Vilma Santos, Through the Years

Vilma Santos, Through the Years
(or Why She Is Still on Top)

Philippine movie queens, superstars and so-called divas have come and gone. They are either dead, in total or semiretirement, relegated to supporting roles, or had a reversal of fortune. Forty-two years in the acting business and fiftysomething, a death knell for any movie queen, Vilma Santos, the Philippines’ Star for All Seasons, remained formidable in her enviable stature as the country’s highest paid, most awarded dramatic actress and perhaps the longest reigning movie and box-office queen title holder. Known as Baby Vi, Ate Vi, or Vi to her fans and colleagues, the unsinkable Queen Star is not only known for her acting prowess but also, to the surprise of doomsayers and detractors, a very capable and effective Mayor of Lipa city, Batangas. Having no college degree nor experience in governance and public service, three-term elected Mayor Santos has turned husband Sen. Ralph Recto’s town as one of the most progressive cities in the country. Balikbayans, visitors, tourists and the curious have only but praises for the changes in Lipa, its growth and development since Mayor Vilma took charged. For her excellent governance and management of Lipa, she has received various recognitions/citations/awards from both the public and the private sector. And in two national surveys, Vilma came out on top, number 6 and 86, as the country’s most influential/admired people.

Fifty plus acting awards, and still counting, the most for any Filipino actor, including two international trophies from the prestigious Brussels and Cine Manila film festivals, a record four Grand slams for best actress, the most awarded actress in the Urian (8), PMPC Star (6), PASADO (4) and Tanglaw (2), several Lifetime Film achievement trophies, a FAMAS Hall of Fame recipient, several movie queen and box-office titles, countless awards and citations for the most-awarded TV musical-variety program in Philippine TV history, Vilma!, and still collecting honors for her shrewd and savvy approach to city management, the diminutive and youthful-looking Vilma Santos is not content with her rich and enviable resume of accomplishments on film, TV and politics. Not that she is being selfish or obsessed, it is destiny! From her Trudis Liit days, her fist FAMAS, her collaboration with Lolita Rodriguez, Marlene Dauden and Eddie Rodriguez, to her teen-age salad days as second fiddle to then superstar Nora Aunor, to her love affairs, a failed first marriage, to a producer who lost her shirt in the ungrateful showbiz, and going home a loser to Nora Aunor in acting jousts failures have only honed Vilma to become the number one actress and mayor of the land. She learned from her mistakes, sought the advice of the knowledgeable supporters, and regrouped herself to fight on!

Before we know it, she has embraced change for the better. She chose her movies and directors well (Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, Chito Rono, Mike De Leon, Joel Lamangan and Laurice Guillen, among others) and won a phalanx of Best Actress awards. She reinvented herself in movies that are now classics. Her daring turn as a stripper in Burlesk Queen was a major turning point in her otherwise predictable, ho-hum acting career. Her first Grand slam foray via the mistress with a difference in Relasyon. The activist nun in Sister Stella L. The timid at first but turned activist Mother Courage in Dekada 70. The unforgettable AIDS victim in Dolzura Cortez. Her engaging role as Lea, the liberated single mother in Bata, Bata. Her memorable, intense and confident Lillia Chiong character in Mano Po 3, her latest triumph, is further proof of Vilma’s reputation as the most versatile actress of the Philippines. Writes one movie critic: It is to Vilma Santos’ credit that she managed to survive her rivalry with Aunor by taking on unusual, gutsy roles. Revered movie critics such as Nestor Torre and the international community of film cineastes have had positive reviews of her legendary film roles. Variety magazine, Hollywood entertainment bible, has coined a most appropriate title for the Drama Queen, the Filipina Cinematic Diva. Says Mr. Torre of Vilma’s acting style verus Nora: Vilma is more structured and plotted which enables her to come up with more focused, textured and thematically insightful performances. Whether it is the acting business, the entertainment business (she, along with the late Nida Blanca, are perhaps the two actresses who are endowed with tripping the light fantastic at their dancing best) and politics, the quintessential Ms. Vilma Santos has come up to the challenge. Her contemporaries are neither here nor there.

So what’s next for the Philippines’ most successful cinema legend and effective mayor, adoting mother of sons Luis Manzano and Ryan Christian-Recto and loving wife of Senator Ralph Recto? Governor? Senator? Directing? The stage?. Personal appearances abroad? More movies? (The acting diva is currently wrapping up a two-part “Maalaala Mo Kaya” TV special about cerebral palsy, and will soon starts a new movie with a gay theme, Flores De Mara). The possibilities are endless for the Victorious Vilma. Like Midas who has a golden touch in most everything she does, the Vilma mystique lives on. TV remakes of her gigantic fantasy classics (she is the original fantaserye Queen, as if you didn’t know) such as Darna, Dyesebel and Kampanaerang Kuba are but coattails of a glorious, colorful and successful movie career. Her inclusion as one of the three finalists of the U.P. Gawad Plaridel for Film is another feather added to her cap. (As of press time, she has added this recognition to her feather cup! – editor) Can the National Artist Award be far behind then? It is up to the critics? the public and history. After all, Vilma Santos has done her best. Movies. TV. Public Servant-hood. Wife. Mother. Armed with a deep spiritual faith that strengthens her, a keen sense of perfection and competition, humility in triumphs and losses, an innate charm that is her trademark and a nerve of steel, professionalism and hard work in juggling her multilayered roles as wife, mother, actress and mayor these traits are what makes Vilma Santos the success that she is. No one comes close. With a little bit of luck, prayer and support of her loyal fans and admirers, her winning streak continues. And her best is yet to come! You ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Vilma Santos…The Eternal Philippine Movie Queen! Ang Nag-iisang Bituin! – Mario O. Garces, RN, BSN, MBA (READ MORE)

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