Mister International 2014 Mariano Flormata Jr., better known as Neil Perez, is definitely more than just a handsome face—and on so many levels too. Most impressively, the 5 feet 11 inches tall celebrity remains part of an elite police unit, and is also a bomb and explosives expert.
Perez’s extremely macho occupation almost always puts him in harm’s way, requiring him to be physically, mentally, and emotionally fit. In achieving all these, he gives credit to his father—his “ideal person”—who had taught him the value of discipline and determination all through his life.
“I’ve been really fit since I was young. I’d carry heavy buckets of water even then and never depended on anybody—even my dad. You see, I grew up in a squatter’s area where water was hard to come by,” Perez recalled in an interview on August 23 at Buffalo Wild Wings, Glorietta Complex, Makati City.
“My father was a security guard, so I became one also. But from there, I didn’t stop going and trained to become a policeman. Now that I’m here [in the service], I continue to join competitions and am usually up against elite forces of the police including the army,” added the 31-year-old.
According to Perez the hardships he encountered both in his personal and professional lives have only made him tougher. And besides being physically fit to hurdle them—most especially through training in the police force—he said he has also learned to toughen up on the inside, lest he “goes crazy and easily quit.”
“In what I do—and in life in general—you somehow have to harden your heart and be wiser,” he continued. “You also need to have an inspiration—mine is my family—so that in all that you do, you will keep on pushing yourself until you reach whatever dreams you have for the most important people in your life.”
If anyone is wondering at this point why Neil Perez is opening up his heart anew, more than a year after he crossed over to spotlight when he won Mr. International — it is because cable channel KIX-TV has chosen him as the new ambassador of its reality program, R U Tough Enough? (RUTE).
In the competition, 10 men and women will be recruited to compete in a series of challenges that will test the limits of their physical strength, mental endurance and emotional resilience. Like Perez, they will also be required to overcome every test laid out for them as well as their stories of personal hardships with grit and power.
“In my line of work, I see how tough and disciplined Filipinos can be on a daily basis—not just my fellow police, but the people we encounter from day to day. And so, I believe that this competition is a good one for it will give Filipinos a chance to show how resilient, resourceful and tough we truly are,” enthused Perez.
With the police force gaining popularity nowadays under the tough leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte, supported by PNP Chief Ronaldo “Bato” dela Rosa, Perez indulged the reporters in their current fascination for cops, and answered more questions about his celebrity transformation.
He admitted it has not been an easy transition process for him from being a policeman into someone representing the Philippines in an international competition that is mainly based on looks.
“I joined Mr. International to promote a healthy lifestyle, as well as to represent the good image and qualities of the police force,” Perez began. “The biggest challenge back then for me was that, I’m very shy by nature. It was my first try to join an international male pageant with no modelling experience.”
“But I didn’t lose hope. I never gave up—I helped my father achieve our goals. Thankfully, I tried and it went well,” he said.
Perez was crowned Mr. International 2014 in Seoul, South Korea on February 14, 2015. He recalled dedicating his win to the 44 Special Action Force (SAF) members who were slain in the Mamasapano encounter on January 25, 2015.
“Tough men also cry, which is what I did after I won the title of Mr. International. I teared up right away because I remembered my batch mates in the SAF. They were the first ones who came to mind when I was crowned and that’s why I cried,” he admitted.
Asked how he prepares for competitions, whether a male pageant or within the force, Perez simply replied, “I sleep right, eat healthy food, go to gym and I show my discipline. Like I said, the number one thing is discipline, and of course faith in God. He will be your guide.”
Sharing his advice for those interested to try out for RUTE, he said, “Remember that showing how tough you are isn’t just about the physical. You have to have a strong will in order to face all the challenges in life. From there you can prove that you are really tough emotionally, mentally and physically.”
Now a model and TV personality, besides an active police officer, Perez revealed that challenges continue to come his way.
“Things don’t become easy just because you become a celebrity,” he corrected. “It’s more difficult to be a police officer these days—not just for me but for the entire force—because of the serious fight against drugs.”
But, as in any challenge, Perez has no intentions of backing down. “I’m grabbing this opportunity to especially protect the youth from falling into to this pit. I hope that as the police carry on with this war against illegal substances, the young will be able to focus more on their studies, and maybe even go into sports and exercise.”
Acknowledging he is especially in a position to serve as an inspiration to the youth, he rounded up, “Of course, when the young see me on TV, they can look up to me and emulate my actions. So there is no question about it—I have to do my best and inspire them to stay away from drugs,” he pointed out.
R U Tough Enough? is open to all Philippine residents aged 18 years old and above with guidelines listed online via www.KIX-TV.com/tough. Deadline for submission of applications is September 15, and shortlisted candidates will be invited for a closed door auditions on September 24. P250,000 is at stake for the toughest competitor.