By BÜM TENORIO JR. / Photography by MARK CHESTER ANG
In the department of honesty, Kris Aquino is number one on the list. She puts premium in paying her right taxes because ‘It’s the right thing to do.’ Her life is an open book. She’ll tell you she almost got married to Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista, except that he called off the wedding. The more authentic she is, the more unsinkable she becomes.
P361,798,667.75. That’s how much Kris Aquino has remitted in taxes to the government in the last 10 years, from 2007 to 2016, under three presidents of the Philippines. The lofty figures do not make her “a better Filipino than others,” but it is very telling how responsible she is as a Filipino citizen.
With responsibility comes honesty. And the “Queen of All Media” — that title includes her supremacy in the digital world and her being part of the movie Crazy Rich Asians (to be shown in August 2018) — is not only honest about her earnings. She’s also honest about her yearnings.
Because she is larger than life — concomitantly because her late parents are both heroes, President Cory Aquino and Sen. Ninoy Aquino, and her only brother Noynoy Aquino was once a tenant of Malacañang — Kris’ adventures and misadventures, and her joys and pains, have all been catalogued in the memory of the Filipino people.
She’s very candid, authentic and true. So honest is she that she will tell you without warning, without hesitation,“Herbert Bautista cancelled our wedding.” You fall off your chair because it’s the first time you hear Kris say such a thing. The mayor of Quezon City called off his wedding with Kris. On record.
Kris admits, “One of the lowest moments of my life, I still remember the date, April 8, 2014, inatrasan ako sa kasal ni Herbert (Herbert backed out of our wedding). Over the phone. I was in Bellevue Hotel in Alabang because we were celebrating the (advance) seventh birthday of Bimb. It was in the afternoon when I got the call. It did not hit me at first because we were having a party.”
She adds that Herbert proposed marriage to her a month before he cancelled the wedding. Kris begs not to elaborate on the reason for the cancellation.
Somehow, because love was stubborn, Kris and Bistek, the moniker of Herbert who would send her one whole lechon when she would be feeling under the weather, managed to rise above the called-off wedding. On Jan. 22, 2017, according to Kris, Herbert proposed to her again with a “D-color, heart-shaped diamond ring, about one carat” while they were in Rome. She remembers Herbert saying, “Ang tagal kong utang ito sa ‘yo. So, pwede bang makabawi ngayon (I’ve owed you this for so long. Can I make up for it now)?” Kris accepted the ring.
The following day, while they were having pizza, she returned it to Herbert. “I returned it the next day because I said that we will always have responsibilities that came before he and I met. And as long as our children are not done yet with their studies, I don’t think we have the freedom to be able to choose happiness. (The concept) of a blended family only happens for Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore,” she says, perhaps in reference to the Hollywood flick Blended, wherein two single parents fall in love and create an extended family among their kids.
“I returned the ring not because gusto kong iparamdam sa kanya kung anong pinaramdam niya sakin three years before that (It’s not that I wanted him to feel how I felt three years ago). It was because nagising na ko (I woke up). I just realized that a person like him and a person like me can’t be together because [my mom said this already] in a home there can only be one star. And I think, a union like that would require me to no longer be me. And I still want to be me.
“I admire him so much because he was willing to be the knight in shining armor and he came back when I was already nobody. He came back when I had no network, I had no power, we had no base. Dun ako humanga sa kanya (That impressed me). The admiration grew deeper because he was at Sandiganbayan when Noy posted bail.” (Former President Noynoy Aquino posted bail in November before the Sandiganbayan to secure provisional freedom while the charges over his alleged role in the ill-fated ecounter in Mamasapano in 2015 are ongoing.)
How long was her relationship with Herbert? Kris quickly quips: “We don’t even have a relationship at all. I don’t count it anymore because it was always nauudlot. I told him, ‘Tayo yung perfect na what-could-have-been so let’s just leave it there.’ I really appreciated it that he came back to my life when I was a nobody.”
But will she accept Bistek again if he woos her back? “I think if he’s coming back, the perfect time would be June 30, 2019 (when his term as mayor ends). Then we’d know that we are both in it for real, kasi I’m not after business permits,” she says, with crusty laughter.
Kris needs permits for her businesses, which include franchises of Chowking in Ali Mall, Welcome Rotonda and Quezon Avenue cor. Araneta Avenue, all in Quezon City. Her first franchise of Jollibee in Tarlac will open in January 2018. Her restaurants are all managed now by her nephew Jiggy Cruz. She also has 10 branches of Potato Corner.
She works hard because she wants to assure her two children, Joshua and Bimby, of a comfortable life in the future.
Heartbreaks are low moments in her life. For three straight days, Kris locked herself in her room, feeling numbed, after she signed the financial settlement of her annulment with cager James Yap, father of her son Bimby, in February 2011.
But Kris bounced back — not as easily as she would want it, but she knows how to spring back to life. For instance, even after the doors of her former home network ABS-CBN closed on her, Kris has managed to remain relevant — and more in demand.
“With ABS-CBN, I think it was my fault because when the contract was there, I should have signed it. It was a two-year deal guarantee and I didn’t sign it then. I didn’t sign at that point because that whole threat was real,” she says of the threat to her and Bimby’s lives by the Abu Sayyaf Group in 2016.
In a jiffy she said goodbye to her show Kris TV, which was always shot out of town, by making her health concerns the reason. Well, she did not lie by making her health as her reason for staying away from the limelight because, with the clear and present danger in her and her sons’ lives, Kris’ blood pressure shot up. But she was not allowed to say the real reason at the time. She had to leave and the US was the best place for her to stay.
When she came back, there seemed to be nothing waiting for her at her home studio. Even an exploratory talk with Willie Revillame for his Wowowin show on GMA 7 went kaput. This was the time Kris prayed to God to give her another chance. “Ang kapal ng mukha ko, I really asked God to please give me another chance.” And God made Kris unsinkable.
Why is Kris Aquino unsinkable? “It’s in my DNA. I think that with my mom, you’re never allowed to feel self-pity. So, for me, I felt that if you’re closing avenues on me, I’m going to create my own skyway.”
When she felt the past 20 years of her life in traditional TV “is suddenly worth nothing,” Kris, who started working at 15, built a superhighway by going digital.
“Then you’ll realize that you cannot reinvent yourself by working with the same team. You have to go higher and team up with a new team that’s really young. Who is online? The millennials. They’re young,” Kris says of the staff comprising her own company KCAP (Kris C. Aquino Productions, whose office is as beautiful as her home). She’s a very generous boss, the nine young members of her staff say.
Kris’ former manager Boy Abunda told her, “I don’t think I can learn the digital world. I don’t think I’ll be the right person to make the good deals for you. So I want to turn it over to others.” Her new manager now is a strict “capitalist at heart.” His name is Nicko Falcis. And he is responsible why Kris’ earnings in the digital media will surpass her earnings in the traditional TV by February 2018.
“You have to be with someone who balances your creativity by being strict. And only when Nicko closes a deal will he allow me to buy additional cameras (for KCAP),” says Kris.
Kris now has 3.2 million followers on Instagram, 1.3 million followers on Twitter and 80,033 subscribers on YouTube. She also has endorsements for 22 brands, including San Miguel Corp., BDO, PLDT, SM Supermalls and National Book Store. Four more are in the pipeline. She says she misses the traditional TV because of the “immediacy” of results of being live on camera. But that, too, will be remedied soon. “It’s a deal that we have with iFlix. I’ll let them be the one to announce it. Very soon. Maybe around my birthday,” she says. This time, the tell-all Kris is tight-lipped. The same way she does not want to reveal more than what people know about her participation in Crazy Rich Asians.
“All I can share is the fact that we prepared by showcasing the best that I felt the Philippines had to show the world — in my case, because it was just one pivotal scene, I wore a runway piece by Michael Cinco, which he rushed for me in less than three weeks.”
Kris is the first to admit that she is never simple. She loves shoes, watches and bags, in that order. She has the right to splurge because she uses her own hard-earned money to afford herself of those indulgences. Her shoes alone are a mind-blowing collection of Blahniks, Choos and Pradas, among other high-end brands. (At the PeopleAsia cover shoot at New World Hotel in Makati, she brought about a hundred pairs of shoes and laughed at the thought that they only comprised “15 percent of my shoe collection.”)
“It’s the Imelda in me. Sinabi ng mom ko sa akin, ‘My God, itago mo yan ha (hide those shoes). They’re going to say umi-Imeldific ka’,” she says, laughing; her eyes rolling.
“Because that was ingrained in me that even before I could go buy anything from Gift Gate like Hello Kitty or Little Twin Stars, I had to produce no grade below 90,” says Kris whose love for reading she inherited from her father Ninoy.
Kris reads not only books (she’s a diehard James Patterson fan) during her down time, but local newspapers and online international dailies like The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Huffington Post and LA Times as well. She also reads Newsweek, Money, Rolling Stone, Reader’s Digest, Women Health and Vanity Fair, among other titles.
Kris has had a rollercoaster ride with life. In the sink and swim of things, she’s never forgotten to have a grateful heart. She prays a lot. “The first prayer is really always to keep me and my two boys healthy. It’s basically the three of us. At its core, kami lang. Kami yung umuuwi together. We’re a unit and we’re okay,” she says.
What she is most grateful now to God is “for this new chance.” “You just don’t ask, you must also say, ‘Thank you’,” she says.
“I challenge myself to find something to thank God for every night before I sleep because it’s really easy to fall into the trap of just complaining and complaining. I really don’t want to be that type of person.”
Kris is given another chance to prove herself, to be loved anew by the people who have never left her side. She asks God every night to please remind her that all that she reaps now is because of Him.
Then she wakes up to another day filled with optimism. It’s another bright day to be authentic, honest, responsible and happy. Another reason to celebrate her life — and make a meaningful impact in the lives of others.
“KRIS AQUINO: Authentic & Unsinkable” was originally published in the Dec. 2017 to Jan. 2018 issue of PeopleAsia.