Out of the shadows: Queridas, kept women no more

First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 14, no. 18 (February 19, 2002): 8-9, 13.

It’s Valentine’s Day. Tulay looks into several facets of Tsinoy relationships. Jackie Co’s “Queridas” depicts the colorful and deceitful life of mistresses. A mother writes to her daughter about race relations in life and in love while Stephanie writes to her mom about the hurts of growing up and her new appreciation about her upbringing. Joanna and Shiela try to understand failed relationships.—Ed.

Somewhere in the heart of Makati, in one of those exclusive high-rise condos lives 38-year-old single mom Jessica, a financial adviser and real estate broker. Glancing at her gleaming diamond-studded Rolex, Jessica makes a few phone calls from one of five cellphones she has and checks her reflection in the mirror. She asks the maid to re-iron a barely creased designer outfit, dabs some Caroline Herrera perfume and leaves last-minute instructions for the nanny. Ten minutes later, she is whisked by her chauffeur to one of numerous meetings she has scheduled for the day.

A spitting image of movie star Lorna Tolentino, helped by many a surgeon’s scalpel, Jessica is a Chinese Filipino (Tsinoy) who hammers multi-million-peso deals that ordinary mortals can only dream about. Her ability in making the right financial and political connections, especially in the low-key Chinese-Filipino community, is impressive. Her social set includes scions of Manila’s and Cebu’s wealthiest 500, many of whom are on a first-name basis with her. Hers is a true rags-to-riches story — in a distorted sense — that many Filipinos aspire for. Jessica is also your quintessential querida.

Mistresses have long been a fact of life. The Bible is replete with accounts of the likes of Bathsheba and concubines that nobles like kings David and Solomon maintained.

Thousands of years after, queridas, kabits or karelasyons remain very much in vogue. In the Philippine political landscape, the rise and legitimacy of the kabits, made so much a part of the Filipino psyche not only by philandering ex-presidents, but also by ex-presidential daughters who turn queridas, only serve notice that the kabits have entered the zone of legitimacy.

Abroad, the name of Monica Lewinsky is seared into the American and international pop culture. Saints or not, we see spiritual leaders like the Democrats’ Rev. Jesse Jackson doing a mea culpa for his marital indiscretion or the Rights’ Rev. Jim Baker, a preacher who laid women like Jessica Hahn.

In Europe, you had France’s Francois Mitterand and his paramour Anne Pingeot begetting a Mazarine. And of course, there’s England’s Prince Charles doing the royal rounds with Camilla Parker (His namesake, King Charles II had at least 10 mistresses). In Mexico, the sancha — Mexican slang for querida — of ex-presidential brother Raul Salinas was videotaped extorting money from his wife. Cuba’s Fidel Castro reportedly sired 15 children from three women. In polygamy-tolerant Africa, the sex drive of former Central African Republic emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa is legendary. And how about Zimbabwe’s ex-president Rev. Canaan Banana, who forced a male aide-de-camp to be his mistress?

Closer to our shores, the notorious Jiang Qing was first baoernai before becoming the second wife of China’s Mao Zedong. And there’s the specter of a Sousuke Uno years ago, an ex-Japanese prime minister who resigned because of a no-confidence motion in Diet following revelations about an affair with a geisha. In Indonesia, mistresses are crucial in that country’s slow quest for justice against “Father Harto.”

Like death and taxes, kabits are inescapable realities of life. Most families, rich and poor alike, of differing ethnicities, have an extramarital affair tucked away somewhere in their family trees. The only difference is that the kabits are out in the open nowadays, operating with so much impunity and brazenness. They are the people we see around us — the underpaid teachers, crusading journalists, popular movie and TV stars and beauty queens, GROs and hospitality girls,  shrewd negosyantes and society matrons of Makati and Divisoria, yen-rich japayukis, high-powered lawyers and doctors, efficient secretaries and nurses, pious nuns, wily politicians, and the Taglish-speaking, convent-bred colegialas. In short, the madonnas and the whores in our midst.

The modern-day queridas are power brokers and power wielders. They tool around in swanky BMWs, Jaguars and SUVs. They sport the Bulgari jewels and Louis Vuitton bags. They own the ritziest condos, townhouses and mansions in Makati, Ayala Alabang and Wack-Wack. Gone are the days when a night in the love nest is all that’s needed to pacify and keep queridas happy. These days, they demand not only the trinkets but the stock certificates, the businesses and everything that used to be the sole domain of the once-beloved first wives.

“‘Ney, can you transfer P1 million to my Greenhills account? Kailangan ko lang ng konting kapital (I just need a little working capital),” Jessica coos to her current boyfriend on her cellphone. ”Also, may meeting ako sa lunch, Robert L wants me to sell the other condo units he has, alam mo naman ako, I work hard for the money…. Oo, pupunta pa ako sa lauriat nila Chim-ah (aunt in Hokkien ) mamayang gabi. Sa Century daw, eto bibili muna ako ng gift,” she lets out a sigh not unlike irritation. She stares at her well-manicured hands.

More often than not, it is the love of lucre that makes even the most unattractive man suddenly desirable in the eyes of a woman. Power and money are strong aphrodisiacs indeed. According to journalist Cecil Morella, “Charles Darwin said that males look for beautiful females to carry and improve their genes, while females look for providers who will secure their and their children’s present and future.”

Or another aphorism, says UP anthropology associate professor Michael Tan, is “men use power to get sex, women use sex to get power.” The word querida or amante in Central and South America means “the one who is loved,” Tan continues. “For the longest time ever in the west, you did not marry the one you loved. You married the one your family chose. Then you found a kabit, thus the querida.”

In patriarchal societies like China or India, the absence of any male offspring from the first wife would actually be sufficient justification to have mistresses to continue the family name.

Men with mistresses are considered desirable by some women because they think it’s a testament to a man’s penile power and machismo. While some women may resort to divorce, some do not and would just turn a blind eye, especially if married to men who they derive prestige and income from like politicians, doctors and businessmen.

Cynicism aside, there are relationships borne out of true love. Without the benefit of divorce in the Philippines (although divorce by and in itself is not a guarantee that extramarital affairs will dwindle) men are “forced” to lead double lives. Some queridas in time become legitimate, especially if the wives die or just fade away.

Jessica sighs when she sees a photo of a former lover. Who would ever thought that she, an original promdi, would be able to command the attention, if only for a few months, and be a business partner of this congressman’s brother? She remembers how his big hairy arms engulfed her. This is one of the few times that she lets her heart rule only her head.

But she remembers, business is business and the sight of those leftover souvenir t-shirts from their joint venture is enough to give her a jolt. There are bigger fishes to fry. She has since moved on to more powerful connections.

It is perhaps this acceptance of the stereotype that men are infidels by nature that we have grown inured to the reality of having a sancha in our midst. Not only do we condone but we also assiduously court the favor of the No. 2 — or the No. 3, 4, 5 — especially if she is sexually aligned with a man of pelf and power. Macoy had his Dovie; Tabako his Baby; and legendary macho Erap, his Joy, Laarni and Guia.

Even among ordinary mortals, few mistresses are openly ostracized because it might mean ostracizing our very own kamag-anak. This sin of commission is democratic. Almost every family knowingly violates the seventh commandment. The Catholic Church has been known to wine and dine them, especially if they come from buena familias, the Biblical exhortation be damned. The Church, after all, cannot discriminate and be too judgmental, especially since some members of the clergy themselves are as guilty as, well, hell.

Sometimes, these kabits are even lauded for their abilities to make these high-flying connections, or being able to engage in backroom wheeling and dealing.

Ang galing talaga ni Jessica. Nakita mo ba ang kanyang organizer? Puro big shots ang kanyang ka-meeting,” says one obvious fan, a Tsinoy businessman in Divisoria. Later, he gives her a call about some golf shares he wants her to help him dispose of.

For the well-heeled man, having karelasyon by the dozens seems to be a badge of pride and not dishonor. “These days, of course, the kabit is there for many other reasons, and I suspect, mainly as trophies,” says Tan. Especially if they are the beauty queen types.

One Tsinoy tycoon often leaves everyone guessing which wife he would bring along to social functions. One wife is pang-diyaryo, another is for lauriats, another is his lucky charm in business. Then we have this bank president whose wife hangs on to dear life (why grant him his desire to be separated?) even if he parades his mistress around socially. Or take this restauranteur whose No. 1 and No. 3 engaged in hair-pulling and a shouting match in a Chinese restaurant while he rests in No. 4’s house.

For women, it is not only wealth, power, privilege or even love that turns them into sub-wives. It is also convenience. As mistresses, they “get the best of their lover without the demanding daily drawbacks of marriage,” writes Valerie Gibson, in one of her “Dear Val” advice columns, one of Canada’s equivalent to “Dear Abby.”

At times, it’s the first wives, products of broken marriages, who become mistresses themselves. The prey becomes the predator, the victim becomes the victimizer.

Jessica can be said to be the Tsinoy equivalent of Joy Melendres, one of ousted President Joseph Estrada’s queridas. Like Joy, Jessica and her family scrutinized the bank accounts of prospective suitors. It really helped that Jessica and her siblings worked as bank tellers before. It makes scrutiny of the bank account easier and legitimate. By the way, caveat for wives, bank tellers also make good and discreet queridas. So watch out for those furtive verbal exchanges and sly glances and covert himas and haplos.

Jessica made sure that her family enjoyed the windfall of marrying into privilege. The family and friends of Jessica tolerate her immoral ways, if only because they are the financial beneficiaries of her dalliances. Her family and friends were willing accessories in her quest for money and power.

First, she consorted with the resort-owning brother of a congressman. An ex-presidential crony was her next paramour. She then segued into the arms of a scion of a wealthy and prominent Cebuano family. She is what people behind her back would call the “kabit ng bayan.”

Eto, suotin ninyo, tig-isa tayong lahat ng bracelet,” she says as she handed one Charriol cable bangle to each of her sisters. “And huwag kalimutan ang kay mama.” She turns to her father, “Pa, eto ang susi ng Benz na sinabi kong ibibili ko sa iyo. Type mo ba ang color black?” The father gives her a warm hug.

She also bore somebody’s lovechild whose parentage she continues to deny. Everything is alleged, everything is reported because no one wants to verify, no one wants to cross her and her path. It’s like an open secret in the Tsinoy community that everyone knows but refuses to be quoted on.

Jessica is like a chameleon, adept at changing names and appearances. By the way, that is another trick that mistresses employ. They dye their hair, dress up like the wives and answer to the names of the wives so that they can pass themselves off as the legitimates to the unsuspecting miron.

“Bye Nadia, balik kayo uli ha?” chimes one beaming sales clerk of a shoestore. Jessica can hardly suppress her smile. She has used so many aliases she has lost count.

Jessica also has a direct link to the netherworld, summoning spirits and mangkukulams at will. When she fled her domestic abode, she left behind a trail of bones, hair and remnants of burnt Buddhist paper incantations in her drawers and closets.

“Paul, ano ba ang fengshui ko ngayon?” Jessica asks and listens intently on her phone. A cloud passes over her recently peeled face. “It’s hard to lie low. So many mouths to feed, so many people dependent on me,” she mutters to herself. Jessica has managed not only to make astute business connections, but has also won the sympathy and admiration of her soon-to-be ex husband’s relatives and friends.

Who, for instance, would not marvel and laud this modern-day “heroine” who not only exacted her vengeance against an erring husband but who continues to reinvent herself through sheer doggedness and manages to seal multi-million-peso land deals? Women admire her, men want to sleep with her.

She epitomizes what every wife who has suffered through marital infidelity would want to be. Jessica took Ivana Trump’s famous one-liner in the movie “First Wives Club” to heart: Don’t get mad, get everything. When she was still very much married, she not only helped her husband manage their numerous businesses but also helped herself generously to funds that did not even belong to her.

Punta ako sa Cebu, ‘ney, may kausap lang ako. Paki-transfer na lang ng pera sa Greenhills account ko ha?” she flashes her lover a heart-stopping smile, almost perfect set of pearly whites.

Jessica views marriage essentially as a business proposition. Like the savvy businesswoman that she is, she would ditch her husband or lover and move on to greener pastures whenever the relationship was nearing financial bankruptcy. Jessica truly represents the breed of women who use their faces, bodies and brains extensively to get ahead in life. She uses other peoples’ money to spread personal goodwill. She is the Santa and ninang that people sing paeans to.

She has legitimized her own place in society by hobnobbing with the rich and famous, so much so that she can even threaten reputable doctors who were privy to her pregnancy. “Doktora, I’m warning you, sisirain ko ang reputation mo if you talk to anybody about my condition,” Jessica hisses over the phone. Nothing gets her goat more than talk about her daughter.

That is real power when you’re able to hold your own with society’s rich and famous by invoking so-called connections, even if you actually were born without these. Jessica is a real work in progress. A charmed life indeed she leads and, yes, she probably sees herself as the reincarnation of Princess Diana whose life she monitored. What’s interesting about the likes of Jessica is because she is Tsinay, her ways go largely unnoticed by the larger Pinoy society. Tsinoys are allergic to laundering their dirty linen in public.

Sometimes, mistresses lead not only exciting lives but dangerous ones as well. Because the relationship is not monogamous, there’s always the fear that one can be stricken with STDs (sexually-transmitted diseases) or, worse, AIDS.

Then there’s the emotional distress and discord that mistresses cause in marital harmony. Not too long ago, Hong Kong’s Oriental Daily News reported that some large Taiwan companies warned its businessmen who live and work in China that they would be demoted and repatriated back to Taiwan if they are caught keeping a baoernai in the mainland. Apparently, Taiwanese wives were complaining about their husband’s extracurricular activities. And it is not only Taiwan businessmen who engage in these activities, businessmen from Hong Kong, the Philippines and even mainlanders themselves partake of these inexpensive affairs.

Who is Jessica’s next big catch going to be? We just have to observe whose political and financial fortunes are going to rise because she will not be far from the nexus of power. And she will always remain notoriously anonymous, a name only whispered about because she is Tsinay.