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Direk M-7: Touched by a miracle

FUNFARE - Ricky Lo () - March 9, 2005 - 12:00am
Three days before he started shooting his own company’s latest movie, Cine Suerte’s Birhen ng Manaoag (opening today in Metro Manila), director Ben "M-7" Yalung said a "miracle" happened to him.

Related M-7, "My friend Carmelo, a visionary, brought a stem of white rose to me, with 12 petals. He soaked the petals slightly in a glass of oil at the foot of an image of the Blessed Mother; the oil came from Fatima. Then, he asked me to hold the petals over my chest for one minute as we prayed The Hail Mary, Our Father and Glory Be. Believe it or not, but when I opened my hands, I saw the images of the Blessed Mother and the Sacred Heart (of Jesus) on the petals, on all 12 of them. I cried and I cried."

Unbelievable?

"I have the petals with me," insisted M-7. "I can show them to anybody anytime. Kung 100 percent ang faith ko noon, naging 200 percent."

The real miracle, as the character of Nora Aunor in the classic Ishmael Bernal film Himala, may be in the heart, but M-7 believes that The Virgin can also choose to manifest Herself in some other ways, such as on the 12 petals that M-7 carries with him all the time.

But that’s not the reason why he chose the Virgin of Manaoag (in Dagupan City, Pangasinan), known to be miraculous, as subject of his latest movie which has ended his almost seven-year "leave" from showbiz.

"It’s my fourth religious film, actually," said M-7 who, as owner and head of Cine Suerte, has produced more than 80 films during its more than one decade of continuous production, stopping only in 1998 when he decided to concentrate on his banking and financing business. "The last that I did (in 1998) was Ama Namin, starring Christopher de Leon. The two others were Kristo, my biggest-budgeted project with Mat Ranillo III in the lead role as Christ, and Sister Faustina (Divine Mercy) with Donita Rose in the title role."

His choice of religious subjects for his films doesn’t come as a surprise to friends who know M-7 to be religious. He’s a founding member of the Oasis of Love Community (a Catholic group which counts among its other members Christopher de Leon and his wife Sandy Andolong and other stars; with Fr. Sonny Ramirez and Fr. Jerry Orbos among the spiritual advisers).

In choosing the cast of Birhen ng Manaoag, did he consider the actors’ religious background/beliefs?

"Yes, I did. All of them are Catholic."

Playing the Birhen is Ina Feleo, daughter of Laurice Guillen and Johnny Delgado (a Feleo in real life; the son of director Ben Feleo); with Eddie Garcia as the priest; newcomer Matthew Hunt in a guest role as Christ; and newcomer Marco Alcaraz as the deacon ("He’s good, a revelation"). Other stars include Albert Martinez, Joyce Jimenez, Alicia Alonzo, Cherry Pie Picache and Jean Garcia.

"You should see the movie," he added. "We had a premiere and the rating was very, very good. On a scale of 1 to 5, nasa 5 siya. The rating came from independent parishioners made up of people from different sections of the society."

Besides his businesses and the Oasis of Love, what kept M-7 busy during his respite from showbiz was Cine Color, a film laboratory he put up more than a year ago.

"It’s as if I put the likes of LVN Laboratory, the Sampaguita Laboratory and Roadrunner together in one compound. It offers digital and analog services, plus shooting equipment. It’s a one-stop shop located across the Robinsons Galleria on EDSA."

Asked why Birhen ng Manaoag as his comeback vehicle, M-7 replied, "Why not a film, about the Blessed Mother? I’ve been a Marian devotee (like Lucy Torres-Gomez and June Keithley, etc.) for more than 15 years now. I was planning to do the Virgin of Guadalupe but some scenes were to be shot in Mexico and it was so expensive."

He has also a more mundane reason for coming back.

"You know," he said, "the local movie industry is dying. I don’t want it to die. Somebody has to make a move to keep it alive, so that others may follow."

Birhen ng Manaoag
won’t be a one-shot deal, assured M-7.

"I’ve been negotiating with action stars like Rudy (Fernandez), Phillip (Salvador), Ronnie (Ricketts), Sen. Bong Revilla, Jestoni Alarcon and the others for future projects. We met recently at the Club Filipino and they are interested in investing their talent fees on the project(s). Our plan is to produce movies on a joint-venture basis under an independent company we are putting up which will monitor booking, accounting, etc. We will all be involved in the corporation as investors."

Efforts like that – and maybe a little "miracle" – can do a lot in helping jolt the industry out of its coma.

Readers’ reactions


The recent "exciting firsts" story by Funfare’s "beauty experts" Felix Manuel, Joey Cezeare, Gery Yumping and Francis Calubaquib on the Bb. Pilipinas Pageant drew rejoinders from Funfare readers. Here are some of them:

From Sandi Domingo, Oakland, California: Joyce Anne Burton is the only one who won two major titles, Bb. Young-Pilipinas in 1981 and Bb. Pilipinas-Universe in 1985.

From Estrella Sayson Monzon (no address given): How come there was no mention of Cynthia Ugalde and Evangeline Pascual, first runner-up in the 1973 Miss World Pageant, who almost became Miss World when the winner, Marjorie Wallace of USA, was dethroned? (Note: Cynthia was not a Binibini but a Miss Philippines when she competed in the Miss Universe Pageant in 1962. Evangeline was also not a Binibini; she competed as Miss Republic of the Philippines.)

From Adam (also no address given): Where does Gemma Cruz figure in the article? (Note: Gemma was Miss Philippines, sponsored by Boys Town to which she donated her prize money, when she competed and won in the 1964 Miss International contest.)

From Ed Lapiz (also no address given): Lizbeth de Padua was the first summa cum laude Bb. Pilipinas. She finished B.S. Biology from UP Los Baños with a general average of 1.14 in 1976 and became Bb. Pilipinas-Universe that same year. I should know. She was my classmate at the UP Rural High School Class of 1972 and also a kababayan from Los Baños, Laguna.

From Jose Mari Ojeda (who was a flight purser of Philippine Airlines), Ayala Alabang, Muntinlupa City: My sister Marilen Ojeda won the Bb. Pilipinas-International title in 1973 (same year Margie Moran won as Bb. Pilipinas-Universe; she later became Miss Universe). At the Miss International contest, Marilen was the only Asian who made it to the Magic 5; she finished third runner-up.
What’s up?
Condolence to June Rufino on the death of her sister-in-law Maria Pia Julieta Roxas Torrejon who died in the grace of our Lord at 12:53 a.m. of March 7. Her remains lie at Capilla de la Virgen, Santuario de San Antonio, Forbes Park, Makati City. Interment will be tomorrow, March 10, at the Santuario de San Antonio Crypt after the 10:30 a.m. Mass. Her husband is June’s brother Manny Torrejon. Their children are Edward and Erin.
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E-mail reactions at rickylo@philstar.net.ph

ALBERT MARTINEZ ALICIA ALONZO BIRHEN BLESSED MOTHER CINE SUERTE LOS BA MANAOAG MISS MISS PHILIPPINES PILIPINAS-UNIVERSE
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