FPJ: The death of a legend, the beginning of a myth 

By TITO GENOVA VALIENTE
Special to Today

He was at a very young age, 15 in some documents, already a film actor. His father died of rabies brought about by rabid puppies licking his wound, records say. He would go on to make films that earned collective postings in the mind of those who watched them.

The films were popular, in that the so-called Filipino masses liked them. They were never generally populist, in the sense of the people or the masses charting their destiny, or even struggling with forces that stop them from achieving what they believed were their fate. For that struggle, for that fight, he was there. Fernando Poe Jr., the champion of the masses creditably in films and, if we follow the stories of those he helped, in real life.

And, he would run for the highest position in the land, the presidency, an act that would link in full circle a journey of a man who entered the world of illusion on gripping real reasons—his family needed his help as a breadwinner—and tying it with the promise of running this land by being not the swashbuckling hero onscreen but a leader of a people wracked with hunger but holding on to vivid—and for them therefore, real—images of a man who would singly fight all odds and, at the end, share the boon with society.

A force all by himself

Fernando Poe, Jr, was a cinematic force. He created his own aesthetics where part of the battle for good and evil was the protection of women and children. In his films, he would always have a sidekick, sometimes a funny man filled generously by the likes of a guitar-playing Pablo Virtusio and a bumbling Dencio Padilla. Sometimes, there would be a little boy, representing the vulnerability and the charming naiveté of the masses, prodding him and making him realize that there was something to fight for, and that there was injustice in the land.

His women in films appeared to have gone through a test of virginal charm and an allure that was not threatening.

Everyone, from Leonor Vergara to Rebecca and even to Sharon Cuneta, had to fit the mold of FPJ’s leading lady.

These prerequisites satisfied one mighty contribution of this actor in the archive of film archetypes —that of a hero who had to remain chaste in order that he would not lose his power, his capacity to do good and fight evil.

The conflicts in his stories were old and tested, even formulaic, and the resolution in the form of killings was grim. The hacenderos played in Eastman color by Ramon D’Salva and Nello Nayo in smoking jackets were classics because it was almost impossible to kill them. It was the mark of FPJ’s villains, from Bruno Punzalan to Van del Leon, from Johnny Monteiro to Max Alvarado, to be irritatingly voluble. Very much like the politicians of yore and now. To their long-winding speeches, Fernando Poe’s character would respond in terse witticisms. The short retort would anger the villains and the crowd would just love him. Even the quintessentially loquacious villain Eddie Garcia in many FPJ films would not merit a long response from the hero.

Quiet hero

In the discourse of myth, this was perhaps the magic of Fernando Poe. Early on in his career, there were actors who were considered thespians of the high order. They were many: Romeo Vasquez, Mario Montenegro, Ric Rodrigo and many others. But these were simply actors; their images were terminated when the movie ended. Fernando Poe incarnated the wishes and despair of those living in slums, a backdrop of his many incursions in the lives of the poor.

He would exoticize and segment Mindanao into bite-sized culture bytes and portray the Muslim/Moro using stereotypes, and he would get away with it.

Illusion and reality

We do not know from where springs the power of a film actor like Fernando Poe, and the roots of his ideology as writer/director Ronwaldo Reyes. What was startling was when he decided in 2003 to step out of the camera and stride into the limelight of politics, and the nation could not deny it was a moment of reckoning. For the fans, he was stepping out of the silver screen, a battered white telon for most who watched him in second- and third- and fourth-ran moviehouses. He was Daniel Barrion, Aguila, Flavio (Ang Panday), Totoy Bato and many more. He was Guerrero ready to prove that “puno na ang salop”—he has had it! By sheer magnetism, he deserved the appellation “Da King,, a title granted to him by being the de facto leader of actors and filmmakers.

From a career as colorful as it was untarnished, Fernando Poe Jr. found himself in a dirty, dirty world, where the villains looked like leading men and where the dialogues were not scripted but were as sordid as those mouthed by the nefarious characters in his films. His legitimacy was brought to court. His American mother’s civil status at the time of his birth was analyzed.

No one knew really what made him take the leadership of the opposition. The view then was that he was being used. He started skipping meetings. Newspapers gloated at how he avoided debates and interviews, the medium of those who can talk and read. Still, a sizeable chunk of the so-called intelligentsia were preparing to throw their support for him, finding in his quiet ways and timid countenance a way out of the surplus of ideas flooding the country A significant part of the population though could not care less. To the masses, Fernando Poe was being himself: a hero simple and quiet. And still, there were many who could not understand him as they look at the actor and the hero he had portrayed and the dénouement that those roles would bring to this nation.

In St. Luke’s Medical Center, Fernando Poe, Jr, had lain comatose since Sunday. His good friend Joseph Estrada—the former president who, it was said, got the name Erap from him—was allowed by the court to visit him. Actors came rushing to be by his side. His presidential opponents came to visit him. The President, in her official statement, said that she wished FPJ would recover soon and spend a good Christmas with his family. Former President Corazon Aquino came early to pray for whatever “is good for Ronnie Poe”. Not bad for a young man who skipped high school, and went to work in the only good-paying job that his father showed him many years ago, and harnessed enough magic from those soulful eyes, and shoulders that stooped as if they were carrying the burdens of the world, and truth in a soft husky voice that was not really the voice of a mighty hero but a gentle Everyman. Not bad for a last starring role. Not bad at all.

12/12/2004

Bron : ABS-CBN

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