Archive for the ‘Letters’ Category

To Love Again

General Romulo’s forty-four-year marriage to Virginia Llamas ended abruptly in January 1968 when she died of leukemia. It had been a happy marriage that produced four sons.

“I glory in the knowledge that I have had the happiest married life,” he wrote, as he began a new romance with American writer Beth Day.

Beth and Rommy (as he was known to his close friends, particularly in the United States) first met in 1958, when she came to see him on assignment for The Reader’s Digest. At the time Beth was married to Donald Day, and the General was Philippine Ambassador to the United States, living in Washington, D.C., with his wife and three youngest boys.

In 1960, New York City, they met briefly again for lunch to discuss another piece Beth was working on—but it wasn’t until October 17, 1972, that their story really began, both having been widowed.

A photo presented by Governor Sison of Lingayen. A sign behind the couple reads “Happy Birthday our beloved Miss Beth Day. May you love the Philippines as your very own. May 24, 1974”

“After having lost you for more than twelve years,” he wrote in January 1973, when Beth came to Manila for a visit, “it was a glorious night at La Côte Basque, when you entered through the revolving doors . . . and in that unforgettable ‘enchanted evening’ I saw in you the golden shaft to give my twilight days the glow that I hoped would give me back the happiness that I thought I would never recover.”

The General had hosted the dinner in honor of Ambassador and Mrs. George Bush. Among the guests were Ambassador Toru Nakagawa of Japan, Mr. and Mrs. Norman Cousins, Philippine Ambassador Narciso Reyes, and Mr. and Mrs. Frank Wangeman (of the Waldorf-Astoria).

Present, too, was Mrs. Mariles Romulo, widow of the General’s eldest son, with her son Mike. Sixteen at the time, Mike recalls his grandfather stealing glances of Beth all throughout the dinner. So love-struck was he, says Mike, that when they got back to the Waldorf Towers, “Lolo grabbed me and waltzed me around the living room, pretending I was Beth!”

By mid-February Beth was back in New York City—but not without the promise of marriage. “He proposed to me in the Manila Cathedral,” Beth recalls, “because that’s where his father proposed to his mother.”

They did not announce their engagement publicly, however, since President Marcos strongly opposed the idea of the Philippines’ Secretary of Foreign Affairs having a foreign affair.

While Beth continued to write and get her affairs in order in New York, Rommy courted her through letters, gifts, and phone calls. “Listen to the grating sound of my broken record,” he wrote. “I love you today more than yesterday and today less than tomorrow.”

General Romulo, 80, married Beth Day on September 8, 1978, in a private ceremony at the Pasay City home of the Parsons. They toasted with champagne in sterling silver goblets—a wedding gift from the Chief Justice and his wife.

Beth was back by the end of May 1973, this time for the long haul. With a new book contract and a suite at the Manila Hilton, she was prepared to devote herself entirely to him. “I cannot think of a better raison d’être for my own life at this time than to dedicate what talents I possess as a human being to making you happy,” she wrote.

They were married on September 8, 1978, in a private civil ceremony officiated by Chief Justice Fred Ruiz Castro. She wore a pink chiffon dress, and the only ones present were the wife of the Chief Justice and the couple’s close friends Katsy and Chick Parsons, who hosted the afternoon ceremony in their living room. After the US Bases Agreement was signed the following February, a negotiation for which the General had to remain non-partisan (i.e., not married to an American), they got married again—without guests or fanfare—at the residence of the Papal Nuncio.

Cardinal Sin had in fact offered to marry them, but the General had protested, “I don’t want to be married in the house of Sin!”

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

I remember vividly my last visit with my grandfather. Late morning, August 1985, just before I left Manila to begin my sophomore year at Barnard College. He’d been sick a couple of years already and often complained about the deteriorating quality of his life. He had a lot on his mind, so much so that he didn’t seem all that interested in the usual chitchat about me and my life as a teenager; instead, he shared with me his thoughts about the Philippines and the mess it was in.

I remember thinking that his eyeglasses seemed extra thick and cloudy that day, as if they were preventing him from seeing things clearly. As far as he could tell, we were barreling towards a bloody revolution. Ninoy Aquino had been murdered two years before; the country was bankrupt; people were clamoring for change; and President Marcos, who’d been in power already twenty years and was in poor health, refused to step down.

Wearing a monogrammed pajama set in blue paisley, he looked frail and spent in his reading chair, his two golden cocker spaniels spread-eagled on the carpet beneath him. I felt strangely out of place. First of all, I was having what would be my first and last adult conversation with him. Second, it was rare to see him depressed. His sense of humor was legendary. It was the secret weapon in his armory, and he always had just the right repartee to lighten the dourest mood or diffuse even the stickiest diplomatic situation.

The ever buoyant CPR with his mother (Maria Cabrera Peña de Romulo); brothers Henry, 24, and Gilbert, 17; and sister, Pepita, 18. Having just graduated from the University of the Philippines just weeks before, 21-year-old Carlos was already preparing for his greatest adventure yet. He was about to attend Columbia University as a <i>pensionado</i> (government-sponsored scholar).

The ever buoyant CPR with his mother (Maria Cabrera Peña de Romulo); brothers Henry, 24, and Gilbert, 17; and sister, Choleng, 18. Having graduated from the University of the Philippines just weeks before, 21-year-old Carlos was preparing for his greatest adventure yet. He was about to attend Columbia University in New York City as a pensionado (government-sponsored scholar).

That was the last time I saw him. A few months later, in the second week of December, my dad phoned me in New York City to let me know that Lolo was in the hospital for emergency surgery—and that this time it was serious. I was getting ready for end-of-term finals but was well aware that it wasn’t just Lolo’s life that was in jeopardy; the Philippine situation, too, had grown critical. The international community was gravely suspicious of the Marcos administration, as the military had already been found guilty of conspiring to assassinate Aquino. Members of the clergy (i.e., Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin) were beginning to criticize openly those in power. Protests were erupting on the streets with more and more frequency. Marcos, in order to prove that the majority still wanted him as president, had called for a snap election.

As if he could no longer withstand the blows to a collapsing Philippines, Lolo died on December 15. His death was attributed to a general collapse of his circulatory system. He was a month shy of his 88th birthday.

<i>Querida hermana Loring: / Para felicitarte en tus cumpleaños y desearte largos años de vida, prosperidad y alegría sin cuento, van esas caras alegres de los que te quieren de corazon. / Tu hermano / Mayo 11, 1919 / 337 Florida, Ermita, Manila</i></p> <p>  My dear sister Loring: / To greet you on your birthday and to wish you a long life, prosperity and happiness without end, from these happy faces of those who love you with their hearts. / Your brother

Querida hermana Loring: / Para felicitarte en tus cumpleaños y desearte largos años de vida, prosperidad y alegría sin cuento, van esas caras alegres de los que te quieren de corazon. / Tu hermano / Mayo 11, 1919 / 337 Florida, Ermita, Manila; My dear sister Loring: / To greet you on your birthday and to wish you a long life, prosperity and happiness without end, from these happy faces . . . those who love you with their hearts. / Your brother

Tributes and condolences flooded in, assuaging our family’s grief to some extent. Leaders from all over the globe honored us with their appreciation of his years of devoted service to our nation and to the cause of world peace.

“A greatly beloved patriot has passed from our midst. Men of this stature survive even their own mortality, and what history may have missed, our hearts and our memories will recall.” ~ President Ferdinand E. Marcos

“We share more deeply than you know your own sense of loss at his passing, sharing your pride in the singular achievements of this remarkable man.” ~ US President Ronald Reagan

“The passing of Romulo, coinciding the UN’s 40th anniversary, signifies the passing of an era.” ~ UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar

“An outstanding scholar, a distinguished soldier, and an illustrious diplomat.” ~ Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew

“Australia has long valued the outstanding contributions of Romulo in international affairs, both in the UN where he served with distinction as president of the UN General Assembly and Security Council, and in the Asia Pacific region as a long serving and successful foreign minister who contributed to the development of good relations between our countries.” ~ Australia Foreign Minister Bill Hayden

“General Romulo had made invaluable support and assistance in founding the republic of Korea in 1948, and protecting its independence in the ensuing years.” ~ Korea Foreign Minister Won Kyung Lee

“We are losing an adviser, a counsel and friend. We shall all remember him.” ~ Malaysia Foreign Minister Tengku Ahmad Ritthauddeen

“. . . I will remember him for the passionate intensity of his conviction and commitment to the causes he believed in.” ~ Singapore Foreign Minister S. Dhanabalan

Though he died a private citizen, we gave him a state funeral, with President Marcos and the First Lady there to honor him. Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin officiated the mass at Santuario de San Antonio before his body was transferred to the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Each of the governments of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Japan, the United States and the Secretary-General of the United Nations sent representatives. From the CCP the funeral procession pushed onward to the state cemetery, Libingan ng mga Bayani. There under the thick canopy of acacia trees we buried him.

“My father died as he lived,” said my uncle Ricardo Romulo in his eulogy, “indomitable, at peace with God, and in the bosom of his family.”