FUNFARE By Ricardo F. Lo (Sen. Bong Revilla and his wife Cavite Rep. Lani Mercado mark their silver wedding anniversary by re-enacting the secret ceremony at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California, where Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor are buried. (Inset)During their May 28, 1986 wedding. Bong was then 19 and Lani 18.)

On May 28, 1986, a very secret non-sectarian wedding was held at the Wee Kirk O’The Heather Chapel in this sprawling park which is the final resting place of Michael Jackson and his good friend Elizabeth Taylor.

The wedding had to be hush-hush, witnessed by only a few family members and trusted friends, done almost in haste. No invitations were sent; neither was there any clue or “leak” that such an affair was going to happen. The assigned photographer was under strict order to keep the pictures “confidential” until further instruction. The bride and the groom were celebrities, all right, but there was no TV coverage. Not a single reporter was invited.

Why the secrecy?

“Because I was already pregnant at that time,” the bride, Cavite Rep. Lani Mercado, then 18, recalled. “Four months na. We were worried that my pregnancy was starting to be obvious so we decided to get married that way.”

The groom, Sen. Bong Revilla, then 19, quietly nodded in agreement, blushing a bit as he smiled.

“Straight out of a James Bond movie,” he said.

Bong and Lani revisited the chapel last month to re-enact that “secret wedding” to be aired as a special on Bong’s GMA show Kap’s Amazing Stories two Sundays from now, June 5. Direk Rico Gutierrez recorded the re-enactment every step of the way, assisted by Camille Hermoso, the show’s executive producer, and head writer Rommel Gacho.

Like that May 28, 1986 affair, only a handful of “witnesses” was there, among them your Conversationalist specially invited by Lani when we found ourselves on the same PAL flight to L.A. Lani was with three of their six children — Gianna, Loudette and Ram who served as “secondary sponsors.” Bong flew in two days earlier.

(Bong and Lani seal it again with a kiss at the Wishing Chair)

I went to L.A. purposely to interview Paul Bettany and the other stars of Priest (still showing in some theaters nationwide) and covering the “re-enatcment” came as a bonus.

“Mabibilang sa mga daliri mo kung ilan lang ang taong nandoon sa wedding na ‘yon,” continued Lani. “Wala pang 30 yata. Only family members, mostly from Bong’s family, were there and their friends. My only relative who was there was my Tita Purita who lived in the US.”

It was a wedding like no other.

“There was only a pair of principal sponsors. Bong’s sister Rowena was Maid of Honor and Bong’s brother was Best Man. Bong’s sister Dianna was Flower Girl. That’s all.”

It was the perfect setting for a secret affair. Forest Lawn is out of the way. You need some kind of a “clearance” to be let in. The park occupies rolling hills covered by trees. It doesn’t look or feel like a “memorial” at all. If memory serves me right, it’s the same place where the late Pres. Ronald Reagan and his first wife, actress Jane Wyman, were married.

(then make wishes at the ‘God’s Garden’)

“Our reception was held in the house of Ruben Panis,” added Lani. (Panis was the Revilla Family friend in whose house Bong also stayed when he was studying in the US. Panis was killed by a man whose identity hasn’t been established up to now. The case has remained unsolved.) “Only those who were at the wedding also went to the reception.”

The “honeymoon” preceded the wedding.

“As I said,” Lani recalled with a laugh, “I was heavy with a child. I learned in February of that year that I was pregnant. Lumalaki na ang tiyan ko, so…I gave birth in November that year — to Bryan.”

Only Bryan, the couple’s eldest child, was virtually present at that first wedding, he having been inside Lani’s tummy. But Bryan, like his brother Jolo and sister Inah, didn’t make it to the “re-enactment.”

It happened on a sunny Monday morning. Lani was in a simple dress and Bong in a blazer. Rico and Camille asked the couple to retrace their steps 25 years ago, from the time they arrived in the black 1985 Mercedes Benz (owned by Benz David) to the time they climbed the concrete stairs to the chapel to the time they marched down the aisle to the time they exchanged “I do’s” and vowed to stay together for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, ‘till…

“The Benz is still intact,” said Bong. “We’re using it again during this re-enactment.”

After the “renewal of vows,” the couple went around the place, stopping first at a spot with a marker on the wall on which was engraved this poem by James W. Foley:

God in His boundless love hath wrought

This holy, quiet, hallowed spot.

(The couple rode in the same 1985 Mercedes Benz they used during their first wedding.)

In shining sun and twilight still

He teacheth us to know His will.

And in this garden set apart

He layeth peace upon the heart

And bringeth loved ones to us near

As His own holy presence here.

Lani and Bong alternately knelt to say a prayer.

Asked what she prayed for, Lani cast a quick glance at Bong and said, “Secret!”

Then they proceeded to the Wishing Chair, held hands and kissed like newly-weds do.

Again, asked what she wished for, Lani said, “Guess!” (My guess may be as good as yours.)

After the re-enactment, Bong and Lani invited the “witnesses” to a nearby restaurant for the “reception.” We begged off.

(With them are three of their six children, from left: Loudette, Ram and Gianna (shown in a family file photo with siblings Bryan, Jolo and Inah).)

On March 25, 1998, Bong and Lani got married again, at the Imus Cathedral, this time complete with Principal Sponsors, Secondary Sponsors and other members of the wedding. They already had five children at that time.

“We had to get married in church here kasi every time we enrolled our children in exclusive Catholic schools, we couldn’t present a Catholic marriage certificate,” explained Lani. “All we could show was a document from the Philippine Consulate in California.”

By coincidence, during their second wedding Lani was pregnant again with youngest child Ram.

This coming Saturday, May 28, Bong and Lani will renew their vows at the Shrine of St. Therese of the Child Jesus in Villamor Airbase, Pasay City (reception will be at the Harbour Tent of Sofitel Philippine Plaza). In keeping with the “silver” event, they will have 25 principal sponsors, namely Former Pres. Joseph Estrada and Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo; Former Pres. Fidel V. Ramos and Mrs. Amelita Ramos; Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim and Mrs. Gretchen Cojuangco; Former Sen. Ernie Maceda and Rep. Cynthia Villar; Former Speaker Jose de Venecia and Rep. Georgina de Venecia; Mr. Ramon Ang and Mrs. Teresita Ang; Atty. Felipe Gozon and Mrs. Lily Monteverde; Mr. Menardo Jimenez and Mrs. Mercedes Gotianun; Mr. Henry Sy Jr. and Mrs. Elizabeth Quisumbing; Mr. Jimmy Duavit and Mrs. Armida Siguion-Reyna; Mr. Manuel V. Pangilinan and Mrs. Wilma Galvante; and Mr. Vic del Rosario, Ms. Lolit Solis and Mr. German Moreno.

Best Men are Bryan Revilla and Ramon Jolo Revilla III, and Maid of Honor is Inah del Rosario.

Groomsmen are Ramon Vicente Bautista, Jorge Vicente del Rosario and Luigi Santos; and Bridesmaids are Ma. Viktoria Gianna H. Bautista and Ma. Franzel Loudette H. Bautista.

Secondary Sponsors are Mr. Phillip Salvador and Ms. Lorna Tolentino (Candle), Rep. Manny Pacquiao and Mrs. Jinky Pacquiao (Veil), and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada and Mrs. Precy Ejercito (Cord).

(Among those who witness the ‘re-enactment’ were friends Maryann Opeña (leftmost), immigration lawyer Jamela Nettles and Arwin Bernabe who did the couple’s make-up.)

Ring Bearer is Jose Gabriel A. Bautista and Flower Girl is Alexa Daniella B. del Rosario.

Bong and Lani scrapped their initial plan to hold their (third) renewal of vows at the Forest Lawn due to compelling reasons (conflict of schedules, etc.).

Come to think of it, during their Forest Lawn wedding, did Lani imagine that their marriage would last 25 years?

“Hindi!” was Lani’s prompt reply. “We got married there kasi nga may option ng divorce,” adding in jest, “ang sama ko, ano!” Seriously now, “By God’s grace, our marriage has been stable, in spite of…”

Really now, when she and Bong were holding hands and kissing at the Wishing Chair, what was she wishing for?

Lani said, “Sana wala nang heartaches,” without elaborating.

What about Bong?

“I wouldn‘t know,” laughed Lani. “Ask him.”

Asked what, Bong only blushed and smiled.

Did Lani wish for more?’

Yes, she did.

(Kap’s Amazing Stories director Rico Gutierrez (in blue shirt) and head writer Rommel Gacho recorded the event for posterity.)

“We’re looking forward to celebrating our golden anniversary.”

As they did during their previous two weddings, the couple will again make a vow at their silver wedding — ‘Till death do them part. That is, in spite of…

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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