Islander in the City | Pablo A. Tariman:

SUSAN ROCES AT 80

Susan Roces with the author in the presscon for FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano.

A few days before her 80th birthday, Susan Roces.is still busy living her role as Lola Kap in FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano.

In this scene, she is tearfully begging her grandson Cardo Dalisay (Coco Martin) to stop being impulsive. Tears are rolling down her cheeks as she implores grandson not to take the law into his own hands.

It is the former movie queen at her most active phase yet in a blockbuster teleserye now on its 6th year.

She is no stranger in teleseryes.

Some years back still regal and charming in her 70s, she delights in being installed as “Lola Ng Bayan” with her assorted grandma roles on television.

She likes the exposure. “Let’s face it, some households have more than one TV sets and viewers watch you in the comfort of their living room, in their bedrooms. Even the maids have their own viewing sessions. We are watched even in sari-sari stores. They cheer the bidas and hate the contrabidas. Some of them even talk to the characters and warn them during chase scenes, ‘Dali, takbo, aabutan kana.’ As a senior citizen, the teleserye is just one of my sources of relaxations and I relate to it a lot. Believe it or not, I also cry when my favorite character is depressed.”

True, the past decade was her years of top-rating teleseryes, “As an actress, I find extra challenge doing teleseryes. There are more cameras grinding around you and the flow of your emotion is unhampered by continuous taping. Thus, I feel good not having to re-live the same sensitive emotion over and over again the way they do it on film.  I admit it is not easy for me to cry on television. Thus, my constant request from the director is to shoot all my crying scenes in one take. I don’t really like crying in real life.”

Some years back, retired broadcast journalist Cheche Lazaro came up with a TV special analyzing the evolution of the Filipino teleserye.

Entitled “Si Ser Chief, Si Maya at Ang Teleserye,” the TV special gave both producers and audiences a bird’s eye view of what kinds soap operas would click with audiences and those likely to be ignored.

One such successful noontime teleserye called Be Careful With my Heart indeed had an audience acceptance that cut across ages, gender, social classes and race.

Be Careful With My Heart Business Unit Head Ginny Ocampo said many things come into the making of a successful teleserye. “We have an active creative group that decides the direction to which the teleserye should go and what episodes need to be developed or discarded depending on the feedback we get from the audience.”

Award-winning screenwriter Ricky Lee, who was Creative manager of ABS CBN, opined the direction of the story almost always depends on the feedback they get from the audience. “Yes, we write the story but most of the inputs in the teleserye we also get from the audience. The teleserye villain gains popular acceptance when he or she becomes widely ‘hated.’

The Lazaro TV special traced the Philippine teleserye from the time of the Gulong ng Palad in the 50s to the reign of Janice de Belen and Judy Anne Santos as child stars of Philippine teleserye and the time the Filipino favorite soap operas invaded Brunei, Myanmar, China, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam, Korea and Taiwan. It also analyzed the impact of the invasion of the Mexican teleserye import, Mari-Mar.

Finding herself in another Coco Martin top-rating teleserye now on its 6th year, Susan said he has learned to treat co-stars as relatives in real life. “Through the years I have learned to treat Coco Martin not just as co-star but as honest-to-goodness grandson in real life. Imagine fearing for the safety of your grandson for six years now!”

* * *

Susan Roces was born Jesusa Purificacion Levy Sonora in Harrison Hospital  in Pasay City on July 28, 1941.

I only saw her movies in the 60s in our island’s Catanduanes Theater.

By then, islanders were divided into pro-Susan Roces and pro-Amalia Fuentes.

My being pro-Susan led me to the belated company of the number one fan and confidante of the movie queen – the movie writer Baby K, Jimenez who happens to be one of the movie queen’s best friends.

That friendship lasted close to seven decades and still counting.

Recounted Baby K: “I first met Susan in 1963 when I was still a student. I was a member of an-all girl combo called the Polka Dots and we were invited to play at a party for her held at her own home. Years later, I bumped into her at a TV station and she remembered my name! I was pleasantly surprised. When I started writing for entertainment, it was easy to access her because of that.”

It was easy liking Susan in the 60s, 70s and 80s.

For Baby K, Susan is synonymous with being kind, sincere, thoughtful and intelligent.

She likes to sum up Susan’s 80 years as glorious decades. “I can say she was blessed. But then her name was also synonymous with humility. How she treats people is also legendary. Talk of being kind and generous to a fault.”

One episode she will not forget was when she was asked to be one of the wedding sponsors of her 1968 wedding to action star, Fernando Poe, Jr.

Main sponsors were no less than President and Mrs. Ferdinand Marcos.

As it turned out, the Susan Roces-FPJ nuptials in 1968 was wedding of the year.

Baby K still gets misty-eyed recalling best friend’s wedding 53 years ago. “It was dawn of the season’s first simbang gabi. As the church bells rang merrily to start the Misa de Gallo, Jesusa Levy Sonora officially became Mrs. Ronald Allan Poe in civil rites officiated by Mayor Gerry Angeles in Valenzuela, Bulacan. (They first went to Mayor Norberto Amoranto of Quezon City but he was not home).”

Meanwhile at the Sonora residence, they wondered where Susan was. Her bedroom was empty! They knew that the two were together earlier at a basketball game at the Araneta Coliseum and Susan even went home after that. Mommy Sonora was so worried. So Uncle Nes, Susan’s uncle-chaperon, decided to call the Poe residence. Is FPJ home? Do you know if he’s with Susan? The reply: “We also want to know his whereabouts, he’s not home either! Maybe they’re together?”

It turned out that after their civil wedding in Bulacan, the newlyweds motored to FPJ’s Beverly Hills home in Antipolo.

Continued Baby K’s recollection: “A few hours later, I was roused from sleep by a hand-carried note from Susan written on a half-torn lined pad paper.

The letter read: “My Dearest Babes: I am so happy right now and I want to share my happiness with you. Please see me as soon as possible, you have to help us with our church wedding plans!”

Susan and Baby K rushed together to talk to Pitoy Moreno regarding the wedding ensemble and later to Mila Dayrit for the rings. Asia’s fashion czar had barely seven days to work on the bride’s wedding gown. Baby K. overheard Pitoy saying he was going to do rush import of lace from Italy.

Yes, the King and Queen of Philippine Cinema eloped first week of December and figured in a rush civil wedding shortly after,

A church wedding followed on Christmas Day (no other dates were available).

Baby K’s farther recollection of that wedding of the year: “At 6 a.m. of December 25, 1968, I remember hurrying up to 226 Wilson St., San Juan, Rizal, the residence of Susan. It was her wedding day and Susan had told me most of us (her bridal entourage) would all converge first at her residence before proceeding to Santuario de San Jose in Greenhills. Susan did not forget to remind me, ‘Babes, be slow in lighting up the candle ha, check the wick properly.”  I was the candle sponsor.”

Reception was at the Presidential Hall of the Philippine Plaza. The love lovebirds left in the afternoon for their honeymoon in Japan.

* * *

In the mid-60s when I first set foot in Manila, I walked from East Avenue to Gilmore Avenue in Quezon City to do whole afternoon vigil at the gates of the Sampaguita Pictures studio hoping to see Susan Roces in person.

Never had such luck.

Saw everyone from Boy Alano to Rosemarie Sonora but never Susan Roces.

When Ricky Lo assigned me to interview Susan Roces in 1991, I replied with a triple “Yes!”

Waiting at the living room of her Lincoln Street home in Greenhills, I actually was very nervous.

That was the feeling when the one you were about to interview was the same person you had hiked East Ave. to Gilmore Avenue for — just to see them in person.

The niece, Sheryl Cruz, appeared in the living room and told me “Swanee” would be around in a while. “Mukhang nininerbiyos. Baka daw mahihirap ang mga tanong mo,” she said and I thought she was kidding.

Actually, I was the one nervous (or maybe more due to excitement).

When Susan appeared, I thought I saw a saint descend in the living room.

It took a while to break the ice as I instantly recalled how I would frequent Catanduanes Theater in Virac every time there was a Susan Roces-FPJ starrer.

In that meeting in the early 90s, I actually became more relaxed when she recalled her first audition at the Sampaguita studio.  One of the audition scenes she was made to re-enact was an “attempted rape” scene.

She recalled she hollered “Saklolo” as though her life depended on that scream. We ended up sharing laughter because she said she was very naïve when she did that audition.

Later during the interview, she also recalled visiting the grave of a close relative and noticed what looked like snow all over the place, “Pablo, I thought finally nagka-snow na sa Pilipinas. But when I touched it, sabi ko bakit hindi malamig?”

It turned out they were just ashes from Mt. Pinatubo whose eruptions sent ashes kilometers away into the wide Philippine skies.

Again, we shared boisterous laughter and then I realized my movie idol was just as human as the girl next door.

* * *

Five years ago, it was my turn to re-unite with Baby K and her Susan Roces in an intimate dinner hosted by Carlitos Siguion Reyna and Bibeth Orteza.

I was hushed to silence when the guests started arriving. First to come was movie queen Susan Roces whose films were what I remember of Catanduanes Theater now long gone.

Second to arrive was The Nora Aunor, and then another iconic Bicolana, Boots Anson Roa with husband, King Rodrigo, Jr.

You are not through staring at Ate Guy when Tirso Cruz III arrived with wife, Lynn Ynchausti.

Tirso and Nora were one of my first showbiz assignments in the pre-martial Graphic Magazine while Susan (and husband FPJ) was the reason Catanduanes Theater was always full especially on a Sunday when moviegoers from all over the island trooped to the capital town to watch their idols.

Sharing one table, you find yourself listening intently on the conversations only to discover the stars were just as human as the rest of us.

Susan asked Boots’ husband what federalism is all about, Nora said the only musical instrument she knows is the guitar and added, “Widow lang (I just play by route).

Seated in one dinner table literally surrounded by stars, I remember my days as movie fan.

In this select crowd, you had time to gently approach your favorite stars.

Approaching Nora, one told her one voted for Sen. Grace Poe to ask for justice for her being dropped in the list of National Artists (she got the highest number of votes among the nominees).

Deep into the night, you had these stars all to yourself as dinner guests and not as presscon personalities.

The sumptuous dinner was intimate as it should be and a fitting despedida for showbiz writer Baby K again leaving for Canada after campaigning for Sen. Grace Poe who literally grew up with her and the family of FPJ.

The stars and the non-stars have come to terms with their lives.

As for me, that dinner date made me come full cycle in my life as movie fan. Now I commute between the arts and the movies and happily enjoying the best of both worlds.

(And how I wish pianist Cecile Licad was there playing for her fans in the showbiz circle.

The hosts have a full grand piano in the living room where Licad used to rehearse before her Manila engagements.

By coincidence, Licad has a showbiz background. Her mother Rosario Buencamino Licad grew up in the compound of LVN studios where filmmaker Mike de Leon is a close relative.)

Looking at Susan Roces and Boots Anson Roa and Nora Aunor in the same dinner table, I couldn’t help recalling my happy days in the island when I’d emerge fulfilled and amply rewarded with a double movie treat in the only theater in the island in the 60s.

* * *

So how did the movie queen spend her 80th birthday last July 28?

She spent it quietly.

But her living room and lanai were overflowing with flowers and birthday bouquets from friends and fans who remembered.

Outside the movies and teleseryes, the movie queen is certified green thumb. In her lanai are modest harvest of fruits – santol and rambutan among others – – she raised in her garden.

Baby K describes her best friend as green thumb: “She has a special way plants and how to create a special environment for them. I remember when she was my house guest in LA, she planted some geraniums and zinnias in my backyard and they bloomed beautifully!”

 

Feature:

 

Reprinted here is the speech of President Quezon which he delivered at Plaza Rizal in Virac when he visited the island on June 8, 1938, in hjs campaign for Philippine independence. In the audience were then Assemblyman Pedro Vera,, Lt. Governor Gabriel Torrecampo, Albay provincial board members Remigio Socito and Francisco Perfecto, and mayors headed by Virac’s alcalde Florentino Aldea. Catanduanes,  then a subprovince of Albay, was composed of seven towns: Virac, Calolbon, Viga, Baras, Bato, Pandan and Payo.

 

SPEECH OF HIS EXCELLENCY MANUEL L. QUEZON, PRESIDENT OF THE PHILIPPINES, ON SOCIAL JUSTICE, LABOR UNIONS, AND PUBLIC WORKS

 

[Delivered at the public plaza, Virac, Catanduanes, June 8, 1938]

 

Mr. Governor, Mr. Mayor, Assemblyman Vera, Ladies and Gentlemen, my Countrymen:

 

It gives me a great pleasure to see, for the first time in my life, this magnificent island of Catanduanes and this beautiful town of Virac. Especially, it pleases me immensely to witness this hearty welcome that you have corded me. I am an old politician and I know all the methods used in the Philippines in receiving, when we wish to, a man from other parts of the country who holds a public position. What you have done today, the smiles that I have seen in the faces of the people, old and young, have made my heart beat fast for they have convinced me that even those whom I have never met before think well of the government that I am giving to our country. My friends, I have reached a point in my life where I may truthfully say that I no longer want the powers and privileges that a public position, especially one as high as the one I am occupying, can give. There is no reward that you can give me except the satisfaction of believing that I am doing the best I can for your interest. I want you to know that I have but one purpose in the exercise of the authority and in the performance of the duties of my office—to do justice to the poor and the rich alike. Justice alone can justify the existence of a government. And justice is the first objective of government. It is my hope that every official of this province, from the sub-governor to the mayor, down to the last teniente del barrio, will realize that he can coöperate with my administration only by not committing abuses and permitting no one to commit them. The justice of the peace court is the lowest rung in our judiciary, but every justice of the peace occupies what can be called the most important position in the judicial system of the Philippines, for it is to the justice of the peace that the poor can take his grievances, and it is the justice of the peace, by justly performing his duty, who can best convince the people that we have in this country of ours an independent and fair judiciary. I want every official of the Government of the Philippines to realize that his position has been given to him, not for his own welfare but for the purpose of serving the people of this country.

 

I have come here to let you know the objective of my administration. I have also come to you to tell you that within the means at the disposal of our Government, the National Assembly has started a huge program of public works and of improvement of the public school system in the Philippines. In line with this program, you will have before the arrival of the next term of office of Assemblyman Vera, if you reelect him, a road that will go around this whole island, putting in communication every municipality that will communicate with said province. Before his next term of office shall have expired, there will be no barrio in the Province of Catanduanes without a school building for the girls and boys of that island.

 

I have not come to advocate the reelection of Assemblyman Vera, but I do want to take advantage of this opportunity which is also my first visit here to tell you that I am very much pleased with the services he has rendered in the National Assembly. [Applause] You know that I have not always been a political friend of your assemblyman. I have no doubt that from this very platform Assemblyman Vera must have told you what a terrible man I am. But I don’t care about that; I judge men not by their words but by their acts. And I have watched the conduct of Assemblyman Vera in the National Assembly and I am convinced that he is doing his best to serve not only the people of this town but also the people of the Philippines, and that is enough for me.

 

I have seen and noticed these different placards that you have presented to me. I have particularly observed one which has already disappeared. I don’t know where it is now.

 

(The placard was brought to the President and it read as follows: “Political influence, compadre system and bribery should not deprive one of work in the public works.”)

 

I suppose you understand that, don’t you? Who prepared that? I want to know what this means. Does mean that in this province political influence, the compadre system and bribery play a part when the government officials give work to the people? Is there anyone now who is ready to tell me that he knows and he can prove that an official of this Government has been bribed? If so, let him speak out. I want to know it.

 

This is a serious charge and no responsible person will make it unless he can prove it. This is a charge against the whole government of Catanduanes and no one, unless he could prove it, should have made that charge in the presence of the President of the Philippines. Now, I want to say something in connection with the public works. I understand that that placard has been prepared by the labor union of this province. Now, gentlemen, I am a friend of labor. I have no objection to the workingmen organizing themselves and forming a union. But I want to call the attention of the laboring people that they must beware of those who organize them into a union. It is my hope that labor unions will be organized by laborers themselves, but that their leaders will be taken from amongst those who actually do work like the laborers, so that when the labor leader speaks for the interest of the organization, he speaks for his own interest also. Sometimes the dangers in labor organization come when self-appointed person lead a labor movement, not because they are interested in the workingmen and women, not because their hearts go out to those who have to work in order to make their living, but because they are interested in securing something for themselves through the organization they have formed. The workingmen in the Philippines should have confidence in their local officials and go to them for redress of then-grievances. And I want to say to the public officials not only of this town and of this province, but also those of other towns and provinces all over the Philippines that it is their first duty to see to it that the man who works gets his proper reward. We shall never win the confidence of our people in our Government until, by deed, we prove to the people that we are interested in safeguarding their interests and in protecting their rights.

 

Now, as to public works. The Government is the one responsible for carrying out public works. The Government deals directly with the workingmen. The Government will not use labor leaders to secure workingmen, and the workingmen need not go to any leader in order to secure work. I have given instructions to all the district engineers to give work to the person who needs the job regardless of the political party to which he belongs. [Applause] I expect the engineers to carry out faithfully those instructions. I have with me the Director of Public Works and I expect him to make the men under his bureau comply with those instructions. I expect the subgovernor, the mayors, and the tenientes del barrio, to see to it that the people in their respective municipalities and barrios get work when they need it. But you cannot get work by threatening the Government. You cannot obtain work by making an irresponsible denunciation against everybody. If you have a complaint and you can prove it, don’t be afraid of anybody, present it. But if you are only mad at some body for personal reasons, don’t make any noise. If your resentment is only political and not based on facts, keep your peace until the next election. When you have a reason to complain, then present your complaint.

 

In the past the amount of money which the provincial government could spend for these public works was rather limited. It was especially true with this little Subprovince of Catanduanes. I don’t suppose you have had much money before, and, therefore, it would not surprise me if somebody who wanted work, did not get it. At the last session of the National Assembly, however, we appropriated a large sum of money for your roads and I am going to tell the engineer to give work to those who want work, especially to those who really work. But we want men who will work and not men who will talk.

 

Now, my friends. I have talked more than I expected to on this visit. I want to assure you that we expect, during the next three years, to provide your island with the improvement that you have never had before and perhaps never dreamt of. [Applause] You know I come from a very poor town myself. Therefore, I know what the people of those poor towns feel when they see that their community has very little of the comforts that other communities have. It gives me, therefore, great satisfaction to be able to tell you that the day is nearing when your hope to see this province progressive will be realized. [Applause]

 

Ladies and gentlemen. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this generous and hearty reception you have given me. May God bless you all. [Applause]

 

Source: Presidential Museum and Library

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