He was a debonair actor in his heydays. And he is popularly known for his musicalities as a top-notch composer and complete musical director.
But few may know that the renowned musician is also a terrific lover. “Nakasama ko siya ng twenty one days,” he trumpets in referring to a beautiful woman of a reputable family. “Mangyari eh kabataan ko noon, syempre guwapo at matikas ako,” simple reasons for the bedimpled, handsome young man to be a lady’s man.
The young Valentino
That love affair was unexpected because Alicia had a standing contract with someone at that time. “Ika ko eh hangga’t hindi pa kayo kasal, liligawan pa rin kita.” Obviously enamored with the pretty Manileña, he pursued her, not with acoustical expertise but with plain bravado. And like a violin string that would snap to ultra high notes, she was not able to parry his irresistible charms. It was actually in Baguio City where he conducted his first private concert with Alicia.
“Nasa kumbento raw siya kaya doon ako pumunta. Tiniyak naman ng mga madre na andun nga raw si Alicia. Nagkita nga kami. At sabi ko may pasalubong ako sa kanya. Pinapikit ko siya tapos pinabigkas ko ang katagang ‘prunes.’ Eh di humaba ang nguso. Ayun, hinalikan ko siya. Ika ko nga, ayan, kisses ang pasalubong ko sa iyo,” he harmonizes as if the incident happened just yesterday.
Upon discovering the stray key in the scale of his amorous relationship, Peping, Alicia’s jealous boyfriend, did not waste time in challenging the daring paramour to a sort of duel in the boxing ring. But he was not intimidated, albeit he was only too willing to take up the challenge. And why wouldn’t he? For an amateur boxer with 22 wins and no losses, Peping would be like a flute competing against a tuba.
“Mangyari kasi eh nakaka-sparring ko si Speed Cabanela, Von Arbem, Bing De Guzman, mga national boxers yun, mga P.I. champion. Maigi ang nakasama ko sila sa ring dahil marami akong natutuhan,” he says without a trace of braggadocio. And to emphasize his point, he illustrates his deadly stance with some fancy moves, “Malaki ang kamao ko, aba, mahihirapan sila talaga.”
For the first 3 minutes of action atop the boxing arena, Peping exhibited his jabs, straights and crosses while, for his part, he displayed his skills in defense not just to test the air but more to showboat to Alicia. In the second round, he unleashed a symphony of hooks and uppercuts which pulverized Peping to oblivion. Poor Peping, defeated and forgotten like a folded accordion because Alicia had only eyes for her magnificent lover.
“Wala pa si Olivia noon,” he clarifies upon noticing the portrait of his wife hanging on the wall. In the interview of his wife last year, she proclaimed her appreciation of his unconditional love. “My husband never gave me a heartache. He never played around. He treats me well. Napakabait. Kapag ako’y natutulog, kukumutan pa ako.”
His love affair with Alicia was short-lived because her father, who was an influential congressman, literally chased him out of her life. It was not clear why the politician didn’t like him. Despite romancing the metal knuckles of the congressman’s bodyguards, he was proud to say that he did not fight back. “Noong nasukol ako, aba, hindi ako lumaban kasi wala naman akong kasalanan pero may karapatan sila dahil yun ang intindi nila.”
But the irate congressman was not satisfied with the beating they gave him.
He was charged in court for kidnapping and abduction of Alicia. And to make matters worse, he was forsaken by Alicia. “Bumaligtad, kumampi sa ama niya,” he shakes his head and waved a hand as if he was holding a fretless guitar.
And being a politician with heavy clout, the case progressed in their favor. Ironically, being the underdog in the celebrated court case earned him undue popularity. “Dalawang taon ba namang laman ako ng dyaryo eh. Saka artista na kasi ako noon.” His first starring role was Susi Ng Kalangitan, a drama in 1937, with Gilda Gales, Yolanda Marquez and Armando Villa.
He was not only an actor but once was a film director. His first and only stab at a directorial job was the blockbuster Rosa Birhen, starred in by Bayani Casimiro and Jose Cris Soto. It was a stroke of luck because the director was replaced and the replacement was not up to the task so he was commissioned to finish the movie.
As the kidnapping case dragged on, threats kept serenading his environs. “Ipapabugbog ba naman ako kay Terrible Max,” a toughie who was notorious in Sta. Cruz, Manila and suburbs. “Sabi ko kay Terrible Max, ‘nagkakamali ka. Bago mo ko mapatay eh patay ka na rin.’” Aside from being a boxer, his armor was the bodyguards provided by the Cavite police force. Terrible Max had no choice but to keep a bit of distance.
The case culminated into a prison sentence of 12 years. Fortunately, some people interceded for him. Hailing from Cavite, his kababayans supported him no end. A Cavite highway patrol peddled his influence in the government that led him to meet President Quezon.
The ailing president immediately scolded him, “Oy, ikaw, dapat kang makulong dahil yang abugado mo, may atraso sa akin.” Before heaving a sigh of relief that it was his lawyer who was at odds with the president, Quezon asked him about his ROTC (reserved officers training corps). “Eh sabi ko hindi ako tapos ng ROTC dahil marami akong demerits.” Young, suave, popular and persuasive, he was able to earn Quezon’s support.
So in the end, he was acquitted. “Eh wala naman talaga akong kasalanan dahil kusa siyang sumama sa akin,” he seems to be blaming Alicia. But then again, he clarifies that he had loved the controversial woman.
And when he and Alicia met again after two years, “Eh hindi ba’t inayawan niya na ko? Kaya nga ako nagkaroon ng kaso di ba? Kaya inayawan ko na rin siya.” And before anybody could raise an eyebrow, he makes a follow through, “Nasa buhay ko na kasi noon si Olive kaya ika ko kay Alicia, hindi na talaga tayo puwede. Pero hindi mawala sa isipan ko si Alicia kasi siya ang tumawag sa akin ng Magnificent Brute.”
Josefino Cenizal, Ka Pepe or Ka Pinong to friends and associates, lost his greatest love when Olivia Cenizal succumbed to colon disease in April of 2008. Now in his early 90s, Ka Pepe is still enjoying life to the fullest by playing old music on the piano and getting jazzy with the electric organ. He stays in his majestic residence inside the posh Ayala Heights near the Broadcast City in Quezon City.
And for his parting words, “Gusto kong lumago ang music sa atin. I am willing to help young musicians.”
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