Words have been flying fast in a story that reveals the deepening rift within the Barretto family, whose most famous members are showbiz personalities Gretchen, Marjorie, and Claudine.
Yesterday morning, April 24, the public woke up to a letter of the Barretto matriarch, Estrella (better known as Inday), praising her youngest, Claudine, 33, and bashing her prettiest, Gretchen, 43.
In the course of siding with one child over another, Inday Barretto also ended up confirming a number of rumors floating around showbiz. She confirmed that the row between Gretchen and Claudine has had a long history and is still ongoing. She confirmed that she and Gretchen have been estranged as mother and daughter for an even longer time. And she confirmed that actor Raymart Santiago, husband of Claudine of seven years, has left the conjugal home.
The highly-charged letter—which called Claudine, in essence, "angelic" and Gretchen "evil"—first appeared on Ricky Lo's column in The Philippine Star. (Click here for full report.)
By early evening of the same day, another member of the Barretto family, Joaquin "Jay-Jay" Barretto, had sent his own letter to PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) and other media outlets, this time enjoining his mother Inday to "stop before you ruin the entire family."
On the same day, Claudine Barretto responded to GMA News reporter Nelson Canlas's request for an interview on the family row by saying she would speak her piece "sa tamang oras." The actress, who has not been visible in showbiz circles for months, also said she had first to "gather strength."
Just hours after he released his statement on April 24, Jay-Jay Barretto gave an exclusive phone interview to PEP.
A BROTHER'S DILEMMA. No one remembers Jay-Jay Barretto, 51, ever being on the spotlight before this.
A former government servant and now a businessman, Jay-Jay has not been heard to weigh on the many public troubles of his nationally famous sisters: movie, television star, and celebrity endorser Gretchen; erstwhile actress and endorser, now Caloocan City Councilor Marjorie; and multiawarded actress, former ABS-CBN prized talent, and celebrity endorser Claudine.
Why is he speaking up now?
"I couldn't stand it anymore," Jay-Jay said in the phone interview with this writer in the late hours of April 24. "Claudine has been acting up for so long."
Of his youngest sister, he adds, "We want to help. But she's into things, difficult things... Claudine can't be controlled. She's fighting everyone, but she's manipulating my mom and dad into believing that it's Gretchen that's hitting her. I have to put a stop to this."
Admitting that the now very-public issue is hurting their entire family, Jay-Jay says, "We've been very divided since Claudine started acting up, and I felt that I had to say something. Especially when my mom wrote that letter—what was that about? Why did she do that?"
Saying that he spoke to his brother Mito, the eldest in a brood of seven, before releasing his own statement, Jay-Jay recalled, "He said 'It's your call.' I had no choice. I never wanted this to get big.
"We're all in agreement—my brothers, Marjorie, all my siblings, although one is in the States. We're solid on this. We're all affected by this thing my mom did. It's my mom and dad with Claudine.
"Please, we're not ganging up on Claudine. We want to help. But she's able to convince my parents that she doesn't need help, and they believe her! They're the ones who should see that she really needs help."
NOT FIGHTING INDAY. Jay-Jay pauses, then says earnestly, "Please, this is my family we're talking about. This is not easy for me. You've never heard me talk, and I still don't really want to—but that letter! It's just not right and it's not even true!
"I love my mom. I'm close to her. I'm a Mama's boy. I'm the last person to go against Mom. When she hears about my letter, she will get the shock of her life. But I couldn't take it anymore. I'm going to bust.
"Please, make it clear that I'm not fighting my mom. I just want to make her stop. But she's not listening—otherwise, she would never have made that letter public."
So he did not know that his mother was getting a letter out to the media talking about the conflicts within the family?
"No! None in the family knew! The family was not consulted. She took it upon herself. She just went out and did it.
"She had to show Claudine that she's siding with her. She did this at the expense of the family! My mom should've thought about it a million times. And if she had asked us, we would all have said no.
"I was so shocked when I found out there was a letter. I was even with my mom and dad when Gretchen texted. I had to go drive and get a copy of The [Philippine] Star. When I read it, it was too much!
"When I spoke to Gretchen, she was crying. She tried to talk, but after a while, humahagulgol na lang siya. Iyak nang iyak."
The public has some inkling that a fight is going on between Gretchen and Claudine, but the public isn't always clear about who is fighting whom and why.
"Look, I'm close to Claudine. I'm close to Gretchen. But Claudine has got to stop, kawawa na si Gretchen!
"Wala namang ginagawa si Gretchen. Iba na ang concerns niya ngayon. Wala, tahimik na lang siya, ang tagal na.
"Claudine is the one that's on the offensive. She's magulo. She's fighting everybody—that's true! She's the one provoking. Claudine's been provoking Gretchen for so long.
"If Gretchen speaks up, my mom will hit her and defend Claudine to death. She puts Gretchen on the defensive. Then Gretchen doesn't say anything to defend herself. But Claudine can make my mom believe that Gretchen is after her!
"With this thing of my mom, Gretchen just kept crying. Calling her an ST Queen! My mom could have defended Claudine, but to hit Gretchen, when Gretchen worked for the family!"
Jay-Jay is referring to the years 1982 onward, when Gretchen, at 12 years of age, entered the endorsement and entertainment scenes and became the virtual family breadwinner. The ST Queen tag refers to the period in her career when Gretchen appeared in one sexy Seiko Films project after another, earning her the title of Sex Trip Queen.
This is what Jay-Jay referred to in his April 24 letter, when he said: "You [his mom] have lifted Claudine on a pedestal as the teleserye queen and labelled Gretchen nothing but an ST queen.
"But who took over the role of her parents, worked at the age of 12 and gave up her education to put her siblings to school?
"Who put food on the table, paid for the rent, electricity and hospital bills when dad suffered from his heart condition at least two times?"
During those years, Jay-Jay had a ringside view to Gretchen's life and career. He played driver, bodyguard, guardian, and father to her, accompanying Gretchen through her long hours of filming. When the RPN-9 taping of the teleserye Agos took from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., he recalls, he patiently waited for his sister to finish work.
Their allowance at that time was "P100 a day," Jay-Jay, who is eight years older than Gretchen, recalls. Fifty pesos went to the gas and 50 went to the food. This meant that, nearly every day, the siblings would each feast "only on a burger and Coke."
"Gretchen would cry to me in those days because she couldn't get any of her money, except that 100 [peso] allowance—not even money for a set of clothes. And she worked really long hours, I saw that for myself."
FAMILY CAUCUS. A little before Christmas last year, on December 21, Jay-Jay says that their family had a caucus. Present were their parents Miguel and Inday, siblings Jay-Jay, Marjorie and Gretchen, a sister-in-law, and a nephew.
The subject was Claudine's state of health.
"My mom and dad asked for a meeting. They had gone to a rehab center in White Plains, and they had been advised to attend to Claudine's illness right away. The very next day, they were supposed to bring my sister to the hospital. For her treatment, she was supposed to have a twelve to eighteen months' stay, the doctors said.
"But when my parents spoke to Claudine, she told them 'I'm okay, I'm okay. Lahat okay.' Paawa si Claudine. I don't know how, but she managed to convince them that there was nothing wrong with her, and that Gretchen was the only one saying she [Claudine] was sick.
"Now my mom's obsession is to protect Claudine. Hinaharang niya any moves to make Claudine do anything. She [my mom] just goes on believing that there's nothing wrong."
With the letter of Inday hitting the papers, changes are clearly happening again in the Barretto family: Inday, Miguel and Claudine are at war with Gretchen, who has her other siblings behind her. According to Jay-Jay, the only one who has yet to get very involved is Gia, who is based in the States.
"We've been quiet," Jay-Jay says. "Wala sa amin ang problema. They—mom and dad—should solve the problem."
Before this, says Jay-Jay, things had become better on the homefront. "We were at a party recently, around last month, and Gretchen kissed my parents. Okay naman."
Gretchen and her parents had a falling out many years back. One of the big issues between them at the time was the "missing earnings" of Gretchen, which apparently included two lots in the upscale enclave of Acropolis.
One side said that the money was all accounted for, and that Gretchen could always check the family accounts.
The other side said that the two lots had been placed in the elder Barrettos' names because, although Gretchen had earned the money that paid for these, she was still a minor at the time. Since then, those lots were ostensibly sold, and the Barretto family, being in dire straights, moved back to Iloilo. In the late '80s, the family returned to MetroManila, when the Barretto patriarch developed heart problems.
Jay-Jay recalls that, this time out, his parents "asked" Gretchen to get a car for her father's use, and to shoulder the P50,000 monthly fee on a home. "That was a lot of money then," says Jay-Jay.
"Maybe that's why Gretchen always felt bad about my mom. She never heard my parents thank her, she didn't feel it. In fairness to Gretchen, hindi siya nagsumbat."
CLAUDINE & JULIA. Still, the Barretto family coasted along. They had not come to a real closeness but, in the midst of their differences, had managed some civility.
But it was a civility shattered by Inday's letter to Gretchen—a letter whose beginnings, Jay-Jay feels, may be traced to Claudine's issue with her former management team, Star Magic, as well as her former network, ABS-CBN.
Among the Barretto siblings, it is generally known that Claudine has issues with ABS-CBN, the network that was her homebase for 17 years and the company that she has been heard to say she is returning to.
When Julia Barretto, the stunning 17-year-old daughter of estranged couple Marjorie Barretto and Dennis Padilla, entered the showbiz scene, the Barretto family had to contend with Claudine's "very vocal" objections. She reportedly felt strongly that ABS-CBN was taking in Julia only "to get back" at her and to "ruin" her.
And when Julia finally entered Star Magic in a big way last year, Claudine's rift with Gretchen worsened. Claudine blamed Gretchen for pushing Julia's entry into the Kapamilya circle. Jay-Jay says that this is, in fact, the true story.
When he says, "If there is anyone who cared more for her niece, we all know it is Gretchen, as she has proven when she chose to protect me and my siblings for a long, long time," he also directly refutes his mother's April 24 letter accusing Gretchen of "evil manipulation" in the Claudine-Julia scenario.
How is he so sure that Claudine does not want Julia in ABS-CBN?
"You know, Claudine's texts to Gretchen and Marjorie were the same things in her Instagram account, so we know," Jay-Jay says, his voice calm but sad.
ED'S NOTE: PEP is open to any statements forthcoming from Claudine, Inday, and Miguel Barretto.