The sensational Vilma Santos

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"D' Sensations

D' Sensations
This is where the action is
So c'mon and join the fun"

This was the song that kept ringing in my ears as I watched Governor Vilma Santos enter the function room of Annabel's last Friday. As every dedicated Vilmanian like my friend Rey Manalo and anyone who was around in the 1970s know, this was Vi's theme song on her variety show "D' Sensations" aired on ABS-CBN. That was a turbulent decade for the country and for Vilma, who was just in her teens when she did the show.

The Liberal Party's miting de avance was bombed on Aug. 21, 1971 resulting in serious injuries to prominent political figures like senators Jovito Salonga and Gerry Roxas. Two days later, President Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus, blaming the communist rebels for the incident. Then, on Sept. 21, 1972, he declared martial law resulting in, among other things, the shutdown of the Lopez-owned ABS-CBN.

Vilma's TV show was affected by the closure but movie offers continued to pour in. She made more than a hundred movies in that decade. At one point, she was shooting as many as three movies a month.

In 1977, she jolted the entertainment world when she deviated from her sweet roles to portray a stripper in "Burlesk Queen." One scene called for her to do a striptease before a live audience. In a previous interview, Vilma told me how the shooting went: "First three days, pack up. Nandoon na ako sa gilid ng stage, in complete costume but I couldn't do it. They understood naman how I felt so okay lang. On the fourth day, nagsulat na si Celso Kid (director Celso Ad. Castillo). On the seventh day, he explained to me, "Isang beses mo lang gagawin yan sa harap ng audience. Apat ang camera ko. After the dance, tapos na." "Iyon nga ang mahirap, may manonood sa akin!" sabi ko sa kanya.

"So uminom muna ako para lumakas ang loob. Tapos dasal. Tapos inom ulit. Finally, tanggal na ang robe. Bago ako pumasok, napamura ko, "P….. I..!!!" sabay sayaw. Hindi ko na alam kung anong ginawa ko. Nagpunta pa ata ako sa audience. Isang matinding take."

That dance lasted seven minutes on the screen, probably the longest striptease in Philippine movies. The scene also called for her to bleed at the end of her number.
Vilma thought that because of her many movies, she would be financially secure only to find out in 1979 that she owed millions of pesos to the banks and the Bureau of Internal Revenue. She had been too trusting with her earnings.

Her luck changed with the birth of Luis, her son by actor Edu Manzano, in the early 80s. That's why she called him "Lucky." She was doing movies left and right but most of her earnings went to pay off her debts. Eventually, she finished paying all her obligations and became much wiser with her financial transactions.

It was in 1986 when she regained her popularity as a TV star. Since she was known as a drama actress, it was only logical that the TV show would spotlight her musical talent.

At that time, there was an intense rivalry between her and Nora Aunor, who was also a multi-awarded actress. "Superstar" on RPN 9 highlighted Nora's prowess as a singer. (In fact, the rivalry was one reason she accepted the daring role in "Burlesk Queen." It was a role that Nora would never have accepted.) The Superstar had previously won as Grand National Champion of the popular singing contest "Tawag ng Tanghalan."

Vilma could not compete with Nora's singing so she concentrated on perfecting her skills as a dancer. Her opening production number on her weekly show on GMA-7's "Vilma" was something to look forward to. She showed the audience that she was not only an excellent actress but a terrific dancer as well.

That show lasted for nine years, 1986 to 1995, and attracted a wide viewership. When the show finally ended, the Metropolitan Theater, where she did her show, would stay idle until today. There have been plans to renovate the historic venue but nothing has materialized..

Since then, Vilma has become an icon in the movie and TV industry and when she ran out of challenges, with her many box office hits and awards, she decided to enter the political arena. She served three terms as mayor of Lipa City in Batangas. Then, in 2007, she challenged the incumbent governor and emerged victorious. She won a second term last May. So last Friday at Annabel's, the governor made the rounds of the tables, just like a politician, thanking members of media for their support. When she came to our table, I marvelled at how young the 57-year-old actress looked for her age..

When she went up the rostrum, she was asked if she had any plans of doing more movies. She replied that she first wanted to attend to the many concerns of her constituency before she accepted any offers, of which there are plenty. I look forward to that day.
Disclaimer: This is an expert opinion blog that expresses the views and observations of the author and not the position of Yahoo! Southeast Asia on the issue or topic being discussed.

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