Claudio Bravo captures Presy's serene demeanor, gift of style, and regal bearing, c. 1968.
Culture Spotlight

Steel beneath the silk: the life and times of Presy Lopez Psinakis

At Leon Gallery’s online auction this weekend, furniture, art and decorative pieces from the homes of culture and high society personalities including that of Presy Lopez Psinakis were up for bidding. But who was the woman behind the treasures? Isidra Reyes paints a portrait of an heiress and rebel, and a life lived with unstinting elegance and steely defiance.
Isidra Reyes | Oct 20 2018

Presentacion “Presy” Moreno Lopez could have led an easy life of luxury and privilege, but fate and her own choices shaped her life’s journey.  An heiress to one of the greatest fortunes in the Philippines, she was born on 29 October 1935 at the San Juan de Dios Hospital in Pasay City, the third of five children of Eugenio “Eñing” Hofileña Lopez, Sr.  and Pacita “Nitang” Moreno Lopez.  She was the long-awaited unica hija, her birth a cause for celebration.   

As recounted in the book Phoenix: The Saga of the Lopez Family, Don Eñing coincided Presy’s baptism with the inauguration of “The Boathouse,” his modernist mansion in Iloilo City, designed by Architect Fernando H. Ocampo. The Don invited members of Iloilo, Bacolod, and Manila societies for the occasion, with no less than President Manuel L. Quezon standing as godfather to the baby, and the beautiful Aurora Reyes Recto, Claro M. Recto’s second wife, as godmother.

Family photo of Eugenio H. Lopez, Sr.  and Pacita Moreno Lopez with three of their children: Eugenio, Jr. “Geny”, Oscar, and Presentacion “Presy.” Source: Phoenix: The Saga of the Lopez Family

First nicknamed “Inday,” Presy had a beautiful early childhood during the country’s “Peacetime Period,” a time shattered only by the onslaught of World War II in the Philippines on 8 December 1941.  The war saw the Lopez family shuttling from the Dingle, Iloilo farm of Vicente and Julieta Arenas to a mountain camp in Dumingding, Iloilo, then to the Lopez Central in Fabrica, Negros Occidental, and finally to the summer capital of Baguio where the Lopez and Moreno clans waited out the war. It was during the family’s evacuation from Baguio to the lowlands of La Union on foot that nine year-old Presy would witness the horrors of war first-hand. 

Photo of Eñing and Nitang Lopez with daughter, Presy, at the roofdeck of the Elena Apartments in A. Mabini St., Manila where they resided just after WWII. Note Presy’s complexion which was darkened by constant sun exposure during their exodus on foot from Baguio to La Union during the Liberation. Source: John Tewell

The end of WWII in the Philippines marked the period of reconstruction and rehabilitation. Don Eñing and his family lived for six months in San Juan then moved to the Elena Apartments, owned by his foster father, Vicente Lopez, where they stayed for two years before settling down in December 1947 in their own home at Dewey Blvd. corner Lancaster Street, Pasay City.  

With her two older brothers, Geny and Oscar, off to the U.S. for their studies, Presy became the “Manang” to her two younger brothers, Manolo and Robbie, while at the same time developing a close relationship with her father and imbibing his work ethic, his regimented lifestyle, and love for good food, books, music, and travel. She also maintained early on a close relationship with her mother, Nitang. Summers were spent in the U.S., where Eñing acquired the Seacliff house in San Francisco, and in Europe where they went sightseeing and shopping, with all travel and accommodations carefully planned and arranged by Don Eñing. It was also during these travels that his children witnessed their father’s generosity with his employees, some of whom he took along in their travels. “Your father told me many times over,” Doña Nitang once told Geny, “that if you want to make money, give it away.” And that was what Eñing did.  

When Presy was in her teens and starting to date, her father was quite strict with her. As Presy recounted, everytime her father would arrive from work and find boys visiting his unica hija, he would always tell them it was time to go even if they arrived just twenty minutes earlier. His stare was so forbidding that all he had to do was look and the boys would go. To offset her father’s strictness, Doña Nitang found ways to give her children more leeway without openly opposing her husband. And though the huge age gaps amongst the Lopez children at times caused rifts among them, the siblings maintained close relationships throughout their lives. 

Presy was only 20 when she married Lauro “Totoy” Panganiban, Jr. in 1955, giving birth to their son, Lauro Eugenio “Rogy” Lopez Panganiban, on 7 September 1956. By 1965, Presy ended her unhappy marriage with her husband and was once again living with her parents. She had evolved into a stunning and stylish lady avidly courted by some of the most eligible men not only in Manila but from overseas as well. A lovely depiction of Presy at this time is her portrait by Claudio Bravo dated 1968, which beautifully captures her serene demeanor, her gift of style, and her regal bearing. 

Presy’s gilded life as one of Manila’s most sought-after single ladies would end shortly after Don Eñing and Doña Nitang’s legendary “Party of the Century” in 1968, a celebration of the couple’s Ruby Wedding Anniversary held at their beautiful Parañaque residence, attended not only by the elite of Philippine high society and business but by European royalty. Presy herself looked like royalty,  stunning in her Pitoy Moreno terno,  accented with faux rubies.

However, defying her father’s wishes, who favored a member of the Spanish royalty for his daughter, Presy chose to carry on a relationship with a married Greek-born American engineer named Steve Psinakis,  a graduate of the University of Pittsburg who came into Meralco as part of an American team who provided technical expertise. Due to her father’s strong opposition to their relationship, Presy had no other recourse but to run off with Steve—after he had amicably separated from his wife—and leave her privileged life in Manila. They got married in 1969, moved to Greece and opened a boutique carrying Philippine and Asian antiques, art, and handicrafts.  

With son Rogy, and the former First Lady Imelda Marcos.

With the imposition of Martial Law on 21 September 1972, the Lopez family lost control of their business empire which included Meralco, ABS-CBN, and The Manila Chronicle. Don Eñing and some of his family members were forced to go on exile in San Francisco where they were visited from time to time by Marcos’ emissaries, among whom was Imelda’s brother, Benjamin “Kokoy” Romualdez. Kokoy would negotiate with Don Eñing to relinquish his ownership of their prime corporations in exchange for the release of Eñing’s eldest son, Geny, who was detained together with political scion, Sergio “Serge” Osmeña, III, on charges of conspiring to assassinate President Marcos. After signing the necessary papers, Don Eñing waited in vain for his son’s release. Heartbroken by this double-cross perpetrated by Marcos and his cohorts, he was later diagnosed with cancer and died a broken man in San Francisco on 5 July 1975.

Before his passing, Presy moved to the U.S. in 1974 with Steve, not only to reconcile with the patriarch but help take care of him. "It took awhile for some of the family members to accept Steve, because most of us, all of us, adored Presy. But he turned out wonderful, he was very good to her," recalled Mercedes "Cedie" Vargas, Presy's niece, head of the Lopez Group Foundation. The couple bought a fast food restaurant in San Francisco’s financial district which they managed for three years while at the same time involving themselves with the anti-Marcos movement in the U.S. "She was so passionate about this that she would sell her own possessions to fund the movement's activities," Cedie told ANC-X. "She knew luxury but she was never attached to material things." 

In the U.S. she also took care of her children: Michael (born in 1971) and Ma. Eugenia “Geni” (born in 1975), and Presy’s son from her previous marriage, Eugenio “Rogy” (born in 1956). Because Rogy was the child from the failed marriage, he and Presy had a special bond; because for a while it was just the two of them looking after each other. Rogy once told a close kin that he and his mother had sort of an unwritten agreement that they will forever take care of each other no matter what.

Presy with her ailing father, Eñing, reunited in San Francisco.

In 1977, Steve was among those who engineered the daring escape of his brother-in-law, Geny, and Serge Osmeña from detention and their flight to freedom to the U.S. Less than ten years after, with the overthrow of the Marcos regime, the Lopez family would work to recover and revitalize the businesses they lost during the Marcos regime. Presy, for her part, poured time and effort on her children, and being the "godmother" to all the Lopez kids. She also resumed her involvement with Sierra Tours and Travel, a travel agency she founded in 1967, funded by a loan from her supportive father. She oversaw its partnership with Griffin Marine Travel, Inc., later evolving into Griffin Sierra Travel, Inc. She also served as Chairperson of Lopez, Inc., a private holding company of the Lopez family.  

Presy Lopez Psinakis passed away on 25 July 2017 at the age of 81.

She attributed her love for work and work ethics from her father and believed in being passionate about whatever one chooses to do in life. “I always looked up to and adored her from the time I was a child,” Cedie Vargas said of her aunt. “She was to me the most stylishly refined person I had or would ever see. Her swanlike neck and the way she held herself with quiet dignity...elegance without ostentation. All my life I dreamed I could be someone like her. She naturally knew how to conduct herself at all times. Later as I grew up, I began to see the fire, the steely determination beneath all that silk and poised elegance. To be able to look like you’re gliding gracefully through life in the midst of turmoil and formidable challenges, now that is truly admirable!”

Click on image below for slideshow

 

Photo taken during the inauguration of the Boathouse in Iloilo City which coincided with Presy’s baptism in 1936 with President Manuel Luis Quezon and Mrs. Aurora Reyes Recto as baptismal sponsors. Source: Undaunted 

Period photo of the Iloilo Boathouse designed for Eugenio Lopez, Sr. by Architect Fernando H. Ocampo, 1936. Source: Discover Old Philippines 

First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos visiting the Lopez Residence in Parañaque, 1960s. 

Portrait of Presy Lopez. Claudio Bravo, 1968. 

Presy Lopez in her ruby-studded Pitoy Moreno terno at her parents’ Ruby Wedding Anniversary, 1968. Source: Philippine Costume by Pitoy Moreno 

Photo from the Lopezes’ Ruby Wedding Anniversary, 1968. Source: Lopez Museum & Library 

Photo of Eugenio Lopez, Sr. shortly before he passed away on 5 July 1975. 

Steve and Presy Lopez Psinakis at Seacliff, the Lopez Residence in San Francisco. 

Steve and Presy Psinakis 

Steve and Presy Psinakis family portrait. Source: The Lopez Family, Its Origins and Genealogy, Vol. 2, Photo Album 

Pacita Moreno Lopez with her children in front of Eugenio Lopez, Sr.’s portrait by Fernando C. Amorsolo 

Presy Lopez Psinakis with the next generation of Lopez Women on the cover of Metro Society, April-May 2008. 

Presy, Steve, and their children Rogy and Jenny, December 31, 1999. Not in picture is Michael Psinakis 

Nitang with her five children in San Francisco, 1979 

Presy with Michael and Jenny Psinakis, 1975, Jenny (Maria Eugenia) was named for her late grandfather and her imprisoned uncle.