MANILA — To Atong Ang, Gretchen Barretto is like a sister.
This was the businessman’s clarification on his ties with the former actress amid the latest controversy to divide the showbiz Barretto clan, where he has become an unexpected, central figure.
Ang was first alluded to by Gretchen’s sister Marjorie as a supposed “powerful boyfriend” of the older Barretto, whom she arrived with at the October 16 wake of their father, Miguel.
While initially, Ang was not named in the week following the controversial scuffle that ensued at the wake, Marjorie, in a televised interview on Tuesday, identified him as being involved in — and being the cause — of the physical confrontation.
Marjorie alleged that Ang was formerly in a five-year relationship with her niece, Nicole, until he was “stolen” by Gretchen — a complicated history which she claimed triggered the friction at the wake.
Initially saying Nicole was merely employed by him, Ang on Thursday neither confirmed nor denied when asked directly whether they were ever together.
Ang has denied having romantic ties with Gretchen, saying she and her long-time partner Tonyboy Cojuangco are his close friends and business partners.
On Wednesday, photos of Gretchen with Ang circulated online. In one snap, Gretchen is seen leaning on Ang while they are both asleep, holding hands, inside what appears to be a flight.
Speaking with “TV Patrol” anchor Noli de Castro on Thursday, Ang noted that he and Gretchen’s families have traveled together abroad numerous times.
“Lagi kaming marami, kasama lahat,” Ang said, pointing out that Gretchen and his wife are friends, and that he and Cojuangco have frequent meetings.
Asked for his reaction to the viral photo, Ang surmised that it must have been taken during their flight home from Japan or Macau, where they had one of their joint family vacations.
He then explained why he, and not Cojuangco, was seated beside Gretchen inside the plane, when they were all supposedly together during that trip.
“Ito kasi ‘yung rule nila Tony sa family nila. Sabay silang nag-ta-travel pero magkahiwalay lagi ng eroplano, kasi iisa ang anak nila, e. Baka madisgrasya, baka may mangyari sa isa, kaya laging hiwalay,” he said.
Gretchen and Cojuangco have one daughter, Dominique.
Recalling what led to their position while sleeping, as seen in the photo, Ang narrated: “Si Gretchen kasi, very close sa akin, parang kapatid ko talaga ‘yan. Katabi ko. Kuwento nang kuwento, inaantok na ako. Ang daming sinasabi kasi makuwento talaga ‘yan.
“Sabi ko, ‘G, matutulog na muna ako, sige na.’ Kaya ginano’n ko ‘yung kamay niya. ‘Tama na muna, matutulog na muna ako.’ Siguro stewardess ‘yung kumuha ng picture. Hindi ko tinatanggi ‘yun.”
Ang also shrugged off photos of him holding hands with Gretchen as indications of chivalry. “Kung naglalakad, gentleman tayo, tatawid tayo, alangan naman hindi mo hawakan ang isang tao. Anak ko nga, lagi kong kaakbay, e,” he said.
Being seen in public frequently with Gretchen, Ang added, is nothing out of the ordinary since they’re business partners. Gretchen after all has investments in his cockfighting and casino ventures.
“Ngayon kung ang tingin nila, kung sinasabi nila — kapareho ni Marjorie, na ang tingin din ni Nicole — girlfriend ko si Gretchen, conclusion lang nila ‘yon,” he said.