Elvira Manahan was a society and fashion icon whose reputation remains unrivaled to this day. All that came to an end the day she was murdered on October 14, 1986—leaving behind a legacy of glamour and mystery.
Every generation has had its own share of “It” girls. These icons were trendsetters when it came to fashion and lifestyle, and everyone who’s anyone wanted to be like them; or even have just a whiff of their aura. Their legacies stand the test of time. They would eventually be known for years, decades beyond their lifetime. During the 1950s in the Philippines, one such “It” girl was Elvira Manahan. Her show-stopping moments and fashionable stunts could rival Bianca Jagger.
She was a fashion icon whose eccentricity, laughter, and unpredictability made herself well-known in everyone she encountered. According to Nestor Torre, director and co-host of Elvira on the late-night TV talk show Two for the Road, “With her, an ordinary day turned out to be special; an adventure.”
In the Philippine social landscape, no one has, or would ever, come close to being as fascinating a subject as her. She had “it”. In Filipino terms, “may dating.” There was just something about her that would draw anyone in. She was a combination of sosyal and wacky. At a time when women were expected to be prim and proper, Elvira’s vivaciousness attracted the attention of younger people and different men gravitated to her—even though she was married. She aged gracefully, and she never let her age get the best of her when it came to living her life. She dared to be different.
Her first marriage was to Armando "Mandy" Eduque. It was during the war when they were to become a family as Elvira was pregnant with their son. The Eduques were hiding for a couple of days in a dugout they made in their yard when their dog kept on barking. Afraid that it would catch the attention of soldiers, Armando went out to take the dog away. Elvira heard a lot of shooting right after. Armando never returned. A few days later, Elvira found Armando’s dead body on the street. This would lead to her having nightmares about the tragedy that she would wake up with self-inflicted scratches.
Elvira met the renowned OB-GYN, Dr. Constanino "Tito" Manahan, then got married to Tito that same year. They had two sons: Juan (Johnny) and Constantino Jr. (Bonggoy). Elvira was often teased about how their romance started because of how “the courtship began with her legs wide open!”
Amid the social conventions of her time, she wasn’t afraid to be herself. She would literally laugh out loud at a time when this was considered uncouth. She was part of high society, and during her time, these elites looked down on people in show business. Yet, seemingly in Elvira fashion, she still went on to be a part of that world, showcasing her acting chops such as in Director Ishmael Bernal’s directorial debut, "Pagdating sa Dulo", Charito Solis’ "Ang Pulubi", and Christian Espiritu’s "Alaga".
Elvira was invited by media tycoon Eugenio Lopez Jr to host Two for the Road alongside Joey Lardizabal; then, later on, Nestor Torre. People would wait until late in the night to watch her show because of her legendary outfits and accessories. The topics they discussed on the show went from serious to the unusual—fitting for the unpredictable host.
During the pre-Martial Law days, George Sison attacked the Marcoses for their excessive wealth and spending in a newspaper column. When news about the scandalous recorded tape of the lovemaking between then-president Ferdinand Marcos and American starlet Dovie Beams became public, Elvira couldn’t believe that it really was the president, especially when she heard his screams during orgasm. She thought it could be Vic Pacia, the late comedian who used to mimic the president.
Imelda Marcos set up a meeting with Elvira and her friend, George Sison—probably in the hopes to save face. Imelda shared how there’s no privacy in the palace because, in every room, there’s a guard. Whenever she and Ferdinand would make love, he would scream. Elvira was finally convinced that it really was the then-president that she heard on the tape.
Elvira Manahan also rubbed elbows with the likes of Bob Hope, Sammy Davis Jr., Marlon Brando, and Pat Boone. Much like those who were around her, these Hollywood celebrities were also drawn to her charm.
Elvira’s favorite expressions seemed to be a foreshadowing as to what will happen to her later in life. “I need that like a hole in the head” and “When I die, I’d like to go with a bang!” were her go-to phrases.
A young man named Jaime Balatbat came into her life as someone she constantly talked to. He was even assumed to be her lover. He would spend hours talking to her about his problems; which Elvira always listened to.
It was on October 14, 1986, that the news of Elvira’s death at the hands of Balatbat shocked the public. One morning, Balatbat went to the Manahan residence supposedly to get his commission from a real estate deal as he was with the real estate agent that negotiated the sale of the Manahan’s Forbes Park home. Since it was still early in the morning, the maid offered him a seat and some refreshments then told him that Elvira won’t be up for a few more hours. The noticeably agitated Balatbat shot the maid, Margarita, then went around the house and shot the other helpers, Sheila and Estrella. The crazed realtor then went upstairs to demand funds from Elvira before killing her. He shot her then bashed her head in using a dumbbell. Elvira would, later on, be found slumped on her worktable, bleeding. Much like her favorite expression, she was shot in the head. Sheila managed to crawl out of the gate to call the attention of a neighbor’s maid, who then notified the village security. Elvira, and the rest of the victims, were rushed to the Makati Medical Center. Elvira underwent brain surgery but died later on.
Balatbat’s motive for killing Elvira is still sketchy. He already had a criminal record due to a near-fatal assault on a US embassy official. He was put to jail for the deaths of Elvira and her two helpers. He would eventually die in a prison fight two years later. Elvira’s case was so prominent that it was brought up to the Supreme Court.
Elvira was a legendary socialite who was impossible to miss. Her eclectic style can get anyone’s attention, her sharp wit made her a great conversationalist, and her electrifying personality drew anyone and everyone in—not to mention her infectious laugh that would radiate from every household’s television.
Her legacy on television lives on through her son, Johnny Manahan, or better known as “Mr. M.” He is a film and television director, and is well known for managing actors for ABS-CBN’s Star Magic.
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