By Pablo S. Gomez
When Susan Roces was still a Sampaguita studio star, I wrote Susanang Daldal which made her a big star. That started our friendship. We would go out together, did things together and talked about anything under the sun. When she got married to FPJ, we drifted apart. I was busy with my publications and she, as a housewife to FPJ.
And then one day, she called up inquiring if I have any movie material for FPJ. I said I only write drama, horror and comedy. Though I have some action stories for the comics. “I would like to see that,” she said.
When she came, I gave her the copies of my serialized action stories. Kampana sa Santa Quiteria , Esteban , and Alupihang Dagat . The next morning, she called again saying that FPJ loved the stories and would buy them for filming. That started it. I became an action writer for FPJ. He took me as his scriptwriter and since then, I wrote more than one hundred movies for him. Some are well remembered, like Pitong Gatang , Dalubhasa , Anak ng Tondo , Alupihang Dagat, Manager…Si Kumander , Bato Sa Buhangin , Hindi Pa Tapos ang Laban , to name a few… and throughout those years, I was able to observe the real FPJ in person and as a movie star.
I learned early that FPJ also worked as a stuntman for Everlasting Pictures and he also acted as the double of actor Johnny Monteiro in several of his movies. Sometimes he would also appear with actress Corazon Rivas in several stage shows.
I remember when Corazon Rivas (FPJ’s leading lady in his Lo Waist Gang movies) returned from abroad to take a vacation, Ronnie prepared a special reunion party for her and called up the remaining members of the original Lo Waist Gang. She was able to see and talk to them, most of them she hasn’t seen or spoken to in years. Cora cried tears of joy during the reunion. She was taken completely by surprise and realized how FPJ really cherished their friendship and how important this was to him. Her wish had finally come true—that she would one day return to the Philippines and have the chance to be reunited with her co-stars.
He was a gentleman, he did not like people to gossip about others, especially in the movie industry. On the first shooting day of any of his pictures, he would treat his leading lady like a queen. Fresh flowers were presented to her, plus the down payment of her contract. He would lavish her with her favorite food, which surprised her to no end. Then she was sent home to rest, no shooting for her. This is one of the reasons why his leading ladies loved and admired FPJ.
He did not allow his former leading ladies to appear in cameo roles, supporting roles or mother roles. “Respect my stars,” he would say. “She is my leading lady in one of my pictures. And I don’t want her to be seen in a minor role”
As a director, he used the monicker Ronwaldo Reyes . He woke up very early. His writers and assistant directors were with always with him. He used to talk and discuss his shooting schedules, he walked through plains, hills and even mountains for hours and when he was done, he went back to the hot steaming coffee that turned cold waiting for him. He ate sparingly, he was fond of preparing food for his guests and friends. He was a very good cook. His favorite was “ginisang pink salmon with alugbati”or “inihaw na tilapia”, wrapped in aluminum with tomatoes, onions, pepper and very little salt. He didn’t like seasonings like patis, toyo etc.
He was comfortable eating with his crew. While sharing food with them, he discussed the details of his movie. He was meticulous. He wanted his writers to be alert to all the details of the script and always advised them to go thru the script over and over again. He was always making sure that everything is impeccable. He preferred shooting in different locations to show the scenic spots of the country.
When doing a movie, he saw to it that most of the stuntmen and goons are included in the casting. His reason: they have their own families to feed and they almost always need help.
He loved to hear jokes. FPJ enjoyed good humor. That was why Amay Bisaya became close to him. And also Philip Salvador and Director Rudy Meyer who were his closed friends for so many years.
FPJ is happy when he makes one or two movies a year. But when the Christmas season is just around the corner, he would call us up and tell us that he needs our help in making another movie. We would meet and think of a story and immediately began shooting even if it would take us one whole day to finish several scenes for the movie. He would do this so that the movie crew, the actors and actresses would have money to spend during the Christmas season. We would then take time out for the holidays and return to the set of the movie next year in January to resume filming.
For those who didn’t know the real FPJ, they were wary of him, believing what other people said about him. He didn’t drink hard liquor. He loved talking to his friends with a bottle of beer in his hand, nursing it through the night. Before he packed up, he made sure that the waiters and friends who sat down with him are taken care of.
He was a very good singer. Yet when he recorded his songs for some of his movies, he took a little shot of wine to steady his nerves.
He always sent help to his colleagues who were in need and refused to talk about his generosity openly. He was a very close, personal friend who would ask for nothing in return for the good things he did. After he filmed a San Miguel beer commercial in Barangay Papaya in Nasugbu, Batangas, he donated a school building that now houses the Papaya Elementary School to the townfolks. It turned out that nobody asked FPJ to donate a school building to the people of Barangay Papaya and he did it on his own. ( To be continued )/ Pablo S. Gomez is the present president of the Screenwriteers’ Guild of the Philippines