Members of the Balik-Samahan, this might be the last time we will all gather together with our Bro. Ramil Rodriguez on Thursday, May 1, at 5 p.m. for a merienda cena (pot luck). He was asking when is our next Samahan gathering. Let’s get together to make Ramil’s dream come true.
That was the text message Pempe Rodrigo sent to Balik-Samahan members last week.
The get-together will not happen. Yesterday, Pempe sent Samahan members this sad message: Our brother Ramil passed away this morning. Please pray for the eternal repose of his soul.
As they would say, Ramil lost the battle but won the war against lung cancer which was diagnosed two (or was it three?) years ago. He would have turned 73 on Aug. 22 (born in 1941).
“He died peacefully,” Ramil’s brother Pepito told Funfare in a phone interview yesterday afternoon. “He did suffer for a while but he went happy.”
In fact, Ramil’s last words to Pepito and the four other siblings were upbeat, “Be happy, everybody!”
Ramil was one of the 10 Sampaguita discoveries collectively known as Stars ’66 launched by Dr. Jose R. Perez (The Original Starmaker) in an elaborate, fairy-tale affair at the sprawling Sampaguita Pictures Garden, featured on the cover of the Philippine Free Press with the story titled Walastik! Walandyo! (the favorite expression at that time) written by no less than Quijano de Manila (the late Nick Joaquin). Aside from Ramil, the nine others were Pepito, Bert Leroy Jr., Edgar Salcedo, Dindo Fernando, Gina Pareño, Shirley Moreno, Rosemarie Sonora, Loretta Marquez and Blanca Gomez. Only Gina is still active in showbiz. Edgar, Dindo and Loretta have passed away while Blanca, Shirley, Rosemarie and Bert are based in the US.
“He was not the type who gave up too easily,” recalled Susan Roces, Ramil’s leading lady in Kulay Rosas ang Pag-ibig (1968), Ramil’s first starring movie which was followed by more than 35 others (excluding his TV shows) until he retired in 2010. “Every time he saw me and his other (showbiz) friends, he would say, ‘O, pray for me, ha. I have cancer.’ He was always present in our get-together and when he couldn’t make it, he would just request us to pray for him.”
“Maybe because he was the eldest among us siblings,” added Pepito, “he was makulit, always asking our whereabouts. Even when he was already sick, he made sure that everybody was accounted for.”
Marichu “Manay Ichu” Maceda, daughter of Doc Perez, remembered Ramil as a true gentleman like no other.
“He was very soft-spoken, kind, solicitous to all especially the ladies, never calling attention to himself,” said Manay Ichu. “If he had his way, he just wanted to blend in with the crowd except that one couldn’t ignore him because of his height and fair skin. Ang pagka-gentleman niya reminded me of Rogelio de la Rosa.”
“He was tahimik, all right,” continued Susan, “but there were times na bigla na lang siya may isinusundot at bigla kang matatawa. Yes, Ichu is right. Ramil was a gentleman. He was always available to be an escort to any of us Sampaguita stars when we attended formal occasions. During our time, we could not attend socials without an escort.”
When Funfare talked to Pepito yesterday, he reminded me not to make this story malungkot. “Gawin mong masaya kasi Ramil really went happy. Tanggap na niya what would happen.”
Oh yes, Pepito, Susan has more stories about Ramil…funny ones.
“Ramil was very eager to prove his acting ability,” recalled Susan who, with her sister, starred with Ramil and Pepito in The Dolly Sisters, “kaya kung minsan nagkakabulol-bulol siya sa dialogue, maybe because he was used to speaking in English. But he was really focused on his lines kaya memorize siya nang memorize sa lines niya. Like me, mahilig din siya sumayaw but we were both off-beat, parehong kaliwa ang dalawang paa, so you can just imagine what happened.”
Before I hung up and condoled again with Pepito, his voice turned sad, “That’s life. Whether we like it or not, we will all go.”
Until the very end, Ramil’s beloved Lettie never left his side. (They didn’t have a child.)
(Ramil’s remains will lie at the Santuario de San Antonio in Forbes Park, Makati City, starting tonight. Interment will be either Saturday or Sunday.)