Heritage

11 Dashing Debonaires of Old Manila

Here’s how they lived truly rich lives according to their own rules and standards.
IMAGE COURTESY OF TECHIE YSMAEL BILBAO, RUSTANS
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With influence and legacies lasting way beyond their years, the dashing debonaires of Old Manila continue to inspire generations thereafter to live their lives to the fullest: rich in experience, seeking the best of what the world can offer, and most of all, finding like-minded people to enjoy it with.

Don Luis Araneta

Architect and designer Don Luis Araneta, responsible for landmark structures such as the Lourdes Church and Makati Medical Center, was also well-known as a staunch arts patron. “Aesthetics heightened his way of life” and so he decorated his Forbes Park residence with lavish displays of masterpieces curated from all corners of the world. His living room walls, for instance, were decidedly off-white, to create a blank canvas that would feature Luna and Hidalgo’s color-rich works. 

A man of faith, his collection of art, antiques, and modern Filipino furniture was intermingled with religious icons. “He showed Manila’s upper crust that incorporating ecclesiastical antiques in the home was chic, not scary or nunnish,” observes culture researcher Augusto Gonzalez. Araneta was also known for repurposing the carroza into various décor, incorporating the silver into a statement piece fit for the lanai, into wooden chandeliers, and even repurposed into a champagne cooler, among other home accessories.  

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Araneta was also fond of lavish parties that were truly a reflection of his high style. With the help of his staff, Araneta would oversee the decorations himself.  “Dance on the Magic Carpet” and “Lovers of the Great Century” were just a few of his most popular party themes. 

Where is he now?

Araneta suffered a stroke and was taken to a hospital in San Francisco. He was accompanied by his son, Gregorio, and his close friends. He passed away on Easter Sunday in 1984. 

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Enrique Zobel

Photo by IAN SANTOS.

Don Enrique Zobel, also known as Enzo or EZ, was a polo player, the Filipino president of the Manila Polo Club, a pilot and reserve officer in the Philippine Air Force, and the eldest of the seventh generation of the Zobel de Ayala family.

He is said to be one of the powerhouses behind the development of Makati City, helping make it the financial capital we know today. In 1968, he became the chairman of Ayala Corporation. He also founded the Makati Business Club. 

Where is he now?

Zobel suffered a major injury in 1991 after falling off a horse in a polo game. It paralyzed him from the waist down. However, Zobel continued to be active at work, focusing on philanthropy. In 2004, he died suffering from complications due to the said accident. He was 77.

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Bienvenido Tantoco, Sr.

Photo by COURTESY OF RUSTANS.

Ambassador Bienvenido “Benny” Tantoco, Sr. is known for many things: a family man, a generous and warm-hearted leader, philanthropist, and a constant traveler. He is best known for co-founding fashion and luxury empire, Rustan’s, in 1951, together with his wife, the late Gliceria “Glecy” Tantoco. In fact, the name Rustan's is a portmanteau of Rustia, his wife’s maiden name, and his surname. 

The idea behind Rustan’s came from the couple’s penchant for all things exquisite and beautiful, which they took home from their travels around the world for their friends to purchase. The Tantocos used to sell from the living room of their home in San Marcelino Street in Ermita. They were pioneer tastemakers in a league of their own.

Where is he now?

Ninety-eight years old today, Tantoco still makes it a point to groom himself well and come out dressed in his best every dayHe intends to live until a hundred, to receive the P100,000 that the mayor gives to everyone who turns 100. He promised his grandson, Christopher, that he would give him the P100,000 to pay for his wedding.

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MORE: Lessons on Business and Life From Rustan's Tantoco Family

Eugenio Lopez, Jr.

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Eugenio Lopez Sr. was a multimillionaire and, at one point, the richest man in Asia. The family’s wealth and power were often deemed incomparable to that of any Philippine president. Eugenio Lopez, Jr. or “Geny” is his eldest son, who is known for being arrested during the martial law under the Marcos rule.

The younger Lopez is often lauded for his efforts to rebuild and return his family’s media corporation into what it is today, having gone through tumultuous events in recent years. His efforts to steer the media giant into its rise has earned him the nickname ‘Kapitan’ or captain

While he is known to be generous with his employees, Lopez lived out in simplicity, wearing ordinary clothes to work. 

Where is he now?

Lopez died of cancer in 1999. A new office building in the studio annex of the ABS-CBN Broadcasting Center is named after his memory.

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P.L. Lim & Carlos "Charlie" Palanca

Photo by THE MANILA PENINSULA.

They were two men of disparate backgrounds: Patricio Luis Lim or P.L. was a self-made textile taipan who used to work as a janitor and a security guard at a general goods store; while Carlos Palanca, Jr., as his surname reveals, is a scion of the prominent Palanca family, owners of La Tondeña Distillery and Lepanto Consolidated Mining. The two met in the late 1960s at the Wack Wack Golf Club, and both would eventually become part of the impenetrable Manila Golf Mafia.

Business partners and the best of friends, Lim and Palanca were well-regarded for their effortless lifestyle. The pair worked tirelessly to groom the Peninsula Manila into the posh, five-star hotel that it is today. Epitomes of true gentlemen, Lim and Palanca did business well and decently, and did not succumb to politics. They were also naturals at social gatherings. Always arriving impeccably dressed, they were often spotted in “suits made by the finest tailors in Bond Street in London, wearing neckties from Lanvin and Pierre Cardin, and wore Brioni before everyone else.”

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Of the many hotels built in that era, it is only the Peninsula Manila that remains. The edifice has “aged gracefully, masterfully maintaining its sheen of newness while keeping its classic charm; surviving economic downturns, natural calamities, and one famously misguided coup attempt in 2007.” Indeed the pair’s legacy of “effortless elegance and a subdued kind of power” continues to live through the Pen.

Where they are now?

Palanca passed away in 1988; while Lim, who almost lived to a hundred, died in 2015, almost 30 years later.

Ernesto Rufino, Sr.

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Ernesto Rufino Sr., together with his siblings Vicente, Ester, and Rafael, are the forces behind EVER—a name taken from their initials. In 1930s pre-war Manila, they also established a chain of art deco movie theaters and cinemas in Manila, including Avenue and State on Avenida Rizal, Lyric and Capitol on Escolta, Gaiety on M.H. del Pilar. The siblings soon became the country’s biggest film distributors with Rufino earning the title, “The Cinema King.” In the 1960s, they built Rizal Theater and the QUAD in Ayala.

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Together with the Cojuangcos and Jacintos, the Rufino siblings also established the first Filipino private-owned commercial bank, the Philippine Bank of Commerce. Ernesto would become the vice president. Meanwhile, he would also become a reserve officer in the army, which would merit him a Silver Star for his gallantry in action.

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Leo Prieto, Sr.

Photo by WIKIMEDIA COMMONS.

Leo Prieto Sr. is the first Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) commissioner and is known as the 'father of the PBA.' The famed rivalry between basketball teams Crispa and Toyota happened during Prieto’s tenure as commissioner.

Prieto was a prominent figure in the sports arena, a basketball and football player "par excellence." Prior to becoming PBA commissioner, he was also the coach of the YCO Painters, and is said to be responsible for many of its championship wins against rival team, Ysmael Steelers. He also coached the Philippine basketball team, which placed seventh in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

Prieto was also the father of the Boys Football Association (BOFA), which eventually produced many of our country’s best national football players. He was also the president of the Manila Jockey Club.

Where is he now?

He died due to illness in 2009. He was 88.

Arsenio “Dodjie” Laurel

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Arsenio “Dodjie” Laurel was a scion of the prominent Laurel family, son of former president José P. Laurel, a lawyer by profession, and the youngest of nine children. His siblings would all eventually hold top government positions, while the younger Laurel would best be known as a champion motor sportsman. 

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Laurel was the first-ever to win the Macau Grand Prix consecutively in 1962 and in 1963. His car was the Lotus 22-Ford. Laurel’s back-to-back win is much-lauded and it is said that “Philippine motorsports has not had a champion of his calibre and stature ever since.”

Where is he now?

In 1967, Laurel died in a crash at the Macau Grand Prix. To avoid crashing into the crowd of spectators, eyewitnesses say that Laurel chose to swerve his Lotus racer into the seaside wall of Macau’s Guia Circuit. His car burst into flames, leaving him trapped inside, and killing him instantly. He was thirty-five.

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Manuel “Manoling” Collantes

Photo by WIKIMEDIA COMMONS.

Manuel Collantes was a Filipino diplomat who was the country’s acting Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1984. He held a variety of posts under the Department of Foreign Affairs as a diplomat.

He is also known in society circles as the husband of Chito Madrigal, fashion enthusiast and known as one of the Grand Dames of Manila. The pair were engaged in 1980 at Coco Banana, a hip party place at that time, when Collantes proposed to Madrigal at an all-white party.

Where is he now?

Collantes passed away in 2009, due to cardiopulmonary arrest. He was buried at the Madrigal Mausoleum in Alabang, Muntinlupa City.

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Johnny Ysmael

Photo by COURTESY OF TECHIE YSMAEL BILBAO.

Johnny Ysmael comes from the prominent Ysmael family, who are included in Manila's 400 List. The family owns Ysmael Steel, and would eventually get into the business of importing Fiat cars from Italy. Spoiled by his mother, Doña Magdalena, Ysmael was given everything he asked for, including a custom-made Ferrari, which he never got to drive.

Ysmael also wed Chona Recto, Manila's first 'it' girl and best-dressed woman in Asia. Together, they traveled the world dressed to the nines, and were, indeed, “the golden couple of their time.”

Where he is now?

A stubborn-minded Ysmael dared to drive his convertible top-down one winter in Madrid, despite having just recovered from pneumonia. This made his condition worse, developing to tuberculosis, which would eventually become the cause of his death. Ysmael was only 32.

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