Theirs was a love story that many doubted, questioned, and disapproved right from the very beginning. He, Francis “Chiz” Escudero, a senator of the Republic of the Philippines, and 15 years her senior; and she, Heart Evangelista, a beautiful and talented celebrity who practically grew up in the public eye.
The legislator had just come from an annulment, and she, a break up, which were both well publicized. When they announced their relationship in July 2012, people were quick to judge, “Hindi sila bagay.” But the worst came when Evangelista’s (Love Marie Ongpauco in real life) parents publicly denounced their youngest child’s new beau.
But against all odds, as the cliché goes, Escudero and Evangelista stood by each other and proved their love was strong and true.
Fast forward to August 2014, the controversial couple got engaged in a surprise proposal at the Escudero’s ancestral home in Buhatan, Sorsogon. And on February 15, Escudero and Evangelista finally exchanged “I do’s” in a private Catholic wedding ceremony at the exclusive Balesin Island Club in Quezon province. Three days later on February 18, a second and much bigger Manila reception took place at the Blue Leaf Pavilion in Parañaque City to invite more family, friends and colleagues to celebrate their union.
Today, The Sunday Times Magazine extends its congratulations and best wishes to Escudero and Evangelista in this special cover spread.
She is revered by many as the fiercest senator with the bluntest and wittiest of quips. But unknown to most, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago also believes in destiny and true love for it was she who paired her fellow senator Chiz Escudero and young friend Heart Evangelista.
Santiago, a mentor of Evangelista and a family friend of the Ongpaucos, had known that popular actress had just broken up with her boyfriend Brazilian-Japanese model Daniel Matsunaga. Coincidentally, the same was the case for Escudero who had just been annulled from his first wife Christine Elizabeth Flores, with whom he has a pair of twins, Joaquin and Cecilia.
A look back at this time in their lives was shown at Wednesday evening’s reception where the newlyweds shared how they formally met. Evangelista recalled how Santiago had given her a list of “Top Filipino Bachelors” and their contact details with Sen. Escudero at No. 1.
“Hindi na ako umabot sa no. 2! [I never reached no. 2],” revealed Evangelista who also found out that her “Tita Miriam” had already given her number to her colleague.
Evangelista felt very excited by the possibility that Sen. Escudero would call her, confessing that as early as 2007, she had developed a crush on him after seeing the legislator dressed casually in “shorts and slippers.”
The call soon transpired and when they had their first date, they immediately enjoyed each other’s company. Naturally spending more and more time together, Escudero and Evangelista realized one day, they had fallen in love.
“Walang ligawan,” the senator quipped.
Another video at the Manila reception was played to show how Sen. Escudero planned his proposal for the actress, who in 2014 added another feather to her cap as an exhibiting painter.
According to the public official, he originally meant to propose to Evangelista in Paris, France where they took a long holiday in July 2014, admitting he even brought with him the engagement ring.
However, he decided against it since his Church annulment had not been granted yet. Secretly, the romantic Evangelista was quite disappointment as she had expected one with the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop.
When they returned to the Philippines, Escudero made sure everything was right for his second attempt. It was just the month after they had returned for Paris, which found them on another short vacation at his ancestral home in Sorsogon. For the senator, his choice of location was still very significant even without the romantic ambiance of Paris.
For Evangelista, the proposal had come out better precisely because she was hardly expecting it. She said that the vacation was planned long ago for them to spend time with Escudero’s kin.
What Evangelista thought was a simple family dinner turned out to be something memorable as music began to play, and her closest friends, fellow actresses Lovi Poe and Alessandra de Rossi, arrived. Suddenly, Escudero was on his knees asking, “Will you marry me?” She answered, “Yes!” with tears flowing from her eyes.
“It was the first time that I was actually surprised in my life,” the actress happily recalled.
Private but high-profile
On February 15, a day after Evangelista turned 30 years old, came a more memorable moment in her life—her marriage to the love of her life at a beautiful and intimate wedding in Balesin.
Bishop Arturo Vasquez of the diocese of Sorsogon officiated the wedding ceremony with concelebrants Fr. Jerry Orbos and Fr. Roger Joseph Erestain. They are all friends of the groom.
The actual wedding ceremony took place at the exclusive club’s spa, which was transformed into a magical place by florist Badang Rueda. Using only white flowers, the sought-after wedding stylist adorned the patio ceiling alone with hundreds of white wisteria entwined with crystal balls and vines. On the ground, small floral arrangements made from thousands of white blooms, were beautifully scattered.
Gathered at the ceremony were Escudero and Evangelista’s closest family and friends that comprised the lean number of 200 guests. Leading the very select list were their principal sponsors, comprised of the biggest business tycoons in the country, Henry Sy of SM, Fernando Zobel de Ayala of Ayala Corporation, Lance Gokongwei of Cebu Pacific and Robinsons, Andrew Tan of Megaworld, Jerry Acuzar of San Jose Builders, Bobby Ongpin of Alphaland, and Ramon Ang of San Miguel.
There were also top TV personalities and executives from ABS-CBN and GMA7.
ABS-CBN chairman Geny Lopez was represented by his brother and publishing arm
head Ernie Lopez, while GMA Network president Felipe Gozon and COO Gilberto Duavit were represented by relatives. GMA Network anchor Mel Tiangco and vice president for Entertainment Lilybeth Rasonable also made it to the wedding.
Rounding up the list of principal sponsors are actors Eddie Garcia and Jackie Lou Blanco; and politicians Mayor Esther Hamor of Casiguran, Sorsogon, and Margarita Osmena.
Sen. Grace Poe, a good friend of the groom, served as one of the secondary sponsors.
Meanwhile, some of the day’s biggest celebrities, mostly Evangelista’s friends from her mother network GMA, stood as bridesmaids, among them Carla Abellana, Jennylyn Mercado, Solenn Heussaff, Alessandra de Rossi, and former co-star Sarah Christopher, together with her best friends from high school. The beautiful ladies wore simple yet structured dresses in salmon blush, the bride’s chosen color motif.
The groom’s entourage were on the other hand were comprised of Escudero’s closest friends and relatives.
Looking their best
Evangelista truly was the most beautiful bride on her special day in a gown by Dubai-based, Filipino designer Ezra Santos. Embellished by hand with numerous Swarovski crystals and white beads, the long-sleeved gown had a simple silhouette but was made glamorous by a detachable layered train dramatically opens wide at the end.
The designer dubbed the gown a “labor of love.” Many had compared the bride’s regal and classic look to that of the late Princess Grace of Monaco on her wedding to Prince Ranier.
The bride’s bouquet was also very special as it made from hundreds of lilies of the valleys, considered one the most expensive white wedding flowers. They were the same kind that Duchess Kate Middleton had when she married Prince William.
Sadly, Evangelista walked alone to the altar as her parents, Reynaldo and Cecilia Ongpauco decided not to attend the wedding. Nevertheless, up until the actual ceremony, a room and seats were reserved for them at Balesin. To signify her undying love for them, the bride attached a locket with her parents’ photograph to her bouquet.
Evangelista’s sisters, however, were all present to show their love and support for the baby of the family. Camille Ongpauco stood as maid of honor, while Michelle Ongpauco was one of the bride’s women of honor. Lorraine Ongpauco-Quirino also came home from the United States to attend the wedding.
On the other hand, the groom was also dashing in a white tailored suit by Filipino designer Paul Cabral. He was accompanied to the altar by his twins Cecilia and Joaquin. His best man, President Benigno Aquino 3rd, as the public knows, chose to skip the wedding upon the advice of the groom. Escudero’s brother, Philip stood in Aquino’s place.
Despite the fact that Evangelista’s parents were not able to see their youngest child wed, Reynaldo, who reconciled with her daughter last year, did send a surprise letter.
It was read at the dinner reception at Balesin’s Toscana Garden, which had the bride break down in tears. Just like any father, Ongpauco said that letting go of a daughter hurt badly. He also admitted that he dearly wished to bring her daughter to the altar but explained that “a lot of things had happened that hinder[ed]us from going.”
He also asked for the groom to love his daughter unconditionally just like he and his wife did. “This is my promise—when the day comes that I see both of you truly happy, when I see Chiz loving you the way you deserve to be loved, I will come knocking at your door. I may not be there right now but I am thinking of you Heart,” he ended.
In response, Chiz went up the stage to assure his wife’s father of his love and that he recognizes them as part of his life. “Pero nais kong sabihin, mahal at tinatanggap ko sila dahil bahagi sila ni Heart, hindi kailanman puwede alisin yun.”
The couple’s vows for each other were also heartfelt and sometimes funny thanks to the groom’s humor.
“Thank you for loving me and fighting for me . . . I promise, you will never walk alone,” Evangelista told her groom.
Escudero replied to his bride, “Thank you for loving me and fighting for me” adding, “Naniniwala ako na mahal mo ako tuwing sinasabi mong gwapo ako.”
From Balesin to Manila
Everything came in twos for the couple’s second wedding reception on February 18 in Metro Manila.
There were two wedding cakes, the first one, a white fondant with beautiful and real looking roses made from sugar by “The Cake Artist” Judy Uson from the Balesin party. At the Manila reception, a chandelier hanging atop the center stage awed guests when it was revealed to be a very intricate wedding cake.
Evanglista also donned two different gowns for her two wedding receptions. The first one a peach, off-shoulder lace dress by Mark Bumbarger, and the second a white, princess-like gown by Monique Llhuiller.
And just like the Balesin affair, the Manila celebration was also high-profile with the presence of countless politicians, celebrities and other influencers. Among them were senators Franklin Drilon, Tito Sotto, and Sonny Angara with their respective spouses; as well as actress Gretchen Barretto and partner Tony Boy Cojuangco.
The evening turned into a veritable concert when the bride’s fellow artists from GMA Network performed for the happy couple. They included Christian Bautista and Jaya, who also co-hosted with Tim Yap; OPM royalty Ogie and Regine Alcasid who offered the song “Come What May;” youngsters Julie Ann San Jose, Jonalyn Viray and Franceska Farr who had a showdown of powerful voices.
From ABS-CBN, Gary Valenciano sung “How Did You Know”—the bridal song he was supposed to sing at Balesin.
The newlyweds also repeated traditional ceremonies like cutting their cake, and toasting. For the first time, the bouquet and garter games were played.
To cap the night, video messages for each other was shown. Escudero promised, “Huli na ito,” adding that he would not stop loving his wife until the end.
For her part, Evangelista promised him, “I am proud of our love story.”