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A glimpse on the Philippine life and history of peninsulares Moratos from Spain

When I was growing up as a little boy in the sleepy Lopez town in Quezon I would always hear stories about the Moratos who had been lorded it over the lumber industry in southern part of the province, particularly in Tagkawayan.

Since I wasn’t in school yet, I was always being tagged along by my elder sister who was teaching in Tagkawayan in the early 1960s and there I would see Sta. Cecilia lumber yard. She would tell me it was owned by the Moratos without her mentioning any particular name of any of its family member. I would always wonder about the hugeness of their empire. That it was the Moratos who started the logging trade in the area.

Young boy Manuel Morato in their ancestral house in Calauag, Quezon.

Photo courtesy of the Morato Family

Who were those Moratos, I would ask myself without necessarily getting answers on hand.

My wonderment of the Moratos rose when I was already in elementary school and I would see actor Jimmy Morato on TV and the movies. Some of my town mates would say Jimmy was from Quezon but not necessarily from Lopez but still I was star struck someone from our place was a star, the first Tisoy in film adapted from a comics strip.

Later would I be reoriented that Jimmy wasn’t a real Morato, after all, but his was just a screen name.

Anyway, I didn’t even know that the Picas from Lopez and its neighboring town of Calauag were, indeed, from the Morato clan until I discovered that Jessica, whose full name was Jessica Pica (the contestant of the Miss Night Owl Dance Party on TV who beat Susan Reid, the future Hilda Koronel, to the title) was indeed a Morato. She would always tell me whenever we bumped into each other that she, indeed, was from Calauag and that her dad who was a Morato was killed by rebels so she wouldn’t go home to her roots anymore.

I would also just learned later during our intermittent class reunions that one of my batch mates from the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Arts Letters, Tess Pica who sadly had passed on due to the Big C a few years back, was a sister of Jessica. 

Photo source Wikipedia

Meanwhile, I would finally solve the crossword in the jigsaw puzzle among the Moratos when Manuel Morato was installed by Corazon C. Aquino, the eleventh president of the Republic of the Philippines, as Chairman of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) in 1986. At this time, I was already in the thick of things in movie journalism.

Morato, fondly called Manoling, would always be available for interviews mainly for print, practically about issues on film censorship. In between our interviews, he would tell stories about his younger days in Calauag. He also would always identify me as a fellow Quezonian since then. He would always associate me with the Villasantas from Lopez who were and still are his friends.

I would also later discover a lot of things about the Moratos from my kin who weren’t only telling me stories about the Moratos being lumberjacks but their filial connections with them. Like for instance, it was the Moratos, especially the political rise of Tomas Morato as the first mayor of Quezon City before the war, who would bring some of them to Manila.

Tomas Morato and Pres. Quezon. Photo courtesy of the Morato Family

Judge Damian L. Jimenez, the first judge of Quezon City, was an uncle by affinity, was the legal aid of Don Tomas when he was still the mayor of Calauag before the Pacific War. It was the older Morato who brought Jimenez to Manila, particularly in Quezon City, and made him the first secretary of the city council.

That the Moratos were also responsible for some of my relatives from Quezon to own houses and lots in the primer lands in Quezon City.

During my stint as the senior star reporter of Star News (now Star Patrol) of ABS-CBN’s primetime news show, “TV Patrol,” Manoling was one of the most available sound bites about censorship news fellow field reporter Mario V. Dumaual and I would thrust our broadcast mike on. Especially Mario whom Morato considered and still considers his relative because the former’s wife, Cherry Villaverde Loanzon Dumaual, is the latter’s kababayan and cousin. Manoling also stood as Mario and Cherry’s godfather when they tied the knot in 1987.

During Manoling’s tenure as censors’ chief, there were controversies and policies about the decisions of the agency that would affect the state of the local movie industry and every time a perceived unjust decision on film censorship was handed down, he was always the object of criticism. More often than not, protest actions would be done in front of the MTRCB offices and sometimes before the Morato house in Consuelo Building along Tomas Morato Avenue.

Being a member of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) and associated with the progressive filmmaker and street parliamentarian Lino Brocka, the future National Artist for Film, I would join rallies against censorship organized spearheaded by CAP, Lino and his fellow cultural activist multimedia director Behn Cervantes and other open-minded members and officers of the Free the Artists Movement. I was associated with Brocka because I was a member of Special People group together with movie writers Lhar Santiago, Danny Vibas, Josie Mañago, Pilar Mateo, Ronald Mendoza and Rino Fernan Silverio headed by the still missing entertainment writer, publicist and talent manager Boy C. de Guia who was the friend and handler of the director. Kuya (Older Brother) Boy brought us to Lino and led us to many social, business and cultural connections. 

Transported Tomas Morato house in Sitio de Amor in San Pablo City

During the controversial disapproval of the film “Orapronobis (Fight for Us)” which starred Phillip Salvador, Gina Alajar, Dina Bonnevie, etc. by the MTRCB in 1989, there were heated arguments between Manoling and Lino. Morato learned that I was siding with the cause of Brocka, he talked against me in a public interview on a morning TV show hosted by Noli de Castro and Korina Sanchez. I just let him. Anyway, it was an objective argument and nothing personal.

One thing I discovered about Morato was his spirit of forgiveness. He would easily forget your disagreements and went on with life.

Even if he knew I was running around with de Guia and Brocka, he would still allow me in his life.

It was the Quezonian in us that bound us to common grounds.

If I were harsh or subjective against him, he wouldn’t give me the privilege to interview him after many years of not seeing each other.

Being a public figure, Manoling would give his side to a story and he would press his thoughts on it.

This we also realized when he granted us the on cam talk on his dad, Don Tomas, for our documentary film, “The Making of Quezon City” which was a project of the Quezon City Public Library (QCPL).

Manoling told us a lot of stories about the beginnings of Quezon City. “This area (pertaining to Tomas Morato Avenue) was called Sampaloc (tamarind) Avenue because there were a lot of tamarind trees lined up in this road,” he recalled.

The whole Morato family came straight from Calauag and at first, according to Manoling, his dad bought property in Gilmore in New Manila then finally settling in Sampaloc Avenue.

Manoling Morato

The Moratos had a palatial white house atop a hill in Calauag overlooking Calauag Bay and it was a historic abode of local and national significance. It was there where the First President of the Commonwealth Manuel Luis Quezon always paid a visit when he was feeling tired and sick. The Moratos and the Quezons were and still are close family friends.

 In the interview, we learned that Don Tomas had many romances in Calauag. 

The old Tomas Morato house in Calauag, Quezon. Photo Courtesy of the Morato Family

There were also many issues that were cleared or answered by Manoling during the interview, one of them, the accusation that his dad was unfair to some people of Quezon City. “My father was a very fair man. He was a just leader,” he defended Tomas.             

It takes a book to write about a comprehensive life of the Moratos, (the patriarch Tomas, especially who came all the way from Alicante, Spain and was brought to Calauag by his sailor dad), aside from the colorful and intriguing life of his son, Manoling.  

      

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