The day I met Imelda

Roberto “Bob” C. Garcia, multicultural development officer of the Toowoomba Regional Council (TRC) in Queensland, Australia, said former First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos was the guest speaker when he graduated from the University of the Philippines in 1977. 

“At that time, the College of Veterinary Medicine was still at the UP in Diliman,” he said in a message. He studied there from 1969 to 1977. 

Bob graduated from the Philippine Science High School (PSHS), the first batch under the five-year curriculum from 1965 to 1969.

“In hindsight, 1965 to 1969 were difficult years. But we were young, curious, and eager to learn new things,” Bob also said.

The message was also the basis for an earlier article in Bravo News, “Roberto C. Garcia’s  Walk Down Memory Lane.”

The article brought to mind my first meeting with the former First Lady during the birthday celebration of Enrique “Pocholo” Romualdez (bless his soul), former executive editor of the defunct but fondly-remembered Philippines Daily Express  (PDE).

I was then back in the country for good after working for almost 30 years in the Middle East.

While abroad, I always received an invitation to Pocholo’s birthday celebration or the Daily Express reunion. Still, I was unable to attend for one reason or another.

Incidentally, the 52nd anniversary of PDE’s maiden issue is this Tuesday, May 7.

Attending for the first time Pocholo’s birthday celebration at his residence in Singalong, Malate, Manila, we had difficulty finding the place. The sky was overcast, and rain seemed imminent.

The house was on Fermin Street, a side street of Singalong. Hong Kong-based Virgilio “Boyet” Bello Lumicao, the first Daily Express chief proofreader who became a reporter-deskman and first page one editor of Riyadh Daily, said earlier celebrations were held in Pocholo’s old house on the same street, which had become the site of a Philippine-Swiss export firm.

Jojo Ventura, a former copy boy, was on the street waiting for us to arrive in our old Toyota car, which had seen better days.

I remember the picture-perfect Daily Express celebrations and the PDE staff as one happy family, making me long for the good old days.

The defunct Philippine Daily Express staff spend quality time on Pocholo’s birthday.

Jojo ushered my sister, Linda Hernandez-Dumlao, and me into the house filled with former PDE staff.

As we picked our way through the room, we smiled at former colleagues, who smiled back. With the door half open, I could see Pocholo looking toward us.

We entered the room and there was Imelda seated beside  Pocholo’s sickbed.

As relatives, it was obvious that they were close. “From what I gathered, they were first cousins. The father of Pocholo was Manila-based while the father of Imelda was Leyte-based,” said Mary Jane Ortega in a text message.

That meant they were cousins, but since Imelda was older at 88, Pocholo called her “Aunt” or “Auntie.”

Mary Jane, or MJO to former PDE staff members, was the newspaper’s comptroller and former three-time San Fernando, La Union mayor. She is at present a special adviser at Citynet.

Juan Antonio S. Perez III, the former undersecretary for population and development (PopCom), had a different story. “Imelda is Pocholo’s aunt if I recall correctly,” he said. Jeepy, whose father was PDE publisher Juan A. Perez, Jr., worked as a proofreader and then chief proofreader while studying for his medical degree at the University of the East, where he graduated cum laude.

Imelda looked regal, as she had always been on television or described in newspaper reports or radio broadcasts.

Even at her age, she still looked beautiful in her bright blue dress and carefully coiffed black hair. She was friendly but reserved, probably because she was meeting us for the first time.

We were introduced, but I could not remember if we shook hands. I became shy in her presence. 

I wanted to talk with her, but I could not. Knowing that her late husband was from Region 1, Ilocandia, I wanted to say that I was also from Ilocos Norte.

 Marisu, Pocholo’s daughter, and some former Daily Express staff members were also in the room.

My sister Linda and I followed when they got out, leaving Imelda and Pocholo to continue their conversation.

Not long after, the former First Lady, whose son Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. (PBBM) is the country’s current president, left in her chauffeur-driven Mercedes-Benz sedan.

As expected, the birthday celebration was held with Mary Jane as lead organizer. Here is what Vir Lumicao said regarding her:

“Mary Jane is the most dynamic of all surviving PDE family members. As the top executives faded away during the post-EDSA decades, MJO remains the glue that has kept us together, like brothers and sisters, as we journey towards the inevitable,” he said.

He added, ”It was her who made former employees realize that, in diverse ways, they were cogs in the wheel of an enterprise that served as a launchpad for the careers of many of the youthful 700 or so people  who joined the PDE  since it began hiring people weeks before printing its maiden issue.”

The maiden issue was published on May 7, 1972.

Vir mentioned the generosity of Mary Jane, who hired a van for 20 former PDE staffers who visited her. They stayed in her family’s beach house.

“She played host to us during our stay,” he said.

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