A few days before former DENR Secretary and ABSCBN Foundation head Gina L. Lopez passed away in August 2019, she gave her brother, Ernie Lopez, president of ABS-CBN’s Creative Programs, Inc., a wonderful gift: a second chance at love.
In his eulogy for his older sister, Ernie shared his love story with Michelle Arville.
Michelle is a patient experience officer at St. Luke’s Medical Center – Global City, where Gina was admitted. One day, Gina, Ernie, and Michelle were together in one room.
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“What’s your name?” Gina asked.
“My name’s Michelle.”
“How old are you?”
‘I’m 48 years old.”
“Are you married?’
“I’ve been annulled for the last 19 years.”
“I want you for my brother.”
Ernie was naturally taken aback by his sister’s candor. But he decided to give it a chance.
Last week, a Thursday, April 9, 2020, Michelle’s 49th birthday, Ernie went down on one knee, and popped the question.
“My ate, Gina, would be over the moon with this news,” Ernie tells ANCX. “I guess my sister was very prophetic.”
Love in the time of a pandemic
“I’ve been telling Michelle to marry me for several months now,” Ernie says when we asked him how long he has been planning the proposal.
The 56-year-old executive and G Diaries host had already been thinking of buying an engagement ring—but the enhanced community quarantine brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic halted his plans. In fact, he had already talked to his three children about his intent to marry his girlfriend. “And they gave their whole-hearted approval,” he says.
Whenever the topic of marriage came up, Michelle would always say she required two things: a pre-nuptial agreement and an engagement ring.
“One of the reasons I like her is she’s not materialistic, at all,” Ernie explains, referring to Michelle’s insistence on the first requirement. “I know she’s my girlfriend not because of my family name. But she wants to make sure everybody knows that, too. She says, ‘I want it clear. I don’t want anything from you.’”
Since the pre-nuptial agreement had been taken care of, there was only one thing left to do: find a ring in the midst of an enforced community quarantine. Jewelry stores are closed.
Ernie told his children about his dilemma, and they all excitedly shared with their father a cool idea. They told him they could create a holographic engagement ring using an image of a ring downloaded on a smartphone, and a piece of plastic shaped like a pyramid. The plastic would be placed on top of the phone, and the ring would then be projected from the phone to the plastic. The result is like a floating ring in 3D. Talk about digital love in the time of corona.
On Michelle’s birthday, everything was set in place.
“I thought that her birthday would be an opportune time because she’s going to have these Zoom parties,” he recalls. Zoom is a video communication application.
With a hologram and pre-nuptial papers on hand, Ernie prepared himself for the moment. Then, on one of the Zoom calls, a friend of Michelle’s had the perfect opening: “Ernie, what is your gift to Michelle?”
Ernie showed their friends all the photos of the gifts that he wanted to give her. Michelle, by the way, doesn’t allow Ernie to give her gifts. She would always give the gifts back to him.
When the time was right, Ernie showed Michelle the pre-nup agreement and asked her to sign it, followed by the holographic ring that his children made for him. Michelle smiled, but she didn’t say yes—at least not right away.
He asked again, “Would you be my second chance?”
Still, Michelle didn’t say anything. Ernie told his son, who was taking the video, “This isn’t going very well.”
There was a bit of persuading from their friends, too. “I knew that if I didn’t do it this way, with all of their friends there, she would just look at me and say, ‘Ay, ulol,’” Ernie explains, laughing. “And then she’d walk away.”
Finally, and with a little bit of prodding from their friends, Ernie got down on one knee, and asked another question: “You know, we’re on lockdown, but what I’m asking you is, will you be on permanent lockdown with me?”
And then, finally, she said, “Yes.”
The proposal video lasted around 12 minutes.
The second chances
There have been eight weddings that happened within the Lopez family, says Ernie: their parents’ wedding and the wedding of the seven siblings. Out of the eight marriages, only two remain on their first marriage. “My mom said, ‘Our family is the family of second chances.’” The matriarch, Conchita “Chita” La’O Taylor (formerly Lopez), re-married in her 70s. She’s turning 90 this May, and is still very much happily in love with her husband.
“Because of my last marital experience, I had no confidence in my ability to choose the right partner,” Ernie recalls. For the last eight years, he didn’t go out on dates. “I had a rule that I should not be with a girl alone—alone in a car, in a room, anywhere. If we went to a restaurant or a movie, kailangan group parati. Ayoko talaga, ’tsaka ayokong matukso.”
Ernie got his civil annulment in February 2020, and his church annulment a year or two before that.
During those long years, Ernie’s relationship with God grew stronger.
He says, “I realized, He’s really all I needed. I was complete and happy without anyone. And I think that it’s one of the things God wanted me to experience, na buo ako before I get into a relationship with someone else. So that when I get into a relationship, it’s not that I’m looking for someone to give me something. I have something to give them. I think it’s important to find a person who’s also like that.”
Michelle is one such person. But beyond the matchmaking skills of Ernie’s late sister, Gina, Michelle has known for a while that Ernie was going to be a special person in her life.
For the past 26 years, Michelle has been attending the Simbang Gabi masses. Every year, Michelle would attend all nine masses, and as per tradition, she would wish for something. All of her prayers got answered.
Last year, Ernie volunteered to join her in one of the masses. “Hindi naman ako mahilig sa ganiyan,” Ernie reveals. “I’ve attended siguro once. I’m not gonna wake up at that time. One time I said, ‘Samahan kita.’ She said, ‘Okay.’ After the mass, I said, ‘You wanna eat?’ She said, ‘No. Let’s go na.’”
On the ride back home, Michelle revealed to Ernie that when she started attending Simbang Gabi, she asked for three things: First, that whomever she ends up with would go with her to Simbang Gabi, and it had to be at his own volition. She couldn’t invite him to come with her. Second, he should not fall asleep during the mass. Third, after the mass, he should not be too eager to go home.
“I was able naman to fulfill all three of those, even without being aware of it,” Ernie says proudly, adding none of her past boyfriends went, and even her ex husband didn’t go. “I told her, ‘’Yon naman pala, I’m the one naman pala.”
Photographs courtesy of Metro.Style