It was the turn of the decade and student activism was starting. In a year’s time, the country would be rocked by student unrest, one among the many reasons for the declaration of Martial Law.
In April 1969, these three ladies I am writing about graduated from Maryknoll, the prestigious and exclusive women’s college along Katipunan Road, right beside the then all-male Ateneo de Manila.
They graduated in April, and in July man landed on the moon; the country celebrated its first Miss Universe crown; and Richard Nixon came to town. In September, the Cultural Center of the Philippines was inaugurated and, in November, Ferdinand Marcos was reelected.
Aurora Lapuz Sagaz is the wife of the former Spanish Ambassador to the Philippines, Ignacio Sagaz. Nicknamed Bubut, she had the rare experience of working for the late statesman and technocrat Rafael Salas in the UN Population Fund Office in New York. After her husband’s many postings, the last one in Bangkok, the couple decided to settle in the Philippines.
Bubut is now active with the Museum Volunteers, where she leads the study committee. She invites everyone to attend the Wednesday lecture on Philippine History at Sunshine Place in Makati.
Yolanda “Nini” Mendoza Mitchell, in her student days, was a famous ballerina. She now says that within the past 10 years, “I’ve had pounds added to my once beautiful figure because of rack of lamb, rack of broiled pork or inihaw na baboy and countless hours at Nordstrom Rack.”
Based in Singapore for 29 years, she enjoys playing the role of a grandmother. Her husband, John, who recently retired, has been keeping by her side as they have been traveling, making up for lost time when he was very busy with his work as a banker.
Maryann Ansaldo Chan should be famous in her own right and in her own quiet way being the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the San Juan Nepomuceno School, a Catholic school for underprivileged urban youth in Malibay, Pasay; and a trustee of the Manila Cathedral Foundation. She, however, prefers to keep a low profile and leave it to her husband to take the spotlight.
The celebrated husband happens to be a certain Jose Mari Chan, so I guess I need not say anything else. Well, since the Christmas season has begun in the Philippines, we are sure to hear his voice more often as he serenades us with our favorite holiday songs that he himself composed. Maryann has been married to him for 49 years and they have eight grandchildren.
Daily Tribune (DT): Why did you choose to study in Maryknoll?
Aurora Lapuz Sagaz (Bubut): I was in Washington DC for elementary, and when I graduated, my father was military attache in the Philippine embassy. He was General Ysmael Lapuz. We were there for three years. So I was in grade school there. When I graduated, my mother chose Maryknoll because it was one of the best schools then. So she sent us, three sisters, to Maryknoll. That was high school. For me it was just a continuation of high school to college. I stayed on although my sisters went on to other schools — to Saint Paul’s and to UP, but I chose to stay in Maryknoll.
That’s because they began to offer Communication Arts and I was interested in television and radio, journalism and advertising. So I stayed and took that course.
Yolanda Mendoza Mitchell (Nini): From elementary to college, I was in Maryknoll. I was a loyalty medalist. I was there my whole life. I was a Foreign Service graduate. I love Maryknoll. I love the nuns. The nuns were so nice and wonderful. I was into a lot of arts.
Maryann Ansaldo Chan (Maryann): I went to Assumption for my elementary and high school. Then I went to Maryknoll to have a change. I was very entrenched in Assumption. All the nuns knew our family. My aunt was an Assumption nun but she was very open to the idea of my attending Maryknoll. We’re three girls in the family and all of us went to Maryknoll. And it was really a wonderful experience. First it was my sister Marge and then me, and then our sister Babes.
DT: What did you learn from the nuns?
Bubut: A lot of things. First of all, the joy of learning because they knew how to teach. They were all enlightened, they were all educated women from the States so they were very liberal-thinking. They would teach us moral values. They would always say one of the hardest things to do in life is to admit when you are wrong. If you’re wrong, you admit it and do something about it. That has always been with me. Another thing was education which, they told us, was seeing everything as part of the whole. And I really do see everything as connected. So, when you learn something about whatever, say, Spain, that’s connected to something that happened in the Philippines. What happened in the Philippines is connected to something that happened in the United States. So, you see the big picture.
Nini: They were strict in a sense but we were disciplined in a way… Let me tell you, I learned English very well from them. And we really learned English the way it is. They followed the American method of teaching.
Maryann: It was a totally different way of teaching compared to Assumption. Assumption was very strict. And I liked the liberal atmosphere of Maryknoll. They allowed you to question what they were teaching you. It was not as strict and rigid as the Assumption nuns. They encouraged you to challenge or question what they thought you should.
DT: Let’s talk about your extra-curricular activities. What did you focus on? What did you love to do?
Bubut: When I was a freshman, we formed a Latin Band. We played Bossa Nova and Brazilian music. We were playing at concerts, and I played the timbale and the drums. We were a group of six ladies, so we had a base, marimba, piano, conga, bonggo and timbale. The name of our group was Las Desafinadas. We didn’t even know that it meant The Out-of-Tune. All we were thinking of was we liked the song “Desafinado,” so let’s call ourselves Desafinadas. It’s only years later we said, “Oh my God, it meant out of tune.” We would have concerts in Philamlife Theater and on television, but it was only for two and a half years because our pianist, Cristy Coronel was a senior. So, when she graduated, it was hard getting someone to play the piano.
Nini: Dancing was my field. I was a ballet dancer. I was with the Hariraya Dance Company. We danced in Malacanang. Totoy de Oteyza’s studio was right in front of Malacanang. In the beginning I was with Joji Felix Velarde. This was the time of the ballet ban. Dancing ballet was supposed to be a sin. We would change our name for the program. If they found out you were dancing ballet, you’d get expelled. Then, there was a Eucharistic Congress in India. In Mumbai. And Alice Reyes was asked to perform a dance. It was Alice Reyes, myself and students from different schools. It was my first trip overseas. I was only 15 years old. In Maryknoll I would perform in all the musicals. And in all the glee club shows. I would do the dance part.
Maryann: I did not have any particular outstanding talent. I was involved in certain organizations. I was a member of the Student Council. I was a Business major so I was in charge of the placement bureau. We connected the other students to companies where they can have a job training. This was done during the summer between junior and senior years. I myself worked in a bank while other classmates worked in an ad agency and television station.
DT: Let’s move to the present. What remains to be a Maryknoller in you? What values did you learn in Maryknoll that you still keep and practice?
Bubut: It seems the nuns were the ones who really influenced us especially when it comes to the good basic values. Like the golden rule about not doing to others what you don’t want to be done unto you. Respect for others. And also to be sincere in anything you do. The nuns also taught us humor, the good American sense of humor. We were also taught camaraderie. Sister Blaise and I would walk together. She would take my hand and wrap it around her body and then we would just walk along. I will never forget those little gestures of friendship. And then the nuns would play baseball with us even in their habits. They were not just mentors. They were friends to us.
Nini: I became a religious person. Nobody thinks I am…but I go to Mass every day. I realize how important the nuns’ instructions on religion were. And that stuck with me. Whatever they taught me, I tried to teach to my children, and now I try to teach them to my grandchildren. I also value the social graces that Maryknoll taught us. And also the value of friendship. That’s why friendship among us is very important.
Maryann: I believe it is that attitude of service to the community. I still advocate that kind of attitude. We had a nun in college. Her name is Sister Blaise. And she was very socially aware. She taught us also Sociology and she was very much involved in social work. I remember she always challenged us, “Don’t be satisfied with relating to just the circle you move around in. Be aware of and be sensitive to the lives and the communities around you.” It’s a value that Maryknoll espoused and which I value.
(Next: Baby Nebrida, Class 69’s Amazing Alumna)