Susan Roces now ‘forever’ with FPJ

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
Susan Roces now âforeverâ with FPJ
Fernando Poe Jr. and Susan Roces.
Entertainement / File

MANILA, Philippines — Tributes have continued to pour in following the news of the passing of the “Queen of Philippine Movies” Susan Roces.

Her family confirmed her death late night of May 20. Her reported cause of death is cardiopulmonary arrest. “She is now with the Lord and her beloved Ronnie — FPJ. We will miss her sorely but we celebrate a life well lived. Susan Roces — daughter, mother, grandmother, a true Filipina and a national treasure,” Sen. Grace Poe-Llamanzares said in a statement.

Susan, who was supposed to turn 81 this July, had been widowed after husband Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ), also known as the “King of Philippine Movies,” died in 2004. Grace is their only child.

Indeed, for family and friends, offering some consolation for their grief is the thought that Susan is going to be with FPJ “forever.”

Grace said that her mom was missing her father more, especially during the pandemic. “Sa tingin ko, talagang nangulila siya sa tatay ko. Matagal na rin. Siguro walang buwan na nakalipas o madalas ‘pag nag-uusap kami, siya pa rin ang pinag-uusapan namin,” she was quoted by GMA News as saying during the wake at the Heritage Memorial Park in Taguig City. “Syempre malungkot kami pero ‘pag inisip namin wala nang sakit, hirap at higit sa lahat, kasama na niya ang mga magulang niya at saka ang tatay ko — ‘yon talaga ang true love niya.”

Same goes for Canada-based movie writer Baby K. Jimenez (known in showbiz circles as one of Susan’s closest friends and confidantes), who’d turn misty-eyed with nostalgia everytime she remembers her “favorite love story.”

“It’s my favorite love story because, on my part, I didn’t imagine myself to be at the front seat of this romance of the century. I just wanted to interview them. But to be there to witness the events in detail, di ko pinangarap yun… I saw everything, yung tampuhan, the best times, the sad times, the good times,” she told The STAR in a phone interview yesterday.

The first time Baby K. met Susan was in 1963 when she was lead guitarist of a combo band that played at the actress’ house. A few months after, she chanced upon the star at the Manila Broadcasting Company head office.

Susan, who rose to fame in the ‘50s as a formidable leading lady, recognized Baby. “Ganun siya, she remembers names and faces. She will really call you by your name. Sabi ko, ‘Susan, I’m starting to write now,’ and she said, ‘Why don’t you write about me?’ Nagulat ako because she was already the Susan Roces at that time.”

During that time, too, Baby was a writer waiting for a break. When she informed an editor she wanted to feature Susan, she was told to look for other artistas who were easier to access. “Sabi niya, bagito ka palang, isulat mo lang yung kaya mong lapitan. Sabi ko ulit, can I really write about Susan? ‘Ang kulit mo ah. Hindi mo kayang lapitan yan, Susan Roces yan at marami ng kakilala yan.’ But I wrote an article and submitted it to her. Tapos, sabi niya, ‘This will come out. Well, I’m impressed.’”

That Susan exclusive became her first big artista story and access to the movie queen was effortless after that. “It was not like a reporter-movie star relationship, parang kaibigan ko siya.”

She would eventually be privy to Susan’s romance to FPJ, from courtship, to elopement and then wedding. According to her, the two stars met at a Manila Hotel party in 1963 but it was only when they filmed Ang Daigdig Ko’y Ikaw (1965) when the “ligawan” began. “The reason why they did that was because Susan turned freelancer for Sampaguita (Pictures). FPJ was waiting for her to be free so that they could do a movie together. They were already successful individually, the king and queen, and they were together for the first time in a film. Yun ang promo nuon.”

Baby recalled Susan’s first impression of FPJ back then: “Gwapong-gwapo talaga siya kay Kuya Ronnie kasi type ni Susan yung medyo mapula, hindi yung tisoy na tisoy na maputi. At saka tahimik, o di ba? Sabi nga sa movie ni Kuya Ronnie, tahimik ngunit mapanganib (laughs).”

FPJ would start wooing Susan by way of “parinig sa jukebox, patugtog ng Frank Sinatra, ‘Somewhere in your heart, try to find a place for me,’ mga ganyan. Iba din siya mag-regalo, mga favorites ni Susan. Tapos kunwari magtatampo, pupuntahan niya si (the late) Rico J. Puno, ‘Halika Rico, haharanahin natin (laughs).’”

She continued, “But what confirmed for me that they were really in love was the night (FPJ) won his FAMAS award (in 1967). From Philippine Plaza, I was asked to join them in a private victory party in Sulo Hotel in Makati. Ka-table nila ako, ang sweet-sweet nila, grabe talaga!”

Still, what made her finally realize that Susan regarded her as a friend was when Susan eloped and wed FPJ — first in civil rites. She was among the first to get wind of the news. “I knew all along the story but I never wrote it in black and white na ganito, ganyan because… I didn’t want to offend her. There was this respect and this respect for her private matters.”

The night before they eloped, Baby recalled they were both at a basketball tournament and FPJ was there. “Pero break na sila ni Ronnie nun… So, sabi ko, alis na ako pero bakit sumunod si Kuya Ronnie sa bahay, alam ko kasi split na sila, and then I let her go, bye. Yun pala, nagtanan sila (laughs).

“The elopement, that was spur-of-the-moment talaga. It wasn’t planned. Siguro nagkita sila bigla sa basketball. Talagang in-love sila.”

They first went to Mayor Norberto Amoranto of Quezon City, but because he wasn’t available, they were married by Mayor Gerry Angeles in Valenzuela, Bulacan.

When their respective families realized that the couple was “missing,” Baby recalled, “Lahat kami hinanapan. Tapos tumawag sila sa bahay ni Kuya Ronnie, andyan ba si Ronnie? Wala nga, sagot naman ng kabila. ‘Kasi wala si Susan dito.’ So they started putting two and two together. Naghahanapan because that was the only night she didn’t go home to her house.”

Shortly after, she received a note from Susan that 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!”

“It was Dec. 18th when we saw each other, Mrs. Jesusa Sonora-Poe was beautifully glowing, clad in white! I have never seen her so happy. We hugged, we laughed, we cried!” Baby said.

The church wedding happened one week later, on Dec. 25, 1968, at the Sanctuario de San Jose. Baby described it as a fairytale come true. “I was in a dreamland, parang di totoo. I felt like I was just part of a big scene of a movie production,” she looked back.

She was a candle sponsor and the bride’s main reminder to her was to slowly but surely light the candle. “So all our pictures, Susan was looking at how I was lighting the candle. Binabantayan ako kasi di ba nuon sinasabi, para mahaba daw buhay ng bride and groom?” she mused in recollection.

Immediately after exchanging vows, Baby would file the inside story about the wedding of the year, which was carried by Roces Publications and other magazines, and rush to the airport by 3 p.m. to see the newlyweds off to their honeymoon in Japan.

Over the years, Baby said Susan would express how much she missed FPJ, even the little things, after his death.

Nevertheless, Baby takes comfort that they’re now together forever. “The (US-based) youngest sister of Ronnie, Vangeline Poe-Quezada, reached out to me and sabi nga nila, ‘Wag na tayo malungkot, kasi maligaya na yung dalawa,’” she said, turning emotional.

“I hope she is now happy with FPJ. I hope FPJ met her at the Gates of Heaven. Ito na talaga yung forever. Merong forever. And for that reason alone, I’m happy. Of course, I’m sad that she’s no longer around but I’m happy on that point — that she’s happier now with FPJ.”


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