April 14, 2024

As another year ends and we remember the defining moments in our year’s journey that will forever be etched in our hearts. This year belongs to a cherished friend, Marita Manzanillo.
Upon the inexorable invitation of a bosom friend, my wife Nena and I decided to visit and stay with Marita at her residence in Baguio and spent the Christmas holidays with her. Nena and Marita had been childhood friends.
As they grew up, they sought to pursue their dream of travelling around the world and became flight attendants during the glory days of Philippine Airlines under the management of Benigno Toda.
Marita called me “Primo” not because I was a cousin but she considered me a first among friends – her “dancing partner” during our “Tic-Tac-Toe” days, and parties and “happenings” in 1730 (pronounced 17-thirsty)Leveriza, Manila, the Pension, Alice’s Restaurant, Boracay, Roxas City, La Union, and wherever our itchy feet would lead us.
Most of my friends became Marita’s friends. When she invited me to her home for lunch or “after work cocktails”, she asked me to bring along interesting friends. Thus, she became friends with my friends and also with the friends of my friends.
That was how she met the beloved Bishop Carlito Otto Cenzon, through my friends, Vic Agcaoili and Rolly de Guzman. Soon, a foundation was formed to fence the perimeter of Burnham Park. Marita became actively involved as part of her advocacy on environmental protection and preservation.
Considering that Marita and Nena have not seen each other for more than six years since the 2016 political exercise where Marita handled the kitchen in our mayorship campaign headquarters, they were inseparable during our visit – sharing unending stories about their parents, their parties, bargain steals in Japanese stores, Hong Kong night markets and Greenhills, their pets through the decades and her home that served to be a haven for stray pets, good recipes and preparation,“maritess” times over mahjong sessions, songs and music of their growing up days and decades of memories of fun, family and friendships.
On the last day of every year, it was the tradition of Marita’s close friends to watch with her the last sunset.We all hied off to the rooftop of Vic’s posh residence in Tam-awan where we built a bonfire and after sunset have snacks and drinks. It was a spectacular sunset that we viewed and were hopeful we all could together watch the last sunset of 2023.
A few weeks later it was time to return to Barcelona. Nena and Marita tearfully bade goodbye to each other. Marita promised to stay with us in Barcelona soon,once her health would allow her to travel.
Just a few days ago, we learned the sad news that Marita left the world to claim her seat in heaven where she will have the best view of the last sunset of 2023.
During her lifetime, Marita was mother-counselor to many daughters and sons of relatives and close friends, to whom she gave genuine empathy and support. She was truly a “tita” to all.
Allow me to share a moving tribute of one of Marita’s kids – our dear Chantal:
“Those who knew tita Marita knew what a talented artist she was – her canvas was her home. Walking into any house she had was like entering into another world where every tiny detail was like you are transported into this magical cozy place that feels like your home too. Most of my beautiful memories growing up with her were at home – I remember how she used to tell us how the gnomes would come to help her and they would move things around, the many funny rules she would come up with to make us laugh but also keep us safe and healthy (her kitchen stairs in Leveriza were a killer, rule no. 254). She taught us that animals are basically cuter humans and should be treated as such and she curated every single party to have the perfect mixture of funny people, good food and excellent music.
I always felt her homes were magical but then I realized that tita Marita was the magic and knowing that she’s gone makes the world a glimmer place. On top of all that magic, she was extremely kind, patient and funny. She always thought about everyone to a fault, and did not think about herself. Anyone who knows her well would have heard her say “diyahe naman” at least a hundred times.
Throughout our lives tita Marita was always there quietly smiling and watching us as we would run amok. She encouraged us to always be different, act crazy and live life to the fullest. When we would get back to tell her about our adventures, she would really revel in it and say “ooooh how nice naman” and really mean it. How I’ll miss coming back to you “to report”, as you would say.
Tita Marita, we were all your kids, especially the Leveriza sandbox squad. We will continue to talk to our animals like you did, infuse as much love and quirkiness into our homes, and always kickstart a good party with Gypsy Kings, Ottman Liebert, and a San Miguel Pale Pilsen. Here’s to you, tita.”
Indeed, the many lives that Marita touched with her extreme kindness, patience and generosity, including the workers she employed perpetually and those who took refuge and shelter in her secret garden; the many students whom she sent to college and eventually earned degrees, and several friends around the world whom she welcomed and hosted in her home, “Mi casa es tu casa”, have their own stories to tell about this fascinating soul whom I have always called our Santa Marita.