Gemma Cruz Araneta
After college (Maryknoll 1963) Gemma worked as Information Writer and Chief Docent of the National Museum during which she passed the Civil Service exams for Information Editor. In 1964, she won the Miss Philippines , a beauty contest sponsored by the City of Manila to raise funds for the Boys Town and Girls Home. She represented the Philippines in the Miss International Beauty competition in Long Beach, California, won the judges’ nod and became the first Filipina to bring home an international beauty title, in August 1964.
She donated her prize money ( US$ 10,000) to Boys Town and Girls Home for which she was awarded the Order of the Golden Heart by President Diosdado Macapagal. Manila Mayor Antonio Villegas gave her the “ Outstanding Manilena” medal. Gemma married Antonio Araneta on 15 September 1965.
In 1968, she returned to the National Museum when President Ferdinand Marcos appointed her Director, but she had to resign in 1971 to campaign for her husband who ran for delegate to the Constitutional Convention. Mr. Araneta represented the 4th district of Manila (where he was born) in that historic Con-Con.
When President Marcos declared martial law, the Aranetas were harassed for political reasons, they had travelled to countries like North Vietnam (1968) People’s Republic of China ( 1966, 1971) the USSR (now Russia, 1966) with whom the Philippines had no diplomatic relations. Gemma fled to Mexico City with their children and lived there for 18 years. She worked at the Centro de Estudios Economicos y Socciales del Tercer Mundo, a think tank of erstwhile Mexican President, Luis Echeverria. Six years later, she transferred to the United Nations Development Program ( Mexico City) and was soon promoted to the highest post for a local hire– Asistente Principal de Programacion.
A writer since she was nine years old, Mrs. Araneta has a weekly column in the op/ed section of the “Manila Bulletin”( now the oldest daily in the country). She writes about Philippine history, politics, heritage conservation, art, cultural tourism and a host of other subjects.
Mrs. Araneta was Secretary of Tourism during the short-lived term of President Joseph Estrada ( 1998 – Jan. 2001) From 2007-2013, she was the vice-chairperson of the Manila Historical and Heritage Commission under Manila Mayor Alfredo S. Lim . She is the chairman emeritus of the Heritage Conservation Society, a lifetime member of the Philippine Historical Association, the Philippine National Historical Society and the Museum Volunteers of the Philippines (MVP). Mrs. Araneta is often invited by academic institutions and civic organizations to lecture on Philippine history, culture and heritage.
On her father side, Mrs. Araneta is the great grand daughter of Maria Rizal, Jose Rizal’s elder sister. On her mother side, Gabriel Beato Francisco (writer of anti-American zarzuelas) and Leon Maria Guerrero (Father of Philippine Botany) are her great grandfathers. Her maternal grandmother, Filomena Francisco, was the first Filipino pharmacist.
Antonio and Gemma Araneta have two children, Fatimah and Leon , and three grandchildren, Tekwani Eugenio, Aurora Yol and Uma Leona.