If Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos were to write her autobiography, she would need more than three volumes to include all the interesting aspects of her life which has been a journey that slipped to the depths of despair and sprang back to heights of ecstasy. And if her life story were to be filmed, she would need a series of trilogies (to surpass Shake, Rattle & Roll which is now on its 14th edition) to cover her showbiz and political career and, lest you forget, her checkered love life. Asked how many leading men there would be, Vilma said in jest, “Basta, marami! All-star-cast, hehehehe!” This year, Vilma is celebrating her 50th year in showbiz and Star Cinema has seen it fit to mark the milestone with the movie The Healing, Vilma’s second time to work with director Chito Roño (the first was in Dekada ’70) and her first time to work with Kim Chiu in a story about a faith healer who brings not just healing but also a curse to a community. Opening nationwide in more than 100 theaters on Wednesday, July 25, The Healing also stars, among others, Janice de Belen, Mark Gil, Jhong Hilario, Allan Paule, Daria Ramirez, Cris Villanueva, Ces Quesada, Ynez Veneracion, Martin del Rosario, Chinggoy Alonso, Pokwang, Carmi Martin and Joel Torre.
Oh wait, when she turns 59 on Nov. 3 this year, Vilma will indeed release her biography. Asked if somebody, anybody, would scream “Ouch!” when he (or she) read it, Vilma broke into her Star For All Seasons smile, “Wait and see!” Meanwhile, to celebrate her 50th year in showbiz, Conversations asked Vilma to make a list of the “golden moments” in her life.
Nov. 3, 1953, the day I was born. In 1962 when I was eight years old, I went with my uncle, Amaury Agra (a cameraman) to Sampaguita Studio to watch a shooting. (Dr. Jose) “Doc” Perez, the Starmaker and head of the company, saw me, and there and then let me play one of the two kids in Anak, Ang Iyong Ina, starring Lolita Rodriguez and Luis Gonzales. I didn’t even have a screen test. A few days later, during a shooting lull I wandered around the huge studio and found myself in the office of Doc Perez where some 800 tots were auditioning for the title role in Trudis Liit, the next Sampaguita tearjerker. Join ako sa audition bigla! Doc Perez said, “Cry!” I cried. He said, “Laugh!” I laughed. He made me do other things. Next thing I knew, bida na ako sa Trudis Liit, where I won Best Child Actress (for Trudis Liit), my first award.
My full name is Rosa Vilma Santos. Doc Perez said, “Ang dami nang Rosa…may Rosa Rosal, may Rosa Mia, may Rosa Aguirre.” He dropped Rosa and that’s how I became known as simply Vilma Santos. My next movie was Ging (Premiere Productions) where I played a child actress. When I saw it in the theater, I cried and cried dahil naawa ako sa sarili ko. Another movie that made me cry was Love Story (Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw) and my own movie Anak where I played an OFW back from years in Hong Kong only to find that my daughter (played by Claudine Barretto) has grown estranged from me.
When I developed a crush (my first) on my classmate in elementary school. I wonder, nasaan kaya siya ngayon? I reached the so-called “awkward stage”…too old for child roles but too young for adult roles. My first team-up with Bobot (Edgar Mortiz) was in Young Love (Sampaguita Pictures) in 1970, kasama namin sina Tirso (Cruz III) at Nora (Aunor). Soon, we became known as Vi & Bot and Guy & Pip. Uy, baka hindi n’yo alam, naging recording star din ako, hehehe! Remember Sweet Sixteen (you know, never been kissed, never been loved…)? Kinareer ko talaga ang pagka-singer ko.
I signed a contract with Tagalog Ilang-Ilang Productions (TIIP) owned by (the late) lawyer Espiridion Laxa who became like a second father to me. My 18th birthday (Nov. 3, 1971) was a whole-day celebration. Fans from as far north as Ilocos and as far south as Cebu came to greet me. The day was capped by a formal ball at The Plaza with then senatorial candidate Manda Elizalde as special guest. My philosophy in life is: Make hay while the sun shines. Did you know that I’m afraid of snakes, especially the long and big ones? That’s why when I go to the Manila Zoo, I stay away from the snakes. You can just imagine how traumatic it was when as Darna (Lipad, Darna, Lipad) I had to fight with snakes. Hindi ako nakatulog ng ilang gabi. I had nightmares about snakes.
My first TV show was D’Sensations. Bata pa ako noon. Marami kami roon. Then, I hosted my own show, VIP (Vilma In Person). My first time to visit Disneyland with my mom. We both cried because we missed my siblings. How we wished that they were with us. A few years later, our wish came true when we all traveled together and visited Disneyland.
Being paired with top actors like Dolphy, Fernando Poe Jr. (Bato sa Buhangin) and Eddie Rodriguez (in Nakakahiya). Nakakalungkot isipin na wala na silang lahat. In 1972, I won my first FAMAS Best Actress award (for Dama de Noche). I never thought I would win, kasi ang bibigat ng ibang nominees including sina Pilar Pilapil and Amalia Fuentes (for Uliran). Nag-tie kami ni Boots (Anson-Roa, for Tatay na si Erap).
Working with top directors like Lino Brocka (Rubia Servios, Aida Macaraig, etc.), Ishmael Bernal (Relasyon, Broken Marriage, Pahiram ng Isang Umaga, etc.), Mike de Leon (Sister Stella L.), Celso Ad. Castillo (Pagputi ng Uwak, Pag-itim ng Tagak), Laurice Guillen (Ipagpatawad Mo, etc.) and others. And then, na-direk na rin ako ng new breed of directors like Rory Quintos (Anak); Olive Lamasan (In My Life); and Chito Roño (Bata, Bata, Paano Ka Ginawa?; Dekada ’70; and now, The Healing).
I met Edu (Manzano). We got married in Las Vegas. Luis Philippe (Manzano) was born on April 21, 1981.
Did you know that I am hypochondriac? When I read or hear about symptoms, the next day parang nararamdaman ko na at nag-e-excuse ako sa shooting. When I was declared the first Best Actress Grand Slam winner (for Relasyon). My team-up with Boyet (Christopher de Leon). I have lost count. I think more than 20 ‘yon. Uy, never lumigaw sa akin si Boyet, ha! Never talaga, hehehehe! (Note: Cineaste Mario E. Bautista very kindly furnished Conversations the complete list of the 22 Vi-Boyet films: Tag-ulan sa Tag-araw, Masarap Masakit ang Umibig, Relasyon, Pinay American Style, Magkaribal, Broken Marriage, Nakawin Natin ang Bawat Sandali, Ikaw ay Akin, Disco Fever, Sinasamba Kita, Haplos, Pakawalan Mo Ako, Karma, Minsan Pa Natin Hagkan ang Nakaraan, Paano Ba ang Mangarap, Imortal, Ipagpatawad Mo, Dolzura Cortez Story, Nag-iisang Bituin, Hanggang Ngayon Ika’y Minamahal, Dekada ’70 and Mano Po 3: My Love.)
I signed a contract as endorser for Lux in a commercial, and then for Eskinol. In 1985, I met Ralph (Recto) in Hong Kong. He was then a student. We got married on Dec. 10, 1992. Then, he won as congressman of Batangas. Then he became a senator. When Ralph and I had our first LQ (Lovers’ Quarrel). It was an ordinary misunderstanding. When Ralph was gone for almost one month, Luis approached me and said, “Mom, I miss Tito Ralph!” Ralph and I kissed and made up. Ryan Christian was born on March 29, 1996.
Looking back, my career took a sharp turn when I played the title role in Burlesk Queen, directed by Celso Ad. Castillo. It was a very controversial film that won awards at the Metro Filmfest and the awards were later taken back. I also did a landmark sexy role in Miss X, directed by Gil Portes, shot in the Red District of Amsterdam. Years back, I went bankrupt. Ang dami kong utang! All my earnings went straight to payments for my debts; hindi ko nahahawakan ang pera ko. I didn’t lose hope. Finally, I was able to settle everything. I learned a lot from that episode in my life — that is, to save and to spend wisely. In 1998, I was elected Mayor of Lipa City. My critics were saying na wala akong magagawa dahil artista lang ako but I have proven them wrong. I’m grateful to my constituents in Batangas for trusting me enough to vote for me as the first lady governor of the province after I served three terms as Lipa mayor.
How different is winning a Best Actress award from winning in an election? Magkaibang-magkaiba. You win an acting award for a done job. Sa politics, you win and you have to prove that you are worth it by doing your job well. When I delivered by first SOPA (State Of The Province Address) as Governor of Batangas. I am liberal as a mother, pero may limitations. Kami nina Luis at Ryan, para lang barkada. Did I ever spank them? Never! Wait, I did spank Luis, but only very mildly, when he was two years old kasi he had this bad habit of throwing away toys handed to him. That was the first and the last time I did it to him. Later, I explained to him why. My annual vacations with my family and close friends. This year, we’ve been to Singapore and other Asian countries, and then to Hawaii. During these vacations, I can relax and be myself, no pressure. I feel recharged when I return to work.
My most painful and saddest experience was when my father (Amado Constantino Santos) died in 1984. I still miss him so much that I can’t help but cry. My most joyful experience was when I gave birth to Luis and Ryan. Heaven! I couldn’t believe na may dalawang nilalang na nanggaling sa katawan ko. The experience was incredible! I used to be an insomniac. I would stay awake until the early morning hours. No, hindi ako nagpa-treat or nagpa-therapy. Basta na lang nawala when I started observing regular working hours as public servant. Now, I can sleep like a log. No, I’m not afraid of growing old. I believe that life would be much easier if the emphasis is on how to grow old gracefully rather than on how to look young forever.
What’s the best thing about me? I’m a simple person. If you know me well, I am a good friend. And the worst thing about me? Don’t push me too hard because I know how to fight back. I have nothing against people who undergo cosmetic surgery. No need for me — so far. Well, I guess I won’t mind kung kinakailangan na. Hindi pa naman. I think that being happy is the best beauty regimen. It lights up your life, it makes your complexion glow, it makes you look at the positive side of life.
Do I have regrets? Yes, I have, including not having finished schooling but I tried to make up for it by self-study. Marami din akong natutuhan through experience. Sabi nga ng song na My Way, “regrets I have a few but then again too few to mention…” The best lesson I learned from showbiz? People say that showbiz is the most ungrateful profession but I beg to disagree. I owe showbiz a lot. I am what I am today because of showbiz. I am blessed in this industry. Malaki ang utang na loob ko sa industriya at sa madla, at sa aking Vilmanians.
My dream roles? To play Princess Diana and Mother Teresa, my role model. Mother Teresa never preached; she just did her work, helping the sick and the poor. I really admire people who do missionary work. Yes, I believe in the afterlife. What would I tell God when I meet Him? “Please allow us, most especially my family, to be with You in Paradise!” – Ricky Lo, The Philippine Star, July 27, 2012 (READ MORE)
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