(This article was originally published on November 9, 2019.)
Susan Roces reigned over movie fandom in the heydays of Sampaguita Pictures.
From 1950s to 1960s, she made about 40 movies.
Even after marrying Fernando Poe Jr. in 1968, she had remained active, doing at least one movie a year until late 1980s.
She also ventured into film production.
In recent years, she became popular among TV viewers for playing Lola Flora, the grandmother of Cardo Dalisay, the character of Coco Martin in ABS-CBN’s FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano.
Susan’s portrayal as the kind and prayerful matriarch in the Kapamilya action drama was a key element in the series’ seven-year run.
She kept it grounded and relatable to Filipino viewers; toned down the over-the-top fighting and gun scenes.
In May 2020, the veteran actress had to "beg off" from taping the series due to COVID-19.
But she eventually resumed working, and taped her scenes within the confines of her home.
Here are seven reasons that made Susan Roces a queen and an icon.
1. Susan was so beautiful in her teens she got a studio contract on the spot
Susan may have lived a sheltered life in Bacolod City, but she was an ardent fan of Filipino movies at an early age.
When she was 15, she traveled to Quezon City in hopes of seeing her idol Gloria Romero in the compound of Sampaguita Pictures.
There she was noticed by Dr. Jose Perez, the esteemed founder and head of Sampaguita studio.
Doc Perez was so stunned by Susan's mestiza features that she offered her a contract on the spot.
This immediately led to her first starring role via the film Boksingera in 1956.
2. Susan haD a glorious movie career as the Queen of RP Movies
Susan continued to experience career highs after her first starring vehicle. Her next movie was Miss Tilapia with her idol Gloria Romero, in 1956.
Ten years later, Susan earned her first Best Actress nomination in the FAMAS Awards for Ana-Roberta, where she portrayed a young lady who lost her whole family during the Japanese war.
But the 1966 FAMAS Award for Best Actress went to Barbara Perez for Ang Daigdig ng mga Api.
Susan collected nomination after nomination after that via the movies Maruja in 1967, To Susan with Love in 1968, Divina Gracia in 1970, Bilangguang Puso in 1972, Hanggang sa Kabila ng Daigdig in 1974, and Patayin mo sa Sindak si Barbara in 1974.
She finally won her first FAMAS Award for Best Actress in 1978 for Maligno, where she played a mother who had to protect her baby from an evil cult. The horror master Celso Ad. Castillo directed her in this movie, which was produced under Rosas Productions.
Susan won the same award again in the following year with Gumising Ka Maruja, where she played an actress who wanted to retell the tragic story of ghostly lovers.
The legendary Lino Brocka was her director in this film, which was produced under FPJ Productions.
Susan would keep picking up nominations and acting awards throughout the rest of her career.
In 2015, the FAMAS Awards bestowed to her the title of Iconic Movie Queen of Philippine Cinema.
To date, the movie queen has starred in more than 130 films.
3. Susan GRACED TELEVISION WITH HER illustrious NAME
Susan has gotten on in years with her acting mettle intact, and her illustrious name landing her significant roles in various television shows.
She starred opposite the late Dolphy in the sitcom John en Shirley, which aired for more than a year until October 2007.
In 2008, she played Aurora, the grandmother of Claudine Barretto’s character in Iisa Pa Lamang.
In 2012, Susan portrayed Manang Henya, the adoptive grandmother of Coco Martin’s character in the top-rating drama Walang Hanggan.
Susan, however, also ventured outside the Kapamilya walls. She played Helena See, a powerful Chinese matriarch, in Babaeng Hampaslupa, which aired on TV5 in 2011.
She was also the lead in GMA-7’s Sana Ngayong Pasko, which aired in 2010. She played Remedios Dionisio, a retired teacher who had to find strength so she could survive the Ondoy tragedy.
Her last TV project was FPJ's Ang Probinsyano.
When asked about her longevity in showbiz, Susan said acting makes her forget the aches in her heart.
“The best pain reliever is to keep yourself busy, doing things that are productive. I’m loneliest when I’m not productive.”
4. Susan Roces was the number one supporter of FPJ
Susan and her late husband Fernando Poe Jr. were together for 36 years before he passed away in 2004.
They were wed on Christmas Day in 1968 when she was 27 and FPJ was 31.
The couple worked together in 17 movies, all of them blockbusters.
Their first project was Daigdig Ko’y Ikaw in 1965, a romantic film that made Filipino moviegoers fall in love with the on-screen pair. This movie was re-issued in theaters in 1968, along with footage of the Susan-FPJ wedding.
The power couple also worked in the landmark movies Zamboanga (1966), Perlas ng Silanganan (1969), Ikaw ang Lahat sa Akin (1969), Salaginto’s Salagubang (1972), Karnabal (1973), Mahal, Ginagabi ka na Naman (1979), and No Retreat, No Surrender si Kumander (1987).
5. Susan Roces could have been the First Lady
In 2003, FPJ announced his intention to run for the presidency.
Susan was supportive of her husband’s ambition, and she even went with him to most of his campaign sorties around the country.
FPJ did not win the elections.
In the official election count, the King of Filipino Movies lost by more than a million votes against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
6. Susan WAS a fiery opponent
On June 29, 2005, Susan stirred the hearts of Filipinos when she spoke up against the then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was being accused of electoral fraud.
The veteran actress was furious; the Hello Garci scandal seemed to prove that FPJ was the rightful winner in the 2004 Presidential elections.
Susan rebuked Arroyo in front of a cheering crowd in Club Filipino in San Juan and uttered, “The gravest thing that you have done is you have stolen the presidency, not once but twice!"
Susan also demanded for the former President’s resignation, adding that it is “the most honorable thing to do.”
Susan proved to be a thorn on Arroyo’s side during her whole term, joining protest after protest that admonished every scandal that the infamous leader have been involved in.
At one point, Susan even indicated that she should be the one sitting in the Malacañang throne instead. "Kung kinakailangan, pangangatawanan ko at sama-sama tayo,” she told an adoring crowd.
7. Susan AS "ADVISER" OF SENATOR GRACE POE
Her daughter Grace Poe got the most number of votes in the 2013 Philippine senate elections.
During the campaign season, Susan was the "number one supporter" of her daughter, and even appeared in her campaign advertisement.
And on Grace's first day of work as a senator, the multi-awarded star woke up early to make sure her daughter won't be late.
"Gumising ako nang maaga and talagang gusto ko siyang mauna sa opisina niya. Sinasabi ko nga, hindi ka puwedeng late. Dapat first impression pa lang, maganda," she told some friends in showbiz in a birthday gathering, where PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) was also invited.
In 2016, Susan went all out supporting Grace's bid for presidency. According to the latter's statement of contributions and expenditures (SOCE), the movie queen donated a total of PHP25 million.
Fast forward to Mother's Day in 2019, the senator posted this touching message on Instagram:
“Mom, thank you for the sleepless nights, the band-aids, the nourishing meals, the shoulder to lean on.
"You have shown me that the love of a mother—biological, foster or adoptive—is unconditional and beyond measure.”
This 2022, her Mother's Day greeting on Instagram was accompanied by a short clip compiling four of their sweetest mother-and-daughter photos.
Senator Grace's caption was: "Maraming salamat sa iyong pagmamahal at pagkalinga. Happy Mother's Day, Mama!"
The next post of Grace about her mom bore sad news (published as is):
"With great sadness, we announce the loss of our beloved Jesusa Sonora Poe, whom many of you know as Susan Roces. She passed away peacefully on a Friday evening, May 20, 2022, surrounded by love and warmth, with her daughter Grace, her nephews Joseph and Jeffrey and many of her family and close friends.
"She lived life fully and gracefully. Remember her in her beauty, warmth and kindness.
"She is now with the Lord and her beloved Ronnie — FPJ. We will miss her sorely but we celebrate a life well lived. Susan Roces — daughter, mother, grandmother, a true Filipina and a national treasure."
Paalam, Lola Flora. Salamat, Susan.