Part 6. Gretchen scandal, an outrageous lie (2)
GRETCHEN Oppen Cojuangco was born with a golden spoon in her mouth, being the eldest daughter of the fabulously wealthy Margarita “Nuning” Cuyugan y Lichauco de Oppen. And she was one of the most beautiful women of the Philippines who insisted “on the quiet seclusion of married life -- no publicity, no fanfare, just wifehood and motherhood in elegant style.”
Yet she was drawn into the social whirl of Manila, because her husband Danding was a prominent member of the political and financial leadership, a much sought-after party guest.
She was featured in the July 1964 issue of Harper's Bazaar, together with TingTing Cojuangco (Peping's wife), Chona Recto Kasten, Josie Hilado, Conchita Melchor Hechanova, and Chito Madrigal. For the pictorial, Gretchen wore a Maria Clara costume against the background of Malacañang, with her children Tina, Lisa, Mark and Charlie.
Susan Donnell, associate editor of the magazine expressed her admiration for the Filipina’s “complexion and her ability to stay young.”
The Fashion Guild .of the Philippines in May 1967 chose Gretchen as one of the Ten Best Dressed Women of the country, together with Elvira Manahan, Chito Madrigal, Chona Recto Kasten, Remy Arguelles, Priscilla Moran Sison, Imelda Cojuangco (mother of Emperor Tony), Baby Fores Araneta, Nelly Lovina and Pressy Panganiban.
Gretchen campaigned as a Blue Lady with Imelda Marcos, usually singing a couple of native songs after Imelda had sung her Dahil sa Iyo.
After her husband Danding won a seat in Congress in 1967, Gretchen joined the Malacañang crowd. As recounted by Carlos Quirino, Danding's biographer, President Marcos enjoyed her company, and sought her during parties, because she was intelligent, cultured and beautiful -- in contrast to the majority of the Blue Ladies who were known neither for beauty or conversational ability.
Quirino: “With her, Marcos could play golf, bowl or go swimming in the pool on the other side of the Pasig River. Furthermore she was an excellent dancer, and after the President half a dozen times as his partner on the dancing floor, tongues began to wag.
“And the first of these gossipers were the Blue Ladies who, envying her looks and her popularity, began whispering about a supposed liaison with the Chief Executive. And since chief executives, starting with Manuel L. Quezon, were known for their machismo, the news filtered out to the coffee that the couple were having an affair.''
This was not true of course, but Primitivo Mijares, disenchanted press confidant of Marcos, wrote a book “The Conjugal Dictatorship “ in which he wrote of this gossip and elaborated it with Imelda sending a warning through Mrs. P to Gretchen, and Ferdie confronting Mrs. P: “Hoy ano ba ang pinagsasabi mo? Aba, eh, hindi na yata titigil ang kaiiyak ang kawawang babae yan”'
Danding and Gretchen Cojuangco could not sue Mijares for this scurrilous libel, because the book was published outside the Philippines, and Mijares never returned to Manila and is widely believed to have been killed.
To make a public denial in Manila would be merely adding to the fire. All they could do is to suffer in silence, and to turn down invitations to the Palace.
In the meantime, Danding --
• Was appointed Governor of the Development Bank (DBP).
• In 1968, formed the Northern Cement Co. in Sison, Pangasinan, from which the government bought ALL its cement requirements at less than market price.
• In 1972, was appointed a member of the Presidential Sugar Commission, to look after funds contributed by the sugar industry for community development and social amelioration; in 1973 sugar prices went up and in 1974, went down.
• In 1973, was appointed vice-chairman of the Philippine Shippers’ Council to sit down with the Shipping Conferences in other parts of the world on all matters pertaining to Philippine shipping.
• In 1974, became the chairman of the Filsov Shipping Corporation in partnership with Soviet Russia for chartering Soviet vessels.
• In 1975, set up the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB, or CocoBank), with himself having a management contract for five years extendible to another five years, with coco levy funds purchasing the old First United Bank owned by Cory's father, Don Pepe Cojuangco.
• In 1978, set up the Seven Trading Co, dealing in copra, and the United Coconut Planters Life Assurance Corp which issued P3 billion worth of insurance policies to coconut farmers.
• Was appointed Chairman of the Philippine Racing Commission to supervise the Sport of Kings, and mediate between Manila Jockey Club and Philippine Racing Club.
But the best was yet to come.
December 5 and 6, 1989, Philippine Daily Inquirer