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A gentle father

/ 05:05 AM September 11, 2019

I knew him in his capacity as the father of one of my dearest friends. When it comes to fathers of daughters, they seem, to me, to come in three broad types: Grand Inquisitors, zealously on the prowl lest assassins of their daughters’ virtues intrude; Hale Fellows Well Met, who are a little too eager to be palsy-walsy with the friends of their kids; and Gentle Fathers, whose dynamic wives seemingly call the shots, but who turn out to be the rock on which family stability is built.

Tito Dan—lanky, quiet, ever-smiling—was the third type, making him the type of dad everyone wishes they had.

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He belonged to what might be called show-biz royalty. The second son of Dr. Ciriaco Santiago and Adela Hermoso, of Premiere Productions fame, his famous elder brother was the late prolific director-producer Cirio Santiago (who was praised by Quentin Tarantino as an influence), and his surviving sister Digna H. Santiago, who remains a familiar face among our culturati. But Tito Dan himself has a respectable niche in the family’s cinematic output: his IMDb page lists 15 credits as a director (ranging from a segment in 1958 to films from 1959 to 1975), four credits as a producer, and even a credit as a composer. And it was in France, of all places, that he met his wife-to-be, Ma. Lina Araneta Santiago. This was in 1960, and the location was the set of Eddie Romero’s film, “Pitong Gabi sa Paris.” She was on a family vacation; he was part of the crew. Their marriage lasted an astounding 56 years.

It seems that what brought them together was the time both spent as students taking up agriculture at Araneta University. He’d come from the Ateneo (H.S., 1955) and was a basketball player. I’ve often wondered what it was like for him to ask for her hand in marriage considering how intimidating her parents must have been: Salvador Araneta was a distinguished lawyer, businessman, public servant and thinker (only lately being given, somewhat, his due: He figures in Lisandro Claudio’s interesting book, “Liberalism and the Postcolony: Thinking the State in 20th-Century Philippines”); and Victoria Lopez Araneta—the famous “Victoneta” of the prewar and postwar years, a formidable lady in her own right (among other things, co-founder of the White Cross), whose daughter took very much after her mother. Both had a highly developed social conscience focused on education (FEATI University, and today’s De La Salle-Araneta).

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After their marriage, Tito Dan only directed three films, two of them within the first couple of years of their marrying, and the last one about 11 years after his penultimate film. It was a time not only for bringing up their daughters—they would have four—but of upheaval. His father-in-law was a delegate to both the 1935 and 1971 Constitutional Conventions; abroad, when martial law was declared, Salvador and Victoria Araneta would remain in self-imposed exile until Salvador’s death in 1982, his widow returning home in 1984. In the meantime, Tito Dan and Tita Lina alternated between Manila and Vancouver, attending to family business at home while their children grew up in freedom abroad.

Finally home, the Santiagos established two foundations, the Sahara Heritage Foundation for the propagation of the writings of Salvador Araneta, and the Sahara Foundation for Shelter and Environment to put into practice Araneta’s ideas of providing mass housing. Tito Dan would pioneer a tripartite agreement between local governments (Quezon City), the foundation and urban poor beneficiaries in Sitio Mendez. Other projects would include a partnership with Habitat for Humanity to build the Dr. Salvador Araneta Housing Project on land provided by the foundation.

His wife would be constantly busy, whether as an early environmental advocate or, more recently, in sponsoring Masses at the Our Lady of Victory Chapel in Potrero Village, Malabon, for victims of extrajudicial killings, at a time when most people didn’t dare to raise their voices in protest against the defining slaughter of our times. Wholehearted in her support for the families of victims, she was typically pointed in her criticism of prelates and the public who refused to express concern.

Through it all—from her working with Chanda Shahani to convince neighborhoods to “reduce, reuse, recycle” in the 1990s, to condemning EJK over the past three years—Tito Dan stood by his wife. Indeed, he was instrumental in giving her the peace of mind and wholehearted support to confidently pursue what she felt was right. What they felt was right.

This gentlest of fathers passed away after an illness remarkably free of pain—a parting gift, one must believe, from his Creator to his grieving widow, daughters and grandchildren. His daughter, my friend, had the thoughtfulness and good fortune to say to her father: “You did good.”

That he did. Danilo H. Santiago, Oct. 21, 1938-Sept. 4, 2019.

[email protected]

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TAGS: Danilo Santiago, Ma. Lina Araneta Santiago, Manuel L. Quezon III, The Long View
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