“Ako na yata ang last straw. After me kasi… wala na yatang interesado sa family,” Rene Navales declares with apparent regret. “Ako na lang yata ang may memories ni Ermat.”
Ermat is Carmen Rosales, the first superstar of Philippine Movies in the 1940s and 1950s.
Being the only son when Carmen rose to fame, Rene had already come to terms with the situation even at pre-school age. “Noong araw kasi hindi puwedeng nasa open ang personal lalo na kung may anak na. Makaka-apekto kasi sa career ng artista.”
Rene was left to the care of her maternal grandmother. And when his father, who was a guerilla, perished in the war, the little Rene had no choice but to be a Lola’s boy.
But despite Carmen’s hectic schedule, the superstar mom tried to find time for her family especially when Rene’s younger brother Cesar was born. “Naalagaan din naman kami ni Ermat kahit paano.”
Life was normal for a kid like Rene and his brother. “Vibes kami ni Cesar. Wala kaming pinag-awayan niyan,” he intimates with a cracking voice. And again, Rene remembers the good times spent with their mother in their home.
“Sa bahay lang naman talaga si Ermat pag walang shooting. Iniiwasan kasi niya ang ma-over expose sa public. Baka kasi magsawa ang tao at baka malaos agad.”
Understandably, a homebody like Carmen has a liking for a big house. “Yung bahay namin sa San Juan, 1,300 square meters. Sakop nga ang isang kalye.” The San Juan abode which was beside the Iglesia Ni Cristo temple had a swimming pool.
“Yun namang nilipatan niya sa Pasig, tatlong kalye ang sakop.” It has a spacious garden and a majestic house living room so there had to be a gardener and a cook aside from an all-around housemaid.
With the interiors, the decorations were done by Carmen herself including the choice of furnishings. “Dapat kasi elegant. Alam mo yan ang isang tatak ng artista pag sumikat, dapat presentable ang bahay,” explains Rene.
“May malaking altar si Ermat sa kuwarto niya. Yun ang devotion niya kasi close siya sa mga Carmelite sisters. ” The altar served as a mini-chapel with a donation box which was filled by Carmen herself. “Pag marami nang laman yung box, tatawagan na niya ang Carmelite para ipakuha yung laman.”
Carmen has a collection of holy statues. “Malalaking santo ang nasa altar ni Ermat. Meron pa siya nung tinatawag na Kamay Ng Diyos,” Rene describes it as a sculpture of a severed hand which was claimed to be miraculous.
Incidentally, Sampaguita Pictures had a movie Kamay Ng Diyos in 1947 which starred Carmen opposite Gerry De Leon and Leopoldo Salcedo. It was the first directorial job of National Artist Eddie Romero.
Sadly, Carmen’s devotion to her religion was exploited by an unknown group. “Nabola si Ermat nung isang grupo. Natangay yung Kamay Ng Diyos at ilan pang santo.” But the group did not dupe Carmen of money since they were only interested in the holy statues.
Carmen was the original shoe collector. “Hindi mo kayang bilangin ang sapatos ni Ermat. Sobrang dami talaga. Siguro siya ang ginaya ni Imelda,” Rene cracks a smile. And speaking of Imelda, Rene recalls, “Minsan nga sa simbahan, binati si Ermat ng katabi niya. Nginitian lang niya tapos tinanong ako kung sino yun.” Carmen didn’t recognize President Marcos.
Although Rene did not clearly specify, he gave a strong hint that Carmen moved out of San Juan due to pressures by Marcos. “Lahat kasi ng invitation sa kanya ng First Lady ini-snub niya. Eh in fairness kay Ermat, hindi nga siya mahilig sa sosyalan.”
Complementing Carmen’s shoe rack was her wardrobe cabinet. “Actually hindi magkakasya sa cabinet ang mga damit niya,” Rene laughs, “kasi sobrang dami talaga. Siguro mapupuno ang isang bodega o baka kulang pa ang isang container van. Maluluma ang ukay-ukay sa mga damit ni Ermat.”
Another collection of Carmen was her glass and ceramic paintings. “Ang dami niyang paintings sa tiles at sa baso. Yun ang isang libangan niya pag walang ginagawa.” Carmen’s works of art were sometimes given out as gifts.
Unlike Tita Cory’s painting as a pure hobby, Carmen’s artistic endeavor was quite serious. “Nag-aral siya sa MAFE Institute. Sikat yun nung araw. Tapos nanalo siya ng gold medal sa isang painting contest,” boasts Rene of Carmen’s unpublicized talent.
Aside from her own artistic creations, Carmen has countless portraits given to her by known artists. “May isa nga, lapis lang ang ginamit para ma-capture yung mukha ni Ermat. Ang ganda nun. Siguro priceless na yun sa ngayon.”
With her roots in Pangasinan, Carmen was honored by her provincemates by naming Barangay Carmen and the town of Rosales after her. Carmen, Rosales, aside from being known as the capital of Tupig (roasted suman), is a well-known stopover location of travelers going to Baguio City.
Carmen had been a sort of hypochondriac in her last 20 years on earth. “Pag may konting maramdaman, punta agad sa doktor. Laging ganun hanggang dumating yung point na parang nawalan na siya ng tiwala sa mga doktor.”
In her consultations with specialists, Carmen used four different names: Rosales, Navales, Constantino (her middle name) and Puyat. The varied names were used to get a second, third or even a fourth opinion on her unknown ailment.
In her last confinement, Carmen suffered from severe loose bowel movement. “Yun lang ang naging talagang problema. Sa palagay ko napabayaan lang ng ospital.” Carmen got dehydrated which resulted to her expiration.
Rene was surprised to see (presumably) young fans dropping by during the wake of Carmen in Loyola. “Nakakatuwa rin, kasi ang babata nila pero kilala pa nila si Ermat. Feeling ko tuloy na hindi siya nalaos.”
Carmen was interred in Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina. “Simple lang yung libingan niya. Wala nga sigurong nakakaalam. Minsan si Jimmy Gil ng GMA-7, estudyante kasi yan dati ng wife ko, gusto ko ngang biruin… Jimmy, dito nakalibing si Ermat, baka gusto mong i-cover sa tv.”
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