Gloria Romero turned 80 this year and marked 63 years in the industry. "Ikaw?" She ribs my mom, "Ilang years ka na? Siguro 40 ano? (You, how many years? Perhaps 40, right?)" To which my mother quickly replies, "Huwag na, malaman mo pa ang edad ko. Basta ako, forever 50! (No, thanks. And reveal my age? I’m forever 50)." Where Tita Glo is very open about her age, with my mom, age is a state secret that not even I, her only daughter, can disclose simply because even I don't know exactly what the magic number is.
They’re starkly different, in appearance and demeanor. Tita Glo is a tall mestiza and somewhat reserved; Mom is a petite morena who says what she thinks and is quite animated in thought and action. They’re actresses of great caliber, whose years of work between the two of them add up to a little over a century. What binds these two wonderful women, both institutions in the Philippine movie and television industry, is an unrelenting dedication to work, a great zest for life, the knack for finding humor and laughter in the direst of circumstances, and a fierce devotion to and love of family.
In the ‘50s and ‘60s, the much-loved and revered Gloria Romero reigned queen over at Sampaguita studios, while a few kilometers away, at LVN studios, was where a young and feisty Cebuana actress named Caridad Sanchez would make her mark as a character or supporting actress.
Raising a family did not deter either of them from pursuing careers even in the 1960s, though both admit that when the children were younger, some years were better than others because career had to take a backseat to the demands of bringing up their young. They’ve always worked, but also made sure to devote themselves to their children and be “hands on” even as they were pursuing their careers, both would say.
In the ‘70s and ‘80s they continued to shine in film, but it was during this period, when they were now more mature, that their television careers truly flourished. Although both had been working in the same industry for several years, it wasn't until they were thrown together in the late 1980s on the set of the short-lived but very popular television series – both can’t remember the title -- that they really got to know each other.
"Siempre naman, Gloria Romera iyan. Nakaka-stress, kasi reyna ng Sampaguita, and Gloria is Gloria, (Of course, it was stressful; that’s Gloria Romero, queen of Sampaguita)," Mom says. But she is quick to add that Tita Glo, easily put her at ease on the set by being her warm and candid self, cracking jokes and talking about many things, dabbling every now and then in gay-speak: "I will never forget what your mommy said to me that day -- ay, bakla ka rin pala, kagaya ko (Ay, you’re also gay, like me)!"
Mom quickly interjects, "Naku siempre, nilalagay ko sa pedestal iyan -- alam mo naman si Glo, prim and proper, eh ako barok (Of course, I put her on a pedestal—you know she’s prim and proper while I’m rough). So when I saw her on the set, I was thinking, paano ko kaya ito i-aaproach (How will I approach her)? Tapos biglang (Then suddenly) she said something which was really for me, then off-character, I think nag-crack siya ng joke, so that's when I said, naku, bakla ka rin pala!" Both women laugh out loud and are almost tearing up from laughing at the recollection.
When I asked Tita Glo what her secret was in managing to stay active and young all these years, she, and her only daughter Maritess, were both quick to reply--"Tulog. I always try, as much as I can to get in nine hours of sleep each night. In fact, I've been told--eh bakit raw tulog ng tulog eh matanda na raw ako, because diba, older people tend to sleep less hours (Why do I sleep so much when I’m already old)? But I just smile and say, well, that's what works for me." It is also precisely, this relatively calm, and gentle attitude that keeps her stress-free. "I just keep away whenever there is gulo (trouble)" you know what I mean? It makes life much simpler that way."
Mom on the one hand, needs her daily dose of exercise--either walking the hills of her neighborhood, or doing a slow run inside the village or in Greenhills. To the exact opposite of Tita Glo's temperament, she also likes to throw herself fully into the woes and cares of colleagues and friends.
Both women have hearts that are large and loving. Maritess is very close to Mom, and Tita Glo and I have a shared a moment in the distant past that sealed my love and respect for her. In 1998, when my son lay in a coma in a Manila hospital and I was also at that time six months pregnant, she came to visit unannounced and spent the whole morning with me. I had never even met her, but when she heard about what had happened, she came to see me, and those hours together, her calming and steady presence, were like a soothing balm to my tired and anxious heart.
Tita Glo's favorite roles: "As a younger actress, it would be ‘Cofradia’ and ‘Ilocana’; in middle age it would be ‘Condemned’ because that's where I played a contravida (anti-hero), and ‘Sana'y Wala Ng Wakas’ and in the later years, it would have to be Laurice Guillen's ‘Tanging Yaman’ and finally, so far, ‘Magnifico.’ Maritess confesses that to this day, she cannot watch ‘Tanging Yaman’ without shedding tears no matter how often she has seen it.
Mom, on the other hand, loved the roles she played in LVN's ‘Casa Grande’ and--in her 30s--it was Lea Production's ‘Santiago’ when in 1971 she won her first Best Supporting Actress award. In 2002, it was Marilou Diaz Abaya's ‘Bagong Buwan,’ which won her three Best Supporting Actress awards. Mom says she poured her heart and soul into a crucial scene in the film, where she’s supposedly dying from diabetic shock, that she eventually hyperventilated at the end of the take. "Tapos Direk Marilou was so moved by it that she requested me to do it a second time...sabi ko talaga, what Direk (I said, really)?!?" To which Tita Glo, jokes, "Hindi na bale, halos nag-grand slam ka na rin naman that year diba (Never mind, you nearly had a grand slam that year, anyway)?"
On the directors that helped shape the roles that contributed to making their star shine brighter, Tita Glo says that she will always remember and be grateful to Maryo J. Delos Reyes, Ishmael Bernal, and from Sampaguita it would be Tony Cayado.
For Mom, in her LVN days it would have to be National Artist Lamberto Avellana, who taught her to improvise and be fearless; Lino Brocka, of course, who directed her in ‘Santiago’ and countless other films for Lea Productions, and, of course, Marilou Diaz Abaya who directed her in ‘Alyas Baby Tsina’ and in ‘Bagong Buwan.’
Who of today's actresses would best portray them in a film about their life? The two ladies are momentarily stumped. After much debate, Tita Glo says her personal choice would be Carmina Villaroel, as a younger Gloria Romero, and Dawn Zulueta for the more mature Gloria. Mom says her choices would be the two Angels--Angel Locsin and Angel Aquino-- mga Filipina beauties with spunk, as she puts it.
Though the two actress-friends are different as night and day, the differences are what make them click, and Mom describes it best: "Iba sya sa akin, pero nagkakaintidihan talaga kaming dalawa (We’re different, but we fully understand each other). I love Gloria, and we have a deep respect for one another as colleagues and close friends, ganyan kami magmahalan (that’s how we love each other)."
Cathy S. Babao, mother, author, columnist, grief educator and counselor works as a communications consultant for various multinational companies, and teaches grief education at the Ateneo de Manila University.
She writes "Roots and Wings", a weekly column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. She has written two books, Heaven's Butterfly, a children's book on grief, and Between Loss and Forever: Filipina Mothers on the Grief Journey, a finalist for the 2011 National Book Awards.