Monday, August 25, 2008

Manay Gina moves on

PEOPLE By Joanne Rae M. Ramirez

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The De Venecia home in Forbes Park is no longer filled with politicians, politicians’ wives, lobbyists and hangers-on these days, the way it used to be bursting at the seams when the Man of the House (pun intended) was still Speaker.

But the house is still filled with friends of the De Venecia couple, cheerful butterfly-themed paintings and figurines (including Hermes plates with a butterfly motif) and the laughter of its most frequent visitor -— 10-month-old Isabella “Belle” Cruz Evangelista, Manay Gina’s first apo.

“Belle” means the world to her Mamita Gina, and the baby reminds Gina of what truly matters in life.

“I have suffered the unbearable loss of a child,” Gina tells me one rainy July morning when I paid her a visit. She lost her youngest child KC when a fire gutted down their Dasmariñas Village home in 2004. “After that, nothing could be worse.”

Not her husband’s loss of the Speakership, not the seeming betrayal of those she once thought were her best friends. Certainly not perks that flew out of the window when her husband lost his Speakership.

Does she miss being on the presidential plane and being in the presidential entourage during state visits?

“No. Nagsawa na ako diyan. I could fly to the US on my own. I have stayed in the Blair House many times. Eh, nung maliit ako, palagi na ako nakakasama sa mga trips abroad. I had a very happy childhood. Every summer, my father would bring us on a cruise, on the SS Cleveland, SS Wilson. Hindi ako sabik sa ganoon. Marami na rin akong privilege na na-experience even without her (President Arroyo), na hindi ko na rin yun hinahanap.”

They say proximity to power is power itself, and having one’s high heels sink on Malacañang’s carpeted halls brings with it a certain high.

Does Gina miss her access to the Palace?

Hindi. Kasi nga my father taught me how to eat with paupers and walk with kings. So it doesn’t matter if I don’t walk with kings now. Passing nga ang lahat, eh. That’s what KC’s death made me realize. For all you know, tomorrow I’ll be gone. So what I’m working at now is to save my soul. Di ba, what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but suffers the loss of his soul?” she adds.

* * *

Gina believes it was her gift of discernment and her sixth sense (“I’m a witch!” she quips) that made her support her stepson Joey de Venecia’s allegations on the ZTE corruption scandal. Joey’s testimony rocked the Arroyo presidency.

Nakita ko Joey was telling the truth. He said, ‘Tita, what am I going to do?’ Sabi ko, ‘Joey, this will cost us the speakership of your dad and maybe even our lives.’ But my decision is, you go ahead. Sabi ko, we have to try and save this money for the taxpayers. And you’re doing what’s right for 90 million Filipinos.”

“Si Joey, hindi kami close. I didn’t talk to him since KC died. Hindi kami nag-uusap because may tampo ako sa mga anak ni Joe from his first marriage. I felt they never loved KC. But my decision to support him helped heal my relationship with him. After I listened to Joey, I believed he was telling the truth.”

It crossed the minds of some that Gina supported her stepson’s expose because she was sourgraping.

“Sourgraping over what? It’s not as if I was part of the deal. I supported Joey because it was the right thing to do. I felt na sobra na ang corruption. Ang dami na kasing nagsusumbong. Again, I am not close to Joey. Lahat ng negosyo niya, siya lang ‘yan. Hindi ako nakikialam d’yan.”

But once she made her decision, Gina was at peace. “I know when people are lying,” she points out.

* * *

These days, Gina may be out of Malacañang’s inner circle, but she’s certainly not down. “Power is fleeting,” she stresses, having experienced painful political losses twice (the first was Joe’s defeat during the presidential polls in 1998).

What isn’t fleeting, she says, is the effect of the good you do for others.

Yung pagka-genuine ng tao hindi ‘yan lilipas kasi love is never wasted. Yung pagmamahal mo sa kapwa tao, it’ll always come back to you. I remember yung father ko, he would always tell me, ‘Hija, lagi n’yong isipin na gumawa kayo ng tama because kung hindi sa iyo babalik, sa mga anak mo.’ Many of those who are kind to me, who gave me their grace, my father was good to them.”

She tells me the story of her grandfather Jose Leonardo Perez, who was once the provincial treasurer of Tarlac. The provincial assessor was the father of P.O. Domingo, who became PNB president. Gina’s grandfather would give Domingo a ride whenever he could. When Gina’s father was starting out in the movie industry, P.O. Domingo would give him easy access to loans (“Kahit ayaw niyang mangutang”) till Sampaguita Pictures became the big movie production studio that it was.

Gina says that in their clan, loyal housemaids are buried in the family mausoleum. That’s how they were raised — to value the kindness and devotion of others.

Gina was one of the first to comfort the women who lost their children during the sinking of the Princess of the Stars. Sans fanfare, she and her fellow members of the INA (Inang Naulila sa Anak) Foundation were among the first to set up counseling desks at the Sulpicio Lines terminal in Port Area. Her work with bereaved mothers and disadvantaged women and children (Her Haven for Women has helped some 15,000 or 20,000 clients) goes beyond politics.

Gina herself says she may not be able to show her appreciation to all those who have showed her genuine kindness. “But kindness is never wasted. Later on, it will continue, yung mga mababait sa akin, my children will never forget.”

Our conversation draws to a close. It has stopped raining and the sun is shining again — outdoors and in Gina de Venecia’s life.

* * *

(You may e-mail me at

No comments: