Corazon Noble with Angel Esmeralda
On November 12, 1945, in the powder-blue ballroom of the partly ruined Manila residence once occupied by a U.S. high commissioner, Major General R.B. Reynolds of the American Military Commission sat as the presiding judge to the trial of General Tomoyuki Yamashita — the so-called “Tiger of Malaya.”
The first witness was a pretty, 26-year-old Filipina. In her testimony, she recalled that on February of 1945, in what was infamously known as the “Manila Massacre”, she had taken refuge with her ten-month-old baby in a Red Cross Emergency Hospital. At the confines of the hospice, four Japanese sailors had trapped her. One raised his rifle, fired, and wounded her in the elbow. Then, they bayoneted her. “I was stabbed nine times,” she said.
“The baby was stabbed three times. When they were gone, I walked out the back door and gave her to my brother. I couldn’t stand it any more.” “What happened to your infant child?” asked one of the five U.S. generals in the commission. “She died,” was all she said.
Forty-two days later, on February 23, 1946 in Los Banos Prison Camp, Yamashita was hanged for his war crimes.
The valiant mother, who sought justice for the death of her child and some 50,000 Filipinos in the infamous 30-day battle for Manila, was Corazon Noble, pre-war movie queen. Corazon was Patrocinio Decano Abad in real life—wife to actor Angel Esmeralda, elder sister to former actress Carmencita Abad, and mother to the late actor and heartthrob Jay Ilagan. She was a native of Gapan, Nueva Ecija.
In her prime, she was considered the queen of tearjerkers, and rival to the throne of Carmen Rosales. In other words, Corazon and Carmen were the Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos of their generation. Some of her notable films were: “Dugong Hinugasan” (1938), “Gunita” (1940), “Anak ng Pari” and “Binatang Bukid.”
“From what I saw in clippings, she made movies with Rogelio dela Rosa and my dad, Angel (Esmeralda). But they were not really a loveteam. Marami siyang ka-partner”, said Corazon’s eldest son, Leslie Ilagan.
In 1946, Corazon made a movie comeback via “Maynila” for Sampaguita Pictures, featuring the young Tita Duran. It was followed by “Isumpa Mo Giliw” with husband Angel, “Magkaibang Lahi” (1947) and “Backpay” (1947) with Justina David. “Because of her arm injury, she discontinued her movie career,” added Leslie.
“Well, maybe she did one or two movies after the war. But after that, mother roles na lang.” In addition to the crushing emotional wound, the Red Cross incident inflicted a lasting physical injury to Corazon. “Natanggal yung kanyang right elbow, when it was hit by a bullet. My mom went through a series of nine operations to remold what was left of her right arm, and she had to learn how to write using her left hand,” he said.
“Noon daw, nagpaiwan na siya sa mga uncles ko,” recalled Leslie about the fateful day. “So, tinakpan na lang daw siya ng mga yero. My mom had said that she even advised her brothers to just come back and check if she would still be alive. Kasi nga, baka bumalik pa ang mga Hapon at maabutan sila.
As fate had it, nung binalikan nila si Mommy, buhay pa.” “My mom was a very strong person,” Leslie said. “She buried two children— my sister Lourdes who was with her at the Red Cross building, and the baby of the family, Jay (Ilagan). She also lost a thriving movie career due to her injured arm. But she wasn’t at all bitter. In fact, she had said that she felt truly blessed by the Lord because siguro sa family niya— maayos naman, pati kaming mga anak.” During the early 50s, my dad went to Guam because he became an American citizen,” continued Leslie.
“So, when I was growing up, my dad was not here. But despite his absence, my mom would always advise Jay and me to love our father. “Mahalin n’yo Papa n’yo,’ she would remind us. ‘Mahal kayo ng papa n’yo.” Definitely not the type who would succumb to life’s pressures, Corazon would always reinvent success. “We got by quite comfortably because my mom was very enterprising,” he recalled.
“She was a great cook. At one point, we were catering to all the major film studios—from FPJ to Tagalog Ilang-Ilang to JBC.” Even as a child, Corazon had shown an independent streak.
.“According to stories, my lolo daw had a policy that each of his children was entitled to own just a pair of shoes every year. Tapos, during Christmas, saka sila bibili uli. But my mom, whenever she wanted a new pair of shoes would make little dolls or something. Kasi, she was very creative. And she would sell them in school in order to raise the money to buy shoes”, said Leslie. Truly, no problem was too heavy for Corazon.
“When Jay died, she was devastated. But she was able to bounce back because of her strong faith in God. I even left my children to her care when I went to the U.S. I came back to the country when I realized that it was pointless to work there when all my loved ones were here.”
Leslie’s decision proved providential. Corazon Noble died in 2001 at the age of 81, due to pneumonia and cardiac arrest. “I thanked God because I was given four years, na nagkasama pa kami ng mommy ko,” he mused. “I miss her,” sighed Leslie, Corazon’s only surviving child.
“When she was around, she would still cook for us, kahit matanda na. Gusto niya, siya ang nag-aasikaso. She was a hands-on mom.” Corazon Noble in Spanish means noble heart, and eldest son, Leslie said she was indeed of pure heart.
“My mom was a loving, caring person. Siya yung, isusubo na lang niya, ibibigay pa sa ibang tao. I miss everything about her”.
Corazon with infant daughter Lourdes.
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