Woman for all seasons

Relasyon is part of the legendary collaboration between the late National Artist for Film Ishmael Bernal and movie queen Vilma Santos.

The film, which is the first of the so-called Bernal-Santos trilogy (that includes Broken Marriage and Pahiram ng Isang Umaga), earned Santos all the Best Actress trophies in 1982 — FAMAS; Gawad Urian; Film Academy of the Philippines; Catholic Mass Media Awardsthe very first grand slam feat for this category in Philippine entertainment history.

She defeated Nora Aunor’s high-wattage performance as Elsa, in another Bernal opus, in the heavily favored film production of Himala.

In Relasyon, Santos was both amusing and amazing as the contemporary incarnation of the beloved one, the querida. Critics and audiences, to this day, cannot seem to forget the very realistic death scene of Christopher de Leon as Emil that clocked more than one minute, taken in one continuous shot (no cuts), wherein Vilma’s Marilou was hysterically superlative.

Others (including this writer) found Santos’s exceptional acting evident in three memorable instances. The first is when she informs Emil of her pregnancy. Vilma’s face is almost pure, beaming at her lover affectionately, as she sends him off to work. Secondly, at Christmas Eve with girlfriends, she seems to be losing it, crying and laughing at the same time, enumerating how mistresses don’t celebrate special occasions, and prior to the credits, Marilou gives her love nest one more lingering gaze, eyes filled with acceptance and resignation on the fate of her affair.

Since the grand slam victory, spin masters gave her the tag “Star for All Seasons,” a creative counterpart to Aunor’s “Superstar” label.

She had other grand slam winnings after Relasyon, as Dolzura Cortez in The Dolzura Cortez Story, the AIDS-stricken sex worker; as Lea, the modern-day mother of two kids from different fathers, and as Amanda Bartolome, in Dekada ‘70, the mother coping with the turbulent 1970s and the harsh realities that growing children face.

The world of Philippine showbiz remains colorful and exciting as long as Vilma Santos’s supremacy continues.

Of late, she has been in the news again. With Aunor’s much-hyped TV comeback, Noranians are proclaiming hosannas for the superstar and, as expected, the “rivalry” between the two is brewing anew.

“That rivalry that I have with her, matagal na ‘yun,” says Santos. “I think, especially in the world of Philippine entertainment, universally accepted na yung if there is a Vilma, then Nora is immediately part of the equation. However, that so-called competition, matagal na ‘yun. Those were the days when we were still 37,” she laughs. “What’s important is that we are both working, we have very exciting projects and that the public, especially our fans, continue to support us.”

Always an actress – “Acting will always be in my blood,” articulates the actress. “I consider myself fortunate because I have already achieved all the things that an artist would want to achieve in his or her career.”

Ate Vi elaborates: “When I was younger, I had done my dream roles — gumanap na ako bilang Darna at Dyesebel. These are the roles that young stars dream of now. Kahit papaano, napagdaanan ko na ‘yan. I was able to make good and relevant films like Sister Stella L, ‘yung mga ginawa ko with direk Ishma (Ishmael Bernal), ‘yung Relasyon, Broken Marriage. Na-experience ko rin to become a box-office queen once in my life.”

Fans are looking forward to her latest movie project. “This October, my movie with Kim Chiu begins; shooting na kami,” Santos happily reports. “Since once in two years lang ako gumagawa ng pelikula, pinipili ko na kung ano ‘yung gusto ko at may maibibigay akong bago.”

With Chito Roño as its director, The Healing (tentative title) is a film about the lives of people who believe in the power of alternative medicines and witchcraft.

What drives her passions? Queen Vi smiles. “It’s because I am inspired. I have my family with me, giving me all the inspiration and the adrenaline to work harder and be inspired. I am now the mother of the province of Batangas, and so far, so good. I’ve been serving Batangas for 14 years now. But the most important thing at this point in time is that I want my family to be healthy. Kayamanan na ‘yun.”

Always a public servant – Aside from the project with Kim, the Star for All Seasons is at the forefront of the Bear Brand Powdered Milk’s Laki Sa Gatas Nutrition Education Advocacy.

The Laki Sa Gatas Advocacy is now on its fifth year. The company behind the brand visits 5,000 public schools nationwide yearly, providing school children with milk so that they acquire the habit of milk drinking. It reaches out to more than 2.5 million mothers and children via interactive information campaign.

“I believe that health is number one,” she pronounces. “That’s why my priority programs are geared toward health. Before, education used to be my top priority, but I soon realized, how can our students learn if they are not healthy? How can they become competitive if they do not get the proper nutrition?

“That is why in Batangas, I am initiating programs for the rehabilitation of hospitals, for the promotion of health cards and various nutrition programs,” Santos adds.

Always a mom – Any conversation with Santos will not be complete without talking about her eldest son, Luis Manzano. The young Manzano has announced his interest to run for the Lipa City mayor’s seat.

“I can’t stop him from the doing what he wants,” Ate Vi says. “I told him it’s not easy to be a public servant, it’s not easy to sacrifice all the things he has right now. I told him that if he’s really serious in entering, he must really have the heart for it, and that his life would not be the same.

“I would like to believe that I have set a good example,” she muses. “He grew up seeing how I work. When he was young I used to bring him with me on important occasions. I think that was an eye-opener for him, so in case he’s going to try politics he already has the foundation. If that is what he really wants, I’ll support him.”

With regard to his son’s love life, Santos quips, “As a mother, I’ll just be here to support him. I am here not to meddle or not to impose on anything when it comes to his love life.”

Vilma Santos-Recto clearly knows what is important to her — a blissful family, an exhilarating acting career, a progressive province. She is a queen in many ways and a woman in every way. – Alwin M. Ignacio