Mrs. Psinakis passed away early morning July 25 at a hospital in Manila, where she was rushed for severe abdominal pain. She was 81. She left behind her children Rogy Panganiban, Michael and Geni Psinakis, her brothers and their families, and a multitude of allies and admirers in the Philippines, Greece and California.
San Franciscans remember Mrs. Psinakis for her elegance and grace, and especially for her quiet strength and fortitude in the face of monumental adversity. For love of her husband, her family and her country.
The Psinakises led the “freedom fighters,” as foes of the Marcos regime in United States called themselves.
“During her exile here in San Francisco, Presy was the silent hero of the anti-Marcos movement who, with her husband led the U.S. campaign against the Philippine dictatorship,” recalled Lupita Aquino Kashiwahara. “Her house became a gathering point for opposition forces and she was always a gracious host. Despite threats against them, Presy and Steve were unwavering in their support of my brother Ninoy Aquino and unrelenting in their determination to restore democracy in the Philippines."
Intimates know of Mrs. Psinakis’ steel resolve, displayed in her decision to marry Psinakis, a mechanical engineer hired by her father, who expanded the electrification of the Philippines when he acquired and turned the electric power distribution company Manila Electric Company or Meralco fully Filipino-owned in 1962. The Athens-born U.S. citizen Psinakis shared Eugenio Sr.'s pride in Filipino skills but did not earn the approval to court his boss' daughter. Imbued with the determination of her "Tatay," Presy followed her heart, fled to Greece in 1969, married, started a family, and showcased Philippine art and artifacts in her handicraft store.
The rift between father and daughter did not last.
When Ferdinand Marcos, whom their family had supported in his presidential campaign and whose vice president was Eugenio's brother Fernando Lopez, plunged the Philippines under military rule in 1972, he seized the Lopez companies, particularly Meralco, their radio and television network ABS-CBN and daily newspaper Manila Chronicle. Appropriating the Lopez media was the only way the dictator could silence its criitiques and expos against his abuse of power.
But the harshest punishment against his former ally was yet to follow in the arrest of Eugenio Jr., who was imprisoned in Fort Bonifacio with other political enemies including Benigno Aquino Jr. and Sergio Osmena III.
The story goes that Eugenio Sr. had offered Marcos to take what he wanted for the release of his son "Geny." Marcos allegedly helped himself and yet kept Geny captive.
But Steve Psinakis proved to be his wife's and her father's equal, planning and orchestrating a successful extraction of his brother-in-law, Osmena and others to freedom.
By then the Lopez elders had left the Philippines for voluntary exile in San Francisco and reunited with the Psinakises. There Mrs. Psinakis, daughter of wealth and privilege, joined her husband in running a Mediterranean restaurant in the financial district and an ally's law offices in South San Francisco by day and discussing pro-democracy strategies with other Filipino exiles.
"My father always used to say, whatever you do, you have to set an example…whether it’s (for) your employees or your children,” Mrs. Psinakis told Lopezlink.com two years ago.
“We saw each other at meetings every Tuesday either at my home or hers or at (former senator) Tessie (Aquino) Oreta’s,” said Gloria Navarrete, a leader of the Ninoy Aquino Movement, who attested to Mrs. Psinakis’ gentility. “She was refined. I never saw her express emotion, but when the revolution succeeded in ousting the Marcoses, she let her tears flow. I could see how proud she was of Steve and relieved for her country. She probably never imagined they would be the ones from their family at the frontlines against martial law.”
Mrs. Psinakis confronted another test to her fealty in the mid-1980s, when her husband stood trial for allegedly transporting explosives across state lines. She never lost faith that he would be acquitted as he was. She attended every proceeding, driving through the notorious San Francisco traffic to the federal courthouse in the San Francisco Civic Center.
She had many passions and supported humanitarian causes.
"She was one of the finest and kindest ladies I have ever known," said philanthropist and publisher Mona Lisa Yuchengco. "She agreed to chair the foundation her brother, Robby, started in 1987, after he died in 1992. The foundation, Phil-Asia Assistance Foundation, Inc. or PAAFI, continues to be Philippine International Aid's (PIA) partner in the Philippines, ensuring an efficient grant disbursement, implementation and monitoring process."
After the 1986 People Power Revolution ousted Marcos, the Lopez clan returned to their homeland and began rebuilding their business empire.
Colleagues at Griffin Sierra Tours, the travel company she founded in 1967, referred to Mrs. Psinakis by her initials as they did top executives of the Lopez Group of Companies. To relatives, however, she was "Manang Presy," the role model, the one whose presence heightened the import of an occasion.
"When I was a young girl I thought my cousin Presy was the most beautiful person in the world," said Maria Paz "Tootsie" Vicente, whose father Hector Moreno was the youngest brother of Mrs. Psinakis' mother. "She was sweet, kind, gracious and elegant besides, and later proved that underneath all that beauty was a core of strength and courage and a fierce love for country."
Manang Presy may have been strong-willed but she was not above pampering those dear to her, especially her husband.
"You must make his coffee every morning, so he will miss you when he is away," she shared marriage advice with this writer at one of the family dinners in the Stonestown area home of her "Manong Geny," who had returned to Manila.
Two years ago she was surprised at a party for her upcoming 80th birthday by her nephew Eugenio III or "Gabby," chair of ABS-CBN, her husband and their family. Leading 300 guests were her brothers Oscar, Lopez Group chair emeritus, and Manolo, PH Ambassador to Japan, who flew in from Tokyo.
In a video tribute, Fort Bonifacio escapee and former Senator Serge Osmeña III, praised the honoree: “I’ve always known that the people with the greatest courage in the Lopez family are the women, and Presy is foremost among them.”
Last year the love of her life lost his battle with Parkinson's Disease, leaving Mrs. Psinakis bereft. She seemed to have lost her usual zest, while managing to pay respects at vigils and condole with close friends and relatives.
"She was depressed after Steve died," observed her cousin Jackie Moreno Caballero. "We are all shocked to hear of her sudden passing."
Presentacion Lopez Psinakis was born on October 29, 1935 to Eugenio Lopez Sr. and the former Pacita Moreno. She is survived by her children and her brothers Oscar and Manolo. She was predeceased by her brothers Eugenio Jr. and Roberto.
Cherie M. Querol Moreno is a Commissioner with the San Mateo County Commission on Aging and executive director of nonprofit ALLICE Alliance for Community Empowerment. She is editor at large of Philippine News, columnist for Philippines Today USA and contributor toRappler and GMA News Online.
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