Maria Isabel Lopez is back on the news after trending on social media for her attention-grabbing appearance at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival in France.
The actress, who was at festival along with the rest of the cast of Brillante Medoza's Ma' Rosa, earned notice from netizens for her all-too regal bearing, walking the red carpet in a green gown reportedly created by Albert Andrada.
One user said it looked as if Lopez was channeling her Bb. Pilipinas-Universe days.
Another netizen posted, "Gorgeous. Breathtaking. Goddess. In totality: KABOGERA!!!"
The beauty queen
Ah, but Maria Isabel has been a "kabogera" since we could remember.
Beautiful as she is confident, Maria Isabel burst into national consciousness as a Binibining Pilipinas candidate in 1982, where she made head turns with her beauty and wit. She showed plenty of the latter during the competition's final question and answer portion.
Here's a transcript of the Q&A, where Maria Isabel traded quips with one of the original Bomba Queens of Pinoy movies, Ms. Rita Gomez:
Rita: "Here’s your question hija, are you still a virgin?"
Maria Isabel: "If I say I still am, can I bring home the crown tonight?"
Rita: "Good answer!"
Maria Isabel: "How about you, ma’am, are you still a virgin?"
Rita: "Hija, I have five different children with five different fathers. What do you call that, immaculate conception?"
Maria Isabel, or Maribel to her friends, a Cagayan de Oro native, went on to win the Bb. Pilipinas-Universe title. Her reign, however, would be fraught with controversy.
Soon after her coronation, Bb. Pilipinas organizers found out that she was a Gerard Peter Model (a group of young women who modeled sexy lingerie in Manila hot spots during the era) and confronted her about it.
Maria Isabel recalled what happened in an interview with Pep.ph in 2010: "Tinawag nila ako for a closed-door meeting...pinagre-resign ako. I will appear like a hero [daw] in front of the public, gano'n ang mga sales talk nila... Hindi ako nag-resign, presscon ang katapat!"
"Palaban na ako that time. After nung press conference, in-expose namin ang inside jobs (sic)," continued Maria Isabel. "So, it was all over the papers, all the broadsheets, naka-headline!"
Her strategy worked, as she got to keep her crown and to travel to Lima, Peru to represent the country in the Miss Universe pageant. Here's a supercut of the coronation night:
Though her stint was forgettable (she didn't even make it to the finals), she found a way to prolong her 15 minutes of fame by jumping into show business a year later.
"That paved the way for a successful showbiz career," admitted Maria Isabel in the same Pep.ph interview. "Hindi ko nakuha ang korona, pero I went to the [Miss Universe] pageant, and then I relinquished my crown, kinoronahan ko si Cita Capuyon."
The bold star
Maria Isabel first displayed her acting mettle doing drama alongside movie veterans Hilda Koronel, Lorna Tolentino, Dindo Fernando, and Jay Ilagan in Sana, Bukas Pa Ang Kahapon in 1983. She also landed a role in Ishmael Bernal's acclaimed feminism opus Working Girls (1984).
However, with the government sanctioned Experimental Cinema of the Philippines on the upswing, she decided to rebrand herself as an actress who was willing to bare all for the cameras. And she did, numerous times at that.
Her first bold film, Isla, by the great Celso Ad. Castillo, instantly catapulted her to the limelight, getting known as one of the hottest stars of the '80s.
Among her body of work that showed her considerable assets are Hubo Sa Dilim (1985), Mga Nakaw Na Sandali (1986), and Dingding Lang ang Pagitan (1986), among others.
None of these films however match the skin and shock value of Maria Isabel's most popular and controversial work, Elwood Perez's Silip.
The 1985 film took on religion and sexuality, and featured some of the most vivid scenes in local cinema. Beheadings, gratuitous nudity, a picturesque dessert, someone's penis, an orgy—name it, Silip had it. The film was categorized by many outside the Philippines as an exploitation film. It even caused an outrage when it was screened at the 1985 Chicago Film Festival.
Her choice of films subsequently branded her as among that era's "pene" stars—actors who supposedly allow for actual sexual penetration in the name of art.
Maria Isabel denied it, explaining it was all marketing hype but the rumor persisted. Her name was eventually removed from the roster of Bb. Pilipinas winners.
Her filmography also includes stints in several Hollywood B-movies and films from small foreign productions, working with the likes of David Carradine and Fred Williamson.
Maria Isabel laid low from showbiz following her marriage to Japanese businessman Hiroshi Yokohama. The two lived blissfully together for some 15 years before divorcing in 2006.
The return to spotlight
Maria Isabel's marriage to Yokohama produced two children, Mara and Ken.
After appearing together in GMA 7's Survivor Philippines: Celebrity Doubles Showdown in 2011, Mara has since followed her mom into show business, appearing in several indie films.
She's also inherited her mom's curves, and well, fearlessness.
By this time Maria Isabel had carved a name in Pinoy indie films, winning numerous citations including a Golden Screen Award as Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Brillante Mendoza's Kinatay in 2009. The film also took her to her first Cannes Film Festival.
It was also around this time when her spat with the Bb. Pilipinas organizers, Binibining Pilipinas Charities, Incorporated (BPCI), was revived.
She accused BPCI of supposedly barring her from attending that year's coronation event. Maria Isabel claimed she was rudely removed from the venue. Other reports had it that she was asked to move from the first row, where past winners were seated, to the upper box section of the Araneta Coliseum. BPCI denied having any hand in what happened, of course.
Aside from posting throwback photos, Maria Isabel has also generously shared stories from her heyday. In an interview with Mo Twister, she admitted to a deep friendship with Silip co-star Sarsi Emmanuelle, going on to hint that she has had lesbian tendencies.
She also admitted to having had her fair share of affairs with married men including a former senator, a colonel, a governor, a mayor, and vice-mayor. She didn't name them, though, noting that some of them have passed on to the afterlife.
Nowadays, apart from intermittent appearances in TV and in films, Maria Isabel busies herself with advocacies serving to empower women.
She is also an accomplished painter holding exhibitions from time to time.
As of this writing, Maria Isabel is seeing human rights lawyer Jonathan Melrod.
Yep, still a kabogera.
Photos from video48.blogspot.com (movie posters) and missosology.info (Binibini 1982)