Quezon City, Dec. 23, 2001 (STAR) CONVERSATIONS with Ricky Lo - Let’s take a trip down memory lane with Armando Goyena, star of Yamashita: The Tiger’s Treasure, MaQ Films’ entry at the Metro Filmfest which starts on Tuesday, Dec. 25, and ends on Jan. 2, 2002. In the movie, directed by Chito Roño, Armando plays the character who holds the key (a diary) to the fabled treasure of Gen. Tomuyuki Yamashita (with Carlo Muñoz of the PLDT hit "Billy/Gracia" commercial as the young Armando).

Our "trip" is made memorable and nostalgic as we scan scrapbooks and albums of sepia photographs, still pictures from movies of long ago and clippings of magazine/newspaper stories which are testimonies to Armando’s heyday as a matinee idol at the old LVN Pictures.

"These scrapbooks and albums were prepared by Paquita (Roses), my wife," Armando says, pointing to the neat pile at the sofa in his (actually owned by his daughter, Maritess Revilla) condo unit that occupies almost the whole of the 10th floor of a high-rise in Ortigas Center, Pasig City, where Maritess lives in another unit. "They are as precious to me as the treasure of Yamashita."

Paquita Roses, a great beauty, succumbed to ALS (an untreatable and unstoppably debilitating disease which attacks the nerves and the muscles of a person, thus sentencing him/her to a long, lonely, slow death) last March. But this afternoon, she seems to be present at the cozy condo unit which she shared with Armando until her death (spending the last months of her life bedridden). In fact, Armando keeps referring to her in the present tense.

"She is very beautiful," he smiles as he points to a framed photo of the late Paquita, showing her perfect profile. "Doesn’t she look even more beautiful than Elizabeth Taylor?" I nod in agreement.

We ascend to the second floor (of the condo to which the elevator directly opens – very private and very exclusive).

"That’s my bed," Armando says. "Paquita used to sleep on a bed beside it. That was when she was ill already and couldn’t get up. She’s such a beautiful person inside and out."

Then we sit facing each other on the dining table, scrapbooks and albums between us, and embark on the trip down memory lane. You’re invited to come along.

Is there really a (hidden) Yamashita treasure? Or is it all a myth?

"I was alive when the Japanese were here; I was 21 years old. I’ve been hearing that story ever since. Like many people, I’m not sure if it’s true or not. I will have to see it to believe it."

In the movie, you as a young man are shown carrying gold bars (the Yamashita treasure) to the cave. It’s fiction, I suppose.

"Oh, yes, it is. But if you see the gold bars and the Golden Buddha (to be displayed at the movie’s float during the Metro Filmfest parade tomorrow afternoon), you would believe that there’s really a Yamashita treasure. I’m the narrator in the movie."

I’m sure the movie brings back memories of the war...

" does, it does! Very painful memories."

Very painful memories?

"The Japanese killed my father."

How did it happen? Was your father, Jose Revilla (Armando’s namesake), killed in front of you?

"It happened in 1945. We were living in a chalet in the Malate district. That night, the Japanese rounded up the men in our area, tied their hands at the back, marched them down the street and threw them, all 70 of them, inside the public toilet. How did I know? Well, I was one of the 70, including my father."

It’s like that scene in Schindler’s List – at the concentration camp.

"Sort of. You know what the Japanese did? They broke the two small windows of the toilet and threw three hand grenades inside, throwing the door open. Those who were not hit started scampering for safety. I could hear machine guns being fired all around. But many were killed, one of them my father. A grenade exploded behind him. I ran to him and I pleaded with him not to die, to be strong. I hugged my father while the Japanese were hitting the survivors with bayonets, especially those who refused to bow."

What happened to your father?

"He died two days later – at the hospital."

How did it feel being pierced with a bayonet?

"How do you think it felt? Hindi lang ako nabayoneta. I was also slapped several times for refusing to bow."

Were you still in school at that time?

"No. Schools were suspended for more than three years. I was then studying Commerce at La Salle. I was an ROTC and we were about to be sent to Bataan; we were already quartered in La Salle. I already said goodbye to my family. But that night, we heard the news that Bataan had fallen."

How long did the war years last?

"Let me see... The war broke out in 1941... Manila was declared an Open City in 1943 yata... Up to 1945... We were living in constant fear. And then that infamous rounding up of the men happened..."

You happened to come from a prominent family...

"...Well, yes, my parents belonged to the Manila high society even if they were not millionaires. At that time, money wasn’t the basis for your membership in high society; it was whom you knew. The families of my father and my mother, Florentina Goyena, belonged to the Columbian Club and the Club Filipino."

How soon after the war did the schools reopen?

"In 1947. I continued my Commerce studies, still at La Salle where I studied from grade school. I graduated in 1948."

And how soon after graduation were you discovered for the movies?

"Right after the war, jobs were scarce. But I got a job as a night watchman in a big compound of heavy trucks. That was right after the war when everybody had to fend for himself, when everybody had to work. That was after the Liberation. I was getting P180 a month. And then, I worked for the Gregorio Araneta Inc. which had a small department store near Carriedo in Sta. Cruz (Manila). I was the manager of the department store with a coffee shop. Wilfrido (Ma. Guerrero) – you know him, the playwright? – would take coffee there every day. We would chat; we became friends. One day, he told me, ‘Pinggoy, I am finishing a play; I want you to play the lead.’ I said, ‘What do you mean lead... appear on the stage?’ Nabigla ako."

Why, didn’t you have any experience in acting, maybe in school plays?

"I wasn’t even a member of the debating team! I wasn’t even a member of the oratorical team. So I told Freddie, ‘Forget it!’ But Freddie was persistent. Every day, he would pester me, until I finally said, ‘Okay, I’ll try it.’ That was the start."

What was the title of the play?

"Women Are Extraordinary, an original play. I played the husband. After that, more plays followed. Freddie even wrote one play, called What A Guy, purposely for me. I was the only character in that play, alone onstage. No, it wasn’t a soliloquy; it was a 35-minute one-character play. Doon kami sa Quiapo nagre-rehearse, near the store where I worked, and we did the rehearsals after my work."

How did that play come about?

"Everytime we did a play, it was hard to gather all the players for the rehearsals. So I told Freddie, as a joke, ‘Why don’t you write a play with just one character, so only one player will rehearse?’ After two weeks, Freddie came to me, ‘I’m halfway through.’ I asked him, ‘Halfway through with what?’ Freddie said, ‘With the one-character play.’ My role was that of a married man na pilyo, babaero. The props were a telephone, a letter which I read at the start of the play, written by my wife (not shown onstage) who was leaving me because babaero ako, e."

(In stream-of-consciousness fashion, Armando then begins delivering his dialogue, word for word, without missing a beat, going through the same gestures he must have done half a century ago before a stunned audience. I am amazed by his sharp and photographic memory as he delivers his lines without buckling at all.)

So you didn’t join the movies a greenhorn.

"When I entered the movies, I had already done more than eight plays. You know where What A Guy was staged? In San Beda! I told Freddie, ‘Why in San Beda? I’m from La Salle. The people there might throw tomatoes at me!’ Luckily, no such thing happened. The play was staged for three nights at San Beda and all nights were full house."

You never left the theater when you were already doing movies, did you?

"I also did plays for Bert Avellana (who was then directing movies for LVN Pictures). With Bert, I did (Tennessee Williams’) Summer and Smoke and also (Nick Joaquin’s) Portrait of the Artist as Filipino, playing the male lead Tony Javier. I was the first who played that role, the original, when Bert wasn’t shooting, when I wasn’t busy doing movies, we were rehearsing for plays."

Bert Avellana did a movie version of Portrait. How come you were not in it? (It was Conrad Parham who played Tony Javier.)

"When Bert did the movie, I was already out of showbiz. I retired already."

That early? At your prime?

"I wanted to quit while the quitting was good. You know how it is in showbiz, then and now. I was getting older and younger stars were taking over. The turnover was fast, just like now. I entered the movies in 1948 and I decided to retire in 1957. I was active then for more than nine years only."

How did you get into LVN Pictures? (Armando was loyal to LVN; he didn’t do any movie for other companies, such as Sampaguita Pictures and Premiere Productions which, with LVN, composed The Big 3.)

"You know, I did those plays with Freddie for peanuts, usually for charity. If the gate was good, all of us would eat at the panciteria; if the gate was bad, we contented ourselves with siopao and siomai. Anyway, the theater wasn’t my source of income. Remember, I had my own job – as supervisor of the department store."

So, acting was a craft that you learned how to love. You didn’t really dream of becoming an actor.

"That’s right. When I entered the movies, I was already confident because of my experience in theater."

Who discovered you for the movies? Who brought you to LVN?

"Oh, it was very easy. I went to Doña Sisang (the late LVN Matriarch). She knew me as a young boy. My mother used to play panggingge (a card game) with her. I would pick up my mother every afternoon from Doña Sisang’s house and told her that I wanted to be in the movies, sabi niya, ‘You wait until we do a big project.’ So I waited."

What was your childhood ambition (if not to become an actor)?

"Nothing. Just to be successful. To be a businessman, that’s why I took up Commerce in college. One day, almost two years after I started doing theater, I saw a big billboard of Pancho Magalona in a movie. That gave me an idea. I should also be in the movies, I told myself. So I went to Doña Sisang. The old woman said, ‘Aber, tumayo ka nga. Marunong ka bang umarte?’ I stood only 5’8" and I was up against the tall and big guys at that time, the likes of Leopoldo Salcedo and Rogelio dela Rosa. I waited and it took two months before I got a call, not from Doña Sisang but from Pancho Magalona (A high-society boy, like Armando, during those times – RFL). Pancho and I knew each other, maski Ateneo siya at ako La Salle. Pancho told me, ‘O, Pinggoy, you better go to LVN; Doña Sisang is looking for you!’ So I went to LVN. Doña Sisang told me, ‘O, iho, I have a big movie for you. Puting Bantayog. Ngayon lang magtatambal sina Leopoldo Salcedo at Norma Blancaflor. It will be a hit, kaya mapapansin ka dito.’ I was paired with Tessie Quintana who was also starting then."

You and Tessie were the loveteam, even if you also did several movies with other actresses, like Delia Razon (still active until now). You and Tessie were memorable in Tia Loleng where you dressed up as a woman so you could be close to her. (More than four decades later, Hollywood would do a similar movie, Mrs. Doubtfire, where Robin Williams played a similar role.) Were you and Tessie ever an "item," like loveteam-mates these days usually are, including your grandson Bernard Palanca and Rica Peralejo)?

"No, we were not. Tessie was already married at that time, to Johnny Reyes (a kontrabida) whose aunt was my aunt. You know how that happened? Johnny’s aunt married my uncle. So Johnny and I grew up na parang magpinsan (cousins). I did more than 45 movies with LVN before I quit."

What do you consider as your most memorable movie?

"Tia Loleng. That’s my movie that made the most money... the movie gave me the money to get married. My other memorable role was in Welga, a trilogy, where I played a pier hand. First time I portrayed a non-pretty-boy role. I was nominated for the FAMAS (Best Actor category) but on the morning of the awards night, they told me that I was disqualified because the movie wasn’t full-length, part lang daw of a trilogy. So what? If an actor is good, even if he appears only a few minutes on the screen, he’s still good. If he’s bad, even if he appears from beginning to end, he’s still bad. That’s why until now, may tampo ako sa FAMAS."

Oh, yes, your ravishingly beautiful (late) wife, Paquita Roses (who starred in, among others, the Camay advertisement, along with Gloria Romero and other timeless beauties). How did the courtship go?

"Paquita was several years younger than me. Her two brothers were also studying at La Salle so I knew them. At the NCAA games, I would watch Paquita from afar, teenager pa lang siya noon. She was only about 13 then and I was 20. Her father was pure Spanish and her mother a mestiza. She studied in Assumption. Her mother didn’t think much of artistas and I suspected that she didn’t like me. But it helped that Paquita’s two brothers were my friends, Gerardo and Gabriel. I was already in the movies when I started courting her. One night, we were celebrating at the Sky Room (The ‘in’ social venue at that time, located just adjacent to the old Jai Alai building on Taft Avenue. – RFL) after a movie premiere and I saw Paquita there with her friends. You know what I did?"

What did you do?

"Paquita and her group were seated at one corner and they had to pass by our table to go to the dancefloor. Everytime she’d pass by me, I would pretend to put my leg in her way so she would stop going to and coming from the dancefloor and would say, ‘Excuse me!’ and I’d say, ‘Sorry!’ When she passed again, she’d say, "Excuse me!’ and I’d say again, ‘Sorry.’ I used to see her at the NCAA games but I hadn’t really met her. That night at the Sky Room, I told Lota Delgado (wife of Rogelio dela Rosa), who was seated beside me, ‘In six months, she will be my girlfriend.’ True enough, in six months, girlfriend ko na si Paquita."

How did you finally meet Paquita – formally?

"One of those in Paquita’s group was a guy who knew my younger sister. So I told him later on, ‘Hey, I saw you with that beautiful girl the other night. How about introducing me to her?’ He helped me draw up a strategy. My friend told me, ‘You’re from La Salle. Every Thursday, the Alumni Club holds a bingo social. If you’re not shooting next Thursday, call me and we’ll go to the bingo social. Paquita’s mother will surely be there.’ The mother was very strict, you know. So that night, I bought several bingo cards and I gave them to Paquita’s mother who was crazy about bingo. And she won. That same night, I asked her permission to visit Paquita in their house. Soon, Paquita and I were going on dates, foursome with my friend and his girlfriend. The mother permitted Paquita kasi foursome date naman, e. We went steady for two years, but she was brought to the States para ilayo sa akin ng mother niya. But by then, we were in love with each other already. Every day, Paquita wrote letters to me and I would answer her once a week. Not a million miles could keep us apart."

It’s a good thing she came back – still in love with you.

"You know, they came back by ship. The trip took them more than one month. Would you believe that even before the andamyo (gangplank) could be lowered, tumatakbo na si Paquita pababa. I was there. I was just as eager and excited to see her again. After three months, we got married already, in 1951. A year later, Maritess was born."

Your marriage was stable, unlike other showbiz marriages. What was your "secret formula," if any?

"I didn’t womanize. I was faithful until her death. I was never rumored to be having an affair with any actress because there was none. Siguro, the actresses knew that I had a beautiful wife, so... With a beautiful wife like Paquita, how could you think of other women? We were together for 48 years. Those were very happy years. I was never unfaithful to her. Besides, I thought that if I played around, baka magbayad ako; baka ma-karma ako."

You have such sharp memory. Do you mind if I ask how old are you?

"I turned 79 last Dec. 7."

How do you keep fit?

(Joking) "Well, having seven girls bothering me all the time..."

Could you name your seven daughters and one son in chronological order?

"Of course! Maritess, Tina, Johnny, Cecilia, Pita, Rosario, Malu and Cita. I have 28 grandchildren."

What are your expectations after Yamashita?

"I hope this movie will open a new career for me."

A new career!?!

"Yes, as The Lolo of All Time. You know, after 1957 when I quit, I didn’t do any movie for more than 30 years. I was working as accountant for the Yuchengcos. Then, in the late ’80s, Regal got me for a role in Mahal Kita Walang Iba, the movie of Kris Aquino and Christopher de Leon. Yamashita is produced by MaQ Films, sister company of Regal, so it’s like a homecoming movie for me."

I wonder, how does a 79-year-old look at life, after going through the war years, stardom, a happy and fruitful marriage, success as a businessman and all the luxuries other people can only dream about?

"Life’s good. I have no regrets."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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