ROMNICK SARMENTA, Child Actor Nonpareil
Gulong ng Palad was serialized over radio station DZRH (1949-1956). Written by Lina Flor, it was one of the most successful radio dramas (if not the most) in the history of Philippine radio. Luisa, the leading character, was played by Loida Viriña. Twenty years or so later, Loida proposed the idea to Marcial Sanson (who was the programming head honcho that time of Channel 2), to revive the soap opera. In the mid-70s, the second serialization of GULONG NG PALAD was launched by BBC-Channel 2. Loida, who used to play Luisa, now was the writer of the series. She was Lina Flor’s Sister in law – she was married to Lina’s brother: Virgilio “Beer” Flores who was a comedy writer. He was the scriptwriter of Tang-Tarang-Tang starring Pugo, Bentot, Rosa Aguirre, Sylvia la Torre and Leroy Salvador; He also wrote Sebya, Mahal Kita, with Sylvia la Torre, Eddie San Jose, Pugo & Bentot. When Beer Flores died quite untimely in his late-30s, Loida, his widow, became the writer of comedy series that starred Pugo and Bentot, and one of them was Si Tatang Kasi.
Marcial and Loida didn’t really think that a remake of an old radio soap opera would still appeal to televiewers. The TV network went ahead with it, anyway, and they started auditioning for the cast. The role of the mother was given to Caridad Sanches; the Father to Augusto Victa; Luisa was Marianne de la Riva; Carding was Ronald Corveau. When the character of Peping, the youngest son in the family, was searched, one child won the audition hands down, 4-year old ROMNICK SARMENTA.
The telenovela became an instant hit. In fact, all the competing telenovelas were dragged deep down into the gutter of oblivion and no other TV stations dared to compete its time slot. Together with the series, Romnick Sarmenta became a very hot child actor as well. Then, the network thought that it was time the tot had better had his own show. And that’s when I was assigned to write for a spin-off from the character of Peping.
The show was called: Peping, Ang Munting Anghel. The network thought that maybe we should write the series quite along the same storyline with Gulong ng Palad. I argued, however, that it would fizzle if we did that. I suggested that we will only use the title because it carries an easy recall. But the series should be a drama anthology rather than a telenovela. This is the only way we can keep its own integrity. When the drama anthology aired, it also became an instant hit that the televiewers were clamouring for more of the child actor. Romnick then was still “no read no write”, so we had to dictate to him the dialogs before the take. Despite this handicap, the kid delivered his lines brilliantly and acted so naturally that you believe in everything he did in a scene. Soon, another show was assigned to me with Romnick as the lead: BATA. It has a wider scope since it involved the stories of children. When the CHARITO SOLIS STORY was shelved due to threats of a class action lawsuit being filed by characters involved in the life story of the actress, the network decided to do another Romnick starrer, this time, two more TV dramas: True Story and Señor Santo Niño. And yet, apart from his own shows, we also used Romnick as guest child actor for Alindog, Alma Moreno’s weekly drama anthology, and Ulila, Rosa Rosal’s weekly Drama Anthology.
In the 70s, Romnick, no doubt, was the most talented Filipino male child actor alive (the other one was Darling Postigo, a.k.a. Julie Vega - who died at a very young age). It was amazing how a child as young as Romnick – was able to give life to a role despite the fact that he wasn’t even capable of reading the lines. We didn’t have to explain to him what kind of role he was going to play, we just dictated to him the lines during rehearsals, and even this was truly incredible, for we didn’t even have to repeat the lines for him! He remembered every dialog during the actual take. He was such an intuitive and creative actor. He listened to the dialogs of his co-stars and he has an instant understanding of what the scene was all about and he performed like a real pro: with conviction, precision, and right direction where the character is supposed to be going.
In an episode of Señor Santo Niño, Anita Linda played the role of a mother who paid more attention to her business than her own son. The son got involved in a life of crime and was eventually killed in a shoot-out. After the mayhem and the realization, we see her walking in a park, ruing the decisions she had made and its sad outcome in the end. That's when she looked in the eyes of a child (Romnick) and without opening his mouth, she heard him say: "Whatever you do the least of my brethren, you do unto me." Romnick's stare sent goose bumps to the crew while we were filming this and the final outcome when it was aired had the same impact to the audience.
But, like any other child, there were moments when he could get really moody, especially when he lacked sleep or too tired from his taping schedules. And when he was in these once in a blue moon demeanor, Marcial Sanson, the director, would scold him in-front of everyone. That’s when the boy would remain quiet and standing in one corner like a sad sack. Several times before, when it happened, I would come to him and try to cheer him up. Little did I know that Marcial was observing this all the time. Then the next time it happed, I was about to approach the child when Martial stood right in front of my path, saying: “Don’t even go there, Joemari. I want him to learn his lesson.”
So, there we were, just like one big happy family. I was a teenager, Romnick was my younger brother, and Marcial Sanson was our strict father, and Romnick and I were the sons who were both being disciplined by their father.
But, as what Shakespeare had said: “All’s well that ends well,” and we all lived happily ever after. Marcial, despite his strictness, was truly generous. People went in and out of his house and everyone was welcome. He has passed on a few years ago.
Going back to Romnick, I still have to see another Filipino child actor who could at least match his intuitiveness and brilliance. Reminiscing his wonderful performance as a child actor is a true delight.