News of the passing of Carmen “Chitang” Guerrero Nakpil reached me while I was visiting my daughter and her family in Boston, Massachusetts.
Chitang was an old friend, and our families had been friends for generations. Her uncle, the sharp-eyed diagnostician, Dr. Luis Guerrero, had been our family physician during my childhood.
Chitang’s brother, Leon Ma. Guerrero, was tall, slim, dark and handsome, a career diplomat, a brilliant writer, an admiring biographer of our National Hero Jose Rizal. During a commercial mission in which I accompanied him to Germany, he sought out the locales connected with Rizal, particularly around Heidelberg and Wilhemsfeld, the rectory of Pastor Ullmer with whom Rizal stayed. On the lighter side, Leoni as he was called, was an admirer of the fair sex, and also liked to indulge in alcoholic drinks starting with whiskey and switching to vodka in later life. My last gift to him, during his ambassadorship in Belgrade, was a bottle of 112 proof (56 percent alcohol) vodka. In a recent vignette, I described him as the epitome of effortless elegance.
Chitang was, like him, both brilliant and good looking. Her first husband was Ismael Cruz, a Bataan veteran, son of Mauricio “Moris,” Rizal’s favorite nephew. During the battle of Manila in 1945, father and son were executed by the Japanese, and Chitang was even made to boil water to pour on her husband. She has never forgiven the Japanese.
Following the death of her menfolk she walked with her toddler daughter Gemma, from Paco to her family home in Ermita, pregnant with her son Ismael Cruz Jr. She resented the excessive American shelling, and when she saw her first GI, she spat on him instead of welcoming him
To ease the pangs of widowhood her father taught her how to drink whiskey.
As a beautiful young widow she attracted her share of admirers including at least one American. Among them was the brilliant economist Leonides “Leo” Virata, to whom I owe my lifetime career in the Central Bank of the Philippines.
But a union between two brilliant and spirited people was perhaps too explosive a mixture, and nothing came of it although Leo in later life continued to express his admiration for Chitang.
One of the things that attracted her to her second husband, the handsome Harvard trained architect and widower Angel Nakpil, was that when he invited her to his family mansion she saw he had a complete set of the famous 55 volume collection of (translated) Philippine documents by Blair and Robertson.
Chitang’s writing was marked by elegance and wit, with a dose of naughtiness. One day we were at her office in the National Historical Commission, and she delivered one of her characteristic witticisms: “The Filipino male is the instrument for the sexual pleasure of the Filipino female,” Then she looked at the clock and said “Oh, I must be going to meet my husband. “The men present chorused, “ Yes better take care of your instrument”
Another feature of her writing was her nationalism and her level of interest in history, which brought her the chairmanship of the National Commission.
It was characteristic of Chitang that some of her friends wondered how someone with her independence of mind could work for the Marcos dictatorship.
They were actually old friends from before his presidency and lived on the same street in San Juan. During martial law her daughter and son in-law were activists in trouble with the military. Chitang was able to get Gemma to go abroad with her children (to Mexico—where her uncle Leoni was the ambassador), but her true sentiments surfaced when she wrote a tribute to the murdered Ninoy Aquino that was called “magisterial “ by a fellow writer. Chitang’s service in the Marcos regime was her way of repaying the favor done to Gemma.
Promoting Philippine interests, Gemma got me to address Mexican scholars in Spanish.
Chitang was fluent in Spanish, which gave her an advantage over contemporary writers who wrote in English. She could read Rizal in the original and the current crop of Latin American writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Chitang was one of the brightest lights in our literary firmament ,on a par with her friend Nick Joaquin
Now she is gone, but
she has recorded her thoughts and feelings in her books