By Lena Strait Pareja
(First of two parts)
Finally: an achievement award for Manay Ichu!
The timing could not have been more perfect,coming as it does in the wake of FPJ’s demise when Philippine cinema is at its lowest ebb. The terrible impact of his loss and the gnawing void that he had left behind are twin images that are strongly felt by the masses of Filipinos who loved and worshipped him.
In naming its Lifetime Achievement Award after the late King of Philippine movies, the Film Academy of the Philippines acknowledges the supreme merit of FPJ’s character and contribution to Philippine culture and the cinema. For its first recipient, the FAP has chosen a lady producer who had worked very closely with Fernando Poe, Jr. in instituting reforms and lasting benefits for the Philippine movie industry.
No one can lay claim to royalty in cinematic genealogy more than Maria Azucena Victoria Vera Perez Maceda, who is better known in the Philippine movie world simply as “Manay Ichu.”
She comes from a long line of true-blue cineastes dating back to the pre-war era when her forebears founded Sampaguita Pictures, Inc. in 1937. This company was one of the first movie studios to produce talking pictures in the Philippines.
Under the studio system patterned after Hollywood , Sampaguita turned out close to 615 pictures, including the last dozen films produced by Manay Ichu herself after her father, the famous movie starmaker Dr. Jose R. Perez, died of a heart attack in 1975.
Manay Ichu became a movie producer not by design but by necessity, because there was no one else to succeed in her father’s footsteps. When he died at the age of 59 leaving his wife, Azucena Vera Perez, a widow, all their six other children -– Pepito, Gina, Bobby, Lillibeth, Chona and Cocoy – were too young to take over the movie production business. Being the eldest, Marichu was the only one trained by her father to write screenplays for Sampaguita films and supervise the costume and wardrobe departments as well as do production design on the side.
Her training was cut short with her marriage to then Manila Councilor Ernesto Maceda in 1962. From the reel world of make-believe, she plunged headlong to the real world of politics when her husband became the youngest cabinet member as head of the PACD (Presidential Arm on Community Development) during President Marcos’ term. At the age of 23, she was the youngest cabinet lady in Malacanang.
After a 10-year stint in the legislative and executive levels of government where her husband was a key figure, Marichu returned to the movie world one year after her father’s death to produce the Alma Moreno starrer, Mrs. Eva Fonda, 16. With calculated risk she daringly booked its opening day at the elegant Cinerama in Manila and engaged in a massive advertising and marketing campaign that caused their movie production to almost upset its rival, the Fernando Poe Jr. starrer, Alakdang Gubat, at the box-office. She would have done her father proud had he been around to witness it. With this amazing feat, local cinema moguls began to sit up and take notice of the lady producer whom everybody called “Manay Ichu.”
At the Asian Film Festival held in Sydney , Australia that year, Manay Ichu was so impressed with the Filipino film that won for Mike de Leon the Best Director award, Itim, that then and there a deep and lasting friendship was forged between them. Mike is the grandson of Dona Sisang B. Vda de Leon who built LVN Pictures in the late 1930s, about the same time that the Vera family was reaping the success of Sampaguita love-teams from the Gilmore studio. From this fateful meeting was hatched the germ of Batch ‘81, which Mike would direct and Manay Ichu would produce under the banner of her own MVP Pictures. The film would later make waves in an international Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival in France .
But first there was the PMPPA to attend to. It was her grandfather, Jose O. Vera, together with three other post-World War II movie producers – Atty. Manny de Leon of LVN Pictures, Dr. Ciriaco Santiago of Premiere Productions, and businessman Rafael Anton of Lebran Pictures – who established the Philippine Movie Producers Association (PMPA) otherwise known as the “Big Four.” When Judge Vera died in 1956 his son-in-law, Dr. Jose R. Perez, took his place. In time, the PMPA became the PMPPA (Philippine Motion Picture Producers Association) when the Big Four and the studio system gave way to the rise of the independent movie producers composed mainly of former contract stars who had established their own movie companies like Fernando Poe, Jr. of FPJ Productions, Joseph Estrada of Emar and JE Productions, Dolphy of RVQ Productions, Chiquito of Sotang Bastos Films, and others. Now it was Manay Ichu’s turn to represent Sampaguita Pictures at the PMPPA.
Upon her return from the Asian Film Festival in Sydney , Manay Ichu was elected president of the PMPPA.
She devoted the first year of her term to the preparation of “A Comprehensive Study of the Philippine Movie Industry to Enhance Its Development”, a project that she commissioned Carlos J. Valdez & Co. (CJVC) to undertake. It cost half a million pesos which the PMPPA did not have in its coffers, so she went to Joseph Estrada who was then mayor of San Juan and president of Mowelfund (Movie Workers Welfare Foundation). When he agreed to shoulder the cost, she was elated.
“Heartened by this response, I met with members of the local film industry every day for almost a year and I urged every sector to put up its own guild to form the Film Academy of the Philippines,” Manay Ichu enthused.
“Within a few months, CJVC proposed the creation of a Filipino Motion Picture Development Board, or Filmboard, with four modules: the FAP, to professionalize all workers in the industry; a film fund to give soft loans with the film product itself as collateral; a film archive to preserve our good films; and a board of standards to reward good films with tax incentives.”
On January 5, 1981, then President Marcos signed Executive Order No. 640-A which created Filmboard. The rest is history. ( To be continued)