Why Vilma succeeded, Nora failed in politics

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Imagine a question that still gives pause to Vilma Santos — mayor of Lipa City, candidate for governor of Batangas, and showbiz’s “Star for All Seasons,” among other callings. This one did on Monday, during merienda with a handful of women journalists: “What are your plans for Mother’s Day?” Santos glanced at her husband, reelectionist Sen. Ralph Recto, across the table. “Where will you be on Sunday?” One word to describe their days and nights of late — “hectic.” But, Mayor Vi hastened to add, “We manage.” She did not elaborate.

Asked when they were last together, not counting hours when they slept, she figured, “Day before Monday.” That was not a complaint. “We don’t expect too much of one another,” she explained. “He has a big campaign to run, and I am focused on my own. Not once have I gone with him this year, in fact.” Although the senator constantly asks about her political jaunts, he can’t join her, either. “Luis (her son by Edu Manzano) does when he can, though,” Santos said. On Tuesday, the young actor participates in his mother’s motorcade around the province. “Luis is very busy himself,” Santos added, sounding apologetic. “I try not to impose, but he says he doesn’t mind.

 Besides it’s so much more fun with him.” Luis Manzano is a music veejay and an upcoming comedian with a current hit movie. Still found time, believe it or not, to mind her husband’s wardrobe — “what he should wear, what he should bring on his trips” – his minimum requirement at the moment, she noted, along with one other thing: “That I listen to his speeches.” Which she does very willingly, she said, especially because it was one of the ways she learned from him. “Public speaking as a politician and talking to the people as an artista are two different things,” Santos pointed out. “I’ve also asked him to listen to all my speeches since I went into public service.” Well, all except one.

“Oh, yes, when I declared my candidacy, the words in that announcement were all mine,” she recalled, proudly. “When I asked Ralph later what he thought, he said, ‘It was good, but a little strong.’ Actually, it would have been stronger, had I not sat up the whole night before deleting this and that from all the things that I wrote down while I was still very emotional.” No better sign – Once she wrapped her mind around it, Santos believed her gubernatorial candidacy was meant to be. “Especially because Ricky (Recto, her husband’s brother, who originally opposed her) eventually gave way,” she said. “What better sign could I ask for?”

Speaking of signs, it’s true that her “yes, you should” moment came while she worked the treadmill. She recounted: “I had asked for a week, right? All I did was write down everything that I felt, exercise, pray. One day, I was on the treadmill, dripping, and still I hadn’t decided. Then a letter came. Without stepping down the machine, I read it; it was my answer.” She begged off from disclosing the letter’s content. “Let me just assure you it was from someone whom I had no reason to doubt.”

Recto said he witnessed that week, and confirmed that his wife was praying so intently, he didn’t dare interrupt: “She’s saying she learned certain things from me. Well, that is something I learned from her — how to be prayerful, but also how to be pragmatic.”  He teased his wife: “Of course, it’s inevitable that you should be my teacher …”  She rolled her eyes: “What he’s about to say now is, ‘After all, when you won your first acting award, I hadn’t been born.’” One of the journalists assured Mayor Vi: “We know you’re older, but look, the senator’s caught up – he looks your age already.” Recto wouldn’t let this pass: “That only means I’m the better caregiver.”

Nora Aunor – Why did she think she succeeded in politics, where her arch rival in the movies, Nora Aunor, failed? “I think it boils down to priorities and direction,” Santos said. “Also, we both had very bad times, financially; I guess I was lucky to have bounced back when I did.” Smiling, the senator offered another explanation: “She met me.” Being a movie star has served her quite well in office, Santos said. “Maraming nagbabayad ng taxes, at marami sa kanila, gusto muna ako ma-meet. And when some people come to ask me for something, even if I can’t give what they want, they still leave with a smile on their faces.

But I really hope that’s not the only reason they reelected me,” she added. Only a week before the elections and they both looked a little too relaxed for comfort. Santos had a ready explanation: “That’s because I don’t have plans beyond this. If I win, that would be great. If not, I’d have already done well at the level that I’d chosen to serve.” The best part about being mayor of Lipa, she said, was having the macho men of the city give her — “a woman, artista pa” — respect and trust as a leader. “Seventy-two barangay captains, puro barako, ha, acknowledging what this little woman did for the city.

That’s something money can’t buy. Legacy ko na ‘yon.” Batangueña at heart Not to say that, just because she has become a Batangueña at heart (she’s from Pampanga), she has also become barako. “When I got a death threat after a drug lab in Lipa was raided and shut down, I almost dropped the phone, and I shook all over,” she said. Santos is pretty confident about her and her husband’s chances. “The surveys are good, and we’re working hard,” she pointed out. She wouldn’t speak for him, but she insisted that life, if she missed her present target, would pretty much be fulfilling, nevertheless.

“I could make more movies, maybe even do a stage play, such as one that the Cultural Center has been proposing to me,” she said. To which her husband replied, “Yes, you should make a movie this year, I think you can.” Obviously, Santos jested, things would remain the same at home: “Siya pa rin ang hari, pero ako ang alas.” Also, it’s clear, she would continue being a dedicated parent to 11-year-old Ryan Christian, who’s “artista na, politiko pa yata.” Recto concurred: “He greets people with a firm handshake and a pat on the shoulder — and he’s just a boy.” Santos reported: “Last October, in school (La Salle, Greenhills), nag-grand slam ‘yon. He won golds in the oratorical contest, interpretative reading … and balagtasan!” – Emmie G. Velarde Inquirer 05/08/2007