Last weekend, at the wedding of the scions of two of the country’s wealthiest families—Chris Warns (of the Madrigal clan) and Bianca Zobel (eldest daughter of Iñigo and Maricris Zobel)—in the Zobel estate in Calatagan, Batangas, people walked up to Susie Ortigas to pay her a compliment—“You’re blooming!”
That would be music to any woman’s ear, but to Susie’s it was extra sweet music. Susie certainly looked alluring in a long fuchsia sheath with pin-thin straps and glamorous makeup.
Then a bigger compliment usually followed, coming from a few friends—“Finally, you’re emancipated! You’re doing woman empowerment.”
The next day, Sunday, Inquirer broke the news on the front page that Susana Madrigal Bayot-Ortigas has sued her husband, former ambassador to Mexico Francisco M. Ortigas III, for concubinage after the latter allegedly shacked up with her best friend, Ma. Antonia Legarda (Marian).
The 75-page complaint affidavit filed last month with the Pasig prosecutor’s office also detailed what Susana, or Susie, as she’s known to kin and friends, claimed were her husband’s infidelities involving other women, including the househelp.
“Our marriage, contrary to how it is perceived in high society, has been marked by years of intimidation, harassment, repeated psychological and verbal abuse, all courtesy of my husband, respondent Paqui.”
What was apparent in the Calatagan wedding was that “high society” has known all along the state of the Ortigas’ marriage, particularly Paqui’s alleged relationship with Susie’s best friend. They were just wondering, as if waiting with bated breath, when or if Susie would confront the issue of her marriage. So when they finally learned that Susie has filed the case, even before Inquirer could break the story, some of them called it an act of emancipation.
Since Inquirer ran the front-page story last Sunday, Susie has been deluged with text messages asking if she was all right.
“Why are people asking me if I’m okay?” a high-spirited Susie asked a friend. “I’m not only okay, I’m very well.”
It’s not surprising that people are anxious about Susie’s well-being. Not only did she face the alleged rotten state of her marriage, she also broke a high society taboo: no scandal, especially not where marital infidelities are concerned.
Even in today’s postmodern age, spouses—especially women—keep their battered state to themselves. You can imagine the pressure to suppress is even greater on high-society women, especially those married to high-society men. In this case, two of the country’s wealthiest clans are involved.
Susie’s suit is not only a taboo-breaker; it is also a first—in this century, at least. A first, even if only for the decibels raised by the scandal, and the lurid details of the allegations.
Surely, concubinage or infidelity is nothing unique in whatever economic class. And well-known patriarchs romping around with the househelp is nothing new. Manila high society is, in fact, replete with stories of those—of this magnate, with a socially visible wife, who is a “tsimay killer,” or of the (again prominent, pious) man of the house caught with the (male) driver.
Lawyer Katrina Legarda told us at one dinner: “Don’t you know the highest incidence of incest is found, not really in poor communities, but in Forbes?”
But then, these complaints or cases are not filed with the prosecutor’s office—unlike Susie’s. What stands out in her affidavit, once one goes past the details of trysts right in the family home or weekend estate, is her allegation or realization that the death of their only son, Francisco IV or Paquito, in a jet-skiing accident off the family estate in Calatagan was indirectly caused by the son’s sighting of his father with his alleged lover in the estate—and the girl was even Paquito’s friend.
So what finally pushed Susie to file the concubinage case and risk being the talk of the town?
Over lunch last week with her friends, they told us that finally she saw proof of what her friends—and family—had been telling her about her husband’s alleged affair.
“The help had been talking and reporting things to her even when they were living in Mexico (where Paqui was ambassador, and his alleged mistress Ma. Antonia was his executive assistant),” a friend said, “but she wouldn’t really believe until her own family started telling her.”
“Even that ambassadorial appointment was funny,” the friend said. “GMA (Susie is a good friend and former schoolmate of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) thought she was appointing Susie as ambassador, but obviously there was a foul-up in the DFA. And it was too late when GMA found out that it was the husband, not the wife, who had been named.”
Not long after their return from Mexico, when the ambassadorial stint ended, Susie began looking into her husband’s relationship with her best friend.
Soon enough, in 2011, she left the conjugal home, after she had ascertained the alleged affair.
Her son dead and her two daughters with families and homes of their own, Susie and Paqui were in an empty nest. “Paqui would come home way past midnight and would be gone early in the morning. That had been the pattern of their married life,” a friend said.
After Susie broke away, she decided, upon the prodding of her own family, to ask Paqui to sign a quit claim to her maternal inheritance—the Madrigal Bayot side—or what is called her paraphernal estate (the separate real or personal property of a married woman that she can dispose of at will and sometimes according to common law during her life—defined in Webster’s dictionary), which runs to multi-billions. In exchange for this, Paqui could have all their conjugal properties. According to friends, Paqui didn’t sign the quit claim.
Perhaps what surprises, or impresses, high society more about Susie’s bold move to file a suit is that Susie has always been seen as diffident and unassuming.
The eldest and only daughter among three children of Josefina Madrigal and Francisco Bayot Sr., Susie studied at Assumption Convent and later at the Dominican College in California.
Paqui—a De La Salle graduate and the “crush ng bayan” in their time—was her first and only boyfriend. They have been married 43 years, with two daughters and a son, and five grandchildren. Susie is now living with a daughter.
She grew up in a pious household where her mother would always pray, and she with her—hardly the making of a liberated woman, even in the time of Gloria Steinem.
“Susie didn’t have enough self-confidence, like any battered wife,” said a friend. “Paqui would always cut her down, even in front of people, for her cooking, for anything. At one dinner, Paqui hollered at her from another table and she was ready to spring to her feet, but we told her to stay put in her seat or else we’d all fine her five thousand bucks.”
If you believe that men—especially Filipino men who have no divorce law to pin them down to alimony—are chronic philanderers, you’ll also believe that often a marriage lasts only because of how much a woman can put up with, depending on how much a woman can give and take.
In this case, the give and take involves a woman’s sense of self-worth, just like in any marriage. But unlike most marriages, in this case, the give and take can also run to billions.
Indeed, the rich are not like you and me.