TUMAUINI, Isabela—I hate to call them “bold stars,” those nymphets who bare their bodies on screen. But in the past and down to the present, I toe the line of the consumerist’s tag to sell a product.
For the moment, though, let me use the term “sexy actress” to describe Vida Verde, one of the daring stars of the mid-1980s.
Vida Verde who?
Her acting stint was launched in “Nene,” where she costarred with George Estregan, Ricky Davao and Daria Ramirez. The movie was directed by Erastheo Navoa and was a hit at that time when the nation was in political turmoil and the public was mired in escapist entertainment such as “bold” films.
I chatted with Vida (Catherine Mejia in real life) at her house during my recent second visit to Tumauini.
According to her, “Nene” (1985) was an unqualified hit, with her producer’s statement that it beat a comedy film starring the iconic Eddie Garcia at the tills, and her siblings’ observation that very many Filipinos were watching it: “Napatunayan ko talaga na malakas ang pelikula ko at totoo ang sinabi ng prodyuser ko na natalo ang pelikula ni Eddie Garcia. Sabi rin sa akin ng mga kapatid ko, ‘Cathy, ang dami-daming nanonood ng pelikula mo.’”
But she wanted to see the “ebidensya,” she said, to prove that what they were saying was true. Putting on a bonnet and even a mustache so moviegoers wouldn’t recognize her, she checked out the cinemas one by one. And got the proof she wanted—the packed movie theaters: “Puno nga ang mga sinehan na inisa-isa ko.”
Vida’s films, like “Katawang Putik (1985),” “Desperada (1986),” “Raid Casa (1986),” and “Katalik (1987)” were all blockbusters at the time of the so-called “pene movies” (“pene” being an abbreviation of “penetration,” meaning actual sexual intercourse).
“Pero wala akong pene,” she stressed to me, a claim that she made even during those days. Not even a double, she added.
Her other films include “Nude City,” “Unang Gabi,” “Ang Walang Malay,” and “Bawal: Malaswa” (all shown in 1986), and “Anak ng Asawa Ko” and “Takot Ako, Eh” (both shown in 1987),
The late director and now National Artist for Film Lino Brocka described Vida as a good actress. Lino told me this during the time I was running around with him as his business manager. (The still missing TV host, entertainment journalist, starbuilder and talent manager Boy C. de Guia always tagged along with us young movie writers to wherever the progressive director was.)
Vida is now senior citizen Catherine living peacefully in Tumauini. She said that if she didn’t leave showbiz, she’d probably be a vagrant: “Siguro, palabuy-laboy ako kung saan-saan sa Maynila.” She chuckled before heaving what sounded like a sigh of relief.
She is currently caretaker of her family’s beautiful, concrete and spacious ancestral house by the river in Barangay Arcon, where she served as a kagawad (councilwoman) for one term after surviving breast cancer early in the millennium.
She recalled that as kagawad, at any time of the day including her rest hours, she was the problem solver, troubleshooter, lifesaver and shock absorber of her constituents’ concerns, including medical and other grievances.
Her stint in public service left her exhausted and frustrated and she would have no more of it. “Naku, ayoko na,” she said, lamenting that “people always think being a politician is easy.”
According to Vida, she plunged into politics because of her idealism and the request of her fellow residents of Barangay Arcon. But the realities on the ground limited her and left her feeling short-changed, she said.
Her short stint in the local government was a bow to her late military dad, who she described as “good in managing a family, but he disliked politics.”
My meeting with Vida was a reunion of sorts, she being not only a friend but also a housemate in the mid-’90s. She was then homeless, and I invited her and her three-year-old daughter Ina Coronel, the child of a now-retired police general, to stay at my house on 9th Avenue in Murphy, Quezon City.
They lived with me for more than a year. It was a colorful domestic arrangement that was marked by familial care and occasional squabbles over some home traditions.
Ina, now a flight attendant at Etihad Airways and of whom her mom is indeed proud, lived in Tumauini until her college years and once held the beauty title Miss Tumauini.
When Ina is abroad, Vida tends to her grandchild, John Joel Coronel, who is now in third grade.
Vida has nine siblings, all female. She and a sister live in Tumauini; her other sisters are spread out in Santiago City (also in Isabela), Olongapo City, Manila, and in the US states of Alaska and Texas.
Before visiting Vida, I had a couple of online interviews with her for my digital entertainment shows. I also offered her a film project from a story by visual artist and writer Bon Labora. More of this in my next reports.