The "babaeng bakla" is the way she is because of several things. She knows how to lobby the "taray" like a weapon of mass distraction, and she does it with wicked attitude and much aplomb-even if, ehem, "hindi naman kagandahan." (Some of them, anyway.) But she is able to cultivate a certain queer persona that verges on the ironic. Of course, there is always her capacity to make us laugh, a role that is usually ascribed by our society to swishy gay men. In the end, it is her penchant for low camp and self-deprecation that endears her to us. In films, she isn’t usually the star at all; she is most often the sidekick, and so the macho leading man don’t usually fall in love with her.
And there lies the root of our shared rainbow connection-and fascination.
In this list, we’ve tried to go beyond the obvious-yes, we know about Rufa Mae Quinto and Eugene Domingo and Kris Aquino and Ai-Ai de las Alas and Toni Gonzaga and Rosanna Roces. But this is our list. Wanna pull hair over it? (Meow.)
Rita Gomez played a down-on-her-luck bomba star in 1971’s Pagdating sa Dulo.
1. RITA GOMEZ
Sassy trademarks: The Reyna Bandida and the Mahadera of the silver screen is famous for the Greta Garbo look-complete with the perfectly arched eyebrows and the exotically lined eyes. But unlike the reclusive Hollywood star, Rita Gomez was sassier even in speech. How does she want her coffee? "Brewed, never instant, que horror."
Best remembered for: Upon her return to the movies during the bomba craze that gripped Philippine cinema in the 1980s, she became the first Filipino actor to be billed with the title of "Ms." before her name. Talk about a high sense of entitlement. She was the original Diva.
Why gays love her: Her devastating wit. She was a judge for Bb. Pilipinas in 1982, and she asked Maria Isabel Lopez this question: "Hija, are you still a virgin?" To which the winning beauty aspirant replied: "If I say yes, will I win?"-but then quickly added something more before Ms. Gomez could answer: "Ikaw po, ma’am. Are you still a virgin?" Ms. Gomez did not bat an eyelash in her quick reply: "Hija, I’ve had five children from five different fathers. What would you call that, Immaculate Conception?"
Actress Marian Rivera should be glad that Celia Rodriguez is on her side.
2. CELIA RODRIGUEZ
Sassy trademarks: Only Celia Rodriguez can wear the turban-and own it. She was the fashion maverick of the 1970s, antedating the crazy frills and ruffles of Cher by so many years.
Best remembered for: There is a treasure trove of anecdotes. What about the Time magazine cover of Asian actresses that prominently declared her a "starlet"? What about when she won an acting prize, and Charito Solis was presenting and didn’t want to hand the trophy to her onstage because she thought Lolita Rodriguez should’ve won? And Celia kept begging her, "Sige na, Ate, ibigay mo na sa akin ’yan."
Why gays love her: She was Rita Gomez’s greatest rival, and between them can be collected the most fabulous barbs ever, reminiscent of Bette Davis and Joanne Crawford. Once on a set, Ms. Rita Gomez called out to her, "O, kumusta ka na?" to which Ms. Rodriguez allegedly replied: "Eto, bakla pa din."
Lolita Rodriguez kills it in this scene from Ina, Kapatid, Anak (1979).
3. LOLITA RODRIGUEZ
Sassy trademarks: The original drama queen who easily made the shift from comedy roles to more dramatic roles in the 1960s, is known for her Grace Kelly short but wavy hairstyle-but made it her own, suffusing Ms. Kelly’s icy vulnerability with a toughness that made her portrayal of a tomboy in the original Jack and Jill very memorable.
Best remembered for: For most of us, she will always be Kuala in Lino Brocka’s unequaled skewering of small town hypocrisy in Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang-but as Jack in Jack and Jill, she gave the gender-bending game a different queer twist, and we have been in love with her ever since.
Why gays love her: It’s also about the hint of the bristling forbidden that hides behind those soulful eyes that betray an otherwise impassive face. When she succumbs to the advances of her son-in-law in Lino Brocka’s Ina Ka ng Anak Mo, we quiver in secret empathy with our own versions of what is forbidden.
Maricel Soriano shakes it up in this dream sequence from the 1980s flick Jack en Poy.
4. MARICEL SORIANO
Sassy trademarks: Maria cannot be missed in any significant list of babaeng bakla. But it is difficult to pin down an iconic image of someone so versatile in her craft. The thing we most remember is her taray persona from the Regal Films days of the 1980s: a not-so-dainty girl that can switch on a sore tomboyish side, and rains on you all manner of invectives this side of mura. Of course, we lapped it all up.
Best remembered for: How important is Maricel? Regal Films matriarch Lily Monteverde was once said to quip, "Regal without Maricel is nothing." She’s been in teeny bopper movies and in hysterical dramas in both film and televisionbut we love her best as the social climber Clarisse Gargamonte/Clarrisa Rosales in Kaya Kong Abutin ang Langit, with her memorable line: "Ayoko ng masikip..."
Why gays love her: Maricel is considered the Dancing Queen of the 1980s. And we adore her signature dance numbers, "I Am What I Am," "Body Dancer," and "Rico Mambo." And does she not have a reputation for having an intimate command of swardspeak?
Jennifer Cortez, who was the 1978 Binibining Pilipinas-Universe, is pitch perfect as the spoiled socialite Suzanne Reyes in the 1980 flick Temptation Island.
5. JENNIFER CORTEZ
Sassy trademarks: The flowing white dress that anticipated Miss Russia Oxana Federova in the 2002 Miss Universe! The suntan lotion!
Best remembered for: Her career as an actress never took off, but she will always be remembered as spoiled rich girl and beauty queen Suzanne Reyes in Joey Gosiengfiao’s immortal Temptation Island. Just one role, but her legacy as the bitchiest babaeng bakla in Philippine cinema is set in stone.
Why gays love her: It’s a plethora of witty lines-said just the right way. "So what’s new? Ebreybody needs a shipwreck once in a while." "Careful, careful now, baka masira ang beauty ng complexion ko. Alam mo namang mahirap ma- achieve ang golden tan." "Sabihin mo sa driver na ilabas ang Mercedes Benz na charcoal gray." "As I was saying, it’s a bright sunny day. A day in the life of the sunrays. Dis is how I begin my day. An hour op tender loving care in the eight o’clock sunshine. Dat’s the secret behind my youthful complexion. It’s just like we’re by the poolside."
Giselle Sanchez is the funny girl with the whistle-bait figure.
6. GISELLE SANCHEZ
Sassy trademarks: She epitomizes (and subverts) the sexy promdi girl that hints at both smarts and naughtiness while clad in the shortest pek-pek shorts and oh-so-revealing wifebeaters.
Best remembered for: As Maritess the maid in the Manay Po films, she made us breathless with her whirlwind portrayal which was mixed in with over-the-top sassiness, Bisayan accent, and clothes that made your breathing skip. She was gayer than the gay men in that film.
Why gays love her: Because she’s the Queen of Reinvention, the One Who Can’t Be Put Down. When she once lost four TV shows (among them, SST), and she became an assistant director for commercials-but she took voice lessons, after which she launched herself as a stand-up comedienne at Kampo. Bookings soon poured in. She once admitted: "Someone told me that I was a buffoon during Shakespeare’s time, nagpapatawa daw ako sa mga kings. Ngayon modern clown na ako. Patawa talaga ako kapag nakasama mo ako ng matagal."
Pokwang’s impressions are hilarious.
Sassy trademarks: As co-host of the much-followed noontime show Wowowee, she has made it a mission to out-gaga Lady Gaga with her own version of outrageous outfits, not to compete with the more traditionally pretty co-hosts of the show, but as ironic tickle to all our wish to become blandly beautiful. With her sense of fashion (really body-fitting dresses, flashy dangling earrings, pursed red lips, stripper heels, loud-colored finger nails), she complements, nay accentuates, her not-so-pretty face and makes it a different kind of beautiful. Mystica she is not. It’s the whole walang kiyeme vibe.
Best remembered for: Her impersonations of Annabelle Rama and Aling Dionisia Pacquiao are on the spot-she nails the accent, the mannerism, etc.
Why gays love her: She likes to make fun of herself-always the way to a gay man’s heart-and jokes about being the best-looking host of Wowowee. She is our generation’s version of Ai Ai de las Alas, both of whom makes us laugh without them really trying too hard.
Candy Pangilinan’s claim to fame is her ability to do funny faces.
8. CANDY PANGILINAN
Sassy trademarks: It’s not the fashion, it’s the face! Candy has long been our female version of Jim Carrey-complete with the plastic face oh-so-ready with all sorts of comic expressions.
Best remembered for: Beyond the recent debacle of an unfortunate Igorot slur, she will always be known as the trusty sidekick or the maid (she was Moody in the teleserye Walang Kapalit, where she played Ariston’s new maid who liked to dabble in other people’s problems). She finally got to play a rich fairy godmother of sorts in I Heart Betty Lea Fea, as Catalina Dominguez, a rich pageant organizer who promises to shoulder the title character’s cosmetic makeover.
Why gays love her: Candy is not flashy-but she has a parlorista’s humor down pat. "She also talks with a chewy mouth," says writer Jose Wendell Capili, "and she is a martyr when she falls in love."
Tuesday Vargas is a champ at "musical" comedy.
9. TUESDAY VARGAS
Sassy trademarks: Those long lashes... those flirty glances. She is sexy as hell, but gives her womanliness a queer twist by just seemingly ... gayish. But how she takes that in stride!
Best remembered for: Her plaintive cry of mock distress, played for laugh, in the guise of a song, "Babae Po Ako," where she begs not to be mistaken anymore as a gay man.
Why gays love her: According to Chris Martinez, her director in Here Comes the Bride, Tuesday has clock set inside her-quiet in the daytime, mad as a hatter at night, peaking just around 3:00 a.m. When she does a mean (and hilarious) Eugene Domingo in that film, portraying a tigress of a lawyer displaced inside a housemaid’s body, she went straight to our hearts and to our collective funny-bone.
Everyone may get distracted by Angelica Panganiban’s body, but she should also get props for her fantastic comic timing.
10. ANGELICA PANGANIBAN
Sassy trademarks: The famous FHM bikini shot-and the flak that followed it! (Which she willingly parodied, of course, in Here Comes the Bride, in the scene where she quickly "accentuated" it with a see-through purple slipover.)
Best remembered for: We knew there was something a little devilish in her when she essayed the role of Santa Santita, but she had always played the tweetums role everywhere else it was too easy to overlook that this girl has range. But with Chris Martinez’s body-swapping comedy Here Comes the Bride, she goes all out-and becomes the best gay man this side of contemporary Filipino cinema.
Why gays love her: Because of one strange wedding march cum fashion show, one honeymoon night striptease, and one immortal line: "Apir apir apir! Hindi na uso ’yan. Wisik wisik na lang, masdan mo ang beauty ko! Tataas ang kilay mo!"
Special thanks to J. Neil Garcia, Jose Wendell Capili, Gino Dizon, Chris Martinez, James Renan Dalman, and Paulie Romano for help in this article.
Image credits: Dindoscope.com (Rita Gomez) and PEP.ph (Celia Rodriguez, Angelica Panganiban, Maricel Soriano, and Giselle Sanchez)