Rhea rises

() - July 16, 2003 - 12:00am
You either have it or you don’t. Some people languish in certain positions for years without ever getting noticed, their efforts going the way of seeds wasted in barren soil. Others bask in the glow of achievement the minute they are seen.

Take the case of Rhea Santos. The fair-skinned, tall colegiala who first set her sights on work for an airline company stood out the minute she was accepted in GMA 7’s Unang Hirit only three years ago. She came up with stories that sparked interest and made her shine.

Management soon noticed and rewarded Rhea with a bigger job: that of segment host for GMA’s multi-awarded Frontpage, Ulat ni Mel Tiangco.

She’s up as early as 4 a.m. to be at the studio on time for the daily show which starts airing an hour and a half later. A good night’s sleep gives her a freshness that’s so crucial, not just for a TV personality, but for someone who appears in a morning show like her.

After all, it’s a job she has always been fascinated with, and something she has been trained to do as a Mass Communication graduate of St. Paul’s College, Quezon City.

"I love news and television," she smiles. And you can see how much she means it.

That love, and an irrepressible sense of adventure, has taken her to Parola, a place notorious for gang violence Tondo, as segment producer of Frontpage.

Armed with her notebook, TV crew and a willingness to enter no man’s land, Rhea forged ahead with her assignment. She interviewed gang leaders and members – people who lived by the rule of the mob, not the law.

Rhea was not prepared for the pleasant surprise awaiting her.

"It turned out to be one of my easiest coverages," she looks back. "We didn’t have to get a permit. No one got in the way of our work, so we were able to proceed smoothly."

Maybe it helped that Rhea’s dad grew up in Gagalangin, Tondo, and her grandmother still lives in that part of town, refusing to leave its comforting, familiar surroundings.

"She’s even known in those parts as the mother of Gagalangin because of her projects to help the people there," reveals Rhea.

Her solicitous boyfriend, Carlo (they are engaged to be married late next year) was standing at a distance while Rhea was shooting in Tondo.

"Although he’s a family friend, we didn’t become sweethearts until over a year ago, since I was committed to someone else until that time," reveals Rhea.

The guy is 29 and owns the Hotshots chain of restaurants. Carlo, six years her senior, recently gave Rhea a beautiful engagement ring which she proudly wears, on and off camera.

While admitting she may have to decide whether she should give her family or career priority after marriage, Rhea is confident her boyfriend will always support her work.

Now, she’s brimming with plans about how to make her Frontpage segment GMA Action Force even more exciting.

"I’d love to do one-on-ones with presidentiables, like Fernando Poe Jr., Ping Lacson and Danding Cojuangco," she ticks off. Oh, and she’s dying to do exposés, investigative reports, crime stories. A look at child labor in ice plants, and the psychology of terrorists will be interesting too, adds Rhea.

There’s another reason she feels so upbeat about her work these days.

"I got a call from this Tondo boy who was about to graduate from college one day," recounts Rhea. And what he told her will forever be etched in her mind.

"He told me he has decided not to join riots anymore after seeing Siga ng Tondo (the title of her recent report). He realized nothing will come out of it, and he’s better off pursuing his dream," says Rhea.

That, as far as she is concerned, is inspiration with a capital I. Not everybody gets the chance to touch lives the way she did, through this boy, who could have gone the way of his elders, but chose not to.

For this and other life-changing episodes to come, Rhea Santos is willing to go where others fear to tread.

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