(STAR) FAMILY JEWELS By Michelle Dayrit-Soliven (Photo - First love: Future book lover meets Encyclopedia Britannica, 1931)

Last Sunday’s Soliven family dinner was an extra special one. As always the meal prepared by my mother-in-law Ofelia Gaerlan-Soliven took center stage. But that night, the convivial conversation was deep and animated. In between bites of succulent roast chicken with lechon sauce and my father-in-law Guillermo V. Soliven’s favorite kare-kare in creamy peanut butter served with steaming rice and bagoong, memory banks were unearthed at the dinner table. My in-laws shared their favorite memories of an extraordinary gentleman who, to this day, leaves us all in awe of his courage, talent, wit and passion.

Papa Willie announced that there was a book launching on Nov. 10. Oh wow, we all can’t wait to get our hands on it. What’s in the book, we all wondered aloud? “It’s very well written by Nelson Navarro,” he said. “Well, of course not every single memory of my brother Max can be included in the book, you know. There was just way too much going on in his life up to the day he died. Let me share some stories with you that could have been another chapter or two.”

So, while having our lively dinner, I sat down with Papa Willie and what ensued was a retelling of the noble story of Uncle Max. Not only that, Mommy Ofie, my husband Benny and my brothers-in-law Philip and Bookie also shared their memorable thoughts about a man named Max V. Soliven.

Papa Willie’s recollections

“My Manong Max had a good start in life. That’s to say, he went through the school of hard knocks. He was born No. 1 in a brood of nine brothers and sisters. (I am the second and the only remaining brother today). He was only 12 when our father died in the war, after the Fall of Bataan and the Death March. Being No. 1, he had to help our young 30-year-old mother keep the family together. He did odd jobs while studying and winning medals at the Ateneo as a scholar. He saved up money to buy a second-hand bicycle, which he used to messenger for the Jesuits on the side.

The four eldest brothers: Max (second from left) with Willie, Regie and Manny, gallivanting along Baguio’s Session Road.

 “After our Papa died at age 44 because of the war, Mama became the sole breadwinner for us nine children. There was Max, me, Manny, Regie, Augie, Tessa, Mercy, Vic and Ethel. Max was just starting high school. While we had scholarships to keep us in high school, our problem was to keep food on the table. Max, being the eldest, opted to help out by getting a part time job. So from morning to early afternoons he went to class, while afternoons to early evenings he went to work on his bicycle as a messenger.

“Max grew up in a household full of challenge and competition. With no father figure around, he had to be the tie breaker and the strong right arm of our young mother. He made many sacrifices for love of family that I will always be grateful for.

“More scholarships propelled him to graduate studies abroad — including Fordham University, Johns Hopkins University and the Harvard University where he earned his master’s degrees in Journalism, Political Science and Government.

“Our father Benito Soliven was himself a distinguished politician in President Quezon’s day. But unlike the traditional politico, he discouraged his children from following in his footsteps. In fact, before he died at the young age of 44, he told Max to solemnly promise never to enter politics, but to seek his star under another sky.

“Max obeyed and stuck to what he did best. He did shine as one of the most brilliant journalists of all time. He co-founded The STAR with Betty Go-Belmonte and Art Borjal.

“Though Max never entered politics, he waded into the political waters in another way, through the power of the pen, or to be more precise, through the power of the typewriter.

“From a very young age, Max showed quick thinking awareness of what was going on around him. When he was only six, he had an accident. He was sideswiped by a car while waiting to cross Aviles street to his kindergarten class at Holy Ghost College from our home, which is now part of the Malacañang compound. He suffered a broken arm. During the court inquest, the errant driver’s lawyer tried to confuse him by saying that he was crossing the street when the accident took place. Max quickly countered, ‘But sir, I wasn’t crossing. I was waiting with yaya on the bangketa for the cars to pass!’ He won the case.”

“Max was Mama’s enforcer. He was always obedient to her orders and requests. Whether we younger siblings liked it or not, he became our ‘father figure,’ helping Mama run the household like a tight ship.

Pelagia’s jewels: Proud mother with all her nine surviving children at the time of Max’s college graduation, 1951.

“In all his work, Max was hard-hitting. But he was also fair. His work was guided by a deep religious faith. He admired St. Thomas More, and took to heart what this Lord Chancellor of England said to the Court of King Henry VIII, as he faced death by treason, ‘I remain the King’s good servant, but I am God’s first’.”

Mommie Ofie’s memories

“Every time I would get pregnant (and that happened six times), I would lose so much weight and would become very, very thin. Ever the concerned brother, Max would give his younger brother Willie a scolding, saying ‘Hey, you are not taking good care of your wife’!”

Memories of my hubby Benny Soliven

“One time on a plane ride, I opened The STAR to read Uncle Max’s column and to my surprise he wrote how proud he was about our son Vincent who was then in Grade 1. How impressed he was when he heard Vincent singing his Jingle Bells in Chinese at the Soliven family Christmas party. This was his way of urging us to encourage our son to pursue his Chinese lessons diligently. We did. Uncle Max will be proud to know that Vincent is now in Advanced Chinese.”

Philip Soliven on his Uncle Max

“So many Filipinos all over the world miss his widely read The Philippine Star column. When I used to live in Hong Kong, Uncle Max often visited me to update me with what was going on in Manila. There was a time he asked me to accompany him to his suite at the Regent Hotel. He said, ‘I need to finish up an article for my column before we have dinner.’ When we got to the room, I saw his trusty old typewriter sitting on the hotel desk. Yes, that typewriter travelled everywhere with him. I watched thinking how brilliant my Uncle Max was, as he sat down, pounded non-stop on the keys in deep concentration and completed his article in just barely an hour and a half.”

Recollections of Mita Soliven, wife of Philip

“I was fascinated by Uncle Max because he was such a dynamic person loaded with charisma. He loved to share the latest news. I enjoyed listening to him whenever he spoke because I always learned something new.”

Assemblyman Benito Soliven (second from left) with top Congress leaders, meets with President Quezon (second from right) at Malacañang Palace, 1939.

Bookie Soliven on Uncle Max

“I was perhaps one of the last persons he texted before he died. I still have his text in my cell phone. You see, Uncle Max enjoyed watching movies. So I would always invite him whenever my company, Warner Brothers, hosted movie premieres. I texted him to invite him and he texted me back: ‘Thank you for your invite. I will be back from Tokyo on the 27th. Love, Uncle Max.’

“When we had the premiere showing of Borat, Uncle Max brought 20 of his ‘gang mates,’ which included his best buddies Arthur Lopez, Babe Romualdez and Ricky Soler. It felt like one grand and happy gang reunion. After the movie, he did something he doesn’t normally do. He embraced Papa Willie tightly like he was saying goodbye.”


As for me, my favorite memory of Uncle Max was at the unveiling of their father’s, the late assemblyman Benito Soliven’s, statue. This took place in the town of Vigan, Ilocos Sur.

“Michelle, come, you have to try this delicacy called empanada,” Uncle Max told me. We were billeted at the Vigan Plaza Hotel and he invited me to cross the street with him for a snack. We sat down on a wooden bench fronting a picnic table under the shade of a hundred-year-old tree. I took my first bite of that famous Vigan empanada courtesy of Uncle Max. I can still smell the tantalizing aroma of that empanada. Not only did he share with me a bowl of sukang Iloko to dip our empanadas in, he also shared with me his “precious” love story.

After studying in New York, he got engaged. She was American. All the wedding invites were out and presents were received. The church and reception had all been finalized. One week before the wedding she intimated to him her wish to continue living in the US. To which Uncle Max simply couldn’t and wouldn’t agree. “No ifs or buts, my life is in the Philippines. I must serve my own country and that is where I need to be.” Since she was unrelenting, Max immediately cancelled the wedding.

He was grateful that destiny brought him back to the Philippines to meet an incredible and brilliant woman whom God planned to be his wife. Her name: Preciosa Quiogue Silverio Soliven. “I’m so glad I made the right choice and finally found the one I truly love, my partner for life,” he told me. Their marriage was blessed with beautiful children and grandchildren.

Thank you Uncle Max for all that you have done, shared and taught us. We continue to miss your vibrancy at all the Soliven family reunions. You are one special person who will never be forgotten. You left your indelible mark not only in the hearts of our family and your friends but also in a country you served and loved so much.

(The book is available this weekend at Fully Booked and Powerbooks and Solidaridad. E-mail

(Would love to hear from you at miladayjewels@

Hot off the press: Max Soliven biography (The Philippine Star) Updated November 13, 2011 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines (Maximo V. Soliven: The Man and the Journalist) by Nelson Navarro is now available in bookstores. Max Soliven’s life and career spanned almost eight decades of wars, revolutions and unimaginable changes in culture and technology that all spilled, sometimes un-gently, into the 21st century. He saw his country emerge from its long and fevered colonial past into the uncertain tangle and frustrations of nationhood in a world imperiled by nuclear weapons, financial meltdown and climate change.

First as trail-blazing reporter, briefly as boy publisher, and later as the Philippines’ most respected publisher and columnist, Max rose to the top of his chosen profession in no time at all.

Starting from the police beat in 1954, he made national politics and world affairs the unerring focus and main concern of his six-times-a-week column in the Manila Times, the nation’s largest and most influential newspaper. He was among the first print journalists to venture into the new medium of television, hosting his own top-rated weekly talk show.

A victim of martial law, he survived into the post-Marcos period and helped revive the nation’s free press as founding publisher of the Inquirer and shortly after, the Philippine STAR.

What was the secret of the man’s success and power? First, he always knew who he was and what he stood for. Second, he always spoke out his mind and was never afraid to disagree with those who held other views. He always stood his ground.

He never yielded to tyranny or injustice and always upheld “faith in the Filipino” as the guiding principle of his life. He was a man of peace and non-violence who, at the same time, was fearless and always hopeful about the nation’s future.

He lived and died a journalist. Max Soliven’s story is a reminder for Filipinos to act in accordance with Christian principles, accountability and responsibility.

Maximo Soliven: The Man and the Journalist is a must-have book for government and civic leaders, journalists, students and for all Filipinos. For more info e-mail or log on to



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