Jennylyn Mercado, Man of the House
It’s difficult to set up some personal interview time with Jennylyn Mercado. It’s damn near impossible, actually, with her schedule plotted out to the last minute—her week is entirely filled with tapings, rehearsals, and shoots; squeezed in is some time for working out, and whatever precious little hours that remain free, will of course be spent with her seven-year-old son, Jazz.
Magazine Q&As are allotted to the hair and makeup shift, half of which is drowned out by the noise of the hair dryer. Jennylyn is as accommodating as she can be, however, and one can’t begrudge her grueling schedule as she has taken on the roles of two persons: mother and father.
In the past couple of years, the actress has emerged as the newest romcom queen, a kind of young Julia Roberts, quirky and sassy with the right amount of vulnerability.
In the past couple of years, the actress has emerged as the newest romcom queen, a kind of young Julia Roberts, quirky and sassy with the right amount of vulnerability. Her turns in “maindie” films like English Only, Please, The Prenup, and Walang Forever, opposite male heartthrobs Derek Ramsay, Sam Milby, and Jericho Rosales respectively, have garnered her acting awards and a steady stream of work. In her latest movie, Just the Three of Us, Jennylyn’s character gets impregnated by an airline pilot, played by the ultimate romcom king John Lloyd Cruz. She then goes to great lengths to entreat him to fulfill his paternal duties. “Parang life story ko,” Jennylyn quips. “Hindi pala, one night stand siya. Malayong malayo sa akin.”
Jennylyn’s tumultuous past has been no secret—at the age of four she already made newspaper headlines as the victim of child abuse at the hands of her stepfather. Her biological mother was working abroad at the time, and only came home to bail the assailant from jail. Lydia Mercado, Jen’s aunt, took her away and legally adopted her. The two have been living together since, with Lydia raising her single-handedly while she worked at a garment factory.“Minaltrato siya, adik kasi. Nagkatrauma siya, pero naunti-unting nawawala. Hindi siya nagrebelde, I am thankful for that,” says Lydia, a regal lady with a silver-white pixie haircut. She describes Jen’s childhood as religious, disciplined, with church at the center of their lives. “Hindi mahilig sa barkada. Kami lang dalawa. Hanggang sa ngayon.”
The media narrative of her redemption, restoration, or reemergence—that is, when she finally got her groove back—is in truth a sexist takedown of a woman’s life journey (you don’t see the showbiz careers of deadbeat dads suffering any).
The quiet choirgirl, who initially harbored no dreams of becoming an artista, got her big break in 2003 on Starstruck, a GMA reality talent show on which she emerged as the Ultimate Survivor. A teen star on the rise, Jennylyn hit a road bump when she got pregnant at the age of 21. After giving birth, she returned to work—starring in middling afternoon soaps. But it just wasn’t the same. Her luster had faded, as if the industry was punishing her for having a child, and one out of wedlock, at such a young age. The media narrative of her redemption, restoration, or reemergence—that is, when she finally got her groove back—is in truth a sexist takedown of a woman’s life journey (you don’t see the showbiz careers of deadbeat dads suffering any). Married or not, having her son would only make Jennylyn a better actress, and a better human being. While working on Rosario back in 2010, she had said that she would give up acting in four years. But she turned out to be too good for the industry to let go of, again.
“I was very scared and emotional,” Jennylyn says of the time she found out she was pregnant. “My first reaction was fear that I might be sent away. But my mom was very open-minded. Then, my [biological] father died when Jazz was born. But I had the support system of my mom and my friends—they covered everything I needed.”
“Wala naman yung kwenta,” Lydia scoffs when asked about the contribution of Jazz’s father. “Kamukha pa naman nya!” With the baby daddy ostensibly out of the picture, Jennylyn learned how to cope on her own. “Nung una, medyo mahirap. But when I got the rhythm and got used to it, kaya naman pala.” Her first priority was to secure her son’s early educational future, after discovering that he had a speech delay at the age of one year and three months, and knowing that therapy and special schools were very costly.
Though Jennylyn would go on to have a succession of publicized relationships, some with unsavory details, she makes sure to keep her son shielded from it all. She often brings Jazz along on shoots, and the boy is remarkably patient and well-behaved. Video games and iPads, the 21st-century nannies of most children, are verboten. She says, “I want him to grow up knowing how to communicate and interact…maganda yung traditional.”
At 29, Jennylyn Mercado has found her rhythm. It is now the rest of the world who has to try and keep up.
Jazz is growing up in a household of strong women, and there is nothing untraditional about that. From a grandmother who took on the role of a single mother to her abandoned niece, to a mother who overcame childhood trauma with love and forgiveness, Jazz is not short on role models, nor does he lack in any figureheads. “Huwag muna mag-asawa, mawawala sa akin,” Lydia says wistfully of her daughter. “Until I die, magkasama pa rin kami.” And at 29, Jennylyn Mercado has found her rhythm. It is now the rest of the world who has to try and keep up.