Nora Aunor's real-life himala: I saw Mother Mary

By Ira Pedrasa,

Posted at May 11 2014 08:07 PM | Updated as of May 13 2014 02:54 AM

Ilocos Norte erects statue for Aunor

PAOAY, Ilocos Norte -- More than three decades after the classic and award-winning film “Himala” was shown, veteran actress Nora Aunor revealed that she dreamt of Mother Mary two weeks before she was offered the role of Elsa.

The statue of Elsa of 'Himala' fame. Photo courtesy of the Ilocos Norte Provincial Government

“Habang nagsi-siesta ako noon, nanaginip ako. Nagpakita si Mother Mary. Marami syang sinabi. Ang naaalala ko, sinabi nyang ipaalam sa lahat na huwag kalimutang magdasal, mag-rosaryo… lahat ng gusot ay malalagpasan. (While I was having a siesta, I dreamt and saw Mother Mary. She told me to tell everyone not to forget to pray. Then all problems will be hurdled),” Aunor said.

Two weeks after, she was offered the movie that further catapulted her stardom both in and outside the Philippines.

The still-shy Aunor was hesitant in telling her story, telling those in her press conference here that she was “nervous” seated next to Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos.

In fact, it was a reunion of sorts for both Aunor and Marcos, who was the head of the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, which produced the 1992 film.

Directed by National Artist Ishmael Bernal and written by multi-awarded screenwriter Ricky Lee, "Himala" had to hurdle a lot of obstacles before and during the filming.

Lee said he saw a news clip of a teenaged girl from the province of Oriental Mindoro who claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary and later pitched the project.

Marcos recalled: “Nobody wanted to produce the film, because it was about religion. There were also a lot of crowd scenes, but we had a limited budget. Everyone was also afraid of getting Nora Aunor because she was having problems then with her film studio.”

Miracle of miracles, the film pushed through and went on to receive accolades both here and abroad.

The tributes and praise never stopped even more than three decades after: "Himala" was also made into a stage musical and the film itself was digitally remastered and is still being shown in film schools.

Today, Aunor is also being honored via a statue by artist Gerry Leonardo of the Philippine High School for the Arts.

Atop one of the highest peaks in the Paoay Sand Dunes, the statue is based on the scene where Aunor as Elsa faced the crowd and told them that there are no miracles. The classic line goes: “Walang himala! Ang himala ay nasa puso ng tao, nasa puso nating lahat! Tayo ang gumagawa ng mga himala!”

Leonardo added: “The statue also shows Nora as a beacon of light… Nora Aunor breaking the waves.”

Like the scene from the movie, the statue was unveiled on Saturday night to bolts of lightning. Music from the movie was played, while the classic line was repeated over and over again.

In the press conference, Aunor said: “Mapalad ako sa lahat ng artista. Ako lang ang binigyan ng ganyang klase. Mas malaki pa yata sa akin (I am more fortunate than other actors. I was the only one given a statue even if I’m still alive. It’s even bigger than me.)”

During the conference, an emotional Aunor was also cited as the “adopted daughter” of Paoay, where the film was entirely shot.

Culture not just about teleseryes

Asked if the movie is still relevant in this day and age, Marcos said: “The youth are also film obsessed and knows a lot about the cinematic history.”

The film enthusiast noted, however, that “we should also tell them that culture is not just about entertainment shows and teleseryes.”

This is also the reason Ilocos Norte introduced two years ago the Himala sa Buhangin, the last part of a series of events for the La Virgen Milagrosa Festival.

“Incidentally, our patron saint is La Virgen Milagrosa,” Marcos said.

According to stories, the statue of the Virgin Mary floated towards the municipality of Badoc from a ship that was blocked and later destroyed by the Japanese more than three centuries ago.

Himala sa Buhangin veered away from the usual street dance festival and introduced art appreciation to attract tourists, the youth, and even those who go to Ilocos Norte for its iconic churches.

“Our farmers and fishermen cried a lot about Paoay being a desert. We only realized not too long ago that it was a giant sand box for everyone,” Marcos said.

The Paoay Sand Dunes also now offers 4X4 dune bashing, sand boarding, sandcastle making, and many more.

The fourth-class municipality of Paoay is now gearing to become a second-class municipality, thanks to tourism and its sand dunes.

Even the artists took the sand dunes of Paoay as a welcome challenge, rather than a problem.

'Bahala na si Elsa'

Leonardo was asked to do the sculpture less than a month before the Himala sa Buhangin festival.

Nora Aunor, Imee Marcos and artist Gerry Leonardo. Photo by Ira Pedrasa,

Another artist who helped him, Mark Cosico, said they first got an image model to stand in for Aunor, but realized seven days before the event that there was a need to tweak the face of the statue.

“How can we be able to finish this statue in a month’s time? I told myself, there are miracles out there. Bahala na si Elsa,” Leonardo said.

Cosico said they finally got the nod from the best reviewers: the Noranians, Aunor’s loyal fans who go with here wherever she goes.

More than an alternative “festival,” artists like Leonardo are also challenged by the fact that art has become “snobbish” to some. Some Filipinos tend to favor the gaudy and exorbitant, shunning the more intellectual art.

Cosico said, however, that “the art in the Philippines, before it was influenced by the West, was interactive.”

This may also be the reason for Leonardo’s sculpture. Not far from the Elsa statue is a dead tree similar to the one in the movie. The picture of the entire work now looks like it is “part of a pilgrimage,” he said.

Rock stars

Other rock star artists also helped pitch in to make the sand dunes one big piece of art installation.

Not far from the Elsa statue is the Interactive Sculpture Park of young artist Leeroy New.

"Chrysalis" by Leeroy New. Photo by Ira Pedrasa,

Saturday night’s event is not New’s first Himala sa Buhangin. He was tapped in 2012 to create one large installation that best represented the festival.

Then, he created the “Chrysallis” – a part of a series of artworks that showed the “pupa” or cocoon. The one in Paoay represented the overturned ship that delivered the La Virgen Milagrosa to the shores of Ilocos Norte.

He did another similar representation this time, but around his centerpiece are other installations made from scrap materials from the capitol’s engineering office.

“Before Ilocanos start the farming season, they gather all garbage and burn them,” Marcos had explained.

New had a different idea in mind for the scrap materials, of course. From afar, he said the other pieces looked like pieces bobbing in the sea. The rolling terrain of the area helped make the entire park look like the huge sea, with the “Chrysallis” in its center.

Guests are also welcome to “interact and play.”

“One of our concerns before starting the project was how to activate the area. They said it was a waste land, but when I saw it, it was full of potential,” said New, who had one entire stretch of sandy area as a canvass.

The local government of Paoay will only have to put in place regulations in order not to destroy the terrain of the sand dunes.

The Himala sa Buhangin and the artworks will continue, however. “There is no end to this project. It will become a collaboration with other artists also,” New said.

He said the idea is to develop the terrain into a good tool for regional development.