Dolphy hit in political crossfireBy Malou Guanzon-Apalisok
Super luksa” (great mourning), was how my househelp, who hails from Bicol, described the torrent of grief that flowed out of Filipinos after learning that Rodolfo Vera Quizon, Sr., a.k.a. Dolphy passed away last Tuesday.
ABS-CBN news anchor Sol Aragones announced the death of the King of Comedy a little before 9 p.m., but social networking sites were already abuzz 15 or 20 minutes earlier. That the network was prepared for the eventuality of Dolphy’s end can be gleaned from the speed and timeliness of the subsequent short features that paid tribute to the veteran comedian. He was the undisputed King of Comedy for six decades, whether in vaudeville or live stage shows, radio, television and movies.
I grew up watching Dolphy in a town cinema that featured two Tagalog films for an entrance ticket of 20 centavos. The old movie house had a distinct dank smell and wooden seats alive with bugs but people from the poblacion and the barrios would come just to watch Dolphy’s rib ticklers during weekends. Watching Dolphy was part of our weekly menu, a habit that we continued when we moved to Manila in 1970. Every Sunday, my family would gather before the black and white TV set to watch Dolphy’s Buhay Artista on ABS-CBN. After a week of hard work and study, we looked forward to his slapstick and gags as refreshment for a weary mind and body.
The sitcom was the number one show, featuring a slew of funny verbal combats between Dolphy and his sidekick Panchito strung by the late screenwriter and director Ading Fernando. The entertainment industry described Ading as the brains of the prime time hit but the truth is, according to Greg Makabenta who was the show’s executive producer, there was no script. Makabenta, who writes for BusinessWorld, paid tribute to Dolphy in his June 26 column that was first published in a United States Filipino magazine in 2009.
According to the former network executive, instead of a script, Dolphy would work on just a few line cues written by Ading on paper one-fourth the size of an intermediate sheet. It was all that Dolphy needed to construct a situation where he would throw punch line after punch line to Panchito, who parried the blows.
Makabenta was stunned to know that the number one show did not follow standard production procedure and was anxious that the show could wander and eventually compromise its quality not to mention overshoot the budget. But as millions of Buhay Artista fans can attest, Dolphy entertained them like no other and reigned for many decades as king of TV comedy, proving that he was also the king of adlib, an ability that only the most gifted artists possess.
As a journalist, my personal experience with Dolphy had something to do with covering one of his political sorties in Cebu when he supported presidential candidate Fernando Poe, Jr. in the 2004 presidential election.
The late FPJ ran under the Kilusan ng Pilipino (KNP) against Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who reneged on her public pledge not to run. As the beneficiary of president Joseph Estrada’s downfall in 2001, GMA was the incumbent and although she was not elected, it was hotly argued that the spirit of the 1987 Constitution forbade her to seek reelection.
Nevertheless, GMA ran the gauntlet and faced the fragmented opposition led by FPJ whose popularity was becoming a real threat especially because the campaign cast was led by no less than Dolphy. With only over a month into the presidential elections, the political battle was becoming intense and Dolphy had placed himself in the line of fire.
“A week before the proclamation rally of opposition bets in Cebu City, the grapevine talk was the network’s (ABS-CBN) order to give Dolphy the boot allegedly as an offering to the powers that be. The top comedian’s support for the KNP presidential bet has reportedly unnerved Malacanang that it asked for his head as part of the bailout for the cash strapped Maynilad Water Services,” I wrote in this corner in March 31, 2004.
Instead of being intimidated, the veteran comedian decided to take the former President in her bailiwick no less and declared, “Dugay na sa Malacañang, tonto lang gihapon.”
It was Dolphy’s dig at Arroyo’s supposedly feigned ignorance over the network’s decision to have him axed from a weekly sitcom. It sent the audience into loud guffaws and became the banner story of national broadsheets the following day.
Dolphy didn’t figure much in FPJ rallies after that and we can only speculate what really happened. Maybe he was prevailed upon to choose his battles, although he did prove that he was ready to go out on a limb for a friend like FPJ.
Of all the tributes that have poured out for Dolphy, I think President Benigno Aquino III’s words summed up one of the comedian’s enduring qualities.
“Malalim magmahal” (He loved deeply).