December 07, 2007

When Cora met Ike

Something Like Life
Dec. 7, 2007

ONE of Hollywood’s all-time favorite romantic comedies is When Harry Met Sally. Released in 1989, the film’s hook is simple: “Can men and women just be friends?” As we find out in the movie, Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) are friends for the longest time. They meet up over the course of so many years, each in a relationship, broken up, setting the other up for a date, but still remaining very platonic friends. Then when Harry goes over to Sally to comfort her after she grieves over her ex-boyfriend getting married, they end up having sex—and the most awkward morning after ever.

They don’t speak for a while until New Year’s Eve when Harry goes to a party that Sally is leaving, and declares his undying love for her. The film closes with both characters talking to the camera, as if being interviewed; they are now married. So this is what happens when best friends fall in love with each other.

Well, when Corazon de la Paz (née Santos), one of the most accomplished women in the accounting field, and currently president of the Social Security System (SSS), first met Enrique “Ike” V. Bernardo, a retired banker, they were both in their teens and studying at the Rizal High School in Pasig City. They were classmates from second-year to fourth-year high school, and vying for the school’s top academic honors.

“He’s from Pasig and I’m from Pateros. He was No. 3 in our class. I was No. 2. The guy I was being paired off with was the No. 1. But wala naman noon kasi we were still very young. ’Di ko nga pinag-interesan ’yan [Ike] nung araw. ’Di ko na ’yan inambisyunan nung araw, kasi gwapo s’ya,” Cora jokes. More seriously, she adds, “My friends were from Pateros kasi—and also because we were competitors in school.”

(HER friends and colleagues insist she is now “glowing.” But Cora de la Paz-Bernardo says, “I’m always glowing!” before letting out peals of laughter.)

Here in Manila, Cora worked up her way to the top of her field, heading up the distinguished accounting firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers (formerly Joaquin Cunanan). She married Wenceslao de la Paz, chairman of the National Power Corp. and presidential adviser on energy affairs until 1992. They have one daughter Cristina, 28, now studying Theater Lighting Design in London.

Alone in a big house

BUT in 1995, de la Paz passed away after struggling with a rare type of cancer. Cora says, “It was not too difficult to accept. I believe in the afterlife kasi. I had a happy marriage. So I felt that we were still going to see each other again someday. I prayed that kunin na s’ya kesa mag-suffer pa s’ya ng matagal. There was no cure for that cancer at the time. I felt that I have been lucky to have been given a life with him. I learned a lot from him.”

Cora’s work and her frequent travels kept her from being lonely. She also occupied her spare time with golf. “So I wasn’t depressed,” she says. The only time she felt ill at ease was “when I was all alone in our big house in Greenhills on the second floor. My daughter was away, studying abroad. I didn’t want to stay in the house. My husband had bought it and we lived in it for 10 years.” She moved to a smaller house, near Manila Golf and Country Club in Forbes Park, Makati, where she still lives today.

For his part, Ike lived abroad for 30 years, working as an expat banker in Hong Kong and Jakarta. He married Angelina Pineda, with whom he has two sons: Ricky, now married and living in Chicago; and Radi, who works here in a telecommunications firm.

Ike and Cora only saw each other once in 1998, when he was home for a visit. He had sought his old classmate to ask if his son, who was then coming home from the US for the summer, could work for her accounting firm in the interim. Unfortunately, there were no summer-job openings then, Cora recalls. Still, both promised to play golf, their favorite game, next time Ike was around in Manila. Somehow, that didn’t pan out: when Ike was here, Cora would be hard at work or abroad.

Then in 2002, Ike returned home to Manila to retire with his family. “It was not until our class reunion in January 2006 that I saw him again,” Cora recalls, and together with another friend, they agreed to play golf on weekends.

Just golfing buddies

SADLY, Ike's wife died in November 2006 after a brave bout against the Big C. “He was so devoted to her. He took care of her,” Cora says. After his wife passed away, his old high-school classmates, including Cora, helped him through his grief. But it was only this year that he resumed playing golf with Cora and their friend Joe. “After our game, we’d go to the nearby eateries and eat a lot of food from Laguna Lake. That’s what we have in common, mahilig kami sa kanduli, sa ayungin, maliliit na hipon.”

Cora insists that the relationship was all very platonic then. “We were very good friends. ’Di ko nga alam boyfriend ko na pala sya,” she guffaws. She just noticed that after a few months, Bernardo no longer brought along their other golfing buddy to their weekend games. He made excuses, such as being unable to call Joe because the latter didn’t have a cell phone. She then got used to playing golf without their third wheel “until at some point, he just proposed. I said, ‘Kaya pala ’di mo na sinasama si Joe!’

('I never thought I was missing anything in my life anymore'.)

Cora says she can’t really identify that specific point in time when everything just fell into place for her and Ike, romance-wise. It just flowed naturally. They were golfing buddies, best friends, then they were holding hands. “It wasn’t planned. I didn’t even think of it. Besides, I didn’t dare presume that there was something between us. It just happened. Basta mabait sya. He’s a very gentle person. He could be very sympathetic and would take my side even when I’m being attacked in the media. He would always say, ‘Remember, as long as you’re doing the right thing, the silent majority is behind you.’ Ayun, he’s always there to guide [me] and advise [me]. And he has a sense of humor.”

A party of eight

SO without the fanfare and grand announcements that usually accompany weddings, Cora and Ike, with eight other people standing as witnesses and guests, including the priest, got married at 4 pm at the Twin Hearts of Jesus and Mary Church in West Triangle, Quezon City, on October 7. The reception for the small wedding party was held at the cozy and intimate Lemuria restaurant in Horsehoe Village. “There was just a short period wherein we could get married,” Cora says of their quite hectic schedule leading up to their wedding. “The next day, we had to leave for the States!”

A lot of people, including Cora’s closest friends, were surprised. Some were hurt, of course, feeling they had been left out of the loop. When she informed the SSS board that she was “going to hyphenate my name,” the directors thought they were just about to receive their wedding invites. “Sabi ko, tapos na,” Cora bursts into laughter.

Asked for a wedding photo, Cora says she had asked her husband if she could give us one, but he demurred, joking, “’Wag na, sweetheart, baka hindi na ako makapag-jeep n’yan!” Seriously, though, Cora says Ike does take the jeep when he goes from his condo in Rockwell to the Makati City Hall, where he pays his taxes. “He says it’s more convenient for him to take the jeep because it’s a short ride and there’s no hassle of parking. He’s been away for so long, so all these things are new to him. It’s like an adventure. He lines up at the bank. He tells me he wants to go through the process of how things are done [here].”

In a week’s time, Cora will be moving into Ike’s three-bedroom condo, which is currently being renovated to accommodate the new lady of the house. She says she’ll still keep her house in Forbes for her daughter and siblings who come home from the States from time to time.

Doesn’t she feel uncomfortable sharing a bed with another person after 12 years of having it all to herself? “’Di naman. It comes naturally eh. Na there’s someone...very caring naman....I never thought I was missing anything in my life anymore. But now he’s here, and you feel so cared for. ’Yung me yayakap sa ’yo. Kasi I grew up with a loving father. I grew up with a feeling of continued reassurance that you will always be protected.”

Asked if she had any advice for the lovelorn (like me!), Cora says, “Take each day as it comes. If it happens, kung talagang nandoon, just enjoy each other’s company. Don’t have too many expectations. Live a simple life as you can.”

After listening to Ma’am Cora tell her love story, and giggling through most of her narration, I can only say, “Nakaka-inggit!” I kidded her that she was lucky to have loved not once, but twice already, while there are so many single women like me who have yet to find that special person we would want to spend our life with.

But it also gives me hope. If it’s meant to be, love will happen, no matter how young or old one is. (Though I hope it doesn’t arrive when I’m 90, with my hair and teeth falling out, and too senile to remember I even have a beating heart!)

As Ma’am Cora and I part ways, I remember a quote from an upcoming book by author Norman Mailer, who recently passed away. I share it with her:

“It struck me that everyone I knew, including myself, was always looking for love. ‘Ah, if I could find love, it would solve my problems.’ Some years ago, however, I found myself saying to my children, ‘Don’t go searching for love. Love is not a solution but a reward.’ So long as you go searching for love directly, you will fail, because love is a grace and you don’t pursue grace.” (Norman Mailer from On God: An Uncommon Conversation, as quoted by the New York Post)


Anonymous said...

this is the most touching and hopeful story i've ever read. hope you could continue writing such insperational stories and hopefully could give inspirational talks to young people who always looking for love and fail. I love your quote of Norman Mailer...'love is a grace and you dont pursue grace' but just come along the way...good karma that is.

E. Dejoras said...

I knew Cora from back in my college days as she is my friend Ester's sister. Is it possible for you to ask her to send me an email ( I have been wanting to reconnect with her and Ester for a long time. Many thanks!

Stella Arnaldo said...

@Anonymous 4pm: Thank you. I'm glad you liked this story.

@Ms. Dejoras: I forwarded your message to Ma'am Cora already. Thanks.

Anjji Gabriel said...

An excellent and well written story! I worked with Cora when she was chair of Isla Lipana & Co., formerly Joaquin Cunanan & Co. and a member-firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers, and I was a junior auditor and later became one of her partners. Almost all my meetings and encounters with her are serendipitous (wonderful learning opportunities and pleasantly surprising). More of God's love and power on what you do!