“When Lolo Claro was born, God must have been in a very good mood,” says Ricky Recto. “God gave him everything.”
The former Batangas vice governor is talking about his grandfather, the great statesman and nationalist, Claro M. Recto Jr. Four-time Senator, appointed by American President Franklin Roosevelt to become Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in 1935, famously presided over the drafting of the Philippine Constitution the year before, and known to be one of the earliest voices against the presence of US military bases in the country. To many, he was also the best President the country never had.
“My dad was a lawyer,” says Ricky. “My lolo Claro was everything.” Comparing two of the most important men in his life, the former was no match. Don Claro was a lawyer, politician, a poet, and playwright. He practically spoke more than six languages. He was called “the Great Academician” by some of the country’s most famous writers. Former Philippine President Manuel Quezon once called him the finest mind of his generation.
Don Claro also happened to have collected art. Auction-watchers will get a glimpse of some of the things God sent Don Claro’s way at this weekend’s Leon Exchange 19th Online Auction. Among the artworks up for bidding are paintings by Cesar Buenaventura, Cesar Amorsolo, Simon Saulog, and Romeo B. Enriquez. The collection is a mix of exquisite portraits, market scenes, and landscape paintings. “These are artworks I grew up seeing in Lolo Claro’s house and his offices,” Ricky tells ANCX.
Ahead of the auction, Ricky sat down in a Zoom conversation with ANCX and his first cousin, the writer Techie Ysmael-Bilbao, to share their recollections of their grandfather.
Don Claro was a liberal thinker, and was a wiling consultant to his children’s woes. And to hear Ricky and Techie say it, he belonged to a generation of well-rounded men who tried to excel in many fields and cultivated an interest in the finer things. He had fantastic taste even in women’s dresses—and would buy the nicest things for daughter Chona. He knew the pasadoble and the tango—it was just the way of the world in which he moved about, and a way for men to get closer to the ladies, to be sure.
Of course, Techie, who is older, had the privilege of actually meeting and spending time with Don Claro. Her mother is the supremely stylish model Chona Recto Kasten, and her brother is Manila’s preeminent nightclub king Louie Ysmael. Louie remembers his Lolo Claro always wearing a white suit and saddle shoes in brown and white.
“Louie and I grew up going to Lolo Claro’s office just touching everything on his desk and making noise,” recalls Techie who was in her second or third grade then. “I told him there were rumors that he was going to pass a bill that will make the medium of instruction in school all Tagalog! So I asked him, ‘How can they teach math and science and trigonometry in Tagalog?! If that’s the case,’ I said, ‘I don’t think I will pass! I can’t get the medals you want me to get.’ And he said, ‘Why, what do you want to be when you grow up?’ I said, ‘A model like Mommy!’”
Techie recalls seeing Don Claro roll his eyes at the reply. He wanted this granddaughter to be a journalist or a politician just like him, or a lawyer. He wanted her to learn the Balagtasan. He made her memorize the preamble of the Constitution, along with her brothers: Louie, Piki and Ramoncito. He expected them to be good kids but was also just delighted to watch them fool around in his office. “He would be amused and entertained. We would keep saying, ‘Can we have this? Can we have that?’” There would be loose money on his desk, sometimes a hundred pesos, “And he would say, ‘Take it, take it!’ but with a very strong Batangueño accent,” Techie recounts. “And we would snicker and laugh. He would say, ‘Yes, that’s the Batangueño accent, you would have to get used to it.’”
Don Claro would meet his death two years before his grandchild Ricky was born and so it was largely through his father Rafael’s stories that Ricky would get to know the revered senator.
“My father had the greatest respect for his dad,” says Ricky who recalls never hearing Rafael Recto refer to Don Claro as dad, or papa. “It was always third person,” Ricky says.
Does this mean Don Claro and Rafael were not close?
Ricky says his dad was “a pretty naughty guy,” and that one time Don Claro asked him, “Do you fear me?” The son’s answer: “No. I respect you.”
Despite the probable tension between father and son, however, Ricky’s dad recalled to him how Don Claro would go into the boy’s room late at night and hold the feet of his young sons Rafael and Clarito for a second or two, as if to tell them of his arrival, and remind them of his presence. And then Don Claro would leave the room and study some more up to midnight.
This only meant, of course, that Don Claro showed affection in his own way. And he made it his business to know if his boys were behaving in the best manner. Something Ricky Recto would find out after sitting beside former First Lady Imelda Marcos at the wake of Senator Ernie Maceda a few years back. She told him of the time his Tito Clarito would fly a plane to Leyte —just to court the Rose of Tacloban who was still a single lady then. And Don Claro apparently knew of this. In one of the rallies, as soon as the Senator got off the stage, he would sit beside Imelda to whisper: “Did my son behave well when he visited you?” Imelda’s answer: “Your son was a gentleman.”
Despite his outsize persona, Don Claro had a very calm demeanor. “When he said something, it meant a lot,” adds Techie. A secretary from the Recto law office, a lady Ricky calls Tita Cely, once told him: “Nakow, ang lolo mo hindi nagtataas ng boses ‘yan. Kalmado parati. Hindi nagmumura. Matipid magsalita pero makuwento.”
He commanded presence when he walked in a room but it wasn’t fear that his presence inspired—at least not to those closest to him. “I was never afraid of him,” recalls Techie. “He was very affectionate, very gentle.”
Don Claro M. Recto Jr. was this very important figure in society and national politics but he was also a loving patriarch at home, and a grandfather who liked his grandkids to excel but he’d be totally fine if, as per Techie, you just follow his rules. “No making noise at the breakfast table, no coming down in tsinelas and sando, no shitty face when you wake up! And you always have to smile.”
[For more information on the auction, visit www.leon-gallery.com]