In the glitzy albeit competitive world of entertainment, to take a leave of absence is a big no-no. For if stars choose to lie low for whatever reason, there is no assurance that he or she will still have a career to return to.
After all, TV stations, talent scouts and even social media, can easily come up with “the next big thing” nowadays, especially in the Philippines where it seems everyone wants to be a celebrity.
Surprisingly though, the fear of being dispensable apparently happens to the likes of actress extraordinaire Judy Ann Santos who had carved her niche in entertainment since the tender age of eight.
Now 38 years old, the drama queen unabashedly confessed during a media conference for her comeback ABS-CBN game show “Bet on Your Baby” (BYOB) that she actually thought at one point she could never return to her career after the birth to her firstborn in 2011.
“That fear has always been with me, even when I first got pregnant with my son Lucho. I think it is a normal feeling and that’s its healthy to address it,” Santos openly related.
“So I’ve always been honest with my management [ABS-CBN]—I let them know when it’s a struggle for me to feel confident that I still have something to return to. ‘Cause you know, these young stars nowadays, they’re all really good,” the actress said emphatically.
With more than 60 movies and two-dozen TV shows to her name, Santos’ revelation may seem preposterous for her admirers and followers. After all, she is touted as her generation’s superstar and despite her fair share of highs and lows, she has proven time and time again that she has what it takes to stay put in the business where she has spent the last three decades of her life.
Santos’ stellar career began in 1986 when she auditioned on the spot for her would-be acting debut, the soap opera “Kaming Mga Ulila.”
With her natural—and amazing—talent to cry on cue, the young actress soon made her big screen debut via “Silang Mga Sisiw Sa Lansangan,” before eventually landing her first title role.
In “Ula, Ang Batang Gubat” then 10-year-old Santos played Tarzan’s young and female counterpart—the jungle’s daughter who returned to civilization only to feel rejected. Santos became a household name as Ula but her biggest break was still about to come.
In 1992, 14-year-old Santos landed the role of underdog Mara in the afternoon soap opera “Mara Clara” across her eternal screen nemesis Gladys Reyes. Holding on to the role for almost five years [Mara Clara still holds the record as the longest soap to air in Philippine history], the public simultaneously witnessed Santos grow from a promising child actress to a bankable young star. For in between crying buckets for Mara Clara, she further cinched supporting roles in a variety of movie genres, among them action flicks in “Manila Boy” (1993) and “Dog Tag: Katarungan Sa Aking Kamay” (1995); comedy for “Father en Son” (1995); and of course, her first box office starrer, the romantic drama “Sana Naman” with Wowie de Guzman. The said movie also paved the way for ABS-CBN, home to block timer Mara Clara, to notice the underrated talent.
As such Star Cinema, the network’s film production arm, produced “Mara Clara: The Movie,” which made Santos’ celebrity unstoppable.
On the small screen, Santos earned raves for her roles in remarkable teleseryes “Esperanza” (1996), “Basta’t Kasama Kita” (2003), “Sa Piling Mo” (2006) and Ysabella (2007), among others.
She conquered the silver screen too and became Box Office Queen with “Paano Ang Puso Ko?” (1997), “Esperanza: The Movie” (1999), “Isusumbong Kita Sa Tatay Ko” (1999) [recorded as the first Filipino film to reach the P100-million mark in ticket sales], “Bakit ‘Di Totohanin” (2001), and “Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo” (2006), to name a few.
With her sheer talent, Santos was able to make a name for herself outside the love teams she was given with De Guzman, Rico Yan and Piolo Pascual—a feat that most of her contemporaries struggled with.
Case in point: “Sabel” (2004), “Magkapatid” (2002) and “Ploning” (2008) were three movies sans her popular leading men, which earned Santos multiple Best Actress nominations and awards.
Considering her commercial and critical success, it was only a matter of time before she was baptized the “Young Superstar” and successor to Philippine show business’ reigning “Superstar” Nora Aunor.
“Looking back, I came to realize that I’ve had my fair share of hits and flops, and so I feel like I’ve reached my full potential. To be honest never had I imagined to stay this long in this industry,” Santos reflected.
It was the same reflection that led Santos to decide to prioritize her young family with husband Ryan Agoncillo.
The actress met her life partner on the set of ABS-CBN’s “Krystala” in 2004. Their courtship led to a four-year-relationship, and finally a beautiful wedding in 2009.
On hindsight, even before Santos became a wife, she had already committed to a family when she adopted then two-year-old Johanna “Yohanna Lois” as a solo parent.
In her 2015 interview on the now defunct talk show “Kris TV,” Santos confided in host Kris Aquino that she made the decision to become Yohan’s mother at that time because she truly wanted to have a child.
“I really wanted to have a child at 26, it was a prayer that I made every single day. It even got to a point that I became willing to undergo In Vitro or other artificial means just to have a child,” Santos shared.
“I was so strong willed that I felt I do not need a husband—I had no plans of marrying, I just wanted a child. And then Ryan came,” the actress continued.
And so, the Agoncillos started off with a complete family as soon as they were married, which grew bigger with arrival of their first biological child Juan “Lucho” Luis in 2010, and their youngest, Juana “Luna” Luisa in 2016.
Asked to rate herself as a mother to her growing brood, Santos modestly said she wished she could say she is perfect.
“But I’m just right. I feel that motherhood changes every year just as your children’s needs and personalities change annually as well,” Santos said.
With the arrival of Lucho and Luna, Santos became pickier with her showbiz projects, making sure she never bit more than she can chew because she wants to be present in the lives of all three children. Yohan is now 12 years old, and Lucho and Luna, seven and one, respectively.
“I’m enjoying motherhood so much that’s why I find it difficult to return to my job,” she said honestly.
True enough, since 2010, she has only starred in five films—“My House Husband: Ikaw Na!” “Mga Mumunting Lihim,” “Si Agimat, Si Enteng and Me,” “T’yanak” and “Kusina.”
She limited TV work all the more, only starring in one series, “Huwag Ka Lang Mawawala,” since giving birth to Lucho.
What keeps her in the public’s consciousness instead are her endless product endorsements, and her new career as host on reality programs “Master Chef Pinoy Edition,” “Junior Master Chef Pinoy Edition,” and “I Do,” and the game show BYOB, which aired its first episode for Season 3 on Saturday.
“It came to a point that I didn’t even want to miss a single day in my children’s lives because a lot can happen in that one day,” she reasoned, adding that she has no regrets as she saw every single one of her children’s milestones.
“We try as much to be present in every important occasion—be it intramurals, graduation, cooking demos—Rye and I will do everything just to be involved in their growing up years.”
Joy of motherhood
Santos is grateful to be able to spend as much time as she wants with her children as she gets to know them as best she can, especially since each one is developing their own unique personality.
In their recent trip to the US where the entire family flew to California to spend time in their newly acquired home, Santos and Agoncillo had no yaya or house help with them. As such, they took the opportunity to introduce the concept of independence to their children.
“Yohan now knows how to pack her own stuff. Lucho, meanwhile, learned what to prepare for a day’s activity—he had his own bag where he would put his extra shirt and his bottled water because he knew he would need them later.”
Santos also related how they got Lucho and Yohan to start their own journals, an effective routine to keep them away from their gadgets for at least part of the day.
Away from their tablets, we talk, we play and for their journals, we draw right then and there on the floor. That trip was pure simple joy and in that simplicity was the unexplainable contentment that no amount of money can ever buy.”
It was also during the same trip that Santos committed to get back in tiptop shape, not only to look good for her TV comeback, but to be able to keep up with her children’s boundless energy, most especially her playful one-year-old Luna.
The actress dished out her workout program, training for three to four times a week and committing to a low-carb, high protein diet.
And as she finally went back to work in front of the cameras, Santos said she fully knows what it meant for parents to come home to their family at the end of the day.
“It’s true when they say that no matter how tired you are from a day’s work, when you get home and your children, your spouse welcome you, you’re suddenly ‘reset’—your mood and your energy meter instantly gets recharged. I used to find that [saying]OA [over acting]and cheesy but it’s true,” Santos reiterated.
Going back to reflecting on her career—how she is satisfied with her legacy in he business, given her priority to see her children grow—Santos may well be ready to relinquish her crown as the “Queen of Teleseryes.”
As she said, she is aware of the endless source of talent among the day’s young stars, and only has this to say to them: “I wish they will treat this industry, which I have long loved and cherished, as professionally as possible, with humility, kindness and generosity.
“If you are generous [to give your talent and share your blessings]to this industry, and if you stay true to it, then showbiz will all the more be generous and loyal to you.”
In ending, Santos who finds it an honor to be able to inspire mothers celebrating this special day, acknowledged that despite her success in the business, she finds motherhood to be a most fulfilling career.
“No other profession can ever compare to motherhood. It’s a lifetime journey, work and commitment, and your children’s bright future is its most handsome remuneration.”