“Ate!” Angelica Panganiban makes her presence known, sauntering into the studio in a red oversized hoodie and a pair of black leggings. Her arms are outstretched, ready to envelop Judy Ann Santos in a bear hug, who is now perched on her makeup chair.
“Ang taas ng energy level, baby girl!” Judy Ann exclaims, and the two soon catapult into rapid-fire conversation, replete with inside jokes and life updates, chatter that was nothing out of the ordinary for two close friends, famous or not. The pair couldn’t have fooled anyone in the room, though—at that very moment, the studio contained two of the biggest actresses of their generation, enough star power combined to blind anyone within a 30-foot radius—add to that the fact that they were both decked out in Carolina Herrera.
Their friendship aside, Judy Ann and Angelica share a lot of things in common. Both actresses first rose to fame as child stars: Juday, as she’s fondly called, has clocked in over 30 years in show business, having started when she was eight years old, while Angelica has become a household name through kid-friendly classics such as Ang TV and Sarah, Ang Munting Prinsesa. Both of them have earned a string of widely phenomenal films and television shows under their belt early in life; Juday was dubbed the soap opera princess—the OG teen queen, if you will—through shows such as Mara Clara and Esperanza, while Angelica established her mettle as a versatile actress, bursting into tears on teleseryes while delivering riotous performances in the comedy show Banana Split, which she’s headlined for almost a decade now. The pair has also managed to reinvent themselves over the years, with Juday crossing over to the independent scene in films such as Ploning and Kusina, while Angel received critical and commercial raves for her performance in That Thing Called Tadhana alongside JM De Guzman. Most recently, Juday and Angel top-billed Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes, a romantic comedy directed by Die Beautiful’s Jun Robles Lana, where they play two wives who discover that their husbands are having an affair with each other.
Both beautiful, hardworking, and successful in their own right, Judy Ann and Angelica have already earned their pedestals in the ever-volatile and capricious world of show business. And for them to have lasted as long as they have in this industry requires serious talent, solid work ethic, and an uncompromising authenticity that’s hard to come by in the throngs of celebrities who come and go.
Judy Ann: From Superstar to Supermom
For her part, Judy Ann Santos may be one of the local industry’s most iconic names, forever engraved in the glitzy and hallowed halls of show biz. With unforgettable TV shows such as Esperanza and Basta’t Kasama Kita, she became a celebrity legend well before the time of social media and the internet. The actress grew up in the traditional mores of showbiz, and her astounding success did not come without its sacrifices: the heights that Juday reached came with having to work nonstop from her childhood years until she was an adult, along with accepting the fact that she’s obliged to share her personal life with the public.
“Noong single pa lang ako, I would work 24/7, as in walang birthday, Pasko dalawang araw lang. Kapag Holy Week, Black Friday lang walang trabaho,” Juday shares, adding that shooting six films in a year on top of taping teleseryes was nothing out of the ordinary for her. However, that all changed when she married her husband, actor and host Ryan Agoncillo, in 2009. The career that once traversed in full throttle had decelerated, with the actress herself stepping on the brakes, even if only momentarily.
“I really said to myself, when I get married, I’ll give it my all, to my family, to myself, because I’ve been working so hard since I was eight. I deserve to spend time with my family and be private about it,” the actress declares. “Because my life is very public, wala naman akong tinago, and I really appreciate that people actually respect it…It’s just that this time, I want this selfishness as a mom, as a wife. Bata pa lang ako sabi ko na, [kapag] ako nagkapamilya, akin ‘to.”
Work had once been the center of her life when she was young and single, but now Juday is dedicated to making her family her utmost priority, career second. As a wife and a mother, she makes the conscious effort to be selective of her projects—the movie has to be good enough, she says, to cut her time from her kids and husband. Long hours were once an old friend, just a day in the life of an in-demand actress, but nowadays, it drives her up the wall. “I’d still make teleseryes, pero hindi na ‘yung lagari. I would choose my projects—let’s say, two days straight is okay, [but] 3 days straight is very questionable. Pag-uusapan natin ‘yan,” she asserts. “Pero kung talagang walang choice, okay go, but after [those] three days, I have to have my three straight free days for myself, for my kids, and for my husband. There’s a very conscious effort to fix my schedule—ang baba na ng pasensya ko, ang init na ng ulo ko. I don’t know if it’s [because of] hormones, or age, or I’m so in love with my family that I get sad when I don’t see them every day.”
What does it mean for Judy Ann to love herself? It means being with her family as much as possible, the people that matter to her the most. “80 percent of my time is for myself and my family, the other 20 percent is for other stuff, kasama na diyan ‘yung work, business, everything else in between. I don’t want to wake up one day and regret so many things na biglang malaki na yung mga anak ko, ‘di ko na napansin.” And for an accomplished actress who’s already given so much of her life to building a name for herself, it’s just what she’s due.
Angelica: That Thing Called Independence
What you see is what you get with Angelica Panganiban. There’s just something so raw and honest about the 31-year-old actress, who moves so comfortably in her own skin without a hint of arrogance that one might expect from celebrities of her stature. “Yung pinaka-importanteng natutunan ko sa industriyang ito is ‘yung pagiging humble, ‘yung pag-respeto mo sa katrabaho mo. Siguro mas malaki ‘yung understanding na hindi lang ikaw yung napapagod,” the actress shares.
That said, Angelica may strike the public as someone who doesn’t let herself be bossed around by other people, but she could more aptly be described as someone who simply knows herself inside and out. It’s a far cry from the formerly shy and soft-spoken teen star she used to be, starring in youth-oriented shows such as G-Mik and Berks. But like the teenybopper roles she’s grown out of, Angel has matured into a person who’s learned to stand up for herself and put her own welfare first.
“Tapos na ako doon sa, ‘Ay gusto niya ‘to eh, gagawin ko ‘to.’ Mas inuuna ko na yung sarili ko,” the actress says matter-of-factly. “‘Yung tanong [ko] na, ‘okay ba ‘to sa ‘yo? Kaya mo ba ‘to? Ito ba ‘yung gusto mong gawin? Ikasasaya mo ba to? May matututunan ka ba dito?’”
It’s the same when it comes to looking for a partner, says Angelica, noting that she wants to maintain the same sense of independence and value her own needs while in a relationship. “Eto ‘yung gusto ko ma-maintain forever. Siguro kahit magkaroon ako ng partner. ’Yung ‘Aaalis ako ah! Travel ako.’ ‘Bakit, hindi ako kasama?’ ‘Hindi. Ako lang.’ Gusto ko ‘yung kaya ko, kaya kong mag-isa, and sana makahanap ako ng taong mamahalin ako na ganun ako ka-independent,” she opens up. “Kasi parang hindi na pala ganun ‘yung love. Hindi na siya ‘yung magpapa-cute lang kayong dalawa, tapos magho-holding hands kayo. I’m sure nandun ‘yun, pero iba ‘yung dating ng, ‘Ay ako, eto ‘yung gusto ko ah. So kung eto rin ‘yung trip mo, sige tara. Pero hindi ako mag-a-adjust.’”
Perhaps what’s most admirable about Angelica is how she’s able to remain true to herself, even to the point of allowing herself to be vulnerable and open about her pains and struggles. To address the elephant in the room (a.k.a. her previous relationship with actor John Lloyd Cruz), the actress is transparent about the process of moving on while in the public eye—which couldn’t have been easy, as one might imagine.
“Mahirap nung una, dumali na lang nung tapos na. Kasi kaya mo na siyang pagtawanan, kaya mo nang i-joke. Tapos ka nang magalit, tapos ka nang mag self-pity,” Angelica explains. “Dati, kahit sa trabaho makikita mo lang friends mo, gusto mo nang umiyak sa kanila. Nagsasabay ‘yung pag-move on mo tsaka ‘yung trabaho mo, kasi feeling mo pag nagtrabaho ka at [ginawa mong busy] ‘yung sarili mo, mas madali kang makaka-move on.”
Taking a page from her character Mace in That Thing Called Tadhana, perhaps Angelica’s big cathartic moment was when she jetted off to Nepal late last year and traveled around the Himalayas for almost a month. “Doon wala talagang nakakakilala sa akin, so pwede ko nalang talagang iiyak kung kailan ko nararamdaman, tapos ka-close ko ‘yung kasama ko, so kahit nang kalagitnaan ng tawa umiiyak ako, hindi nya ako jina-judge,” Angelica shares about the trip. Like Mace, she left her heartbreak in the mountains, allowing her soul to be renewed upon return. “So doon natapos, doon ko talaga iniwan ‘yung sakit. Actually, kahit nung hindi pa tapos ‘yung trip okay na ako eh,” she laughs. “So pagbalik ko, alam ko na okay na ako. Kahit lapitan ka ng iniiwasan mong mga tao, kaya mo silang itulak. ‘Doon ka, doon ka sa malayo, wag ka dito.’”
Angel speaks with the wisdom and insight of someone who’s learned, and now has a clearer vision of what matters in life. Hindsight, they say, after all, is 20/20. The actress shares the most important things in her life as of the moment: herself, her family, and her work. “Doon umiikot ngayon ang buhay ko. Noong nagbigay ako ng 100 percent sa tatlong ‘yun, binabalik siya sa akin ng doble,” Angelica shares. “Umaabot ako sa point na umiiyak ako dahil nararamdaman kong ‘yung ang ganda ng mga nangyayari sa akin. Ang sarap na iba na ‘yung iniiyak mo ngayon, ‘yung grateful ka na sa lahat ng nangyayari sa’yo. Hindi ka na, ‘Lord, bakit?’ Ngayon, “Lord, thank you ha.”
Suffice to say, whatever pain she has had to endure in the past led her to become a woman who now knows her worth.
A Lesson on Self-Love
There’s no doubt about it: Judy Ann Santos and Angelica Panganiban are two of the country’s brightest stars. Beyond the fame and recognition that come with being a celebrity, what makes them so appealing is how they remain grounded and relatable, even when it comes to the struggles they have endured. Still, every hardship brings a lesson—and for these two actresses, that lesson is choosing to love themselves in their own ways, without feeling guilty about it.
Self-love isn’t about choosing a certain path; it’s about realizing your own worth and sticking to what you know is best for you, which sometimes entails having to defy the norm. Judy Ann made a life-changing decision to take a break from the limelight and focus on her family; Angelica learned to piece herself back together and stand on her own after a very public heartbreak. If anything, these two are proof that choosing to love yourself is not always an easy.