What’s behind Shalani Soledad’s Gioconda smile?
Perhaps only Roman Romulo knows for sure.
In any case, there’s no doubting that the Pasig City Representative and former presidential girlfriend, television game show host and Valenzuela City Councilor are the couple du jour.
Ever since controversial TV host Willie Revillame let it slip on his evening game show last month that his lovely co-host, Shalani, was engaged to be married, the lifestyle media and the showbiz gossip mill have been abuzz with rumors, speculations, innuendoes and, occasionally, attributable facts.
“A match made in heaven,” one columnist gushed.
“An answer to a prayer,” another one said.
Divine intervention aside, others surmised that it was a savvy political alliance in the making – Shalani’s celebrity profile would surely elevate Roman’s visibility, and his solid political lineage would in turn lend its weight to her future plans, whatever they might be.
The wedding was variously set in December, in February next year, and – upon the recommendation of a feng shui master – the numerologically auspicious date of January 22, 2012.
Even President Aquino, Shalani’s ex, weighed in on the matter, quoting a line from the David Pomeranz song “Got To Believe in Magic” about how two people find each other.
We just had to get in on the action.
But that was easier said than done.
It took weeks of frantic phone calls and texts between this magazine’s editor and Lolit Solis, Shalani’s showbiz manager, several postponements and cancellations, during which our stylist and battery of hair stylists, make-up artists, photographers and assistants nervously chewed their nails, before we managed to pin down the elusive couple for a photo shoot.
Roman and Shalani arrived at the studio with their respective entourages of drivers and staff – an hour late – but they do make a handsome couple.
I don’t know how someone manages to appear both shy and soft-spoken and radiant, but Shalani does, without even trying, even in her everyday clothes. She also looks better in person than she does on television – the camera does add 10 pounds.
Bespectacled Roman looked like the perfect candidate for “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” – a regular-looking guy who had somehow managed to snag a knockout girlfriend. But he exuded a quiet confidence, and came across immediately to the females in the room as “a nice guy,” perhaps a clue to why Shalani fell for him.
In any case, he seemed just a little bit nervous about being in a magazine cover photo shoot.
He was still not used to the celebrity attention, he admitted. Both he and Shalani weren’t exactly party people, he added. After work, which with Shalani’s TV schedule usually means 10 p.m., they would usually just grab a quick dinner at whatever restaurant they could find that was still open, and head home.
“Maybe that’s why we clicked right away,” he says.
Shalani was not about to vogue in front of the camera – she had been criticized for her laid-back TV hosting style, a stark contrast to Revillame’s adrenalin-crazed routine.
“She’s shy about posing,” revealed one of her staffers.
But she relaxed when Roman joined her in front of the camera, and the photo shoot went on without a hitch. Shalani balked at the third wardrobe change and setup, but that turned out to be the money shot. Our stylist had been going for a “Jackie and JFK” look, and the camera managed to capture the intimacy between Shalani and Roman as they head for their own personal Camelot.
So, what’s behind the Gioconda smile?
After the shoot, during a quiet lunch, Shalani and Roman finally get to talk. One advantage of the odd hours that Roman and Shalani keep – lunch at 3 and dinner at 10 – they usually have the place to themselves.
“I guess there are certain aspects of your personality that you develop through the years, through your experiences, but basically, how you see me on TV, when you talk to me in Valenzuela, is how I really am,” says Shalani.
She really is soft-spoken: It’s hard to imagine her raising her voice, let alone keeping up with wild man Willie on live TV. In fact, in the over-caffeinated world of showbiz, the woman comes across as preternaturally calm and serene, something that her manager takes pride in.
In a separate interview, her talent manager Lolit Solis says of her ward: “Shalani doesn’t sweat the little things. She takes things as they come. Even the meeting with her father was something she took in stride. Okay lang kung makikilala niya o hindi, kasi nga buong akala niya, wala na [She’s always thought he was dead anyway so she never gave him much thought]. That’s how she is, even in her TV hosting. She’s not stressed at all. Yung ibang artista, pag malapit na yung show time, natataranta na tungkol sa hairstyle, make-up o wardrobe nila [Other celebs might panic over hair, make-up and wardrobe, but she keeps her cool]. If the clothes don’t fit, then we just make adjustments and that’s fine with her. She’s the type who would just shrug off intrigues. That’s why she was initially reluctant to enter showbiz; di daw bagay sa ugali niya [it doesn’t fit her personality].”
What about that supposed romance with Willie?
“There was never anything there,” says Lolit. “Ang totoo, amazed na amazed lang siya sa closeness ni Willie sa masa [she’s really impressed at his rapport with the masses]. And how he manages his many commitments. But no romance ever. Ako naman, siyempre, sinasabi ko kay Willie, hindi sila bagay ni Shalani. Kasi hyper si Willie eh kalmang-kalma lang itong alaga ko [For my part, I tell Willie what an odd pair they’d make, with him being so hyper and she being super cool]. That rumor about a romance because she was seen partying in Boracay with him in the early hours of the New Year in 2011 isn’t true. It was actually his blowout for the entire staff of the show so of course she had to go, nakikisama lang siya, she tries to get along with everybody. Pero kahit anong intriga, hindi ’yan kikibo, hindi niya papatulan [But intrigues? No way she’s wading into that. She’d rather keep cool]. That’s why she’d make the perfect politician’s wife.”
Unaware of what her manager has said, Shalani confirms that observation. “When [I] talk to people or when [I’m] doing something, [I] don’t put up a front,” she says. “How you see us now is how we really are. But of course, along the way, certain experiences make you stronger in terms of how you deal with certain challenges in life. Syempre, pag may nalampasan ka, medyo tumatapang ka [Of course, getting over a challenge toughens you]. But we’re basically good-natured.”
Echoes Roman: “In all honesty, what you see is what you get. I’ve seen [Shalani] with her family members, I’ve seen her with friends. That’s really her. She’s not as extroverted as others; she won’t tell you her life story, but she’s not hiding anything. Ask her a question and she’ll answer you. I guess at most she’s shy; she won’t make her opinions known unless it’s part of her work.”
“Baka in love ka lang kaya ganoon ang tingin mo [or maybe it’s just love that makes you see it that way],” laughs Shalani.
And herein lies the enigma that is Shalani: a self-confessed shy girl who nevertheless chose the very public spheres of politics and show business and the celebrity those entail.
The bare facts of Shalani’s life are on the Internet for anyone to examine: she has her own website and her own Wikipedia entry, in which it is revealed that she only met her biological father – banker and businessman Adolfo Aguirre – last year, after 30 years.
“I had a very happy childhood,” she says. “Although I know what you’re saying. I only met my dad when I was already 30. But I grew up with my lolo, my lola, my aunts and uncles. Growing up, I thought that was the normal set-up, until I realized later on that I didn’t have a father. It was in school, when parents were asked to attend, that I realized that my dad was absent. But I never felt kawawa [pitiful], because my mom’s side of the family was really there for me, and very supportive. When my mom left to work abroad, we were made to understand that since we didn’t have daddy, mom had to work to support us.”
Her mother never brought up the subject of her biological father, and for a long while Shalani thought that he had died. As it turned out, it was his brother who had passed away, and through friends, father and daughter finally met face to face last year.
“I’m glad it happened the way it did, because it came at a time when I had already accepted the situation and I felt no bitterness. I was just happy to finally meet him.”
She didn’t ask for any explanations, she says. Meeting him was explanation enough.
“The only tension I felt was how I could get my mom and my dad to see each other, because they hadn’t spoken for the longest time. But we all had dinner one night and masaya naman [it was fun enough]. It was nice to see them together.”
Other Internet entries are more specific about this woman who might have been the next First Lady of the land had her relationship with President Aquino panned out.
According to http://pinoy-thinking.blogspot.com/2011/07/whos-prettiest-angel-locsin-shalani.html:
“Shalani Soledad was christened as Shalani Carla San Ramon Soledad. She was born on April 20, 1980 in Camarines Sur, and has been a member of the Valenzuela City Council second district from 2004 up to this writing.
“Shalani was born out of wedlock to Adolfo Aguirre, formerly the chairman of Banco Filipino, and Evelyn San Ramon, a Philippine Airlines attendant. She was raised by her uncle Ramon Soledad and aunt Edith, her mother’s sister. This is the reason why she is carrying the surname Soledad as she was christened under the couple’s watch. The couple are also the ones reflected in Shalani’s birth certificate as her parents.
“But even if that was the case, Shalani was still able to live with her mother when the latter was in Kuwait working in one of the hotels there. Shalani and her brother Carlo lived with their mother in Kuwait and took their education there. It was reported that Shalani and Carlo took their OJT at the Housekeeping and Food and Beverages divisions at the Radisson SAS Hotel before they returned to the Philippines for their college education in 1998.
“Shalani took her elementary education at the Manresa School and completed her secondary at St. Louis College of Valenzuela. In college, she took the course Bachelor of Science in Human Resources Management at the De La Salle College of St. Benilde. She described herself as an average student and she was not able to finish college due to some units in Physical Education and then her early stint in politics.”
According to Shalani’s manager, the Internet information above is accurate.
By her own account, Shalani was an average student—not too quiet, not the life of the classroom. Her greatest transgression was cutting class to eat at the school cafeteria. She was never class president nor voted to the student council. There was no inkling of the future politician.
The way she tells it, it happened almost by accident. One of her maternal uncles had been slated to run for the Valenzuela city council. One night out of the blue, she says, her uncle told her that he was too old and that she should run instead.
“Without thinking about it, I readily said yes,” she says.
Before she joined politics, Shalani was a member of Senator Panfilo Lacson’s staff. She also landed a job as UNTV 37 news reporter before being elected to the Valenzuela City legislative council.
Before she became known as That Pretty Girl the President (is) Dating, Shalani the politician started from scratch, attending the weddings, wakes and baptisms that are a fledgling local politician’s entry into the community. At one wake for a father who had passed away, she recounts, the daughters of the departed scrutinized her from head to toe and asked her if she was one of their father’s bastard children.
Her quiet ways (not to mention good looks) were a refreshing change from the usual glad-handing and baby-kissing, and Shalani won a seat on the city council. She proved herself a capable councilwoman, introducing an ordinance on Early Child Care and Development that was adopted citywide, and of which she is particularly proud. She was also drafted to become the chairperson of the Appropriations and Ways and Means Committee, scrutinizing budgets and monitoring programs.
And so it would have continued, had she not caught the eye of then Senator Benigno Aquino III in 2008. When Noynoy became president, Shalani shot into the public eye overnight. Whether it was the demands of state or personal differences that eventually led to their breakup in 2010 remains open to speculation. Out of respect for the president, she says, she would rather not talk about it.
For a time, the newly-single Shalani was the subject of intense speculation. Showbiz hype tried to link her with her game show co-host Willie Revillame, but nobody really bought the “beauty and the beast” pairing.
And then came Roman.
“Some friends wanted to introduce me to Shalani,” he recalls. “At my age , a lot of people want to set me up on dates. I’ve been going out. And who doesn’t want to settle down? Fortunately enough, I met Shalani, nagkuwentuhan kami [we talked], and it worked out. It’s just luck that I found the right person.”
By any standards, it was a whirlwind courtship. She wasn’t his first serious relationship, he says, but she was the one he thought of spending the rest of his life with.
“It’s very different when you like someone and you’re just going out,” he adds. “There are no responsibilities involved. It’s daunting to think of spending every day with someone. That’s a bigger step. It takes a lot from you. But like Shalani said, you can’t really pinpoint why you fell for that person. It just happens.”
“I’ve always said that as much as you want to set standards when you fall in love, you really cannot,” says Shalani. “You will just find yourself one day liking that person, falling for that person, and hoping that when you are together things will get better, things will be OK. That’s how it is.
“Deep in their hearts, people believe in fairy tales,” she adds. “They all love love stories, they all want happy endings. Not just me, but people in general want to see that magic happening or unfolding before their very eyes. Tayong mga Pinoy very romantic. Kahit na anong kaguluhan ang mayroon diyan [despite the chaos], we still get to smile, our optimism remains.”
The ease with which Roman and Shalani fit into each other’s lives isn’t that hard to fathom, considering the fact that they are both in the midpoint of their political and personal lives, despite the age gap.
“We both understand the requirements of being public servants, so we understand that we have to devote time to our respective districts, so we’re not jealous when it comes to that,” says Shalani.
“I think we are at an age when we really understand each other in terms of work, that aside from each other we have obligations to our offices and our families. I think what makes it easier is both of us know where we are at this point in time, what we want, and what else we want to do. It’s easier because we know how to handle situations that may arise. May level of maturity na, may level of acceptance na, may responsibility. It works for us,” she adds.
The wedding is going to happen in the first quarter of the coming year. The couple says a church has already been chosen, and it’s just a matter of pinning down the date.
And after the wedding? Their respective duties would require them to have domiciles in both Pasig and Valenzuela, but by now Roman and Shalani are used to the commute.
Now on her third term as a Valenzuela councilwoman, Shalani can no longer run for reelection, but she says she has her eye on higher office in 2013.
“I’ll announce it when I know, but I’m leaning toward a seat in Congress, representing the second district of Valenzuela.”
Roman also admits that the possibility of seeking higher office is always there.
“Hopefully, as a public servant, I would like to be able to serve my constituents as much as I can, sana magustuhan pa nila ako. If you’re asking what office, I always say in politics destiny also comes into play. There comes a time when you’re just surprised to find yourself in a situation that you never designed or thought of. We just hope that as long as we want to serve, our respective cities will also want us to.”
“And of course,” his fiancé hastens to add, “being a woman, I also want to have a family, have children, settle down. I guess you learn from all your experiences, be it in your career, love life, or family. I think the key to having a happy life is finding a balance.” •