I will never forget that fateful day, August 20, when I found myself singing the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive” in my executive suite at Diamond Hotel. It was 6 a.m., and I had just received a wake-up call from our wedding coordinator Chinkie Agregado.
“Freids, I think you should look outside your window.”
Heavy monsoon rains brought by tropical storm “Maring” or Typhoon “Trami” battered the Philippines for four successive days, causing massive flooding in Metro Manila and surrounding provinces.
In the next few hours we received nonstop cancelations from our suppliers, and by 9:30 a.m., my husband-to-be Mark Santiago and I decided to postpone the wedding, despite an outpouring of texts and Facebook messages that, no matter what, our family and friends were willing to brave the floods.
Outside our windows, Manila Bay swelled. Thinking about the thousands who were forced to flee their homes, I thought the tragedy of canceling the wedding that day seemed insignificant. That being said, it hurt to see our dream wedding dissolve in the muddy waters. So, to console myself, I sang.
We drowned our sorrows at the buffet table and returned to my suite, only to be surprised by my best friends—my matron of honor Kathy Webb, my bridesmaid Louise Lee, her husband Jude, and Mark’s best buddy from Boracay and our ninong Marco Biggiogero and his girlfriend Jo Ann. Apparently, our other friends from Boracay had all braved the storm and hours at the airport.
With bottles in tow, we all celebrated the impromptu reunion and decided to push through with the wedding on the next available day in the church.
Santuario de San Antonio in Forbes Park, Makati, confirmed that they were open on the 22nd, and our celebrants Msgr. Claro Matt Garcia and Fr. Boyd Sulpicio, OP, were available for the 7 p.m. slot. By noon, we made the Facebook announcement that “All systems are go!”
My bridal gown designer, Rajo Laurel, confirmed that he would come over to dress me up, while hair and makeup stylist Jing Monis spent the day moving a full day of appointments in his three salons. I swear, a woman can never survive without her fairy godmothers!
We also decided to move the venue to Mark’s uncle Melo Santiago’s residence in Dasmariñas Village.
D-Day take two
On the morning of “D-Day Take Two,” my man of honor Angelo Villanueva arrived from Dumaguete. For the very first time in this fashion stylist provocateur’s life, as I requested, he did me the honor of wearing a three-piece couture men’s suit by Nono Palmos.
Not too long after commandeering my suite, Kathy, Louise and Bernice Palanca-Go (also my bridesmaid and best friend) arrived. The adjoining living room was their dressing salon and cocktail bar, of course!
Chinkie and her Metro Eventscape Planners team were next, followed by photographer Eddie Boy Escudero and Paul Macasaet and his team of videographers from 30fps Digital Video.
At 3 p.m., Jing arrived with his team from the Jing Monis Salon. Rajo came with a second set of petticoats. Meanwhile, in the groom’s room, I’d find out later that Mark and Anthony were helping themselves to vodka shots, as Anthony helped his kuya into his three-piece black suit and white vest by Bong Balcita of Florentino Tailoring.
Louise helped me put on the garter (something blue), Kathy helped me into my mother’s vintage crocheted wedding gloves (something old), Bernice helped me put on Kathy’s heirloom diamond drop earrings (something borrowed), and Angelo helped me into my gold six-inch stiletto Michael Kors shoes (something new).
We did Rajo’s signature “walking into the dramatically falling veil” thing. And then, for the very first time, I looked at myself in the full-length mirror as Freida the bride.
We arrived at Santuario in less than 15 minutes, and photographer Philip Sison did his thing. As guests were ushered into the church, my eldest sister and matron of honor Ida Dario-Henson got in the car and sat next to me to give me a much-needed pep talk.
Rajo helped me out of the car and did a final check. For a few more sacred moments, I stood alone, as the choir began their introduction for my bridal march—a song that means a lot to Mark and me, and a version which Mark painstakingly orchestrated with the Anima quartet, Coldplay’s “Yellow.”
And just before they sang the words “You know I love you so,” the huge doors opened and I began my walk.
My cousin Manolet Dario, who I regard as a brother, represented my dearly departed father Dennis, and escorted me the rest of the way. And there stood Mark, with the most radiant of smiles, looking more handsome than I ever dreamed.
Standing next to Mark were Anthony and their parents Joselito “Boy” and Nina Gueco-Santiago and, for the very first time, his mom Nina uncharacteristically broke tradition, whispering in my ear, “I have been waiting for this moment for a very long time, welcome to the family.”
On the front row was our distinguished lineup of principal sponsors—my beloved aunt Maribel Dario, Rosary Palanca, Victoria “Vick” Ortiz, Mila Llige, Theresa Reyes-Alvarez, Evelyn Mate, and Ina Sehwani who represented her parents, Ambassador José and Victoria “Vicky” Cuisia.
On the right side were our ninongs: Carmelo “Melo” Santiago, Tito Federico “Freddie” Garcia, Jessie Ignacio, Freddie Webb, Vice Mayor of Malay, Aklan and Boracay Island Wilbec Gelito, Jun Parreño and Marco Biggiogero.
Behind them were Mark’s brother Anthony Santiago; my cousin Manolet Dario; Mark’s groomsmen Jinggoy and Mao Llige, Glenn Colendrino, Franz Von Muhlfeld, Anthony Keirulf, Bombi Balquiedra, Jed Dario and JG Santiago.
Behind the ninangs were my matrons of honor and sisters Ida Henson and Gia Bautista, Kathy Webb, Angelo Villanueva, bridesmaids Karina Santiago, Caron Macasaet, Bernice Go and Louise Lee.
The ceremony was perfect, both solemn and intimate. Mark and I relished every moment, every word, every song, every gesture, and each and every person present.
Immediately after the ceremony, everyone made their way to the house a few blocks from the church, and we had our first cigarettes as husband and wife.
At the wedding reception, our master of ceremonies and host for the evening, Boyet Sison, welcomed our special guests. Under the direction of Juno Oebanda, Juno’s couchLab version of “Beached” by Angelo Badalamenti/Orbital from “The Beach” OST began to play, and we made our way down the long, “Gone with the Wind”-like winding staircase, as our guests gave us a resounding standing ovation.
All I could think of was how not to trip in my six-inch heels and my four layers of petticoats. I must say, all those years on the stages of Malate’s Gay Pride events as Fag Hag of the Year truly paid off!
My brother-in-law Pastor Jojo Henson led a heartwarming and powerful prayer of blessing over us, followed by a prayer of blessing over the food by our co-celebrant Fr. Boyd Sulpicio.
The next few hours were a whirlwind. I can only describe it as “a labor of love” from the Santiago family. We had an incredible banquet catered by Carmelo’s Wagyu Steaks and a delectable dessert bar, a Strawberry Cheesecake wedding cake and Choco Rock giveaways by Sweet Bella Cakes & Pastries.
Mark’s aunt Vick and Mark’s mom Nina worked tirelessly on the staging, and I am proud to have made a humble contribution to the grand celebration—the quirky table pop icons (such as Madonna for the presidential table, Michael Jackson for the party people, Frank Sinatra for the principal sponsors) instead of table numbers.
There was never a dull moment during the program, thanks again to Direk Juno, the indefatigable Boyet Sison, jazz musician and pianist Romy Posadas and Charm Garcia who serenaded us with their music, and Paul and Caron Macasaet for their amazing and mind-blowing digital videos that were a highlight at the reception.
First dance song
But before our guests could catch their breath, our first dance song began to play, as we treated our guests to the Bee Gees’ “Night Fever”! The crowd was on its feet in no time, howling and screaming in delight, as we called everyone to join us.
Shortly before midnight, Mark and I gathered everyone to toast the evening in a “Thank You” speech. We thanked our families and our beloved friends who made our special day even more special simply by being there.
The party continued at Privé Luxury Club at The Fort Strip, thanks to our dear friend, nightlife impresario Erik Cua, and his partners who hosted us and another 200 guests.
Mark and I have returned from a mini honeymoon at The Manor at Camp John Hay in Baguio City to our home in Boracay Island. We are most definitely still flying high in post-wedding honeymoon bliss, and completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and generosity.
It took us this long to finally make it happen—not bad for a three-year engagement! As our wedding invitation said, “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).