PHOTOS BY WIG TYSMANS
Not only did Dutchman Alex van Hagen’s lifetime relationship with society chronicler and bon vivant Maurice Arcache make him the Philippine elite’s favorite adopted son. Arcache’s company and social network also catapulted Alex into being arguably the country’s most famous society photographer. When Maurice retreated from the social scene in the last five years or so, Alex’s photography kept him in the loop of the privileged set.
The youngest of three children, Alex was born on May 3, 1948 in Voorburg in south Holland. In his Facebook account, he carried the last name of his mother, Hendrika Van Hagen-Hensing. Alex was close to his siblings Han and Margreet. Growing up, he and his older brother enjoyed sailing along the canals. The boys were separated in boarding schools.
Han became an artist, specializing in copper etching and living in Drenthe province in the north for nearly three decades. Alex studied psychology and worked as a teacher of children with learning disabilities in The Hague.
At the onset of Martial Law in 1972, Maurice’s parents made arrangements with former actor Rogelio de la Rosa, then Philippine ambassador to the Netherlands, for their son to stay in The Hague. Maurice met Alex in a club and was attracted to his blue eyes. Since then, Maurice and Alex had lived together, here and abroad.
“Alex was macho. He was a soccer player,” recalls socialite and former educator Lourdes “Lorrie” Reynoso. She met Alex with Maurice when she was studying in Paris in the ‘70s.
Alex’s introduction to the Philippine social set started with the frequent guests of Maurice. “Alex had a beautiful apartment in The Hague. We spent weekends there. I guess Maurice’s condition was, ‘Love me, love my friends,’” she says.
Lorrie names some of Maurice’s friends, the landed gentry/bon vivants—Freddy Olbes, Victor Sanz, Cary Jacinto, Eduardo Garcia, Monaco-based investment banker Nene Lacson, and diplomat’s sons Louie Cruz and Bobby de la Rosa, who had known the pair since 1974, in the early days of their relationship.
From 1977 to 1980, Maurice’s regular guests included socialite/painter Vicky Zubiri, Christy Pagaspas Hagedorn, Wolfi Bierlein, Cecille Reynoso, Maurice’s niece model Bonnie Melvin, and Baboo Mondoñedo and her daughter Tootsy. When Ambassador JV Cruz was assigned to the The Hague, his children Candy, Louie, and Monch would frequent Alex’s house. In return, the diplomat’s wife Lucy, who was a consummate hostess, would invite over for dinner the friends of their children, including Maurice and Alex.
“Alex was open-minded and gracious,” Lorrie recalls their youthful days in Europe. “Despite our boisterousness, he was so patient. We’d take the train from Paris and arrive in the Netherlands on Friday. The moment we dropped our bags, we’d go clubbing. Alex’s car was like a school bus. We drove to Amsterdam and went to Melkweg club. We always got up at 3 p.m.”
It was Alex’s routine to drive Maurice to the market. Maurice and some friends would cook meals. Alex and his Dutch friends would sometimes bring them to Indonesian restaurants.
“Alex’s most endearing trait was when he was naughty and laughed. He was game and stayed up till dawn with us,” recalls Lorrie.
In the ‘70s, Alex began to visit Manila regularly. Maurice’s mother, Mary Hayden, whom everyone called Mama Mary, was entranced by his blue eyes. “Mama Mary adored him. She called Alex ‘my blue-eyed son.’ They would go to Boracay when it was still rustic,” says Lorrie.
Maurice resettled in the Philippines in the early ‘80s when his parents’ were ailing.
Maurice began writing about his trips when media baron Fred Elizalde, then husband of Maurice’s BFF Josine Loinaz, asked him to write for the Evening News. The writing was cut short when the media establishments were shut down upon the declaration of martial law.
Maurice’s writing career was rebooted when editor Jullie Yap Daza asked him to write for her People magazine, the affiliate of the broadsheet Times Journal. In time, Maurice was given a column in Times Journal’s Family Journal, its lifestyle section edited by then rookie editor Thelma Sioson (Thelma Sioson-San Juan). It was in Times Journal that Maurice became established as the country’s foremost society columnist, and Alex as the society photographer. He covered the party scene with the dashing Alex in tow.
About two years before the Edsa Revolution, Maurice and Times Journal parted ways—which became a blessing in disguise for Maurice, because by then, in 1985, Mr & Ms magazine, under founder Eugenia D. Apostol, was gaining influence as an opposition publication, the leader of the so-called “mosquito press.” Editor-in-chief Letty Jimenez Magsanoc invited Maurice to write about the social scene, ostensibly to balance the hard-hitting content. In time, Mr & Ms became the forerunner of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, where Maurice would have a column. In the following years, Maurice wrote columns not only for Inquirer but also for the Philippine Star, his longest stint until his death in February 2023. In all this, Alex was with him as photographer, and Alex had also built his own niche as the country’s foremost society photographer of the ‘80s, ‘90s, and a stretch of the new millennium. He covered the Tatler Balls and other special events.
Never has there been a pair of such contrasting personalities as Maurice and Alex
Never has there been a pair of contrasting personalities as Maurice and Alex— Maurice was energetic and ebullient, Alex reticent and gentle.
When Lorrie worked in New York from 1987 to 2017, Maurice and Alex were regular visitors.
“Before I left for New York, Babette (Aquino-Benoit) and her best friend Josine Loinaz Elizalde were active in Bible studies. They recruited Alex and Maurice. Alex never left the faith. That became his constant until his last breath,” said Lorrie.
In the 21st century, Maurice had grown weary of the social scene, which he found predictable. Meanwhile, Alex bagged corporate and private clients for special events. As a breather from work, he undertook fine art photography and organized four joint exhibits with his brother in Manila. Most of his subjects were landscapes, textures, micro shots of leaves and veins, imperfections such as cracks, and a play of light and shadow. His photographs hung alongside Han’s etchings—a comparative portrayal of realism.
Han was grateful for the opportunity. Their joint projects reunited them. In their bonding moments and travel in the Philippines, Han enjoyed longer and meaningful conversations with his younger brother. In the late naughts, Alex also used his social network to organize mini concerts for his niece, Brigitte Van Hagen, a soprano.
Before the pandemic, Maurice suffered a couple of bad falls, which hampered his mobility. Alex took care of him, getting a new bed and a cane. Likewise Maurice began to let go slowly of their precious possessions by putting them on the block.
Last December, Alex’s client Mila Haw invited him on a European cruise which included a stop in Amsterdam. Seeing it as an opportunity to meet up with his family, he went along. However, even then he was already feeling something was wrong, as he was losing weight rapidly.
By January, Alex was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He informed his siblings and initially held off for help. When Maurice died on Feb. 17, 2023 Alex was already feeling weak. Yet, Alex continued to work. He attended the Asian Cultural Council auction on Feb. 18, a day after Maurice’s passing. Alex supervised his assistant who took the photographs.
‘Alex knew his subjects well, and he always framed them correctly’
Jaime Ponce de Leon, the founder and head of Leon Gallery Auction House, had been working with Alex for 10 years “Without fail,” he stresses. “Alex knew his subjects well, and he always framed them correctly.”
Jaime remains proud of that friendship. “He was a friend who would talk to me about his life, his illness, and everything else.”
According to Lorrie, in the last few months, when friends wanted to drop something off at his place or meet up with him, Alex would refuse. Finally, last June 10, cardiologist Randy Francisco, the husband of Alex’s former boss, Tatler publisher Irene Martel Francisco, called up Han to ask him to fly to the Philippines immediately. Han came with his niece, Ingeborg Verhuel, a nurse. They arrived last June 12, Monday, and stayed by Alex’s side until he drew his last breath.
In the last few days in the hospital, Alex’s friends would visit to say their goodbyes to Alex. “Ingeborg advised the hospital staff to keep him calm. She brought candles to his room and put pin lights around the headboard. It was so calming, as if the room were a spa,” says Lorrie. Babette had asked two pastors from Victory Church to perform the last rites.
Han and Ingeborg held his hands. In his final moments, Alex kept whispering the name of Maurice in Han’s ear. Alex passed away June 16 at age 75.
Han tells us that he was proud to have had a kind brother. “Alex always took care of people,” he says. Ingeborg will always remember her uncle’s blue eyes that were windows to a beautiful soul.