Veteran actress Mely Tagasa—best remembered for her 15-year-long role as the strict but endearing professor Liwayway Gawgaw Tapia or Miss Tapia in the hit sitcom “Iskul Bukol” of Tito, Vic and Joey — passed away early Saturday morning.
She suffered a massive stroke and was comatose for a week before she was weaned off her respirator. The actress and screenwriter was 82.
News of Tagasa’s death was announced by her daughter Gina Marissa—a film and television script writer—on Facebook.
“At 12:26 AM, our dearly beloved Miss Tapia has joined our Creator. The gates of heaven open for her. We love you very much, Ma!”
Gina last posted an update on her mother’s condition on March 22 from Cardinal Santos Medical Center.
“Mommy was weaned off her respirator terday afternoon. It was a tough and painful decision to make since she has been quite dependent on this machine. She is still in comatose stage but displays some pain and discomfort as she slightly jerks and squirms because of the intubation. (Ok, Doctors say it’s just her ‘reflexes’),” the post read.
“She now breathes with the help of an oxygen tank. (Sorry, I may not be able to explain the process the way these doctors do. Believe me, the medical jargon is beginning to confuse us already while hospital bills keep piling up every day). We continue to monitor her condition—her vital signs fluctuate every hour so I can’t say everything is OK.”
Gina also asked for prayers of healing for her mom whose 83rd birthday would have been on April 16.
“At this point, we leave everything to the good LORD. If He wills her to continue enjoying a quality life at 83, then a miracle is bound to happen. If He decides to take Mommy home with Him, Eternal Life in Heaven awaits. We accept. Our Faith will see us through.”
Tagasa’s last screen appearance was in her iconic Miss Tapia role when Iskul Bukol, starring Tito Sotto, Vic Sotto, and Joey de Leon, released a reunion movie in 2008 reunion that re-visited the lives of Wanbol University graduates and staff.
Tagasa chose to continue her career as a screen writer when Iskul Bukol concluded in the early ‘90s, and even went on to produce a number movies.
Her last public appearance was on November 2017 when she was given her Walk of Fame star in Eastwood, Quezon City.
Becoming Miss Tapia
It was by chance that Tagasa became TV’s Miss Tapia in the ‘70s.
A screenwriter by profession, she had originally intended to submit a script to an agency, which happened to be auditioning a role for a TV adaptation of the comic strip “Baltic and Co.” at the time of her submission.
With her hair in a bun, the slender, bespectacled and conservative-looking lady immediately caught the eye of comic strip creator, Roni Santiago, who found Baltic and Co.’s love-lorn and often-angry professor Miss Tapia come to life in Tagasa. Lucky for Santiago, his accidental discovery had come with acting experience as a radio talent when she was 17.
Thus, in 1977, Miss Tapia’s crossover appearance from “Baltic and Co.” to then newly launched sitcom “Iskul Bukol” became a hit, and she became a regular character in the series until the early ‘90s.
Following her well-loved portrayal of Miss Tapia, Tagasa continued working in showbiz behind-the-scenes as she went back screen writing, and later as producer.
According to another daughter Lani Montreal, before Tagasa’s heart attack and coma, she had three dubbing projects lined up.
She described her mom as “the most notorious workaholic.”
“Feels so strange to be grading papers while my mom is in a coma. But midterm grades are due, and she would have berated me if she knew I wasn’t doing my job. She is, after all, the most notorious workaholic I know. In fact, before she had a massive stroke, she had three dubbing projects lined up!!! At 82, she finds joy and relevance in her job. ‘Nagkakasakit ako pag walang trabaho!’ She does know how to have fun too,” Montreal posted on her Facebook page on March 17.
“With her cataracts removed, she was considering acting again. Her fans would have been happy. Her passion has always been my inspiration. I wrote this blog and turned it into a monologue for Night of the Living Moms last year. In it, I write about what it’s like to have Miss Tapia as a mom and how it’s influenced my own parenting style,” she added.
Montreal’s blog, fillinthegap.com, remembers how her mom loved the attention she got from fans, especially when they asked her for autographs and photos in public places.
Surprisingly, Tagasa’s daughter revealed, “I didn’t think [mom]enjoyed her role very much. It was a job for her—memorizing lines, coming to work before call time to get her makeup done, and waiting, waiting and waiting for set and costume changes, a late cast member or two, technical problems…”
She found most enjoyment and fulfillment in writing scripts for radio and TV on her days off instead, which her daughter said, she did from her bedroom on her days off from Miss Tapia.
At the time of her death, movie and TV website IMDb credits an impressive 70 films and television shows to Tagasa’s on-cam career, which besides the Iskul Bukol outings include “Bagets 2,” “Alabang Girls,” “Shake, Rattle and Roll 4,” “Maalaala Mo Kaya,” and “Daisy Siete,” among others.