Wearing oversized glasses and with her hair pulled back into a severe bun, Miss Tapia (full name: Liwayway Gawgaw Tapia) was a character that has become a fixture in Filipino pop culture.
The appeal of her character may have to do with the fact that she played a trope—that of a lonely and abrasive single woman—but her allure may also be due to the woman who had played her with flair: the late actress, writer, and producer Mely Tagasa.
The mother of screenwriter Gina Marissa Tagasa-Gil, she grew up in Tarlac and Nueva Ecija before moving to Manila at the end of World War II.
Post-War Manila offered much hope to the newly independent republic, with jazz and big band music filling up the airwaves. It was in radio that the young Mely found her calling, nabbing several coveted roles for dramas that she eventually decided to pursue a full-time career and drop out of school.
She was also a prolific radio screenwriter. In an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer last year, she talks about working from 1 a.m. to 4 p.m. everyday, leaving her children to the care of their nannies.
It was her writing career that led her to her first TV gig.
Contrary to popular belief, Miss Tapia the character was not originally created for the sitcom Iskul Bukol. Tapia first appeared in Roni Santiago’s Baltic and Co, a long-running comic strip that began in the 1970s. The strip chronicled the misadventures of a hot-tempered boss and his employees, who included Miss Tapia.
The strip proved to be such a hit that it was turned into a TV show. Mely caught the eye of Roni after she handed a script looking like a doppelgänger for Miss Tapia, complete with a clean hair bun.
Playing the office girl Miss Tapia for Baltic and Co led her to a guest spot in Iskul Bukol, eventually earning a mainstay spot in the popular sitcom until the show aired its final episode in 1992.
In the '70s show that made household names out of Tito Sotto, Vic Sotto, and Joey de Leon, she became known for what many Filipinos remember her to be: a strict professor of Wanbol University who harbors a crush on student Joey Escalera (Joey).
Mely continued working decades after the classic sitcom ended. An avowed workaholic, she appeared in a Lucky Me commercial, reprised her most famous role for the 2008 reunion movie Iskul Bukol: 20 Years After, and worked as a producer for the GMA 7 subsidiary Alta Productions, where she managed the voice dubbing of Korean soap operas.
In real life, Mely's loving persona is the complete opposite of her masungit character.
If there's one thing that she shares Mely Tagasa was a doting mother to her kids — but according to her
daughter Lani, she's truly a disciplined worker, like Miss Tapia.
"In fact, before she had a massive stroke, she had three dubbing projects lined up!!!" daughter Lani posted on Facebook on March 17, when she reported that her mother was still in a coma.
Mely may never have been a big star, but her long career was a highly successful one. She loved her job, and in return, the public loved her back.