Everyone’s still talking about the surprise wedding of Angel Locsin to her boyfriend of three years, Neil Arce. The civil rites, attended only by 10 of the couple’s closest, happened in Taguig just before the lockdown and was officiated by city mayor Lino Cayetano.
The 36-year old actress and philanthropist wore a simple white blazer over a white top at the ceremony, and the 38-year old groom wore a white sweater and black drawstring trousers. It was a very casual, very low key, nothing-fancy affair nobody knew about until the couple decided to announce it at the very end of their most recent vlog.
While the bride’s life is a subject that has been written about extensively throughout the years, being one of the most sought after actresses in Philippine entertainment and an increasingly influential voice on current social issues, not much is known about the man who stole this real-life Darna’s heart.
Neil comes from the family behind the noted local ice cream brand Arce Dairy, but it was in the world of poker where he would first make a name for himself. He was a prominent figure in the Asian poker circuit back in the 2000s, winning millions of pesos from different Asian tourneys. In the poker scene, he was known as “Dirty Ice Cream,” a nod to the business most attached to his family name.
Contrary to what people might have presumed, Neil bankrolled his poker career on his own; not his family. In an interview with the Philippine edition of Esquire Magazine in 2012, Neil admitted his parents were actually lukewarm over their son getting into poker. “At that time, no one understood what it meant to be a poker player,” he shared. “They considered you a degenerate gambler, and it had a negativity associated with it. Few realized that there was a skill to it,” he told his friend JJ Duque who wrote the story.
Neil supported his passion with his own earnings as a banker. He earned a Master’s Degree in Business at the De La Salle University and a certificate course from the Asian Institute of Management. Being a founding member of The Metro Club—the biggest poker room in the Philippines and in Asia, according to its website—paved the way for establishing his career as a poker player.
While there are guys who play by the book and some in a very mathematical way, Neil approached the game by instinct—paying more attention to the behavior of his co-players than anything else. “More than reading the cards, I read the person,” he told Esquire.
His biggest win was in 2009 when the then 25-year-old prodigy beat 262 players from 40 countries at the Asian Poker Tour held at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati City. That game allowed him to take home close to 9 million pesos ($185,000) and would become the pinnacle of his poker career.
Neil would later admit the poker player’s life had became a lonely journey. “I had to play a certain number of poker tournaments in Macau a year, and it became something that I dreaded. I couldn’t spend time with friends, with my family, and it was only me travelling alone,” he said.
Neil has actually been moving in the same industry as Angel’s for the past few years except the guy works behind the scenes. From 2013 onwards, Neil has found happiness and fulfillment producing movies. He is credited as producer in the Robin Padilla action thriller “10,000 Hours,” the funny girl-power film “Camp Sawi,” the Piolo-Toni starrer “Last Night,” the modern love story that’s “not a love story” “Sid & Aya,” and the Sarah G fantasy comedy “Miss Granny.”
In a YouTube interview, Angel said Neil is happiest when he’s creating films. “Very active ang brain nya. Ang bilis nyang makaisip ng mga konsepto.”
Along came Angel
Angel and Neil started out as very close friends. They even called each other “bro” and Angel would set up dates for Neil with other girls. (Neil previously dated Maxene Magalona [two years] and Bela Padilla [five years]). They were each other’s confidant and shoulder to cry on. Until it reached a point when they started to realize that what they have was deeper than friendship.
It was in March 2017 when Angel admitted to the public she was dating a non-showbiz guy. Soon enough, it became known that the man she was talking about was Neil Arce. On September of that year, Angel told PEP.ph they were already exchanging “I love yous.”
“He is very honest, matalino, magaling mag-advise sa buhay,” she said in an interview, sharing the reasons why she fell in love with her close friend. On February 2018, Angel confirmed she was in a relationship with Neil.
It was in June of 2019 when Neil proposed marriage to Angel. Until she came along, he had no plans of getting married, or having another child (he is father to a teenager named Joaquin). They were supposed to tie the knot November 2020, but the pandemic postponed their plans.
In an interview with Metro.Style, Angel shared that Neil’s being “super supportive” is the quality she appreciates most about him. She never needed to ask for his help. “Nakakatuwa na siya lang talaga ang nagkukusa,” she said. Neil would stand beside Angel when she would do her outreach work and when she made her voice heard during the protests on the ABS-CBN shutdown. They made a perfect team as the duo behind the public service program “Iba Yan”—with Angel as host and Neil as director.
It is a big advantage that their relationship was founded on friendship, said Angel. She knows Neil accepts her fully and is not the type to pass judgement whenever she makes mistakes. “Ang maganda kasi kay Neil, ipaparamdam niya talaga na kakampi mo siya. If you’re suffering, he’s suffering also,” she said. “Nararamdaman namin na I’m not alone, he’s not alone, kahit ano’ng mangyari, kahit na you mess up, may kakampi ka. Hindi ka naman kinukunsinti, pero he’s there.”
A self-confessed go-getter, Neil said it was Angel who taught him to value contentment. “For me kasi, being content is the hardest thing to achieve,” he told Metro.Style. “But when I’m with her, I’m at peace. I mean, you can say a lot of colorful words but being at peace, content, happy, those are priceless. We love each other a lot—that’s a given. Pero she also makes me want to become a better person.”
In their shared vlog, Angel says that life may be uncertain but she knows that whatever the future holds, she will be okay so long as Neil’s beside her. “Kung maghirap kami sa future, magkagulo man,” she said, “basta si Neil ang kasama ko, masaya ang future ko.”