Sunday, December 7, 2008

39. 1921, Queen of the Manila Carnival, CARMEN LEGARDA PRIETO

1921 QUEEN OF THE MANILA CARNIVAL. Carmen Prieto y Legarda, a 16 year old beauty from a prominent family in Manila.

The 1921 edition of the Manila Carnival coincided with the 400th year of the discovery of the Philippines in 1521 by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. To mark this anniversary, the 1921 carnival thus was dubbed as the Carnaval Magallanico (Magallanes Carnival).


To highlight the significance of such a historic moment, the discovery of the Philippines was re-enacted in the Luneta Auditorium, participated in by hundreds of Filipino and foreign performers essaying the roles of Magellan, Lapu-Lapu and other important characters. Some people found the re-enactment too long-winded and boring, especially the Blood Compact scene between Legazpi and Rajah Soliman (played by Jose Castillo), defender of Manila, but overall, the 1921 edition was an astounding success, made even more memorable by the election of a beautiful Carnival Queen from Manila, Carmen Legarda Prieto.

Carmencita was the daughter of Mauro Prieto and Consuelo Legarda, both well-known in Philippine elite society. Mauro was a successful executive of La Germinal, the leading cigar factory in the Philippines, and was the president of Congreso Agricola de Filipinas. He had been, in fact, one of the escorts of the first-ever queen, Pura Villanueva. It came as a surprise then that he initially objected to the candidacy of her daughter, finding the 16 year old too young to join an adult event.

Again, it was Manuel L. Quezon, then the Senate President, who came to the rescue. Word was out that a pure Hispaniola candidate was being groomed to win the crown in keeping with the Spanish theme of the Carnival. But the ardent nationalist wanted a Filipina or a mestiza at least, to rule over the festivities. Carmen’s father gave in when the president himself pleaded with him to let his daughter run.

HER ROYAL JEWELS. Carmen wore the family's heirloom jewelry to the coronation. On her neck is a dog collar choker studded with pearls and diamonds.

With Quezon's support in place, Carmencita’s victory was sealed. She topped the preliminary contests of 8 periodicals: La Vanguardia. Taliba, Philippine Herald, El Ideal, El Debate, Philippine Herald, Ang Mithi, La Nacion and Confetti. Her nearest rivals were Snrta. Dolores Casanovas, the Spanish community candidate and Nellie Ping, who had the backing of the influential Chinese dailies, Man Ho Po and Kong Li Po as well the moneyed Chinese community of Manila.

In the days leading to the final balloting, more drama unfolded. Candidate Clotilde Blancaflor, who was running sixth, withdrew to marry her beau. Cornelia Lichauco also threw in the towel, saying she had never wanted to run in the first place. When all the votes were tallied on 20 January, Carmen, with the the Bachelor’s Club, Sociedad de Tiro al Blanco, Club Filipino, Philippine Columbian and Bohemian Club behind her—won the 1921 Carnival Queen title with 9,838,300 votes.

HER NIGHT HAS COME. Official coronation picture of Carmen Prieto, 1921 Manila Carnival Queen, with her court of honor.

The Grand Coronation rites were full of pomp and pageantry unlike any other. The theme of the evening was the “occidentalization of the Islands”. But Carmen and her court opted to wear native Philippine costumes—traje de mestizas. Her mother made her wear family heirloom jewelry, necessitating the hiring of guards to secure and protect her. She wore a choker, studded with pearls and diamonds. Her royal crown was made especially by Carnival Director Jorge Vargas and it featured a brilliant diamond solitaire in the middle.

The evening was pure excitement for the young Carmencita. After the national anthems of Spain, America and the Philippines were played, a hymn to peace was rendered by the Philippine Constabulary Band. And, as she was seated on her throne, Eduardo Ros, playing the role of a Cardinal, crowned Carmen amidst fireworks, music and accolades from the leading poets of her time.

THE QUEEN AND HER KING CONSORT. Dr. Basilio J. Valdes was hanpdicked by Carmen's father to act as her official consort. A graduate of UST medical school, Basilio served in the 1st World War in Europe. He later married Rosario Legarda, a princess in her court.

Carmen’s King Consort was the accomplished Dr. Basilio Valdes, already well-known for his medical and military experience here and in Europe. Later, Valdes, who was also a relative, became a Secretary of Defense and a Chief of Staff. A court was assembled to attend to the new queen, and it included Florentina Goyena, Vicenta Osmeña, Benita Bayot, Rosario Legarda (the future wife of Dr. Valdes), Dr. Augusto Cortez, Dr. Francisco Tecson, Dr. Ramon Ongsiako, Jose Araneta, Jose Revilla. One of the prizes Carmen received for her victory was a portrait painting done by Fabian de la Rosa, a close friend of her father. Carmen was toasted with lavish parties by her proud parents and gala affairs were held in her honor by dozens of socio-civic groups and various associations.

CARMEN'S PRINCESS. Part of the 1921 royal entourage.

When the Carnival year was over, Carmen, together with her cousins, traveled to Europe and took French lessons in Paris. Carmen came home a fulfilled young woman, but chose to live in semi-reclusion. As a result, she married rather late at the age of 33 years old to Ramon Caro. Ramon was the founder of a well-known automotive and electrical firm, Ramcar, which he established in 1919. The couple ran a successful business until her husband died in 1979. The union bore daughter Rosario Agustines, and 2 stepdaughters, Isabel Wilson and Cristina Ozamis.

She suffered a hip injury in the late 1970s, but this did not prevent her from pursuing her various personal interests.


Unknown said...

Hi. Thanks for this informative piece. Maybe you'd want to clarify the sentence regarding Pres. Manuel Quezon convincing Carmen Legarda's father about her participation in the Manila Carnival in 1921. Manuel Quezon wasn't Philippine president then. Thanks.

Alex D.R. Castro said...

You are right, Grace Liza. Quezon then was the Senate President. The article has been corrected. Than you very much.