No matter that the small, quiet crowd that gathered in the church last Monday afternoon was teary-eyed, this story has a happy ending. They were tears of joy. And it’s a Valentine story like no other.
Former top-ranking government official Ismael “Mel” Mathay Jr. married his longtime partner Vilma Valera in rites at Christ the King Church in Greenmeadows, Mandaluyong, last Monday at 3 p.m.
The nuptial rites capped a 40-year relationship of Mathay, now 80, and Valera.
Mathay figured prominently on the national scene when he became the powerful and results-oriented vice governor of Metro Manila Commission, a trusted implementer of policies and the vision of the First Lady Imelda Marcos who was also governor of the Commission.
In the last decade of the Marcos government, the Commission was formed to oversee the integration of Manila and surrounding cities and municipalities into Metro Manila, and became the forerunner of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.
Mathay also served as Quezon City mayor for three terms, from 1992 to 2001, under whose term big urban enclaves were developed, notably Eastwood and the SM developments. He also was in Congress.
Shaping the present
All this time that he was in the public eye, he had a not-so-public—yet not-so-secret either—relationship with the beautiful Vilma Valera, a mother of three but clearly unentangled from her marriage. Theirs was an association that tight-knit circles in government, lifestyle and high society knew about as early as the Marcos era, and which Mrs. Marcos, people used to say, wasn’t exactly in favor of, since Mrs. Marcos was close to Mathay’s wife Sonia. (And the former first lady remained close to Sonia up to Sonia’s death last November.) The two had long become a couple in the eyes of society.
However, all that is history—a past which, it turns out, didn’t deter Mel and Vilma from shaping the present.
So last Monday, we had an interesting time people-watching as we stood at the church door. One of the first cars to arrive was the white limo bearing the groom and Ian Anthony V. Mathay—the best man and the only child of Mel and Vilma, who’s now one of Manila’s eligibles.
The women started walking in their long dresses—mostly in flowing chiffons and silver grey or pastel blue, apparently the wedding color motif.
Tessie Sy-Coson, in a very dainty bluish-gray column, was among the first ones to arrive. A longtime friend, she would stand as principal sponsor, the only woman sponsor. The other principal sponsor would be former Justice Manuel Lazaro.
Mathay greeted the guests as they waited for the bride’s arrival. He looked light-hearted, happy and, like any groom, dashing, no matter his age.
Asked what made them decide to get married after all these years, Mathay began to explain to us quite spontaneously, “As you know, Vilma had long gotten her civic and church annulments.”
Sonia’s sudden death came as a surprise to everyone. She collapsed, it is said, while on an errand. And we found it a very sad turn of events that this mild-mannered, low-key woman died only a day or two after the death of her close friend, Dr. Eleuterio “Teyet” Pascual.
Suddenly a widower, Mathay knew that this marriage was just a natural next move. “After all this time, it is a full reconciliation with God (that they receive the sacrament of marriage),” he said.
A good-sized gathering of kin and friends had settled in when the bridal procession began. At the head were Bishop Raul Martirez, the main celebrant, with co-celebrants Fr. Blaise Jose Maria Garcia Jr.; from the Dominican Order, Fr. Boyd Sulpico, Fr. Francisco Tuaño; from the SVD, Fr. Ric Dumas; from the SSP, Fr. Dominador Guzman; and Fr. Gerardo Tapiador, Fr. Mario Sobrejuanite, Fr. Sunny de Claro. (Fr. Sonny Ramirez came after the Mass had started.)
Then marched in the principal sponsors Lazaro and Sy-Coson.
Valera’s eldest son Carlos de Guzman walked the aisle alone and stopped halfway to await the bride.
The fern-wrapped iron-grill doors of the church parted to reveal a radiant bride who was beaming—but who held a hankie, with her bouquet. Even before she could start her walk, we could see, she was already tearing up.
In an elegant Yvonne Quisumbing gown—with a most judicious spray of glitter—she walked towards her son, who then offered his arm, and together they walked towards the altar. Son Ian, who waited at the altar beside the groom, read aloud lines of thanksgiving as his mother walked. His voice cracked every time he tried to fight back the tears.
The secondary sponsors were made up of family: Antonio Laudico and Melissa Macapanpan, candle; Tristan Macapanpan and Lorna Quisumbing (Vilma’s sister), veil; Simplicio Mathay and Suzanne Laudico (another sister of Vilma), cord.
Participating in the liturgical celebration were more family and friends: Raymund Puyat, Ria de Guzman, Jocelyn Poon, Beatrize Mathay, Carlos Miguel de Guzman, Gabriella de Guzman, Victoria Angelica Puyat, Paolo Conrado Puyat; and in the Offertory—Mila Roasa, Susan David, Bing Limjuco, Katherine Bellosilo, Urbano Valera, Precy Mathay, Vivian Uy, Cora Antonio, Carina Isabella de Guzman, Dominique de Guzman, Alexandra de Guzman, Bianca Margarita Licaros, Mikaela Puyat, Eduardo Puyat, Arlene Arce, Therese Santos, Martin Chan, Catherine de Guzman, Miguel Cecilio de Guzman (Vilma’s other son).
Also among the guests were the couple’s longtime friends like Techie Bilbao, Robert Castañeda, Harley Sy, Malou de Venecia. Also there were Mathay’s sons.
Reception was held at Shangri-La Makati where the groom sang a song to his bride, and the couple danced the night away.
PHOTOS BY ANDREW TADALAN