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Tall tales of the Crazy Rich Flips

Chanel jewelry as party favors. Transforming an entire town into a Spanish plaza for a wedding. We snooped in on an afternoon of scintillating talk about the unique spending habits of fellow Flips who, as they say, are different from you and me
Carmela Fernando | Sep 20 2018

One room, 40-ish guests, and over 1 billion pesos worth of fine art collectibles were the order of the day at the Crazy Rich Flips talk at Leon Gallery a few weeks back.

The talk was delivered by Augusto ‘Toto’ Gonzalez III, keeper of that blog Remembrance of Things Awry which is about the halcyon days of Manila society. The afternoon focused on the luxury spending habits of the country’s elite as a response to the movie Crazy Rich Asians. But while this extravagant lifestyle is now more noticeable thanks to social media, it’s by no means a sign of being nouveau riche.

In fact, Gonzalez referred to the idea that the nouveau riche is a misconception because many of the old rich families started that way, by working at becoming self-made individuals. It’s better to celebrate their financial achievements.

Despite our turbulent economy, the consumption habits of the Philippine elite have continued to increase across the decades. For some of the Forbes Park families, managing a household staff of a hundred or more is typical. Owning 100+ cars with their own air-conditioned rooms? Easy. And dropping at least PhP10M on a child’s first birthday party? De riguer. Would you consider Janet Napoles a card-carrying member of the Philippine elite? Well, she certainly knows how to live it up. She was apparently a notoriously extra hostess who doled out Hermes handbags and Chanel jewelry as part of her loot bags, and hosted raffles with cars as giveaways.

In the first half of the two-part discussion, Gonzalez touched on the lavish celebrations, shopping sprees, and financial habits of our political leaders during the past presidential dispensations, from Benigno Aquino III all the way back to our pre-Marcos luminaries. Who would have thought former president Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada kept a few million pesos in random shoeboxes around his home, all heavily safeguarded while he was out of the country? Not surprising? Next!

One of the most prominent examples, however, of the crazy rich lifestyle was exemplified by the Marcos family, whose over-the-top sprees were the stuff of international amusement.

While the Marcoses threw large, indulgent parties, even flying in equally high-profile guests from all over the world, these still didn’t compare to their most royal celebration—daughter Irene’s wedding to Gregorio Benitez Araneta in 1983. Despite Irene’s wishes for a more private affair, the family held a grand matrimonial ceremony where her mom, Imelda, renovated the entire town of Sarrat, Ilocos Norte, into a Spanish-era replica, and made the townsfolk dress up in Spanish costumes borrowed from the Cultural Center of the Philippines. 

From the book Kasalan by Pitoy Moreno

Mother and daughter also battled for the color of the bridal carpet. Imelda wanted red and Irene, green. (Spoiler: Irene won, but by a narrow margin). The green carpet was later taken by heritage advocate Jaime Laya, who had it displayed at Casa Manila in Intramuros for over 20 years.  

And that’s just for starters. Equaling the grand spending activities of our politicos were those of the old entrepreneurial dynasties that bolstered Philippine economics, demonstrating that ‘crazy rich Filipinos’ have always been a unique force to be reckoned with.

For his main dish, Gonzales outlines the other pillar of big spenders—the business dynasties that have grown, thrived and multiplied on native soil. Find out who these families are in part two of Tall Tales of the Crazy Rich. The saga continues.