Claudine Barretto drew first blood.
The volatile 31-year-old star, who has captured nearly every acting prize hereabouts, told the Philippine Entertainment Portal on August 25 that she was in the midst of choosing from among three lawyers, in her determined drive to haul actress Angelica Panganiban, 23 years old, to court.
Three days earlier, in Davao City, Claudine—wife to 37-year-old former action star Raymart Santiago and mother to their adopted daughter and biological son—had told Peoples Tonight entertainment editor Ian Fariñas that no one was getting in the way of her singular quest.
To get the point home, she said that no one could stop her—not even Raymart, her husband of four years, or Mr. M, also known as Johnny Manahan, her career mentor of 17 years.
By all accounts, Claudine had been stewing much earlier than this. Weeks back, on August 4, 11:05 p.m., she had posted on her Twitter for Blackberry (written as is): "Tweethearts ano b dapat gawin sa traydor na kaibigan na walang magawa sa buhay kundi siraan ako,asawa ko,kaibigan ko"
This was followed by: "At pangalan ko ng mga anak ko???don't mess wid my family ang stand ko!"
At the time, the actress was 19 days away from naming the person she was calling the "traydor na kaibigan," but, being one of the biggest stars in the country, she had succeeded in tweaking the interest of the local press. The search was on: Who was the mystery person Claudine was warning, on Twitter, not to "mess" with her family?
Within the same day of August 4, Claudine—who is, incidentally, a tri-media celebrity endorser for Lactum, Knorr, Belo Essentials and Pantene—went on to post 14 other tweets via web, a number of which were retweeted, also on the web, by people she was communicating with:
"isang daga na tago ng tago!!!! mahahanap rin kita promise!!! sana di mangyari sayo to if pakakasalan ka????"
"nawawala pagka christian ko lord!!!pag asawa't mga anak ko na binabastos mo di kita tatantanan!!!"
"soon very soon frend i'll let you knw kung sino siya!!!"
"not bcoz were christians ibig sabihin tiis lang ng tiis!!!im a wife and a mother"
"baka masunog pag pinag pray over!!!but i'll try!!! itago nalang natin sya sa pangalang ---------!!!"
"if your not guilty haharap ka diba???? eh nagtatago.cge i'll pray n reflect after all KARMA.hahabulin ka nun"
"Just pray that Karma will visit him/her anytime soon...&"
"lord pls sana tonight na dalawin sya ng konsensya at karma!!!!"
"thanks tweethearts.choose your frends well!!! and knowyour enemies better!!! god knows hu n wat u did, u wont go unpunished."
"your not worth it girl! I keep praying for your soul,napakasama ng ginagawa mo!!!"
"sana di ka pa nalulunod sa success,sana ma remember mo yung magagandang bagay na ginawa namin ng family ko for u.sana"
"tweethearts thank u.i luv u guys for being true friends!sana ma hug ko kayo para malaman nyo na im thankful nandyan kayo"
"im gonna sleep na and forget you!but i'll make sure you will never forget me and everything ive done for you!!!"
"di pa tapos to you cannot forever hide.god knows and see's your heart n soul."
The next day, August 5, Claudine was apparently still stewing. That is, to go by her next uploads on her Twitter for BlackBerry. These again worked the issue of the unnamed "girl" whom she was invoking the "lord" not to leave "unpunished":
"F ur not guilty n u rili know me y didn't u face me?"
"lord allow no weapon formed against me to ever prosper.dnt let dem go unpunished"
"Respect?saan part mo ako nirespeto?"
"matagal na sobra!nakalimot lng sya at naging sinungaling"
At press time, these postings were still up. But as early as August 23, no one was left with any doubt that the object of Claudine Barretto's ire was, indeed, Angelica Panganiban. Claudine had finally named her.
Meanwhile, the day before, on August 22, Angelica Panganiban's own UberTwitter recorded two postings, the first at 12:27 p.m. and the second at 2:40 p.m. These also remain posted at press time, and they read (written as is):
"Nakalabas naman kami ng buhay sa hotel. Nag promise ako. Mananahimik lang ako...Salamat Lord.. Life is beautiful!!"
And "Binabaligtad ang mundo... Bilog ang mundo.. Umiikot lang.. Pero d pwedeng baligtarin.."
A checkback to this date revealed that this was the period when Angelica, with other Star Magic stars, were in Davao City to participate in the fiesta there. Claudine was then also in Davao City to promote her film In Your Eyes. And they were all, as coincidence would have it, billeted in the same hotel, the Marco Polo.
From all accounts, Claudine's and Angelica's paths did not cross. Some showbiz insiders actually speculated that this was not fate—it was by design. A number of them had already gotten wind of the ill tidings between the two stars, and they spotted the efforts of those managing either camp to keep the two from bumping into each other.
WHY ANGELICA? From her August 25 interview with PEP, Claudine said that everything began at a private party she attended on the evening of July 24. This was the occasion, she said, when Angelica first offended her.
From the story Claudine told PEP, posted here August 26, she and Raymart had gone to a dinner hosted by non-showbiz friends, whom she named as Martin and Cris Castro. Held in the latter's home, the dinner also had for guests, Angelica and her boyfriend Derek Ramsay, who is Martin Castro's good friend.
Also by Claudine's account, the Castro couple had just completed renovating their garden and had invited her and Raymart over to see it, besides which Martin's mother was cooking dinner and she was supposed to have asked to meet Claudine.
Angelica, said Claudine, was in a bad mood from the moment she arrived ("padabog-dabog"). But what really got her goat, she continued, was when Angelica began badmouthing her sister Gretchen to other guests present.
In between sobs, Claudine told PEP that Angelica was telling these guests that Gretchen was being inappropriate and giving her boyfriend Derek expensive gifts. Gretchen and Derek appear in the ABS-CBN fashionserye Magkaribal.
Claudine said she confronted Angelica that same night, demanding to know why the young actress was saying those things against Gretchen. She also said that all Angelica could say to her was a lame "sorry."
Angelica is a 23-year-old beauty who began as an award-winning child actress (Separada; Ama, Ina, Anak), proved versatile in both drama and comedy, earned the tag "celebrity endorser" (The Bar, Swatch), and is now a premier client of Star Magic, the ABS-CBN talent management arm whose publicly recognized big boss, even now when he no longer heads it, is Mr. M.
This is the same Mr. M and Star Magic that are credited with steering Claudine's career for 17 years, from 1992 to November 2009, when Claudine made the dramatic transfer to GMA-7. During the time she was with Star Magic, Claudine became ABS-CBN's premier star (Marina), and that of the network's prolific film arm, Star Cinema (Milan, Anak, Sukob, Dubai).
At two main points in their careers, Claudine and Angelica, with eight years age difference between them, worked together. In Ang TV in 1992, where both started and where both were directed by Mr. M, and in Iisa Pa Lamang in 2008, which would turn out to be Claudine's second to the last outing in a drama series for Channel 2.
But with today's unfolding tale, the public has been regaled with intrigues, threats, and lawsuits involving the two beautiful and talented stars. Eventually, the equally beautiful and talented Gretchen would also be swept into the tale.
EXTRAMARITAL AFFAIR? In her PEP interview, Claudine accused Angelica of spreading the lie that she, Claudine, was having an affair with a non-showbiz friend she named as Martin Castro. Martin, Claudine said, is married to a non-showbiz girl she identified as Cris. They were the July 24 dinner hosts.
They are simply friends, Claudine said. In fact, she added, Raymart and Martin "still talk."
The Angelica connection, she noted, was Derek Ramsay, Martin's friend. And Angelica's motive, Claudine told PEP, was the desire to ruin Derek's friendships. Angelica had already attempted to ruin, said Claudine, Derek's relationships with his fellow athletes.
In between sobs, Claudine told PEP's contributing writer Jerome Gomez: "Gusto niyang sirain si Derek at si Martin. Ipinagkakalat niya na addict si Martin."
Along the way, Claudine said, she took up the cudgels for her sister Gretchen. This was why she was roused into anger at Angelica in the first place, she said.
But Claudine's next statement would resonate less like a defense of Gretchen and more like a sly dig: "Eto ako, linis lang nang linis ng kalat ng kapatid ko." Claudine and Gretchen have had a hot-cold, on-off relationship which, they both admit, is at present cold and off.
On August 31, Jerome Gomez (the same reporter who had interviewed Claudine on August 25 for PEP) attempted to get an update from Claudine. His phone call went largely unanswered, and his text message asking for an interview was answered with a text message providing talent manager Shirley Kuan's number.
Shirley Kuan, a.k.a. SK, is now Claudine's manager. When Jerome succeeded in getting in touch with SK, the veteran manager—who also manages Albert Martinez and co-manages KC Concepcion—asked for silence: "Quiet na muna kami. She's under strict orders from me not to talk."
Asked about the lawsuit that Claudine had been threatening to slap Angelica with, the manager said, "Hindi namin pinag-uusapan. At saka, Jerome, kung puwede huwag ka nang dumiretso kay Claudine, and Raymart is asking the same thing, kasi baka ma-tempt [magsalita]."
But today, September 1, veteran showbiz columnist Cristy Fermin wrote in the tabloid Bulgar that two days ago, August 30, she got a call from Claudine herself. In their conversation, Cristy said, Claudine wanted to avoid talking about Angelica, but made it clear that she was bringing the younger girl to court.
Cristy quoted Claudine as saying, "Kilala mo naman ako, hindi ako pumapasok sa isang bagay na matatalo ako." At press time, it was unclear whether Claudine had informed her manager or her husband about her call to the columnist, who is also the host of two showbiz-oriented shows on TV5.
GRETCHEN WEIGHS IN. Expectedly, Gretchen Barretto was going to have her say. But surprisingly, the feisty Gretchen—partner of wealthy businessman Antonio "Tonyboy" Cojuangco for the past 16 years and mother to their 15-year-old daughter—responded, not with the expected sharpened rapier, but with a blunted blade.
On August 27, the 40-year-old actress admitted to PEP, in a 30-minute interview by Anna Pingol on the set of Magkaribal, that her sister's words were "hurtful," but that as a sister she was choosing to "bear the hurt." There is a nine-year difference between Gretchen and Claudine.
Pressed to comment about Claudine's statement that she, Claudine, has had to sweep again after Gretchen's mess, an obviously more circumspect Gretchen answered, "Claudine is obviously going through a tough time—in all aspects of her life. I pray that I have more patience and a little more love for her. Pilitin na lang nating intindihin."
She added, "Sana mai-set aside na niya iyong mga galit niya sa mundo, because that is the very reason she and Raymart have things to work on in their lives."
About their hot-cold, on-off relationship as sisters, Gretchen was more direct. She claimed that she had extended the hand of peace to her youngest sister repeatedly, but that Claudine had refused it repeatedly. Raymart had refused it too, she said.
For her March 17 birthday, Gretchen recounted, she tried to get Claudine to come to an intimate dinner she was hosting. "So, March 6, tinext ko na siya at tinatawagan ko siya. Sabi ko na hangga't hindi niya sagutin, e hindi ako titigil. Gusto ko talaga malaman, and I felt sad on my birthday na parang may kulang," Gretchen began.
Continuing, she said, "What happened, e, tinawagan ko siya at sinabi niya sa akin na 'I'll call you back, I'm in a shoot.' Sabi ko, 'Okay.' Nag-return call siya and sabi ko, 'Babe, what happened to us?' Yun lang ang tinanong ko sa kanya, at sinabi niya na, 'Yeah, you know we really have to talk kasi marami akong gustong ilabas.'"
But the conversation did not end well, Gretchen admitted. "Basta hindi maganda ang nangyari. Nagalit siya." In another part of the PEP interview, Gretchen let slip that Claudine got mad at her again and refused to talk to her after Gretchen accepted Magkaribal. At the time, with Claudine moving over to GMA-7, the role meant for Claudine went to Bea Alonzo.
According to Gretchen, that was their last conversation. She added, "Gaya ng sinabi ko, kung puwedeng ayusin, aayusin ko. Pero ilang beses na rin akong nag-try na lapitan si Claudine, at pinasabi ko na rin sa mga nephews ko na kung puwdeng magkita kami ni Claudine. Pero nire-reject niya, hindi pa raw siya talaga ready, nagagalit siya."
When it came to the issue of Claudine getting into a fight with Angelica because the younger Barretto had defended her, Gretchen was just as candid. Hard for her to believe Claudine was defending her against Angelica, she said, for the simple reason that she and Angelica had no quarrel between them.
"Ngayon ko lang naririnig itong version na ito!" Gretchen said, when told that Claudine said she was the first big reason she fought with Angelica. Without getting into specifics, Gretchen said, "Ang totoo, may istoryang umiikot that does not involve me at all. Hindi ako ipinagtatanggol ni Claudine dito sa away na ito—dahil wala kaming away ni Angelica."
She also said that she knew of no occasion when Angelica had badmouthed her. "Maliit lang ang industriya," Gretchen said at least twice in the PEP interview, to explain why she would know if Angelica was hitting her behind her back, as Claudine claimed.
In a more recent conversation with this writer, Gretchen added that Angelica has been nothing but "decent" to her, and that, as a couple, Angelica and Derek were "mga disenteng tao." She said she just could not find fault with them.
Derek was surprisingly very even-tempered, she discovered. "I thought athletes would be hotheaded. Well, Derek is very patient, very cool. He thinks before he speaks." And Angelica was as nice as she was beautiful, she realized. "Babaeng matapang na mabait. Hindi mo siya puwedeng tapakan, pero hindi siya iyong maninira ng kapwa."
Even during her own public exchange of putdowns with Angelica in early June, Gretchen said, she never believed Angelica said more than what she had put on her Twitter. "'Yong twit niyang 'yon, kung ano 'yon, yun lang 'yon. Hindi na 'yon nanganak, hindi na 'yon lumaki."
PEP's long interview with Gretchen touched on issues that have been buzzing around the entertainment industry, but have never really been clarified by those involved in it.
Issue One: That there is, in fact, no real peace between the most famous of the Barretto siblings. True, at one point there was real reconciliation between them, after roughly three years of not talking to each other over the issue of former brother-in-law Dennis Padilla. But enough peace came about to raise expectations that the sisters would finally star together in a television series.
But, if Gretchen's present interview is to go by, it was this very teleserye, Magkaribal, that has caused the present and, possibly, deeper rift between Claudine and Gretchen today.
Issue Two: That Claudine, apart from threatening Angelica with slander and libel suits, has, more disturbingly, been throwing "grave threats" Angelica's way.
That, at least, is the current buzz inside the Kapamilya network, where reporters have noticed two bodyguards now assigned outside the dressing room of Angelica. One reporter also noted that, while each dressing room had the name of the star using it marked outside the door, Angelica's had none.
Asked what she knew about those "grave threats," Gretchen said quickly, "Ayokong sagutin 'yan, ayokong sagutin 'yan. Maselan 'yan na issue. Ang akin lang, again, how I feel about the threats is nakakalungkot, kasi hindi naman dapat sa gano'on humantong... Right now, I can only pray for her peace and I can only pray na sana matapos na 'to. Sana yung mga banta niya, I hope they're empty threats, kasi nakakalungkot. Nakakalungkot."
This evening, asked about the bodyguards visibly guarding Angelica at work, Gretchen again attempted to sidestep the question. "Hindi ako binigyan ng karapatang magsalita ng taong binantaan," she said, "kaya hindi puwedeng manggaling sa akin ang kumpirmasyon." She refused to say more.
Issue three: That Raymart has gotten into the picture. Gretchen said she had hoped Raymart would at least listen to Derek's and Angelica's side. "All I'm asking from Raymart is sana pakinggan naman niya yung side ni Angelica and ni Derek, na walang... Minsan kasi, importante 'yong we put aside 'yong init ng ulo. Put aside first, and listen to the other part."
Instead, Raymart is said to have once lashed at Angelica on the phone. According to Gretchen, "...I just felt bad for Angelica na napagsalitaan nang masama at napagtaasan ng boses ni Raymart!"
As a parting shot, PEP asked Gretchen why her tone lacked the belligerence of old, and why she seemed not to meet Claudine head on, when all reports pointed to the younger Barretto as drawing first blood.
Gretchen's answer came a few minutes after, by way of a text message: "If Claudine's distorted truth about me and about others makes her feel like a better sister and person, if it makes her feel better than the rest of the world, if it makes her feel whole and accepted and loved, if it makes her feel well and stay well and sane, then so be it. As a sister who loves Claudine dearly, I choose to be more understanding and compassionate of her situation."