Xander Ford, for­merly known as Mar­lou S. Arizala, tells YES! that he is an il­le­git­i­mate child. “Kami ’yong kabit,” he says, “Kaya nga ape­lyido ko is Arizala. Gi­na­mit ko ’yong mid­dle ini­tial sa pagk­a­bata ng mommy ko, kahit sa birth cer­tifi­cate. Hindi ko gi­na­mit ’yong ape­lyido ng tatay ko, kasi sabi ng mom ko, parang ayaw niya din ako mat­u­lad doon na gano’n—nalu­long sa masamang bisyo.”

We ask him if his be­ing bru­tally hon­est about his fa­ther might get him into trou­ble.

“Okey lang na­man po,” he replies. “Kasi, tinanong ko din na­man si Tatay. Sabi ko, ‘Okey lang ba kung ilal­abas ko ’yong to­toong nang­yari?’

“‘Ikaw, ba­hala ka,’ gu­mano’n siya sa akin.

“Okey lang, kasi real life ko ’to, hindi ako nag­sis­i­n­un­gal­ing. So, pag nar­inig ’to, nabasa ng tatay ko ’to, at least alam niya na eto ang kuwento ko. Pero alam ng tatay ko, hindi ako galit sa kanya.”

On Oc­to­ber 1, 2017, the im­mense phys­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion of Mar­lou Arizala was shown on tele­vi­sion in the mag­a­zine show Rated K, hosted by Ko­rina Sanchez-Roxas. Mar­lou, for­mer mem­ber of the on­line-pop­u­lar boy band Hasht5, paired up his change of ap­pear­ance with a change of name. Now he is to be called Xander Ford. The Rated K episode sparked an In­ter­net ruckus. A lit­tle more than an hour af­ter the show aired, the hash­tag #Xan­derFord went up to sec­ond place on Twit­ter’s list of “World­wide Trends”— only next to #Cata­lanRef­er­en­dum, the hash­tag for the Cat­alo­nia re­gion’s fight to be­come in­de­pen­dent from Spain.

The noise was some­how ex­pected. Weeks be­fore the big re­veal, Rated K and Star Im­age Artist Man­age­ment, the tal­ent agency han­dling Xander’s ca­reer, had been post­ing images of Mar­lou be­fore and dur­ing surgery. Rated K also posted a teaser video of Mar­lou’s new look with­out fully re­veal­ing his face.

You see, Mar­lou’s orig­i­nal phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance did not con­form to the com­mon no­tion of at­trac­tive­ness. The world of show­biz adores and mar­kets stars with long, nar­row noses and with ei­ther milky-white or sun-kissed bronzed skin that’s even, smooth, and un­blem­ished. Mar­lou Arizala didn’t have any of those fea­tures. So when he came out on Rated K as Xander Ford and look­ing like a Korean pop star, he nat­u­rally be­came me­dia and ne­ti­zen fod­der.

Af­ter that episode, there was not a day when Xander’s face didn’t show up on so­cial me­dia sites. It be­came the talk of the town.

So what’s be­hind the guy who un­der­went what may be the most pub­li­cized fa­cial re­con­struc­tive surgery in Philip­pine show­biz his­tory? And what makes a guy, who was called “ugly” his whole life, push through with a ca­reer in front of the cam­era?

Mar­lou arizala

Mar­lou S. Arizala was born on May 11, 1997, in a Makati City hos­pi­tal. At the time of his birth, his fa­ther, Anic­ito Ma­banto, and his mother, Merly S. Arizala, were liv­ing in Barangay San Fran­cisco, Gen­eral Trias City, in the prov­ince of Cavite— where Mar­lou’s fam­ily still re­sides up to now. But ac­cord­ing to Mar­lou, Makati City, with its good hos­pi­tals, was at that time the place to go to from Gen­eral Trias, and it was where his mother was rushed to give birth to him.

The now-20-year-old Mar­lou is the el­dest of three sib­lings. He was fol­lowed by a sis­ter, who is now 18, and a brother, who is now 15. They were, Mar­lou him­self re­veals, the last brood in his fa­ther’s se­ries of il­le­git­i­mate chil­dren. Ac­cord­ing to Mar­lou, his mother es­ti­mates his to­tal num­ber of half-sib­lings to be around 20, more or less, “Sa orig­i­nal fam­ily, nine ang anak. Su­munod daw, I think, four. Kami ’yong last, e.”

At the YES! in­ter­view, Mar­lou an­swers with hardly a pause, dis­clos­ing in­for­ma­tion af­ter in­for­ma­tion with­out hes­i­ta­tion or fear. Some­times, he looks up, as if search­ing his mind for mem­o­ries—which he im­me­di­ately blurts out, in his rough, some­times low but blar­ing voice, a voice that he him­self de­scribes as “husky.” We ask about his child­hood. “Ugly, makulit, pa­s­away,” he replies with­out a sec­ond thought. “Lu­maki nang walang mag­u­lang. Meron akong mommy, meron akong daddy, pero lu­maki ako nang wala sila. So, mag-isa lang akong nabuhay. Nagwo-work po ’yong mga mag­u­lang ko no’n, nasa Maynila din. Imbes na umuwi sila, ipa­padala na lang nila ’yong pa­masahe nila sa amin. Kasi siyem­pre, mas kailan­gan namin ’yon kaysa ’yong makasama namin sila.”

In Cavite, the fam­ily used to live in a tiny house that could barely fit all five of them. “Dati po kasi ta­laga, wala kam­ing ba­hay,” Mar­lou re­calls. “Nakatira lang kami sa ’yong gawa sa ka­hoy. One level. As in, parang ano lang po, ihian. Anong tawag do’n? CR? Parang CR po. ’Tapos, ayun, nakaupa na ’ko, dahil me pera na nga.”

Mommy Merly worked in a karinderya, while Tatay Anic­ito worked first as a taxi driver, then as a jeep­ney driver, then as a tri­cy­cle driver. The cou­ple’s com­bined in­come was not enough to reg­u­larly feed a fam­ily of five.

“Hindi po sapat ’yong kinikita nila, e,” Mar­lou says. “Ku­lang pa rin po. Kasi, di ba nga po, may utang si Mama? So, ang kinikita niya lang sa isang araw, ku­lang pa sa padala sa amin. Hindi na­man kami mabubuhay ng ’pina­padala niya sa amin.”

To make ends meet, Mar­lou him­self had to work in the can­teen of his school, the San Fran­cisco Ele­men­tary School in Si­tio Kiko Rosa, Barangay San Fran­cisco, Gen­eral Trias City. “Naglili­nis ako ng school, sa can­teen namin.”

The fam­ily home was not a refuge from Mar­lou’s harsh world, ei­ther. In fact, he con­fesses, it was a harsh home with a harsh dad.

When talk­ing to YES! about his home life, Mar­lou sits slouched a bit in a chair, re­laxed, his emo­tions steady. But some­times he moves his head to one side, and then he lifts it up in a sud­den up­ward jolt, much like the nod of a “tough guy.” He does this, al­though he is seem­ingly un­per­turbed, when he talks about his fa­ther.

“No’ng kasama ko ang tatay namin, do’n ko naranasan ’yong ano, pam­bubug­bog. Yes. Kin­uryente sa paa, ’tinali na parang aso, ’ni­la­gay sa sako, ’sin­abit sa puno, pinaluhod, ’tapos pinahubad kam­ing magkaka­p­atid, pinayakap kami. Ano pa ba?

“Ang kasalanan namin, sim­ple lang, kasalanang bata—ku­muha ng pagkaing hindi sa amin. Parang ’yong sa ano lang, laro-laro, gano’n. ’Tapos, naglaro, di nag­paalam, nag­cut­ting-classes. Basta, ’yong lag­ing naka­paa. ’Tapos, in­u­una muna ’yong laro kaysa sa as­sign­ment, sa home­work. Bin­abato ako ng mar­ti­lyo, pin­upukpok ’yong paa ko ng plais.”

There was also one spe­cific rea­son, he re­mem­bers, why his fa­ther was al­ways en­raged. His fa­ther be­lieved that his mother was cheat­ing on him with her les­bian friend.

“Eto ta­laga, real talk ta­laga po ito,” Mar­lou says. “’ Yong mommy ko po, may friend po siya. ’ Yon nga ’yong tito ko na tomboy, les­bian. ‘Tito’ po tawag namin. Parang tatay ko na siya. Ayun, bin­ubug­bog kami [ ng to­toong tatay namin], kasi tinatawag nam­ing ‘Tito.’

“Parang sweet kasi sa mommy ko ’yon. Kasi po, ’yong mommy ko, nagwo-work nga po siya with Tito ko na ’yon. Nagwo-work sila, ’tapos umuuwi si Mommy kasama si Tito, binibi­gyan kami ng pera. Do’n nagsim­ula, kasi so­brang bait no’ng Tito namin. Hang­gang ngayon. Do’n kami nag­fo­cus na lag­ing pina­pan­gar­alan niya kami.

“’Tapos, ayun, nag-aaway sila [mom and dad]. Bakit daw kami sumasama do’n? Do’n nagsim­ula ’yon. Gin­ugulpi na kami.

“‘Bakit gano’n?’ sabi ko. ‘Eto nga, hindi nga namin kaano-ano, pina­pan­gar­alan kami. E, ’yan, tatay na namin ’yan. Kadugo.”

When his mother was not around and the beat­ings would con­tinue, Mar­lou would run to his neigh­bors. “Sa kanila ako nag­tatago,” he says of those neigh­bors, whom he con­sid­ers “saksi ng buhay ko.” When he was done hid­ing, he would go back home, where he would get worse treat­ment than he did in pre­vi­ous days.

“Pi­na­palayas po kami. Ku­makain kami ng ano—’yong bi­gas po namin, one-fourth lang, ’tapos hati-hati po kam­ing magkaka­p­atid. Ulam lang po namin, chicharon. ’Tapos po, min­san ku­lang pa ’yong ki­nakain namin. Sig­uro, sa isang linggo, tat­long be­ses lang.”

At this point in the YES! in­ter­view, Mar­lou’s mono­tone breaks. He looks down, and tears be­gin to flow.

As he quickly wipes off his tears, he adds: “Isang be­ses nga, ’yong ka­p­atid kong

bunso, ano, e, naranasan niya ’yong rugby— dahil po do’n.”

Rugby, for those who may have for­got­ten, is a sol­vent glue used for fur­ni­ture, but which pro­duces va­por that is sniffed like an ad­dic­tive drug by street chil­dren, who came to be known as “rugby boys” or “rugby kids.”

Was Mar­lou him­self into il­le­gal sub­stances? “Aaminin ko din na na­punta po ako sa bisyo. Naranasan ko po ’yong ano, ’yong mar­i­juana. Kasi ’yon ta­laga, wala kas­ing nag­turo sa amin ng tama at mali, e.”

Mar­lou ad­mits that he felt bad about the sit­u­a­tion, and un­der­states his feel­ings by call­ing it “tam­puhan.” He ex­plains: “Siyem­pre la­hat na­man po ng anak nagha­hanap ng mag­u­lang, di ba po? So, nag­tampo lang ako no’n, kasi parang ba’t gano’n—’yong ibang tao diyan, ’yong iba kong mga kak­lase, lagi silang may mag­u­lang pag meron kam­ing meet­ing sa school— ako, wala akong ma­pa­papunta? Ako lang pumupunta. Sa mga ka­p­atid ko, sa bunso ’tsaka sa pan­galawa, ako lang ’yong pumupunta.”

When ev­ery­thing be­came too much to bear, he left home. “Ayoko na dito,” he re­mem­bers say­ing to him­self. “Tu­mawag ako sa tita ko, sa aun­tie ko, kung puwede akong tu­mira doon. ’Tapos, ’yon, tu­mira ako sa kanya. Ti­nang­gap na­man niya ’ko.”

This tita was not his mother’s les­bian friend, but an ac­tual rel­a­tive, Mar­lou’s pa­ter­nal aunt, who lives in Batan­gas City, and whom he de­scribes as the “pinaka­maya­man sa kani­lang magkaka­p­atid.” She al­lowed him to man her sari-sari store.

“Ang baon ko do’n is five hun­dred a day. Inipon ko siya. As in, inipon ko.”

Xander Ford ad­mits that some­times he still misses Mar­lou Arizala, his other self: “Maram­ing nagtsa-chat. Palagi kong nakikita ’yon sa mga mes­sage: ‘Mas ma­hal namin si Mar­lou.’ Siyem­pre, ako na­man, nasasak­tan. Kasi siyem­pre parang, oo, mas ma­hal nila si Mar­lou. Pero pa’no po ba­ba­lik si Mar­lou dahil nan­dito na ’ko, e, di ba? So, parang kailan­gan tang­gapin n’yo na lang kung ano ako.”

His aunt also sent him to high school. Mar­lou had al­ready started on his first year of high school at the Gover­nor Fer­rer Me­mo­rial Na­tional High School, a pub­lic school in Cavite, but he had to stop school­ing to pro­vide for his sib­lings. In Batan­gas City, in his aunt’s care, he en­rolled at St. Brid­get Col­lege, a pri­vate school.

“Si Tita po nag-de­cide na mag-pri­vate. Kasi po, no’ng high school ako, no’ng nasa pub­lic ako, binu-bully ako. ’Tapos, mahilig akong mag-cut­ting [classes]. Pag sa pri­vate ka, ang daming bawal. No’ng nando’n nga ako sa school namin, Diyos ko, mula pag­pa­sok ko ng school namin hang­gang mat­a­pos, puro dasal, e. Hindi na yata ako matat­a­pos, e. Pero at least, ang lak­ing tu­long sa akin no’ng gi­nawa ko ’yon. Ang lak­ing tu­long sa akin no’n, kasi ha­bang tu­matanda ako, nag­ing maka-Diyos ako no’n.”

Some­time be­tween his third and fourth year of high school, he de­cided to go home and be with his sib­lings again. And be­cause he was able to save the money that he had earned from his work in his aunt’s sari-sari store, he was able to pay some of the bills on his re­turn home. His aunt had also given him a monthly al­lowance of 3,000 pe­sos.

“Pag-uwi ko sa amin sa Cavite, meron akong naipon na I think 9,000 or 13,000. Nabawasan lang dahil nag­bayad ako ng kuryente, ba­hay, tubig.”

His fa­ther was in Cavite, but didn’t stay too long. Mar­lou shrugs off the mem­ory.

“Me­dyo hindi kami nag­pa­pansi­nan ng tatay ko. Pero ’yong mga ka­p­atid ko, masaya, umi­iyak no’ng nagkita kami. Siyem­pre, nami-miss nila ako. Then, ayun, umalis ’yong tatay ko, sig­uro mga af­ter three days. Nag-de­cide na siya na parang ‘Kailan­gan ko mu­nang pumunta sa ka­bi­lang ka­p­atid n’yo,’ dahil nami-miss daw siya. Pero feel ko na­man na hindi na­man siya nami-miss ng mga ka­p­atid ko. Gusto niya lang umalis dahil ayaw niya magkita kami.”

When his fa­ther left, Mar­lou again had to find ways to lend a hand to his fam­ily.

“Gi­na­gawa ko po sa al­lowance, hindi ko siya gi­na­gas­tos. Ang gi­na­gawa ko, bu­mibili ako ng isang kaha ng sigar­i­lyo, o tig­tatatlo na kaha na pakete ng sigar­i­lyo, ’tapos lu­mu­luwas ako ng Makati, nagtitinda ako—takatak boys.”

One day, while he was sell­ing cig­a­rettes on the street, he saw some­thing that made him break down in tears.

“Isa sa hindi ko makakalimu­tan—may bu­mibili na sa akin, hindi ko na­pa­pansin, ’yong luha ko tu­mu­tulo na. Kasi nakakita ako ng isang anak na parang si­nusub­uan ng mag­u­lang niya, ’tapos ’yong bata so­brang saya. ’Tapos, ako na­man, nai­iyak kasi nai­isip ko, ‘Bakit gano’n? Hindi ko man lang naranasan ’yan. Ano ba ’yan?’

“Ini­isip ko nga, ‘Bakit gano’n, pan­git na nga ako ’pinan­ganak, wala pang utak, wala pang silbi, wala pang mag­u­lang?’ Di ba? Parang sabi ko, ‘Ano ’to, parang sinadya ba ng Pangi­noon ’yon na ga­nunin ako? Parang mag­ing malas ’yong buong buhay ko, parang lu­maki ako nang ganyan?’ ’Yon, umiyak ako no’n, parang tu­mulo lang na­man ang luha.

“’Tapos, sabi no’ng isang nag­bebenta din, ‘Uy, ano’ng nang­yari sa ’yo? Ba’t umi­iyak ka?’ “‘A, wala, wala. Masaya lang ako.’” Lit­tle did Mar­lou know that the ques­tions that ran through his mind on that day would be an­swered—and that good for­tune was wait­ing for him around the cor­ner.

On­line Phe­nom­e­non

Mar­lou loves sto­ries and read­ing about them, a fact un­known to most peo­ple. The sto­ries he col­lected turned into what on­line ci­ti­zens now know as his vi­ral videos. Con­trary to what his on­line bash­ers say, Mar­lou had ear­lier ex­pe­ri­ence with singing, as a mem­ber of a church choir. It was, how­ever, his trust is­sues that he needed to work on. The con­stant bul­ly­ing didn’t help ei­ther.

“Mula grade school hang­gang high school, bina-bash na po nila ako, bin­ubully nila ako,” he says.

The bul­lies would al­ways pick on his phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance. “Na parang, ‘Uy, kadiri ka. Huwag ka ngang sumama sa amin. Ang pan­git-pan­git mo.’ Dati kasi, may crush po ako, ’yong muse namin. Close kami, best friend ako, gano’n. As in, best friend ko siya hang­gang ngayon. Sabi nila sa kanya, ‘Ba’t lumalapit ka diyan, ang pan­git-pan­git niyan?’ Pi­nag­tatawanan nila ’ko kasi dati mahilig ako sa K-Pop [Korean-Pop], ’tapos gano’n ’yong buhok ko. Ang pan­git daw, mukha daw akong K-Popan­git.”

Hurt­ful as those words were, Mar­lou con­tin­ued dream­ing.

“Sanay na lang ako. Sanay na lang. Do’n ako nagsim­u­lang hindi makipaghalu­bilo sa mga tao. Kasi, pagka sa school ako, kausap ko lang ako at saka ’yong best friend ko. ’Tapos, uuwi ako sa ba­hay namin. Do’n lang. Wala po ako ma­g­awa, umi­iyak na lang, ’tapos parang nag­dadasal na lang sa Pangi­noon: ‘Sana maranasan ko din ’yong ma­g­a­n­dang buhay. Sana maranasan ko din na tilian ng maram­ing tao. Sana maranasan ko din na ’yong crush ko, magka-crush din sa akin.’ ’ Yong gano’n po.”

His love for read­ing con­tin­ued as well. And in the end what changed his life were the sto­ries.

“Wala kasi akong alam sa so­cial me­dia dati,” he re­calls. “Parang tagabun­dok nga ako, e. ’ Yong Face­book, tawag ko diyan ‘fis­book.’ Anong ‘fis­book’ na ’yan? Mag ‘lib’ ng fis­book’— live pala ’yon. Pa’no mag-com­ment diyan?

“Ang hilig ko lang kasi po, mag­basa ng book. Pag may nakita akong isang kuwento diyan, kukuhanin ko ’yon, kahit isang pi­raso lang. ’Tapos, pagsama-samahin ko la­hat no’ng kuwento hang­gang sa makak­abuo ako ng isang is­to­rya. Then, af­ter no’n, ayun, nag-trend­ing na siya, ’yong gi­nawa kong is­to­rya.”

The sto­ries that he’s talk­ing about were, in fact, videos up­loaded by him and his for­mer Hasht5 band­mates—Vin­cent Binocas, Cee Jhay Ellero, Jhimwell Ma­can­lalay, and Erick Ebreo. The five mem­bers of the on­line-fa­mous (or in­fa­mous, de­pend­ing on the viewer’s point of view) boy band pulled ridicu­lous an­tics, out­right par­o­dies of boy bands, and over­all silly skits and photo shoots. Then, they up­loaded ev­ery­thing on­line.

Ac­cord­ing to their Face­book page, Hasht5 is an acro­nym for Have A Suc­cess­ful Honor and Tal­ent. At press time, the FB page had more than 240,000 fol­low­ers.

Ne­ti­zens, on see­ing boys with non­con­ven­tional fea­tures inch­ing their way to In­ter­net star­dom, quickly went on war­rior mode. Many of the words thrown at Hasht5 were caus­tic— pan­git, jologs, maya­bang, pango, maitim. “Wala

Xander’s very first phone was from the Filipino mo­bile phone brand MyPhone, given to him and his band­mates in Hasht5, his for­mer boy band. When he re­ceived his first salary in show­biz, he was able to buy an iPhone 5. “’Tapos ganyan pa ako, ‘Paano ba ’to?’ Ang ya­bang-ya­bang dahil naka-iPhone na ako. Haha.”

na­man ta­laga kay­ong tal­ent mga tanga !!” one basher com­mented. Another wrote: “Ayaw ko kayo pu­soan kutsi­ly­ohin nalang kayo. Pwede?”

( Pusuan means to click on the heart emoji on Face­book to sig­nify that a viewer “loves” the post.)

But as the na­ture of so­cial me­dia goes, more and more peo­ple soon got cu­ri­ous about those five guys. The bash­ing got peo­ple talk­ing.

The Hasht5 boys had their first post on their of­fi­cial Face­book page in April 2015. In Novem­ber of that same year, they ap­peared on Rated K and the va­ri­ety show ASAP 20, among other me­dia. In De­cem­ber 2015, they ap­peared as guests on the pop­u­lar com­edy talk show Gan­dang Gabi Vice, hosted by Vice Ganda.

Among the five mem­bers, it was Mar­lou who stood out—due, per­haps, to his ec­cen­tric style when it comes to clothes and hair, and the un­re­lent­ing way he projects him­self on cam­era. Still, it came as a sur­prise to Hasht5’s fol­low­ers when Mar­lou an­nounced, in Fe­bru­ary 2016, that he had left the group. He later re­vealed that he would pur­sue a ca­reer as a solo artist.

From mar­lou to Xander

If there is one thing that no one can ar­gue about Mar­lou, it’s his for­ti­tude, his abil­ity to switch off emo­tions, hard­ened as he is by the cruel re­al­i­ties of his grow­ing-up years. It is this for­ti­tude, this per­se­ver­ance that comes off as ar­ro­gance, that gets him to where he wants to be.

Case in point: Once, he was set to ap­pear in a film and needed clothes. So, with­out hes­i­ta­tion, he sent a mes­sage, through Face­book, to peo­ple who might be will­ing to spon­sor him or to en­gage with him through ex-deal con­tracts.

“Siyem­pre, marunong ako sa sar­ili ko,” he ex­plains. “Alam ko na­man, maka­pal ’yong mukha ko, ako na nagtsa-chat. Ki­nakausap ko la­hat. Damit, mga sap­atos. ‘Puwede po bang magpa-spon­sor? Pro­mote ko.’”

He adds that he had ear­lier ac­quired spon­sor­ship deals with brands of “shoes, shorts, clothes, makeup, bags, caps, and li­bre din ’yong pagupit ko.”

Know­ing these facts makes Mar­lou Arizala’s next ma­jor move un­der­stand­able.

Some­time in March of 2017, Mar­lou sent a text mes­sage to Dr. Eric Yapjuangco, a plas­tic sur­geon and the owner of The Icon Clinic in Man­daluy­ong City. “Puwede ba akong magpa-surgery?” was Mar­lou’s ques­tion to the doc­tor he had never met. “Sabi niya, ‘Okey.’ ’Tapos, tinanong ko siya, ‘Puwede po bang ex- deal ’yong us­apan?’ Sabi niya, ‘Bakit? Sino ka ba?’ Gi­nano’n niya ako. ’Tapos, sabi ko, ‘Puwede po bang meet­ing na lang?’ ’Tapos, sabi niya, ‘Sino ka ba muna?’ ’Tapos, bini­gay ko ’yong page ko, ’yong link. ’Tapos, nabuk­san niya. ‘A, ikaw pala si Mar­lou. Ikaw ba ta­laga ’yan?’ ‘Opo, ako po ito.’”

The doc­tor set up the meet­ing. Mar­lou, ac­com­pa­nied by his then-girl­friend, had a long con­ver­sa­tion with Doc Eric, who fi­nally agreed to do the surgery.

“Marami kam­ing pinag-us­apan. And then, sabi niya, ‘Okey, ire-re­mind kita o ite-text kita kung ano ang ma­pag-uusapan namin [ ng mga col­leagues].’ Then, sig­uro af­ter two months, tu­mawag. Sabi niya, ‘Eto na, ready na kami sa op­er­a­tion mo.’

“Gu­magano’n ako, ‘Thank you, Lord, eto na.’

“‘O, gan­ito, Mar­lou, itong gagawin kong surgery sa ’yo is nose and chin,’ sabi niya.

“Sabi ko, ‘Puwe­deng ilong na lang? Nakakatakot kasi.’

“Sabi niya, ‘Kasi ang ilong, pag pinatan­gos ko, ang ilong mo hindi baba­gay sa baba mo, dahil bilu­gan ka. Kailan­gan lagyan ng ko­rte.’

“‘A, sige po. Kayo po’ng ba­hala. Masakit po ba?’

“‘Hindi mo mararam­daman ’yon, tu­log ka. Gan­ito, Mar­lou. Etong gagawin kong surgery sa ’yo is planado na. Gan­ito ang mangya­yari. Ang magig­ing ano natin nito is magshu-shoot ka ng Rated K. So, ipo-pro­mote mo kami sa la­hat ng ano mo. Magkakaro’n tayo ng ka­sun­d­uan na kailan­gan kami lang ang puwede mong i-pro­mote, bawal sa iba.

Be­fore his surgery, Xander had an idea of what he wanted to look like, and some of the spe­cific fea­tures he wanted were in­spired by those of show­biz celebri­ties.

“Sabi ko lang, matan­gos ’yong ilong, parang for­eign, gano’n. ’Tapos ’yong ki­lay ko, gusto ko kasi, An­drea Bril­lantes. ’Yong lips ko, parang James Reid. ’Yong porma­han ko, Daniel Padilla.”

Later dur­ing the YES! in­ter­view, he re­veals that “Daniel Padilla ta­laga ang gusto kong peg.” Xander also wants to be paired with An­drea, whom he de­scribes as “crush ko ta­laga.”

“Sabi ko, ‘Ay, okey po. Mali­naw na­man, e.’” But Mar­lou’s pa­tience had to be tested first. Un­for­tu­nately, a few weeks af­ter their con­ver­sa­tion, in the lat­ter part of March 2017, The Icon Clinic came un­der fire when one of its pa­tients died af­ter un­der­go­ing li­po­suc­tion and breast and butt surgery. The clinic was forced to close down, pend­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“Parang nawala na na­man,” Mar­lou re­calls, shak­ing his head. “Two months na na­man akong nagh­in­tay. Kasi sabi niya, ‘Me­dyo ano muna tayo, iwas muna, nag­bakasyon muna si Doc Eric.’ Pag­ba­lik niya, ready na. Eto na, Au­gust na. Au­gust, nag­pirma­han na kami ng kon­trata. La­hat, gi­nawa ko na—’yong ki­n­unan ako ng dugo, pati ’yong sa puso, ’yong 2D echo.”

Mar­lou was al­ready 19 years old at the time, an adult, but he still con­sulted a friend about his con­tract.

“Isa kong friend na huma­hawak din siya ng tal­ents, pin­abasa ko sa kanya. ‘Sige, bro, anu­man ang mang­yari, wala ka na­mang bill­board diyan, wala kang com­mer­cial. TV lang at saka ’yong pro­mo­tion sa so­cial me­dia mo. ’Yon lang, okey na ’yan. Kala­hat­ing mi­lyon ang ha­laga niyan, li­bre ’yan, o.’”

In June of 2017, Mar­lou Arizala signed a con­tract with Star Im­age Artist Man­age­ment, a tal­ent man­age­ment, pub­lic re­la­tions, and mar­ket­ing agency. On Septem­ber 4, 2017, a Mon­day, Mar­lou un­der­went a six-hour surgery at the Marik­ina Doc­tors Hos­pi­tal and Med­i­cal Cen­ter, which is lo­cated in Pasig City, al­though it car­ries the name of the neigh­bor­ing city of Marik­ina.

Ac­cord­ing to an Oc­to­ber 2017 re­port by PEP.ph, based on the Rated K episode about Mar­lou’s surgery, he had un­der­gone the fol­low­ing pro­ce­dures:

1. Rhino­plasty (for the “pro­jec­tion” of his nose) and alarplasty (to “re­shape the width of his nos­trils”), which cost PHP95,000.

2. Men­to­plasty or chin aug­men­ta­tion (PHP60,000 to PHP70,000).

3. Mandibu­lar an­gle aug­men­ta­tion with fillers (PHP60,000).

4. 4D Eye­brow cloning for thicker brows (PHP16,000 to PHP35,000).

5. Per­ma­nent lip tint pro­ce­dure (PHP15,000 to PHP35,000). 6. Anti-wrin­kle pro­ce­dure (PHP7,000). 7. Semi-per­ma­nent eye­lash ex­ten­sions (PHP500 to PHP3,800).

8. Ce­ramic ve­neers for his teeth (PHP160,000 for eight teeth).

The fig­ures came from Mar­lou’s spon­sors, The Icon Clinic and Pret­ty­looks. Ac­cord­ing to the PEP.ph ar­ti­cle, the es­ti­mated to­tal cost could reach up to PHP465,800.

Mar­lou says he still has to con­tinue in­ject­ing glu­tathione into his body, go through frac­tional laser pro­ce­dure (which would lessen or re­move scars on his face), and con­tinue wear­ing braces on his teeth.

Look­ing back, Mar­lou says the com­pli­cated pro­ce­dure and all the wait­ing were worth it: “Para maiba na­man, maiba na­man ang tin­gin sa akin ng tao. Maiba na­man ang hit­sura ko.”

At this point in the YES! in­ter­view, he sud­denly brings up an in­ter­est­ing sub­plot in his sto­ry­line. He shares with us a much more deeply rooted rea­son for his hav­ing gone through his te­dious trans­for­ma­tion: he’s a big fan of Jake Zyrus, the trans­gen­der singer and per­former for­merly known as Charice Pem­pengco, who was born fe­male.

“Mag­pa­pabago ako ng mukha dahil gusto kong gayahin si Jake Zyrus,” Mar­lou re­calls. “Kasi idol ko ta­laga siya, as in. Kasi so­brang tapang niya, kahit ang dami niyang bash­ers. Fan niya ’ko, e, as Charice. Pu­mayag na ’ko na les­bian siya dahil sabi ko, fan ako ng LGBT [les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual, trans­gen­der]. Pu­mayag na ako.

“May mga fans na­man, ta­la­gang na­galit sa kanya. Pero ako, nan­dito pa rin para sa kanya. As in, hindi ako na­galit sa kanya dahil nag­pabago siya ng boses or nag­pakalalaki siya. Sig­uro, nag­tampo lang ako. ‘Bakit bi­nago mo ang sar­ili mo?’ ’Yon lang ang naisip ko. Pero eto pa rin ako, fan pa rin ako ni Jake Zyrus, Charice Pem­pengco.’”

And like Jake Zyrus, Mar­lou felt that he needed a new name, one be­fit­ting his new self. Be­fore his surgery, he and his man­ager al­ready started think­ing about his new per­sona.

While they were pick­ing their brains, they came across the movie xXx: Re­turn of Xander Cage (2017), star­ring ac­tion star Vin Diesel. That’s where Mar­lou got the in­spi­ra­tion for his first name.

His last name, he thought, should be an ode of some sort to another idol of his— in fact, his num­ber one idol, ac­tor Daniel Padilla, whose full name is Daniel John Ford Padilla.

And so on Septem­ber 4, 2017, on his now-of­fi­cial Face­book page, Xan­derFordOf­fi­cial, the sur­gi­cally trans­formed so­cial me­dia star posted a photo of the cloaked head of a half-man,

The straight­for­ward en­ter­tainer says he has learned to han­dle his bash­ers bet­ter:

“’Yong dati kong basher, nag­ing fan ko nga ngayon, e. Nag­u­lat ako, e. Ac­tu­ally, ’yong madami ngayon, puro je­je­mon ang mga bash­ers ko. ’Yong mga babaeng dati galit na galit sa akin, na parang ‘feel­ing pogi,’ ngayon nagtsa-chat na rin sa akin. Ang dami na nga ring nagsabi na ‘Uy, con­grats, ha, kasi natu­pad mo na ang pan­garap mo.’ Gano’n. ‘Hayaan mo lang ’yong bash­ers.’”

He also paints a sad pic­ture of the cur­rent state of so­cial me­dia to­day: “’Yong ibang bash­ers na na­ga­galit sa akin, ini­isip ko na lang na sig­uro kung mawawala sila, mawawala din ako. Kasi sila ’yong nag­pa­paingay sa akin, e.”

half-skull, with the words “Mar­lou Arizala” writ­ten be­low it. And be­low that: “May 1997 (Birth) – Septem­ber 2017 (Death).” The cap­tion said: “Bye MAR­LOU Hello XANDER.”

The Busi­ness of Show­biz

Nat­u­rally, af­ter the much-talked-about Rated K episode, Xander Ford got in­vited— and is still get­ting in­vited—for in­ter­views and photo shoots, and as guest on ra­dio and TV shows. He had, in short, crossed the thresh­old to a big­ger show­biz cir­cle.

But like many who have had a taste of fame, whether that’s 15 min­utes of fame or 15 years, Xander Ford, too, has at­tracted con­tro­ver­sies.

On Oc­to­ber 6, 2017, co­me­dian, ra­dio host, and tal­ent man­ager Ogie Diaz posted on his Face­book ac­count that a singer friend told to him about how “maya­bang” Xander had acted in­side the ABS- CBN stu­dio.

An ex­cerpt from Ogie’s post (re­pro­duced as is):

“Tap­ing ng Home Sweetie Home kan­ina. Guest si Xander Ford. Sa hall­way, daming nagpa-pic­ture sa kanya. Ki­tang-kita ko yon kasama ko ang isang babaing singer.

“Kuya Ogie, ha­lika na. Ayoko yan. Hindi ko gusto yan. Maya­bang yan. “Baket maya­bang? “Nakasabay ko yan nung isang araw sa lobby ng ABS-CBN. Lumapit siya sa guwardya, sabi niya, ‘Guard, guard! Pa­pa­sukin mo ’ko. Ako si Xander Ford!’

“Ohhh, di ba? Ang syoray ng Lolo Xander n’yo. Ha­haha!”

On Oc­to­ber 8, PEP.ph re­ported that Xander, through a Face­book post, had for­mally apol­o­gized to Ogie Diaz. The post has since been deleted, but the PEP re­port stated that Xander wrote, in part, “nag ma­makaawa ako sana Tito Ogie Diaz Kausapin nyo muna ako bago mo po ako hus­ga­han kasi po nar­inig nyo lang na­man po. Ano pa­pot kayo ang hi­na­hangan ko mula pagk­a­bata ko tapos po ganyan po.”

Xander added, ac­cord­ing to the PEP.ph re­port, “Nag sososry po ako sa la­hat ng mga taong Galit sa akin pasen­sya na po.”

When asked about the in­ci­dent dur­ing the YES! in­ter­view, Xander tells us:

“Gano’n po ’yong boses ko ta­laga, as in, gar­al­gal. So, ’yong mga tao, akala nila pag tinawag ako, ‘Uy, idol,’ sabi­hin ko, ‘Uy!,’ akala nila sin­isi­gawan ko. Parang namimisun­der­stood nila na ‘’Yan si Mar­lou, nanini­gaw ’yan, e. Pan­git ng ugali niyan.’

“’Tapos, pag may nag­papa-pic­ture daw, ayun, min­san hindi ko na­pa­pansin. Kasi ako, min­san, parang nalil­ito na ako, saan ba ako titin­gin. ’Tapos, hindi ko daw sila pina­pansin. ’Tapos, nag­tatakip daw ako ng hood. Pero hindi kasi nila alam, as in, like eto, kun­wari, bawal ko ’to il­abas, di ba? Kasi da­pat kailan­gan kayo po ’yong unang lal­abas sa YES! Mag­a­zine.

“Ngayon sasabi­hin nila, ‘Uy, Mar­lou, meron ka daw ano, ha, gi­nawa ngayon. Sabi­hin mo na­man.’ “‘Hindi puwede. Baka ano, e.’ “‘Uy, madamot, wala ka pala, e.’ “Di ba, mis­un­der­stood agad. Magkukuwento agad sila. Ru­mors, ’tapos af­ter no’n, wala na, sira na ’ko.”

Af­ter Xander’s pub­lic apol­ogy, Ogie posted another mes­sage on Oc­to­ber 8, an ex­cerpt of which says (re­pro­duced as is): “Kesa mag­paawa at iyakan ang pan­lalait sa yo ng ibang tao, eh ngi­tian mo na lang sila at pan­gara­pin mong balang-araw, magu­gus­tuhan ka rin nila. At mangya­yari lang yon kung tu­tu­lun­gan mo ring mare­toke ang ilang ugal­ing ik­inabubu­rat nila sa yo.”

Still on Oc­to­ber 8, Xander again apol­o­gized to Ogie in a Face­book post: “Les­son Learned. Nakausap po ng mga man­agers ko kan­ina si Tito Ogie Diaz tungkol po sa is­sue. Sorry po tito ogie kasi may mga nasabi po ako sa post ko kagabi na di na­man da­pat sabi­hin at makakasakit sa damdamin mo. Kasi po nasak­tan din ako sa mga ibang nasabi nyo sakin. Pero bi­nasa ko po mabuti post mo ngayon at naram­daman ko na­man po na con­cern ka lang din sakin. Susundin ko po ang mga payo nyo at payo ng mga man­agers ko dahil yun ang tama.” But the con­tro­ver­sies didn’t end there. On Oc­to­ber 13, just when the noise was start­ing to dwin­dle, a video con­ver­sa­tion in which a guy called ac­tress Kathryn Bernardo “sakang” went vi­ral. A ne­ti­zen al­leged that the voice was Xander’s, but he ve­he­mently de­nied this.

On his Face­book ac­count, Xander wrote: “Nakakasad lang kasi Hin­uhus­ga­han ako dahil po sa Ku­makalat na Video na Ka­boses ko at nag paplug pa ng Laluna san­gre [the TV se­ries La Luna San­gre stars Kathryn Bernardo and her love-team part­ner Daniel Padilla]. Una po sa la­hat. Hindi ko po kayang ga­nunin si Ate Kathryn Bernardo... Ma­hal na ma­hal namin si ate kath. sya yung isa sa Ki­nagig­ili­wan ng mga Fan­boy nat­u­lad ko.”

In the days that fol­lowed, another video— this time clearly show­ing Xander talk­ing to the cam­era and diss­ing Kathryn—ap­peared on­line. The video was posted by PEP.ph on Oc­to­ber 15, 2017.

In the video, which is un­mis­tak­ably the full ver­sion, and a much-clearer ver­sion, of the first vi­ral video, Xander can be seen and heard speak­ing these words:

“Pino-pro­mote ko po pala, ’yong pal­abas po namin, ano, La Luna San­gre. A, gusto ko lang po sa inyo, a, ano, spoil­ers ta­laga ako. Gusto ko lang po sa inyo ibun­yag na ’yong lobo pong gi­na­gana­pan po ni Kathryn Bernardo po, sakang po ’yon…

“Kaya po sa mga nanini­walang gus­tong mag­ing num­ber one, FHM [mag­a­zine’s “Sex­i­est Woman” poll] model si Kathryn Bernardo, huwag na po kay­ong umasa. Never pa akong nakakita ng ano, sexy na sakang ang paa.”

Kathryn’s fans, friends, and fam­ily im­me­di­ately de­fended her, pour­ing out their anger on their so­cial me­dia ac­counts. Xander re­mained si­lent.

On Oc­to­ber 18, 2017, the Star Im­age Artist Man­age­ment team or­ga­nized a press con­fer­ence in their Que­zon City of­fice. PEP.ph cov­ered the event. Dur­ing the con­fer­ence, Xander ad­mit­ted that it was him on the video.

Ac­cord­ing to the PEP.ph re­port, Xander said: “Hindi ko po siya tanda kung kailan namin siya na­gawa or na­pagkuwen­tuhan. Pero natatan­daan ko nga na nasa bus pala yun. Oo nga, nasabi ko nga yun kay Ate Kath. Pero in a way po na nag­bibiruan lang kam­ing magkakaibi­gan po. Tapos po, hindi ko na­man alam na may ga­nung lal­abas.”

He fur­ther ex­plained: “Gusto kong aminin man sa tao, pero natatakot po ako. Hindi ko po kasi alam kung ano ang gagawin ko. Natatakot po kasi ako na i-judge ulit ng mga tao. Natatakot ako na hus­ga­han po nila ako ulit, na hindi ko po aminin sa kanila yung mga pagkaka­ma­l­ing na­gawa ko po.”

He ended by apol­o­giz­ing to ev­ery­one and promis­ing to im­prove his at­ti­tude, now that he is Xander.

“Ngayon pa lang po, gusto ko lang po sabi­hin sa in­y­ong la­hat na, hindi lang po kay Ate Kath lang yung may [ video]. Mas madami pa pong lal­abas na isyu about sa akin, sa mga gi­nawa ko po noong Mar­lou pa po ako. At saka po yung mga about sa self ko po, mas marami pa pong lal­abas, mas matindi pa po dito. Kaya ngayon pa lang po, nanghi­hingi na po ako ng tawad. Sana po patawarin niyo po ako. Sana po bi­gyan niyo po ako ng chance dahil ito na po ako, si Xander Ford na nag­babago o nagha­han­dang mag­bago. Kal­imu­tan na po natin yung mga nakaraan po ni Mar­lou. Kung may nakita man kayo na lal­abas about kay Mar­lou, si Mar­lou na lang po yun, hindi na po ’yong si Xander Ford.”

He was es­pe­cially apolo­getic to Kathryn: “Handa po akong lumapit kay Kathryn Bernardo, kay Kuya Daniel, sa KathNiel fans, pati po kay Tita Karla [Daniel’s mother]. Handa po akong lumapit sa kanila, manghingi lang po ng tawad. Kahit po lu­muhod ako sa hara­pan nila, ma­p­atawad lang po nila ako.”

Liv­ing the Mo­Ment

In the YES! in­ter­view, Xander Ford ad­mits that the rapid se­quence of events, from high points to may­hem, can be ex­haust­ing, but he doesn’t mind: “Na­pa­pagod ako, pero kailan­gang ti­isin siyem­pre, kasi work nga po ito, kailan­gan kong mat­a­pos ’to.”

And com­pared with what he went through in his past life, his tri­als to­day are minuscule.

“Etong mga gi­na­gawa kong ’to, easy lang ’to kumpara sa mga gi­nawa ko dati, e. Dati, ang gi­na­gawa ko, sa ini­tan pa ko no’n [ ha­bang nag­bebenta ng sigar­i­lyo]. Ang hawak ko pa, ’yong mabi­gat pa, ’tapos mga pera. Do’n, puwede ako madis­grasya, puwede ako ma­bangga.

“Dito, hindi, e. Ac­tu­ally nga, dito, ban­tay-sarado ako ng mga tao dito, e. Di ba, pag sin­abi mo, ‘Ate, puwede po akong makahingi ng juice?’—‘ Eto, Mar­lou, o.’ Dati, hindi. ‘Ku­muha kang mag-isa mo!’ Parang ang laki ng ’pinag­bago.”

Still, de­spite what peo­ple be­lieve or think, Xander is aware that the spot­light will be turned to some­one in due time. But while the show is go­ing on, he will keep striv­ing for his fam­ily.

When we ask him about his dreams, he shakes his head and says firmly: “Eto na lang ’yong hiling ko bago sig­uro ako kunin ni Lord, or what­ever na mang­yari sa akin: ‘Gusto ko lang maibi­gay ’yong pan­garap ng mag­u­lang ko. Pag naibi­gay ko na ’yong ba­hay, lupa, baba­yaran ko ’yong utang ng nanay. ’ Yon lang, ma­g­awa ko lang ’yon kay Mommy. Af­ter no’n, Lord, kahit ano na, okey na ’ko.”

Is he al­ready start­ing to build a house for his fam­ily? For now, he says, he can only af­ford to buy a car—which is not in his im­me­di­ate plans.

“Hindi, gusto ko ta­laga ba­hay, ayoko ng sasakyan. Gusto ko ’yong stay-in, ’yong hindi na kami sisingilin, ‘O, mag­bayad kayo ng utang n’yo!’ Ayoko na. Gusto ko, matu­tu­log, hi­higa na lang ’yong nanay ko. Pag­tayo niya, kakain na lang siya, maglu­luto, hi­higa.

“Kasi ako, bago ko ’to pa­sukin, alam ko na ta­laga sa sar­ili ko na in­isip ko na kailan­gan, fo­cus ako. Af­ter five years, magig­ing okey na ’ko no’n. Meron na ’ko la­hat-la­hat ng kailan­gan ko no’n.

“Mag-iibang-bansa na agad ako. Do’n ako magha­hanap ng ma­pa­pan­ga­sawang for­eigner. Haha. Do’n na ’ko mag­pa­pakasal. Nat­u­lun­gan ko na sila. Kasi alam ko ta­laga, hindi la­hat ng artista sum­isikat nang ganyan, ’tapos stay lang.”

The furor that has been hound­ing Xander Ford has re­volved around what is seen on the out­side. But what is in­side, too, is a work in progress.

But for cer­tain, as Mar­lou and as Xander, the boy is de­ter­mined to con­quer big­ger dreams.

“May ibibi­gay pa ako. Hang­gang ano po ’yan, hang­gang huli.”

When it comes to show­biz squab­bles, Xander has one rule: “Sig­uro po, sa akin lang, ka­pag bata ’yong magig­ing ka­away ko, sig­uro ako ’yong ma­g­a­ad­just, as some­one big­ger than the child. Pero kung matanda sig­uro, tatahimik na lang ako, o-oo, ’tapos mag­pa­pakum­baba and magsasabi na lang ng to­too, magso-sorry, gano’n.”

On Xander: Black pullover & pants, FOLdEd & HUNG

On Xander: Red Jacket, White T‑Shirt, Jog­ging Pants, FOLDED & HUNG

On Xander: Printed Pullover, SAN DIEGO’s FAB

On Xander: Jacket & Denim Pants, FOLDED & HUNG Printed Top, Stylist’s Own

shoot pRo­DuC­ERs: Irene MIs­lang & anna pIngol haiR & MakEup: MUrIel Vega pereZ stylist: Joel on­Tong of #sTYleBYo spE­Cial thaNks to DaVID CaBaWaTan & VInCe aBa­solo of sTar IM­age arTIsT Man­age­MenT

On Xander: Gray Suit, White LongSleeved & Gray Pants, CHAN­CEL­LOR 9000


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