The Explainer: “Araneta: A Love Affair with God and Country”

That was a scene from “Gosford Park,” that marvelous whodunit about the rigid class system of prewar England. The scene you just saw had an older maid telling a younger maid how their employers were snobs who looked down on people who worked hard.

Tonight’s episode marks what will be a regular monthly feature on this show. We talked to Raul Rodrigo some time back, to explain the book he wrote. Tonight, we’ll be talking to Mrs. Lina Araneta Santiago, author of “Araneta: A Love Affair With God and Country.”

The working versus the idle rich, is our topic for tonight.

I’m Manolo Quezon. The Explainer.


I. Salvador and Victoria


This picture was taken in happier times. Now nearly every single person show in this photo has been, or is, in hot water. All the smiles in the world can’t cover up the public’s suspicion that these are officials who have been behaving badly.

So for our sixtieth episode tonight, I thought we’d focus on an example of elites who behaved well.

For older Filipinos, the past is often seen through rose-tinted spectacles. This is particularly so, for Filipinos who belong to the upper crust.

Stately homes,

An elegant formality,

Beautiful dresses worn by beautiful people,

Happy smiling leading citizens filled with confidence over the prospects of the country.

A time when, society and politics mixed graciously and weren’t held in deep mistrust by the population.

But was this ever so? This book, “Araneta: A Love Affair with God and Country,” tries to answer that.

More often than not, fond, nostalgic looks at the past, are useless. But this book is different.

There is nostalgia, of course, in this book: stories of famous people, beautiful things, of luxury and high society.

But this book, too, is filled with ideas, and a concept so rare today, we might find it difficult to believe it even existed.

That concept is one made famous, to us, by a film. That to those who have been given great power comes great responsibility.

And this book tells us of a couple who took their responsibilities seriously.

This imposing looking couple are the parents of our guest tonight. Their names were Victoria Lopez Araneta and Salvador Z. Araneta.

Victoria was born on March 6, 1907 and she passed away on February 16, 1988.

Salvador was born on January 31, 1902 and passed away on October 7, 1982.

Both belonged to families that have enjoyed political and economic power.

Salvador, in whose honor a stamp was issued for his birth centenary in 2002, was a lawyer. He was a delegate to two constitutional conventions, in 1935 and 1971.

Here’s a picture of Salvador with General Emilio Aguinaldo during a Quezon Day dinner in ther 1950s. Araneta’s father, Gregorio, had served in Aguinaldo’s cabinet.

Salvador himself, would serve in the cabinets of two presidents. His ideas as a lawyer, then constitution convention delegate, were always of a nationalistic sort.

Shown here with Claro M. Recto, Salvador was an exponent of what we’ve come to refer to as “Filipino First.” Salvador had actually helped organize an organization quite famous in its day.

Have you ever heard of NEPA? The National Economic Protectionism Association? Perhaps today you only connect that acronym with the Nepa-Q-Mart in Cubao. But in its time, NEPA, organized before World War II, was a powerful force for economic nationalism. Salvador was one of NEPA’s founders.

This editorial cartoon by the late E.Z. Izon shows the fear people like Araneta had: that unless democracy was nurtured, we’d end up a banana republic.

This other cartoon, also by E.Z. Izon, also pointed out a constant criticism of our governments: that it displayed a canine devotion to American interests. Araneta, in his day, often warned of the need to distinguish Filipino from American interests.

In the 1935 Constitutional Convention, he actively proposed the nationalization of the retail trade. He lost, but in the Magsaysay administration, a law was finally passed. If you take Filipinos owning Sari-Sari stores for granted, you owe that reality to Salvador Araneta.

In 1971, he proposed many of the things we still discuss today, the parliamentary system and federalism, as a means for development. And he was one of the leading opponents of President Marcos’s efforts to extend his stay in power.

Faced with the dictatorship, Salvador and his family chose self-exile rather than support martial law.

Tonight I hope our audience will ask our guest, how it is, that one man could do so many things-

Serve President Elpidio Quirino with distinction,

And serve, equally well, President Ramon Magsaysay,

Without being considered an opportunist.

And how a woman like Victoria Araneta, whose privileged upbringing could have condemned her to an endless series of meaningless parties-

Could, and did, mobilize her fellow society matrons do devoting their time and energy to relevant causes.

Indeed, it’s because of one of Victoria’s causes, the institution you see here, that the book we’re discussing tonight came out at all.

The White Cross was established in 1938, to care for the children of parents who had tuberculosis.


II. Capitalism for All


That was another scene from “Gosford Park,” where a snobbish employer can’t get enough of gossip.

What is the value of a book about the wealthy and influential? There is, of course the basic appeal of getting a peek into the manners and behavior of high society.

But there’s a genuinely instructive benefit to be gained, when we see how those with the resources to do so, devote their time and energy to something larger than themselves.

Here with us is Lina Araneta Santiago, the author of the book.

Let me begin by asking her to tell us about the White Cross.

Now here’s some concepts I found remarkable in your book. Let’s discuss them shall we?








My view


During the First Quarter Storm in 1970, businessman Enrique Zobel made headlines when he said critics of the country’s elite should distinguish between the working and the idle rich.

Tonight, we’ve looked at the story of one family, a husband and wife, who tried to serve their country, and who mobilized their wealth, to contribute to our country’s growth.

Did they do enough, or too little? One thing’s sure: they did more than most.

And the book that tells their story, and intertwines that story with that of our country, deserves to be read by all.

If you have the means, do buy this book, and give it to a school. You will help two causes: the White Cross, and the education of future generations.


Manuel L. Quezon III.

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