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La Vida Rosa

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by Greggy V. Vera Cruz
Philippine Star, Aug. 18, 2008

Personifying one of the icons that generations of Filipinos idolize, Rosa Rosal is a silver screen star with a heart of gold.

With this exclusive interview and pictorial set at 1 p.m. on that drizzling Tuesday afternoon, she arrived minutes earlier than the appointed time. Her mere presence elicited not a few glances as she walked down the halls of the Edsa Shangri-La Hotel’s Garden Wing. The smile emanating from her luscious red lips and her greetings were as warm as her personality.

As the doors of the lift open, I quickly head to our well-appointed suite. There she was sitting comfortably on the couch, beckoning me to join her in a casual exchange of pleasantries over a tray of the freshest fruits in season.

A picture of class, elegance and regal bearing, indeed, sans the klieg lights and the fanfare from the celluloid world she has learned to live and love. After all, there can only be one Rosa Rosal.

In full bloom

Who could ever forget the memorable portrayals she has essayed from both the big screen and the boob tube? Oh, how we hated her as a scheming vixen who made life miserable for Celia Flor in Correctional, empathized with her as an oppressed peasant in Biyaya Ng Lupa, wept for her as a principled woman in Anak Dalita and Badjao, and eventually adored her as the kooky wife of the late Ronald Remy in ’Yan Ang Misis Ko. Needless to say, the list of meaningful lead and character roles goes on…

For someone who never thought of pursuing a showbiz career, Rosa started at the rather tender age of 16. At the time, she was working as secretary to Dr. Sixto Francisco when she chanced upon a movie being shot on location as she was walking on her way home.

Noticing Rosa’s good looks courtesy of her French-Egyptian father and an equally attractive Filipino mother, the talent coordinators of Qualitone lost no time in casting the young lady as an “extra” in Fort Santiago. Despite her minor role, her mestiza features easily stood out on the silver screen during that eventful premiere night. Sensing her potential as a future star attraction, the movie producer immediately located the secretary’s whereabouts.

“I was doubtful at first with their (tempting) offer, thinking that they were just going to test my worth. So I told them that if they really wanted me to be their talent, they better subject me first to a screen test. Whether I pass or fail it would be okay for me,” Rosa reminisces.

As it turned out, she passed it with flying colors. The rest is, as they say, part of movie history.

Long Live the Queen!

“While I was making movies with the group of Luis Nolasco for Kamagong, LVN Pictures also got me. I was also in the stable of stars of Premiere Productions. So for one year, cinema aficionados had their fill of Rosa Rosal movies shown in Dalisay Theater,” she fondly recalls.

With the influx of her blockbuster hits, Rosa confidently told her mother, “Mama, I am going to be the next movie queen!” Initially, her mom downplayed Rosa’s statement but sure enough, after a year, Rosa was proven correct.

“When I’m very focused on what I want to do, it really happens,” she affirms. “And it happened because that was the only Filipino theater at that time. I became the movie queen. After that, my projects were continuous.

“I could say that I am also the only movie actress to have merited a presidential citation when Anak Dalita won in a film festival in Hong Kong. Then President Ramon Magsaysay sent me a telegram and wrote me a letter congratulating me,” she relates.

Aside from her numerous acting awards, another feather added to Rosa Rosal’s multi-layered showbiz cap is her being the image model of the now-famous FAMAS statuette. In between sips of our chamomile tea, I was to learn from Mommy Rose that she asked Kodak Philippines to sponsor that stint. Kodak agreed on condition that she pose for that trophy.

Combining a stellar showbiz career with her various humanitarian projects while single-handedly raising a growing daughter, indeed, proved to be one Herculean task.

“I’m a very disciplined person. Even now, whenever TV networks and movie production outfits get me for their various projects, they know that I’m a stickler for professionalism. That may be the secret why I’m still around even at this time,” Rosa affirms.

The Way of the (Red) Cross

“As everyone knows, the blood bank also keeps me busy these days. That certainly is my passion, having started as a volunteer for the Philippine National Red Cross 58 years ago. The energy I have for that cause is still the same. I feel good knowing that I can leave anytime,” Rosa states.

As one indefatigable lady who is not about to rest on her laurels, she has also had countless shares of awards as far as her humanitarian projects are concerned, among them being the 1999 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Public Service.

“I am also the polio vaccine (bill) author, having the necessary papers to prove it. I fought for that cause. At that time, I was still with Kapwa Ko, Mahal Ko. When I heard that (then) President Ferdinand Marcos was going to sign a bill for tuberculosis, I set a meeting with the Department of Social Welfare and Development. It was a hard fight but it was worth it.

“I stressed that a polio victim is crippled for life. Though the other party argued that it was very expensive, still, I fought for it. As soon as President Marcos affixed his signature, I was overjoyed when Rotary International sponsored it right away. I could say that right now, the Philippines is polio-free because of that bill,” she tells matter-of-factly.

Her curriculum vitae is fully packed with so many achievements and accolades that she garnered during her entire stay with the PNRC. And with so many significant things that has happened to her multi-checkered life, she couldn’t ask for anything more.

“I had a wonderful mother whom I loved and adored. I could say that whatever I am now, whatever values I have now, is all because of how she brought me up.

“In the beginning, I may have been bitter, what with all the painful trials that I’ve also encountered. But now, I have realized that God allowed all of these things to happen — including having a beautiful daughter (Toni Rose) and two wonderful grandsons (James and John). When people ask me when I am about to retire, I tell them I don’t intend to. Not until my last breath,” she concludes with conviction.

Spoken, indeed, like the true icon that she is.

Photography by Rommel Bundalian

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