Snooky tells all (well, almost!)
In a no-holds-barred Conversation, Snooky Serna reveals how she deals with anxiety and panic attacks
Snooky tells all (well, almost!)
CONVERSATIONS - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - October 4, 2020 - 12:00am

“I am not ashamed to admit that I am bipolar. I guess some people already know it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

That kind of candidness set the tone of my phone conversation with Snooky Serna last Wednesday night barely five hours after she arrived home from a 17-day locked-in resumption shoot of the GMA soap Anak ni Waray, Anak ni Biday in which she plays the Waray mom of Barbie Forteza (with Dina Bonnevie as the Ilocana mom of Kate Valdez). All the time, the cast and the crew were booked in a protocol-restricted place in Cavite.

Wait, we’re getting ahead of the story.

ice Gov. Mon Villarama

“I’m really thankful to GMA for making me work again,” admitted Snooky. “During the past six months of the pandemic, I was having anxiety attacks; I was traumatized. I was just mostly at home. I very seldom went out. And if I did, it was just to check on my daughters (Sam, 29; and Sachi, 25, by ex-husband Ricardo Cepeda) who live in our condo unit with my Tita Eden just 10 minutes away from where I live. I was living in fear. Everybody is afraid of contracting the virus, right? Mas lalo pa ako because of my illness. So it was a relief when GMA called me to shoot the soap. No choice, di ba? Kailangan natin maghanap-buhay. Nakapag-trabaho uli sa awa ng Diyos. Work has distracted me from my fears. Before we reported to the set, we were made to make a swab test. I was negative, thank God! Those 17 days gave me a break from anxiety.”

On the set, there were stricter protocols.

Daughters Sam and Sachi: I feel like we are in a dystopian world. We’ve seen it in sci-fi movies, right? We never imagined that this would happen. The thing to do is hang on to God, put everything in His hands.

“And I’m thankful for that. GMA really saw to our safety. There was an OIC who would remind us when we got close to one another. ‘Oops! Social distancing!’ During the rehearsals, we wore face masks and face shields, and removed them only during the take. Tulong-tulong kami sa eksena. Direk Mark (Sicat dela Cruz) acted as a doctor while Sanni, my PA (Production Assistant) acted as a buyer of the jewelry I was selling. We were careful during the shoot of the fight scenes, kasi nga no touching-touching, no sampalan, no sabunutan. Sometimes, we couldn’t avoid it because the scenes involved physicality. During the emotional scenes, we went by our instincts.”

Everything felt like they were in a dystopian world, just like what we saw in movies.

“It feels like we were in a science-fiction movie...nakatakip ang mga mukha. We thought it happened only in movies. We never expected it to happen in reality, did we? As soon as we got to the set, they took our temperature and then every day to check if we had symptoms. We were asked to fill up a form for contact-tracing. Before leaving the set, we took a bath and, again, upon reaching home, took another bath. Para talagang nasa alternate universe ang pakiramdam ko. Very dystopian, sabi ko nga.”

At 53, playing mother roles is not new to Snooky.

Now (top): With Anak ni Waray, Anak ni Biday co-stars (from left) Jay Manalo, Celia Rodriguez, Teresa Loyzaga and Dina Bonnevie.

“Barbie is even a few years younger than my daughters. Sam and Sachi are both unmarried and have no boyfriends.”

Why, is she not allowing them to have boyfriends?

“No naman. Ayaw lang nila. They are career-oriented; talo ako sa pagka-ambisyosa. They are super-working girls, super-masipag. They are copywriters, content writers, working at home. Even before the pandemic, they would bring their work home.”

In the Lino Brocka classic family drama Wanted Perfect: Mother, her fi rst movie, with (from left) Caridad Sanchez, Arnold Gamboa, Gina Alajar and Ariosto Reyes Jr.

Snooky also plays a mother in Heaven’s Best Films’ In the Name of the Mother that has been shown in a few international film festivals, including Houston and Portugal last year. Directed by Joel Lamangan, the movie was supposed to be a Mother’s Day offering until the pandemic came.

“I love my role in that movie. I play the battered matriarch of a dysfunctional family, a single parent and doting mom to three children (played by Pancho Magno, Rita Daniela and Migs Cuaderno) who don’t see eye-to-eye with me. I am both mother and father to them, pero medyo chaotic ang kanyang relationship sa mga anak niya. I love that movie because I felt that I dedicated it to my own mom (the late Mila Ocampo).”

Your mom was your idol, right?

“I won’t really say she’s my idol because we have only one idol that’s God. I’d rather say my mom was my role model...whatever they say about her. If somebody says that I am my mother’s daughter, I will be very proud to hear that. My gosh, my mom was a Miss Philippine Press Photography (1959) and Miss Pepsi Cola. She even joined the Bb. Pilipinas pageant.”

But Snooky drew a line between her reel life (in the movie) and her real life even if, according to her, “everybody probably knows what happened to my marriage.”

Several years after she broke up with Ricardo, Snooky married a band member and that, too, hit the rocks. After two failed marriages, is she ready to “commit” to another one, now that she’s in a relationship with former Bulacan Vice Governor Mon Villarama?

“I think I have developed a phobia for marriage,” she confessed during an interview with The STAR last year. “Mon and I started as friends; we were friends for 28 years before we became sweethearts four years ago. Are we living-in? No. He lives in his own house and I live in my own house.”

Is she okay with Ricardo?

“Yeah, we are okay. I mean, we are not the best of friends, we are just civil with each other. Whatever you say, he’s still the father of my daughters.”

What about Marina (Benipayo, Ricardo’s current sweetheart who has her own children by her ex-husband)?

“Yeah, we are okay, too. She’s a wonderful stepmother to my children.”

Her children and those of Marina are very okay daw. They even dine out with Ricardo and Marina.

“Yeah, the children love one another to death. Para na nga silang magkakapatid talaga. My children love Marina so much. She’s a wonderful stepmother to them.”

Now back home locked down, Snooky has recharged herself (during the 17 days she was away) enough to deal with...knock on wood!...another anxiety attack.

“You know, during the first two days of the shoot, nanibago ako. The good thing was that I was in a happy company. I admit that before the lockdown, I was often at the mall, the UP Town Center which is near my home, pasyal-pasyal lang. Now I cannot do that. Limited ang exposure ko sa labas. Aside from visiting Sam and Sachi, sometimes nagdra-drive thru ako sa fastfood joints. I cannot do what others do. Malalakas ang loob. They go to groceries and supermarkets, kumakain sa labas. I used to do that pero natigil ‘yon during the pandemic.”

She’s taking her medications and is in touch with her psychiatrist.

“My illness is genetic daw. Nasa pamilya daw namin ‘yon. And besides, I was born after only six months and 20 days, not the regular nine months? I was born premature. According to the doctor, I lack serotonin in my body. Another contributing factor is the fact that I started working very early. I was barely three years old but they made it appear that I was older to avoid any labor issues.” (Note: Snooky was introduced by Lino Brocka in the 1970 hit family drama Wanted: Perfect Mother. She starred in many more films and was hailed as The Child Wonder, the female counterpart of Niño Muhlach who was also the kiddie sensation of that era. Experts said that growing up a star at such an early age, it usually takes time before she comes to terms, if she can, with the fact that she has outgrown her “throne.”)

In case of a panic attack, Snooky remembers what her psychiatrist has told her.

“Sabi niya, ‘Don’t dwell on the past, focus on the present, think of pleasant (happy) things.’ That’s what I should do daw when a panic attack is drawing me from reality. My brain daw cannot handle two things at the same time. And, yes, pray. It helps a lot. I hope that by telling my story, I can help other people with the same condition. As I was saying, I’m not ashamed or embarrassed to admit that I am bipolar. Even if only one person benefited from my story, I would be thankful. At least God must be using me to help other people.”

So how is she now?

“I won’t say that I am perfectly okay.”

On a scale of one to 10, how would she rate herself?

“Hmmmm, I would say ‘6.’ I’m beginning to heal, but not completely.”

(E-mail reactions at For more updates, photos and videos, visit or follow me on Instagram @therealrickylo.)

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