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Movers, Makers, Shakers: Maria Victoria Rufino (August 9, 2007)

May 5, 2011

Opinion: Movers, Makers, Shakers

Maria Victoria Rufino

By: J.J. Calero

“Rub a Filipino Banker’s arm for five minutes and chances are, you will find traces of Chinese ancestry,” says Maria Victoria Rufino or Mav as she is known to her friends and family. She should know. She has been surrounded by bankers all her life. The Rufino clan stems from an Italian immigrant (Ruffino). His descendant was Macario Santos Rufino, and a Chinese-Spanish-Filipina mestiza Mercedes Simon Pantangco. Mav’s grandfather Macario passed away early, and it fell on her grandmother to raise their four surviving children.

A woman of means, she placed her boys in a new American school, De La Salle College, and her only daughter at St. Scholastica’s College.

The Rufino family was a very small family by Philippine standards. There were originally seven siblings, but the eldest boy, Manuel, died at an early age and the two girls in their infancy. The remaining four became very close and formed corporations which still exist today.

The motion picture was still in its infancy then. The zarzuela was still Manila’s staple diet, so the four formed themselves into a corporation to import and show Hollywood films in Manila. Very soon afterward, they became the biggest film distributors in the country. They put up the Gaiety in 1935 and many other movie houses thereafter, some of which still stand today. The Capitol and Lyric theaters in the Escolta. The Avenue, State, and EVER theaters in Rizal Avenue. And when the Ayalas were developing Makati in the 1960s, they entrusted the very modern Rizal, Magallanes, and QUAD theaters to the experience of the Rufinos.

(It is interesting that the once popular theater EVER is an acronym of these siblings’ names: Ernesto, Vicente, Ester, and Rafael, Mav’s father.)

The brothers also co-founded, with the Jacintos and Cojuangcos, the first Filipino privately owned commercial bank in 1938 – The Philippine Bank of Commerce. In 1951, the Rufinos and Jacintos co-founded Security Bank and Trust Co. (Rafael was EVP-treasurer. Later on, Ernesto founded the Merchants Bank.)

With that as background, we can now go to our subject. (Whew!) But let me explain, this is Manila, and the first thing people want to know when they meet you is who you are related to. Family ties are very important, especially for the Manila elite.

And so, on to our Maria Victoria. Her father Rafael – the second eldest – married former Carnival Queen Julieta (Lugod) Abad and they had Manny, Raffy, Tony, Regina Maria Victoria, and Joey, the youngest who passed away recently.

Mav is strong in the Liberal Arts, such as “Assumptionistas” are known for. Early on, she wanted to take Medicine or Fine Arts. But her Mom Julie convinced her that she would starve and insisted she continue her studies with the Assumption nuns. She was sent to high school in Europe – Marymount International School in Barcelona and Marymount International School in Rome, where she graduated valedictorian.

Mav went to Marymount Manhattan College in New York, where she finished on the Dean’s List majoring in Theatre Arts and English Literature. While there, she also worked and handled TV shows which were directed to Filipinos in the USA.

Her quest to pursue painting as a career had not been quenched. She took Chinese brush painting (Ling Nan tradition) for 10 years. While she was in Europe, she took art lessons with her meager allowance. In New York, with hard-earned money, she took courses in Western watercolor techniques and black and white photography, to boot.

With this as her background, one would expect a bohemian or a hippie emerging. Not so. Because Mav’s strong sense of discipline runs deep.

She has had 14 solo exhibitions of her paintings in Paris, France, the US, and Manila thus far. They have not only been very successful, but financially rewarding as well. She donates the proceeds to her favorite beneficiaries – St. Mary’s House for girls in Tagaytay, and Serra’s Center for girls in Pasay City.

She also produced dinner theater shows at the InterContinental Hotel and the Peninsula hotel. I really don’t know if it was these dinner plays or her strong marketing skills, but she did end up working at the venerable InterContinental as banquet manager and special events director.

The Intercon Hotel was then managed by my old client Stephan Bokamper, an hotelier par excellence. Being Teutonic, he was very demanding and was obviously impressed at Mav’s artistic as well as disciplined side. The lady delivered in whatever post he placed her. Now the Intercon job was not easy. It meant long hours of dealing with fastidious clients and diplomats who thought nothing of returning a dish because it did not meet their standards. It was Mav’s job to repair these problems. She stayed eight and a half years in the hotel, leaving with the very senior post of public relations director.

From there, she partnered with lawyer Katrina Legarda and set up a public relations consultancy. One of their principal accounts, for many years, was the Bankers Association of the Philippines (BAP). Together they helped craft Republic Act 7721 (signed by President Fidel V. Ramos in 1994) that allowed the entry of foreign banks to do business in the Philippines.

Her PR stint was a very successful venture, but after some years, she felt completely burnt out. So she went back to the family business, and she joined PLDT-Smart Foundation as executive director-trustee. She’s back with her real first loves – painting and writing.

By early next year, we will see what she has once again achieved. She is planning to have another one-woman exhibition on February 11, 2008 (Our Lady of Lourdes feast day) at the Peninsula Hotel, which has been the principal venue of her recent exhibitions.

This will be her 15th solo exhibition. Earlier shows mounted in France and the US have had very creative titles, which, I must admit, capture the essence of the shows to a tee. The likes of “Inner Visions,” “Luminescence,” The Inner Journey. “Transcendence-Dreamscapes” were mounted by the UNESCO in Paris with Mav as solo artist.

She prefers to work with aquarelles, but, from time to time, depending on her mood, you will see her come up with mixed media abstracts and artworks of landscapes and seascapes.

The show next year will have mixed media paintings and “soft, practical art,” including furniture and accessories.

And there are other creative fields she has been very successful at such as dinner theater, where she is president of Maverick Productions. A name that aptly describes her. She has also co-produced international musical concert tours in Italy, USA, and Hong Kong with no less than Lea Salonga, Ryan Cayabyab, Gary V, Martin N, Pops F, and Regine V. There have been local crossover concerts and an award-winning “Gawad CCP” TV special. And the list goes on and on.

The last 12 years now, I have shared the same page with this lady, she has a column (for 14 years) aptly called “Beyond Brushstrokes,” and I thought it was high time that readers of her column got to know more about her. I hope this write-up, albeit sketchy, helps you appreciate her columns more now that you have a glimpse at her background.

Come February 11, 2008, I trust I’ll see you at her exhibit at the Pen. It will be a twin event to launch a dream team’s book ROMANZA, with bilingual poetry and art – National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario (“RIO ALMA”), whose haikus in Filipino and English will be matched with Mav’s artworks.

All Rights Reserved – BusinessWorld Publishing Corporation

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