Maria Remedios Bueno Coady —or simply Baby Bueno, as she prefers to be known professionally—grew up poor and marginalized, by her own account, in her native Santa Cruz, Zambales, which lies close to the boundary with Pangasinan. She sold fish and take in washing to make ends meet for her family.
It was not an unhappy childhood. But they were 12 siblings, and she was the second eldest and the oldest among the girls. Responsible parenthood, reproductive health or what-have-you were not yet buzzwords then. The father, Panfilo Bueno, an Ilocano-Bicolano, was “a good provider” while the mother, Esperanza Urbano, was strong-willed “like me.”
These little revelations were made in a recent mini-press conference at the Tap Room Bar, Manila Hotel, during which Baby discussed her life thus far and talked about her current projects.
Eventually she made her way to Manila, studied at the University of the East and became a varsity badminton player. One of her contemporaries was Robert Jaworski.
Then came the big break in her life—she was discovered by couturier Pitoy Moreno and became a ramp model. The provinciana metamorphosed into a sophisticated fashionista, even toured Europe and modeled for Coco Chanel. It was heady success.
She even tried her hand at acting, and appeared in movies like “Dragnet.” “I played a sosyal actress,” she recalled. “I didn’t like that.” At one time, Joseph Estrada wanted to add her to his list of conquests. “Niligawan siya ni Erap,” as a media friend put it.
Baby has a child by her first husband, and later married Michael Coady, a Briton based in Macao, where she spent many years organizing exhibits there and in Singapore, and promoting the works of noted Filipino artists such as Rafael Pacheco and Nemiranda. Art and fashion—along with her home province of Zambales, which she has never left in spirit—were major influences in her life. And then disaster struck—she was diagnosed with cancer.
A tumor in her brain grew and grew, and she was pronounced clinically dead. A doctor in Switzerland saved her, and the cancer went into remission. It recurred in Hong Kong, but again she recovered. “I can die anytime,” she says casually. Apart from her doctors, she attributes her surviving cancer through prayers, a vegetable diet for the past seven years, and herbal supplements.
Amid pizza, white wine and live classical Filipino music (a cultural troupe was singing in the hotel lobby), I grandly asked Baby what was the turning point in her life.
In rapid-fire English and Tagalog, she exclaimed: “Namatay ako. I died. At pa turning-turning point ka pa dyan. Basta I wanted to become a model and so I became a model.”
Pursuing the point, I asked: Did she have a near-death experience, like the one we read in books—a tunnel, life review, a Being of Light, and relatives from the other side greeting you.
“I saw my mother”, she said. “I see spirits, I’m psychic, very psychic. What’s your zodiac sign? Aries? Gastador ka (you love to spend.). Don’t deny it.” She then asked the other media men present their Zodiac signs, and proceeded to describe their traits.
And now Baby is back in the country, and will stay “for a while.” She wants to promote her province, its beaches, corals and products like mangoes and handicrafts, and to increase livelihood opportunities through the making of soap, perfume and handbags.
She also wants to become a Provincial Board (Sangguniang Panglalawigan) member of Zambales in next year’s elections. Like any good politician or political hopeful, she speaks of changes and reforms in her province. What are these? Well, we will get to that if she wins.