Ryan Agoncillo and Judy Ann Santos’ wedding was sealed in secrecy till the day of the ceremony.
The wedding planner
NEW BEGINNINGS - Büm D. Tenorio Jr. (The Philippine Star) - June 30, 2019 - 12:00am

Minutes before young superstar Judy Ann Santos walked down the aisle to meet her groom, actor-TV host Ryan Agoncillo, on April 28, 2009, one short-haired woman was busy giving instructions through her mobile phone to a person she addressed only as “Kapitan.” Her instructions were clear and carried out as she so specified: place a jeepney or a bus by 6 a.m. in the middle of the not-so-busy road that would lead to the San Juan Nepomuceno Church in San Juan, Batangas.

The early-morning wedding, kept in secrecy for months, was discovered by the media at the crack of dawn. From Metro Manila, print and TV reporters zoomed to the church but they could not get near it because several kilometers away, the only road that led to the cathedral was blocked by a bus.  

Relief outlined the woman’s face as the wedding ceremonies remained under wraps, away from the prying eyes of the media. The woman who kept it solemn and frenzy-free, as requested by the couple, was Rita Neri, the fairy godmother of Philippine weddings. With her virtual magic wand, Rita turns every wedding she handles magical, mesmerizing, memorable.

“The Juday-Ryan wedding is by far the most challenging we have done. One, we all managed to keep it a secret; even the reservation of the church was under my staff’s name. Two, we were successful in keeping the ceremonies solemn and serene, away from the paparazzi. Three, we managed to hop from one reception (brunch in Laiya) to another (dinner in Anilao) scot-free, even if the distance between the two receptions was three hours by boat. There was nothing that we would not do for that wedding,” Rita recalls.

Pilar and Vince Nantes’ Chicago wedding. Photo by OLY RUIZ of METROPHOTO

Rita loves challenges. The more uncharted, the more her creative juices flow. She has lost count of the number of weddings and events her 26-year-old company Rita Neri Event Planners has done. Every client she deals with gives her a tight hug, a thumb’s up or a wide smile at the end of the event. That’s enough to make her feel all the more energized as she and her no-nonsense team prepare for their six to eight weddings a month. The number increases, she notes, in the months of December, January, February, June and November.

“We aim for perfection, even if many times, a little hitch here and there happens. We always bring our A-game from the conceptualizing to the planning to the actual execution of the wedding. We feel privileged and honored to be entrusted the task of wedding coordination. We make it good because there’s only take one — even if there are rehearsals,” Rita says.

In the sphere of the most challenging weddings she has handled, aside from that of Juday and Ryan’s, Rita includes the wedding of Pilar Gaspar and Vince Nantes “because it was done in Chicago.” It’s always challenging when the wedding is done overseas, Rita admits.

The Gaspars are her repeat clients. The wedding was the eighth event Rita has done for the family. Other occasions she planned and coordinated for them include Pilar’s debut, her parents’ silver wedding anniversary, her grandmother’s 90th birthday, her dad’s 60th birthday, her mom’s 50th birthday, the double wedding of her first two cousins to their respective spouses, even the ordination anniversary of Fr. Gerard Deveza, the spiritual adviser of the Gaspars.

Darren and Lucky Weidmann at their Game of Thrones-themed wedding. Photo by Lito Sy

“Trust factor is important. I don’t advertise. I only enjoy a level of comfort and trust with my clients who have become my friends,” says Rita who is the wedding coordinator of the rich and famous.

“The wedding of Krystle Bacani and Ricardo Po in Four Seasons in Hawaii posed a lot of challenges to us, too, because the couple were so busy they lovingly entrusted everything to us,” she says.

Speaking of a most challenging wedding, Rita also mentions the logistics and preparations involved in the Game of Thrones-themed wedding of Lucky Lizarando and Darren Wiedmann.

Rita knows by heart that her role goes beyond coordination and planning. “Many times, I am the couple’s psychiatrist, secretary, confidante, adviser, shock absorber, stress reliever. I think like an accountant, a cop, an architect, an engineer, even a scientist. Why? I deal with people with their own concepts and demands for their wedding day and my job is to execute them, my job is to spare them the trouble of thinking whether this or that will work. But as always, I operate by honesty. If I feel something is off or unnecessary, I respectfully tell the bride and groom,” she says.    

What makes a particular wedding challenging?

Rita Neri.Photo by WALTER BOLLOZOS

“Many factors can make a wedding challenging, such as: a very busy schedule of couple or they are planning their wedding from abroad, the couple and their parents can’t seem to agree on various matters like the size of the guest list, look of the wedding, or even who pays for what. Things get complicated when there are problems with their documentation like incomplete papers. Also challenging is if the wedding is VVIP, which usually translates to security or media considerations, strict protocol and etiquette situations and comprehensive guest list and seating requirements,” Rita narrates.

But there’s no wedding-related problem that Rita cannot address. She’s seen them all: parents of the bride calling her at 3 a.m., to change seating arrangements or reader in the church; uncooperative bridezillas; even cancelled weddings. Rita is the first to get sad when she hears that her bride and groom separate after a certain time. 

How does Rita and her team survive the challenges involved in a wedding?

“Because we have been professionally doing this for 26 years, these challenges are met by relying on our experience. We prioritize what is the most pressing challenge and once solved, we go on to the next. We involve the couple and their families as much as possible to help solve any problematic situations,” she says.

Rita meticulously checking wedding preparations.

Rita sees it crystal clear that every wedding is a romantic affair. But her eyes are not also blind to the reality that, though it’s more of an exemption than the rule, there’s also ego that ebbs and flows in every blissful affair.

“For one wedding, the bride’s mother wanted to be very involved in the preparation but the bride in secret told me that the main reason she hired me was to avoid this from happening.

“I suggested that, so as not to unduly upset her mother, we should assign to her areas of the planning she was willing to have her mother have a hand in. So her mother took care of the invitation, the ceremony and event styling and all went well.”

She adds, “We also had a challenging wedding when the parents of the bride wanted to invite more than what the venue could accommodate. I then suggested another separate second reception just for this purpose after showing them an actual layout so they could see that it was not physically possible.”

Rita Neri, as a brand name, has already reached the point where couples who really want her to organize their altar dates are willing to adjust to her schedule — which is already almost full in the next couple of years.


“As long as two people still fall in love and they want to make their union legal, I will still be in the business,” she says.

“As the saying goes, find a job you are passionate about and it won’t seem like work. After all these years, I still feel that way. Yes, our work can be quite toxic and stressful. We literally take on the stress of our clients. The hours are long and it’s almost 24/7 work but the beauty of it all is that we get to meet the nicest people who eventually become our friends (almost family), we get to go to most of the nicest resorts, clubs and hotels throughout the country and we travel to beautiful locations globally.”

More importantly, Rita is grateful that she and her team are given the opportunity to have a hand in creating beautiful memories in one of the most important moments in a couple’s life.

Here comes Rita Neri, the best friend of the bride and the groom.

(E-mail me at bumbaki@yahoo.com. I’m also on Instagram @bumtenorio. Have a blessed Sunday.)

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