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