Cristina Decena


By Jon Verzosa

Baby is it sweet sweet
Sweet the sting
Is it real this infusion
Can it heal where others before have failed?
If so then somebody
Shake shake shake me sane
’cause I am inching ever closer to the tip of this scorpion’s tail

–         Sweet The Sting / Tori Amos





Meeting one of the country’s most powerful women can be quite daunting.  Especially if one was this filthy rich!  Five minutes before I interviewed her, the chair that I was sitting on literally went on a circus act and I almost fell on the floor.

Apparently, I was set to sit down in an eye of a storm to annihilate gladly.  Needless to mention, preface an interview with a swollen ass.  Well I guess more than being a writer and a ravenous reader, I am, in truth, the clumsiest of them all.

I gathered my messy self and began musing about what inspires the affluent and asked myself if they’re really thatunhappy with all their money.  Most people would say it is all about supremacy, the poor would say it is all about hunger for power, particularly with the born rich, but, satirically, for Cristina Castillo – Villasanta, it was all about perseverance.

Incidentally, as I am writing this, the thunderclaps of Typhoon Chedeng rocked its valour with the enraged rain outside. I remembered two days ago when I sat with Cristina in her office, besotted with the fact that she has weathered many storms in her life herself and still, somehow, bounced back and met me at her best that day; floral sundress, well-manicured from head to toe, all smiles and surprisingly, looking very happy.  I almost thought I was meeting someone who was a beauty endorser and not, in fact, the Cristina Decena.





Cristina Castillo Villasanta

Born Cristina Castillo, we all knew her as Cristina Decena, the shrewd businesswoman, the star of her own colourful life, both tested by time, fame and marital adversities, who once told herself, “I will finish school and build my mother a house,” some twenty years ago, not really knowing that from that promise, she has built a real estate empire that spawned not just a her own house, or her mother’s, but also for many people who built their dreams the same way she did.  Of course, the journey was not at all easy.



When I asked her, “How do you manage to stomach and survive the real estate business?” she answered effortlessly, “You have to know how to gauge people by speaking to them in their language.  Sa negosyong ito, I’ve been surrounded not only by contractors, architects and engineers but also by masons, carpenters and the like, kaya, I treat everyone with respect because it is your people who will make your business grow and I abide in efficient people management.”


I thought, “She knows not only management but also knows her way living in a man’s world.”




Cristina came from an indigent family and in my own estimation, the synthesis of her past and her proficiency for her very own enterprise made her who she is right now.  Admittedly, she told me how she channelled poverty into a dream of its own.

“My parents were separated and money was scarce,” she said, “and most of the time, there wasn’t any money at all, so as a teenager I promised myself that I will finish school, learn my ways with the world through education to give myself and my family a good life,”


True enough, towards the ‘90s, she has already established herself in the world of real estate, got married and had five children.  Also, her marriage got in the way of many things.  Or did her business got in the way of her marriage?


“Honestly,  I have always believed in the sanctity of marriage.  Lumaki ako sa broken home kaya I am obsessed with having a complete family.  I remarried last year when I met Ariel (Villasanta of comedic duo Maverick and Ariel and currently the star of GMA News TV 11’s Mommy Elvie @ 18) but even before that, I toiled my best in making my previous marriage work.

“I have always believed that it takes two to tango and that relationships must be between two people and not just by one.  It has to be a commitment more than anything else but,” she sighed, “some things just don’t last, I guess,”




“So, are you happy now?” I asked.


“Very much”, Cristina beamed and began telling me about her newfound love for husband Ariel Villasanta, who she met last year and instantly married.  Not just once, but twice.  A wedding in Bangkok and another one, in Hong Kong.


Ariel Weds Cristina in Thailand


When I asked Cristina why she married Ariel twice, she said that it was all his idea saying that if he can wed her around the world, he would do so to prove his perpetual love for her.  And from what I heard, Ariel is set to marry Cristina for the third time and who knows, maybe until the thirtieth time in various cities around the world in the future.


With her husband’s support, she also yielded into the world of television production.  She called it an “expeditious and spending in dribs and drabs” business but she said, “Masaya ako eh! Just merely seeing an episode unfold right before my eyes is heaven to me and of course, giving jobs to people makes me feel good,”


Alam mo, it is not just passion for what you are doing that’s making your life worth living.  More than anything else, you have to surround yourself with love because it is the beginning of everything,” Cristina reassessed.

I noted on how clearly she represents her company perfectly well because she looked elegant and asked, “So love is the secret to your beauty?” to which she laughed heartily to and frivolously snapped, “Yes, love and body lotion and never leaving the house without your hair blow-dried!”




“How much have you changed through the years?  I mean, who was Cristina Castillo?  And who is Cristina Castillo-Villasanta now?”  I asked.


“Practically the same person, but a stronger, more sympathetic woman.  Someone who has outlived ordeals that any given life needed to wrestle with.

Simple lang naman, I just want to have a happy family.  This is probably why I remarried because like I said, I’ve always wanted an idyllic family.  May mga panahon sa buhay ko na halos wala akong panggastos dati, madaming times na feeling ko mag-isa ako at ang hiraaaap mag-isa.

“But all is fair in God’s will.  All it took was getting my dreams intact and remembering where I started,” she said, almost trembling from wistfulness of what she has just conveyed.


Suddenly, a song of Tori Amos from her CD The Beekeeperrang instantaneously on my mind.  It tells of a woman (or a man) who was almost too masochistic to the possibility of falling in love that she found all the (bee) stings in her skin to be sweet.

A pain-loving tale of someone who lives for the sweetness of honey, like a beekeeper, despite the risk of being stung by a thousand bees – just to be able to get hold of something that sweet.

I saw Cristina in all her endeavours, her leap from real estate to television production, of two different worlds merging in the hands of a tiny, almost elfin woman, and making it grow even further because her dreams are very much alive.  And she is unafraid of anything.  She is tough. And she learns fast.


She is her own woman.


And finally, I asked my favourite question.  A question I always ask to old and new friends alike.  A final question that will make history in this column called Stars and Butterflies.


“How would you want to be remembered?”


“I want to be remembered as the woman who completed her studies, who believed in the value of education and rebelled against the tide of inadequacy and did her best to build a family as much as she built houses.  I want to be remembered as the woman who did not hinder anything, even poverty, to make all her childhood dreams come true,”


Tonight, as I write this, I remembered how I almost tumbled to the floor five minutes before I interviewed Cristina and found it worthwhile because I knew that I was more than inspired to be in awe of her again given another chance.



Cristina, The Family Woman





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