Sisters make the best friends in the world.—Marilyn Monroe
This is the tale of two princesses of the royal family of Filipino movies, two well-loved sisters, who each carved their own constellations in the universe of local stars and film productions.
The two girls are part of the Vera-Perez family, who founded Sampaguita Pictures in 1937. In the ’50s, the patriarch Sen. Jose Vera encouraged his son-in-law Doc Perez to take over. It proved providential as the studio flourished even more, and reigned as the country’s biggest movie-making machine until the ‘70s.
Doc Perez and his wife Nene Vera have seven children: Marichu, Pepito, Gina, Elizabeth, Bobby, Chona, and Gregorio. Gina says that her siblings are her best friends. They support each other in hurdling life’s challenges, big and small. The four sisters have been particularly close. They are a team, she stresses—One for all, all for one.
As the eldest, Marichu Maceda or Manay Ichu benefitted the most from their father’s loving direction and the other siblings agree wholeheartedly. Doc Perez was the famed starbuilder of the most beautiful movie queens, the likes of Gloria Romero, Susan Roces, and Amalia Fuentes. Gina says that their papa adoringly guided his own daughters, so that they would be up to par with his movie queens.
Gina describes her eldest sister as “the Swan,” who embodied grace, style, and elegance. “Manay Ichu was the prim and proper one,” she says. “While she was ‘the Swan,’ I was the Pollyanna.” (Pollyanna was the child character played by Hayley Mills in the 1960s, a child who was always looking at the bright side of things.) Gina was the active middle child, who climbed the santol and tamarind trees in the Vera-Perez compound of their youth. Marichu saw her as the tree-climbing tomboy, who never went down the stairs properly. “But she still loved me, anyway,” she says, who adds that in her most trying times, there were three constants, who shielded her from pain and failure: her Papa, her mother Nene, and Marichu. “She was the buoyant force that kept me steady as I navigated the perilous worlds of showbiz and politics,” Gina says.
Ichu and Gina did share similar paths. In fact, there was a period in Philippine history, from 1996 to 1998, when their husbands, Ernesto Maceda and Joe de Venecia (JDV), occupied the top posts in the Philippine government. Maceda was senate president while JDV was speaker of the house. At present, both of them have a son in congress: Rep. Christopher de Venecia of Pangasinan and Rep. Edward Maceda of Manila.
Marichu was the first to become a politician’s spouse when she married Maceda, then a young councilor of Manila. When Gina became involved in politics as JDV’s wife, she had the best mentor. “She guided me as I and the congressional spouses built a national center for women in crisis, The Haven for Women. She was also my personal director, when I hosted the TV anthology, Pira-Pirasong Pangarap. She even assembled the media team, who helped me prop up my projects,” says Gina.
Marichu was also very supportive when Gina and Joe lost their daughter KC to a fire that gutted their house in 2014.
Gina considers Marichu as her second mother, whose creative spirit and empathy she misses, along with their love of chatter. “Manay Ichu was naturally good-natured,” she says. “Not even sickness could dampen her compassionate spirit. Even in her sickbed, she managed to compile a collection of classic movies for Joe, thinking perhaps that watching great classics would bring him delight and respite in this pandemic.
Marichu died on Sept. 7. On Oct. 16, the Vera-Perez and Maceda families commemorated her 40th day in heaven.
To survive this great personal loss, Gina finds inspiration in Marichu’s words. “When we were children, I used to sell the fruits I picked from the trees. In one of Manay’s interviews, she said: ‘As the eldest child, I worried about my younger siblings. But I was very pleased with Gina’s entrepreneurial skills. I knew she could fend for herself when she grew up.’”
“Manay Ichu always believed in me,” says Gina. “I wish we had more time to do the things we saved for later. I thank God for all that Manay had taught me through the years.”