Bob Hope and company didn’t have the monopoly of entertaining the allied troops in Vietnam. In 1968, while the Hollywood celebrities staged their performances in the more secured areas of Hanoi, somewhere in the dangerous outskirts of Saigon was a very young Filipina nightingale named Esperanza Fabon, who — for seven months, was singing her heart out to regale the soldiers at the height of war.
At the age of 15, the nimble Espie was using her singing voice and already doing her patriotic duty as a certified OFW. It is no surprise then that today, she still serves her country, not as a sweet chanteuse that most of us knew but as the voice of justice in her career as an honorable lady of the Court of Law.
Yes Virginia, the teenybopper who gave us “Rosita Cha-Cha-Cha” is now Judge Esperanza Fabon-Victorino of the Pasig Regional Trial Court.
“I was basically a singer,” begins Espie when asked about her past showbiz life. “When I was a child I was a regular fare in amateur singing contests. Pati mga fiesta, sinasalihan ko. Tatlong yardang tela or candy ang prize but I was happy because I loved singing. Imagine, at twelve, I was already performing in Clover Theater.”
Espie started her Clover career as a curtain-raiser (the performer during intermission) and graduated as a star in the main act. She then joined “Tita Betty’s Children Show” on DZXL where she was hailed a champion.
At 15, she decided to apply as an entertainer in Vietnam. “Kasi maraming nagpupunta doon. Natanggap naman ako. Habang nagse-shelling ang mga sundalo, kumakanta kami. ‘Pag sinabing ‘shelter!’, balik kami sa shelter,” she recalls. She was accompanied in Vietnam by her mentor, her father Aurelio, a native of Aruroy, Masbate.
“When I came back in 1969, Nora Aunor was the champion in ‘Tawag ng Tanghalan.’ Nauso ang maliliit, at nasama ako doon.” With her in the bandwagon were Perla Adea, Eva Vivar, Dolly Favorito and Rhodora Silva.
The popularity of showbiz tandems soared to its zenith as the Nora Aunor –Vilma Santos rivalry turned into a contest of love teams. Vilma was paired with Edgar Mortiz, while Nora had Tirso Cruz III. And then, there was the Eddie Peregrina – Esperanza Fabon loveteam.
“But before that, I was already doing Johnny de Leon’s ‘Operetang Putol-Putol.’ When it was made into a movie, I was invited by Kuya Ike (Lozada) to join the cast. It was an easy start because no high-strung drama was required. All you had to do was to sing near a plant or any stick with leaves. P’wede na,” she says.
“The movie stars today are very lucky because they have quality movies as platforms to showcase their talents. During my time, we shoot movies for two to three weeks , tapos, ipapalabas na.“
But while the films of the 60s suffered from outdated technology, Espie stressed that they sure enjoyed the overwhelming patronage of the masses. “Noon, tunog-lata ang sound, but the local movies were well received. Maraming fans noon, specially during film festivals. Wala kang makitang part ng kalsada na walang tao. Parang hindi totoong mundo,” she says.
And how could she be more correct. Espie realized that showbiz is truly a world of make-believe, when she was no longer an ‘insider.’ “I felt rejected when I attended the wake of Papang Salvador. He was my mentor in Clover Theater so I went there to pay my last respect. Parang nahihiya ako because I was no longer active in the business and I felt too big’ because of my pregnancy.
So, I approached an old friend to accompany me to the altar. Alam mo, she refused me. Ang rason n’ya, she was talking to someone, e nakaupo lang sila. So, ang showbiz pala marami ka lang kaibigan pag sikat
Espie’s signature song was “Rosita Cha-cha-cha” but unlike the fancy Rosita who only cared about her cha-cha, Espie had a family to raise. “I was the bread winner, by choice. My father was busy taking care of me. So, all our income went to the family. I have no regrets because I love my family, at parang hindi naman work yung singing sa akin. It was my passion.”
As the eldest in a brood of nine, she was–of course, the disciplinarian. So strict was she, she was even teased as “Hitler” by her brothers and sisters. However, Espie admits that she was tempered by showbiz. “Sa showbiz, kailangan friendly ka at mahaba ang pasenysa para marami ka ring friends.“ This training was put to good use later when she had to wheel and deal in her career and in her family life.
Her happiest moment was when she won in the Awit Awards as the Most Promising Female Singer, with Tirso Cruz III as her male counterpart. She was one of the four major winners that year, that also included Nora Aunor and Eddie Peregrina. “First time kong nagpa-parlor at nagsuot ng gown. It was the first time that I felt I was a legitimate part of showbusiness,“ says Espie.
Needlessly, her favorite film is “Mardy.” “Because I was in the title role,” she says in all candor. “Aksidente lang ‘yun. Kasi, Vilma (Santos) was busy doing so many projects. To finish the movie, our director Ateng Osorio rewrote the storyline with me as the leading lady.” Mardy went well at the tills and even merited a nomination in the FAMAS.
Among the multi-hued showbiz personalities that crossed her path, Espie considers Eddie Peregrina as the most significant. And why not? He almost became her off-screen sweetheart. Espie says, “I was already falling in love with Eddie when the news leaked that he was married. He admitted the truth to my mom because they were close. When we got to talk, I told him I don’t want to be a mistress and I don’t want to hurt another woman. He cried.”
“And then I realized that in this life, hindi mo talaga makukuha lahat. I also learned that I have a great deal of control. I was heart-broken too. Sabi ko, hindi ko kaya, but I was wrong dahil nakaya ko. “
Espie said that their friendship had a closure many years later, when it was her turn to get married to her childhood sweetheart Jimmy Victorino. “I had my radio program then at DZBB, “Espie Espesyal.” He came to the studio and asked me if I was happy with my decision, and I assured him that I’m confident I was doing the right thing. Eddie was caring and malambing, and a true genius. He even composed and recorded a song for me, “Love Me Espie.”
“My showbiz career was very short but very gratifying, not only financially but also aesthetically,” admits Espie. “I was able to fulfill my dream as an artist. Ang feeling ko, napawalan ko ang sarili ko na masayang masaya ako.” (For comments, send e-mail to email@example.com)