MANILA – Former Sampaguita Pictures actress Liberty Ilagan, daughter of National Artist for Cinema and director Gerry de Leon, has died on Saturday, March 14, after battling complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). She was 76.
Her daughter, entrepreneur Happy Ongpauco-Tiu confirmed her mother’s passing in an Instagram post. She and her other sisters, Love Ongpayco-Fallorina, the eldest, and Sunshine “Soeng” Ongpauco, the youngest, issued a joint statement released on March 17 which said that Ilagan “lost her battle to COPD and had a cardiac arrest.
“Mom was a beautiful woman with a golden heart. She was a loving and wonderful mother to us, a doting Mamam to her grandchildren, and a caring and devoted wife. Above all, our mother was a true and faithful child of God,” the statement read.
“Your prayers, loving thoughts and supportive words bring comfort to us during this time of sorrow. Though we will miss her terribly, we are happy that she is now free from suffering and is reunited with our Lord and all our loved ones who have gone on.”
Liberty, who is related to Robert Arevalo and the late Jay Ilagan — both of the Ilagan clan — began her career at age 4. As a child star, she appeared in America, So Long, and a few other movies.
The late Dr. Jose Perez of Sampaguita Pictures eyed her potential at a Santacruzan event at the Manila Hotel and Liberty aced a screen test given by her uncle, the late Conrado Conde. Her father hesitated at her being an actress but later gave his nod. However, she was never featured in any movie he directed.
“I should have begged my father to help me with my career,” she confessed in an interview with Ricky Lo. “He could have directed me in Brownout, the movie that I produced (eventually directed by the late Ruben Abalos), but I was so scared that he wouldn’t find me a good enough actress, that he would be disappointed in me. I was successful in my career as a movie actress. I was shy, afraid and too proud to ask help from anybody.”
Liberty’s career was sandwiched between the time of Susan Roces and the late Amalia Fuentes, and the Stars 66 batch of Rosemarie Sonora, Gina Pareno, Blanca Gomez and the late Loretta Marquez. Her contemporaries include Jean Lopez (now retired in Canada), Eddie Gutierrez, and actors who all passed in 2019: Josephine Estrada (April), Jose Mari (April), and the late Lito Legaspi (September).
She debuted in the movie Lover Boy, a Susan Roces-Romeo Vasquez tandem, opposite Jose Mari who later teamed up with her in several movies. She also appeared in Kaming Mga Talyada with Juancho Gutierrez, Jose Mari, Tony Marzan, Boy Alano, Charlie Davao, Rod Navarro, Bino Garcia as the gays, Barbara Perez, Daisy Romualdez, Meldy Corrales, Naty Santiago, Juvy Cachola and Nory Dalisay.
She was married to Rod Ongpauco, the son of Bonifacio Ongpauco of Everlasting Pictures but their marriage was annulled and ended 24 years later. They have three daughters – Love, Happy and Soeng and eight grandchildren. All three are successful restaurateurs like their father who invented Crispy Pata made famous by the original Barrio Fiesta — the Ongpauco’s family restaurant which had its beginnings in Caloocan.
Liberty Ilagan’s daughters: (Left to right) Soeng, Happy and Love. | Contributed photo
Rod and Liberty owned Mikimoto, Bakahan at Manukan, Ihaw-Ihaw Kalde-Kaldero, and Barrio Fiesta restaurants.
After her marriage to Rod was annulled, she married her first crush Carlos Lardizabal, a real estate lawyer from Los Angeles, California. She first met him when she was 13 and after 32 years, she met him again where love bloomed the second time around.
She quit doing movies after she got married to Ongpauco to raise a family. Actually, also in the same interview with Lo, she said it was the “bomba” — referring to soft-porn which was trending at that time — which made her quit.
Liberty had a penchant for interior design and graduated from the Philippine Institute of Interior Design. She also dabbled in painting portraits in oil. She was a Karilagan model, a scriptwriter and an independent movie producer herself. She wrote and produced Brownout under her company, Eye Productions. She composed the song, Sa Bughaw Na Buhangin, which she wrote on her way home from a vacation in Pangasinan with Jean Lopez.