I was watching GMA NewsTV’s Jessica Soho in her weekday 9 p.m. State of the Nation news program last Monday when the news about the passing of Direk Marilou Diaz-Abaya was reported. Some of my fondest memories of the happy times that I shared with Marilou reverberated inside my mind.
I first met Marilou in 1974 when she was still an Assumption College Mass Communications student. We appeared together in Conching Sunico’s Karilagan Arts’ production of “Cyrano de Bergerac” at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Little Theatre. Marilou played Roxanne while Chinggoy Alonzo, one of the finest actors we ever produced, played the lead role of Cyrano. To round up the lead performers were George Najar as Le Bret, close friend of Cyrano, and Albertito Diaz as Comte de Guiche.
In 1974, I was an account manager of the Pepsi Cola account group at the J. Walter Thompson ad agency, then still housed at the Mary Bachrach Building behind the Manila Hotel. Pepsi Cola was a hell of an account to handle then, often requiring a 12 hours a day attention. I had no business accepting that lead role in “Cyrano de Bergerac” but my passion for the theatre was too strong to reject Tita Conching’s offer.
The very pretty Assumption College students that were in the cast also formed a major consideration for accepting the lead role of Ragueneau, Cyrano’s friend who owned a bakery. Thanks to senior moments now, I can only remember Nini Vergara, who played one of the nuns, and that’s because she happens to be my Facebook friend. We had a whale of a character — literally and figuratively — as our director in the late actor Vic Diaz. Known more in Philippine movies for playing the role of villains, Vic was even better as a comedian. Vic was the only guy I know who can tell a corny joke and yet you’ll find yourself laughing in stitches after he told it.
Our theatre group bonded together very well, often having those overnight curfew parties at Marilou’s place in Dasmarinas Village. Bonding was natural because we all had a passion for the theatre, good food and fine liquor. Those were some of the best small parties that I’ve ever attended and that’s because Marilou served top-of-line food, drinks and we were more than qualified to entertain ourselves. I’ll never forget Marilou’s kitchen for serving the best goat dishes — the kilawin, papaitan and kalderetta.
From Cyrano de Bergerac, our core group went on to play the lead roles in Tita Conching’s production of the musicale Man of La Mancha, which was performed at the CCP Main Theatre. Marilou played Aldonza/Dulcinea. Chinggoy Alonzo played Cervantes/Don Quixote. I played the prison Governor/Innkeeper. George Najar played the prison Captain. The UP Concert Chorus was a big boost to the success of Man of La Mancha.
Marilou’s passion for her work immediately impacts on you. It’s rare that you find such a spirited drive in a person so gifted. Gifted people tend to exert less effort and passion, complacent perhaps because of their talent. Not Marilou. Marilou and I would develop this mentor-student relationship for her interest in Mass Communications. In 1977, I eventually started to teach advertising in Assumption College.
Marilou could act with the best of them, sing with the best of them and even dance with the best of them. It was not surprising that she excelled as a director. When Marilou and her husband Manolo, one of our top cinematographers, returned from their masters course in the US and UK, respectively, they formed a movie production outfit and called it Cine Filipinas. I was invited to be a minority partner and I did invest some money if only for old times sake.
In the months leading to the 1986 Presidential Snap Elections, we all thought that we would be rallying behind Doy Laurel as our leader. Doy had asked for my help and I was willing to give it because my most preferred candidate — Cory Aquino — was very reluctant and appeared determined not to enter politics. Doy Laurel immediately grabbed Marilou when I recommended her to him for directing his television clips and campaign documentaries.
When Marilou was already deep into work for Doy — lo and behold Cory Aquino announced her willingness to run if there is a signed petition by at least one million people. Peping Cojuangco called me one September afternoon in 1985 and asked me to come to their Legaspi Village office for an important meeting. When I got there, there was a table of organization on the board and my name was placed below the activity PROPAGANDA. I could not bring Marilou with me to work in the Cory camp as that would not settle well with Doy, Cory’s running mate.
After the People Power Revolution, we went on to pursue our biggest dreams. I went on to become a Radio-TV network president and eventually a TV program distributor. Manolo and Marilou went on to carve their respective imprints in their chosen fields. My last contact with Marilou was during an early dinner that I hosted at Gloria Maris in Greenhills some four years ago. With us were George Najar, Conrad de Quiros (whose son Miguel studies film production under Marilou), and my wife Mey. Manolo couldn’t join us due to a work commitment.
Marilou isn’t just a friend to me and I was more than just a mentor to her. We were related. We all belong to the large Paoay, Ilocos Norte clan of the Esposo, Evangelista, Pobre and Diaz families. In fact, it was Marilou who brought me on my first ever pilgrimage to Paoay in 1975. When I launched my book last August 17, Marilou dropped me a comment on Facebook to express her best wishes.
I can never thank the Good Lord enough for allowing me to have the privilege of sharing fond memories of happy days spent with Marilou and our other friends. Friends like Marilou are life’s real treasures.
Shakespeare: “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”