How does one recall the mid-1970s all the way to the 1980s and not remember Rico J. Puno? Rico Baby or Rico J, as he was called, was then at the height of his popularity, a legend and a champion of Filipino pop music.
It was in the mid-1970s when Rico became part of the Filipino pop culture. The lyrics of his top songs, including the line in his iconic version of “Memories” about a pair of lovers not having money while strolling at the Rizal Park, “Namamasyal pa sa Luneta/Nang walang pera,” were the bywords in an era that sang paeans to “the true, the good, and the beautiful” while reminding the people that discipline is a must if we must attain progress, this through the slogan, “Sa Ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan.”
Throughout all these interesting times, Rico, in his husky voice, gave solace, happiness, hope, self-acceptance and laughter to the Filipino audience, including grandmothers and matrons who were thrilled at his sight as he flirted with them while belting out “Macho Guwapito” which was how he projected himself.
The women got the kilig or thrill of their lifetime when he stood before them and solemnly stared and winked as he sang “Magbuhat nang kita”y makilala/Bawat masdan ko’y kariktan” (Roughly translated: Since I met you, everything that I saw was beauty.), allowing this one lady in the crowd a brief moment of imagination that she and Rico were all alone until she woke up to the reality of other women, all shrieking around her, wanting to touch, embrace and kiss Rico.
Rico’s style, though, was not just limited to being the quintessential macho Filipino lover, but also as an inspiring voice. As a Filipino pop music icon, he became known for “May Bukas Pa” which gave hope to radio listeners and television viewers, moving them into believing that their sun too would rise and their path would thus be brightened, as he sang “Sisikat din ang iyong araw/Ang landas mo ay mag-iilaw.”
Rico, on the other hand, reminded his listeners of karma and life’s lessons in “Lupa,” the latter becoming his piece at the Tokyo Music Festival in 1979. The song became a top hit as its lyrics reminded people of the golden rule, of not doing to others what you would not wish done unto you (“Kung ano ang ‘di mo gusto/Huwag gawin sa iba”). At the same time, Rico, through this song, also conveyed to the Filipino who would like to change for the better that he should not despair, for there is still time (“Kaya’t pilitin mong ika’y magbago/Habang may panahon ika’y magbago”).
If he was hopeful and encouraging, Rico, in “Kapalaran” (Fate) questioned the paradox of life, or why some human beings lead better lives than others, and that sometimes, even if one looks for one’s good fortune, one could not find it, while it comes to those who do not even desire it. (Bakit ba ganyan ang buhay ng tao/ Mayro’ng mayaman, may api sa mundo/ Kapalaran kung hanapin, ‘di matagpuan/At kung minsa’y lumalapit nang ‘di mo alam).
A true simpatico, or someone easy to get along with, he did not only charm the women, but also gave the men an idol they could identify with, especially in their desire to become just as popular among women.
No wonder that when he ran for councilor in Makati, he won the voters over, both men and women, young and old, first in the election of 1998, lasting through three terms up to 2007. He then tried his luck at the vice mayoralty race, but did not make it.
As a politician, he never left showbiz as he sang in concerts both here and abroad, while performing regularly in Pagcor casinos. His international tours brought him to Japan, Australia, United States, Canada, Dubai, Europe, among others, where he wowed the Filipino audience who even sang with him and laughed at his “adult” jokes.
Billed as “the Total Entertainer,” Rico also appeared on television and the movies. He first hosted Rico Baby for Barangay Broadcasting Corporation. He was one of the hosts of Lunch Date shown over GMA Network in the mid-1980s, and Chibugan Na, a noontime show on RPN 9 in the mid-1990s. Among the movies he appeared in were Wow! Sikat Pare, Bigat!
(1977), Bawal na Pag-ibig (1977), Alyas Boy Tigas: Ang Probinsyanong Wais (1998), Isang Platitong Mani (1986), Matalino Man ang Matsing Naiisahan Din! (2000) and Who’s That Girl? (2011) where he played as Rico.
Twice he was honored by Aliw Awards, first as Most Promising Entertainer in 1976, and, two years later, as Entertainer of the Year. His “The Way We Were,” with its famous “occasional” Tagalog lyrics, was his first big hit.
Rico died of heart failure on 30 October 2018, in St. Luke’s Medical Center at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig.