Cebu’s Carmelites in my memory

August 5, 2022
Pres Cory with the Carmelite nuns

It was a short walk from my apartment on F Cabahug St to the Carmelite Monastery in Cebu. Since this was my first job outside Manila and away from family, I routinely dropped by the Carmelite chapel. For the most part, just to find peace.

Here is where I first noticed Cebuanos, after lighting candles, would place their hand near its flame and then cross themselves. It is a practice I have since adopted.

A good restaurant serves great food opposite the church. Here, I eat when I have some money to spare and stare at the high cloistered walls of the convent. It was built in 1949, so it has been around for some time. So it has some pretty interesting stories to tell.


Historical figures have taken refuge from it. In fact, there have been two past presidents, Pres. Corazon Cojuanco Aquino and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

In my blog dated May 7, 2009, I mentioned Pres Arroyo’s spiritual retreat. But I did not mention when Pres Cory hid inside. Which, come to think of it has a much greater historical significance.

Bueno, here’s my chance to discuss this. Everyone is so upset about a scene from “Maid in Malacañang” that depicted the Carmelites playing Mahjong with the then-President Cory.

First visit

Cory stayed in the Carmelite Convent for only 14 hours on 22 February 1986. It was facilitated by the Cuencos, a political clan in Cebu.

What were Pres Cory and her people doing in Cebu at that time?

They were launching a civil disobedience campaign in Cebu. Peping Cojuanco, her brother, and Doy Laurel were with her.

It was her Cebuano supporters who asked her to stay in Cebu overnight. It must have occurred to them that the group might be arrested.

Was the military making arrests at that time? Were they closing in on Cory?

The answer to these questions is unknown to me.

The only known disturbance reported was hard knocking in the middle of the night. Everyone feared these were Marcos men, out to get everyone. 

The following day, they discovered they were just men of John Osmena and Nene Pimentel. 

The next morning, Cory had a high-profile visitor. Blaire Porter, the US consul.

The US diplomat was said to have assured her safety (including offering to transport her by submarine), to persuade her to go to Manila.

If asked, I would have focused on this meeting instead of the nuns playing mahjong with Cory. But, I’m not the film’s writer, let alone its director.

Couple of days later, Pres Marcos was rushed out of Manila. The last 72 hours of their time in Malacañang is the subject of the Darryl Yap’s film “Maid in Malacañang”.

Second visit

There were at least two more visits in the 1990s. One was made in 1992 to, again, safeguard Pres Cory. It is unclear what threat her people were reacting to, if there was one. It seems like the last one, in 1996, was a sentimental trip.


Many people and groups argue that portraying the nuns as mahjong with Pres Cory has impugned their reputation.

I believe the nuns in the film are not from the Carmelite Convent. Her stay with them lasted only 14 hours. During this time, she was with her daughter Kris. If they had played mahjong, there would not have been enough time to rest. 

It must have been purely imagined, if not loosely based on what the writers had heard.

Both Cory and Ninoy enjoy playing Mahjong.

Were the nuns in the film playing mahjong with Pres Cory from Manila? Perhaps this is a question the filmmaker should answer.

#MiM Film 

I have not yet seen the film. I may purchase it once it becomes available online. The film and production seem to be good.

What most critics forget is that it’s a film. Films are the last thing you should consult if you want historical detail.

A film like MiM is an artistic production. Despite being based on actual events, it is not historically accurate. That is unless it claims to be a documentary, which it does not.

Never Accurate

I’ve probably watched “Braveheart” a dozen or more times. My understanding of Wallace’s and Scotland’s history remains superficial at best. The freedom cry of Wallace is still relevant today since many Scots still call for independence.

While everyone agrees that the film is great, historically, it isn’t credible.

Braveheart sleeping with Princess Isabella of France is not a cause for concern among French historians. It never happened. Mel Gibson added it to spice up the movie!

Films role

A film’s best quality is its ability to inspire. 

I hope this film “Maid in Malacañang” compels Filipinos to learn more about the Marcos era and what led to EDSA. While at it, check out the history of the Cojuancos and Aquinos.

There are ample historical resources available to us. There are still a lot of people alive today who lived in those days. Many historical data sources are now available online.

Remember, movies aren’t history books. Take inspiration from them, then try searching for answers!

The study of history is a lifelong endeavour. It’s fun.

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