Vi The Victorious

She has won 33 major acting awards, the highest output for any woman thespian in these parts. “Vi did it with the single-mindedness of a homing pigeon,” said Laurice Guillen, director of Dahil Mahal Kita: The Dolzura Cortez Story, which ran away with the lion’s share of the major awards in this year’s Manila Film Festival including, among others, the trophies for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor and Best Director. Laurice, of course, was referring to Vilma Santos, who won the 1993 Manila Filmfest Best Actress plum for reastically portraying a PWA (person with AIDS). “Vi was determined to portray Dolzura Cortez – warts and all – no matter what,” Guillen stressed. “Walang pa-charming. An ectopic pregnancy and a bout with diarrhea only temporarily derailed her train but she reached her destination, and she got a statuette in the process.” When she received her trophy during the glittering awards rites held at the Manila Midtown Hotel last June 25, Vi raised her statuette and declared in Pilipino: “I gave it all I had. To Dolly (nickname of the PWA she portrayed), wherever you are, this is for you.”

Dolly herself (who died shortly after investigative reporter Ceres Doyo wrote the series about her (Dolly’s) life and times in the Philippine Daily Inquirer) had expressed the wish that Vilma portray her in a movie dramatizing her experience as a PWA. People behind the project hope the movie will raise public awareness about Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and how to prevent it. There are an estimated 35,000 people with HIV (human immune-deficiency virus) that caused AIDS in the Philippines although Health Secretary Juan Flavier believes the number is actually higher. Vilma’s triumph in this year’s filmfest was par for the course. In three decades in showbiz, Ate Vi, as the Vilmanians (loyal Santos fans) love to call her, has won 33 major acting awards (the highest output for any woman thespian hereabouts) and has appeared in about 120 movies. “It took us 25 shooting days to wrap up the movie,” Guillen continued. “It would have taken us longer if Vi had not been as dedicated to her work because she was practically in every scene and her stick-to-itiveness helped us a lot because, whenever she was on camera, there was no goldbricking. It was work, work, work for Vi and, although I could say the same thing for the rest of the cast, Vi really set the pace for the others to follow.”

In her thank-you speech at the awards ceremony, Vi acknowledged the fact that “I would have been helpless without Tita Laurice, Tita Chato (Charito Solis, who played Vi’s mother), Boyet (Christopher de Leon) and other members of the cast and crew.” As usual, Vi was generous in her acknowledgments and ever her husband, Batangas Representative Ralph Recto, “above all”, got his share of the kudos. Even the jurors of whom I was one, were impressed by her acting. “She would win in any festival with this kind of performance,” says Gina Alajar, herself a Metro Manila Film Festival Best Actress awardee earlier this year, who pinchhit for Rudy Fernandez as juror. “What I like about her performance,” juror Josefino Cenizal, veteran composer and musical director, chimed in, “is that she never overacted in many scenes where less experienced thespians would have. She gives the impression that she’s not acting but just going through the scenes as if she’s a natural part of the scenery.” There’s only one actress I’ve seen in action who seems not to be aware of any camera (just like Vi) and that’s Julie Christie, the British actress, who did a movie scene in front of several journalists from all parts of the globe, including this writer, in a London pub in the 1960s.

I have to confess that this article is a bit partial to Vilma Santos because I’ve been a Vilmanian from Day One. I remember the first time I saw Vi was in 1962 when Dr. Jose “Pinggot” Perez, Sampaguita Pictures executive, invited me to watch the filming of a movie called Trudis Liit. It was a nine year-old Vilma Santos who played the title role and she was so good, Doc Perez raved: “May kinabukasan ang batang ito (this child has a bright future).” Vi still remembers the reporter “who asked me silly questions like what’s my favorite dish, etcetera”. It was the beginning of a lifetime friendship and during those intervening 31 years, I’ve seen Vi blossom from a shy but hoydenish teenager, to the Vilma Santos of today, a confident woman of 39 “na maraming karanasan sa buhay (her own words)” pero sweet na sweet pa rin like the Vi of old. Some of those experiences would have driven an ordinary woman to perdition but not Vi, who says quietly: “A woman should grow wiser through the years.” Vi had the best teachers in the field of love. During the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, her “puppy love” was Edgar Mortiz which gave birth to the Edgar-Vilma loveteam, the only noteworthy rival of the Pip (Tirso Cruz III)-Guy (Nora Aunor) tandem. Her subsequent romance with Romeo Henares, son of former Inquirer columnist Larry Henares, nearly ended at the altar. “But I was not ready to make a lifetime commitment,” she disclosed. “Commitment” is one of Vi’s favorite words.

And then came Romeo Vasquez. It was during her relationship with Romeo in the mid-70s that what’s not known as the Betamax scandal came about. There was this lurid chismis that Bobby (Romeo’s nickname) and Vi had been captured on Betamax tape while rolling in the hay. I personally investigated this rumor and discovered it was just that -a rumor. I remember the many times that Vi and Bobby guested in my Seeing Stars TV show on Channel 13 where they sang as duet their theme song: Pag-ibig Ko Sa Iyo Lang Ibibigay. After her breakup with Romeo, I used to tease Vi by singing the opening lines of that ditty, and she would squirm and say, “Ayaw ko na, Tito Joe.” Recently, when Marra PL. Lanot and I interviewed Vi at a local recording shop, I sang the opening line and Vi sang it with me without any qualms. It’s because Vi has blossomed into a mature woman who’s confident of the love of her husband, Representative Recto, who’s admittedly 10 years younger that Vi (he’s 29 to Vi’s 39). But before her marriage to Recto was her interlude with Edu Manzano by whom she has a son, Lucky. “Doods and I really tried to preserve our marriage but things went awry,” she now says philosophically. It’s a measure of Vi’s diplomacy that she has remained friends with all her past lovers. – Joe Quirino, Philippine Graphic, June 16, 1993, transcribed and posted by Jeannie Wong (READ MORE)