MANILA, Philippines - “I needed to redeem myself. I needed a new life.”
With this realization, Mons Romulo-Tantoco decided to file for annulment and end her 21-year marriage to Sander Tantoco.
The news came out as a blind item several days ago, although she had been hinting at “problems” for the past few months.
Surprisingly or perhaps not so there was no trace of bitterness in her voice; instead there was excitement at the prospect of facing the new life ahead of her.
“I have plans on what my life will be without him,” said Mons, who writes a column for The STAR’s Lifestyle section. “I know that as long as I’m okay with the Lord and with my kids, I don’t have to be scared. I’ll be okay.”
Her plans include “more public service;” specifically, she has told her marriage counselor that she wanted to speak to women “who are going through what I’ve been through.”
“I want to use my pain to touch another woman’s life... to let them know that no life is perfect, and that no matter what happens, I want every woman to know that (she) can be fine.”
Mons had what many saw was a perfect life, and a perfect marriage. They are both children of socially prominent families (she’s the daughter of Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo), and they have three beautiful children, a boy and two girls, now in their late teens. As a couple and individually they were familiar faces on the social circuit, prominent among the “beautiful people” of society columns and glossy magazines. In fact, Mons is on the cover of this month’s Tatler magazine.
But, as she now says repeatedly, no life is perfect, and no marriage is perfect. She acknowledged that there were problems in their relationship, which intensified over the last 18 months - though she admitted the problems were there way before that - including a belated revelation of her husband’s eight-year-old love child.
Yet, like most women, Mons fought to keep her family together, to work on the marriage. “To be honest, I was willing to wait forever. I was ready to forgive him for everything.”
Even when her husband left - first the conjugal bed, and then the conjugal home - she always held out for one more chance.
“I gave it up to December,” she said. “If he had come back, I would have taken him back, no questions asked.”
“Last year was horrible for me; all last year, what pain I went through,” she admitted, again with surprising candor. Self-doubt flooded her - was there something wrong with her, what did she do or did not do, or did wrong - especially when her husband would say that she did not take care of him.
To that she now answered, calmly, “I did my best.”
For Mons, it was a double betrayal, because the woman involved with her husband was her friend, Cita Revilla-Yabut, who was part of Mons’ prayer group. She had repeatedly told Mons not to be jealous if she was frequently at her husband’s office, since she was asking his help for some project. And when Mons would be told that the two were seen at this and that restaurant, and she would wonder if they were having an affair, she would be assured by mutual friends, “Of course not,” especially since Cita had repeatedly said she’d never go with a married man because she knew what that does to a marriage and a family.
But the relationship became more and more public, to the point that the truth could no longer be denied - or ignored.
“I was willing to forgive that - and more - but when he no longer respected me - as a woman and as a mother - I knew it was time to stand up for myself,” Mons said. “I don’t want my kids to be stepped on. I want to show them, especially my daughters, that there is a time when you have to stand up for yourself.”
But she is quick to point out that she has no regrets over her marriage. “He was everything to me. I gave my all - my heart, my time, my love. He’s a good provider for our kids... I keep telling them to be nice to Papa, to be kind to Papa.”
The last time she saw her husband was at the Christmas party of her in-laws. “I didn’t want to go, but my kids asked me to go, and my in-laws asked me to go, and they’ve always been very good to me,” she said, adding that perhaps her husband was not too pleased to see her there.
Getting to the decision of seeking annulment was not easy. Mons consulted a psychologist, a marriage counselor, the Benedictine nuns. It was only in January that she realized “it’s final.” She is in the process of filing the annulment petition, and has hired - as the wags made sure to point out - the Marcos Ochoa Serapio Tan (MOST) law firm.
And what lessons has she learned?
“Oh, so many,” she said. “That there’s no forever when it comes to love, so you live and enjoy one day at a time... To learn to accept that you can’t control everything in life, that there are things that are beyond your control” - the latter a difficult lesson for a control freak like Mons to accept.
And she said she has learned “that I can live without him,” and has begun this part of her life’s journey by changing her Facebook status from “married” to “single.”