Inside Vicky Belo's modernist home

Aug 7, 2008
Dr. Vicki Belo officially opened her first cosmetic surgery clinic at Medical Towers in Makati in 1990. Last August, she opened her seventh branch at the Trinoma mall in Quezon City. “Pito pa lang,” she says. “Akala ng iba, ang dami-dami.” Though she has only seven clinics, Vicki Belo’s name—along with the name of her enterprise, the Belo Medical Group—has become synonymous with success. (YES!

Victoria Belo, M.D.—more popularly known as Doktora Vicki or Doktora Belo—is the medical director of the Belo Medical Group, which consists of 22 doctors and offers services ranging from facials to tattoo removal to the now widely popular liposuction procedures.

The doktora earned her degree in medicine and surgery from the University of Santo Tomas in 1985, then earned a diploma in dermatology from the Institute of Dermatology in Bangkok, Thailand, in 1990.

She started out small, setting up her first clinic also in 1990 in a 40-square-meter room at the Medical Towers on Legaspi Street, Makati. That was primarily a dermatology clinic. Seventeen years later, Doktora Vicki-now known as the ambassadress of beauty and the cosmetic surgeon to the stars-is unarguably the best-known beauty doctor in the land. Call it hype, if you will. But success, however you call it, begets two things-envy and more success.

Pimples a-plenty. Vicki, one of nine children born to the late Imelda Cancio, was adopted at two weeks old by her mother's sister, Florencia Belo. It was from Vicki's biological mother that she apparently inherited her entrepreneurial genes, but her adoptive mother provided the environment in which that genetic predisposition thrived. Vicki sees her development, in fact, as an interesting case in the genes-versus-environment debate.

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"Actually, it was my biological mother who was the super entrepreneur. I grew up with my mother Belo, who is not much of an entrepreneur. But my mother Belo encouraged me. Ever since I was young, she always wanted me to make money. So, I took up baking class, and I'd sell my baked goodies in school."

At 13, Vicki got a glimpse of what she might end up doing in the future.
"I was mataba kasi, so I had pimples. I had plenty of pimples. So, I would sit in the clinic of the derma, and I'd say, ‘Hmm, mukhang maganda ito, ang daming nakaupo.' Then I love to prick my pimples pa. That's the best job ever in the world! You get to prick your pimples, and you're being paid for it. So, I said I'd be a derma. I trained with the derma at 13."

Losing weight remained a problem, however. She was already an adult when she discovered aerobics, which was then gaining popularity as a form of exercise.

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At that time, Vicki had been dating Atom Henares, a businessman who had taken his masters at Harvard University. "Atom and I got married in Manila in 1979, and then we left for Chicago where Atom was hired by the First Chicago Bank. And aerobics started in 1979 in Chicago. So perfect!"

She later went to Beverly Hills, California, where actress Jane Fonda was pioneering the instruction of a more friendly kind of aerobics. It was then that a business idea was born in Vicki's head. "This is what I want to bring home," she told herself.

Vicki stayed in California for about six months, and then she came home, several pounds lighter, with the idea of hitting two birds with one stone—she would continue to do aerobics to slim down, and at the same time she would introduce aerobics to paying clients.

"The whole point is, if I'm going to work out, you still have to pay me for it. Anyway, I was always the kind who wants to make money, bringing something from abroad. It's more enjoyable, to produce something, get paid, whatever."

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She admits lacking skills in other areas. "Entrepreneur nga ako, pero I'm kulang sa accounting, sa business side. I'm magaling sa thinking of new ideas."

But her aerobics classes were a hit. "I was really popular," she laughs. "Yabang, e. That's because I taught in hotels—Shangri-La, Intercon, Polo Club. My classes, talagang overflowing!"

To illustrate her point, she mimics her former self: "Come on, sit up, pull harder!"

Multitasking. Vicki was a multitasker before the term became widespread. While handling her aerobics classes, she also went back to baking. By then, she and her husband were staying in Dasmariñas Village. She baked in the house, and residents of Dasma and the nearby Forbes Park would order her products, which went by the name A Taste of Heaven.

"Nakakatuwa nga, kasi ang delivery boy ko pag Sunday, si Atom. Monday to Saturday, may driver. E, pag Sunday, day-off. Kaya si Atom ang nagde-deliver. Natatawa kami kasi naka-Mercedes-Benz siya, 'tapos nagde-deliver siya ng pastries. 'Tapos, ang pay namin, P300, P200."

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She actually made money on those pastries. But she had yet to employ a more sophisticated form of accounting. Giggling, she narrates: "This was how my accounting went. This is my box of money. I need ingredients, I take from the box. When I make money, I put in the box. I pay the kuryente, I take money from the box..."

On top of all this, she was also studying. She had gone back to medical school, at the University of Santo Tomas, for her medicine proper. She was already mother to one son, Quark, and she was in her fourth year of medical schooling when she got pregnant with her second child, Cristalle. Not long after giving birth, she quit schooling.

There's a long back story to her decision to drop out of medical school at that time.

"People wanted more aerobics classes, kasi ang daming naka-waiting-list. But I was in med school, so I couldn't accommodate all naman. I could only handle one class a day, and it was already so full. And then, two weeks after giving birth to Cristalle, I had to go back to school. So, parang every day you're in a bad mood—and my first night shift as intern was so horrible for me.

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"My first patient pa was a woman who had a stroke in the market, so I had to clean her up all by myself, and I was so sickly and too tired to clean. Awang-awa ako sa sarili ko, kasi naka-maternity-dress pa ako, 'tapos linis ako, and I've never done that, di ba?

"My next patient was a 17-year-old with tuberculous meningitis. The doctor said: ‘You have to hold the head and press it like that. If it's hard, then it's tuberculous meningitis.' But when you did that pala, the patient would also vomit. So, the patient vomited and I was, like, ‘Oh my God!'

"The next morning, after I got vomited on, I was made to—out of 300 people ako ang napili—give my report. ‘Dr. Belo, what is the hemoglobin of your patient?'

"I said: ‘11.1.'


"Napapahiya ako—11.2 pala. Hindi mo na maalala ang mga point-point sa gabi. Anyway, ‘Ay, hindi ko yata type ito.' Kasi, part of that... I was also studying and studying, which I love doing. I love to read, I love to learn. So, okey lang 'yon... Pero the things that I experienced..."

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The unica hija went to her dad, Enrique Belo, to bargain.

"I said, ‘Daddy, I don't want anymore. I'll just be an aerobics instructor.' He let me naman: ‘Sige, iha, whatever will make you happy.'"

For six months, she turned her back on medicine and went full-time as aerobics guru.

"Aba, I was making P60,000 per month," she recalls. "Wow, so high, di ba? That time-it was 1984—that was a good living."

It was also at around that time that she learned the ropes of public relations and promotions.

"Because I had to PR my classes," she rationalizes. "You have to tell people. And then people pa were interviewing me na: ‘What is aerobics...?'

However, while the business side of things was doing great, she wasn't any nearer to her initial goal of getting down to her ideal weight.

"I was then teaching four classes a day na. You know what happens. You get so tired, you eat more. When you're teaching one class, the energy's still okay. Two classes, okay. But four?"

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After six months, she got so burned out she decided to go back to medicine. She finally got her medical degree in 1985, after which she spent one year practicing at the Makati Medical Center, spent more years pondering what she really wanted to do as a doctor, and finally went back to her first dream—to be a dermatologist.

Enter Regine. Doktora Vicki admits that she was initially hesitant to specialize in dermatology.

"Kasi it's much more than just pricking pimples. The diseases kasi of dermatology are so frustrating, because a lot of them are chronic. There's no cure. Example, eczema. I don't cure you, e. We just cut it. So, if you eat prawn or something, it will break out na naman. And then psoriasis, skin peeling—when you stand up, everything is on the chair. There is no cure. So, I was thinking: ‘Ano ba namang klaseng specialty itong pinasukan ko? Walang cure ang mga sakit?'"

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But what she saw in Bangkok, where she had gone to study dermatology, impressed her.

"Laser! Oh, my God! This is what I want to do. Kasi laser removes birthmarks, warts, moles, tattoos—basta, all skin abnormalities. So I got into lasers. I even went to Harvard [in Boston, Massachusetts]. I trained with lasers, and after that, I was exposed to doctors who were dermatologists doing liposuction, hair transplant... Noon kasi, dito, pag derma, taga-facial lang. You know, parang skin lang. There, they said no, now dermatologic surgery involves anything that is skin—which is hair, which is fat. So, ayun, that's how my practice evolved. Which is so great because this is what I love. It's what makes me happy."

Her very first 40-square-meter clinic at the Medical Towers on Legaspi Street, Makati, was a gift from her adoptive parents.

"I was in Bangkok, and my parents called me: ‘Iha, there is this new medical condominium coming up. We want to buy your clinic already, so when you come, you already have your clinic.'

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Initially, her parents were thinking of buying her 100 square meters of clinic space, but Vicki told them she didn't want a big clinic. "Kasi, I'm into perception, e," she explains.

Vicki told her mom back then: "Look, Mommy, if you have one small clinic, and you divide it into two—the reception area and mine—then if there's one patient in that area, it looks like the place is full. But if I have a big clinic, even if I have five patients, it would look empty. I want people to think when they come in, ‘Wow, she's so busy.'"

Mother and daughter settled for 40 square meters.

"That's my kakulangan as a business person," Vicki now says. "I want to feel safe. I don't like to make utang. I don't like to stretch myself, like, bahala na. I'll die."

But there would be no arguing with her success. Eventually she bought the clinic beside hers.

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"When we opened, ang dami ko nang pasyente," she recalls.

And her very first celebrity patient, who remains loyal to her to this day, was Regine Velasquez.

"This was in 1991. She was 18. She had pimples on her back, and she was so frustrated because she could not wear backless. I was doing pimple-pimple pa. I was not even doing lipo yet. And then Regine said I was good, and so people started to come."

With her reputation spreading through word of mouth, she began to be sought out by patients whose skin problems had become worse after treatments by other doctors.

"The first was an 18-year-old student—pretty, cute patient. Meron siyang tattoo—angel-on-my-shoulder thing. She'd gone to another derma before coming to me, and I said, ‘My God, what happened to you? I can't help you anymore. This is too big na. I can't take it off by a laser with no scar at all. Why didn't you come naman to me in the beginning? Bakit ngayon lang?' She said: ‘E, kasi, Doktora, I only knew about you noong nagkaproblema na.'

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"Then, the other one was a two-year-old. A part of his face was like this [Vicki makes a droopy face]. Some surgeon cut, got some skin from his neck, and covered it. Sabi ko: ‘No problem. We have laser for that.' But, I said, why did they come only now? ‘Kasi, Doktora, we didn't know,' sabi noong nanay. So that was the thing. They didn't know."

Enter Rosanna. It was then that Vicki realized she was not getting her message across, the message that "Hey, I have lasers—for your tattoos, for your blood vessels, for your whatever..." She saw the need for public relations and promotions, which she had first learned as an aerobics instructor. But others disapproved of her methods, especially since advertising is frowned upon in the medical profession.

"People kasi misunderstood. Actually, PR is not advertising. I was not really clear on the PMA [Philippine Medical Association] rules then, but when I checked, they said you're allowed to advertise as long as you would not say, ‘I'm the only one or ako ang pinakamagaling dito.' But you are allowed to advertise because, like me, I have a new kind of liposuction procedure, like smart lipo [a non-surgical procedure using lasers to melt the fat]. 'Yong mga ganoon, okey lang.

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"But for doctors in general, we were told when were in med school, it's unethical to advertise. They never give us, you know, the parameters of what is okay or what is not. So, when I first started, I started with PR. Luckily for me, I have a talkative personality, and I think TV helped me so much. And then all the other doctors said, ‘Stop!'

"So I got scared. I actually got depressed, because I was thinking, was I really doing something wrong? So I stopped promoting for about a year."
But liposuction—after the bust-lift and nose-lift craze of the late 1970s—was becoming not just a fad among the moneyed, but almost a necessity in achieving self-worth.

"People were coming for that. They didn't actually care about my skin lasers, they wanted lipo."

The year 1995 was a turning point for the Belo clinic. It was then that Vicky met the controversial sexy actress Rosanna Roces, who would become her friend and endorser, until their falling out in 2004.

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"She went to my clinic alone, ha. I think Armida [Siguion-Reyna] again gave her a movie, and she wanted to be sexy. She had a 32-inch waistline. So, ni-lipo namin siya. Gising siya, ha. I asked her if she wanted to be sedated. She said, ‘It's up to you.' Yes lang siya nang yes. So, ginawa ko siyang gising, and the whole time she was staring at me.

"After that, she did a pictorial, and she was so open about it. She came out in Startalk, she showed the result, and after that my phone never stopped ringing."

To this day, even after she and Rosanna got embroiled in verbal and eventually legal tussles, Vicki remains grateful for that fateful day when she met the actress.

"I owe her a lot, and I'm thankful. She became an endorser not for anything—I didn't even give her a discount. If meron man, I think 10 percent. But that is why I got it going na with Manay Lolit Solis, because Manay was her manager. We formalized the endorsement na later on."

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By 1996, Vicki had started acquiring bigger clinics and newer equipment.
"Full-blast, bahala na si Batman!" she laughs. "So a lot of people began coming to me. Me naman, I'd spend all my money on lasers. Kasi a laser costs five million. So, that time, I have, like, six. Ang gastos, di ba? Then I had na clinics in Tektite [in Pasig], in Alabang, and in Makati."

By the year 2000, Vicki had enlisted the help of her boyfriend at that time, Joey Santos.

"Nahihirapan na ako," she admits today. "Kasi at that time, I was being robbed na pala by my secretary, my cashier... Parang you make nga the money, pero wala namang naiiwan sa 'yo. So Joey took over. He asked, ‘Where do you want to open another clinic?' I said, Morato [Avenue, in Quezon City]. And then, with my old-fashioned thinking, I like it small, but he opened it big—280 square meters."

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These days, the Morato branch has become even bigger. It is now renting the entire third floor of the building where it's housed.

Apart from its Morato branch, the 17-year-old Belo Medical Group now has clinics in six other key locations—Westgate in Alabang, Connecticut in Greenhills, The Podium at the Ortigas Center, The Medical Plaza and Rustan's in Makati, and the recently opened branch at the Trinoma Mall on North EDSA, Quezon City.

"We're now talking medical convenience. Most of our patients are balikbayans, so they always wanted to try our procedures."

Guinea pig. Then as now, Vicki operates her businesses based on her own needs. In fact, she has already earned a reputation as "her own guinea pig."

"Ang ginagawa ko lahat, mostly for me," she admits. "Katulad niyan, ngayon anti-aging ang focus ko, kasi tumatanda na ako. Dati, lipo kasi mataba ako. So, depende. Like, dati, ang sama-sama ng skin ko, kasi galing ako sa acne. Pinag-aralan ko. Ngayon, basta acne, ipadala mo sa akin, kayang-kaya ko 'yan."

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But how does she decide what she wants done to, say, her face or her body?
"I think I have a pretty good idea of what I look like, but of course at some point you cannot see yourself anymore, di ba? One time, this photographer, Franco Smith—he's German, but he does photography here—he took my picture for the cover of Lifestyle Asia. When I saw it, ‘Aba, ang ganda ko!'"

She wondered, "What did he do kaya to my face?" and then proceeded to answer her own question by way of an analogy: "Kasi, di ba, photographers are also like me—but I do it permanently—they Photoshop, right?"
(For the non-techies out there, Photoshop is a computer program for editing photos and images.)

Vicki then called up Franco: "Can you come here with my raw pictures? I want to see what you did. Show me what you did because this is what I want to do."

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The doktora continues her story:

"So Franco came over, we sat down, he showed me the raw pictures and said, ‘Well, your eyebrow, one is lower than the other, so I Photoshopped it and made it go up.' So, I told my assistant doctor to make my eyebrow go up.
"And then, Franco said, ‘Your cheeks are not even, one is higher than the other.' So I said, ‘Okay, fine, so we put more threads here, and less threads here, to bring up the other one.'

"And then my lips, I put something on the border to make it more defined. Kasi, when you get older, parang flat, di ba? So I did that na.

"It's so interesting because in the end, it came out naman the way I wanted it. Two weeks ago, he took my pictures again, and I was so impressed! Except for my eyes. My eyes are not pantay talaga. One is small, one is big. In the Photoshop, you have to choose one or the other, then make it baligtad.
"Imagine if we can do that. Kasi almost everybody has one eye smaller than the other, and beauty is defined as symmetry."

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How about doing a liposuction on herself?

"I lipo na nga the whole body!" she laughs at our question. "Arms, tummy, thighs, calves. I did not lipo my back. But the rest... That's why everything goes into your boobs naman. When I get taba, dito napupunta."

Given the expansion of her business, is she still as active as she used to be in doing her clinics' procedures?

"Oo naman, kumakati 'yong kamay ko pag hindi," she reveals, then adds, matter-of-factly: "Kaya lang, pag gusto mo si Doktora Belo, kailangan mong magbayad ng 20 percent premium. So, kung dati, ang Pinoy, laging naghahanap ng diskuwento—ngayon, iba. Kung kay Doktora Belo, magdadagdag ka pa ng 20 percent."

Still, there are patients who prefer to go under her knife, so to speak.
"I do at least one to two cases a day," she says. "But I'm not anymore so ngarag. Kasi, before, I'd do five. So, I'd be so tired. When I added the premium, bigla na lang, nawala na 'yong iba. Parang, ‘Magaling ba ang assistant ni Doktora? Doon na lang ako.'"

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Despite the emergence of new cosmetic doctors and clinics that also promise heaven and earth, Vicki Belo remains on top in the beauty game. She admits, however, that the competition has become tough.

"Before, we were ahead five years with equipment. Before they get anything, five years na sa amin. Ngayon, mga six months pa lang nandiyan na sila. But my deal naman is, I have to be the first."

On top of that, she says she has never stopped acquiring new lessons, skills, techniques, and connections. "I don't think anybody spends as much time traveling to get new things. I'm the type who goes to the main sources of new techniques, like Europe, and then Brazil."

In fact, her recent trip to Brazil was to get training from a doctor who's trusted by no less than the country's prime minister and by its countless fashion models.

"He's so busy," she says of this Brazilian doctor. "But his practice is totally opposite of what I actually do. I don't even know how to incorporate it in my practice, because he is so anti-thermage, anti-botox, anti-everything. He likes the more natural way of doing things. Like, he treats a patient every week for two months. He gets rid talaga of every little blemish. Pero konti-konti, so you don't look too made up. Pero after two months, sobrang ganda. Then maintenance. He's also very good in hair restoration. He has a machine to circulate the blood in the head."

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Despite their differences in approach, Vicki sees no reason for turning away from the new knowledge that he can bring in. Thus, she has arranged for him to come to the Philippines to train everyone in the Belo Medical Group. Of course, this visit has an entrepreneurial side to it.

"In Rustan's we have two clinics. One is the regular Belo. The other one is supposed to be Belo for Men—kasi the men have been asking for so long, ‘Give us naman our own place, we don't want to sit with all the girls.' Now, I'm thinking, I'll make it na rin my alternative clinic. I don't know what to call this beauty thing pa, kasi it's different talaga."

At this stage in her life, Vicki can afford to wax philosophical.

"You have to find your passion," she says. "We were put on earth for a purpose daw. All of us have a purpose. You have to find it. When you find it, everything will just fall into place."

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She adds that finding her passion and her purpose would not have been possible without her supportive parents' loyalty and belief.

"I think my parents are really the people behind me. You know they are the type na, ‘Go, go, go, I'm here na, I'm going to watch you.' So you can keep going as far as you can go. It's so easy to run forward because, when you fall, somebody is going to catch you."

Passing the torch. Doktora Vicki and Atom, whose marriage has been annulled, were together for eight years. Without giving details, Atom says it was rough in the beginning. He regretted having to leave the children—Quark and Cristalle—who were both in grade school at that time.

However, Atom vowed he would make it up to his kids, and this was only possible if he could establish a friendship with his former wife. And he did.
"Now, you know, we're very supportive with each other," says Atom. "It's for the kids, really. I wanted to make sure that they grew up with the feeling of a family. So, I never really left them. In the beginning, I'd call them up every day, and then I would see them twice a week..." Jesting, he adds: "Now, they don't have time for me."

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Atom also made sure to block off his Sundays for the kids. The setup works fine.

"Parang they're better as friends than as husband and wife," Cristalle says of her parents. "So, my dad's here every Sunday, and not only that, parang my mom always gets advice from him. They always need advice from each other."

At least once or twice a year, the entire family travels together.

"We try to go to different places," says Cristalle. "Like, before, we went to Africa. Then, recently, we went to Bohol. That was my first time in Bohol. Kaya lang, Kuya [Quark] was not able to come dahil nagsu-shoot siya ng TV commercial sa Malaysia."

Being the only child of a well-to-do couple, Vicki grew up a spoiled brat. But as a mom, she never wanted to have spoiled kids. Now she and Atom take pride in the way the kids have turned out.

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"They're so mabait!" Vicki says of Quark and Cristalle. "They're super."

"Ang suwerte ko sa mga anak ko," Atom agrees. "They turned out to be good despite their parents... I remember, there was this girl who said: ‘You know, your children are so amazing! They're so nice, they're so intelligent, they're so active. You don't deserve them.' But I think she meant that as a compliment. And she's right. They are so good. No one deserves kids like that. That's why I always kid Vicki nga: ‘They grew up well despite us.'"

Vicki gives credit where credit is due for the children's upbringing.

"They had a yaya who was very strict, so the yaya was the bad cop, I was the good cop," Vicki laughs. "The yaya would always say, ‘You can't be this...' She was really disciplined. And then they'd run to me. ‘Mom, I don't want to stay with yaya anymore!'"

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The yaya, Nerissa Inandan, left the family to work in London when the kids were about to become teenagers.

"I love yaya," says Vicki, a bit nostalgic. "To this day, she still keeps sending me chocolates. She's really helped me so much. By the time she left, the kids were already in Montessori."

Vicki also credits the Montessori way of teaching and disciplining young minds.

"There's simplicity there. When we were choosing na where to send them, Montessori was our choice. And the kids really grew up very balanced. Not at all materialistic. In some other schools, the kids are, like, ‘What's your bag, what's your shoes?' Parang kinikilatis everything. In Montessori, everything was simple."

In the beginning, neither Quark nor Cristalle wanted to have anything to do with the Belo Medical Group. Neither of them wanted to take up medicine.
"I tried to brainwash them when they were young, like bringing them to work," Vicki chuckles. "Wala, e."

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The brainwashing certainly didn't work on Quark, whose passion is in the arts.

"Noong una, medyo nag-freak out ako, kasi he was into directing," Vicki admits. "I said, ‘Oh, my God, parang mahirap na ano 'yan. But I knew he was going to be into it, kasi I remember, when he was ten, eleven, he'd watch DVDs constantly. He watched all the director's notes and how they made the movies. Making money is a little bit slow, and I know, the way he is, he won't compromise his craft. But imagine, at 21, he already made a movie?"

She pinned her hopes on Cristalle, who didn't show any interest in the business either. Right after earning her business management degree from the Ateneo in 2004, Cristalle enlisted with the Jesuit Volunteers Philippines to do social, pastoral, and development work among poor communities in Malaybalay, Bukidnon.

Cristalle feels good about that part of her life.

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"We were three girls, but we were all spread out," she recalls. "I was left in the city. I was assigned to a pre-school that's part of a school put up by Ateneans who moved to Bukidnon because they didn't want their kids growing up in Manila. I taught kindergarten 1 and 2."

When she came back to Manila in 2005, Cristalle, wanting to please her mom, decided to give medical studies a try. She went back to the Ateneo for her pre-med. By the second semester, she found herself backing out. "I wasn't passionate enough, e," she admits now.

But she wanted to make it up to her mom in some other way. Since she was a management graduate, she decided to have a look at the Belo Medical Group's business side. It was while she was familiarizing herself with the family business that she came up with a new idea.

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"I told my mom, ‘You know what, let's make your other dream come true.' Kasi this has been her other dream-to put out her own locally manufactured whitening beauty products that are less expensive compared with the treatments at Belo's. Kasi that's the primary concern of the Filipina, e, whitening."

Though a whitening product may bring up charges of fostering a colonial mentality, Cristalle sees a nationalistic side to this endeavor.

"She's very nationalistic," Cristalle says of her mom. "She wants to give back to the Filipinos, just like what she did with her practice, when she went abroad and studied different new techniques. She'd invest talaga millions of pesos on a machine which she'd then bring home. And that's why she became very popular, because she would introduce new machines and sa kanya lang mahahanap 'yong treatment na 'yon.

"So, same thing, because she knows so much about cosmetics, she wants to share that knowledge not just with the patients that can afford to go to Belo, she also wants to share that with the bigger percentage of the Filipinos who can't afford to go to the clinics. My mom has done consultations over the past 17 years with thousands and thousands of patients, so she really knows what the Filipina concerns are, and she knows how to address them because she really goes to conventions and training abroad."

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Vicki gave her daughter the go-signal to continue with the project.
"We have a chemist who has been with us for two years," says Cristalle, who worked on the project for a year. "But even before that, my mom has been trying out other chemists, researching, amoy, things like that. The last chemist was able to formulate something really good. So, together with my mom, siyempre, nag-collaborate sila."

Here, Vicki disagrees.

"Cristalle, she did it all by herself," the proud mom says. "Ako ang taga-approve lang. So they came out with about three other formulas that I didn't approve of. And it was getting frustrating already, kasi what I want is something really good but very reasonable in price. So, finally with the fourth one, approved na. Everything about it, I like—the smell, the texture. It really works."

The whitening products go by the name Belo Essentials. These include two variants of a soap bar, two variants of a facial wash, and two variants of lotion. Cristalle is managing director of Intelligent Skin Care Inc., the company manufacturing the products.

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So far, Cristalle has been enjoying the learning process in her very first actual job.

"I think I'm very much comfortable with marketing," she says. "My favorite subject in school was accounting, but it's different when you're in class and when you're on field. So I'm still trying to learn how to read and make something out of all the accounting reports. The work also involves a lot of PR, a lot of pakikisama, and so I'm still trying to learn."

Belo Essentials, which was set to be formally launched in August, has three major female stars as endorsers—Lucy Torres-Gomez, Regine Velasquez, and Zsa Zsa Padilla. Kuya Quark directed the TV commercial.

Cristalle is ecstatic: "It felt like it was such a big family project. These three girls—Lucy, Regine, Ms. Zsa Zsa-have been so loyal to us. It was so wonderful. It's nice to have such loyal people."

And Vicki, who is slowly but surely passing the torch to Cristalle, is mighty proud of her daughter's initial accomplishment.

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"She's now a businesswoman," says the mom of her daughter. "I told her, she has to find what she wants to do, and then it becomes not work. It's important for work not to be work. Otherwise you'll feel less charged, di ba? That is the first key decision."

And the second?

"The second key decision is not to listen to any TV news against me."

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Dr. Vicki Belo officially opened her first cosmetic surgery clinic at Medical Towers in Makati in 1990. Last August, she opened her seventh branch at the Trinoma mall in Quezon City. “Pito pa lang,” she says. “Akala ng iba, ang dami-dami.” Though she has only seven clinics, Vicki Belo’s name—along with the name of her enterprise, the Belo Medical Group—has become synonymous with success. (YES!
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