Paula Peralejo never intended to join show business. Her elder sister Rica was part of the famed kiddie-teen show Ang TV and Paula just enjoyed watching her during tapings of the show.
One day the cast lacked some extras for the classroom scene. Rica's road manager Lulu Romero picked out Paula to change into a school uniform.
"I was basically, ‘kidnapped,'" Paula remarked over a lunch at a campus café in Quezon City.
It was only when her mom mentioned that she was getting paid from 300 to 500 pesos per episode that she agreed to join the show regularly.
"Going to showbiz was my excuse ‘coz I didn't want to go to school," she recalled when asked what enticed her to join show business.
Fast forward to 2008 and the 23-year-old Paula is proud that she is about to earn her Philosophy degree this coming summer from the University of the Philippines. Yearning to learn more, she plans to attend a seminar on Philosophy for Children in the U.S. this coming May.
SHOWBIZ WHIRL. Paula was eight years old when she joined the quintessential show, Ang TV. She enjoyed doing the show so much that she transferred to a school that could accommodate her busy schedule. She was able to balance school and showbiz up until she was in Grade 6.
But when the first day of high school came, Paula didn't find it to her liking.
"Pumasok ako ng high school. Noong pumasok ako, wala, hindi ko na-trip-an yung school ko. So, showbiz was going to be my work. I'm going to work. Give me work because I'm gonna stop school," she said.
From then on, she became part of ABS-CBN shows like Gimik, Home Along da Riles, MTB (Magandang Tanghali Bayan) and Tabing Ilog. She occasionally appeared as a guest performer in Maalala Mo Kaya and Ipaglaban Mo.
It was in Tabing Ilog that she met Trina Zuñiga, who was able to balance both school and show business. Trina told stories to Paula about school with a lot of enthusiasm.
"I got so inspired. She didn't stop school. So, I was like, ‘Astig naman'! Iba yung buhay niya. Parang sabi ko, ‘Oo nga, parang ang bobo ko na,'" she realized.
So, Paula decided to go back to school. She took the PEP Test [Philippine Educational Placement] to determine her academic aptitude for high school. A program of the Department of Education, PEPT measures one's level of knowledge and, based on the test results, grants official certification that enables the holder to enroll at a higher level of studies. She took the test thrice and was later able to enter college. She enrolled in Veterinary Medicine at De La Salle-Araneta in Caloocan in 2002.
COLLEGE LIFE. Initially, the petite actress was able to handle the pressure of balancing showbiz and school. But she decided that school was too important to miss out.
"Not many people know this but I quit Tabing Ilog because of school. Siguro before I left, siguro mga one more episode na lang. Imagine... ang taping sa Pagsanjan. That's so far, Laguna. And my school was in Caloocan. Taping namin was Wednesday. Ang pasok ko ng Thursday, 8:30 a.m. I-re-release nila ako sa Pagsanjan ng mga 8 a.m. Sa tingin mo pa-paano ako ng 8:30. Hindi, di ba? Kahit nga helicopter, hindi aabot.
"So, after a while, ang dami ko nang absences, although mabait talaga yung prof ko. Ayoko yun. Ayoko yung bumalik ako ng school to get the artista treatment. No, I said, ‘I'm quitting.' If you can't release me on time always, and you're gonna mess up with my school schedule.
"Hindi ko na nga nakuha yung everyday sa school. T-Th-S na lang yung nakuha ko. Yung M-W-F, may Wednesday work ako. Tapos, sinisiksik ko na lahat from 8:30 a.m to 6 p.m. para lang maka-full units ako. Tapos I-re-release nila ako ng ganoon. So siyempre, the rest of the day, antok-antok ako. Parang may certain day na nakatulog ako sa mga benches."
Paula spent two years in De La Salle-Araneta but later decided that Veterinary Medicine wasn't to her liking. She transferred to the University of the Philippines in 2004.
She says that she's enjoying her stay in the country's premier university.
"Mahilig talaga ako pumasok. Natutuwa kasi nagkakaroon ka talaga ng social awareness. Kahit na itago mo yung sarili mo sa mundo, hindi puwede kasi magkakaroon at magkakaroon ka ng ideas sa mga nangyayari. Ang saya kasi dati, wala talaga akong pakialam. Proud pa ako na wala akong pakialam," she said.
But being known as a TV star, she became a target of envy.
"Noong bago nga ako sa U.P., may vandalism sa CR [comfort room]. Nakalagay doon parang, ‘I hate Paula', ganoon-ganoon. May isa naman, ‘Why?' ‘Because she stole my boyfriend.' Huh?! Sino yun, excuse me. Tapos may boyfriend pa talaga ako that time na parang ‘Hello, I didn't steal him from anybody.'"
She continued, "Nakakatawa talaga. Pero anyway, hindi ko nabasa iyon. Kwinento lang sa akin ng isang friend ko. Tawa lang ako nang tawa. Nakakatawa talaga yung tao. Basta artista, they'll just say anything. Parang kailangan lang may masabi ka about you. Anyway, I don't really care."
Paula is also proud that her sister Rica was able to go back to school at the Ateneo de Manila, Loyola Heights, which is near U.P., Diliman.
She happily tells, "Masaya. Laging naiingit iyon for a time sa amin, ‘Ay! Lahat kayo nag-aaral.' I'm happy because she got into a good school. She's really learning a lot. Hindi naman niya talaga dream yung manalo talaga ng award or something. There are a lot of things that she wants to do and like yung writing. Mahilig siyang magsulat. It's good that she got into creative writing.
"Funny kasi all those Starbucks planners. Never ko nagagalaw iyon. Kinokolekta ko lang. Siya talaga makikita mo na back-to-back, sobra, sobrang haba, as in everything. Siya talaga kasi yung may mga diary nung bata pa. Mahilig talaga siyang magsulat.
"Hassle lang. Kasi hindi pareho yung time ng U.P. at ng Ateneo. So yung mga break time namin, hindi talaga nagkaka-ano. Sinasabi ko sa kanya, ‘uy, pag break natin mag-lunch tayo. Iba yung break nila. That's the only thing I'm sad about."
Paula is currently running for magna cum laude, although she doesn't beat herself up for high grades.
"Hindi ko prine-pressure yung sarili ko sa grades. Never ko naman pri-nessure yung sarili ko sa grades. Hindi ko rin naman na ini-expect na mag-cum laude standing ako. Parang wala. Hindi ko naman habol yung sa grades," she said.
EXPLORING THE COUNTRY. Besides enriching her academic life this past few years, Paula is determined to travel around the Philippines. She has gone to different parts of the country exploring the spots, meeting people and getting scenic pictures as souvenirs of her travel.
"Goal ko talaga is to finish the Philippine Map. Bago yung graduation day, mag-travel ko around the Philippines. So, far dalawang beses na ako nag-Mindanao, mga eight to ten days each. Naka-ikot na ako ng Cagayan de Oro, Bukidnon, Marawi.
She thanks her boyfriend who shares her enthusiasm in going around the country.
"Ang hassle lang kapag nag-travel kami. Vegetarians kasi kami. One time, nasa Bicol kami. Puttanesca lang kinakain namin three times a day. Yun lang. Tapos noong nasa Saranggani kami, egg lang. Pero gusto ko nga nga tanggalin yung egg. Kung tinanggal namin iyon, wala na talaga kami makaka-kain.
She also explains her being a vegetarian.
"Pareho kaming nag-da-dive ng boyfriend ko. Hmm, so parang kami, mas gusto naming nakikita yung isda underwater. Kasi nakakatawa nga si Mommy kapag i-explain niya sa mga friends niya kung bakit kami vegetarian, sasabihin niya ‘we're friends with the sea'," she laughed.
"Pero may deeper meaning yung reason ko, its environmental ethics. Pero you just say the easiest thing, ‘ you don't like animals being killed.' That's easiest thing. They'd laugh at you pero that's the easiest thing kasi you'd have to say all these things."
Paula credits her stint in showbiz for letting her know more of the world at large.
"Masaya rin yung sa showbiz yung parang marami ka rin natutunan from the different people. Kasi siyempre, kunwari may taping ako sa squatter's area. So, may nakaka-usap ako na mga taga-squatters. Matuto ka talaga na makipag-usap. Kasi dati, super mahiyain ako. Yun yung good thing na nagawa ng showbiz sa akin.
"Kasi dati, parang one question, one answer lang. ‘Yes.' ‘No.' ‘I don't like.' Ganoon lang. Kaya akala talaga nila suplada ako. Basically, mahiyain ako. I don't know what I'm going to say, what I'm supposed to say. Pero sa showbiz, ok talaga kasi sa tao. Enjoy kasi ako na nakikita mo yung ugali nila kung saan ka nag-te-taping."
On that positive note about her showbiz experience, Paula Peralejo ended our afternoon chat.