by Belinda A. Aquino, Ph.D.
Mentioning the name of the late Tomas Gomez does not ring a bell with readers and most people. Most are probably too old or too young to know or remember who he was. But I am assuming that some still do remember who he was because he was a man with many talents and skills, especially political and social ones. He was a man of conviction and leadership.
He was known to his friends and peers as a man with many facets to his unique public persona.
In 1986 in the Philippines, particularly in the longest highway in Metro Manila called EDSA, the People Power Revolution started with a silent action among the country’s militants against the Marcos dictatorial regime, which had started since the mid-1960s when the then legal President Ferdinand Marcos, finished his second term as president at age 55. Philippine presidents then were only allowed a constitutional term of one year and another year for one re-election totaling eight years.
But Marcos thought he was too young to retire from national politics at such a young age. He thought he was still young and vigorous to be out of power knowing he could still do so much for the country. So, what should he do to stay in power for, say, another term?
Being an astute politician, he studied the Philippine Constitution which was adopted in 1935 to define the limits of the presidential term for any sitting president. He found out that the Constitution allowed the declaration of martial law if there was any clear evidence that the country was in danger of being invaded by a foreign power or by internal aggression which meant that Filipino radical groups like Communists or Muslims, or a combination of both, would have the ability to overthrow a sitting President by force of arms.
But this provision had never been used in previous Philippine history and Marcos tested its application to the now independent Philippines, which regained its independence in 1946 following the end of World War II.
He slowly worked to call a Constitutional Convention with delegates from the entire country to discuss the possibility of setting up an alternative legal government. He used internal or external aggression, or a combination of both as a reason(s) for this new set up.
To cut a long story short, the 197I Convention that Marcos convened was tumultuous and confusing. Some thought it would be extremely difficult to obtain a consensus that would agree to such an alternative since the political system had no precedent for such a possibility, let alone a probability.
It turned out that Marcos and his henchmen had a plan to obtain this probability easily. And that was to buy votes by distributing money to some delegates who would agree to such a proposition.
In the end, a courageous delegate from the Visayas by the name of Quintero squealed to the media that Marcos was buying the delegates by distributing cash in envelopes to buy the votes of those who agreed to be “bribed.”
It was not long before the people around the country learned about this Marcos scheme. The then-Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, who was the major presidential opponent of Marcos, delivered a speech on the Senate floor that Marcos was perpetrating this nefarious plan of subverting the Convention.
The country went into a period of turmoil that escalated into a major disaster when people began to get restless and began gathering around the Metro Manila, particularly at EDSA, day and night to condemn the Marcos regime. It was nearly the end of the old era and the beginning of a new one.
The People Power Revolution
Towards the third week of September 23, 1972, Marcos declared Martial Law throughout the whole country. Among other things, this meant the abolition of Congress, the suppression of the freedom of speech, press, and assembly, and individual rights.
Marcos’ reason for his drastic decision was the threat of internal aggression by the Communist Party of the Philippines, along with the National Democratic Front, or CPP/NDF for short.
Aquino was the first Marcos opponent to be imprisoned in solitary confinement for the next seven years. Other prominent opponents were thrown in jail likewise like Lorenzo Tanada and Jovito Salonga.
To shorten the storyline, martial law was “lifted” and Aquino was allowed to travel to the US for medical treatment. Upon his return to the Philippines in 1983, he was assassinated right on the tarmac of the Manila International Airport, which escalated the People Power Revolution which had begun earlier.
Aquino’s assassination marked the beginning of the now-famous Revolution by People Power which ended with the downfall of the Marcos regime and the assumption of Corazon “Cory” Aquino as the incoming President of the country in February 1986.
Enter Buddy Gomez
It was in this context that Buddy Gomez was assigned as the Consul General of the Philippine Consulate in Honolulu by President Cory Aquino after the dramatic downfall of the Marcos regime in the 1986 People Power Revolution.
“It was a time of the historic ‘People Power’ euphoria,” recalls Lillian Ramirez Uy, a longtime resident of Honolulu who is a lawyer and former Judge who was to become a central figure in Buddy’s project to restore the Consulate as an “iconic symbol of the Philippines in Hawaii.”
It was here that a small group of women, predominantly composed of the FAUW (Filipino Association of University Women), also played a major role in restoring the aging white colonial-style function to its former shining glory, according to Lillian. She was designated chairperson of the Philippine Consulate Restoration Project.
The following account is drawn verbatim from the text sent by Lillian and describes the beginning of this ambitious dream to become a reality:
“A portion of the first floor of the aging Consulate to be devoted to a mini-museum and library of Filipino materials. The preliminary work entailed consulting with Glenn Mason, a local architect known for his work on restorations of historic buildings. Gladly and without remuneration, he provided us with much-needed valuable information.
“Secondly, a lady doubter did research at the state archives and supplied us with original photographs of the first-floor layout, and of the hallway leading to
the stairwell up to the second level. These were priceless information in guiding the project.
“Thirdly, we explored the availability of workmen and craftsmen including possibly recruiting skilled workers from the Philippines. Fourthly, the group solicited donations and conducted fundraisers, including formal dinners at the Philippine Consulate porch and another at the Ilikai Hotel ballroom (in Waikiki) which included a full band. Needless to say, funding was an enormous problem.”
Lillian’s account continues, which concludes with what was accomplished during the “short life” of the project.
“The first floor was beautifully sanded and the hallway was cleared to provide an inviting space graced by a lovely carved table with a gorgeous floral centerpiece, much like in the old glory days. The wall in the hallway had artworks (among which was an acrylic painting of ‘Binasuhan’ by Corky Trinidad (who was the editorial artist of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin at the time). Old historical pictures and articles were provided.
“Also on the first floor was a refurbished waiting room leading to the spacious office of the Consul General, complete with a display cabinet adorned with what appeared to be antique ceramic pieces recovered from the Philippine Government from the Floirendo (actually owned by Marcos) in the property. There were also other Philippine artifacts and Filipiniana donated by the group and their groups.
“A portion of the second floor was used to house a desk off the landing. The dining hall and bathroom areas were cleared of clutter. Although not a part of the general plan, a portion of the second floor was converted into the living quarters of Buddy Gomez and his family after he got assigned to become Consul General of the Philippine Consulate.”
It must be explained that the Marcos entourage composed of some 80 people who fled to Hawaii after the overthrow of the Marcos regime, occupied two houses with their flowers, who included members of Marcos’s immediate family and other loyalists like General Fabian Ver and his families and other cronies of the regime including other military allies.”
The rest of Lillian’s narrative ends with the following hope for the unfinished work of restoring the Consulate after the Marcos overthrow.
“On the unfinished work, needless to say, the bulk of the envisioned work remained undone and the project came to an abrupt halt with the ‘changing of the guard,’ which rang the death knell of the ambitious project when Buddy was recalled to the Philippines to assume the position of Press Secretary of then President Cory Aquino.”
Lillian’s narrative ends with the “continuing challenge.”
“The group still believes that the Philippine Consulate building can be the majestic face of the country in Hawaii. The ardent hope is that some other group or individual will soon emerge, who has the same avid interest, dedication, passion, pride and love of country to pick up the project where we left off.”
By way of concluding this part of the article, we are really grateful for Lillian Uy’s extensive and detailed account of the Philippine Consulate Restoration Project which should continue as, among other things, a tribute to the vision and hard work that Buddy Gomez had started with his visionary perspective on what the role of the Consulate should be in the context of the whole country – the Philippines.
The concluding portion of this article will involve the observations and perspective of Rose Churma, who was also an active participant in the restoration project which has been a visionary and viable project for everyone involved in the project under the leadership of Buddy Gomez – a man of dreams and vision and action.
Buddy’s untimely passing
Buddy Gomez passed away in a charming pensión in the countryside town of Arzúa, Spain.
Typical of Buddy, he left this world for the next in a very unique way – as a pilgrim. In spirit, he concluded his pilgrimage with a special mass at the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela, the final destination of this pilgrimage.
This special mass was possible since the feast of St. James (or Santiago) falls on a Sunday, an event that occurs only 14 times per century. This year was also the 500-year anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines, one of the reasons why he embarked on this pilgrimage.
In her Facebook post, his daughter Malia notes that Buddy wasn’t religious but “appreciated rich culture and historical connections.” This is how I reconnected with Buddy in the last few years, when I sought his help and asked him to share his experiences as Philippine Consul General in Honolulu in the late 1980s.
Thankfully he sent me some of his archival files including the final report he sent to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila and copies of the editorials from Honolulu’s two dailies.
He calls himself a “fiscal freak” and rightly so. When he served as Consul General during the initial years of the Cory Aquino administration, there was a nationally mandated austerity program, consistent with the Philippines’ economic condition then.
He reduced the consulate’s manpower from 18 to 11, surrendered his living-quarters allowance (opting to live on the 2nd floor of the Consulate building) and initiating repairs, renovation and upgrades to the building from community fundraising and from a very generous benefactress – and he notes “at no cost to our government.”
He would be the last Consul General to call the structure at the Pali an “official residence.” Although he scrimped on operational costs and gave up his housing allowance, he fought to increase the housing allowance of his staff arguing that the Consulate personnel have no other recourse but to rent at rates more than their housing allowance “putting them under undue and unfair financial strain.”
Interestingly, despite the reduction of his staffing, the post was able to double the tax collections during his incumbency. He also pointed out that aside from the typical workload, the Honolulu post was responsible for the “Marcos Watch,” a task without precedent in the history of Philippine diplomacy.
Despite the lack of guidance from the head office on how to manage “an unrepentant and recalcitrant deposed president” who was forced to seek refuge in Hawaii, he approached the task “with the enthusiasm of a committed missionary’s zeal” which got him in the news frequently, and in trouble with his own bosses in Manila.
His daughter says that Buddy’s favorite saying is: “It is through adversity that we reach the stars.” He had plenty of that, and more.
At the end of his tenure as Consul General, the editors of the Honolulu Advertiser note in January 1990 that “Tomas “Buddy” Gomez did a good job in Hawaii—and now he has gone off to a much tougher one as press secretary to President Cory Aquino.”
Although he left Hawai’i for good in 1990, he stayed in touch. His last email was in June 27 of this year and mentioned a possible reunion with friends in Hawaii, perhaps after this pandemic is over. He will be missed.
Tomas “Buddy” Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN’s (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.
In 1986, the then-President Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later he served as her Press Secretary. During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network. After government service, he became an OFW in the U.S. and moved to San Antonio, Texas. He worked as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist and wrote for various media outlets.
We have succeeded, I believe in capturing the many fascinating facets of Buddy Gomez’s unique persona. He had an unusual, amazing, and awesome personality. Someone like that comes only once in a blue moon.
He was skilled and well-versed in many professional callings. He could shift from one job to another with amazing ease. He had a historic role in Philippine diplomatic history considering he was not trained as a career diplomat. He was not afraid or hesitant to speak his mind and was a great advocate of equality, peace and social justice.
The Philippine Consulate Project may not have become a reality in his lifetime, but to those he left behind, it will always remain a wonderful tribute to the project he envisioned and moved to reality. Though he did not live long enough to see its full fruition, it will always remain his main legacy as public servant in a society that was difficult to negotiate and navigate during the rough times he lived in.
Aloha and Mabuhay, Buddy! You will remain forever in our hearts, and you will always remain an inspiration and role model to everybody you left behind.
DR. BELINDA AQUINO is Professor Emeritus at the School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa where she served as Professor of Political Science and Asian Studies and also the Founding Director of the University Center for Philippine Studies. An accomplished journalist, she is currently Contributing Editor to the Hawaii Filipino Chronicle and a frequent contributor to various international, national and local publications.
by Belinda A. Aquino, Ph.D.