Inspiration
The Tambunting Women: On Attending Royal Balls, Meeting Princess Di, and Family Ties
Marge Tambunting and daughters Mia and Victoria reminisce about royal balls, manners and misdemeanors, and the bonds that make family.
IMAGE PAOLO PINEDA
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"We have been very fortunate. Our lives have been so full," Marge Ansaldo-Tambunting muses. She and her husband, former diplomat and banker Jesus Tambunting, are just a few weeks shy of their 50th wedding anniversary and she had just gotten a call back from the parish priest in Lourdes, granting her family the privilege of celebrating the occasion with a Mass at the historic site. “It’ll be a thanksgiving pilgrimage for all the blessings we have received.”

The Mass, to be held at the first chapel just under the basilica, will be attended by the grandchildren as well as the Tambunting kids. For daughters Mia Tambunting-Padilla and Victoria Tambunting-Alfonso, the return to Lourdes brings back vivid memories of the first trip they took together with their mother—just the women of the family.

“We were all in different stages of our lives at that time. I was 18 and off to Switzerland for a summer course in between my freshman and sophomore years in Ateneo,” recalls Mia, a lifestyle editor.

“I was only in Grade 5, and when you’re growing up with a sister with whom you have a seven-year age gap, you just end up being the really makulit younger sister who’s invisible!” says Victoria, still fondly called Vicvic, now a finance and HR practitioner.

“It was just a nice time for the girls to be alone together. My husband was busy at the time, the boys had summer classes, and we had never traveled just the three of us,” remarks Marge.

Just the mere mention of that summer is enough to drive the Tambunting women into a fit of laughter. It is apparent that the trip has been brought up, over and over, amongst themselves—in the weekly Sunday lunches the family holds, and in the frequent family reunions held at the Tambunting household.

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Vicvic, Marge, and Mia, all in Escada

“Our first leg, we spent in Rome,” says Marge, with a glint in her eye. It is not the first time she is telling the story, but she delivers her lines with an enthusiasm and youthful vigor that transports anyone listening back in time.

“We arrived in the afternoon and the travel agent had booked us in a hotel with a room that looked haunted. It was large, with three small beds in a tiny corner,” continues Vicvic.

“We looked like Orphan Annie!” interjects Marge, who had tried to talk the concierge into transferring them into another room but suffered the usual curse of a request being lost in translation. “The concierge said with a big room like ours, we could just go ‘skating’ inside,” Vicvic shakes her head at the incredulous response.

The next anecdote that comes with the Europe trip involves their chance encounter with Italian pickpockets. “We went to the bank to change money and on our way there, it was obvious that they had started to follow us,” Vicvic continues. “My mom, whom we were following, just kept walking faster and faster. ‘Lakad lang kayo! Lakad lang kayo!’ she told us. We just kept walking, turning into corners, trying to lose them. All I could think was, ‘We’re going to die!’”

“We had to keep going because we couldn’t go back to our hotel,” Marge says.

“After we had lost them, I remember just being so amazed at my mom, because we were walking until the sun had set and she didn’t get us lost—she knew where to go,” Vicvic adds.

“It was the kind of experience you could only read about in a princess book,” remembers Vicvic. “I was 18 when we moved there, and it was unreal to have experienced all of it… seeing Princess Diana walking outside, sending her Philippine mangoes and receiving a thank you note from her.”

“After that trip, I noticed that the three of us began to laugh a lot, to laugh together,” Marge comments. “It was such a good bonding trip.”

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“I have heard it said that when trials in life come, it’s the memories and the bonding moments that keep you going. When you don’t have that, life really doesn’t seem to mean anything,” she continues. It is a keen observation that is ingrained in all the Tambunting women. And it is in this reverence for the attachments formed within the family where Marge, Mia and Vicvic’s unbridled beauty clearly lies.

“There is always this special kind of bonding that happens when a baby comes along,” adds Mia. “For a while, I was the aunt that was single—I was the third to get married in the family, and my siblings already had two kids each by the time I settled down. With all the grandkids, I could sense how everyone just got into a better mood and were always in a better place whenever babies came along. They would change the overall aura of everyone.”

When Mia and her husband came to adopt their own two daughters seven years back, it was the same strong bond among siblings that helped her through the process. “My husband and I were trying to have kids for a long time, and when our first adopted child came, I did not know what to do—I wasn’t quite there. Especially when our second baby came, just two months after,” she says. “Vicvic came and bought everything. Even in the most unusual of circumstances, even if I was never really sure if everyone understood it, the support of my family was there.”

It was the least everyone could do, after all the years that Mia had doted on her nephews and nieces. “She was always the tita that would spoil everybody, after all,” Vicvic says proudly.

“It was really our years in London that changed our relationship,” Mia remarks. When their father, Jesus Tambunting, took on his post as ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1993 to 1998, the family packed their bags and assumed an idyllic, sometimes larger-than-life existence just across the street from Kensington Palace.

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On Vicvic: Escada gown, Greenbelt 5, 728.3741; Jewelmer earrings and ring, The Peninsula Manila, 501.5862

“It was the kind of experience you could only read about in a princess book,” remembers Vicvic. “I was 18 when we moved there, and it was unreal to have experienced all of it… seeing Princess Diana walking outside, sending her Philippine mangoes and receiving a thank you note from her. Learning how to curtsy, attending the Royal Ascot—these experiences were not normal but they became our life.”

Marge pulls out a photo album of the family’s years spent in London, where every event—from her husband’s presentation to the Queen complete with horse-drawn carriage, to Ascot to Mia’s stint working at Harrod’s—is meticulously documented. One memory that all Tambunting women look back on with pride, fondness and an unpretentious near-disbelief, was the time they quite literally ran into the Queen herself.

“We were lucky that we were still single during our time there,” Vicvic says. “At the annual ball in Buckingham Palace, only unmarried daughters were invited to go, along with their parents. And just like in Cinderella, the Royal Family would be there, acknowledging each family one by one and we could only speak when we were spoken to. The Queen would make small talk with us and at one event where we both weren’t around, she even asked our dad where we were!”

“We’re not sure if she actually knew who we were, or she had noticed our absence just because we seemed so young compared to everyone else. Asians always look younger than everyone else,” laughs Mia.

Almost 20 years after London, the Tambuntings still remember those days fondly. “When we traveled back there with the grandkids, we showed them all our favorite places,” Marge says proudly.

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“We even managed to convince the caretaker of our old house to let us in, just to show the kids where we used to live. Whether he believed we actually lived there or not still remains to be seen…” chuckles Vicvic.


On Mia: Her own Rajo Laurel gown; Jewelmer earrings

Manners and conduct were of unequivocal importance during their stint in London, but propriety was always the rule of thumb for Mia and Vicvic, growing up under their mother’s watchful eye. “I remember that my mom was always appropriately dressed for any occasion—it was her way of paying respect to others. We always had to be well groomed for Mass, and that just didn’t mean me and my sister, it extended to my brothers as well,” says Mia.

“She always went to the parlor,” Vicvic remarks, giving Marge, who had just come home from a trip to the salon, a cheeky laugh. “I guess it’s a habit adopted by women of that era—they always go to have their hair fixed. As kids, she never really nagged us about our appearance, but she was always obsessive compulsive about hygiene. She led through example because she always looked appropriate. Short shorts and tsinelas were always a no-no, going out of the house.”

“My mother was a beautiful woman,” says Marge thoughtfully. “She was religious, full of faith and hope, and was really a wonderful person. She was also ‘the vain one’—very particular about cleanliness, about always washing your hands, brushing your teeth, and taking a bath. I remember at eight years old, she already taught me about hand lotion and how I needed to rub it into my elbows.

“My father was very different from her. She was very shy and sheltered—born of an English father and a Filipina mother. And my father, on the other hand, was more outgoing and personable. He liked mixing with people; he loved everything about life. He was outstanding in sports—in track, tennis, and football, and is in the Ateneo Hall of Fame. They always made a very good looking couple.”

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“As a teenager growing up, I was also pretty rebellious. None of my sisters and myself wanted to look or be like her or dress like her, but I believe her influence was there, regardless. I still remember how she taught me to cross my legs and be careful about how I would sit,” Marge shares.

“It crossed over to our generation,” Vicvic adds. “Mom always lets us know when we’re shiny in the face,” she laughs.


Mia, Vicvic, and Marge, all in Escada

Marge never gave her daughters much trouble about dressing up and grooming themselves—she at least never possessed a heavy hand, except for one incident that remains notorious in Tambunting family history. “She always stressed that it’s important to be dressed when you travel because you generate respect from other people—you’re treated well when you’re appropriately dressed,” Mia says.

“There is a picture from our childhood of me and my brother wearing too large suits. I had an Easter hat on along with a skirt, blazer, and stockings at the New York airport,” Vicvic shakes her head in embarrassment.

While both Mia and Vicvic admit that they will probably not go to that extent with their own children, they still defer to their mother’s lax but altogether still relevant rules of beauty. “My two daughters are close in age and I also encourage them to dress the way they prefer—with some guidance from me. One of them likes to dress for comfort, and I always tell her when and where she shouldn’t wear socks, which pair of shoes to choose. The other one who is more kikay gets some advice from me on what’s too short or what’s too open,” Mia explains. “Overall, I just try to instill what is proper—the way my mother did.”

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“With my own kids, it’s not a conscious effort to tell them how to groom themselves. My 14-year-old already likes shopping and dressing up—she comes along with me, and I do find that she gravitates towards my choice in clothes as well. She also shops with my mom and I believe they influence each other. She doesn’t like anything too risqué—and I hope it stays that way!” Vicvic says.

Beyond skin-deep, however, both Mia and Vicvic take much inspiration from their mother’s deep-seated acts of kindness. “What has remained consistent about her since I was young is how she always cares about other people—predominantly her family and her parents,” Mia remarks. “My mother has always been involved with charitable institutions, whether it’s at Assumption (the Tambuntings have been students at Assumption for four generations now) or at church, or even in how she always cares for our help. Every Christmas, she makes it a point to host a party for them—even for those who no longer work with us,” Mia comments.

“There is nothing more important to her than family. Even now, among her siblings, they see each other at least once a week and it’s always a big occasion. I think it’s great that they maintain that relationship even if their parents have already passed on,” shares Vicvic.


On Marge: her own outfit; Jewelmer necklace

And inasmuch as her daughters admire her fortitude and her ability to keep ties close-knit among family, Marge looks up to her daughters as well. “I never worked a day in my life, after I got married,” Marge says. “I see my daughters and I learn so much from them about the value of work. I see their work ethic, their efforts, and how dedicated they are. There is beauty in the way their generation has become much more practical than ours. They’re concerned about helping their husbands.”

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At that time Marge was her daughters’ age, it was quite unsafe to dive deep into the work environment. “I graduated high school in 1960, and then graduated again in 1966. I had a master’s degree in social work and I was involved with developmental studies, working in housing projects and the urban poor. And then I married someone who was into banking, who preferred that I stay home instead of work because he was concerned about my safety. You have to remember that this was the time of many protests against Marcos—he was worried about me being exposed to any danger.”

“As a mother then, I had help from the yayas. And now I see my own children attending to everything, bringing their children everywhere. Parents, as a whole, have become so much more involved in their kids’ lives and that is what I admire in my own children.”

It is clear that Marge and her daughters have more than just a handful of reasons to celebrate the last 50 years of marriage and family. “What’s most important to my husband and myself is the relationship that we leave the members of our family with,” she muses. “In today’s society, there is hardly any encouragement to remain close to family—everyone does their own thing.”

One of the most important lessons in life, Marge says, was passed on to her by her own father. “He always told us to try to live the best way we could. Even when you have very little, make good of it—be gracious in the way you live.”

Her own marriage and life is a testament to this. “My mom has an ability to go through life with so much grace, even when times are ‘challenging,’” Vicvic adds. “She always believes in the goodness of people.”

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With grandkids who actively seek time with their grandparents, mothers who are involved in their children’s lives, and years filled with Sunday lunches and reunions, the Tambunting women have proven that there is a subtle beauty held within the ties of family. “We try to create memories among us,” says Marge. “We know we’re not going to be around forever and our hope, is that our children continue this close bond. Family will always be family.”

Styled by Carole Cuasay-Tagle. Makeup by Patrick Alcober for Make Up For Ever (Marge), Cats del Rosario (Vicvic), and Byron Velasquez for M.A.C (Mia). Hair by Ogie Rayel (Marge and Mia) and George Aliben (Vicvic).

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