Why John Arcilla almost backed out of ‘Father Suarez’ biopic

Published December 19, 2020, 11:14 PM

by Robert Requintina

John Arcilla is ‘Father Suarez: The Healing Priest’

Award-winning actor John Arcilla is all praises for the late Filipino Catholic healing priest Fr. Fernando Suarez for being humble and simple.

But Arcilla revealed that he almost backed out of the biopic “Father Suarez: The Healing Priest” when he learned that the man of God has been linked to several controversies such as sexual abuse and money issues. But the Vatican found him not guilty of the allegations.

During a press conference for “Father Suarez” held in Quezon City recently, Arcilla said he wanted to talk to the priest first before signing for the film project.

“Wow biopic! Mukhang dito yata ang linya ko. And why not? Pero kailangan ko munang mabasa ang script. So nag-research ako sa Internet. Naku! Nakita ko ‘yung controversies,” the “Heneral Luna'”star recalled.

“Parang hindi na ako na-excite sa project. I don’t want to be a mouthpiece to justify someone from their controversies. Kaso naka-oo na ako pero wala pa naman contract.

“Habang may doubts ako, nanood muna ako ng mga homily niya. Ang ganda niyang magsalita, charismatic. He can speak to all kinds of people rich and poor and. He speaks well. Gusto ko muna siyang kausapin. Saka na ako magde-decide pag nakausap ko na. Gusto ko muna siyang marinig. So nag-request ako ng meeting sa kanya.

“Pagpasok ko pa lang sa hotel lobby, I saw this humble priest. Simpleng tao lang. So kuwento kami. Wala akong nakita sa kanya na nag-ja-justify sa sarili niya. And I felt his sincerity,” Arcilla said.

Arcilla revealed that it was Fr. Suarez who chose him to play the role of healing priest who has been performing healing masses for 17 years.

“I’m a fan of your film,” said Suarez to Arcilla in reference to the critically-acclaimed “Heneral Luna” during their first meeting. 

Suarez told Arcilla that he saw the flick “Luna” with some seminarians in a private screening. “I personally handpicked you to play the role of Fr. Suarez,” the healing priest informed the actor.

Arcilla also revealed that he really wanted to become a priest when he was a child. His mother was a former Carmelite sister before she got married while his father came from a family of priests.

“I grew up in Baler, Aurora where I served in the church. I was an altar boy. But I failed twice when I applied to become a priest,” the Bicolano actor said.

At St. Joseph’s College in Quezon City where he became a scholar, one of his teachers made him realize that his inclination was the arts and not priesthood. “That’s the time I decided to become an actor.”

Asked how the priests treated him when he was a kid, Arcilla said: “Tao sila. Kapareho rin ng ibang personalities, artista, nagagalit, tumatawa rin sila. In fact, yung mga pari na close sa amin sinasabi niya sa amin kung ano ang ginagawa ninyo, ginagawa rin namin. Hindi ko alam kung paano ang ginagawa nila sa vow of chastity pero normal silang tao.”

Father Suarez died of a heart attack while playing tennis just three days before his birthday on Feb. 4, 2020. “Favorite niya ang tennis. Sabi niya kapag pumapalo siya sa tennis, doon lang niya nai-re-release yung mga negativity sa katawan niya.”

The movie is very timely, Arcilla said. “Tamang-tama ito sa panahon ngayon at a time when people need an inspiration or a saviour.” 

One of the 10 official entries for the 2020 Metro Manila Film Festival, “Father Suarez: The Healing Priest” will be shown starting Dec. 25 via Upstream. 

Joven Tan directs, screenplay by Bernard Canabral with Saranggola Media Productions as its producers.