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BIBETH (PART 1)

If I look back, I wouldn't say that ours is a ‘love story, love story’ in that sense of the word.

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MEETING HER FUTURE MOTHER-IN-LAW

One of my early breaks in my writing career was writing a script for, “Aawitan Kita” [I Will Sing for You]. This was in 1975. But before this, I had already met the show host and producer, Armida Siguion-Reyna. The U.P. [University of the Philippines] Repertory Company--at that time, I was the chairman in college, and then we put up together an event and it was held in the New Manila residence of writer Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, who was one of the teachers in the English department.

To know Armida is to have several fights with her. To know that you’ll be a friend is after you keep on fighting, you will always make up afterwards.

I remember Armida was one of the guests. And then she brought samples of her scripts and then she said, “I brought some samples of my script here. Because who knows, one of you might become my writer.” So in 1975, Armida had a fight with her writer in “Aawitan Kita.” To know Armida is to have several fights with her. To know that you’ll be a friend is after you keep on fighting, you will always make up afterwards. She canceled the taping.

Her executive producer, Julie Zulueta, said, “Armids, let’s not waste the OB van. KBS [Kanlaon Broadcasting System] allowed us to go to Cavite. Maybe we can just look for another writer? I have a new friend. She's new here. She's in the KBS News and Public Affairs. Maybe you’d want to try my friend?”

So my then future mother-in-law said, “OK, can you ask her to meet with me here?” At that time, the mother of Armida had a canteen in front of the ABS [Network] Building, which was occupied by KBS on Bohol Avenue. This was in 1975. Armida said, “Tell your friend to come here for a meeting.” So I went for the meeting and she said, “If you can submit this to me before 5 [P.M.--2 hours to write the script], the taping will push through.


Thing is, you do not tell a fresh graduate from U.P. about how to write a script concerning “Kalayaan [Freedom].” The title she wanted was, “Kalayaan, Kalayaan [Freedom, Freedom].”

In 1975, I got P500 pesos [roughly $50] for that script, which was a whole lot.

PIVOTING CAREER

I think that was the turning point. In 1975, I got P500 pesos [roughly $50] for that script, which was a whole lot. I said ‘crossroads’ because earlier on, before I applied for a writing job in KBS, I thought I was going to go straight to the College of Law. I wanted to be a lawyer like my dad. So when I arrived at the College of Law--I was a bit arrogant, I said, “Excuse me. When is the enrollment for the College of Law?” The lady said to me, “What's your name?” She was looking at a list. I asked, “What’s that?” She said, “That's a list of the people who passed the aptitude exam.”


My presumption was, if you were a U.P. graduate, you can automatically go to the College of Law. But it’s another set of exams. So anyway, there I was at KBS I finished the script on time [within 2 hours]. They paid me a big sum right there and then. They gave me a cheque. I was like, “Wow. OK.”

“Wow. My first script in the Entertainment Division will be directed by [Senator] Ninoy Aquino’s sister. The producer and host is the sister of [politician] Juan Ponce-Enrile.

And then on top of that, I found out that the one who was going to direct my script was Lupita Aquino-Concio. I was thinking, “Wow. My first script in the Entertainment Division will be directed by [Senator] Ninoy Aquino’s sister. The producer and host is the sister of [politician] Juan Ponce-Enrile. I was so excited! So the two ladies [Lupita and Armida] called me to the pull out the next day, and they said, “then you can ride with us.” So of course, I was so excited! I was thinking about all the things they will gossip about, but because I barely slept the night before--I rode their vehicle, but I fell asleep. I didn’t hear anything they talked about.

The one playing the piano opened the door. His clothes were all wrinkled. His name is, “Carlitos.”

After that, it went well, and then Armida said, “Can you go to the house? Let’s meet?” I asked, “What do you mean, ‘let’s meet?’” And then she said, “You know, I like planning my episodes for the year. What happened in our last taping was--that doesn’t always happen. I don’t produce hand-to mouth. I plan it. I come up with a theme for each show.”

So I went to their house. I could hear someone playing the piano. I went up the stairs, rang the doorbell. The one playing the piano opened the door. His clothes were all wrinkled. His name is, “Carlitos.” That's how I first met him.


THE YOUNGER MAN

Carlitos was 4 years younger than me. When he got accepted to film school in New York, he decided to join an acting workshop here at CCP [Cultural Center of the Philippines]. [Director] Joel Lamangan was one of the facilitators. [Playwright] Frank Rivera was also there. Armida Siguion-Reyna was there, [actress] Madeleine Nicolas [The Bourne Legacy]. A big group of us were there… Laura Centeno...Laura Centeno is a great actress here. She was cast as “Chayong” in [Director] Ishmael Berna’s movie, “Himala [Miracle].”

“Bibeth he’s too young. We don’t have any ‘vibrations’. Why don’t you go for him?” So I said, “What will I do with him? He’s all the more younger than me.”

Anyway, we all became friends. I was playing cupid between Carlitos and Laura [pet named, Urot]. Urot told me, “I don't feel ‘vibrations’ between us.” Urot was a little younger than me. I am 2 years older than Urot. Urot told me, “Bibeth he’s too young. We don’t have any ‘vibrations’. Why don’t you go for him?” So I said, “What will I do with him? He’s all the more younger than me.” So nothing happened.


Soon after the [Ninoy] Aquino assasination, what happened was, I got a visa to go to the U.S. And then my friend and I--another friend, Chato Villanueva--decided to make the break. Before we left for America, to find out what was in store for us there, we went to a fortune teller--Rene Mariano. My “fortune” was, that I would meet my future husband there. His name starts with a letter “C.” But the fortune teller said that I already knew him.

At that time, I had just broken up with a not-so-serious relationship, but there was a relationship, with an Englishman whose name started with the letter “C.” And then his name would have the letter “R,” which he had. Letter “G,” letter “I,” letter “N,”--I thought it was the Englishman. I didn’t associate it with Carlitos because he was too young for me.

There were no sparks, nothing. We were just friends. We would just talk a lot. We would talk until the morning.

My friend Chato and I, we were house guests in the apartment of Armida that she and her family owned. Carlitos was staying there. He was a film student at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. We were just friends. There were no sparks, nothing. We were just friends. We would just talk a lot. We would talk until the morning. He got along with my brother, Bimboy [Dr. Neal Orteza], who was there at that time.

I was thinking if I should go back to Manila. One of the people we were with warned me, “Don’t go back to Manila yet. Some people are ‘hot’ for you there, because of the rallies you did.” I replied, “I’m not a big fish. I’m small fry. They will not dwell on me. I’ll be able to return [to Manila safely].” My friend said, “You don't understand power. The really powerful don't order people to be killed. Their henchmen will do these things, and then tell whoever, “Sir or Ma’am, don’t worry about Bibeth Orteza anymore. We took care of her.”


THE BREADWINNER

Whether or not that was true, in the back of my mind, I was the breadwinner, big sister. I was the eldest in a family of seven. My father was a lay minister, Christian lawyer who was president of the Christian Lawyers Association of the Philippines. I did not become breadwinner because I was good, or “the protagonist,” or kind. No, no it wasn’t like that. It was because I saw in my parents the example to take care of other people. My father raised children with belief and teachings that, “Before you take a bite of your food, look to your left and right, and check if other people are eating before you eat heartily.”


I was getting lucky breaks. The path was clear to me that I would be in a situation where I can put my siblings through school with ease. So, there I was in New York. Do I go back? Do I risk?

“Before you take a bite of your food, look to your left and right, and check if other people are eating before you eat heartily.”

NEW YORK CITY

At that time when I was in New York, my brother, who I put through medical school, was already also in New York. He was at that time looking for a hospital for his residency. But in the meantime, while he was looking, he was working as an assistant in a nursing home in Manhattan. So I decided not to go back to Manila. My brother and I would stay for 2 or 3 weeks with someone.


And then what happened was, at a certain point in 1985, our pianist friends in New York were having a concert in Manila--Rene Dalandan and Raul Sunico. They asked us to apartment sit. When we were there, I was working, I was an activist. At the time, Carlitos was also doing his thesis film. I wrote Carlitos’ thesis film because we based it on head hunters. If you can turn in 10 illegal aliens, then they will not bother with you.

Apartment sitting in NYC with Carlitos Siguion Reyna and Anna Tirol
I suppose Carlitos felt really bad for me, so he would drop me off to meetings. We would pretend to hold hands and pretend to have a relationship to annoy the other guy.

And when I wrote that, it went very well. As a matter of fact, it was chosen as one of the best four films produced in American colleges and universities at the time. The title is, “Patas Lang [All is Fair].” Carlitos and I were still just good friends. [Gets up from chair to show a photo] Here is the cast party of that shoot, “Patas Lang [All is Fair].”


JOKE’S ON THEM

I had a so-called boyfriend then who wanted to have a security investigation against me—Because he was saying maybe I was a spy for the Marcoses. I suppose Carlitos felt really bad for me, so he would drop me off to meetings. We would pretend to hold hands and pretend to have a relationship to annoy the other guy. We had no idea the joke was on us.

Armida said, “You both say nothing is going on. And then now you are suddenly getting married?”

Soon after, EDSA [Revolution] 1 happened. I immediately went back to Manila. My plane landed in Manila on March 10, 1986. Carlitos finished his film studies in New York, and then he followed to Manila.

At that time, my mother in law [Armida] got mad at me because when Carlitos told his family that we were going to get married...Armida said, “You both say nothing is going on. And then now you are suddenly getting married?” At that time, whenever she would ask us about our relationship we would always be broken up. We were always breaking up and making up.


If I look back, I wouldn't say that ours is a ‘love story, love story’ in that sense of the word. We were really, and we still are, friends who just couldn't think of growing old with other people.

We were really, and we still are, friends who just couldn't think of growing old with other people.

Story of Writer, Director, Actress, Bibeth Orteza and husband, Director Carlitos Siguion-Reyna


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