Late last month, we bid farewell to the "Queen of Philippine Movies" and one of Philippine television's grand dames, Miss Susan Roces or Jesusa Purificacion Levy Sonora Poe beyond the silver screen. She was 80. We were representing the Philippines in Cannes last May 20 when we first heard of the sad news. But while we are saddened by her passing, we, most of all, celebrate her life.

The ‘King and Queen of Philippine Movies,’ together at last.
The ‘King and Queen of Philippine Movies,’ together at last.

Miss Susan Roces has lived a full life as a woman, a wife, a mother, a veteran actress, an industry stalwart — a true queen.

At the celebration of Philippine Cinema's centennial year last 2019, the Film Development Council of the Philippines named Miss Susan Roces as one of Sine Sandaan's Philippine Cinema Luminaries and half of the Love Team of the Century award, which she shared with her late husband Fernando Poe, Jr. She had made an indelible mark not just in the first 100 years of our cinematic history but more importantly in our collective memory as a nation.

Her performances in her extensive filmography have been recognized by the most respected award-giving bodies in the country such as the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences Awards (Famas), Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP) Awards, and the Philippine Movie Press Club (PMPC) Star Awards for Movies.

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Susan Roces as a young actress. PHOTOS COURTESY OF
Susan Roces as a young actress. PHOTOS COURTESY OF JEFFREY SONORA

In her seven decades in the industry starring in over 130 movies throughout her career, she witnessed the evolution of the country's film and entertainment industry — from her beginnings in 1952 in Jose Nepomuceno's "Mga Bituin ng Kinabukasan" at eleven years old, to her unexpected re-entry in 1956 via Sampaguita Pictures' "Boksingera," up to her latest role as Lola Flora in the country's long-running television action serye, "Ang Probinsyano," along with her memorable advertisements.

She evolved with the industry as an actress riding the waves of changing trends, the highs and the lows of Philippine cinema throughout the decades. She has seen it all.

Miss Susan Roces restarted her career as Gloria Romero's movie fan coming over to Quezon City to catch a glimpse of the Sampaguita star. This was where she was discovered and given the title role which sparked her stellar track record. From there was a flurry of starring roles spanning to the end of the 1950s.

The following decade showed a more sensitive, more nuanced performance from Miss Roces, giving life to "Maruja" by Mars Ravelo, and starring in the epic "Perlas ng Silangan" co-starring with the King of Philippine Movies, Fernando Poe, Jr.

She has indeed lived a full life — as a woman, a wife, a mother, and
an industry stalwart.
She has indeed lived a full life — as a woman, a wife, a mother, and an industry stalwart.

The 1970s revealed her versatility as she played roles in a genre far from her first foray — horror and suspense. This included Celso Ad Castillo's "Patayin Mo sa Sindak si Barbara" in 1974 and "Maligno" in 1977. She capped the decade with Lino Brocka's take on Maruja in "Gumising Ka... Maruja" in 1978 for which she was given her second Famas award.

The following decades only cemented her place in our cinematic history including her blockbuster films with husband Fernando Poe, Jr., and other memorable roles.

She did not stop at her success in the movies but crossed mediums venturing into television and brand endorsements. Notable are her significant roles in unforgettable and top-rated series such as "John en Shirley," "Iisa Pa Lamang," "Walang Hanggan," and her last television project, the series "Ang Probinsyano" (2015 to present).

Perhaps our film scholars and students can look more closely at Miss Susan Roces' career over the years as a benchmark and artifact of the Philippine film industry in the future. I believe so much can be gleaned from her long and successful career and how our cinema is impacted by it and vice versa.

From her life and career, we see how important the ability to adapt and change with the times is, to never stop adding to one's arsenal of skills. At the heart of FDCP is this hope as well.

To honor her, we will continue to endeavor for the upskilling of our film workers by providing spaces and opportunities for them to elevate their artistic and economic possibilities. To continue remembering her, we shall remain steadfast in our preservation and archiving of Filipino movies. To date, Philippine Film Archive is home to copies of some of her movies including "5 Yugto ng Buhay," "Beatnik," "Dance-O-Rama," "Mga Ligaw na Bulaklak," "Mga Reynang Engkantada," and many more.

Miss Susan Roces may be known for her acting prowess, but most all, she is most remembered for her gracious and steady presence, touching everyone around her with her warm light. She is regarded as a beacon of inspiration to her co-actors and colleagues, especially in the Mowelfund where she was an active member. Perhaps, the reason for her staying power in this challenging, always changing industry is her constant kindness.

We mourn because we are no longer graced by her presence but we are grateful because we are fortunate to have known her, to have shared our lifetimes with a most beautiful soul. We grieve her passing, we celebrate her life.

Often in societies, a death in the family brings everyone together. May Tita Susan's transition bring our family — the Philippine film and entertainment industry — ever closer, ever more caring for each other's welfare. All hail the Queen!