Cristy Fermin, from barrio lass to entertainment reporter (Part I)

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"Kasi kung magsulat kasi ako, naglalarawan ako e. Para din akong nagkukwento," says entertainment columnist Cristy Fermin, who is under scrutiny these days for her rift with former actress Nadia Montenegro


She's not a celebrity star. Her job is to write about celebrities. But at the rate things are going, the showbiz writer herself has become the subject of controversies. Suddenly, the public eye is focused on her; tabloid readers, radio listeners and TV viewers wait for what Cristy Fermin has to say.The tri-media showbiz reporter and columnist is currently embroiled in a heated word war with former actress Nadia Montenegro.

Some believe her. Some doubt her credibility. Some empathize with her. Some want her out of the celebrity journalism landscape.

To some stars, she is "nanay." But some may argue and call her "Tirador," given her unabashed way of writing about some of her "anak-anakan" in showbiz. There's one who even went as far as dubbing her "babaeng Shrek."

But let's set aside all the issues she's currently facing and the accusations being hurled her way. Let's talk about her life before she became the Cristy Fermin.

Hers is the classic rags-to-riches story that many—if without bias—would admire. It tells of toughness and beating the odds.

Barrio lass. "Ako'y lumaki sa isang barrio. Sa [Visoria] San Alejandro, Quezon, Nueva Ecija. Ito's isang maliit at payak na barrio na ang bahay ay mabibilang mo dahil sa kaliitan at kauntian ng mga tao na magkakakilala," narrates Cristy, who was born Cristinelli Fermin on June 23, 1956, the youngest of four children.

The Fermins were the usual townfolk who lived very simply, constrained by the barrenness of their surroundings and the economic poverty of their town.

Despite the limited opportunities, "Minulat kami na napakahalaga ng edukasyon. Anak [kasi] ako ng mag-asawang principal at guro sa elementarya. Kaya nga kinailangan kong mag-aral sa isang bayan, sa [malapit na] Sto. Domingo, na apat na kilometro papasok ang aming nilalakad, apat na kilometro pabalik."

Yet the effort to go to school did not bother the young Cristy who described herself as "Madaldal [na] ako nung bata. Mamimisikleta ako sa umaga [pagkatapos] alam na ng nanay ko kung sino'ng namatay, kung sino'ng nagtanan, kung sino'ng magkasintahan, kung sino'ng magkakapit bahay na nagaaway, kinukwento ko. Nagba-bike lang kasi ako sa barrio. Maliit lang kasi baryo namin."

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Elementary and high school saw the youngest Fermin shuttling to and fro their barrio. It was only when she reached college that she felt it was time to try Manila. "Wala naman kasing journalism sa bayan namin, e, gusto ko talaga maging manunulat. Talagang gusto kong magsulat."

Her influence, according to her, may have come from her parents' passed-on love for books and reading. "Marahil, e, dahil ang parehong magulang ko ay guro. Mga bata pa lang kami e nagbabasa na kami ng libro. Robinson Crusoe, grade 3 palang ako nabasa ko na. Tapos, ‘yung Count of Monte Cristo, grade 5. [Pati libro nila] Agatha Cristie, Barbara Cartland, James Mischener, James Clavell, [pati ni] Danielle Steele, 'tapos nakikibasa ako sa nanay ko ng Harold Robbins. [Mga librong] Mills & Boon, 79 Park Avenue, Never Love a Stranger, Noble House, Taipan, Hawaii, Shogun [etc].

"Makikita mo kung ganun ang magulang, ganun din ang gagawin ng anak, di ba?" she noted.

As proof that the Fermins were very focused on the academics, the first-born graduated with two degrees, in Education and Maritime and ended up as Seaman, the second became a bank manager, and the third one became an elementary teacher just like their parents.

"Nung college na ko. Nag-aral ako ng journalism sa Lyceum of the Philippines," Cristy informed, only adding that she was far from being the studious type. "Hindi gaano... dahil player ako eh. Athlete ako."

Naming basketball, volleyball, softball and track and field as her sports, she surprised when she noted that track star Lydia de Vega was one of her contemporaries and that she even had a chance to compete against the bemedalled athlete. "Kasi nagkalaban kami sa 100-meter high hurdles, 100-meter dash at 200-meter dash. Bulacan [representative] siya, Nueva Ecija ako. [Pero] kulelat ako. Si Lydia andun na yata sa finish line, nagsisimula pa lang ata ako."

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Between studies and her athletics, in only her first year in college, writing already beckoned. And Cristy responded naturally.

She became a writer.

The early years. "Ang nag-impluwensya talaga sa 'kin, e, yung uncle ko na Lathalain editor ng Balita, si Mario Cabling, dating president ng FAMAS [Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences]. Pinsan siya ng nanay ko, second cousin. [And] it runs in the family na din siguro kasi meron din kaming mga kamag-anak na naglalahatla ng libro. Pero malalayong kamag-anak na.

"Si tito Mario Cabling, siya yung nag-impluwensya sa ‘kin na magsulat sa Lathalain, sa entertainment page ng Balita tabloid. Dun ako nagsimula," Cristy traced her roots.

The truth of the matter is, the would-be popular entertainment reporter started out in the news department. "Nag-try lang ako. Nagsulat muna ko [bilang] hard news writer pero hindi nagtagal, mga isang taon. Siguro kasi hindi ko mundo yun. Reporting lang yun eh, mga facts lang, hindi umiikot yung imahinasyon mo bilang isang manunulat ng prosa.

"Kasi kung magsulat kasi ako, naglalarawan ako, e. Para din akong nagkukwento. E, hindi ko naman magawa yun sa hard news. Magsi-stick ka sa facts—kung sino'ng pinatay, saan pinatay, nakakahon. Gusto ko naman mag-explore ng konti kung saan magagamit siguro yung paglalarawan sa panulat ko."

And not many people know that before she got knee-deep into showbiz reporting, Cristy Fermin was an activist. "Lahat ng p'wedeng gawin ng isang street parliamentarian at isang progresibong estudyante, mas higit pa dun ang inabot ko."

"Nag-underground ako," she recalled, namedropping her then contemporaries Susan Tolentino, Alex Magno, and Diwa Gunigundo, who were also anti-government and anti-Marcos. "Marami ang nagtangka na baguhin ang sistema ng gobyerno, at isa rin ako sa mga kabataang nag-isip na kaya naming maniobrahin ang bola at baliktarin [ang sistema]."

"Sa panulat ko naman lumalabas pa rin, e," she said, despite the fact that she did not go into mainstream political writing. "Minsan tinangka ko rin. Sa mga columns ko lumalabas yung kulay, yung kapitalista, manggagawa, maliit, mayaman, mahirap, lumalabas yun... idinidiin ko na minsan isang panahon, itinaas ko rin ang kamay ko, nangarap ako, nakibaka."

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But her talents lie not in politics or straight news. Early on, she knew she was fit for entertainment reporting. "Pinaka-professional ko na maituturing na pagsusulat nuong 1979, 23 years old ako nun. Yun yung panahon na nag-aaral ako, nagsusulat, hanggang sa nag-concentrate na ko sa entertainment." Unfortunately, it resulted to "Kulang ako ng ilang units para mag-graduate [dahil] inagaw na ‘ko ng mga ilaw ng showbiz."

But her decision to pursue her passion was not in vain. In the late ‘70s, Cristy Fermin's career started to climb—and very fast.

"Nagpunta na ‘ko sa True Confessions and Modern Romances [magazines]. D'yan yung [panahon ng] mga ‘apat na sikat', sila Lala Aunor, Dondon Nakar, Arnold Gamboa at Winnie Santos.

"Syempre uhuging manunulat ako nuon, siyempre mga bata din yung aking mga ini-interview, hanggang sa nagkaroon na ako ng sariling column sa Modern Romances."

Her climb to create a name for herself was not without bumps though. During the same period, the twentysomething newbie writer felt the first tugs of love and the frustrations of heartbreak.

The loves of her life. Distinctly recalling her first boyfriend, "Si Alex Marcelino, assistant siya nun ni senator Lito Lapid. Isa rin siyang writer nung naging writer ako. Magkaibigan pa rin kami hanggang ngayon."

But no, Alex was not the one who took her to the altar. It was a certain Raymond who won her hand in marriage. Too bad, though, that her career success did not translate to her personal life.

Cristy confessed, "Kung susukatin mo ‘ko bilang kasama sa buhay, hindi ko magagawang maganda ang paglalarawan. Maraming kulang sa buhay ko." The married couple decided to separate after having a son they named, Bryan Mondray.

"May nakilala ako [pagkatapos] na inakala ko siya na," she said, confessing that said relationship gave her her second-born, Neil. "Kasi mga babae tayo, 'di ba? Iniisip natin lagi na baka meron pang nakadisenyo para sa atin. Pero ‘pag dating ng panahon hindi pa rin pala kayo ang pinagtitiyap ng pagkakataon. Ganun ang nangyari.

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"Walang babaeng matapang, walang puso na matibay pagdating sa pakikipagrelasyon," Cristy related. "Mapagpanggap lang ang babae. Maganda lang tayo magdala ng problema. Yun ang may katangian tayo na wala ang lalaki. Ang lalaki kasi nagsusumbong sa alak, di ba? Nagsusumbong sa sugal, sa ibang kandungan, madali silang makahanap.

"Pero kasi tayo[ng mga babae], ‘di tayo makapag-relasyon ng walang pagmamahal. ‘Di tayo pwedeng makipag-relasyon kahit sa sinumang lalaki na ‘di kakambal ang puso. ‘Pag nakipag-relasyon ang babae, 80 porsyento, may pagmamahal."

Hurting, she found solace in work. And work, ironically, gave her love anew. "[May] nagbukas na magazine, ang Jingle Sensation, kapatid ng Extra Hot [magazine]. Ako yung [naging] assistant editor ni Loren Banag."

Loren Banag, whom she met way back when she was a contributor in Orig magazine while he was the editor, eventually became "Ama ng aking dalawang anak. [Siya yung] naging kasama ko ng 11 taon."

She bore two sons with Loren: Loren Christopher, whom they nicknamed "Rebo" for Rebolusyon as he was born in the year of Edsa Revolution in 1986; and Loren Emmanuel or "Demo", short for Demolisyon as he was born in the year when Payatas was demolished in 1988.

Aside from their sons, another project that the two writers produced was Mariposa. "Early 1987, naisip naming magtayo ng sariling naming publikasyon, ang Mariposa. Isang magazine lang nung una, yung Gossip. 'Tapos [nagkaroon ng] Rumors, Teenstars, Scandals, Secrets, at Bitchy [magazines]."

Their venture, which practically started out from scratch, "Utang na papel, utang na..." Cristy described their initial financial limitations, "Lumaki ito. Ni-revolutionize [ang entertainment writing]. Eto ay tumagal... namayagpag. Eto ang dahilan kung bakit nakabili kami ng properties na pinapangarap lang namin noon. Eto yung dahilan kung bakit lumawak ng lumawak ang aming pakpak sa pagsusulat, kasi anim na magazines ‘yan."

"Andami naming nabigyan ng hanapbuhay, mga kolumnista, mga trabahador," she narrated. Mariposa was like a big family as well. "Magpapaluto ako ng ulam ng umaga, yun na ang pagkain namin tanghalian at hapunan. So dun na kami lahat pati merienda. Doon na kami [halos] nakatira."

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The Mariposa office was then located at a duplex in Quezon City and it had housed 20 staff members and more or less 80 contributors.

Cristy Fermin recalled that certain period with fondness, saying it was that time when financial success truly came her way. Their magazines became very popular, so much so that their six magazines had totaled to 40-60,000 copies in circulation.

The success did not make her treat her staff differently. She was a lenient boss, as attested by one former employee, Divine Mesina. "Ipaglalaban ka niya at ang turing niya sa empleyado niya, anak. Para kaming pamilya."

She was also very liberal. Cristy Fermin confessed that she did not dissuade her employees from getting "just rewards" from the stars they had written about. "Depende naman ‘yan sa situasyon. Sino ako para magsabi ng dapat at hindi dapat?"

"Ay, okay sa akin yon," she stressed. "'Wag lang makakasira sa porma ng magazine. Wag lang masyadong magagamit ang kanilang mga columns sa ganun. Okay ako sa ganun. Manunulat iyun, eh. May laya.

"At ako'y hindi di rin naghuhugas kamay. Ako man ay hindi uma-attend ng presscon, may mga artista namang nagpapadala sa akin ng ‘reward' kapagka ako'y nakagagawa ng maganda. At ‘pag birthday ko at pasko, marami din namang nagreregalo sa akin. Kung sakali namang ang artista ay nakita na maganda ang nagawa ko, hindi naman ako maghuhugas kamay na ibinabalik ko. Nung una [oo], nagpapabalik ako. Masyado pa kasi akong nakakulong sa paniniwala na pagka merong tinanggap, pwersado ka or may kompromiso," she revealed.

The glory days of Mariposa ended in 2000. "Kasi wala na ang labanan diyan, 'asa tabloid na," Cristy revealed.

Her personal relationship faltered as well. She and Loren broke up.

In the same manner, one of her many friendships failed her, too. A friend and colleague swindled her of some her hard-earned money, earning her 37 cases of estafa because of his trickery.

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Reality hit. And hard.

(Part II: Cristy Fermin becomes a controversial TV and radio personality)


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