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October 13, 2008

Rhea Santos: Right on Cue

TV Host, News Anchor


Watching newscasters on television is like watching acrobats on a trapeze. Admit it, there's something about them that keep our attention glued to the screen. Is it what they say or how they say it? Is it their on-screen charm - although that is pretty much a given if you’re to be in the business in the first place - or the compelling news item they are reading that keeps us tuning in day in, day out.

For Rhea Santos, the pretty face Filipinos see every morning (as one of the hosts of GMA Network's morning show, Unang Hirit) and late at night (she anchors QTV Channel 11's News on Q along with Ivan Mayrina), it's more of the former.

“I love being on camera” she gushed. Suddenly realizing she might have sounded a bit surefooted in her declaration, she added, rather warily, “Although some people tell me I look better in person.”

The 29-year old news anchor/TV host didn't mean to brag. In fact, she consistently kept her confidence in check when Herword.com paid her a visit on the set of Unang Hirit one Friday morning. Although she was taller than anybody else in the set (she's 5'9”), she still managed to breeze in without attracting too much attention to herself. Everybody, it seemed, was used to having her around, although it was hard not to notice her radiance in a lime-green blousy top and white slimfit pants. As she sat quietly on a chair with her elbows perched on the desk – she was leafing through a Hollywood magazine – she was oblivious to the occasional ribbing from the male-dominated television crew.

In just a few minutes, all the cameras would turn to her direction, and that's when she straightened up in her chair and put on a straight face. This is how live TV newscast works: you look straight into the camera, wait for your cue, read from the teleprompter, occasionally interview guests via phone patch, and when the camera stops rolling, you can go back to your usual self and resume what you were doing before. Sounds like a piece of cake? Not really.

"Of course, it entails a lot of studying and researching. We just don't go on camera and look good, you know,” she said. As the newsbreak ended, her face was back to its gentle and endearing appeal. She laughed a lot, even at the self-deprecating wisecracks she fired back whenever she receives a compliment.


“Was I popular? I was in my school's cheering squad once. But I didn't really belong to the popular group. Kasi ako yung isa sa taga-buhat ng mga cheerleaders [because I was among those who lifted the cheerleaders]” she quipped.

Santos' candor and childlike honesty add to a charm that could only have come from a down-home upbringing. She was born in San Mateo, Rizal and spent some of her childhood in Marikina. The only girl in a brood of three, Santos sheepishly admits to having enjoyed the privileges of being the unica hija in the family despite her being the middle child.

“They treated me as the princess of the family. My mom used to put milk in my bath when I was a baby, at least that's what she told me. They didn't want me to get any mosquito bites. They're very maalaga [protective]. My mom's frustration was for me to become a beauty queen.”

Growing up in a nurturing household is the reason Santos feels grateful every day, especially now that she started her own family together with her husband, Carlo de Guzman, who co-owns the popular Hotshots burger chain. They welcomed their first born, Uno (short for Juan Nicholas) late last year.

“It's hard to choose the story that you produce. That's because there are so many [abuse] stories to tell. There are a lot of abused women out there who need to feel that they are not alone.”

“I would describe my childhood as something filled with happy memories. My parents would always see to it that we spend time together during weekends. My family loves malling, especially my dad. That's our bonding time. Of course, now, it's different. But I make sure that every weekend, we go to our parents' condo and bring my son. Or we would meet up and go to the mall, and eat lunch together.”

It would be an understatement to say that Santos admires her parents – she's completely enamored by them. “I learned the value of hard work from my dad. He always wants to give the best for us, his kids. From my mom, the value of fortitude, strength and being driven in everything you do. She never gives up. She's a strong person. She inspires me a lot,” she said.

And while she was gushing about how she's imitating the way her parents raised her, she couldn't help but become nostalgic all of a sudden.

“They're not getting any younger, and I just want to give them all the best. They really worked hard [to raise us]. That's why I wanted to have more kids because I can see how much they're enjoying their first grandson right now,” she said, trying to suppress the tears welling up in her eyes. “That's why I keep telling my husband for us to make more babies!”

And even if she grows her brood like Angelina Jolie's, it doesn't matter, since motherhood suits this charming news anchor well. Anyone who has seen her on television lately would agree that she has a certain glow that makes her stand out even more on screen. “I love being a mom. And I discovered the wonders of breastfeeding. When I gave birth, I've become an advocate of breastfeeding just like my co-hosts in the show. It's great!”

She credits her Unang Hirit family, especially the girls, for making motherhood seem like a breeze for a first time mom like her. “The relationship of the group is very solid. Igan [co-host Arnold Clavio], for example, is like a dad to us. And Suzie [Entrata-Abrera] and Lyn [Ching-Pascual] are like my big sisters. I ask them everything about motherhood.”


These days, Santos appears regularly in various shows airing on QTV 11, GMA Network's free TV channel. She recently co-produced a documentary film on shoes for QTV's Documentaries. But what's taking up most of her time (and journalistic passion) is the public service program called Women's Desk (aired every Thursday at 10 a.m. on QTV), which reports cases of abuse against women and children.

“When [the network executives] were conceptualizing the program, they asked me if I was willing to do the show. Of course, I was interested because it's about women and children. I love working with kids and I think it would be nice to represent women and kids in the fight against abuse,” she said.

Santos admitted that being involved in the program's field work awakened a certain kind of passion in her. She said she made it now her advocate to fight for the rights of women and children against abuse.

“It's disheartening, it's quite depressing. Of course, as the host of the show, it's hard to detach yourself from them. But it's hard not to empathize and sympathize, especially, when it involves the kids. Nanginginig talaga ako sa galit [I was shaking with anger]. There was this case when the daughter was abusing her mom. So I confronted the daughter. I was very emotional, I would never treat my mom [like that].”

Last year, the program launched the Draw the Line campaign, which held benefit marathons and enlisted TV personalities to encourage victims of abuse to speak up and seek help.

Draw the Line has allowed me to meet women and kids from all walks of life and for me to become part of their fight,” she said.

Still, she feels a lot of things need to be done. Reaching out to abused women and children will only create a dent in the move to condemn physical abuse. It's the creation of more anti-abuse policies as well as nationwide awareness on how such cases have affected so many lives would make a great impact.

“It's hard to choose the story that you produce. That's because there are so many [abuse] stories to tell. There are a lot of abused women out there who need to feel that they are not alone,” she said, with a hint of urgency in her tone.

More than the newfound passion, Santos said that the program also helped her grow as a journalist. What she learned from her encounters with battered wives and abused children is that to not compromise her subjects, especially those who are victims abuse. “As a host, I learned to protect my subjects. I don't want them to feel down [after the interview]. I want to let them know that we can help them.”

With an impassioned style on delivering news that matter, Santos transcends the usual talking head persona newscasters are often accused of. Truly, she is one news anchor who is not afraid to wear her heart on her sleeve.

(Women's Desk airs every Thursday at 10 a.m. on the QTV Channel. For Draw the Line, call (+632) 926-6598 or 982-7777 local 3034.)


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