Maybe it’s because of the stiff architecture, but there is something about the august halls of the Senate that makes members of the Upper House behave rigidly. The late Senator Miriam Santiago, for instance, looked like she was capable of eating alive everyone around her during hearings, but outside of the Senate, she could be very kind and maternal.
In the case of Senator Imee Marcos, old-timers at the Kabataang Barangay swear that she was your usual jeans and T-shirt gal who got a kick out of reading the movie magazine Kislap. But now in the Senate, she can look very serious, especially when discussing onions which has now become a social issue.
Face to face, I have yet to meet a stern Imee, who is Ime’ to friends. I had several opportunities to share meals with her because of our mutual friend, Bessie Badilla, who has since retired from modeling and from her brief stint in showbiz.
Senator Imee likes food, but isn’t picky about the dishes served on the table. At a dinner gathering at the house of Bessie in Better Living in Parañaque one time, she was asked by the Badilla siblings if she wanted anything in particular. She replied by digging unceremoniously into the serving plate of menudo in front of her.
Later, she proceeded to sample the other viands on the table and continued to eat with relish. There was no need to prepare anything special for her.
On another occasion, we found ourselves at another dinner – this time at the Manila Golf Club in Makati. In between bites, she shared with me a sad chapter of her life. Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. was the President then and they were all still residents of Malacañang.
In her room, she put a then newly-acquired painting of Juan Luna to whom she has blood relations. Beautiful as the artwork was, it turned out to be cursed.
The painting was hanging directly across her bed and she had always felt uneasy since it was installed there. She finally had it removed when she had a miscarriage. It was the child who was supposed to have come after Borgy.
In 2008, we became Philippine delegates to the Paris Cinema International in the capital city of France. We spent hours chatting about films and basically about life.
When her brother, Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. became President, I stepped backward and made sure I observed protocol. In formal gatherings, I refrained from seeking her out like I used to since I was aware that I had to go through security to be able to say hello.
Although she would be holding various political positions when we’d meet up before for lunches or dinners, it’s a different scenario now. Her brother, after all, is the President.
Then last December, I found myself having dinner at a neighbor’s house. The Joson matriarch was celebrating her birthday with a simple get-together at their lovely home. The Josons are a political family from Nueva Ecija and are very nice people.
Since I happen to live across them, I got an invite, which pleased me no end since their house is only five steps away from my gate. Also, they serve very good food.
In the middle of the meal, who would arrive but Senator Imee Marcos? It was only then that I found out she was a close family friend of the Josons.
Every time she’d find herself anywhere in Nueva Ecija, the Joson ancestral home would always be her go-to place. She had already allocated a room for herself there, she told everyone at the table.
Then, she announced that she was very hungry and wanted to eat. An aide promptly appeared with a plate of lechon, pastel and the tastiest tortang talong.
While demolishing the food on her plate, she told me the difference between being a senator and a governor, a position she held for quite a while in her father’s province of Ilocos Norte. When she was a governor, the back of her car was always filled with items her constituents may need, including gin bilog. We had a good laugh over that one.
So she hadn’t exactly been inaccessible. Yes, she is aware that we do not exactly share the same political sentiments and that I had been critical of the Marcoses many times over. But that had never gotten in the way of how we deal with each other.
Last week, during a media conference for Martyr or Murderer, I found myself in Senator Imee’s company again. There were very few press people then and that allowed us to have a private talk, although quite briefly.
Our conversation had to be cut short because she had to eat lunch. “Is there food?” she asked the staff from Viva Entertainment.
Meals had always been important to her. She always looks forward to eating. Well, some things obviously never change. Never mind if her only brother has since become the most powerful person in the land.
During the open forum, we often glanced at each other – amused with the statements of the loquacious Darryl Yap, whom she affectionately describes as her “evil son.” The Martyr or Murderer director takes that in good humor.
When Imee and I started to talk about cinema 40 years ago, Darryl was lost and could not relate. That was understandable since he is only 36 years old.
Oh, the films Imee produced for the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines (ECP). A lot of these movies gave her huge headaches, particularly Himala, which marked its 40th last year. Getting Nora Aunor to star in this masterpiece was one of her problems as ECP head.
But she recalls that once the production team was able to bring Nora to Ilocos for the shoot, they had the superstar’s full cooperation. Nora made herself available even in the morning – the time of day dreaded by most actors who are nocturnal by nature.
Oro, Plata, Mata was also problematic because of the budget, being a period drama. But the trouble was worth it. I have always considered this Peque Gallaga classic as the best Filipino movie of all time.
Interestingly enough, some of the people she worked with in her ECP projects were progressive artists who were against her father’s government. One was Joel Lamangan, who had since become a major filmmaker. A political activist, he often churns out movies with strong socio-political themes.
Lamangan was incarcerated during martial law, but ended up working in Himala. He had two functions in this film, in fact. He was an actor, who played father confessor to Nora’s Elsa. Behind the camera, he served as director for crowd scenes.
A few weeks ago, Lamangan was trading barbs with Darryl Yap on social media – with some of their skirmishes egged on by the entertainment press. Their respective films are up against each other this week.
But lately, Lamangan had gone easy on Yap. Maybe it’s due to the fact that he has been having health issues and has to stay away from stressful situations.
On the part of Darryl, he was asked in the online show of this site if he could be friends with Joel Lamangan. His response was a no. But wait. He said no because, according to Darryl, “Joel Lamangan is a god and is my idol. I will always be just a fan.”
Unlike the rivalry between Maid in Malacañang and Katips, the head-on between the two movies with opposing political views that will clash this week may just end up to be more manageable – hopefully. Here’s wishing the two films don’t polarize any further this already divided nation.
It’s possible for people with differing political opinions to be civil to each other – and to even be friends for that matter. Imee and I can never be the best of friends, but there is obviously respect for each other.
Maybe it helps that we have common interests. There’s our shared passion for cinema, for one. And yes, neither could function without food.
Meals transcend even political boundaries.
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