"Meron na akong katuwang sa buhay."
On October 26, 2019, Vice Ganda finally confirmed on national television that Ion Perez is his boyfriend.
It was a major #LoveWins moment for Vice whose past loves have always been kept in private.
But for the first time, Vice found a man who openly speaks about loving him without fear of being judged for being in a same-sex relationship.
Was it love at first sight for Vice and Ion? When did they become a couple? Why did they keep it a secret for a year?
Here, PEP.ph traces back the kilig moments leading to Vice's confirmation that he found true love in Ion.
May 2018: Vice and Ion's first meeting
Ion was first discovered when he won the international male pageant Mr. Universe Tourism 2018.
In May 2018, he and two other male beauty titlists watched the late-night talk show Gandang Gabi Vice! (GGV) hosted by Vice.
They were seated at the front row of the studio when "Gigil Kid" Carlo Mendoza picked Ion to sit between him and Vice on stage.
"Pogi ba? In fairness, ha! Marunong umi-spot ito, ha!" said Vice of his kiddie co-host.
It was a brief encounter as Ion was only asked to dance while Carlo sang "Pusong Bato."
After the number, Vice and Ion shared a quick hug, then Ion went back to sit with his fellow beauty titlists.
September 19, 2018: Ion's first day on It's Showtime
On September 19, 2018, Ion was launched as Kuya Escort on ABS-CBN's noontime show It's Showtime where Vice is the main host.
Ion was called on cue and asked to comfort a gay "Miss Q&A" contestant who was feeling emotional over a long-distance relationship.
But upon seeing Ion on stage, Vice got distracted and was instantly charmed by the cute chinito who hails from the province of Concepcion, Tarlac.
Staring at Ion, Vice exclaimed, "Kamukha ni Bong Revilla! Ang guwapo, o!"
At the time, Ion was just a stand-in for the original "Kuya Escort" Greg Hawkins, a US citizen who was having trouble fixing his work permit in the Philippines.
Joking about Ion replacing Greg for good, Vice said, "Naku, Greg! Nanganganib ang buhay mo! Ayusin mo mga papeles mo sa lalong madaling panahon. Isang iglap, mapapalitan ka, e!"
Vice was quick to fish for information about Ion—his age, address, and relationship status.
The still camera-shy Ion answered in this order: He's 27 years old, lives in Tivoli Garden in Mandaluyong, and has no girlfriend.
Vice then joked that he and Ion would make a perfect pair.
"Ang guwapo, kamukha ni Bong Revilla!" Vice remarked.
Channeling the wife of Senator Bong Revilla, Vice quipped, "Hi, I'm Lani Mercado!"
It was just the beginning of more kilig feels between Vice and Ion.
September 27, 2018: On-screen romance
Ion soon became a regular Kuya Escort and would often get longer TV exposure because of his on-screen flirtation with Vice.
On September 27, Vice made fun of Ion's quirky voice.
Vice naughtily asked Ion: "Bukod sa boses mo, ano pang maliit sa iyo? Sabihin mo na hangga't maaga pa, para hindi na ako umasa."
Of his physique, Ion assured Vice, "Wala na. Boses lang talaga yung maliit sa akin."
Ion showed that he didn't win Mister Universe Tourism 2018 for nothing, as he flaunted his six-pack abs on the show that day.
Vice continued to flirt with Ion, "Alam mo nagdra-dry lips mo, basain mo."
Thrilling the audience, Vice made a play of brushing his finger on Ion's lips, "Ay, wala ka na atang laway!"
October 22, 2018: Ion wants Vice to meet his family
"Hinanap-hanap kita ng isang linggo," Vice told Ion in the October 22 telecast of It's Showtime.
Ion smoothly responded, "Ako rin na-miss ko talaga dito. Umuwi ako ng probinsiya. Pero nandun man ako, pinapanood kita."
Vice said hello to people from Ion's hometown in Tarlac.
Then he asked Ion, "Kailan mo ako dadalhin diyan?"
Ion answered, "Ikaw, kung kailan ka puwidi."
Copying Ion's Kapampangan accent, Vice said, "Puwidi naman ako mamaya. Papakilala mo ba ako sa pamilya mo?"
Noting Vice's celebrity status, Ion replied, "Kilala ka na nila, pero gusto ka rin nila makilala."
Vice readily agreed, "Sana makilala ko sila kasi hindi ko pa sila kilala."
November 27, 2018: Ion introduces his mom to Vice
On November 27, Ion's mom came to the studio to watch the live telecast of It's Showtime.
It was Ion's 28th birthday and his only wish was for his mom to live a long and healthy life.
Then Ion told Vice that his mom was there among the studio audience.
Vice cheerfully greeted Ion's mom, "Hi, Mother! Ayan pala yung nanay mo, si Nanay Zeny."
Then Mommy Zeny was asked to give a birthday message for Ion.
"Pagbutihin mo yung pagsasayaw mo. 'Tsaka sana gumanda lalo ang trabaho mo.
"Mahalin mo sarili mo. Pasalamat ka sa Panginoong Diyos binigyan ka ng pagkakataong ito.
"Sa bumubuo ng Showtime, lalo na kay Vice, maraming salamat sa inyo, at sa mga staff dito."
To which, Vice said, "Nice to meet you, Nanay. Kasi palaging sinasabi sa akin ni Ion, 'Gusto kang makilala ng nanay ko.'"
Then Ion grew emotional without warning.
Ion explained that he was shedding tears of joy because his life has changed for the better because of his stint on It's Showtime.
"Si Nanay kasi, yung pinagdaanan ng buhay namin...Na eto po, andito po ako ngayon. Sobrang nagpapasalamat po talaga ako sa Panginoon."
November 24, 2018: Ion opens up about his life story
Three days earlier, on November 24, 2018, Ion talked about coming from a poor family in Concepcion, Tarlac.
His late father was a jeepney driver and his mom was a kakanin vendor.
"Si Ion po ay isang simpleng mamayanan sa probinsiya. Tinutulungan si Nanay sa pagtitinda ng kakanin at lugaw doon po sa lugar namin," he said on the late-night talk show Tonight With Boy Abunda.
Ion was the eleventh child in a brood of 15. He used to tag along with his mom when she would go around town selling kakanin.
He also recalled how his family went through tough times, especially when his elder brother died years ago.
Ion said his parents couldn't afford to buy medicine for his brother and no one in their town was willing to lend them a measly P150.
"Kaya sabi ni Tatay, huwag maging madamot, kasi naranasan natin pagdamutan ng ibang tao. Kaya sobrang sakit din po."
Ion's humble beginnings were the reason he felt so lucky to be part of It's Showtime.
Not after Vice's fame
As early as that time, Ion was being accused of using Vice for fame.
Still based on his TV interview with Boy Abunda, Ion made it clear that he has no ulterior motive in befriending Vice on and off cam.
Ion said, "Nagkakamali sila kasi sobrang bait na tao ni Vice.
"Hindi ko inaasahan na mapapalapit ako sa kanya, na magugustuhan din niya yung pagka-jologs ko.
"Siguro yun ang masasabi ko. Nagustuhan niya yung pagka-jologs ko, sa pagiging bulol ko minsan.
"Kaya 'yon po siguro, naging malapit ako sa kanya."
December 2018: Vice and Ion's on-screen romance
True enough, Ion and Vice grew closer in the next few months.
The public witnessed how the two became more relaxed during their impromptu skits on It's Showtime.
Just like on December 21, when Ion competed with Jacque "Ate Girl Jackie" Gonzaga in vying for Vice's attention.
Their love triangle was regularly seen during the "Miss Q&A" and "KapareWho" segments.
Ate Girl Jackie said, "Mas malaki puso ko."
Ion begged to disagree and told Vice, "Mas malaki yung sa akin kasi kumasya ka, e."
Vice was rendered speechless for a while before he coyly slapped Ion's face.
To which, Anne Curtis exclaimed, "Huy! Huwag ka nga masyado madala dun!"
January 1, 2019: Vice and Ion's tampuhan on New Year's Day
It soon became evident that Vice and Ion's kilig vibe is not just for show.
When It's Showtime went live on New Year's Day, Vice refused to speak with Ion because of a personal tampuhan.
So it fell on Vice's co-host Jhong Hilario to quiz Ion during the "Miss Q&A" segment.
Explaining how he spent New Year's Eve, Ion said, "Napasarap yung inom namin, kaming mga magkakamag-anak.
"Nakalimutan ko siya batiin.
"Hindi naman ako na-low batt, e. Nawala lang yung signal sa kuwarto ko."
Then he tried to make amends with Vice, saying, "Hello, Miss! Happy New Year po. Pasensiya na po, napasarap lang yung kuwentuhan."
Vice was on the other side of the stage with Ate Girl Jackie.
Instead of addressing Ion, Vice looked at Ate Girl Jackie when he spoke of his tampo.
"Nakakatuwa yung napasarap daw yung kuwentuhan. Tayo din napasarap yung pag-aantay natin.
"Sana habang napasarap yung kuwentuhan niyo at pag-iinuman, sana napasarap din yung pag-aantay natin. E, hindi e!
"Kung gusto niyo mag-inuman, e, 'di mag-inuman kayo. Pero sasabihin mo para hindi kami nag-aantay.
"Ta's sasabihin mo pa, 'Huwag kang kakain, sabay tayong kakain.' Ayan, nabulok yung appendicitis ko!"
When asked to give a New Year message for Vice, Ion said, "Sana maging masaya siya 'tsaka malakas yung pangangatawan."
Still miffed, Vice continued to ignore Ion.
Addressing Jhong, the comedian-host said, "Sino ba kausap mo? Nakikipag-usap ka sa hangin!"
February 2019: Late-night texting
The following month, Vice and Ion hinted at how they've been texting each other until the wee hours of the morning.
This happened when Anne noticed that Ion's eyes looked swollen during a February 2019 telecast of It's Showtime.
Ion explained that he overslept because he stayed up late the night before.
"Kasi yung isa dapat laging nire-replyan, e," said Ion.
Pointing at how Vice seems to be Ion's textmate, Anne exclaimed, "Naku, naku, naku! Yung mukha ng isa!"
Vice interjected, "Sino yung ka-text mo?"
Ion replied, smiling, "Alam mo na 'yon!"
March 2019: Ion's confession
It didn't take long before the public caught on to Vice and Ion's budding romance.
Screenshots of Ion's guest appearance on GGV went viral with netizens claiming Ion had just confessed his feelings for Vice.
The episode, which aired on March 31, showed Ion admitting that he considers Vice as someone "special" to him.
But the rest of Ion's "confession" was reportedly screened by the management and didn't make it on air.
Netizens, however, managed to get video clips of Ion stating that he has no qualms about expressing how he feels towards Vice.
"Hindi talaga ako magtatago. Makikita nila kung ano yung nararamdaman ko sa 'yo."
March 29, 2019: Vice introduces Ion to his mom
By March 29, 2019, it was Vice's turn to introduce Ion to his mom.
The studio audience of It's Showtime was thrilled when Vice revealed that his mom and sisters came to watch him live that day.
"Ay, nandiyan yung kapatid ko, dalawa, tsaka yung nanay ko. May gusto ka ba sabihin sa kanila?"
This prompted Ion to say, "Ate, Nanay...Humihingi po ako ng permiso. Puwede ba ako sa puso niya?"
Vice then playfully gave Ion a quick kiss on the cheek.
When the camera panned to the studio audience, Vice's mom and sisters were laughing at the comedian-host's usual funny antics.
It was the perfect opportunity to find out if Vice's mom approves of Ion.
But Vice prevented his co-host Vhong Navarro from doing so.
Diverting the audience's attention to a safer topic, Vice revealed that his mom will accompany him to his upcoming shows in Canada.
"Nalaman ng nanay ko na kasama si Ion sa Canada, 'tsaka si Jackie, sumama! Sisiguraduhin daw niya na si Jackie ang kasama ko sa eroplano!"
May 2019: Vice and Ion's trip to the US and Canada
In May 2019, Vice and Ion had the chance to bond in between the comedian-host's concert tours abroad.
Their first stop was in the US where Ion reportedly introduced Vice to his sister Natalia Perez-Chen and brother-in-law Frank Chen.
All four of them went out on a date at Madame Tussauds Hollywood, a wax museum in Los Angeles, California.
It was Natalia who posted their photos on Facebook, and captioned the photos "Summer is Lab Lab."
Then on May 20, Vice himself posted updates about his "workation" with Ion in Canada.
They were accompanied by Vice's mom and sister when they went sightseeing in Banff, Canada.
They rode a gondola to see the scenic view of Sulphur Mountain.
This family outing fanned speculations about Vice and Ion being an item, but the two remained tight-lipped about the issue.
June 2019: Vice's "mystery" boyfriend
By June 2019, Vice started dropping hints about his blooming love life.
In It's Showtime's June 27 episode, he mentioned that he's in a relationship with an unnamed guy for "seven months."
His co-hosts seemed well-aware of Vice's relationship status as they would sometimes let it slip that they've had the chance to bond with this unnamed guy outside work.
The media and public alike were quick to guess that it could be Ion, who's the closest guy to Vice at the time.
But Vice refused to say anything more whenever he would get asked about his love life by the entertainment press.
"Happy naman ang mga buhay namin ni Ion, that's the real score," Vice briefly stated during his book launch on June 6, 2019.
July 2019: Vice visits Ion's home in Tarlac
Yet there was no denying that something special was going on between Vice and Ion.
On July 15, 2019, photos of Vice visiting Ion's home in Concepcion, Tarlac, made the rounds online.
It seemed like a momentous occasion as Vice and Ion were photographed with both their moms present in the Perezes' living room.
Other photos also showed how Vice was warmly welcomed by Ion's relatives.
By all accounts, it was an indication that Vice's relationship with Ion has turned serious—whether they admit it or not.
July 24, 2019: Ion's telling tattoo
Ion, for his part, grew bolder in showing his affection for Vice off-cam.
He got a tattoo on his left leg that reads "03 31 1976" which happens to be Vice's date of birth.
This was posted on Ion's Instagram Stories on July 24, 2019, with this caption: "PLEASE DON'T BREAK THE RULES."
What could be the rules that they've set for each other?
August 21, 2019: "Just friends"
While Vice and Ion's relationship became more obvious to the public, they still tried to mislead the media with either a noncommittal answer or an outright denial.
On August 21, 2019, Ion categorically denied that he and Vice have been secretly in a relationship.
Ion was grilled by entertainment reporters about how his kilig banter with Vice on It's Showtime seem half-meant.
But Ion insisted that he only loves Vice as a "friend."
When reached for comment, Vice refused to react to what Ion said about them being just friends.
"Ay, happy lang kami. Sa happiness lang tayo," Vice safely answered in a separate interview on Tonight With Boy Abunda.
August 2019: Ion calls Vice "mine"
The rumored couple, however, couldn't help but show off their love for each other.
It was held at the Araneta Coliseum on August 25, 2019.
Four days later, on August 29, Ion posted on his Instagram Stories photos showing his sweet moments with Vice during the game.
He even added a GIF that read "MINE MINE MINE" in the photo where he and Vice were hugging each other.
September 20, 2019: Vice says "I love you" to Ion
Then on September 20, 2019, the rumored couple caused another kilig scene on It's Showtime.
Vice and Ion were asked to pretend like no one can hear them so they can freely express how they feel for each other.
Anne further instructed the two, "Kunwari lang naman. Walang malisya 'to, Tol!"
To get them in the mood for love, Vice asked for "lambing" from Ion.
Then Ion looked into Vice's eyes and said, "Tutal tayo naman dalawa sa mundo, siguro eto na pagkakataon ko para sabihin nararamdaman ko. I love you!"
Vice softly replied, "I love you."
After a few moments, Vice noticed that Ion got teary-eyed.
When asked why he suddenly turned emotional, Ion tried to laugh it off and said, "Wala, kinikilig lang ako!"
But Ion still couldn't contain his emotions so Vice became teary-eyed himself.
Vice added, "Parang timang 'to!"
Anne asked Ion again, "Ion, bakit ka naiiyak?"
Ion seemed sincere as he spoke of his feelings for Vice:
"Wala...Kasi ang saya kapag nakikita ko siyang masaya, e. Ang sarap makitang masaya yung taong mahal mo."
Vice was still wiping his tears when Anne and co-host Vhong initiated a group hug.
October 26, 2019: Vice reveals Ion is his boyfriend
Then the day finally came for Vice to officially declare that Ion is his boyfriend.
His admission happened on October 26, 2019, the last day of Magpasikat, which was a week-long celebration of It's Showtime's tenth anniversary.
"Hindi na ako nag-iisa. Meron na akong katuwang sa buhay. And I am so happy," said Vice in his speech.
The phenomenal box-office star went on to say that his past heartaches didn't matter anymore as he found true love right where he works.
"Dito sa 10th year, natagpuan ko. Yung sinabi ko—you don't need to be loved by the whole world, you only need yourself and one person that you love to accept and love you back...
"And meron na ako nun."
A tearful Ion gave Vice a kiss and stood beside the comedian-host.
Ion proudly proclaimed, "Siguro bonus lang na naging Vice Ganda, pero yun talaga yung minahal ko—si Tutuy."
The couple was said to have celebrated their first anniversary as a couple on October 25, 2019.