Vilma at 68: ‘I try to be the best version of myself’

Baby K. Jimenez - The Philippine Star
Vilma at 68: âI try to be the best version of myselfâ
Vilma Santos: ‘Wala na akong mahihingi pa. What I always pray for daily is for the Lord to continue guiding me every day in making good decisions for my family and the constituency I serve… One thing which I want to do someday is to direct a movie. Matagal ko na pinapangarap ‘to. I hope to be given a chance to fulfill this dream one of these days.’
STAR / File

She’s tested. Verified. Six decades of royal entertainment reign with an extended rapt audience to her political career. And of course, her rabid devotees want to know how the dearly-cherished Ate Vi celebrated her 68th birthday on Nov. 3.

To me, this query evokes a vivid scene from a few years after she did her first film then as a child actress (at nine), Trudis Liit. Was she 12 or 13 when I sat there watching her play?

“31, 32, 33…” she counted as she kicked an inflated paper balloon sipa-style and at the count of 34, her chewing gum burst big on her face and she stopped. “Ay! Dead na!” she picked the ball and sat across from me, happily smiling and saying sorry she made me wait for my (first) interview with her. Indeed, a picture of pure unadulterated mirth and innocence, how could I imagine her later as Burlesk Queen?

Now, she’s my Facebook friend reacting to my posts as I follow her, too, and at times we chat via messenger. She still addresses me as ‘Te Baby. On my lens, she’s so candid and transparent.

Vilma with sons Ryan Christian Recto (standing) and Luis Manzano (seated with wife Jessy Mendiola).
Vilma Santos-Recto’s official Instagram account

Let’s talk about favorites, I tell her.

“Sundays! I love Sundays! On a Sunday, my home is my favorite corner of the world! It means family and love. It is family day!!! Kwentuhan, kulitan and sharing mga stories tungkol sa nangyari that week! Family bonding! Yun ang kinalakihan ko at ganyan din kami sa immediate family ko!”

Your happiest times?

“I am happiest pag na-alala ko... yung fun and good times I had when Mama and Papa were still around, and my sisters Tess and Winnie were still living in Manila. You know very well that I belong to a very close-knit family so these moments, while always fondly remembered, are terribly missed. Yun ang kinalakihan ko at ganyan din kami sa immediate family ko.”

You cook?

“Pag Sunday, we usually order food… minsan Korean or Chinese… Basta yung ibang panglasa. Pag special day, birthday or holidays, ako ang Queen for a day sa kitchen… I usually make meal in one… baked pasta yan!!! Mama taught us how to make arroz a la cubana, favorite naming… lahat kami!!!”

When do you get depressed?

“I feel sad naman when a member of my family gets sick. I get over-the-top stressed. I hate hospitals.”

Your best memories?

“When the family is complete. When I became a mother. Motherhood completed me as a woman. When I was a child actress, I enjoyed playing on the set. Shoots were not work to me. Enjoy na enjoy ako kasi parang laro lang yung trabaho, pag-aarte sa akin.”

Your preference — acting or politics?

“It is hard to choose because both give me a sense of happiness and fulfillment. Utang na loob ko sa entertainment industry what I am today. Dito ako nagsimula at nakilala bilang isang Ate Vi. I was molded into the person and actress known as Vilma Santos not only by the people whom I met and worked with but also by the numerous trials and challenges which came my way. Sa larangan ng politika, priceless ang trust na binigay at kasalukuyan pa rin binibigay ng mga tao, mga fans at mga Vilmanians sa akin for my service for the past 23 years. Ang pagkatiwalaan ng tao ay nakakataba ng puso. It feels good to know that you have made a difference in people’s lives.

“I am most grateful for the gift of a supportive and loving family, a successful showbiz career which has spanned almost six decades, and a career in public service which has given me the opportunity to serve the people of Batangas. It is a tremendous blessing na mahalin ng tao, suportahan ka’t pagkatiwalaan. And for all of these, I am extremely thankful.”

You have practically everything in your life. Is there something else that you want to do or prove?

“Wala na akong mahihingi pa. What I always pray for daily is for the Lord to continue guiding me every day in making good decisions for my family and the constituency I serve. It gives me satisfaction when someone thinks of me and considers me in their thoughts. I hope that one day I will be able to give back to those who’ve helped me along the way.

“One thing which I want to do someday is to direct a movie. Matagal ko na pinapangarap ‘to. I hope to be given a chance to fulfill this dream one of these days.”

If you could relive your life, what would you do differently?

“Wala akong gustong baguhin. I do not want to dwell on regrets and what ifs. All the pain, obstacles, trials and challenges in my life have taught me to become the woman, wife, mother, actress and public servant that I am.

“I’ve had joyous, victorious moments, achievements and periods of tranquility, along with blunders, errors, setbacks. I have accepted all the cards that I was dealt. Hindi naman lahat black jack.”

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you wake up?

“To thank the Lord for a brand-new day and thank Him for his continued protection of my family, my loved ones and myself. Health is precious. And then I tell myself ‘Vilma, it is great to be alive.’”

And what are your thoughts before going to bed?

“That there is so much to thank the Lord. There are varied stressors that come and go in our daily lives. He’s there to steer our spirit to a happier and positive direction. I keep praying for the decline of COVID cases in our country — this life-threatening virus has taken away too many loved ones.”

What is your greatest fear?

“Being alone. Ayokong mag-isa. Getting sick. Or when a loved one gets ill.”

In more ways than one, are you always confident that you are above it all?

“I feel confident in any situation — when my conscience is clear and I know that I have nothing to hide. Basta alam mo na totoo ka at totoo sinasabi mo… no worry! Go lang!

“I never feel that I am ‘above it all.’ I always exert best efforts and strive for perfection because I owe it to the people to give them good service, and to my audience, to give them a good performance. I try to be a better version — if not the best — of myself.

“Wala namang tao… who could be ‘above it all’!!! No such thing as perfection. There will always be someone out there better than we are.”

Define Vilma.

“Vilma is a God-fearing, hardworking, driven, passionate, funny and makulit woman, whose life experiences have helped mold her into the strong person that she is now. Through the years, she has tried her best to cultivate an ‘Attitude of Gratitude’ dahil naniniwala siya na pag nagkaroon ng mindset of thankfulness and appreciation ang isang tao, nakakatulong ito sa pagpawi ng pakiramdan ng galit at negatibong pag-iisip. And what better way is there to reciprocate the kindness and trust people give you but to say these two words — THANK YOU — with utmost sincerity.”

Then she asks me on a personal level, “When will you come and visit? Sana now na.”

“Puede!” I gamely respond. “Teka… Ding, ang bato. DARNAAAAAAA!!!”

I hear Ate Vi’s ringing laughter.


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