Her giant heart

©PhilSTAR Daily, Inc

The Maceda family sincerely thanks the many who mourned with us on the passing of Maria Azucena Salvacion Vera Perez a Perez Maceda. Her public face was as the beloved “Manay Ichu” of the entertainment industry. To us she was Mom. To our children, she was their grandmother “Tutu.”

This past week, as tears and tributes poured in, we strove to assess the full measure of her extraordinary life. We took a step back, to try and see her the way others see her. The worlds of movie making, public service, leadership, women’s causes all melded in her person. In these and more, her life made a difference.

Origins. She premiered on Dec. 23, 1942, at the height of World War II. She was weaned on goat’s milk when available, as my ancestors eluded danger in the hills of Montalban. Living through hell nestled in your parents’ safe harbor develops strong bonds of family.

In war’s painstaking aftermath, the positive values of the family vocation, Sampaguita Pictures, nourished a public famished for inspiration. One of the great companies of the time, Sampaguita, together with LVN and Premiere Productions, a.k.a. the “Big 3” studios, ushered Filipino films from tentative beginnings into a golden age.

Mom was at the center of those perfect storms of happiness, her entire being suffused with a keen appreciation of a business which was also an art and which was also a craft. She was blessed to learn the ropes of a well-run market leader – to master all the varied roles that combine for the final cut. Plus, on the Sampaguita movie set, there were no castes nor strata. The great Gloria Romero could be found sharing a meal with the klieg lights handler; Susan Roces herself would patiently queue behind the clapper or the boom at the cashier’s window for her pay envelope. All were treated equally and with respect.

Twist. My Grandfather, Dr. Jose “Pinggot” Perez, studio head and star builder, died young at 59. And Mom, only 33, took over the reins of Sampaguita – a woman in a man’s world. She was not exactly an amateur. By then, she had been a veteran of bruising political combat at the side of my dad, her husband former Senate President Ernie Maceda. This was by no means the first glass ceiling she would break. It would not be the last.

In this episode of her telenovela life, she became Ichu, the CEO. My brother Manny fondly observed that, in this and in other businesses she took up later, she did it for the intrinsic joy for herself and her stakeholders. “Mom had one trait as a CEO that some might call a weakness, though we see it as a strength – she was not truly driven to make a profit. It was more important that the product was good quality entertainment, taught good values, and that people had livable salaries.”

Conflict. She bid goodbye to Sampaguita, a casualty of her advocacy for a stronger and healthier industry. This was a battle she thought was larger than herself. Her tireless efforts helped rouse support to build the Film Academy, the MMFF, the PMPPA, the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, the Film Development Council. It became her life’s work. Early this year, even while intubated in the ICU and slipping in and out of consciousness, she would scribble her inputs on the ABS-CBN franchise renewal.

There was another aspect of her public life, equally meaningful, which Lualhati Bautista noted had taken a back seat at testimonials. Mom was also a formidable champion of women’s causes. With her sister, former congresswoman Georgina Vera Perez De Venecia, they established “The Haven” for abused women, the only facility of its kind in the Asia Pacific region. The sisters also harnessed the medium to shine a spotlight, with the Sampaguita seal of quality, on the harrowing life experiences of these hapless victims in a landmark weekly teleplay she developed, the multi-awarded “Pira-pirasong Pangarap.”

Mom meant different things to different people. Icon, confidant, rock, mentor, superwoman, frontliner, a friend for four seasons, among others. Whatever the capacity, she left a lasting imprint. Often, in the past week, we were the consolers more than the consoled.

To Mom, family came first and she was never remiss. But somehow she still managed to be all of the above. With an abundance of empathy, she honored every person she encountered on her journey. She reserved for them her full attention – to feel their pain, share their laughter and indelibly be part of their lives, however briefly.

Postscript. In her 20s and already a mother of five, the future industry matriarch was asked by her seven-year-old son (me) what her favorite movie was. She liked Frank Capra. She adored musicals. She also enjoyed slick action bonanzas. But, for drama, she spoke of this one movie with its ingredients of triumph over tragedy, redemption, finding your true calling, a life of service. It was entitled “Magnificent Obsession.” It was inspired by Matthew 6:1-4. “… when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, to be honored by others … Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your father will reward you.”

There was a trail of people we met after her death that she had helped on her own. She did it without fanfare and with no expectation of reward. At her visits to the renal unit these last months, I was surprised (not really) to find that she was secretly doling out assistance to a needy hospital orderly. It was aid for the medical expenses of his sick child.

At her wake, we asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the Movie Workers Welfare Foundation (MOWELFUND – PSBank, E. Rodriguez Branch, Q.C. Premium Acct. #092332000271) to support the industry’s frontline workers. As of yesterday, donations in her honor have hit over P1.5 million.

Until the end, her giant heart.