Colleagues recall legacy of ‘Queen of Philippine Movies’ Susan Roces
The work that the late actress Susan Roces did in the TV series “FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano” had “extended” her life and made her “feel happier and more fulfilled,” according to her daughter, Sen. Grace Poe-Llamanzares.
“I’m grateful for the family she had in ‘Ang Probinsyano.’ She had always felt sad after my father (actor Fernando ‘FPJ’ Poe Jr.) died [in 2004]… But I noticed that whenever she was taping, she felt really alive,” Grace told the cast and producers of the program. They were all present at Susan’s wake on Sunday night at the Heritage Memorial Park in Taguig City.
Dubbed as the “Queen of Philippine movies,” Susan had an acting career that spanned seven decades. She passed away on Friday night. She was 80. She is set to be laid to rest next to the tomb of her husband, FPJ, at the Manila North Cemetery today, Thursday.
Born Jesusa Purificacion Levy Sonora-Poe in Negros Occidental, Susan appeared in more than 130 films. She began her acting career at age 11, debuting on the big screen in the Jose Nepomuceno movie “Mga Bituin ng Kinabukasan.”
However, she will be remembered by the younger audience as the endearing Lola Flora, grandmother of lead character Cardo Dalisay, in the long-running action-adventure series “FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano.”
“During the pandemic, she felt really sad that she couldn’t go to work, that she couldn’t be with all of you. It came to a point when I had to call Cory [Vidanes, chief operating officer of ABS-CBN] to ask her to get my mom to work with her again,” recalled Grace. “It’s true, I noticed that she became weaker and sadder. Each one of you was important to her. She liked it that she was able to make you happy. That’s why she would always bring food to the set.”
Grace also said Susan had prayed fervently for ABS-CBN, “because it was embattled.” The network that has been airing “Ang Probinsyano” for six years lost in its bid for a franchise renewal in 2020.
“She knew that so many depended on the company. That’s why she also felt this was the time she needed to be with you, but she couldn’t. For those who spent time with her, talked to her, thank you,” the senator said.
Wealth of wisdom
Coco Martin, who plays the lead character Cardo in the longest-running action series, said he felt shocked upon hearing the news of his “lola’s” passing. “I couldn’t believe this would happen because the last time I saw her, she was still very strong and lively,” he began.
“Tita Susan wasn’t just a coworker to me. We felt deep love for each other. I respected her so much that I was afraid of getting her angry. She was such a strong and brave person. She would fight for what she believed was right and true. That’s why we valued whatever she told us. The wealth of wisdom she shared with us, we will forever keep in our hearts.”
Sharon Cuneta tearfully recalled the times she spent not only with Susan, but also with FPJ, whom she described as one of her “protectors” in the industry.
“They were such good people. I hope that the new generation of actors would appreciate what they did for this industry. It’s hard to be a movie queen, especially someone who would serve as a good example. In this day and age, this isn’t easy because there’s lack of respect and values, and our moral compass is somehow damaged,” she began.
Turning to Grace, she said: “It’s hard to live up to the queen that your mom was and always will be. We will try our best to pass on what we’ve learned from her and FPJ to the young ones. We hope to uphold that and honor their legacies.”
Jaime Fabregas, who plays Lola Flora’s brother Delfin in the series, recalled the time he had a conversation with Susan about still opting to keep working on the show. “I remember her telling me that Grace had asked her why she kept on working even though she didn’t really need to. Tita Susan’s reply was, ‘What does she expect me to do, Jaime? Stay at home and sulk? This job gave me a lot of blessings. It has also paved the way for me to meet Ronnie. I can’t just end my commitment to this industry just like that.’”
Jaime continued: “What I saw in her was a person who loved her work so much that she was never going to give it up. She always had pasalubong for all of us—usually food such as iced candy, mangoes, peanuts, among others. She treated everybody the same way.”
Cory said she was grateful to Susan for entrusting “Ang Probinsyano” to ABS-CBN. The show was based on the 1997 action film that FPJ produced, directed and starred in.
“We were able to entertain a lot of people through the program. We were able to inspire, bring joy and hope, as well as share love with so many Filipinos all over the world,” she said. “I would update her on story development and the new cast. She also told me we could remove her character if we felt that Lola Flora was no longer needed. I said, ‘No way!’ Lola Flora is the moral compass of Cardo and of the show. The values that Tita Susan stands for as Lola Flora was what the Filipino audience needed at this time: hope, love and faith. Tita Susan was a mother, a friend and a Kapamilya. Even though she was a legend, she showed so much love.”
Other artists who paid tribute to Susan on Sunday night via their performances were Gary Valenciano, Jamie Rivera and John Arcilla.
Susan had been preoccupied with organizing her personal belongings, memorabilia, costumes and other knickknacks during the days leading to her death on May 20, said actress Boots Anson Roa-Rodrigo, who is one of Roces’ close friends.
“Susan said she was already preparing everything… [and] also reminded me that, ‘We’re old. We don’t know how many bonus years we have. I’m spending a lot of time on this so that everything will be organized for Grace, (nephews) Joseph and Jeff [Sonora].’ Needless to say, she also dealt with estate matters, as well as everything related to her farm in Batangas,” Boots told Inquirer Entertainment on Saturday morning, recalling her last conversation with the late actress.
Susan was brought to the Cardinal Santos Medical Center in San Juan, Manila, on May 19 after she experienced vomiting and loss of appetite, said Boots. Susan’s doctors did a procedure on her after all the tests “and found a tumor in her stomach. They excised this for biopsy, but the release of the result had been too late.”
Quoting Pempe Rodrigo, Boots’ sister-in-law and Susan’s best friend of 60 years, Boots said Susan was no longer as conversant during the past weeks. “This was unusual because Pempe and Susan were used to talking for long hours,” Boots observed. “Pempe advised Susan to, ‘Get out of your room. Continue with your life.’ Pempe also said Susan didn’t like going to the hospital for checkups.”
Meanwhile, actress Lorna Tolentino, who was Susan’s costar in “Ang Probinsyano,” said the production team celebrated a Mass for Susan on Saturday night on the program’s set in Ilocos Sur.
Lorna, who fondly called the late actress her “Tita Ninang Susan,” recalled that she started her career as an actress under FPJ Productions, in the 1970 film titled “Divina Gracia,” where she portrayed the young Lorna/Lorena (Susan).
“My fondest memories of her when I was still young would be the times she and Ninong Ron (FPJ) would take care of all of us they considered their babies,” Lorna told Inquirer Entertainment. “During ‘Ang Probinsyano’ taping, it was those precious times when Tita Ninang would share her wisdom with us. I will always appreciate her humility, as well as her love for her profession and for the people she worked with.”
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