My mom came from a rich family in the northern Philippine town of Batac, Ilocos Norte. The same town where the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, known for looting the country of billions of dollars, grew up. In fact, they were contemporaries.
When I was young, she told me stories about how Ferdinand’s father, Mariano Marcos, a budding candidate for the country’s National Assembly, used to borrow money from my grandfather— a U.S. Navy veteran with “boatloads” of money that can potentially finance his campaign.
Mom didn’t get rich because my grandpa stole from the U.S. Navy. Nor did she become rich because she happened to date a future billionaire dictator when they were younger. Ferdinand wasn’t her type anyway. For one thing, he was 13 years her senior. He also happened to be an accused murderer.
In 1935, 18-year-old Ferdinand Marcos was charged with personally pulling the trigger that killed his father’s political rival, Julio Nalundasan. The murder happened just a few days after his father lost the election to the latter. A charge that he was initially convicted of. But it was somehow overturned by the country’s Supreme Court. Marcos was subsequently acquitted and eventually rose to power to rule the country for 21 years. He was eventually deposed but only after leading the nation to economic peril.
My mom and her siblings weren’t exactly raised in a mansion, nor were they fed with a silver spoon, but they lived a very comfortable life. My grandpa, who had thriving real-estate investments, chose to live modestly. She learned her very first lessons in frugality from my grandpa.
Even after World War II broke out, he was in a financial position to send all his five children to study in Manila when the dust finally settled. Three of her siblings eventually became physicians. Two eventually made their way to the states to practice lucrative careers.
My mom told me that her household was the first one in town to ever buy a refrigerator— a very expensive luxury at the time. Her neighbors initially made fun of them thinking that it would be impractical to use one. But they eventually followed suit to keep up with the Joneses.
Back in the day, people get by without refrigerators by preserving meat by traditional methods– removing the fat, applying salt, and letting it cure under the sun.
As a young man, my grandpa was a U.S. Navy sailor. He was honorably discharged shortly after World War I. His total pay per month while in service was $17. At the time of his discharge, he was paid $145 in full and $38 per month in benefits, thereafter.
I’ve found out about all those numbers by obtaining a copy of his service records from the National Personnel Records Center archives. If you earn that kind of money as a 26-year-old in the country— especially in that small town— you are considered rich.
If you factor in inflation, his veteran benefits would have been equivalent to a one-time payment of $2,300 and $600 monthly in today’s money.
Mom may have lived a very comfortable upbringing, but like everything else, it didn’t last a very long time. At age 24, she was swept off her feet by my dad, a struggling law student. They fell in love and got married, after a brief engagement. Dad eventually ended up impregnating her, not once but nine times!
My dad grew up as the only child of a widowed mother who barely graduated from elementary school. His sister had an unfortunate accident when she fell down the stairs and died later of a brain hemorrhage when they were both very young.
He often recalls attending his elementary graduation wearing a girl’s shoe as at the time he had no more workable good shoes but merely sandals. It was this lonely and miserable upbringing that my poor dad experienced that I believe led to his unstoppable desire to procreate.
He managed to support himself first by doing the household chores for relatives in exchange for a meager salary. Eventually, he landed a job in Manila as a typist, messenger, and janitor for his congressman, Don Quintin Paredes, who ended up becoming the 5th Senate President of the Philippines.
My dad’s employment in the law office paid off as he managed to use it as a stepping stone to obtaining a law degree. Over time, through sheer hard work and determination, he passed the bar exams, and he eventually became an associate lawyer in the firm.
Meanwhile, my mother became a government employee in the Manila Central Post Office (one of the heavily bombed buildings in the Battle of Manila during World War II) after a brief teaching sprint.
She worked there for four decades, working her way through the ranks until she became the head of the registry section supervising close to a hundred employees.
They both may have had very good jobs, but those were not enough to support a fast-growing family, especially if you’re married to a womanizer. Not to discount my dad who was a great provider, but it was my mom who made wise financial decisions.
Without my mom, we would not have survived financially. Sadly, my poor dad’s idea of investing is buying lotto tickets.
It was the wisdom of my rich mom who had the foresight to invest in real estate. It was her that pushed my dad to save up. She pushed for paying for everything in cash even if it meant literally eating rice and beans for dinner.
Mom and dad bought rental properties in various places in Manila to the point that they had over ten fully paid rental properties in their portfolio, including our primary residence, which was also partly rented out.
Each property had over five rental units for somewhere around 50 to 60 units in total. It was the income from these rentals that fed us and paid for our education.
It was the wisdom of my mom who pushed my dad to start his own law practice. In the early 80s, he was at the point of his career where he had most of the connections needed to start his own law firm. Working as an attorney in a lucrative patent and trademark industry, most of his clients were big companies from all over the world. So he rarely had to meet clients in person.
At the peak of his career, he was making tens of thousands of U.S. dollars while living in the relatively low-cost-of-living city of Manila. With the real-estate income already in place, the income from the firm was used mainly for travel-related expenses to different countries to attend related industry seminars and conventions.
My mom died in 2007 of liver cancer. On her deathbed, my dad tearfully confessed that he fathered another child out of wedlock, a 15-year-old boy. This was in addition to the two other siblings we’ve all known, cared for, and accepted as part of this ever-growing family of ours.
Not sure if she felt any emotional pain at that point, she may have very well been desensitized to revelations such as this. One thing is for sure, she will always have a special place in my heart.
Happy Mother’s Day!