52 years of making beautiful memories together

CONVERSATIONS - Ricky Lo - The Philippine Star
52 years of making beautiful memories together
Tito and Helen on Sept. 22, 2019, during their 50th wedding renewal of vows with their children (from left) Lala, Apples, Ciara and Quezon City Vice Mayor Gian
Sotto Family’s album

You and I have traveled far together

We pursued our little star together

We are happy as we are together

We may never get to heaven

But it’s heaven at least to try

The tense of the first two lines of the Petula Clark song was deliberately changed to describe the long and winding road that Senate President Tito Sotto and Helen Gamboa have been traveling together through 52 years and, according to another song, collecting precious memories, selecting souvenirs and living life the way they please, ushering into the world four beautiful children (Apples, Lala, Ciara and Gian, now Quezon City Vice Mayor) who have given them 10 beautiful grandchildren.

The union has been made more meaningful by their love for music ... and food (more on that by and by)... and every special occasion (his or her birthday) and especially their wedding anniversary reverberate with love songs like their 50th on Sept. 22, 2019, when Tito, in an intimate reception at Solaire, sang “...our love affair may it always be, a flame to burn through eternity” to his blushing bride (yes, up to now, Helen’s face turns pretty pink at the sound of her groom’s singing voice). Earlier that morning, they renewed their vows at the same church in Sto. Tomas, Batangas, where they first got married.

They were in their 20s back then. Tito was a member of a band called Tilt Down Men and Helen was the Dancing Queen of Philippine Cinema, singing and swaying this way and that in a pair of knee-high boots and wearing large round earrings that produced delicious sounds like distant little bells. Naturally, the elopement didn’t sit well with Helen’s strict mom, and neither did the hasty wedding, because it would ruin Helen’s career which was at its peak. The couple’s friends in the movie press could only as much as hint at it, saying that the Dancing Queen indeed had her (Hidden) King who went by the initials E.S., meaning Engineering Student when, in fact, it was for Ernesto Sotto.


Helen loves to recall that elopement with a laugh — and I bet you would when you hear (again?) about it.

Can we have the pleasure of hearing it one more time?

“Sure,” said Helen in this Conversation.

So how did it happen?

“It happened at around 2 a.m. My family was living in White Plains, Quezon City. I waited for my mom and my dad to go to sleep. They were in their room upstairs and I was in the sala pacing back and forth. I was restless...and nervous. I would quietly go up and down the stairs and I kept praying, ‘Lord, if we are not meant for each other, please give me a sign.’ There was no sign. Hindi nagising ang mama at papa ko. Aba, nakalabas ako ng sliding door ng walang ingay. We had four dogs and not one barked. So we were really meant for each other. It was really meant to be. All the while, Tito was waiting outside. Sa pag-mamadali ko, I climbed the fence at sumabit ang dress ko. I almost fell! Luckily, Tito caught me.”

Did you hide in a hotel or something?

“We went to Sto. Tomas in Batangas. We were of age na and no need for parental consent. We had all the required documents like a marriage contract, etc. But there was a hitch. The judge who was supposed to marry us was abroad. Fortunately, Tito had a kumpare who knew the parish priest who married us.”

And you began living happily ever after?

“Not yet. That same morning, Tito returned me to my mom who was waiting for me crying at galit na galit. She gave us one condition. I would live at our home and Tito at his home but he could visit me M-W-F. So he started courting me again, visiting me at our home. He would even watch over me on the set during my shoot, at andoon din ang mama ko. So I had two guards.”

You mean that after the Sto. Tomas wedding, there was no honeymoon?

“None!” (Laughter!) “Walang nangyari, hahaha!!!”

The couple with their young children (counter clockwise, from left) Lala, Gian, Ciara and Apples.

How did the courtship go?

“It was talagang kasal muna bago ligaw. Tito would send me letters, flowers, chocolates and records (plaka). It was only after two years that my mom gave us permission to live together, but only after we got married again.”

By the way, what happened to that dress you were wearing during the elopement?

“It’s still okay. Ciara wore it during our golden wedding in Sto. Tomas.”

Have things changed in the past 52 years?

“Not much. Even our position in bed hasn’t changed. I sleep on the right side and Tito sleeps on the left side. He snores and he said he felt better and more comfortable on that side. Before sleeping, he usually watches TV or Netflix. Or we talk. Sometimes, I would sleep ahead. When he comes home from work, he would walk very quietly para hindi ako magising.”

A good cook, Helen still believes that the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. ‘Tito loves several dishes,’ says Helen. ‘Sinigang sa kimchi, tenderloin steak, paella, kare-kare.

So everything has stayed the same?

“Medyo may pagbabago when he entered politics, first as vice mayor of Quezon City and then as senator. After staying in White Plains for many years, we moved to Alabang last year. Medyo nabawasan ang time niya at home pero hindi masyado. But he sees to it that he takes dinner with us at home. When he is too busy at work, he would call to say that he couldn’t join us.”

You and Tito love to sing. Enamored is Tito with your singing that, years ago, he even launched a “new” singer named Bunny Chanel who became an instant hit with covers (You Needed Me, I Will Survive, etc.). Bunny Chanel was marketed as a “mystery” singer until it was revealed that she was actually Helen Gamboa.

“So funny that people hardly noticed even if my singing style and that of Bunny Chanel were the same. Medyo halatang-halata, hehehe!!!”

Do you sing together?

“All the time, especially during family affairs.”

Do you sing together in the bathroom like most couples who are singers?

“That was before, matagal na, when we were younger and we showered together. Ngayon, sa edad namin hindi na bagay.”

Do you ever fight like any other couple?

“Very seldom. When we fought, noon ‘yon, I would go to my daughters’ room and sleep there. Pero sinusundo ako ni Tito at binubuhat ako pabalik sa room namin. Ayaw niyang hindi kami magkatabi matulog maski one night lang. He’s like that.”

Wow, how sweet! And how would you make up?

“If he’s at fault, he apologizes; if I am, I also say sorry. Most of the time, siya ang nag-aamo sa akin. The thing is, couples shouldn’t go to sleep without resolving the issue. It’s not healthy. Pag galit siya, quiet ako, and vice-versa. Huwag pairalin ang pride.”

Heard that besides singing, love for food is also one thing you and Tito share. (Helen is Kapampangan and therefore noted for her culinary expertise.)

“I serve Tito breakfast, lunch and dinner, not only as a gesture of making up after a fight. I learned that from my mom who was a Kapampangan. I still believe that the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”

What is Tito’s favorite food?

“Sinigang sa kimchi, tenderloin steak, paella, kare-kare...he likes so many dishes and I cook them for him.” (Helen’s show From Helen’s Kitchen is back for its third season on Cignal TV’s Colours channel.)

Is it true that Tito is fond of giving you, ehem, sexy gifts?

“He always gives me negligee as pasalubong when he returns from abroad. Ang dami na! Pinasusukat niya sa akin during bedtime, hahaha!!! Siya nga pala, I still prepare Tito’s things before he goes to the Senate...his socks, his ties, his shirt, his pants, everything! I am his stylist. And he never leaves home without his Rosary.”

How often does he kiss you?

“Always. Before he leaves for work, when he comes home from work, always ‘yan. Sometimes, nahihiya na nga ako, eh.”

And how often does he say “I love you” to you?

“Countless times, hindi ko na mabilang. From the Senate, he would call just to say ‘I love you!’ He does it no matter how busy he is.”

Is Tito faithful?

“Very faithful!”

You and I are going on together

‘Til the time we have is gone together

Watch the evening drawing on together

Making memories that light the sky

That only time can make

That only love can make

That only we can make

You and I

(E-mail reactions at rickylophilstar@gmail.com. For more updates, photos and videos, visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on Instagram @therealrickylo.)

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