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Judge Espie

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
ka.“
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 gypsybaldovino@yahoo.com)

The Triumphs of Esperanza Fabon

Esperanza Fabon became famous during the psychedelic 60s, along with Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos.  She came at a time when the stars’ popularity was determined by a musical device called the jukebox.

In order to be proclaimed a king or queen, a singer had to have a fan-base represented by the thousands of buyers of 45rpm records in Raon and the multitude of beer garden and cabaret patrons who would play their favorite songs in the jukebox for ten cents each.

The favored hits then were those of Edgar Mortiz,  Victor Wood and Eddie  Peregrina.  And when there’s Eddie, there surely was Espie.   Afterall, it was also the era of Guy & Pip, Vi & Bot and other showbiz love teams— some of whom eventually became real couples, like Perla Adea & Romy Mallari.

However, unlike the other formidable tandems, her team up with Peregrina was short-lived due to the latter’s marriage to Lyn Madrigal. The demise of their loveteam eventually ushered their exit from the showbiz hot spot.  And not long after, from the showbiz itself.

Espie’s parents traced their roots from Masbate and Sorsogon,  but she was born in Manila, the eldest in a brood of nine.  “Prolific ang parents ko. Actually, we’re eleven,  but my older sister and brother died,” she said.

Espie was a regular singer at the Clover Theater and even had a short stint in Vietnam during the war.  In 1969, at sweet sixteen,  she joined the biggest musical extravaganza of that period,  Johnny de Leon’s “Operetang Putol-putol” on DZXL.

Her musical works were influenced by early idols like Dionne Warwick, The Carpenters, and  Diana Ross & The Supremes.  But she became a household name not through their music but via an original “Rosita Cha–Cha-Cha.“

Espie bid farewell to her showbiz rendezvous when she married her childhood sweetheart, Jimmy Victorino. “On and off ang relationship namin, but he was my first and only boyfriend,” admitted Espie.

“He even followed me to Vietnam.  Fifteen ako noon.  He was sixteen.  May promotions ang kapatid niya.  Pero hindi kami nagkita kasi rural yata yung place na kinakantahan ko.” “Jimmy was a neighbor.  And even as students we’re neighbors,” she recalled.

“I studied in Mapa High School while he went to San Sebastian. So, every  afternoon, he would wait for me at sabay kaming uuwi, round- trip sa jeepney.  Ganun yung date namin noon.”

Espie became the breadwinner in the family when she joined showbusiness. “When I got married, I and Jimmy bought a house for my parents and a passenger jeepney.  Mabait na tao si Jimmy,” said Espie.

And he was very supportive too. In fact, Jimmy, a lawyer by profession, was the one who encouraged Espie to take up law after seeing her keen interest in his career. “Our eldest was three years old, when I studied law at the University of Santo Tomas. Luckily, after five years, natapos  ko. While I was studying, I gave birth to two more daughters.  So, I had to stop for two semesters.  Immediately I reviewed for the BAR, and luckily, I passed,” she said.

“Jimmy was the best father my children could ever have,” Espie continued, describing her husband who was killed in an ambush in 1986.  Insiders claim that the ambush was a desperate move to silence Jimmy about a high-profile legal case. He was only 36 when he died.

“It was very tragic. I was 35 and our children were so young.  The eldest was nine, the other was seven, and the youngest was  four-and- a- half.  I was so pampered by Jimmy, and I didn’t know what to do.  Katatapos ko pa lang mag- BAR and I had no job. I was finishing my thesis for my MBA at Ateneo, when it happened,” she recalled.

At thirty five, Espie was a single mother, alone and very afraid. “Sa wake pa lang ni Jimmy, I already received death threats from mysterious callers. Related sa death ng husband ko, to prevent me from pursuing his case,” she revealed.

“I would always pray to the Lord to keep us safe. One night, I prayed and asked Him,  kung puwede sana  bigyan Niya ako ng kahit  five years to live. Kasi, more or less, kaya nang mabuhay ng mga anak ko after five years,” she says, while reflecting on her state of uncertainty during those trying times.

“Every New Year, I and my three children would come out in our veranda. Binibilang namin ang  bawat taon na nalagpasan namin.  They would say, ‘O, Mommy naka- two years na tayo,“ said Espie.

Losing the only man in her life was so devastating for her.  “It took me six years to recover.  And I got very sick.  Lagi akong nasa ospital. But after each examination, the result was negative. It must be my body’s reaction sa nangyari sa husband ko.”

When Jimmy died, Espie had no choice but to pursue a career in law. “I wasn’t allowed by Jimmy to practice my profession because he thought that one lawyer in the family was enough.  But when he died, I joined the Office of  the Solicitor-General. I stayed there for eleven years,” said Espie.

She claimed that her open policy helped to strengthen the bond between her and the children.  “I open my heart to them. They know everything.  Kahit yung mga budget sa ulam, alam nila.”

But even then, Espie recognized the fact that there were truths that needn’t be shared, like her fear of failure and the pressure of raising her children single-handedly. “It’s good that I have very supportive parents.  But there were times, na hindi ko talaga kaya.  I would drive aimlessly along Araneta Avenue, and then I would stop at one quiet spot just to scream, to release my heartaches.  Kasi, ang bigat ng dibdib ko. After that, I would go home. Okey na ako. I didn’t allow them (my children) to see that I was afraid. Lahat ng anak ko, matapang,  because they saw that in me.”

Espie’s efforts did not go unnoticed.  In one essay, her daughter Magnolia paid tribute to her  Mama.  She wrote, ”Often, she (Espie) would come home tired from a stressful day at work but still manages the menial tasks of going through our closets to make sure that our clothes are mended or that our hangers are of the same kind and color.  From her office in Makati, she would pick us up in school, and bring us all the way to Quezon City  for our ballet class.  She would wait patiently for us and then drive us all home after hours of waiting.  Despite her tight, stressful schedule, she still put in so much of herself in rearing us.  I am truly blessed to be given a mother, who do not only provides for all the necessities and throws in a lot of extras but who also nurtures me as a mother does to a child.  Mama is my ‘Tanging Ina’ and I can never ask for more.”

Espie considers her children as her greatest treasure and achievement. Her oldest daughter, Margarita Eugenia is a lawyer.  The second, Magnolia Eugenia, is a chef, with a master’s degree from U.P. and a Management diploma from Ateneo.  Her youngest, Eugenia took her PhD as a scholar in Amsterdam.  (They are all named after Jimmy’s mother, Eugenia.)

And Espie?  Today, Esperanza Fabon-Victorino is at a vantage position to give something that was denied to her family—justice.  As the Judge of the Regional Trial Court in Pasig, she is a picture of confidence and contentment —-a far cry from the sad and fearsome widow that she once was.

(For comments, send e-mail to gypsybaldovino@yahoo.com)