By Jamaila S. Cahilig and Marc Laurenze C. Celis
Photos by Marc Laurenze C. Celis
‘SUMMER love in the 70s’ could have been a perfect movie title to describe her brief encounter with UST. For Rosario “Charo” Santos-Concio, three-time USTv Students’ Choice of drama anthology winner and host of Maalaala Mo Kaya TV drama—there definitely was chemistry in her sweet but short stay at the University.
After the declaration of martial law, the young Charo thought that she could not anymore pursue her chosen field when all media establishments were closed down. She was then taking Mass Communications at St. Paul’s College-Manila. She shifted to Nursing.
“I cross-enrolled at UST just for the summer, to take up Chemistry,” Charo told the Varsitarian.
“Had I decided to take Nursing first, then I would have chosen to enroll at UST,” she said.
But why UST? Aside from the University’s excellence in the sciences, both her parents were Thomasians, and it was convenient for her to study here since the family lived near the area—in the old Lepanto district.
“And oh, my first boyfriend also studied there at that time,” Charo said.
The summer-long classes might not have given her the feel of a regular Thomasian school year, but Charo said that she treasures her brief stay at the University.
“It was fun, to be so young, in love, and seeing my boyfriend every day,” she said.
As for her lessons, Chemistry was a subject that she thought she would not enjoy, but she actually enjoyed it. “The professor made it a fun learning experience, and removed my fear of Chemistry,” she said.
Even before her short stay in the University, Charo already had a vibrant impression of UST based on the stories of her Thomasian parents. Her father took up Medicine while her mother studied Journalism in the University. Her parents, at times, told her stories of their college lives and what it was like to study in the oldest university in the country.
“My stay at UST might have been brief, yet I have the Thomasian values which my parents had instilled in me,” she said.
“They found their college lives charming. My dad was so handsome in his medical uniform and all the college girls had a crush on him because he was so fair and attractive, while my mom was very elegant and poised in her blue and white uniform.”
Aside from her parents, Charo’s sister, Malou Santos, the senior vice-president and managing director of ABS-CBN and head of the Star Cinema, also studied in UST. Malou took up Hotel and Restaurant Management.
After her class at UST, Charo returned to St. Paul Manila, shifted back to Communication Arts, and graduated cum laude in 1976.
Acting was something that never crossed Charo’s mind. She had really wanted to do production and work behind the camera.
“I was discovered at a personality contest by the late Lino Brocka,” she recalled. “He happened to be the friend of Mike de Leon who at that time was looking for a new face to play the lead role of his new movie.”
Charo’s acting career was launched in Mike De Leon’s first feature film, Itim, a ghost story that’s now considered a classic of Philippine cinema. Her performance earned her the Best Actress award in the 1978 Asian Film Festival. To date, her filmography covers 38 films, including renowned movies such as Kakabakaba Ka Ba?, Durugin si Totoy Bato, Aguila, Kisapmata, and Kontrobersiyal.
But even after winning acting accolades, Charo said she would rather work behind the scenes.
“I prefer working behind the scenes rather than to be on-cam because what gives me ultimate fulfillment is when I see my idea bloom into a great piece of work,” she explained.
Charo said she remembers conceptualizing Maalaala Mo Kaya to satisfy her boss at ABS-CBN who asked her to think of a program that would replace a low-rating show. Her boss immediately liked her idea. Maalaala Mo Kaya was born in 1991 and has since portrayed the drama behind the lives of common people based on the letters they send to the program.
Charo as host of the program reads the letters, whose contents are dramatized in highly moving and poignant scenes.
“I used to read sacks of letters,” she said. “But now, I trust the MMK staff to sort out the letters and choose from the pile.”
The program is now 16 years old and has won the USTv Student’s Choice Award for drama anthology for the past three years. Recently, the criterion for the award was toughened up as the University stressed the importance for TV programs to reflect Catholic values so that they could positively influence today’s youth.
“I feel so very good about winning USTv and humbled that in our own small way, we can reach out to the youth and teach them the values in life,” she said. “It is heart-warming.”
Now, Charo Santos-Concio is the executive vice-president and head of ABS CBN Entertainment Group where she manages profit margins, nationwide ratings, programming strategy, and customer development.
She plans to continue producing stories that mirror life and family values. Her love for production work has led her to a door full of unexpected opportunities and countless blessings. Yet she maintains that all that she has done all along is simply follow her heart.
Now, more than three decades after her summer fling with the University, Charo sees UST as a community of people strengthened by their faith and by life’s challenges. And all that Thomasians need to do is to learn from those challenges.
“Look for the meaning in every experience,” Charo Santos-Concio said. “It’s not the end goal that is important; it’s the journey.”