Maraming Salamat, Tito Ipe!

Today I received a terribly painful Facebook message from a stranger. It read, “kuya pumanaw napo si mang ipe o efren elgo. ngayon po ang huling lamay bukas napo ang libing. sana makapunta po kayou .. salamat” (Kuya, Mang Ipe or Efren Elgo passed away. Today is the last day of the wake. The burial is tomorrow. I hope you can come. Thanks.) His children had asked her to inform me about his passing.

While his name will probably not ring a bell, one look at him and you’ll recognize him almost immediately. This former balut vendor with absolutely no acting experience brought tears to the eyes of hundreds of thousands of people all over the world as he played the dedicated, charming old man with a resourceful eye in “Fine Dining”. And although he probably never realized it, he did so much for me in that one day that he agreed to act in my film instead of going out and selling balut. I am forever indebted to the man, which is why it pained me to learn that he had died.

Immediately after receiving that message, I prepared a copy of the film on DVD and had a couple of screenshots of the film printed out. I then drove off to a place that I should have gone back to at least once after that rainy November day back in 2010, but never got to. It was difficult to bear the idea that the next time I would be seeing a man who changed the course of my life, he would be inside his coffin. I regret not being able to drop by even just once after winning in Manhattan, even just to say thank you, and tell him about what happened, or to bring a bilao of pancit for him and his family. Despite the torrential rains, I was determined to pay my respects to Tito Ipe.

I arrived at the Gawad Kalinga Selecta Village where he lived at around 5PM. I was met there by Bon, who had helped me shoot the film. As we walked past the children frolicking in the puddles and the men and women gambling on the streets, I saw the familiar sight of the street where we filmed the first few scenes of the film. I walked into his house, the same house which we filmed Fine Dining in, and it looked the same. Nothing much had changed, save for the fact that there was now a coffin in it. I met his wife, and some of his children, who congratulated me on the award.

I gave his wife, Tita Milet, the DVD, the photos, and a love offering. She looked at the photos fondly, remarking, “Ang payat pa ni Tatay dito.” He had gotten sick throughout the last few months of his life, and had gained a lot of weight. It was hard to tell just by looking at his body, but you could see hints of it in his face. I learned that Tito Ipe had died of a heart attack last Sunday, July 15. I also learned that I’d gotten his name wrong all this time; it was Efren Elgo, not Erpo. I must’ve misread it when he wrote it down for me that day.

I stayed to chat for a while as they offered me a bottle of Mountain Dew which I graciously accepted. As I chatted with Tita Milet, it was easy to see just how much she had loved Tito Ipe, and how painful his death was for her. She was quiet, but very much thankful that I had come to pay my respects.

A few minutes later, I met the stranger who had sent me the Facebook message. Apparently, she wasn’t a stranger. She was the one who played the daughter in the film. She had a different name on Facebook, which is why I didn’t recognize her at first. I greeted her, and chatted with her for a bit. She had seen the film, and had even seen it featured on Bandila. She was now going to use the film for a report in school. After our short chat, I thanked them for their hospitality and went home.

Tito Ipe, I know I never got to see you again, and I know you’ll never get to read this. But I’d like to thank you once again for agreeing to act in my film. I owe you so much more than that one thousand pesos I paid you and the Jollibee meal I fed you for your troubles that day. I owe the success of the film and the impact it has made on my career to you. I hope you enjoy a taste of the real Fine Dining up there in heaven. Maraming salamat, Tito Ipe!

If you haven’t seen the film yet, you can watch it below:

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  1. What a moving tribute, Lance. As we move on in life, we realize how important it is to do certain things at the moment they are brought to mind, and no later. Unfortunately, this discovery often comes at the price of regret. I’ve paid that price too. I was impressed by Mang Ipe the first time I viewed Fine Dining and wondered who he was and what he did for a living and where you found him. He was a natural. :) Your sadness is palpable and understandable, but I somehow feel that the benefit of your brief encounter was not all to you. You made Mang Ipe a star. And I think he may have valued that more than the compensation and the meal you gave him. Because of you, Mang Ipe is now known and will not be easily forgotten. I suppose it is safe to say that you gifted each other. Blessings & peace. :)

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