Lucho, almost nine years old, is asking his mother for a baby brother. Yohan, just turned 14, wants a baby girl.
“Paano ba ito? Twins?” a perplexed Judy Ann Santos-Agoncillo related during a phone interview with the Philippines Graphic.
It is late afternoon and the actress, once dubbed as the “Queen of Pinoy Soap Operas,” shared the conversation she had with her two children who were badgering their mother for a new baby. Luna, her youngest, was silent on the matter.
Motherhood suited Santos-Agoncillo. Her voice assumed a relaxed, calm, and accommodating tone whenever talk included her children and her husband. It is a voice that hid her tiredness well.
This interview had been set and reset—shifting from face-to-face to a 30-minute phone interview which, according to her manager, stemmed from the busy schedule that Santos-Agoncillo kept.
Born Judy Anne Lumagui Santos on May 11, 1978, the once eight-year-old cherub that first conquered the hearts of televiewers in 1986 is now a 40-year-old mother of three.
The passing of the years, however, has not made the public forget her face—a face that remains unlined, youthful and beautiful. It still registers well in crying scenes, the tears welling up and falling freely, without need for Vicks vapor rub.
When Santos-Agoncillo first graced the TV screen in the teleserye, “Kaming mga ulila,” viewers had no knowledge that the angel-faced tyke had come from a broken home.
Her parents separated when Santos-Agoncillo was three. She, her brother Jeffrey and older sister Jacqueline lived with their mother Carolina Lumagui. To make ends meet, their mother had to leave their home to work as a caregiver in Toronto, Canada, when Santos-Agoncillo was six years old.
At age 10, Santos-Agoncillo debuted in film, through the tearjerker, “Silang Mga Sisiw sa Lansangan.” That same year, she landed and starred in her first television series, “Ula, ang Batang Gubat.”
Santos-Agoncillo got her biggest break at age 14, with the career-defining, commercially-successful TV series “Mara Clara” (1992-1997).
The next two decades saw Santos-Agoncillo reaping career successes in both television and the movies. She is one of the few actresses in local show business who has deftly traversed the difficult transition from child star to teenage idol to adult performer, without losing her audience.
Santos-Agoncillo headlined in TV dramas like “Gimik” (1996), “Esperanza” (1997), “Judy Ann Drama Special” (1999), “Sa Puso ko, Iingatan Ka” (2001), “Basta’t Kasama Kita” (2003), “Krystala” (2004), “Ysabella” (2007), “George and Cecil” (2009), “Habang may Buhay” (2010), “Huwag ka lang mawawala” (2013), among others.
Among her notable hit films are “Mara Clara: the Movie” (1996), “Muling Ibalik Ang Tamis Ng Pag-ibig” (1998), “Kasal-kasalan, Sakalan” (1998), “Kay Tagal kitang hinintay “ (1998), “Esperanza: the movie (1999), “Paano Ang Puso Ko? (1999), “Isusumbong kita sa Tatay ko” (1999), “Kahit isang Saglit” (2000), “Mano Po 2: My Home” (2003), “Sabel” (2004), “Aishite Imasu 1941: Mahal Kita” (2004), “Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo” (2006), “Ploning” (2008), “Mag-ingat ka sa Kulam” (2008), “Mga Mumunting Lihim” (2012), and “Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes” (2018).
She has tried her hand and became relatively successful as a recording artist. Santos-Agoncillo also has her own online cooking show.
For her success, Santos-Agoncillo earned the sobriquets “Soap Opera Princess” and “Teenage Queen of Philippine Movies.” She has been listed in the “Most Admired Female TV Personalities” (2006), “7 Celebrity Icons” (2007), “15 Cinema One Legends” (2009), “200 Most Beautiful Stars” (2007).
This year, Santos-Agoncillo is set to do a film with director Eric Matti. She is now deep in production for her comeback teleserye, “Starla,” under ABS-CBN.
Even as a child actress, Santos-Agoncillo already saw her showbiz career as a chance to help her family.
“All our lives, nagre-renta kami ng bahay [we rented houses],” she said, adding that she made it her goal to have a house of their own by the time she was 19 or 20 years old. “I really wanted a house already. I never believed in renting.”
Santos-Agoncillo bought her first house, which she gave to her mother, in 2000. She also asked her mother to quit her job in Canada so she can stay in the Philippines with them. “I wanted to make sure that my mother and my siblings were provided for. Kasi, nakatatak sa akin hanggang ngayon na itong trabaho ko, hindi ko alam kung hanggang saan ako mamahalin ng mga tao, kasi hindi mo naman masasabi ang buhay ng isang artista. Lalo na ngayon na ang lawak ng social media. Hindi mo masabi kung ano yung darating sa iyo [It is ingrained in me that in this job of mine, you never know how long the public will like you. You can’t predict the life of an actress, especially now that there is far-reaching social media. You can’t really tell what will come your way].”
Santos-Agoncillo said she is always prepared. “I have to invest for the future. I’m happy and proud to say that being an actress is not all glamor. It’s a hard job but it’s up to you how you manage it. I’m just really fortunate that I was able to work with the best people. I was with my family. I was guided by the right people and I learned early the person I wanted to be and the person I didn’t want to be. At a young age, it was very clear to me what path I was going to take. I’m proud to say that I invest in relationships and I am very professional in my work. Wala akong tinapakan, wala akong binalewala [I stepped on no one, I ignored no one].”
ABSOLUTE HONESTY & RESPECT
Like most women, Santos-Agoncillo dreamed of having a child of her own. Unlike most women, she didn’t see being married as a pre-requisite to having one. Still single at 26, Santos went ahead and adopted a two-year-old child named Johanna Lois.
Nicknamed Yohan, the child stood as flower girl at the wedding of Santos-Agoncillo and screen heartthrob Ryan Agoncillo on April 28, 2009.
The couple got married at the San Juan de Nepomuceno Church in San Juan, Batangas after being sweethearts for five years. Agoncillo later adopted Yohan as his daughter.
Four years later, Santos-Agoncillo gave birth to son Juan Luis or Lucho on Oct. 7, 2010. Her youngest Juana Luisa, nicknamed Luna, was born two years ago, on Jan. 8, 2016.
Santos-Agoncillo emphasized that she puts a premium on her marriage and her relationship with husband Ryan Agoncillo.
She regards honesty, respect, and love as the three most important lessons in married life. “I guess yung love hindi siya dapat mawala in a marriage.
Santos-Agoncillo admitted she loves the feeling of being a mother and a wife; of being grounded in these two roles. “The best feeling is the realization every night that I never thought I would be able to love this way, yung kaya ko palang magbigay ng ganitong klaseng pagmamahal. Kaya ko palang mag-alaga ng ganito. Hindi pala ako napapagod pag sila yung kasama ko [That I am capable of giving this kind of love; that I can take care of them like this, and that I don’t get tired when I am with them].”
She is the first to say that married life and motherhood is not all roses and rainbows. “It’s a learning process. We learned together, Ryan and I, together with our children. It’s a continuous process, but the best part is the feeling of empowerment in being a mother that was given to you, by God. Mothers are wont to say that once you become a mom, you can do everything for your family. Now I know that this is true. Out of the blue, they (kids and husband) make you laugh and smile. My family keeps me going, even at my lowest point. It’s like being a mother and a wife complete my being a woman.”
The child actress who grew up and became a superstar, wife, and mother before the eyes of an adoring public was quick to say that if made to choose, she would pick family over success in show business.
“I’ve been in this business for 32 years. I’ve given a part of my life already to the business that I love. I think, if a time comes when I’d have to choose, I’d absolutely, gladly choose my family over show business, because I deserve them and they deserve me,” she said. (With reports from Charmine Rose Arquibel)
“Only Absolute has all the certifications and tests. Absolute has that and as a mother, you would want to give the absolute best to your children and the other members of your family.
You don’t want that extra worry kung iisipin mo pa na malinis ba ang tubig na binibigay ko sa mga anak ko? Malinis ba ang kinakain ng mga anak ko? [of thinking if the water and the food eaten by your kids are clean].
Water is a big part of our lives. We all cannot live without water. Hindi ako magbibigay ng tubig sa mga anak ko, sa pamilya ko ng hindi ako siguradong malinis [I will not give water to my children and to my family if I am not sure that it’s clean]. I have to trust the water I give.
When Absolute actually asked us to endorse their product, I did not think twice. We have been using Absolute distilled water for the longest time. It’s only now that this is being announced because we are endorsing Absolute. But even before the endorsement came, I and my family have been Absolute supporters.” (Charmine Rose Arquibel)