The Barretto Sister’s Feud and Filipino Alta Sociedad

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The business partners--Atong Ang is a consultant of Okada Manila which is being managed by Tonyboy Cojuangco, the live-in partner of Gretchen Barretto. They have a child together.

The Barretto sister’s feud just exposed how deep interlocking relationships are among Filipino elite groups. Observing how this feud progressed very fast and how it exposed the involvement of highly respectable names of industry, politics and show business, just show how murky our social sphere has become. In the past, there is a clear and unmistakable divide between what we, Filipinos call Alta Sociedad and the rest of Filipino society. We now know that, with this Barretto feud, this invisible mantle that isolate our traditional rich families has now been breached. Alta Sociedad has become an archaic term, a memory of time past when decency and morality still rule the rich and famous. Truly, Alta Sociedad is now an endangered social species.

Flashback years ago, and we have news of how residents of Forbes mocked and prevented instant billionaire Manny Pacquiao from becoming a member of the highly exclusive Manila Polo Club, the playing ground of the traditional rich families. By his becoming a resident of this highly exclusive village, Pacquiao deserves nothing more than membership of the village association, even enjoy rights of using the club’s facilities, and all. Nothing came out of this and Pacquiao eventually sold his mansion there and relocated to far away Laguna.

I heard of so many sob stories of filthy rich families being denied memberships of these exclusive clubs. There was this daughter of a billionaire real estate developer who confided to me how embarrassed she was when her dad’s application to become a member was politely rejected. Despite their obviously rich status, the daughter said the club accused her dad of having an “unsavory reputation” as a businessman, something which the daughter denied profusely.

Remember that scene in a highly exclusive enclave of a club involving a senior bank executive and the club’s owners? The owners balked at the lady executive for not observing the rules of the club, while the real reason was that the executive complained of the shabby service the club dispenses, both to members and non-members. This has been swept under the rug by high society media.

I heard that even the Villars, who happen to be the richest Filipino as this time, also experienced such treatment from the Alta Sociedad. Everyone knows that Villar came from humble beginnings, and there is this unwritten rule that no one from the “masses” which means a genus of people who are not traditional billionaire families and that means the rest of us, cannot go and live among the peninsulares–Filipinos whose bloodlines traced back to the Spanish and the Americans. While other Asian societies had a different take on half-bloods, we Filipinos see them as our superiors.

Decades past, and we now observe how members of the unwashed and the middle class eventually intermarried and are now de facto members of the Alta Sociedad. We see a Vikki Belo now being accepted as one of the Alta Sociedad, and the likes of Gretchen Barretto now frequenting the playgrounds of the filthy rich. The purity of this unique class of social snobs is now threatened by the entry of these people whose DNA show crass.

Blame the existing fashion, blame the changing lifestyles influenced by Western street cultural norms, and globalization, the fact is, Alta Sociedad is slowly dying. We see even politicians become instant millionaires out of the suffering of the People, and jueteng lords transforming into “gambling consultants.” Blurred is the distinction now between members of this Alta Sociedad and those who see themselves as worthy of its membership.

To a historical materialist, this just shows that the rigid social structure that once describes our socio-economic sphere is morphing into a new form, a new shape, altered by the winds of industry, of trade, of politics and even of illicit indulgences. While it is still a far fetched thing to expect that the elite ranks would expand a little bigger, and the middle class stretches itself with the lessening ranks coming from the barely surviving, the fact remains that we see the dynamics of social mobility moving ever so slowly gives us a glimpse of promise in the economic horizon. There is an opening, a breach so to speak, that enables now members of the entrepreneurial middle class to ascend a higher social rung, so much so that the once disdained can now become distinguished, acceptable and even, respected. The era of the Alta Sociedad is nearing its nadir, and unfortunately, experiencing the arrival of a barbaric class of social misfits.

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