MANILA, Philippines – For the ‘70s and ‘80s Pinoy soap opera buffs, she will forever be Doña Agueda, the scheming — make it evil — mother-in-law of Col. Leo Alicante (the late Dindo Fernando) in the classic RPN 9 drama series Flordeluna, who made life hellish for Flordeluna (Janice de Belen) and Reneboy (Herbert Bautista).
But in real life, Carmen Enriquez is revered and well-loved in showbiz circle, as well as in the academe where she taught English Literature at the University of the East for 23 years; she has a doctorate in English Literature.
“Carmen Enriquez is an icon,” says award-winning character actress and scriptwriter Raquel Villavicencio. “She is the original doña of Philippine teleseryes. who became the peg and inspiration of all the doñas to come.”
We chanced upon our favorite contravida at The Block, SM North EDSA where she regularly hangs out in a wheelchair accompanied by her caregiver, Marie Castellano, and a driver. She seems in high spirits and hardly changed from the image etched in our memory from her Flordeluna days.
“Oh I can walk…I only use this (wheelchair) so it will be easier for me to go around,” Carmen said with a wide smile after we asked about the wheelchair.
“I am 85 years old,” she proudly volunteered.
With director Maryo J. delos Reyes
We tried to start a conversation about her quiet but colorful acting career, but it became obvious she was struggling to keep up with us.
Then the caregiver broke the news: Carmen was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease some three years ago. (Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, a general term for the gradual loss of memory and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily tasks. It has no current cure, but treatments for symptoms are available and research continues, according to the Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association.)
Marie patiently helped Carmen recollect and answer our queries: she remembers the late Dindo Fernando and Vilma Santos as among the nicest actors she had worked with (“Dindo was very kind and courteous”), she counts fellow veteran actresses Alicia Alonzo and Perla Bautista as among her closest friends in the industry, the late President Cory Aquino was a classmate at St. Scholastica’s College (“Cory was our class valedictorian”), she appeared in a movie with Fernando Poe Jr. called Dito Sa Pitong Gatang, she loves to see her Flordeluna co-stars (Janice, Herbert, Laurice Guillen, Nita Grandea, Maritess Ardieta, etc.), and being cast as Doña Agueda in Flordeluna will always be her proudest achievement as an actor.
Besides Flordeluna, Carmen has appeared in other major soaps like Villa Quintana and Marinella, as well as in hit movies like Fatima Buen Story, Bulaklak sa City Jail, Soltero, Pieta, Bandido sa Sapang Bato, Iyo Ang Tondo Kanya Ang Cavite and many others.
According to Marie, the afternoon ABS-CBN series Marinella was one of Carmen’s last TV projects (from February 1999 to May 2001). It stars Camille Pratts, Shaina Magdayao and Serena Dalrymple.
She now lives quietly in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, and gets to visit her six children in the United States once a year, according to Marie.
“Every year, the children will come home and then they bring her to the US,” Marie shared. “The children have their own lives in the States but they always check on her and make sure she’s well taken care of.”
Before we parted ways, we told Carmen for the last time how effective and unforgettable she was as Doña Agueda that “we really, really hated” for many years for bullying and tormenting Flordeluna and Reneboy.
She burst into laughter. “Oh really…ha ha ha thank you,” she replied.
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