Lipa City mayor Vilma Santos Recto turned 50 yesterday, but the years certainly do not show on her face and especially not on her still slim figure. And those 50 years certainly were not wasted because she excelled in everything she did – in both life and career. As an actress, she has the most number of acting awards – with eight Urian trophies (10 if you include the two times she was named Actress of the Decade along with Nora Aunor). As a TV host, she had the best variety show on television that ran for many years. As mayor of her beloved Lipa, her reputation is untarnished. As wife, her 11-year marriage with Sen. Ralph Recto, is sometimes part of the gossip mill, but which celebrity union isn’t? As a mother, she must be very proud of her son Luis’ recent achievements in the field of entertainment. But her biggest sacrifice as a mother – and for this she earned my undying respect – was when she risked her career to give birth to Ryan Christian. Vilma is truly an accomplished woman. Why, even her recording of “Sweet Sixteen” was certified gold! All those 50 years behind her have indeed been fruitful. However, I still can’t believe that Vilma has turned golden girl. Wasn’t it only yesterday when she was still doing those light musical comedy/dramas with Edgar Mortiz? I still have vivid memories of Vilma from way back and I would want to share them with you. My earliest memories of Vilma Santos must be in black and white. Back then, I knew there was a Vilma Santos playing teen-age daughter to Eddie Rodriguez and Lolita Rodriguez in those Virgo love triangles. She was said to have been launched by Sampaguita Pictures in “Trudis Liit” and supposedly did a lot of other projects as a child star in the early ‘60s, but I didn’t know that then. The more popular Vilma that time was singer-actress Vilma Valera.
On the contrary, she was very nice to me and even held me on my shoulder! That was the image I kept repeating in my mind before I slept that night. The next time I saw her again in person, I was already a true-blue journalist in the entertainment beat. This was at the Rizal Theatre when she won her second Urian for “Broken Marriage”. I was with Mario Dumaual who was one of my closest buddies then. Vilma was throwing a blowout at the Manila Pen and since Mario and I knew some of the Manunuri members, we decided to tag along (we were gatecrashers in other words). At that party, I also met Bibeth Orteza (she hosted the Urian) and found her to be very friendly and we talked like we were long-lost friends. At around 2 am, everyone decided to call it a night and Vilma positioned herself at the exit to say goodbye to everyone for coming to her party. She probably didn’t know half of the guests there and in her mind, she must have been saying, “Who the hell are you people?” But knowing how good-natured she is, our presence there must have been just okay with her.
In fact, she was still very warm and cheerful when it was my turn to shake her hand and congratulate her. Of course, she didn’t remember me anymore from the year before because that first meeting was a brief three minutes. But that evening of her blowout, I was aching to remind her that only a year before that, she actually touched my shoulder. Toward the last half of the ‘80s, I began writing a column for this paper. It was also around this period when Vilma’s variety show on Channel 7 started to get noticed. Since I genuienly liked her program (it will go down TV history as one of the best variety shows ever), I gave it a lot of positive reviews. Obviously, she read them because on the night she won for “Tagos ng Dugo” in the FAMAS, I approached her at her Manila Hotel table for another brief interview and she had this “Oh, so you’re the one!” look on her face. Vilma was accommodating as always and after her name was announced as Best Actress, I wanted to congratulate her, except that she was mobbed by the press photographers. At the corridor outside the Fiesta Pavilion, however she saw me while she was surrounded by her battalion of fans and called out my name. I went to her to finally congratulate her and she hugged me. No, she didn’t just touch my shoulder. She hugged me. Vilma Santos hugged me. At that moment, I knew that we were going to be friends – and we did. Very good friends, indeed. And I swear she can be such a thoughtful friend. For somebody who has the world at her feet, she’s never self-centered. her most endearing trait, in fact, is that she knows how to listen. And how to say thank you. When the first installment of this two-part series came out last Tuesday, hers was the first text message I got. She said thank you. Why, even her loyal Vilmanians are so thoughtful. The past few days, I’ve been getting text messages even from the US (one from Ben of LA and another one from Franco of San Francisco) thanking me for the write-up on Vilma. To all of you, you are most welcome. And to Mayor Vi, belated happy birthday! A lot of women I know are afraid to reach the half-century mark. But if you can be half (or even one-fourth or one-eight)as accomplished as Vilma Santos and still look as lovely as she is today, it probably would be great to be 50. - Butch Francisco, The Philippine Star, 04 Nov 2003