Among the perks of sitting on the Movie Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) is that you get to work with some really interesting and fascinating people. Legal luminaries, singer-activists, authors and journalists, film directors and scriptwriters and others who come from various disciplines and sectors of society comprise the current board.
Over lunch on Saturday, MTRCB vice chair and film director Emmanuel Borlaza, or Direk Maning, as he is fondly called, regaled a group of us with stories about himself as a boy growing up in Laguna and his great fascination for film, much like the young boy in “Cinema Paradiso.” We were all in stitches as he recounted how he would outsmart his playmates so he would get first dibs into the cinemas of Laguna, where he grew up.
By the time he began to narrate how he came to be scriptwriter of the Marcos propaganda biopic “Iginuhit ng Tadhana,” everyone was in rapt attention. “Iginuhit,” written by Direk Maning and directed by José de Villa and Carlos Conde, helped propel the Marcoses into Malacañang in 1965.
“I was having lunch with Doctor Perez (founder of Sampaguita Studios) one day when in walked Sen. Ernie Maceda, who was Doc’s son-in-law. Sabi niya, “Papa, kailangan namin ng scriptwriter kasi gagawa kami ng movie based on “For Every Tear, A Victory” (the Marcos biography written by Hartzell Spence)…” Without thinking twice, sabi ni Doctor Perez kay Ernie, “’Eto si Maning, he will write your script.”
Soon after, Direk Maning was called to lunch together with the Marcoses and the Vera-Perez family to discuss the film. “My idea was to break up his life into three parts, like in a trilogy—student, soldier and statesman. Gustung-gusto naman nya (Marcos) ’yung framework. When it was time to go, he took me aside and told me he would be sending me the speeches he had written as a student at UP, but I told him “Sir, but everyone knows you were a brilliant student, so that might not be necessary.”
At this point, then Senate President Marcos asked him which aspect of his student life Direk Maning was planning to highlight in the first installment of the trilogy. “I told him I would highlight the Nalundasan case. I noticed that his interest grew and then he put his arm around me at bigla kaming naupo sa sofa. My first question to him was, “Who killed Nalundasan?” And then he mentioned the name of a certain Jesus Versoza, who knew about what really happened, and he proceeded to tell me the story…”
At the end of his narration, Direk Maning asked Marcos where he could find Versoza. “Oh, he died during World War II…” Marcos told him. “So I told him it would not be good to use a dead man’s version in the movie because that might cast more doubt, so I suggested we just follow what was written in the book by Spence and I noticed his chinky eyes turn wide and then he said to me, ‘Brilliant, brilliant, do it!’ Then he shook my hand and left,” Direk Maning said.
So it was that “Iginuhit ng Tadhana,” starring Sampaguita superstars Luis Gonzales and Gloria Romero as Marcos and Imelda, became such a huge hit. When Marcos became president, he invited the cast and crew to a party in Malacañang and said, “You movie people are very close to my heart, because if it were not for your film maybe I would not be president.”
One of us then asked Direk Maning if it was true that Imelda’s slippers were mismatched on the night she met Ferdinand in 1953, just as they had shown in the film, and he said yes. “I believe she was living in her cousin’s house at the time and biglaan lang talaga ang pagsama niya that night kaya’t hindi terno ang sapatos nya…”
Direk Maning shared that a few days prior to meeting Marcos, Imelda had done a screen test for Sampaguita studios and when the Vera matriarch saw the rushes of the screen test, she immediately sent an emissary to go and pick up Imelda. “By then, she had just eloped to Baguio with Ferdinand,” Direk Maning said.
Thus, Philippine cinema’s loss became Ferdinand Marcos’ gain, and the rest is Philippine history.
On a more personal note, after MTRCB chair Grace Poe went to the launch of my book, “Between Loss and Forever,” a couple of weeks ago, I shared with her how grateful I would always be for the kindness that her dad showed me and family when my son died.
Prior to joining the MTRCB, I had never met Grace in spite of the fact her dad and my mom had been very good friends since the late 1950s, and my mom had worked with both her parents in countless films. We were not typical children of show biz in the sense that we were both raised away from the glare of celebrity. Only now do we find ourselves both working for an agency that helps regulate and set standards for the industry that our parents lived, breathed and worked in for most of their lives.
On the first night of my son’s two-day wake in June 1998, FPJ arrived at around 9 p.m. and stayed on until the wee hours. Keeping him company were my mom and my cousin, Julius Babao. When Grace heard this story, she said she finally understood why Julius seemed to understand more her dad than most others did throughout the 2004 election coverage and why, among most of the others, he stayed sympathetic to FPJ even when others brazenly supported GMA even when it was ethically questionable to do so.
“I really appreciate learning more about my dad even if he is not physically with me anymore. Fate has a way of bringing us together,” Grace wrote me in an e-mail.
If I had not been appointed to the board, I would perhaps never have been able to share that story with her. Many events in our lives, as in the history of a nation, are difficult to explain and there is no way to discover but to allow the events to unfold as they must. All things do come into fruition in His perfect time.