I’m using “First Girlfriend” in the sense that, for example, the wife of a president is called First Lady and not in the strict meaning of the word because, as we must have known by now, President-apparent Noynoy Aquino has had a few girlfriends before he met and fell in love with Shalani Soledad, a third-termer councilor of Valenzuela City who herself has her own admirers before Noynoy.
They have been going steady for one year and eight months (since Sept. 5, 2008). “It’s Noy’s longest relationship,” revealed Kris Aquino when she interviewed Shalani on The Buzz last Sunday. Noynoy is 50 (born in Feb. 1960, an Aquarian) and Shalani is 30 (born on April 27, 1980, a Taurian), and the 20-year age-difference doesn’t seem to matter.
Shalani shows up for this Conversations at her favorite coffee shop located along a side-street off Tomas Morato Avenue, Quezon City, without any make-up, her hair gathered in a simple ponytail and dressed in black sleeveless shirt and white pants. She’s a cross between Lucy Torres-Gomez (congressman-elect of the fourth district of Leyte) and Sunshine Cruz.
Asked how she keeps her trim figure, Shalani said, “By eating lots of junk food.” She’s joking. “How did I lose weight?,” she continues. “Well, we just came from a rigorous campaign for 45 days, from early morning to early evening, and that was how I lost weight. So I advise those who want to lose weight to join an election campaign.”
During the interview, she and her companion, long-time friend Diamond Morales, daughter of Dynah Dominguez, sipped only green tea. They didn’t order food. “We just came from a lunch meeting,” Shalani begs off.
She’s charming in a quiet way, shy and soft-spoken, the exact opposite of her sister-in-law(-to-be?) Kris.
“Noy and I share many things,” says Shalani. “Simple lang kami pareho.”
Where are your bodyguards?
“Bodyguards? I don’t have any.”
Did you drive coming here?
“I do drive...a CRV...but today I have a driver.”
Pang-ilang term mo na ‘to as councilor of Valenzuela City?
“It’s my third and last term.”
So after that, on to a higher position?
“Hmmmm...No, no further plans yet. But, you know, after the 2007 election, I did plan to run for a higher position but I didn’t push through with it.”
By higher position, do you mean, hmmmm, for vice mayor or even higher?
“Yes, for vice mayor. Or even for congressman.”
Everybody is curious...What will be your role in Malacañang as soon as Noynoy assumes office?
(Laughs) “A lot of people have been asking me that question. Well, I think I will always be a back-up support for Noy.”
What will be your title...First Girlfriend?
“I’m not sure kung may ‘title’ ang isang back-up support.” (Laughs again)
Correct! Anyway, as everybody knows, you are not Noynoy’s first girlfriend. And I suppose he’s not your first boyfriend, ‘no?
In your interview with Kris, your sister-in-law-to-be, you said something like you learned from previous relationships and you wanted someone who would not fool you. Why? May nanloko na ba sa’yo?
“I think you learn from every relationship. Afterward, nakikita mo...nari-realize mo kung ano ang nangyari — you know, what went wrong, where you went wrong, how it went wrong, what not to do again.”
Are you the jealous/possessive type?
“No, no, I’m not. In a relationship, one should always bear in mind that there are two of you, that you should always be considerate of each other, you shouldn’t just think of yourself. You always have to think how you can improve each other.”
You and Noynoy have been going steady for one year and eight months. According to Kris, ‘yan ang pinaka-mahabang relationship ni Noynoy. It means that you are compatible...so far.
(Laughs) “I hope so, I would hope so!”
What do you have in common?
“Love for family. Hindi masyadong grand ang mga taste namin. Love for simple things, for the simple life.”
Oh, kaya pala hindi ka man lang naka-makeup ngayon.
“I don’t know how, that’s why.”
Noynoy was brought up with women around him. How many siblings do you have?
“There are only two of us. I have an older brother.”
What kind of boyfriend is Noynoy? Hindi ba siya seloso, controlling, possessive?
“No, no, he’s not. I think both Noy and I understand the nature of our work. So, hindi kami ‘yung controlling, seloso-selosa na every minute ay aalamin namin ang bawat detalye ng bawat lakad ng isa’t-isa.”
But one time daw, according to your interview with Kris, Noynoy was irritated when you called to say that you were missing him, and he said, “You called just to tell me that? I’m in the middle of a conversation.”
“Hahahahaha! Yes, yes, that happened once. It was during the campaign, so our schedules were crazy. At any given time, ang dami mong kausap, discussing very serious matters.”
Isn’t Noynoy a difficult boyfriend?
“What do you mean?”
Well, isn’t he hard to handle...moody ba siya?
“He’s just like any normal person. Some days, you catch him in a good mood, some days you catch him na hindi ganoon kaganda ang mood. Very normal, I should say.”
You don’t tell him to do this, do that?
“If you mean that I impose on him... no, I don’t.”:
What is your term of endearment?
“Hmmmm. Huwag na ‘yon. Secret!”
Sige na. Just between us.
“Huwag na, huwag na ‘yon.”
Noynoy’s chain smoking is becoming an issue. Do you ask him to stop it already?
“No, I don’t. But as Noy said, he will eventually cut it down.”
Do you smoke?
“No, I don’t.”
Do you drink?
“Not naman drinking. Social drinking lang. Just a sip, ganoon.”
Did you become close to the women around Noynoy — Ballsy, Viel, Pinky and, especially, Kris — during the campaign? Or, were you comfortable with them already even before the campaign?
“During the campaign, we were able to discuss certain matters that we had not been able to discuss before.”
Girl talk, ganoon?
“I wouldn’t say girl talk. Let’s just say that we were able to discuss matters na kung hindi campaign period ay maaaring hindi namin napag-usapan.”
Kanino ka pinaka-close doon sa apat?
“Pare-parehas lang naman, although si Kris ang pinaka-vocal.”
Didn’t Kris give you pointers on, perhaps, how to do your hair or what clothes to wear?
(Laughs) “Once or twice, yes, when we were together...in terms of how I should carry myself, how to tuck in my shirt, mga ganoon.”
I presume that you and Noynoy mutually helped each other win, both by a landslide.
“When I won the first time (in 2004), I was No. 1. The second time (in 2007), I got the highest number of votes. And now, yes, medyo landslide.”
Mahilig si Noynoy sa mga TV hosts. Before you, there was Bernadette Sembrano (now Mrs. Emilio Aguinaldo) and Korina Sanchez (now Mrs. Mar Roxas). And now, you.
“I was on UNTV with Daniel Razon on the morning show. I was the station’s Senate reporter.”
And that’s how you met Noynoy. You interviewed him for your show.
How many other girlfriends did Noynoy have?
(Blushes and laughs again) “I don’t know.”
Don’t you ever discuss about his past and your past? Siempre, hindi naman all the time serious matters ang pinag-uusapan n’yo, di ba?
“We talk about movies, about friends, about haircuts, just about anything any normal couple usually talk about.”
When Noynoy goes to Malacañang, siempre your time for each other will be limited. How do you think will it affect your relationship?
“The task that lies ahead of Noy is very huge. Knowing how time-consuming it would be, I understand that he needs to focus his time, energy and effort on that task.”
And you naman will be concentrating on your task in Valenzuela City.
“Mahirap. Ang akala ng lahat, being president is a bed of roses. Actually, it’s a big, big responsibility. You owe it to all the Filipinos. Hindi mo puwedeng sabihing, ‘Time out!’ Ako naman, I would continue to focus on Valenzuela especially now that I’m on my last term as councilor.”
What are your pet projects?
“During my first term, I was the chair of the Women and Family Affairs Committee and we established the Early Care & Childhood Development in six barangays, and now it’s being implemented in all barangays of the city.”
You were in La Salle St. Benilde taking up Human Resources when your studies were rudely interrupted by politics.
“I still have two P.E. classes to complete the course.”
Why did you join politics?
“Actually, my slot was intended for my maternal uncle. But out of the blue, he told me, ‘Matanda na ako, ikaw na ang tumakbo.’ And without even thinking about it, I said yes right away. My uncle has been my adviser and consultant, helping me with my projects.”
You are close to your uncles and aunts.
“Oh yes, I am. I grew up with them because my parents were separated when I was small, mga two years old pa lang ako siguro. My mom worked abroad but she has been here since I was 20.”
How was it growing up away from your parents?
“Well, I had a normal childhood. I didn’t feel a sense of loss at all because I have very loving grandparents. Mababait ang mga aunts and uncles ko. I grew like any normal child.”
Are you in touch with your father?
“Hmmmmm, no. I’ve seen him siguro just a couple of times.”
Your first name sounds so very Indian. Why?
“According to my mom, she got my name from a baby book. It means ‘bouncing, beautiful girl’.”
How did Noynoy change your life?
“Noy has inspired me to be better.”
In what way, in what sense?
“Well, first is in my time management. More so, in my view of life — you know, that it’s not always about you, that you always have to be considerate with the people around you because the world doesn’t revolve just for you. Also, to stick to my beliefs.”
Did you meet Tita Cory?
“Yes, I did. That was before she was hospitalized.”
Did you meet her at home on Times Street?
“No, not there. Sa house ni Kris or in one of Noy’s sisters.”
When asked if you could wait for six years before you and Noynoy could get married, if ever you would not while Noynoy is in Malacañang, you answered, “I hope...As long as you love the person, you will wait.” Did Noynoy promise you anything?’
“Off the record?”
Yes, off the record.
(E-mail reactions at firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com) - CONVERSATIONS With Ricky Lo (Philstar News Service, www.philstar.com)