AS TOLD TO MARGE ENRIQUEZ
At the peak of his acting career, my father, the late Tony Ferrer (Antonio Laxa in real life) echoed the machismo of his famous character, Agent X44, an icon in Philippine movies. That was the code name of the Filipino secret agent who displayed his masculinity through fights, smoking, drinking and having a way with women.
To me, that persona was superficial. When he was with his children, he shed off his screen persona to reveal his true nature: religious, compassionate, down-to-earth, respectful and selfless. These virtues were so far from the egoism and illusions of the movie world.
My father raised his children to be close to each other despite us having different mothers. He and my mother, former beauty queen and actress, Alice Crisostomo, were married for nearly two decades. My late brother, Anthony Falcon Crisostomo Laxa, died of a heart ailment last year at age 46. Ate Maricel “Cel” Laxa Pangilinan, 51, an actress, is the daughter of actress Imelda Ilanan. Mark Anthony Laxa, 44, is the son with Pinky Poblete.
Being Kapampangan, my father liked the finer things in life, especially clothes. In every house where we lived, a room was devoted to his wardrobe filled with suits by the best tailors, and boots. I grew up applying ice on his face—his daily anti-aging ritual.
In remote location shoots, he stayed in the house of a farmer or policeman— the real people
An elite martial artist, my dad placed eighth dan, the highest attainable rank. We were made to take up karate lessons and hold exhibitions at home in front of his friends. I kicked, struck and blocked—from elementary to high school. When I grew bored with the routines, Dad would coax me, maintaining that karate taught discipline.
Short of being an honorary master, he had an offer to do a movie with Bruce Lee. Unfortunately, the Chinese-American action star died in 1973. Still, Lee’s family and his managers invited Dad to the funeral. There are pictures of my Dad’s trip to Hong Kong taken with the son, the late Brandon Lee.
Most of his life was spent on the set—he did 203 movies. I grew up seeing how my Dad was loved by everyone. He distributed food, clothes, and gifts to the stuntmen and crew. In remote location shoots, he stayed in the house of a farmer or policeman— the real people. He treated everyone equally and with respect. In some location shoots, he would bring my Mom, brother and me so we could have a family vacation.
When he did Sabotage 2, the last of the X44 franchise, my brother and I joined as extras. This sequel was shot 11 years after the first hit. One day, we were so tired that I fell asleep beside my dad, I hugged him. Then he contracted chicken pox. A week later, I also caught it. He was a regular daddy, sleeping and playing with us.
We grew accustomed to his late nights from moviemaking. And my father made up for these by pampering us with gifts. I would enjoy my trips to National Bookstore to splurge on books and coloring books. Even if my Mom chided him for spoiling me, we still shopped by the piles. Dad gladly supported my passion. Gift-giving is one of the traits I had inherited from him.
In his time, smoking and drinking were considered appealing, sophisticated and socially acceptable. But I always thought it was a health risk. Every time I caught my father puffing a drag, I would snatch it and flush it down the toilet.
Because my dad was a big action star, women flirted with him. When I saw “questionable things,” I would threaten to blow the whistle. He would laugh it off. Inevitably, my mother stopped tolerating his dalliances. Their marriage was annulled in 1990 when I was already in showbiz.
My dad was full of life and it showed in the way he danced. He taught me the chacha, boogie and swing
I was in grade one at St. Theresa’s College Quezon City when I heard through the grape vine that I had a cousin who was two years ahead of me. Back then, my parents didn’t want to give me money, fearing that I would buy ice cream and get sick. My craving was so intense that I searched for this “cousin” so I could ask for ice cream money. I finally met Cel through her classmate and immediately forged ties with her. Whenever she gave me money, I would have my fill of ice cream until I soon developed tonsillitis. My mother wondered what the cause was until she learned about my friendship with Cel. Since I had longed for a sister, our bond grew stronger. We would even sleep in each other’s house.
Over time, I felt our relationship became deeper than friendship. I confronted my parents about my gut feel. It took a year before they revealed that she was Dad’s eldest. In contrast, my sister had known about her other siblings all along.
Our bonding was disrupted when Cel went to study high school in the US. On her return, she began her acting career in 1989. Meanwhile, winning Miss Asia Pacific International (1991) had thrust me into the limelight. To create buzz, the movie world pitted us against each other. It was likewise a difficult time for me as I was hurting from my parents’ separation.
Still, my father valued family love so that he made the effort to reunite the three of us. He would organize get-togethers to break down the wall between us until our hearts were finally healed.
In the zeroes, I became an executive of a luxury beauty brand that assigned me to Indonesia, Bangkok and Singapore. My wedding on Sept. 9, 2009 in Singapore finally affirmed the fact that my sister and I were family again. My father approved of my husband whose name bore meaning to him. Genesis “Jinggoy” Buensuceso meant “the start of good events,” he said.
My dad was full of life and it showed in the way he danced. He taught me the chacha, boogie and swing. In my wedding, Dad, then 75, twirled me around.
Cel has been a big part of my life. Her daughter, Solana, is a playmate of my eldest, Mayumi.
In 2000, Dad worked as campaign manager for my uncle, Rico Laxa, who ran for mayor in a municipality of Pampanga. Dad later became his business consultant.
At that time, my father went through a shift in his 60s. Health issues prompted him to stop his indulgences. His relationship with a lady, whom we only know as Tita Lou, was stable. Although they never lived together, she provided him companionship for more than 20 years, to the time of his death. She saw the better version of Dad—loyal, devoted to God, prayerful and charitable. Dedicating his life to service and prayer, he taught us how to reflect on the novenas and inspired us to make solemn vows (panata). He continued to help people in need—finding work for jobless stuntmen and providing financial assistance to relatives or the sick.
He lived simply in Pasig with his siblings—Nick, Boy and Trinidad.
Dad kept fit, pumping iron way into his late 70s. Health issues such as diabetes caught up with him. After a double bypass surgery, he became immuno-compromised. He would be confined for a viral infection or some other sickness.
Since I resettled in the Philippines, our family had been meeting up with him regularly. Every New Year’s Day, we would go to his place in Pasig to commemorate the birthday of his mother, Apo Eufrecina.
In June 2019, his grandson, Donny Pangilinan (actor-son of Maricel) urged him to celebrate the latter’s birthday in the mall. Although we brought a wheelchair, he preferred to walk. He even “danced” with Cel and me as we shopped for shoes. That became the last family outing of the Laxas.
Even before the lockdown, my dad became noticeably weaker. Our visits to him were disrupted by the community quarantine. The loss of his eyesight worsened his condition.
For nearly eight months during this pandemic, my own young family chose to live in isolation in our home in Cavite. We would keep in touch with Dad on the phone. He never complained about his health nor sought help or attention. Instead he would ask always how we were doing. He told me that he prayed for all of us, especially for his nine grandchildren and his caregiver.
My husband Jinggoy, a sculptor, would check on him whenever he had installations to mount in the city. Dad hinted to him that he couldn’t live up to 100. In our last phone call, he reminded me to take care of Jinggoy.
The caregiver observed that Dad became more reclusive. He no longer stepped out of the room to get some sun. His bloated feet made it difficult for him to move around. As his health deteriorated, he received palliative medical care, thus turning the bedroom into a mini-hospital.
Last January, the doctor made a gloomy prognosis. Hospitalization would not save my Dad’s life. We finally paid him a visit after our long hiatus. We gathered around his bed, sang songs and prayed with him. A most considerate soul, he waited for the birthdays of his grandchildren—my son Malaya (January 21) and Falcon’s daughter Vea Laxa (January 22.)
Dad died peacefully on Jan. 23, 2021 from diabetes and heart disease. He was 86.
I’ll always remember him for his compassion and self-effacement. He taught me about valuing relationships and spending quality time with the elderly and children. For instance, he turned down our invitation for him to live with us in Cavite. I would learn later from his siblings that he didn’t want to be a burden on us and that he wanted to look after Nick, Boy and Trining.
As we sorted out his personal stuff after his death, my discovery brought tears. The drawers revealed how Dad had lived simply—shirts, shorts, sleep wear, his eyeglasses and a notebook where he scribbled the phone numbers of my brother and me. Among the family photos, I was surprised to find the faded plaque of my parents’ wedding portrait. Had he still been around, I would have teased him, “Uy, why did you keep this?”