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Sukarno and Amelia de la Rama

JAKARTA—The central business district of the Indonesian capital was just as I remembered it from a two-month stay in 2011. There was a lot of construction going on, a road was being dug up for an MRT line, and buildings were being built that had yet to define the city skyline. My arrival was marked by a downpour that resulted in flooding in certain areas. It felt just like Edsa, except that this urban landscape had more trees and Indonesian motorists were more patient in traffic than Pinoys: They kept to their lanes instead of swerving left and right at every opportunity; they gave way, and kept intersections open; no one honked their horn although I noticed that they had more wang-wang, in vehicles of VIPs and people who think they are VIPs, than we did in Manila.

One fond memory I have of my 2011 visit was listening to a well-applauded speech by then President Benigno Aquino III before the Filipino community at the Grand Hyatt. Afterwards, as we waited in the driveway for a friend who was to take us to dinner, Mr. Aquino stepped out of the hotel and shook hands with Pinoys as he made his way to a waiting limousine. I found myself at the end of what turned out to be an impromptu reception line. He shook my hand and stopped, looked at me intently, and said: “You look familiar.” Without anything prepared to say, I quickly replied: “You, too!” Then he was driven off to the state dinner. Later, my journalist-friends said I had missed out on engaging him in an ambush interview.

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On this trip I remembered past friendly relations between the Philippines and Indonesia, built on President Sukarno’s references to Jose Rizal in some of his speeches and the personal friendship he forged with President Diosdado Macapagal on visits to Manila. Sukarno (1901-1970), first president of Indonesia, was born Kusno Sosrodihardjo but signed his name “Soekarno.” He was more popularly known as Bung Karno or Pak Karno among his people.

He was married to a succession of women: Siti Oetari, Inggit Garnasih, Fatmawati, Hartini, Kartini Manoppo, Ratna Sari Dewi, Haryati, Yurike Sanger, Heldy Djafar, and Amelia de la Rama. From this list the only (in)famous name is Dewi Sukarno, his Japanese wife, who had a much publicized encounter with Minnie Osmeña, granddaughter of President Sergio Osmeña, in Aspen, Colorado, that resulted in violence. Dewi smashed a wine glass on Minnie’s face; the resulting cut required 37 stitches. For this Dewi was detained for disorderly conduct.

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What is not well-known in the Philippines is that Sukarno’s last wife was a Filipino named Amelia de la Rama. They were introduced in August 1963 when Sukarno visited Manila to discuss the regional grouping Maphilindo (Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia) with Macapagal. It was love at first sight. Sukarno again visited Manila in January 1964, and they were married in a Jakarta mosque that same year.

All I have been able to find on the internet on Amelia is that she appeared in the 1961 film “The Steel Claw” and that after Sukarno’s death she married a former pilot of US President Dwight Eisenhower named James Braly.

My friend Jafar Suryomenggolo has published an article in the Indonesian magazine Historia that provides some leads that need to be followed up from the Philippine side. Unfortunately, I do not read Bahasa, and what I got in a  stilted Google translation of the article was a passing reference to Amelia in the biography by Ninotchka Rosca’s “Jose Ma. Sison, At Home in the World: Portrait of a Revolutionary” (2004) that I tracked down. It reads:

“After I came back from Indonesia in 1962, the most rabid anticommunist columnists in the Philippines Herald called me an agent of the Communist Party of Indonesia because I was the secretary general of the Philippine-Indonesian Friendship and Cultural Association.

“After Sukarno came to Manila for the Maphilindo conference in 1963, one yellow tabloid started to call me an agent of Sukarno and even accused me of fronting for him  as buyer of a Forbes Park mansion for an alleged Filipino girl friend of his, the prominent socialite Amelia de la Rama, whom I did not know from Eve. The only time I was in the company of Sukarno and a pretty woman was when I sat between him and the movie actress Josephine Estrada at a brunch tendered for him in 1963 by then Speaker Jose Laurel at his Shaw Boulevard residence.”

Suryomenggolo also references a Marcos document, in the custody of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, dated July 29, 1964, where it is claimed that: “Sukarno has recently bought a house in Forbes Park for 400 thousand pesos in cash on behalf of Amelia de la Rama, known as Amelia Amante.” Aside from this there is a reference to a Filipino dummy of Harry Stonehill who wanted to connect with Amelia because she had acquired timber concessions in Indonesia for another Filipino businessman. So there is much more to the Sukarno-Amelia love story than meets the eye.

My present Jakarta trip makes me wonder if it is worthwhile to leave my 19th-century comfort zone to explore the more exciting yet unwritten history of 20th-century Philippines.

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TAGS: Amelia de la Rama, Indonesia, Sukarno
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