Paul Anka and Neil Sedaka came to this shore, Ric Manrique Jr. and Pilita
Corrales were already stirring the romantic heart strings of Pinoys with their love songs.
what was known as the golden age of
tagalog songs in the 60s, the Filipinos swooned over classic pinoy music such as Restie Umali’s “Dahil sa Iyo”, Levi Celerio’s “Saan Ka Man Naroroon” and
Tony Maiquez’ “Sapagka’t Kami ay Tao
then, there was the melancholic, “Sa
Bughaw na Buhangin” by Liberty
Ilagan, the angelic-faced actress in the drama movies of Sampaguita Pictures. “I wrote ‘Sa
Bughaw na Buhangin’” on my way home from an idyllic vacation in Bonuan Blue Beach, Dagupan
City with my friend Jean
Lopez. I was so enamored by the beauty of that beach,” said Liberty.
was a name culled from that special period in history when the country was finally freed from the horrors of World War
II. Just when the Manila streets came
alive to celebrate the liberation, the De Leon household was livelier with the
birth of a child, who was aptly named Liberty,
in honor of the homeland’s newfound freedom.
Thus began the fairy tale of Liberty
Ilagan, the new princess in the family of showbiz royalties. Her grandfather, Hermogenes Ilagan was the father
of Philippine zarzuela, and her father, National ArtistGerry de Leon was the acclaimed master in local filmmaking.
Of course, Liberty didn’t know that yet. For until
her teen years, she was clueless about a lot of things. “I don’t even have a favorite color,” she
agreed. “When asked about my goals, I just said, ‘I want to be a success!”
the longest time, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer,” she continued, “So, I
enrolled in courses preparatory to Law in Arellano University. It was only when I was married to Rod
(Ongpauco) that I realized I had a penchant for interior design. I tried my
hand in decorating one of our restaurants, and ended up doing them all. Ang
gusto ko pala talaga architecture.
So, I studied interior design sa PHID”.
a child, Liberty appeared in his dad’s movies: “Hindi Kita Malimot,” “So Long, America,”
and “Isumpa Mo, Giliw.” “I was only three but I
was already serious in acting,” she said. At five however she had to give up the movies to concentrate on her
up, she was fondly teased as “Bert” by her dad because of her feisty
demeanor. “I was tomboyish,” she admitted.
But when she reached the age of fourteen,
she was groomed as the next important debutante, and became a staple in sagalas—- a rite of passage to all the
beauties from well-placed clans.
in one of those santacruzans, where
the renowned star-builder Doc Perez of
Sampaguita Pictures saw her.
father Gerry, a resident director of Premiere Productions, was reluctant to
allow her daughter to be a movie star. What he didn’t know was the fact that Liberty had already
auditioned and passed the studio screen test.
talked to my dad,” related Liberty,
“I said: ‘You know dad, you are a
doctor, but you’re not practicing medicine. Instead, you are doing what you
want to do with your life. Why won’t you allow me to do what I want with
Gerry relented, on the condition that Liberty
wouldn’t go out without a chaperone, her Aunt Laling. “True to his word, ikakasal na ‘ko, kasama ko pa Auntie ko,” said Liberty.
contemporaries in Sampaguita were Jean, Lopez and Josephine Estrada, Eddie Gutierrez, Lito
Legaspi, and Jose Mari. Their batch came
after the entry of Susan Roces and Amalia Fuentes, and before the emergence of the
Stars 66, namely: Rosemarie Sonora, Gina Pareño, Blanca Gomez and the late
Liberty was introduced in
the Susan Roces –Romeo Vasquez starrer “Lover Boy,”(1959), opposite Jose Mari. But her most unforgettable showbiz experience happened
on the set of her second movie, “Kilabot
sa Makiling”(1959) with Lolita Rodriguez and Mario Montenegro.
was Lolita’s child in the movie. In one scene, she was crying her heart out
because her husband, Mario was dying, crucified to the cross. “Aarte
ako dapat. Ang nangyari, nalimutan kong artista pala ako at nanood ako kay Lolita because I was
fascinated by her good performance”, said Liberty.
Sampaguita, she was groomed as a dramatic star. “Polar opposite sa personality ko. Kasi in
real –life, hindi ako ma-drama. Masayahin ako. Hindi
nga ako marunong umiyak eh. Pero ang mga
roles ko, puro poor o kaya pulubi.”
The adoring fans were mesmerized by her talent and beauty, but she didn’t get any acting award
because during her time, Sampaguita had
a rift with the FAMAS, the lone awards-giving body of that period.
earning recognition wasn’t on top of her list.
She was young, and enjoying her stint in showbiz. She had a lot
to think about. She was a ‘Jill-of-all-trades’.
Truth be told, she was also a scriptwriter. She also does painting to while her time.
“I do portraits in oil. I was taught by an uncle to paint.,” she added.
Liberty was also among the
few female trailblazers in the field of independent production. She wrote and
produced the multi-episodic “Brown-out”
under her own, Eye Productions.
rendezvous in filmmaking ended when she married former actor Rod Evans (Rod
Ongpauco), a restaurant magnate. They
have three children: Happy, So-eng (Sunshine in Chinese) and Love. All are all successful restaurateurs like
a mother, I’m a disciplinarian,” she admitted.
“Raising them is my greatest achievement because they are all responsible,
respectful and hard-working. I raised them in the same manner that I was raised
by my parents, aunts and uncles.”
her childhood, she added: I was not born rich, pero feeling prinsesa ako as
a child. I was loved. I took up ballet and piano lessons. I was also
the favorite ng lahat ng matandang dalaga
na auntie ko. And the nicest of all, pinalaki ako na may matatag na faith in God.”
faith, she said, is her secret to good life. “I also have heartaches. Nasunog ang bahay ko. Nahiwalay ako sa asawa
(Rod). I just surrender all my worries to the Lord. Kapag
nagagalit naman ako sa tao, I pray for them, at sana
tanggalin sa heart ko yung galit. I
never question God’s will, even in my darkest hours. I took it from my aunt, si Aunt Pilar kasi, ang hilig magsimba noon. Lagi akong kasama.”
present, is living a charmed life with her husband, U.S. based lawyer Carlito Lardizabal. “He’s my first crush. I was only thirteen,
when I first met him,” she explained.
After 32 years, they saw each other and rekindled an unrequited romance.
doing my beach house in Marinduque. It’s a lot owned by my husband. Hindi
na ako kumukuha ng architect. I
design the building and I just get an engineer to construct it. I’m also
developing a resort in Pansol, Laguna. Mana
ko sa tatay.”
to her plans? “Ang dream ko ngayon is to
see the world. Malapit na akong matapos. I will write a book, not about me, but about
the world”, said Liberty.
“I’m free at last, free from worries because all my daughters are settled. I’m back to my jolly old self, doing only the
things that I love, and caring for the people who love me back.” (For comments, send e-mail to