ObituaryTransition

Maurice Arcache: He took society’s secrets to the grave with him

He was an epicenter of Philippine high society—he was born to it, he shook it up, would write about it—or sometimes keep mum about it

Maurice Arcache
Maurice Arcache on Harvard tour during a media trip to Boston in 1983 (Files of T. Sioson)
Maurice Arcache

Maurice Arcache in Rome, 1995 (Photo by T. Sioson)

Maurice Arcache

The vigil for Maurice Arcache, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023, Convent Garden, Santuario de San Antonio (Photo by T. Sioson)

Maurice Arcache

The vigil for Maurice Arcache, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023, Convent Garden, Santuario de San Antonio (Photo by T. Sioson)

The author with Maurice Arcache on a Venice media trip in 1995 (Photo from T. Sioson files)

Looking at my baul photos upon hearing of Maurice’s death Friday (Feb. 17, 2023), I just realized that at least one-fourth of these have Maurice in them, including the black-and-white photos from an era when phone selfies and Steve Jobs were unheard of. Here before me is visual evidence, indestructible so far, of how Maurice Arcache, the Philippines’ foremost society columnist since the ‘70s, has figured in my life as a journalist and as a mother. I was in the hospital nursery ready to breastfeed my newborn when I heard a half-scream call right outside the door, “Hello my dahling!” It was Maurice popping up in the hospital after my Caesarean, and I replied to him with another half-scream. From then on, he took to calling my youngest as his “real son,” to the amusement of my own family. And my son is now in his mid-30s. That’s how long I’ve known Maurice. But that is getting ahead of my story.

From IG of Anton San Diego

Maurice died in his sleep, the Philippine Tatler editor Anton San Diego sent his message. He was 89.

In Paris, in the ’90s, on a media trip to celebrate Philippine Independence Day celebration with an Inno Sotto fashion show, Maurice Arcache with the author, Bulletin editor Ethel Timbol, Star editor Millet Mananquil (both seated), the event’s PR Susan Joven and husband Roland

Maurice Arcache—the name and the person—was no product of hype, unlike many of today’s celebrities and influencers are. Maurice Arcache was an epicenter of Philippine high society—he was born to it, he shook it up, he was present in almost every major social event, birthday, wedding, separation, name it, he would be there to write about it, or sometimes to keep mum about it. He knew mostly everyone who made legitimate headline—from politics to lifestyle—and everyone who was fit only for the grapevine. (The wannabes, of course, gravitated to this epicenter.)

Not only was he a good friend to them, he was also their confidante

More important, not only was he a good friend to them, he was also their confidante. I have yet to meet a Filipino in my long career who could forge ties of acquaintanceship and friendship as well as he could, with Filipinos and foreigners alike. He was a master storyteller. He was a repository of their stories and secrets—most of which he refused to write about. He didn’t do behind-the-scenes, he didn’t do backstory, much to my frustration as his editor.

With National Artist Jose Joya (4th from left), dinner at Philippine Plaza, Maurice Arcache with newshens Deedee Siytangco (left, foreground), Tere Orendain (beside Joya), Ernie Evora Sioco (second from right) and the author (right, foreground) (Photo from T. Sioson)

Maurice Arcache the society columnist was one of the biggest challenges of my early career as lifestyle editor, and he made me wiser for it. He was a source of frustration one moment, and another, he could make me laugh so hard at his stories. He gave me and his other listeners a distinctive insight into—to use his overused termthe “chi chi set.”

Why frustrating? Because aside from refusing to spill out or even hint at brewing scandals, this bon vivant who went to the London School of Economics refused to mind his spelling. Perhaps unknown to many, to Maurice, everything was phonetic—he spelled the word as it sounded. One time in his column, for instance, he scribbled an additional word “conformation”; I asked him, what’s that? “You know when the priest slaps you…” he replied. “Confirmation!” I screamed at him from my desk in the newsroom, poised to throw a ballpen at him—our “loving” hilarious interaction he’d been so used to.

The chronic phonetic spelling had a history. He loved to recount what a martinet his father was, who imposed very high academic standards on his son. In summer, the family would take the long drive to Baguio in its limousine, with Maurice on the front seat and the dad directly behind him. Maurice recalled how he dreaded the long drive because his father would make him spell difficult words to test his spelling: “Mississippi,” his father would bark out the order for the young Maurice to spell. Of course, the boy got all his Ss and Ps all wrong. So whack! The dad would target the boy’s head. “Massachusetts!” Another whack!—and on and on until the family entourage reached Baguio.

‘Name the tricky word, my father would make me spell it!’

“Name the tricky word, my father would make me spell it!”—Maurice’s recollection would leave us doubling in laughter in the newsroom. But what was comedy to us Times Journal editors would turn into a life-long trauma for Maurice.

Father was Joseph Arcache, a wealthy French Lebanese-born businessman/politician (Bukidnon governor) who had been friend and adviser to Philippine presidents since the war. Maurice would tell us stories how his father was in the inner circle of President Manuel Quezon.

He’d talk about how his half-American beautiful mother Mary (Hayden Aramburro) presided over their vast house in Lamayan, Sta. Ana, Manila, along the Pasig river, a stone’s throw away from Malacanang. That was the postwar Forbes Park long before there was Forbes. It was a house haunted with ghosts, he’d tell us, who manifested themselves particularly when he and his siblings would go gallivanting late into the night without their parents’ permission. Among his siblings we remember only his sisters Queenie (who passed away ahead of him) and the fashion icon Pearlie Arcache, one of the top models in the ‘60s when fashion modeling was the preferred coming-of-age path of the elite. Pearlie would marry into a family with Filipino-Spanish roots, Morales; her brother-in-law, Jose Antonio Junior would become one of the popular recording stars in the ‘80s, known simply as “Junior” who composed and sang the beautiful hit Yakap.

 Maurice was my Google/Wikipedia to the country’s bold-faced names

In Boston in 1983, Maurice Arcache with editors Jullie Yap Daza, Ethel Timbol, Doreen Yu, Cynthia Santiago, and host, then Northwest Airline executive, Bob Zozobrado

It was leading columnist and newspaper editor Jullie Yap Daza who gave Maurice a column in People, her weekly magazine for the Times Journal, one of the three leading dailies in the Martial Law era, now defunct. In time, Jullie brought Maurice over to Times Journal as society columnist in the early ‘80s (or was it late ‘70s?). That was how I came to be his editor, since I was the editor of its lifestyle section called Living, a junior editor among giants who, as my highly skilled mentors, I am indebted to for life.

In some oblique way, I am indebted to Maurice—yes, even through all that bickering between editor and columnist. In those years Maurice was the equivalent of today’s Google (get it, GenZ?) and Wikipedia on high society—type in the name and Maurice would have the information. Maurice was my Google/Wikipedia to the country’s bold-faced names, and more important, he gave me insights into how they partied, lived, loved—and unloved. To a lifestyle editor, indeed even to a hard-news journalist, that certainly came in handy.

And Maurice was our Wikipedia that came with the sound of laughter. He shared his stories with us—even if most of them were not for publication (much to this editor’s irritation). While he had the dish about mostly everyone and everything in Philippine society, he didn’t dish the dirt, so to speak. He never tattled just to draw attention to himself—unlike today’s clout chasers. In that way, he was old school, very old school.

While he could be naughty, he wasn’t mean. And—he didn’t miss a deadline, as far as I could remember.

It was my insistence to put in the juicy details and his refusal to do so—and his spelling (with his insistence to use his French phrases)—that would be a source of irritation between us. But he always knew how to get on your good side, in any moment. Like when I had just had my Caesarean-section birth delivery in the hospital. I was in the Nursery, ready to breastfeed my baby for the first time when, I heard him squeal from the door, calling my name— “dahling!” I had to shout at him to get lost because I was about to breastfeed and his voice—definitely a stress trigger that reminded me of deadlines—put a stop to my milk flow. Of course, he didn’t leave but instead, he and Alex wheeled me back to my room. Maurice pushing my wheelchair at San Juan De Dios Hospital while I ranted on is one of my precious memories about my recalcitrant columnist.

Maurice would talk about his life—how he had his fun and wild days in Europe, where, in Amsterdam, he met Alex van Hagen who would be his life partner. Maurice had a Minor in Psychology (AB Political Science) at Northwestern University in the US, and Alex was a teacher of children with learning disabilities—the two were meant for each other.

He’d talk about his modeling years, and how one woman broke his heart that left him scarred where regular romance was concerned.

From FB of Freddie Olbes

He’d talk about his close friendships with Manila’s high society, like Josine Elizalde, who would steer him and Alex back to the Christian faith, Vicky Zubiri, Freddie Olbes whom Maurice talked into writing movie reviews for us, the Reynoso sisters Lorrie and Cecille, whose vast family home in Makati, he’d say, was so busy 24/7, everybody coming in and out, so that when a burglar attempted to break in he couldn’t find the perfect time, had to hide behind the bushes the whole night and eventually at the break of dawn stumbled out of them in exhaustion. Now how could one forget such tales?

But it was on our many media trips through the years that Maurice left us with many precious stories. Those trips were hectic, stressful and tasted one’s patience, if not maturity; there were simply so many divas among the editors, each one of us…uh…an unnatural work of art.

In Rome, 1995, on media trip for Stefanel, Maurice Arcache with lifestyle journalists Ethel Timbol, Millet Mananquil and daughter Raya, Alya Honasan, Liza Ilarde-Cuenca, Myrza Sison, Sari Yap, Lita Logarta, Cynthia Santiago, with PR Macy Pineda, the trip’s hosts Evelyn Lopez and Emilio Mina. (Photo by T. Sioson)

In Rome 1995,  the wacky trio of Maurice, Ethel Timbol and Alya Honasan (Photo by T. Sioson)

Maurice loved to say that the interior of the plane was like Valium to me—as soon as I got seated and buckled up, I’d doze off. In contrast, he and Ethel Timbol would chat intermittently on the flight, with Ethel perenially asking why Maurice’s hair never got messed up on the flight. Media trips brought us to Europe, the US and Asia, such mishmash of personalities that would make a school trip for graders pale in comparison. Ethel and Maurice, like the odd couple, were the spice of every trip, with their hilarious comments and squabbles. Maurice was always the gentleman traveler who’d carry the ladies’ luggage, open doors, offer seats.

Maurice Arcache

In Hong Kong, in the late ’80s, on a visit to the Pepe Jeans factory, Maurice Arcache with the author and Ethel Timbol

On a trip to Hong Kong, we three had to rush walking back to our hotel. The moment we were in our room corridor, Maurice told the chambermaid whom he saw cleaning the room to make way as he rushed straight to the bathroom. His emergency need done in this room, Maurice looked into the safe and to his shock, saw it open and empty. Frantic, our trio rushed to the lobby to report the “theft” to the front desk manager—only to realize that Maurice had barged into the wrong room.

We walked the Great Wall, and saw for ourselves how fit Maurice was

Maurice Arcache

From FB of Lorrie Reynoso

On our China trip, we walked the Great Wall, and saw for ourselves how fit Maurice was more than anyone in the group. He climbed it almost nonstop, without losing his breath. This guy, after all, would take about 50 different types of supplements daily, by Lorrie Reynoso’s count.

Maurice Arcache

From IG of Pepper Teehankee

This week, the Convent Garden at Santuario de San Antonio in Forbes, Makati, was the beautiful setting of the funeral vigil organized by Alex and his life-long friends Lorrie and Cecile Reynoso, Jomar Munarriz, Linda Oledan, Carla Tengco, Johnny Velasquez, Anton San Diego, Bambina Olivarez, Pepper Teehankee, among others. Nestled in a sea of white blooms was the urn bearing Maurice’s ashes. Alex, his family like pastor Etienne Morales, and steadfast friends gathered to reminisce, to pay their respects and celebrate the life that was Maurice Arcache—the social chronicler who brought society’s secrets to the grave with him.

Maurice Arcache

Johnny Velasquez gives eulogy for his bosom friend at the vigil. (Photo by T. Sioson)

Maurice Arcache

Lorrie Reynoso, who was with Maurice Arcache until the very end, a friendship of more than 50 years, gives her eulogy. (Photo by T. Sioson)

In 1989, Maurice & Johnny Litton in ‘Oh No It’s Johnny!’ Interviewing Bambina Olivarez (beside Maurice), her mom Ninez and sister Pixie.

Friends gather at the vigil: from left, Chris Badiola, Linda Ley, Charisse Chuidian, Tetta Agustin, the author, Babette Aquino-Benoit, Annie Ringor, Eva Abesamis.

About author

Articles

After devoting more than 30 years to daily newspaper editing (as Lifestyle editor) and a decade to magazine publishing (as editorial director and general manager), she now wants to focus on writing—she hopes.

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