It was now or never mind
MANILA, Philippines—There were no sparks when they first met, but a few months later, Vicky Garchitorena and retired Navy Capt. Winston Arpon, both in their 60s, knew they were meant to be together.
Love is truly lovelier the second time around.
Garchitorena, 65, former head of the Presidential Management Staff during President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s first year in office and once considered “the second most powerful woman in the land,” has agreed to marry Arpon, 67, a retired Philippine Naval officer who served as Special Assistant to Ambassador Benjamin “Kokoy” Romualdez from 1982 to 1986 at the Philippine Embassy in Washington D.C.
The wedding date has been set for Jan. 5, 2010.
Last March, Garchitorena invited close family members to her country home at the Malarayat Golf and Country Club in Lipa, Batangas, to celebrate her birthday and to meet her husband-to-be.
Her siblings, Cash Pineda, Rose and husband Judge Oscar Leviste, Nina and husband Orlan Galang plus cousins Tootsie Vicente, Yoya Tanseco, Patsy Francisco, Tiggy and Elnora Barcelona, Boy and Helen Moren, Boy and Baby Tiaoqui, Gus and Sonia de Leon, Ginggay Vilena, Melinda de Leon and Nana Barcelona all made the three-hour drive from Manila to Batangas.
Let the grilling begin
After a sumptuous lunch, Arpon, who is tall, dark (from playing golf) and handsome, was grilled by the Garchitorena and Pineda families. They asked him: Where and how did they meet? What is his background? What are his intentions? Where will they live?
Arpon parried the questions with his customary wit and humor.
He said he was a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1964 and had lived in the United States for 26 years. A recent widower, he has two daughters and a son, who are married and reside in the States.
The starry-eyed couple said they decided to live in their Malarayat home because Arpon loves to play golf.
They will continue to travel as Arpon’s children live in America as do Garchitorena’s daughters, Teray and Isabel. Her sons Jaime, Rafael and Carlos reside in Manila.
Garchitorena, president of the Ayala Foundation, will continue to look for overseas funding for the foundation’s local advocacies such as Gilas (Gearing up Internet Literacy and Access for Students), which enable poor students to finish high school in Tondo.
Incidentally, this was how the two met.
A little over a year ago, a common friend suggested that Garchitorena—who was then visiting Washington D.C.—meet Arpon who would make a good sponsor for Gilas.
Arpon was recently widowed while Garchitorena had been a widow for three years. Both swear there were no sparks in that initial meeting; it was all business.
Then Arpon went home to Manila for a two-month vacation. Part of his trip was to visit the Gilas school site in Loakan, Tondo. After an ocular inspection, Garchitorena’s secretary asked him what else he planned to do during his vacation.
“I’m here to look for a new wife,” Arpon said wryly, trying to deflect the pain of having lost his wife.
“Well, Vicky is a widow,” the secretary said in jest.
Arpon replied with amusement: “Now why the hell was I not told about this?”
What started out as a business relationship developed into a friendship. The two started exchanging e-mails.
Arpon admitted he was cordial at the beginning, starting his e-mail with: “Sorry to bother you or am I writing at an inopportune time?”
Garchitorena would write back: “No, reading your e-mail is a good break for me—like having a cappuccino or going to the water cooler.”
The e-mails were intelligent, humorous and regular.
Arpon, a Libra, is shy but passionate and romantic. Garchitorena, an Aries, is dynamic and a born leader. They make a good combination.
The friendship led to courtship. They wrote each other love letters. They exchanged pictures of their grandchildren, children and then of each other. Slowly but stealthily, he had inched his way into her heart.
Then Arpon e-mailed Garchitorena a copy of the eulogy he read at his wife’s funeral. In the eulogy, he declared his love for his wife of 42 years, extolled her virtues and reminisced about their happy times together. His words touched her soul. She knew then that she could trust him.
Like a military man, Arpon had code names for the various stages of their developing relationship. Stage one was “Getting to know you.”
In one phone call, Garchitorena asked Arpon: “Where were you when martial law was proclaimed?”
Her late husband, former Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Francis Garchitorena, was one of the most active and vocal protesters against the Marcos dictatorship.
Keeping this in mind, Arpon replied: “I was taking my masters in computer science.”
That broke the ice and it became the start of many long conversations that made Arpon’s phone bills a concern.
Stage two’s code name was “From virtuality to reality.”
This time it was Arpon who wrote Garchitorena: “What could make this a reality is that we must meet in person and see where it goes from there.”
“Rendezvous with Reality” was the code name of their first date.
Garchitorena was aware that Arpon had chosen to observe the traditional one-year period of mourning and she respected him for this.
But fate had its own timetable.
In September 2008, six months into the prescribed one-year period of mourning, Garchitorena found herself in Foster City, south of San Francisco. She thought: “It was now or never mind.”
Arpon, the ardent suitor, threw caution to the wind, got on a plane and checked in at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco.
He phoned his lady love and they agreed to meet face to face—finally, after five months of e-mails and texting.
They took a walk down a wooded path which led to the river’s edge. They held hands and returned each other’s tender feelings. In that instant, they knew they were meant to be together.
Last May, just after Mother’s Day, Arpon invited Garchitorena to meet his six closest military buddies—who were all married—in St. Williamsburg, Virginia.
Every year, Arpon and his buddies would spend the weekend together, watching sports tournaments and bonding.
Garchitorena and the other wives were asked to sit together in one line while Arpon and his buddies disappeared. After a few minutes, they emerged in full gala uniform, and each man was holding two red roses. They serenaded the ladies with “Dahil Sa ’Yo.” At the end of the song, each of the men gave one rose to his wife and one rose to Garchitorena. In the end, she was holding seven roses.
Then one of Arpon’s friends said: “Sir, whatever you want to say, say it now. ”
“In front of my colleagues, I wish to ask you a question,” he began. “The reason they are all here is because I want to make sure I get the right answer. If not, I will lose face in front of them … I ask, with them as witnesses, Vicky, will you marry me?”
Garchitorena gave Arpon her biggest smile and said: “Yes, yes, yes.”
He opened two boxes—a military class ring traditionally given to a girlfriend and an engagement ring.
The newly engaged couple flew to Washington D.C. and had dinner with Arpon’s two daughters and their husbands who slowly, but warmly befriended their future stepmother.
Unbeknown to Garchitorena, Arpon had met with his family before introducing his fiancée. He gave them this speech: “I had 42 years with your mom. That was a great journey. But now I am preparing for a new journey. I want to continue my life. I am asking you to walk with me in my new journey … I am not asking your permission to marry. I have made this decision carefully with you in consideration but in the end, it is my life I have to live.”
Two months had passed after the prescribed one-year period of mourning. Arpon had kept his promise to himself and his children.
Keep the music playing
This love story ends with advice from Garchitorena and Arpon to other couples in their golden years who may want to take the plunge.
Make sure God is present in your union.
Explore each other’s personalities, warts and all, with childlike wonder.
Compromise, as older couples tend to be in their preferences.
Make sure you have something in common. For instance, Garchitorena and Arpon are both voracious readers, selfless givers to advocacies and charities. They love to travel, try new things and are even-tempered. They also love sports—from watching NBA to playing mahjong.
Be up front and honest. And no talking about dead spouses that could lead to comparisons.
Never let the sun go down with an argument unsettled.
And one last thing, and this is the loving couple’s code name for the duration of their togetherness: Keep the music playing.