Ali Sotto speaks
- Marra PL. Lanot () - January 8, 2006 - 12:00am
Ali Sotto may be most remembered for her satirical impersonation of Imelda Romualdez Marcos. At least, to a whole generation who suffered and toppled 20 years of dictatorship. Ali’s keen observation, sense of timing, wit and humor are perfectly blended in her role as the former First Lady.

Ali Sotto, however, has further developed as actor, radio-and-television newscaster and commentator, singer, TV host, mother, and wife.

At the moment, surviving the death of her son, Miko, Ali is busy with her advocacies and her broadcasting jobs. She has extended her radio news commentary to her appearances on ABC 5. In Sentro at 6 p.m., she reports the news, while she throws in her personal comments now and then. In Ali! she interviews celebrities and ordinary people with equal enthusiasm.

is different from other talk shows. She chooses her subjects, does research on her own, to complement that of others, uses her stock knowledge, digs up her own memories. The show takes off from an incident in her life, then, she persuasively probes her interviewee. This result is something human, whether ordinary or unusual.

Her test show, for instance, revealed that Joey de Leon is ninong to her eldest, Chino, now 24. Because of this, she could ask Joey, who’s been in showbiz for some 40 years now, questions that are not normally asked. She could ask him, for instance, why his children are named with names for which they could kill him. She confides, "Kulang na lang na sabihin kong ‘Ikaw nga ang nagsindi ng kandila noong ikinakasal kami ni Maru, namatay nga ’yong kandila, siguro kaya kami naghiwalay.’"

She has tackled beauty as a topic. After weighing herself on a scale, she takes a hard look at the standard of beauty, beauty that’s forced and fake and so un-Filipina. Why should all Filipinas have long, black and straight hair? Does this mean the naturally curly ones should feel miserable?

"When you get older, pag nagpabanat ka, you don’t look young, you look different. I hope we don’t get to the point when we’re as bad as the US na talagang anorexic na, bulimic, they have eating disorders, bad diet. Nagulat ako pagbalik ko galing sa Mexico, may nakita akong facial whitening center. Ano ’yon?! Bakit kelangan maputi ang mukha mo? Recent phenomenon lang ’yan. Pag meron kang inilalagay na chemicals, hindi ka puwedeng magpaaraw kasi magkaka-brown spots ka."

In her episode on Vilma Santos in Lipa, Batangas, Ali cracked jokes with Vilma. The pacing was fast, the talk elated, and the whole program was jumping with information and tsismis on Ate Vi as mayor, as actor, as mother and wife, as kikay.

Again, the loss of Ali’s son connects her to other mothers like Gina de Venecia, whose young daughter KC died in December 2004 when their house burned down due to over-heated Christmas lights.

In Buhay sa Dilim, Ali! starts with a clogged sink. Ali goes around the city in search of a plumber. She learns from Lolit Solis that some plumbers are actually prostitutes. Ali asks, "Don’t you wonder why there are so many numbers ng tubero na nakakabit sa mga puno? Ibang klaseng plumber pala ’yon, ibang tubo ang nililinis."

Ali obviously enjoys her talk show. Her interest in ordinary people, she surmises, probably stems from her being "tsismosa... I really hate people who judge others because of class. I go out of my way to find clothes that don’t have labels. I hate clothes with, like, malaking C o malaking G o malaking V o may buwaya. Actually minus 10 sa akin ’yong mga tao na brand-conscious o namimili ng tao na pakikitunguhan."

She wants to know the story of people. And the story of people she does get, because she’s a good listener, a keen observer, a quick thinker and a person easy to relate to.

Aloha Leilani Carag, a.k.a. Ali Sotto, was born on May 29, 1961, in Manila. Spanish and Chinese blood runs through her veins. Her mother was a professor in Food and Nutrition at the University of Santo Tomas. After teaching, she put up a restaurant. She would wake up at 5 a.m., go to market and supervise cooks and waiters.

The father, meanwhile, was with the US Navy until 1969, when Ali’s mom said enough, father, who was always abroad, should stay in Manila, because they had four kids already. Father came home and managed the restaurant.

As a teener, Ali had a fight with a schoolmate. "It was like me against the rest of the gang," recalls Ali, "I was very devastated. I’m a very sociable person, palabarkada. I remember my mother telling me to be strong. She said your friends can turn their back on you, but your family is there for you, no matter what. I found a sense of strength in that."

Being the third and only girl in a brood of four, Ali was a happy child, spoiled, and over-protected. She didn’t mind the over-protection. "I’m basically a good girl. I was an honor student. Siguro the worst I did was cut class and watch a movie. My parents were strict. Those were the days when pag umuwi ka nang madilim na, mapapalo ka na. E, 6:30 lang. Hindi ako nakatikim noon ng lumalabas, nagdi-disco kasama ang friends o ’yong sleep over. I think pinayagan lang ako sa bahay ng first cousin ko, at sa overnight camping ng girl scouts."

Ali was taking up Communication Arts at UST, when at 17, she auditioned as a newscaster on Channel 9. Ben Aniceto said, "‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you,’ and they never called."

Earlier on, at age five or six, Ali joined the little Miss Shellane beauty contest, and lost. Such disappointments kept her "grounded. They remind you you’re not the end-all and be-all sa mundo, hindi umiikot sa iyo ang mundo. That makes me sympathetic to an aspiring journalist, aspiring singer, aspiring anything."

At 15, on her fourth year in high school, she and her friends watched an inter-collegiate song competition. "While we were watching, sabi sa akin, wala raw representative ang UST sa vocal solo category. And they dared me. E, hindi naman ako umaatras sa ganoon. ’Yong ibang mga contestant, naka-gown, fully made-up. Umakyat ako sa stage, naka-rubber shoes, naka-maong, naka-yellow sweatshirt, may gitara. I sang Whispering Wave by Donna Summer. Tapos, umalis na kami, nag-aabang na kami ng jeep pabalik sa UST, hinahabol kami noong organizer. ‘Di ba kayo ’yong sa UST? Balik nga kayo.’ ‘Bakit?’ ‘You won first prize.’ George Canseco was the chair of the board of judges. He offered me a recording contract."

She told her parents she sang and was offered a recording contract. But her parents said "no," as she was running for honors. Canseco continued calling her up and asked her to sing commercial jingles instead. It was summer vacation, Ali was bored, and, without telling her parents, she went to Black Gold Records with her friends, and sang. She didn’t know that the men seated around her were Vic del Rosario and Tony Ocampo, the big bosses of the recording company.

She went home bringing with her a contract, and convinced her parents to sign it, promising them that she would not neglect her studies. Thus, while studying, she recorded songs as Aloha. "Uso noon ang isang pangalan – Dulce, Sampaguita." She graduated cum laude, and went on singing until she got married at 19 to recording executive Maru Sotto.

Where did she get her singing talent? "All of us sing. My brothers sing well. My mom sings. I can remember her, pag nagsisimba kami, ang lakas ng boses: Heart of Jesus..."

Ali also dreamed of becoming a nun, a detective, a flight attendant, a lawyer. Law excites her interest having been aroused by the crime and legal stories and detective novels she read. She enrolled at the Ateneo College of Law, and was consistently on the Dean’s list.

She quit after two years when her seven-year marriage to Maru broke up. The union was annulled, the separation, "amicable." Single mom Ali returned to showbiz, this time as Ali Sotto. Vic del Rosario offered her movie parts, mostly as the mistress, the antagonist who slaps, say, Sharon Cuneta on screen, the villainess who dies at the end of the movie, etc.

Soon, Ali joined the broadcast industry as Joe Taruc’s co-anchor in Damdaming Bayan on DZRH, as then Vice President Joseph Estrada’s co-host in the public service program Hotline sa Trese on IBC 13, and as Arnold Clavio’s co-host in Double A sa Double B on GMA 7’s DZBB.

In 1994, American-Tunisian diplomat Omar Bsaies, who works for the US Embassy was in the Philippines. Dick Le Roche, a family friend, introduced Omar to Ali. Ali and Omar hit it off and got hitched three years later. Omar was assigned in Washington, D.C., while Ali stayed in Manila, and kept her TV and radio jobs at GMA.

In 2000, Omar, a holder of two masters’ degrees, assumed a diplomatic job in Mexico City, and Ali joined him there, where they lived together as "real" husband and wife. Ali learned Spanish on-line for a year, a course offered by the University of Maryland, and got a straight A. She also attended Spanish classes at the embassy, used workbooks, and watched Mexican telenovelas. Ali also worked briefly with the US Embassy in Mexico.

Then, Omar assumed again a post in Manila. Ali packed up her fond memories of Mexico and flew home with Omar on Sept. 26, 2005. Once settled, her radio program on DZBB was given back to her.

On Dec. 29, 2004, however, the second of two children of Ali and Maru, Marcelino Antonio "Miko" Sotto III died from a fall from the ninth floor of a condominium in Mandaluyong City. Miko had acted in Click, a weekly youth program on GMA. His death at 21 plunged Ali in a grief that had no name.

Ali had to hold onto something. Her older son, Chino, who had planned to resume work in Los Angeles, USA, granted Ali’s request for him to reside in the Philippines. He is now coordinator of the Miko Sotto Memorial Fund, which was put up by the Eye Bank. Ali had donated Miko’s eyes to the Eye Bank so that even in death, Miko would still be of service.

Soon, mothers who felt her pain held Ali’s hand and Ali likewise reached out to others. She co-founded with Gina de Venecia the INA (Inang Naulila sa Anak) Foundation. The ground-breaking of the healing center of the INA Foundation recently took place.

"I’ve come to a certain peace," confides Ali. "I’m not expecting that my life will be like my life before he died. Once I accept that the pain will never go away, the character of the pain just changes. That’s what’s good about the group, nakaalalay lahat. We meet very often. Isang tawag mo lang, like, it’s a bad day for you, andiyan na ang support. There are triggers that make you remember. An architect is working on a center where anyone can walk in and get counseling. Before, a mother who lost a child was left on her own to recover. Ngayon, mayroon kang puwedeng takbuhan. Kasi iba ’yong alam ng nanay na ito ang pakiramdam ko."

Aside from the above-mentioned projects, Ali keeps herself busy taking up causes such as environmentalism, fighting sex trafficking, etc. Ali says: "I don’t know where my honesty comes from. But I remember when I was in high school. Di ba ’yong report cards may comments ng teacher sa likod? Miss Luna, my English teacher and adviser ng class namin, said that I was brutally frank to the point of being apathetic. I was 16. I always remember myself as being very up front. Ngayon, mas sympathetic and diplomatic na ako, mas tactful, although I still say it as it is."

Doesn’t she run into trouble? "Ah, ya, all the time. I think my reputation precedes me. Although minsan nakakahiya din ’yon na may hesitation ang tao na lumapit sa iyo kasi akala nila matapang ka. But you must demand what is due you, maging assertive ka, lalo na pag alam mong tama ka. Magpakatotoo ka."

Ali doesn’t plan ahead; offers come her way. But when she accepts projects, "I’m very punctual, professional, organized, structured and I deliver." She works and talks with the crew as a team member. At times she even forgets to eat as she makes sure first her co-workers have eaten. "Parang kulang yata ako sa diva attitude," she mockingly muses.

And that’s why luck is on her side, despite "so many women younger around with straighter hair, women who are thinner, compared to my Rubenesque figure."

During the interview in her dressing room at ABC 5, before Sentro went on air, Ali looked fine. "I work out a lot. I go to the gym three or four times a week for about an hour-and-a-half to two hours. Kaya lang, sila, the way they schedule my tapings now, nagrereklamo na ako kasi I now go to the gym only once or twice a week." Besides exercising, she enjoys her karaoke at home.

What other blessings help ease Ali’s sorrow? Her son Chino, and Omar’s sons in Texas, Ryyan, 25, and Cheyenne, 23, light up her days. Ali wants to have children by Omar, but she wonders if she’s being selfish, because she pities her children if by the time they grow up to be 20, Ali will be 64, and Omar, 74.

Bleak thoughts aside, though, Omar is there to warm her nights. "There should be the basic things like love, trust, and respect... Love is so mobile, there are times you want to kill him. Hindi naman ganoong ka-intense all the time. Your feelings, you know, go through phases. So, I think you always go back to the commitment. There are times when you’re not so in love with this guy. So, you should go back to the vow."

She basks in Omar’s attention, like when he calls her up "30 times a day," and she addresses him ecstatically as "Baby Love." Yes, life goes on for Ali.

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