Earlier today, I relished the fact that I ended relatively early at 12:30 pm, and had an entire afternoon of spending time at the Old Rizal Library. You see, this has been, by far, the only “free” Monday I have had since the semester commenced last November. For the months of November and December, Mondays were either spent at the store or in front of a computer trying to meet Thesis requirements’ deadlines.
I decided to visit the Old Rizal Library not only for nostalgia’s sake but also for some culture. You see, in the Ateneo college’s campus, there isn’t really any culture or art that can be seen while one is walking. Believe you me, it’s a dull and boring campus. There are no statues, no nice sculptures, no entertaining plants to stare at. Its “zen” garden is a menacing quadrangle of pebbles and noisy freshmen. Even the architecture of the buildings do not exude a sense of greatness or beauty. Haaay.
Anyway, upon reaching the old library’s steps, I remembered that the Ateneo Library of Women’s Writings (ALIWW) had a recent memorial talk and exhibit launch last week, Friday to be exact. And so, I ended up going down the steps, and instead, entered ALIWW, which now occupies what used to be the then-measly Ateneo Art Gallery (now located at the first floor of the Old Rizal Library).
The exhibit I chanced upon was on Virginia Benitez Licuanan. As I explored the exhibit venue, my eyes transferring from one photo to the other, I began to learn about this woman of grace and talent I’ve never heard of before. The black-and-white photos, the wonderful collection of books, magazines and newspaper columns Licuanan wrote, edited or collected were fascinating but also informative and inspiring.
Virginia Benitez Licuanan was born on 1 September 1917 to the founder and first dean of the University of the Philippines’ College of Education, Francisco Benitez and Paz Marquez Benitez, pioneer Filipina writer in the English language. She was, in short, the child of two highly-educated and sophisticated people who came from good backgrounds themselves.
Her good genes appeared early, and even as a college freshman at the University of the Philippines, her writing skills were already acknowledged when she was recruited to write the first society column in Manila for the Monday Mail. Yes, before outlandish Tessa Prieto Valdes and palangga Maurice Arcache, there was the talented Virginia Benitez. She later went on write for the Philippines Herald again as a society columnist. Later, she would be taking further studies in Missouri State Teachers College and Columbia University. She married Brig. Gen. Francisco Licuanan Jr.
When the War arrived in the Philippines, Virginia was both a wife and a mother. One could just imagine the stresses, the worries, the great anxieties the War caused Virginia. She’s surely a woman of courage and tough guts having survived the horrors of war with her young baby Patricia alive.
AND that’s what exactly struck me as I made my way around the small exhibit: here is Manila high society’s first chronicler, a woman not simply of beauty and pedigree, but of bravery, guts and talent. She’s a tough act to follow. After the War, for 20 years, she wrote the society column Incidentally for the Manila Chronicle, a column that, though generally focused on high society, became an influential opinion column.
Then as I sat down to rest, I noticed issues of the first fashion magazine in the Philippines, Style Magazine, which apparently, she published and edited. I was really amazed. Virginia Benitez Licuanan was the first among them, a woman of substance, class and intellect came before all these new breed of “fashionistas”, “stylists” and lifestyle writers.
Virginia Licuanan was also an author of books, and I didn’t know before that the author of “The Philippines Under Spain” was actually her! That multi-volume work is a helpful book for any researcher in need of English translations of documents from the Spanish conquest. Good thing Ms. Licuanan made that book!
Hearing all the “dirty” gossip about our country’s “top” magazine editors, their alleged “stupidity” as well as naughty/crass behavior (e.g. snooty, snobbish, pala-utos, etc.) makes me sad and at the same time angry at how we allow such menacing comments to besmirch once prestigious positions (i.e. Editor-in-Chief) now simply eyed by some competitive, “bitchy”, stiletto-wearing fashionista. And if indeed our country’s lifestyle, society and fashion columnists do hire a bunch of ghost writers to do the writing because they’re drunk or high to do their supposed work… well, let them be! I’m simply comforted by the fact and assurance that at least, once, there was a real writer among them, Virginia Benitez Licuanan, the woman who actually started it all.
She hailed from THE generation of glamour, that generation of genteel Philippines that had an abundance of cultured and sophisticated intelligent citizens who would grace parties in lovely Filipiniana, who would speak Spanish and English and Tagalog with ease, and who were deeply in love with their country. That was the generation of our grandparents, and I felt it was a generation my generation needed to connect with if only to learn from their wisdom and the values they imbibed.
I left inspired because I again found some hope in the history of our country, that indeed, there were, and there are talented Filipinos who can bravely become pioneers. I am thankful ALIWW mounted such an exhibit because we young ones really need to learn from the examples of genuine people like Virginia Licuanan, people who have substance, intellect, values and talent and most of all, patriotism.
Ms. Virginia B. Licuanan died on 5 Nov. 2009 at the age of 92. She is survived by Patricia Licuanan, CHED Commissioner and former President of Miriam College, and Francisco Licuanan III, former President of Ayala Land.
Here’s to the periodista de la alta sociedad filipina, Virginia Benitez Licuanan. She’s surely hecho ayer.
*Biographical information obtained from ALIWW
**ALIWW is open on Weekdays and on Saturdays. You may contact ALIWW at 426-6001 loc. 5561