Inspired by the Presidents I’ve known

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Inspired by the Presidents I�ve known

As a journalist, I have been privileged to sup with people from many walks and echelons of life, including Presidents.

Two Presidents I have served as part of their Presidential Press Staff: Corazon Aquino from 1986 to 1992; and Fidel V. Ramos in 1992. President Arroyo during her time even went to the then office of the Philippine STAR in Port Area for dinner and President Noynoy Aquino visited the STAR office for merienda.

It was thus a privilege and a pleasure to tour the Laperal Mansion, formerly the Arlegui Guesthouse, which was once the official residence of Presidents Cory Aquino and Fidel Ramos.

It was beautiful — and still is. I set foot in the mansion a second time (the first time was when I interviewed First Lady Ming Ramos in the early ‘90s) when the Office of the Social Secretary invited members of the press for a tour. It is a timeless ode to art and history, a thing of beauty.

Its stately façade and ornate detailing showcase a harmonious blend of classic European architecture and tropical-infused Philippine touches. The transformation of it to a guesthouse for foreign dignitaries, and the concept behind the renovation make the Laperal Mansion meaningful.

“This was the First Lady’s idea actually,” says Social Secretary Bianca Zobel. “She shared it after they stayed at the Blair House.”

Now, I have been to the Blair House and the Laperal Mansion surely more than measures up. Honoring past presidents (there is no BBM Room, because he is the sitting president) in each suite in the 14-bedroom mansion was also Mrs. Marcos’ idea.

Zobel said that the mansion, which was once the US consulate in 1945 and the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1946, was in relatively “good condition” before the renovation by a team of renowned architects and interior designers. She said only the roof, the electrical  and the plumbing needed major attention.

President Ramon Magsaysay died before I was born, but his room, wallpapered in shades of pistachio green, was my favorite. It was designed by Tito Villanueva. Another beautiful room was the Laurel Hall, designed by Jonathan Matti, with upholstery made out of sugarcane fiber donated by Bea Roxas, callado iron for the wrought-iron dining table bases and wicker dining chairs.

The Cory Aquino suite achieved its purpose of exuding tranquility. It was designed by Al Modesto Valenicano, who used this quote of the late president as a peg: “As I came to power peacefully, so shall I keep it.”

The wallpaper’s print came from a detail of one of Cory’s paintings. The detail was likewise used in the hand printing stamped on the hand-woven curtains. The fabrics used in the room were in different hues of yellow (the political color of Cory).

President Ramos’ suite is very masculine, befitting his brand of leadership and personality. The ensuing peace and justice of his administration are represented by the blue walls, says architect Jorge Yulo. FVR’s close-in writer and author of his biography Jojo Terencio says the late president’s signature color was blue.

The Joseph Estrada room by Jonathan G. Matti Design Associates is a Franco–Filipino room reflecting the taste of the former President. “He had a penchant for fine French furniture mixed with Filipino, chinoiserie furniture and design,” says Jonathan Matti.

“President Estrada was mayor, senator, vice president before finally being elected President. I wanted to show a certain sophistication only gained through experience and political know-how,” adds Jonathan.

There is also a prized Philippine map of the West Philippine Sea, sourced from the Malacañang collection in the room.

The Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo suite, by Ma. Teresa “Tessa” Alindogan, Anton Barretto III, Arthur Tselishchev, reflects her being an ardent diver and environmentalist. The complementary tones in the accent wallpaper depict abundant flora and fauna for balance, while the room is adorned with furniture from the best craftsmen in Pampanga.

The Benigno Aquino III Room has the most symbolic concept in reference to personality. Designed by sisters Ivy and Cynthia Almario, its piece de resistance are eight pieces of bespoke artwork running the length of the room in parallel with the headboard panel. These are dart boards that “marry the eight notable achievements of the Aquino Administration with President Noy’s love for target shooting.”

“Graphically arranged in the form of a dart board, the eight achievements (notably economic growth and stability and the fight against corruption) were then printed on paper and brought to the shooting range he frequented. To make it a memorable art installation, his shooting buddies were invited to fire live rounds of ammunition at the bullseye. The dart boards were then framed and mounted.”

The Rodrigo Duterte room is classy and masculine. “We wanted to create a space that showed his strength and decisiveness. We added touches of animal print in exotic tones just to give a little earthiness,” says Chat Paz Fores. “I felt I wanted to do him justice because I wanted people to know his real self — because he’s far beyond the kulambo associated with him.”

As a Presidential Guest House, this historic mansion, a street down from Malacañang Palace, is a space that whispers tales of the past, and trumpets happy tunes for the future.



You may e-mail me at [email protected]. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.

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