On October 29, 1877, Narcisa de Leon, AKA Doña Sisang, the “Grand Old Lady” of the Philippine movie industry, was born in San Miguel, Bulacan to Justo Buencamino and Anastacia Lim.
Doña Sisang headed as president the family-owned L.V.N. pictures, the pillar of local filmmaking, producing big stars, and helping popularize Tagalog movies.
Her father, Justo Buencamino, was killed in an ambush in 1901 by Filipino guerrillas while on his way to be installed by the US occupation troops as San Miguel’s town mayor. When her mother married her late husband’s brother, Narcisa managed the household.
In around 1905, she married Don Jose de Leon (“Kapitan Pepe”) and turned her talents and energy to building a great fortune in rice haciendas and urban investments. In her rise as enterpreneur, Doña Sisang was assisted by the political influence of her Buencamino kin including her uncle Don Felipe Buencamino, one of the founders of the Federalista Party and a prominent figure in colonial politics during the early years of the American occupation and member of the Aguinaldo cabinet. Her cousin Felipe Buencaminno Jr., was a nationally powerful congressman for Nueva Ecija for many years. Among her husband’s kin and in-laws were provincial governors, congressmen, Senator Ceferino de Leon, and her daughter Doña Trinidad de Leon was the wife of Manuel Roxas, Speaker of the House in the 1930s and first President of the independent Philippines.
In 1938, Doña Sisang founded LVN Pictures, Inc., which under her management produced up to 26 Tagalog feature films per year from that time until the early 1960s. It was in this field that her prominence spread throughout the country. The name “Doña Sisang” became a household word, revered as the marker of the screen gods and goddesses idolized by the masses. She was the first to introduce color cinematography in the Philippines. The film Ibong Adarna was the first Filipino film with color sequences.
As a movie producer, Doña Sisang was the recipient of a number of awards of recognition, to wit:
- 1941 – Carlos P. Romulo Award, for the technique and artistry of “Ibong Adarna”;
- 1949 – “Trend Public Opinion Award”, for her outstanding accomplishment in the movie industry;
- 1950 – “Maria Clara Award”, for best producer; “National Federation of Women’s Club Award”, for her outstanding contribution to the movie industry; 1951 – “Katipunang Pambansa ni Plaridel Award”, for the propagation of the national language through the movies;
- 1956 – Best Producer Award for “Anak Dalita”, and “Special Presidential Citation”, for the same picture; and
- 1960 – “Presidential Merit Award”, for her outstanding contribution to the movie industry. She was also the first Filipino film producer to make a co-production venture with a foreign movie company (I Indonesia) and with Hollywood.
In recognition of her managerial talents, President Mauel L. Quezon named Doña Sisang as a Director of the National Rice and Corn Corporation (NARIC) when it was organized in 1936. Even after her husband’s death, when her career as a businesswoman was at its zenith, Doña Sisang remained close to the simple folk, sharing with them her blessings.
In 1962, she donated a school building worth P35,000 to San Miguel, Bulacan in memory of her late husband. In another instance, she and her children contributed a large sum of money for the renovation of San Miguel Church. She also funded several orphanages and other charitable institutions.
Doña Sisang is remembered best for her simplicity in dress and manner even at lavish receptions and parties tendered in her honor by her affluent friends. This endeared her more to the public. On many occasions, whenever the speaker would shower her with praises for her accomplishments, she would immediately remark with her typical shyness: “Naku, ayoko ng ganyan. Huwag ninyo akong purihin”.
Doña Sisang died on February 6, 1966, three months after her 88th birthday.
She had five children: Florencia, Encarnacion, Pelagio (who died in infancy), Manuel, and Amanda (Mrs. Bienvenido Eraña).
- Ancheta, Herminiana M. and Michaela Beltran-Gonzalez, Filipino Women in Nation Building, Quezon City : Phoenix Press, Inc., 1984.
- Manuel, E. Arsenio. Dictionary of Philippine Biography. Quezon City: Filipiniana Publications, 1995.
- Varias-De Guzman, Jovita, et. al., editorial board. Women of Distinction (Biographical Essays on Outstanding Filipino Women of the Past and the Present) Philippines: Bukang Liwayway, 1947.
- An Anarchy of Families: State and Family in the Philippines Edited by Alfred W. McCoy, Univ of Wisconsin Press, 2009