to deport you for that reason, you understand?”

“Yes I’m aware of that,” I replied.

He rose from his desk and approached me. He shook my hand and escorted me towards the door.

“Just as long as you remember that, Caroline!”

The ordeal was over. I had my visa extended. Now that I was on first name terms with the Minister, it was accomplished in seconds, rather than in days or weeks.

But the storm Nick Joaquin had created with his article refused to die down. The media was full of it. But conversely, it seemed, the more the storm raged on the more the opposite sex were determined to prove me wrong. I continued to attract a motley collection of admirers, all unsuitable, all undesirable and all, with the exception of one or two, entirely unwelcome. But, unfazed by my hostile reaction to their ardent overtures, they pursued me with a vengeance, each arrogantly thinking he was the only one who could prove that Filipino manhood was alive, well and unquestionably libidinous.

Invitations to expand on the subject flooded in from the most unlikely sources. Most I regretfully declined, others, including the following, I accepted.

I was invited to give an after-dinner speech to celebrate the Philippine Army’s National Day. Most of the generals present were so inebriated by the end of the evening that anything I said was unlikely to be remembered and I got away scot-free.

I was then coerced into defending my argument to irate male members of the Philippines’ National Press Club. Armanda Manalo was, naturally, among the audience eager to tear me apart. But, surprisingly, the following day he grudgingly conceded in his column that I was, perhaps, a breath of fresh air.

But the ones who gave me the most trouble were not, as I would have thought, the men but a group of highly indignant women. I was asked to chair an informal debate with the graduating class in journalism and media studies at the Philippine Women’s University. Despite the initial good humour the afternoon threatened to turn into an all out war. The girls who had reluctantly been forced to join my debating team were in serious danger of being lynched by the opposition. I wimped out after the debate ended, refusing to take questions, made my excuses and left in a hurry.

The only man I hadn’t mentioned to Nick Joaquin, someone who was a refreshing contrast to the rest because he had never made a move on me, was my favourite of them all – my fearless champion, the firebrand TV personality, Roger “Bomba” Arienda. But he deserves a chapter of his own.

2 thoughts on “A Valentine Memory

  1. Having dated two Filipino actors, this is great ! ( one of them became my partner for 3 years). I only wish I had read it before I dated them. lol

    One of my actors actually played Nick Joaquin in a film recently.

    Things have changed in The Philippines since the 60’s but not that much,

    Thank-you for this ,

    Sincerely,

    Virginia

    ________________________________

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