"May awa talaga ang Diyos. When people found out that I was separated, yung blessings nag-pour. Biglang ang daming offers, so nung time na yun, nag-decide ako."--Sunshine Cruz
Sunshine Cruz has a house that stands like a proud warrior who has just come home from years at battle.
It is quite a bit like her--a movie star who, after thirteen troubling years of marriage, fought back, and is finally home.
She is now on her own, and she is queen of this three-story proud sanctuary.
Lording it over 200 square meters of a corner lot in a gated neighborhood, the house is imposing, even massive, to look at.
But, to Sunshine, the place is exactly right.
"Eksaktong-eksakto ito para sa akin saka sa mga girls ko," the 41-year-old says with a big smile. "Hindi ganun kalaki, hindi rin ganun kaliit. Kasi ayoko sanang mabigla yung mga anak ko, na from ang ganda-ganda ng bahay then biglang ang liit."
The PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) had a chance, on September 18, 2018, to be with the Kapuso star in the first-ever house pictorial she has granted.
She fell in love with the property the first time she saw it on October 20, 2013.
"Kaya nung nakita ko ito, hindi na ako tumingin sa iba.
"May nakalagay pang paskil 'For Sale,' hindi ko na binitiwan.
"I think perfect na ito for me."
That she had no big money then was not going to stop her.
"Hindi ko pa nabibili yung bahay, nag-post na ako ng photo sa Instagram, at nag-pose sa labas ng bahay na 'I'm claiming it, this will be my house!'"
Today, Sunshine lives in this house with her three daughters by Cesar Montano--Angelina Isabelle, 17; Samantha, 14; Chesca, 12.
In early 2013, Sunshine Cruz, then 35 years old, decided enough was enough.
She upped and left her husband Cesar--who, at that time, was being linked to starlet Krista Miller--taking with her their three daughters.
"Kahit igapang ko yung mga anak ko, gagawin ko. Pero never kong naisip na iwan yung mga anak ko talaga. I know na mas maga-guide ko yung mga bata."
Thereafter, her legal battle to reclaim her life began.
But there loomed the big problem: She was picking up the pieces, and she had no job and no money. She had given up showbiz to become a full-time wife when she married Cesar on September 14, 2000.
And now there was the extra pressure from Cesar, who, through the househelp, told Sunshine, "Sabi ni Sir, yung mga gamit niyo raw po, nasa masters, pakialis na raw po."
Yet when it was time to get her last remaining stuff from the house, Cesar, by Sunshine's telling, tried hard to talk her out of it.
"Nung tinanggal ko ang mga gamit namin, pinipigil niya ako. Buti na lang may susi ako.
"Pero desidido na po talaga ako. Yun yung time na, ayoko na talaga.
"Pero yun nga, wala ako mapuntahan na bahay."
With just a semi-regular job on ABS-CBN's now-defunct morning series, Be Careful With My Heart, where she played the deceased wife of Richard Yap's character, she bravely went house-hunting.
She was not yet out to buy her model house; she was simply keen to rent a place where the four of them could be safe.
"Ang dami kong inikot na bahay, mga walo. So talagang hinanapan ko ang mga anak ko nang maayos naman na bahay, at safe.
"So it took me, like, eight houses to nine houses before ako makahanap ng rerentahan sa Quezon City."
A modest house in North Susana Executive Village, Quezon City, became their temporary home.
In April 2013, she made her TV comeback on ABS-CBN's afternoon serye, Carlo J. Caparas’s Dugong Buhay.
Six months later, she became bolder. She made plans to find a more permanent place, this time in the south of Manila.
The location of the house was crucial to her move.
"Actually, nung una, ang kino-consider ko ay Quezon City. Dun din ang gusto ko kasi nga malapit sa place of work, and yes, familiar na. I lived there for years.
"Kasi yung time na yun, sa Quezon City rin nag-aaral yung mga bata, so hindi ko naman iniisip na ilipat.
"Kaya lang, hindi masyado nagiging maganda yung experience namin doon, kaya yun na nga, meron nakapag-suggest sa akin, actually yung best friend ko, si Ate Jun Natividad.
"'Bakit hindi mo i-consider yung Paranaque? At least nandoon yung mom mo. Pag nagtatrabaho ka, kahit papaano mache-check ni mom mo yung mga kids.'"
True enough, when Sunshine found the place, she was set.
"I feel safe dito. Parang ang pakiramdam ko, mas magiging safe ako kasi malapit lang ang mommy ko. And every time na, siyempre, kasi working mom ako, na kapag nasa trabaho ako, at least kung ano mangyari sa kids or may emergency, mapupuntahan kaagad ng mom ko."
Immersed in her life as a working mom, the purchase of her very first property went by like a breeze.
On October 25, 2013, or five days after Sunshine first saw the house, it became hers.
"May awa talaga ang Diyos. When people found out that I was separated, yung blessings nag-pour. Biglang ang daming offers, so nung time na yun, nag-decide ako."
She continues, "For less than a year, nag-rent muna ng bahay sa Quezon City.
"And then dire-diretso naman yung work, nakakaipon, nakakaipon, sa awa ng Diyos.
"Until, finally, I decided na sayang naman kung puro rent na lang, 'tapos napupunta rin sa wala ang pera."
On April 2, 2014, she moved her children into their new home.
Serving as Sunshine's beacon in her transition between housewife to single mom was her Mommy Alma, who lent her the money to purchase the multi-million-peso house.
Looking back, she says, "Siyempre, I was really open naman before. When I separated from my ex, I didn't have money and I was really scared, kasi nga I thought hindi na ako makakabalik nang pag-aartista.
"Wala akong pera, wala akong, basta lahat, wala talaga. Lakasan lang ng loob, lalo na sa pera."
"Then my mom said, 'Why don't you just buy a house?' Sabi ko, 'Ma, baka hindi ko pa kakayanin sa kung anong pera meron ako.'
"My mom was generous enough naman to offer na, 'Ako muna,' then binayaran niya ng cash."
To this day, she still issues a check to her mom monthly.
"Business is business. I still owe her pa, pero konti na lang," she giggles.
"Unti-unti kong binabayaran kasi ayoko namang walang laman yung bangko ko. I still pay her parang rent. So up to now, binubuno ko, parang nagre-rent ako."
Another person who has been there for her is her best friend Jun, aka Ate Jun.
"He was the one who helped me sa pag-interior," Sunshine beams. "Ang gagawin niya, minsan kasama si Mama, pipili sila, then padadalhan ako ng picture sa text.
"Lahat halos ng nakikita niyo, siya pumili. Approved ko."
A minor hiccup of the new house was the distance.
Her home is roughly 32 kilometers away from GMA-7, the network she is currently affiliated with.
And as it happens, her taping is often in Pampanga, again many hours away.
The Kapuso actress is philosophical about it. "Medyo konting adjustment lang, of course, kasi kelangan three hours bago ang call time, umaalis na talaga ako. Pag rush hour na lalo, minsan inaabot ako ng apat na oras."
She adds, "Pero, all worth it naman. Kasi ang dami ko na rin naging friends dito, 'tapos yung community, tahimik lang.
"Sanayan lang, sanayan, pero okay pa rin. Masaya naman dito."
Sunshine makes a countdown of her routine, "So, gigising ako ng ako 3 o 3:30 a.m., aalis ako ng 4 a.m., kasi ang call time ko po doon minsan ay 6 a.m.
"So ligo lang ako, tulog ulit ako. May kumot na ako, so nakakatulog talaga ako.
"Talent ko yun, e, masandal lang ako, talagang masarap-sarap ang tulog ko lagi, e."
Laughing, she says, "Naiinggit yung iba talaga, masandal lang ako, tulog na po talaga ako.
"Madaling araw na minsan kasi ang taping po namin, kadalasan, ang Kapag Nahati ang Puso is in Pampanga."
Her series is top-billed by Ben Alves, Bea Binene, Zoren Legaspi, and Bing Loyzaga.
But to help her along with the road trips, she purchased two comfortable cars--a Toyota Grandia and an Innova--early this year. She paid for them in cash, too.
"Yung style ko, iipunin ko, 'tapos ita-target ko, 'para ito sa kotse,' ganyan."
Asked if she has plans of purchasing another house in the future, Sunshine says, "One step at a time."
She elaborates, "Naku, hindi pa ako tapos dito. Napag-usapan na namin na mga bata na si Angelina, kasi si Angelina sa third floor, e, minsan yung mga bata pag babae, maingay hangga't makatulog. Maiingay sila.
"Sabi ko, 'Angelina, baka next year, ha, ibibigay ko sa iyo etong kuwarto ko, ha.'"
Her king-size bed merits special mention.
"Ang mahal nitong bed ko, e, hindi ko matatanggal. Sabi ko, nasa PHP100K ata iyan, e.
"Kaya, Angelina, ingatan mo iyan. Sabi ko, 'Magiging sa iyo na ito. Ikaw naman kasi yung eldest ko.'"
Shine gives PEP.ph an idea of how she plans to renovate the third floor: "Ipapabaklas ko, gagawin kong sarili ko lang.
"So, pinag-iipunan ko pa, para lang ano, meron akong sariling section."
She says this property can be her dream house, but admits it is still lacking one thing: "Ang dream ko talaga, isang bahay na may bath tub. Wala akong bath tub, e.
"So, papabaklas ko yung third floor, papalagyan ko ng bath tub. After nun, masasabi ko nang, 'Eto na yung dream house ko.'"
The best thing about her life now, Sunshine says, is that she can make decisions on her own. This includes buying things for herself and her daughters with her very own money.
Best of all, she can dream endlessly.
"May mga goals ako," the 41-year-old single mom says.
In time, she hopes she can have the clout to choose her projects in showbiz.
"I'm giving myself actually a timeline na, kapag fifty years old na ako, maybe yun yung hindi na talaga ako mag-aartista.
"Hangga't maaari siguro, tanggap-tanggap pa rin pag may maganda, pero hindi na yung iisipin ko na kelangan ko magtrabaho para makapag-provide sa mga anak ko."
She also plans to go for higher studies. She wants a master's degree in Psychology.
Smiling, she says, "Malay mo, maging psychologist ako eventually."
Is there another thing in her wish list?
"I also want to put up a restaurant eventually po," she says, her face aglow.
SHOOT PRODUCER: Arniel Serato
PHOTOGRAPHER: Hans Fausto
ART DIRECTOR: Jeremiah Idanan
HAIR & MAKEUP: Armie Florendo
VIDEO TEAM: Rommel Llanes, Kleo Hernandez, Pam Carlota