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Armida Siguion-Reyna: The singer, the song, her fight for artistic freedom, her love for Imelda & Kris |

Sunday Lifestyle

Armida Siguion-Reyna: The singer, the song, her fight for artistic freedom, her love for Imelda & Kris

WILL SOON FLOURISH - Wilson Lee Flores - The Philippine Star

A respected leader in Philippine arts and culture, the 84-year-old singer, stage and film actress, award-winning movie producer, TV host and former Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) chairperson Armida Ponce Enrile Siguion-Reyna recently granted the Philippine STAR an exclusive interview at her home in North Forbes, Makati City. She is famous as host and producer of the longest-running musical TV show, the multi-awarded Aawitan Kita, which showcased her love of Filipino songs from traditional kundimans, balitaws and danzas to contemporary pop ballads and love songs.

Armida’s aunt, pre-war pioneer female film director Carmen Concha, inspired her lifelong love of cinema. Armida fought against censorship. She produced excellent movies via her Reynafilms with son Carlitos and daughter-in-law writer Bibeth Orteza. She is also known as the half-sister of former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile. Her father was top lawyer Alfonso Ponce Enrile, and her grandfather’s cousin was revolutionary hero Dr. Mariano Ponce who was close to both Dr. Jose Rizal and also to China’s revolutionary hero Dr. Sun Yat Sen.

There are two narratives in her book Armida, which will be launched on Tuesday, Feb. 24 at Whitespace, (2314 Roces Ave. Ext., Makati City). First is the Unfinished Memoirs by Armida Siguion-Reyna. Second is her biography titled, Armida Siguion-Reyna: The Singer & the Song authored by Philippine STAR columnist Nelson A. Navarro.

This is Navarro’s 15th book project. Another yet-unpublished book is the biography of Vice President Jejomar Binay, titled Maverick: The Rise of Jejomar C. Binay. Navarro will also launch his novel, a fictional memoir titled, There Not There: The Filipino in Exile, in June this year in the US; the Philippine launch will be in August.

During the interview-pictorial, Armida was accompanied by her daughter, Town & Country magazine founding editor in chief Monique Villonco, and her two granddaughters Dara and singer-actress Cris. Dara was editorial coordinator and wrote an essay for the book, with Cris as spokesperson together with Carlitos and Bibeth.

Monique describes Armida as “physically healthy, but she keeps to herself these days, socializing mostly with family. But she still loves being a diva, so once in a while we indulge her (with hairstyling and makeup by Patrick Rosas, direction/styling by Monique Villonco), just because.”

Excerpts from the interview:

PHILIPPINE STAR: Why is your surname made up of two words — “Siguion-Reyna” — similar to “Vera Perez” of the Sampaguita Pictures family or to your maternal grandfather’s “Ponce Enrile”? In the Ponce Enrile book, it is said that during an election campaign of your grandfather there was a nuisance candidate with the same name “Alfonso Ponce,” so your grandfather added his mother’s surname to make his name “Alfonso Ponce y Enrile” or “Alfonso Ponce Enrile.”

MONIQUE VILLONCO: It’s due to the same story as our maternal grandfather, also due to the same election in the same year, with our grandfather Lamberto Siguion running for congressman in Pangasinan. There was a nuisance candidate with a similar name, so he added his mother’s surname “Reyna” to differentiate himself. Our maternal grandfather Alfonso Ponce was that year running in Cagayan and also adopted the surname Ponce Enrile.

How did your mother Armida meet your dad, Atty. Leonardo T. Siguion-Reyna?

MONIQUE: She met our dad at the airport, when she came home from schooling abroad. He was with our parents, he was then a young lawyer working for our maternal grandfather, Atty. Alfonso Ponce Enrile. He was also with another young lawyer in the firm, Atty. Oscar Ongsiako.

Maybe your grandfather wanted this young lawyer as a future son-in-law?

MONIQUE: No, he didn’t like him as a son-in-law, wala (nothing), we had no idea why, there were no details of their first meeting at the airport.

Armida is known as a strong woman, so your dad, the late lawyer, must have been a quiet husband?

DARA VILLONCO: Not necessarily, she was much louder, but my lolo was a strong person who just lets her shine. But our grandfather wasn’t weaker, because when my lolo puts his foot down, she listened. She consulted him for advice.

Apart from your dad, who were Armida’s unforgettable suitors?

Monique: Dr. Ramon “Ting” Ongsiako, who just died on Feb. 13. He was her suitor when she was in school, before she met our dad. He was her boyfriend for two years.

Why didn’t they end up together?

Dara: Because she found out that he cheated (laughs).

Monique: Not exactly “cheated,” because they were not yet married then. It was because Mom found out that there were others.

How does it feel that your mom and her half-brother Juan Ponce Enrile are both very famous?

Monique: I think they are both famous and infamous (laughs), and they say that they both have no fears of being called “infamous.”

Dara: And we’ve all learned to live with it.

Monique: Because she’s very brave and speaks her mind.



(Armida Siguion-Reyna suddenly breaks her silence, saying, “Like you,” while looking at granddaughter Dara and smiling.)

I heard from Armida’s biographer Nelson Navarro that her late dad, Atty. Alfonso Ponce Enrile, was a well-known playboy, and that her mom, the classical singer Purita Liwanag, was originally his girlfriend whom he only married after World War II when the Japanese military invaders allowed divorce, and that he divorced his original wife Rosario Martinez. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile was also his son from another girlfriend, the widow Petra Furagganan of Cagayan. How many kids in all did your late grandfather Alfonso Ponce Enrile sire?

Monique: Fourteen children were acknowledged, but rumor has it there were actually 43, I don’t really know.

Armida: Fourteen that I know of (laughs).

What do the siblings Armida and Juan Ponce Enrile call each other?

Monique: Tito Johnny calls her “Armida” and she calls him “Johnny.” Sometimes he calls her “my dear sister” with a strong Cagayan accent.

Dara: That’s when she’s being difficult (laughs).

Since your great-grandfather was a playboy with many kids, how about Armida’s elder brother Juan Ponce Enrile? How many children does he have?

Monique: Only two, Katrina and Jack.

Are you sure? Enrile, the brilliant lawyer and top politician, had no other kids?

Monique: No, we would have known.

Armida is a strong woman. What are her opinions about the co-ruler of the Philippines before, former First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos?

Armida (breaks her silence again and replies slowly): I have the highest regard for Mrs. Marcos and I understand Mrs. Marcos, her star quality. She wanted everyone to be a star. Mrs. Marcos understood the importance of looking like a star, that our people wanted a First Lady who looks like a star.

What about the late President Cory Aquino, another strong woman?

Armida: We were not close. We were in New York studying at the same time. She was at College of Mount Saint Vincent in New York City and I was studying at Academy of St. Joseph in Long Island, New York. Hindi naman kami nag-away and hindi naman kami friends, pero mahal ko si Kris Aquino (We didn’t quarrel and we were also not friends, but I love Kris Aquino).

Why do you love Kris, when you two are on opposite sides of the political fence?

Armida: Because Kris, she knows the importance of being a star.

Does Kris know this, that you love her despite your differences in politics?

Armida: Oo, kahit binabatikos si Kris, kinakampihan ko siya (Yes, even if they castigate Kris, I always side with her).


Armida (Smiles and replies slowly but firmly): Wala lang, basta gusto ko siya. No reason, basta… (Nothing, I just love her. There’s no reason, I just feel that way about her).

What about the other presidential daughter, Imee Marcos. What’s your opinion on her?

Armida: I like Imee Marcos, because she is very intelligent, progressive. We have the same ideas on censorship, on arts, especially on freedom for artists.

Cris, since you’re a singer like her, why do you feel your grandma Armida is outstanding as a singer and artist?

CRIS VILLONCO: I think what makes our grandmother unique is her discipline, her commitment and dedication to professionalism. No matter if some say she’s mataray (“grouchy” or “bitchy”), they really love her and those who’ve worked with her before, they always ask about her. She is also unique due to her generosity. She doesn’t want us to call her lola (grandma), but “mahal” (Tagalog word for “love”).

Armida, former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada is a playboy and your good friend. Did he court you before?

Armida: (Laughs) Sasapakin ko siya (I will punch him)!

What about your friend, the late Fernando Poe, Jr.? Did he court you?

Monique: Baka naman natakot sila (Maybe they were afraid of her)! (Laughs)

Armida, are you proud that your son Carlitos is a good filmmaker?

Armida: (quickly replies and smiles): Ah, oo (Ah, yes)! 

Who among our singers does Armida admire?

Monique: Lea Salonga is one of her favorites. When she made her debut in the musical Miss Saigon, our mom and our late dad were there to watch her.

Armida: I love Lea, she’s very brillo (very clear) when she sings. I admire Celeste Legaspi, she’s the only one with a perfect recording. Robert Natividad, Aurelio Estanislao, I was close to the musician Levi Celerio.

What about the singing of National Artist nominee Nora Aunor?

Oo, magaling siya talaga (Yes, she’s really good).

Cris: My grandmother likes a singer who tells a story when they sing, like Gary Granada, Bayang Barrios, and others. That also represents her. She admires not so much the technique, but more the storytelling and the diction.

Who are the actresses whom Armida admires?

Monique, Dara and Cris: Vilma Santos, Maricel Soriano, Dawn Zulueta.

What about stars of the earlier eras?

Armida: Mahal ko si Susan Roces (I love Susan Roces).


Mahal ko si Susan kasi mahal ko si Susan (I love Susan Roces, because… just because I love Susan).

Why is Armida liberal in her thinking about opposing censorship?

Dara: Our grandma felt that censorship is dumbing down the masses.

Monique: Ever since our mother headed and changed the MTRCB during the Erap Estrada presidency, we didn’t go back again to the past (in terms of censorship).

Armida has known many strong women like her in the Philippines like Imelda, Cory, actresses like Susan Roces and Vilma, even fellow movie producers Mother Lily and Marichu Vera-Perez Maceda. Who to her were the most unique?

Armida: My mother was the first strong woman I encountered in my life.

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