One of the humblest and nicest persons I have ever interviewed was the late respected movie queen Susan Roces. Born Jesusa Purificación Levy Sonora to a French Jewish mestiza mother who descended from the Levy family, which founded the 19th century La Estrella del Norte, and a Spanish-Chinese mestizo doctor father, Susan Roces was widow of the late “King of Philippine Movies” and 2004 presidential candidate Fernando Poe, Jr.
The first time I met Susan Roces was Aug. 30, 2003 at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s Mabuhay lounge and she pleasantly surprised me by conversing in fluent Hokkien or south Fujian province language. She had ethnic Chinese relatives, such as her entrepreneurial whiz second-cousin and baptismal godmother Filinvest Group/East West Bank co-founder Mercedes Gotamco Tan-Gotianun.
On that 2003 Shanghai trip, where she was shooting videos and photos for a Regal Films project of Mother Lily Y. Monteverde, Susan Roces, despite her legendary stature, was always the most punctual and professional among the movie stars.
When I realized we were on a budget tour, with spartan set meals, I asked permission from Mother Lily to call up my friend to host our final meal before returning to Manila so that the country’s possible next First Lady (there were rumors that Susan’s husband FPJ wanted to run for president in the May 2004 election) would have a better impression of cosmopolitan, bustling Shanghai. After Mother Lily said yes, I contacted Oishi snacks tycoon Ambassador Carlos Chan and his family graciously hosted a sumptuous, unforgettable luncheon fit for an empress.
Here are excerpts and a revised version of my past interviews with Susan Roces, this one done in 2013 when her daughter Grace Poe Llamanzares was then running for senator for the first time:
PHILIPPINE STAR: Ex-President Joseph Estrada is your late husband FPJ’s best friend, but because your daughter Grace Poe did not join his out-of-town campaign sorties, she was junked as one of his party’s common candidates. How do you feel about Erap not supporting Grace in this election?
SUSAN ROCES: It doesn’t matter how I feel. I understand it’s a political decision. In politics, you set emotions aside. You cannot afford to be emotional. That is what we learned from the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos. He advised us: “Don’t make decisions when you’re emotional — when you’re too happy, or too angry or too sad — because you’re bound to make the wrong decision.”
Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos told me that she and her siblings were kids when their parents took them to your wedding one Christmas, and were waiting in the car while President and Mrs. Marcos were in formal attire as godparents at your wedding. Why Christmas?
Yes, Ronnie and I were married on Christmas day, early in the morning of 1968. Why that date? It was the only available date, when the church and the reception venue were both available.
How do you feel about people who allegedly cheated or allowed the cheating against FPJ in the 2004 presidential election — some of whom were even FPJ’s friends?
I don’t dwell on matters like that. I just leave those things to God, otherwise, life will be very sad.
I owe everything to God. Look, late in my age, I still do TV shows and commercials. There is a reason: that’s His assignment, it is He who wills everything.
What are your beauty secrets? Stem-cell treatments like that of Erap or Enrile?
No stem cells. (Laughs) I just do what is required of personal hygiene, such as removing makeup daily, taking a bath, and washing my face. One thing I believe is this: the less fragrance in cosmetics or soaps, the better they are for our skin. Kung sobrang mabango ang sabon o cosmetics (If soaps or cosmetics are too fragrant), they’re not good for the skin.
What about your food intake or diet?
I drink a lot of water and eat a lot of fruits. I love all the fruits, but I try to stay away from those fruits that have too much sugar. For example, when I eat a mango, I only eat half a cheek for lunch, then I will set aside the other half after dinner in the evening.
What are your favorite foreign and local movies?
Among foreign films, my favorite is Gone With the Wind. For local movies, my favorite is Asedillo starring my husband Ronnie. Maganda siya (It’s excellent).
(Writer’s Note: The 1971 film Asedillo established FPJ’s public image as action hero and defender of the poor. It tells the saga of nationalist teacher Teodoro Asedillo who became a rebel hunted by police constabulary in 1920s Sierra Madre mountains during the American colonial occupation and was killed by the colonizers as a “bandit.”)
I heard you, FPJ, and Grace Poe love to read. What types of books?
Yes, we all love to read. I love to read. I go more for biographies and autobiographies. Ronnie likes to read, anything that will entertain him. Grace also reads. I don’t like too much heavy reading. I read mainly for entertainment, and the best way to learn and absorb knowledge is if you are being entertained. Dapat Masaya (We should be happy).
I think teachers should make the students be entertained when they’re reading books and studying, or else they cannot absorb well, magiging parang punishment ang pagbabasa at pag-aaral (reading and studying will become like punishment to them).
You and FPJ are good role models of showbiz stars who love to read books.
Actually, many stars are voracious readers, like Amalia Fuentes loves to read, Sharon Cuneta loves to read, Kris Aquino also; they read more books than I do.
You, FPJ, and Sharon Cuneta are reputed to be among the few showbiz stars that wisely save earnings and invest. True?
That’s not true. Our actresses and actors now are more conscious about their future, their investments. In our generation, my fellow actors also realized then that we have to save, such as my contemporaries Erap and Amalia (Fuentes). It’s not only us.
How did you and FPJ raise Grace Poe? Who was closer to Grace, you or FPJ?
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She’s a papa’s girl… Grace has always been a smart, good and honest person even in her youth. She has a very inquisitive mind and articulates her views. Ronnie and I, we treated her as an equal, even as a kid. She had the right to ask questions and we talked to her like an adult, we didn’t baby-talk her. That’s how my parents brought me up; maybe that’s also how Ronnie was brought up by his mother.
What’s your advice to Grace about politics?
Basta sabi ko sa kanya (I just told her), don’t make promises you cannot fulfill, don’t make impossible promises. Well, of course, I also gave the standard advice like she has to be honest to each person who trusted and loved her, especially to those who vote for her.
After the election loss and death of FPJ, and your public anger, people expected you to run for public office, like the Senate. Why didn’t you run?
Me? In politics? That’s not my… maybe if I’m more prepared, or like my daughter Grace, who studied political science in college, or maybe if I was younger… I love my work… Maybe in our next life, nasa politics tayo. (Laughs)
Your success secrets?
How I’ve continued all these years in my profession? Well, to put it in one word, “passion”... I just love being in cinema.
Whatever it is that happens in our lives, it is God’s will. Whether it’s success or even in tragedies, you accept it, because it’s God’s will. My favorite prayer is the Our Father. I owe everything to God. Look, late in my age, I still do TV shows and commercials. There is a reason: that’s His assignment, it is He who wills everything.