Completing Dr. Israel “El” Bactol’s honorable and heroic story on Maalaala Mo Kaya grippingly delves on matters of the heart and his tragic, untimely death.
In the second part of the two-episode comeback special of MMK on December 5, titled “Bracelet,” the depiction is heartwarming and heartbreaking as it primarily told the love story of El (Arjo Atayde) and his co-resident in a local private hospital in Nueva Ecija, Dr. Lerma Iglesia (Jane de Leon), and his eventual demise due to contracting COVID-19.
El and Lerma’s relationship seem unlikely at first, but eventually was nothing less than destined. El’s reserved and silent demeanor might not be considered so romantic, but his selflessness, passion for his work, his commitment to serve, and obvious deep affection towards Lerma even without so much to say, would really lead mutual admiration, and yes, love.
The episode delightfully retold how their ties developed and strengthened in the last two years, from sharing 36-hour shifts in the hospital to their common weakness—delicious Pinoy dishes, such as tinola and salpicao.
“Bracelet” further brought to the screen how this relationship grew from working as mere colleagues to planning their “forever” together. It delightfully showed how they would first share notes as internal medicine residents, become closer as friends to Eli introducing Lerma to his family, and finally professing his love for her, who also amusingly confronted him to do so in a kilig date, with El giving Lerma a bracelet. When El saw that Lerma wore that bracelet, their relationship began with both sharing their dreams for one another and preparing their future together, starting with a planned trip to South Korea.
But when El wasn’t getting in touch with Lerma that often and COVID-19 had its first infections in Manila, she visited him in the hospital and noticed that he was coughing profusely. He would later find out in Lerma’s presence that a patient had tested positive for COVID-19 and was told to put himself in quarantine. Since Lerma was with him at that time, El told her to go on quarantine as well, as fear creeped in their faces.
Since then, El’s condition worsened. He had since been unable to breathe freely and was intubated in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Lerma frantically tried to be by El’s side as he bore the brunt of the virus, but was unable to, because getting in close proximity with a COVID-19 patient if not a health worker was prohibited. Nanay Celestina (Sylvia Sanchez) had also desperately wanted to stay close to El, but also couldn’t. El was alone as he suffered.
Lerma could only communicate her love for him through live mobile video call, with El only able to see her and mumble words, but gathered enough strength to respond to her weeping girlfriend with a finger heart.
As Eli’s condition went critical, and doctors tried to revive him, Lerma rushed to the hospital and stood by the ICU’s waiting area, hysterically encouraging El to not give up and continue fighting to make their dreams together come true. As a tear fell on El’s left eye as he laid unconscious, the hero doctor, who would least think of himself in any dire situation, was gone.
Lerma heard the medical staff uncontrollably crying on her phone, as doctors declared him dead, and fell into a speechless state of shock. But as El’s Kuya Elijah (Hero Angeles) arrived and heard the devastating news and told their Tatay Romeo (Rommel Padilla) in a call that Eli had passed on, Lerma would break down and wail over her unspeakable loss.
After Nanay Celestina dropped the baking pan she uses in that oven El gifted her, she knew it was a bad sign. As she picked it up, Tatay Romeo would appear at their door looking distraught. As she looked at him with so much nervousness and anxiety, Tatay Romeo could only shake his head in deep sorrow. This was the time Nanay Celestina truly lost it, uncontrollably screaming and shrieking when she learned that her beloved El had passed away.
As Tatay Romeo tried to console Nanay Celestina over her tremendous grief, Lerma was also in Elijah’s arms crying loudly and unabashedly. But nothing could prepare Nanay Celestina in heartbreakingly seeing El already in ashes, as he was immediately cremated after his death. She would approach his urn brought home by Elijah and fall down in tears clutching it in her arms.
Lerma would then stay at Nanay Celestina’s side to comfort her. Nanay Celestina told Lerma that she regrets pushing El to become a doctor, a persistence she said took his life. Lerma urged her not to blame herself for El’s death because she shared the same dream with him. She would also say that El had once emphasized to her that death is what makes life complete, and has its own beauty. Lerma also said El has found the true meaning of his life by serving his fellowmen, which she said he learned from Nanay Celestina.
“Bracelet,” just like the first part “Stethoscope” last week, is another superbly crafted dramatic masterpiece fitting for MMK’s first offering after an eight-month hiatus. Its story flow was impeccable, characterizations were well-portrayed with depth and intensity, and each scene was exceptionally executed.
Their love story was indeed so wonderfully told, as it gave one natural, organic development that really brought context and understanding to the affection and devotion they shared, until the heartbreaking pandemic that took El’s life and shattered their dreams.
Again, Arjo Atayde proved his worth as Asian Creative Awards Best Actor of 2020 by delivering on an incredibly felt, deeply imbued performance that naturally depicted El’s relatable behavior, selfless nature, and excruciating moments dealing with COVID-19. Sylvia Sanchez again touched and broke viewers hearts with her depiction of the utmost grief of a mother losing her son so suddenly, especially in that heart-rending scene when her character Nanay Celestina saw El’s urn. She truly made viewers burst into tears.
But we’re particularly impressed with how Jane de Leon has become a brilliant dramatic revelation. She carried the role of Lerma very well, from those shy and timid moments meeting El at first to the time she would actually fall in love with him and broken to bits as El succumbed. With her portrayal, Jane indeed gave us a clear idea of what Lerma is a real person, and why El was so madly in love with her. Obviously, with her performance, Jane will soar to great heights in very near future.