It’s Valentine’s Day and the air inside the Smart Araneta Coliseum is heavy with anticipation. It is, after all, the first time two of the country’s top performers, Regine Velasquez and Sarah Geronimo, are headlining a concert together. It is also because excitement and speculation are swirling over an upcoming wedding: Sarah’s—to Matteo Guidicelli. Little did people know the fateful day was less than a week away.
Not even the couple’s manager Vic del Rosario, Viva Entertainment Company’s big boss, is clued in on the plans. In an on-cam interview before the concert, he feigns ignorance when asked if was going to stand as godfather to the couple. He would later confess to me, when the camera wasn’t recording, that his reaction was in deference to Sarah’s mother, Divine. Tonight at the Araneta, however, he has no idea a secret wedding was afoot. He would only learn about it later on, when he was being called to mediate between the newlyweds and Divine, after Sarah’s mother stormed the intimate wedding.
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Asked why he didn’t appear to approve of Matteo early on in the couple’s relationship, he replied, “Hindi ko kilala eh.”
“You were merely being protective?” I prod on.
“Siyempre kampi ako dun sa parent. (But) eventually in-embrace ko si Sarah eh.”
“You mean eventually in-embrace mo si Matteo?”
“Si Sarah,” he says, correcting me, “yung desisyon niya.”
Sarah and Matteo are the only two artists Del Rosario is personally managing among the stable of artists in the Viva camp. Matteo signed up with Viva Artists Management February last year, ending eight years of being under the wing of Star Magic. Letting Matteo into the Viva fold was perhaps Boss Vic’s way of giving his blessing to his ward’s relationship with the actor. Sarah has been with Viva since she was 14, when she won the singing contest, Star for a Night.
“I really like managing a singer-actress. I want the multimedia star like Sharon,” Boss Vic confides to me. It’s not an easy task. In the last 17 years, the entertainment mogul has dealt with Divine in charting Sarah’s phenomenal rise to ‘pop royalty.’ And now he acknowledges that set up is bound to change. “Pero pag mag-asawa. I don't know whom to deal with. Matteo or her,” he tells me that evening, as we both sit at the coliseum’s VIP area, facing the stage.
Mr. Fix It
After the show, in her dressing room, Sarah tells me about the real significance of Del Rosario in her life. “Si Boss Vic ang talagang nag-push sa akin, sa artistry ko. He gave me the freedom to grow as an artist—not only as an artist, but as a person as well. Marami po akong palya pero si Boss Vic, very much understanding.”
At the dressing room, I also meet Divine, recalling how just after her daughter’s winning a million pesos in Star for a Night, I knocked on their apartment in Sta. Cruz, Manila for an interview with Sarah. Boss Vic later reveals to me that the Geronimo family now owns the entire apartment compound where they used to rent just a door.
I play third wheel to Boss Vic’s date that evening. He is, of course, with long time partner Joanne Quintas, a former actress and beauty queen. She calls him ‘mahal’ in hushed conversations in between the concert’s song routines. The evening was both work and play for the star maker who said he was going to be there again the following day.
Mounting ‘Unified,’ the 2-day concert of Viva’s biggest crowd drawers costs an estimated PHP 20 million. Ticket sales are just gravy, del Rosario tells me, the real money is in the sponsorships.
Before the concert, Paolo Valenciano, the show’s director tells me just how hands on Boss Vic is in events like this. “He’s got such an insight when it comes to the music. He’s very musical. He’s always like, ‘It’s great to open with this song, it’s great to close with this song.’” Boss Vic is as immersed in his entertainment projects as he is with the personal lives of his stars, acting as a problem solver in the predicaments they find themselves in. Nothing seems to faze the man.
In her dressing room backstage, Regine tells me of the Vic del Rosario she knows. “I have never seen him get mad, never. And we had a long relationship from the first album—‘Urong Sulong’ pa!” She reveals how it was Boss Vic who helped lift what would have been a lifetime ban on her travel to the United States. The singer found herself mired in an alien smuggling accusation — she was eventually cleared. “Yung hindi ko nakukwento sa lahat, I had a problem in the US before, he was the one who helped me. He hired a lawyer to help me. And I'm so grateful for that. I don't know how to thank him for that. I was so down.”
Vic relates, “Sabi niya, ‘Boss, my visa is like cancelled’ and sabi niya, ‘yung mga buhok ko nalalagas.’ Sabi ko, teka hanap tayo ng magaling na lawyer. Then, you know, naayos naman dahil wala naman talaga. Nabiktima lang.”
“That's why I can never say no to him,” Regine exclaims.
Del Rosario is known to turn a difficult situation around, converting a crisis into opportunity. As Viva’s top man, he has had his share of flops for sure but his hits and wise calls far outweigh the missteps.
The Vicor story
In 1966, 22-year old cousins Vic, who dropped out of college, and Orly Ilacad, a member of the band Ramrods, pooled their savings of PHP 2000 each to start a record label. “He started the business, basically, siya yung mukha ng company,” Vic recalls of Orly in those days. But their fledgling label Vicor, a combination of their names’ first syllables, got off to a bad start. It was saddled with debts. Their records weren’t selling. The local bands they signed up were not too popular, Vic says now.
“So I took over and I had some savings that I used, to continue doing some recording. So I said, ‘why don't we start getting some of the local singers who are quite popular?’ So we started what we call now talent raiding.” This was how he got names like Helen Gamboa and Eddie Mesa to record for Vicor.
It was the heyday of the Beatles and The Rolling Stones and the market for local music was a mere 10 percent. Vic recalls the biggest record company for Filipino music then was Villar Records with their Kundiman by the Mabuhay Singers and the balladeer Diomedes Maturan.
It was during Martial Law in 1972 when original Filipino music started to pick up in a major way. And ironically it was an investigation into allegations of payola on radio that led to OPM finally getting a considerable chance of being heard in the airwaves. Feared martial law administrator and then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile headed the payola investigation. “So we said there is really no payola but sometimes we have to do a lot of PR with the radio announcers,” Vic explains, “because they were not playing local music. During that time, 95% of radio airplay was foreign.”
This was the time Vicor signed up the Juan dela Cruz band who made waves with the release of the anthemic, “Ang Himig Natin.” Next, Vicor signed up the Apo Hiking Society.
Vic emerged out of the payola brouhaha unscathed. He instead was able to arrange for the broadcast industry to boost local music. The KBP (Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas) and Ka Doroy Valencia who headed the broadcast media council agreed to play a minimum of 4 OPM songs per hour on public radio.
This was how Boss Vic came to define OPM. “They [KBP and the broadcast media council] were asking ‘what is Filipino music?’ I said local music has 4 different variations. One is a local singer singing local compositions, its an OPM. A local artist singing a foreign song is still part of an OPM. A foreign artist singing a Tagalog song can be an OPM. That’s the time when The Letterman even recorded ‘Dahil Sa’yo.’ That was part of the OPM craze. So the 70s I think was the peak of Filipino music in the Philippines. That’s where The Manila Sound started, the Hotdog sound came, VST.”
Vicor’s head of production then was Tito Sotto, now Senate President. Famous composers and top songwriters George Canseco, Willy Cruz and Rey Valera were also with Vicor.
A heart for the songwriter
In 1978, Boss Vic formed and created the first Metro Manila Music Festival. Ryan Cayabyab’s “Kay Ganda ng Musika” won the top prize, the APO Hiking Society’s “Ewan” by Louie Ocampo got second place. One of the songs that did not win was “Anak,” but it would later become a global hit. “When I heard the song, I really loved the song,” Vic recalls. “So I told my secretary if we can get in touch with the singer, with the songwriter. So when Freddie Aguilar came to me, I was trying to convince him if he wanted another interpreter just for it to have a good chance. I said ’Hindi ka pa masyadong kilala. Baka gusto mong ipakanta yung kanta mo.’ Kako, it’s a nice song. But he was so insistent. Sabi niya, ‘If I will not record, hindi na lang ako sasali.’ So right there I saw the potential of Freddie. He was already wearing his hat. He brought his guitar and I listened to him sing it. I said, ‘Okay, I’ll give you a contract.’ So he signed that day and the rest is history.” Vicor was the publisher of “Anak” but the song still belongs to Aguilar.
Today, Vicor is also managing the Hotdog catalog. “Basically we don’t really own the songs. It’s just like, if an actress or a singer has a manager, a songwriter has a publisher. The publisher basically is the one that deals with the different users of the music, representing the songwriter. So basically we have the publishing rights. Now I have the publishing rights of the Hotdog catalog. Let's say somebody gets a Hotdog song and we sell it for X amount, I get the percentage and the rest goes to the songwriter.”
From his PHP 2000 investment in the record business, Boss Vic’s music library is now worth an estimated PHP 8 billion. “I was just lucky that during my time, I met all the greatest songwriters. I met the great Mike Velarde who did ‘Dahil Sa Iyo,” he says proudly. “When I would see the great Levi Celerio, writing 200 or even a thousand songs, and still riding a jeep, I said we have to do something for the songwriter.” Not just for Mang Levi but for every Filipino songwriter. “So we started the royalty system where the artist is getting the royalty. Before I started in the music business, all the song writers were getting a hundred pesos outright. They never get any royalty. So then I basically started the system of the publishing company where we represented the song writer. We never buy the song, basically we just manage. Because song writers are artists. They don't know how to do deal with their materials. So basically we represent them and try to maximize the earnings.”
Tragedy gives birth to Viva
It was not until the 80s that Boss Vic made his foray into the film business. His movie company, Viva was born out of a tragedy that struck his family. His daughter with his late wife Mina Aragon perished in a fire which claimed the lives of five others. Dolphy Quizon, Jr, son of the late comedian Dolphy was convicted for the arson, but was later pardoned by President Joseph Estrada.
“It was March of 1980 when my daughter died. Her name is Vina Vanessa. After a year, I named my movie company Viva from her name. It was difficult. During that time, Mina was really in grief [she lost her mother and her son with Andy Poe]. So it was good that Sharon Cuneta became very close to her, and that's the time when we started managing Sharon. So when the opportunity came to produce a movie, we started doing movies with her in 1981.”
Vic wanted Mina to be busy to get over her loss and the movies helped in her healing. He recalls the time when they became closer as a couple and Mina bore him two more children. She also became very close to his two kids with Grace, the mom of Vincent and Veron.
Vincent, the boss’ eldest son, is now President and COO of Viva Communications. He recalls an important mission given him by his father while he was a student in San Beda. “He said, ‘Oh you go to Escolta during your breaktimes because old companies, other movie companies, were based there. And he said 'start buying movies from other producers. Bank them for the future.' We buy video rights, television rights, that's where we started our library.”
Vincent acquired more than 500 movies from different companies at a song. “I think yung video rights around PHP 15 to 20 thousand, you get it in perpetuity. So we got to mine those titles from Betamax to VHS, to VCD, to DVD and now to streaming.” At that time, small and independent filmmakers saw very little value to their films after their theater screening. So Vic urged his son to tell me the story of Premiere Productions. “They can’t pay for their huge library. I think they weren’t able to take care of their library. And so ginagawang torotot pag bagong taon.”
With the addition of the 800 Viva films and other film rights, the Viva library has almost 1,500 titles valued at a whopping PHP 6 billion pesos. Boss Vic wanted to acquire films from LVN and Premiere but because of poor archiving, virtually nothing remained of their movies. Because of this, Viva invested in an archiving system. This Boss Vic says is his pamana to his children. “I told them if I can't leave you money, at least I can leave you the library that you can probably use for the rest of your life. So now that it's digitized, its much better.”
Win some, lose some
Even at 74, Boss Vic shows no signs of slowing down. “He is the last one to leave from work,” says Vincent. “Lahat kami pagod na pero he is still there.” Boss Vic goes home usually at 10:30 to 11 in the evening. The earliest he’s out of the Tektite premises is 9 PM. Work is his life. Once a week, he’s at the movie houses observing trends and watching audiences’ reactions, feeling the pulse. “I sit there like an ordinary audience even with my own movies. I just try to get the feel. I don't overanalyze.”
From Sharon to Regine to Anne Curtis to Sarah and to Nadine Lustre, Boss Vic has made a star for every generation. “And of course, the much popular actress that I launched when nobody believed in her, was Nadine Lustre. Nobody wanted her to be launched in Viva, and I said, ‘No, I want.’ I believed in Nadine.” He found her a good project, Diary ng Panget, which made more than 100 million at the box office.
These days Viva and Nadine are not exactly in the most ideal of situations after the actress made it public she had left the Viva fold. Can the contract dispute still be ironed out? I ask. “Oo naman, lahat pwedeng pag-usapan. We believe that our contract is legitimate. So it can stand in any court. So we are fighting for our contract. We're not just fighting for Nadine because it will affect all the contracts of ABS, GMA, all the managers. It cannot be a one sided thing because it’s a partnership between artists and the manager.”
With Sarah now married, Boss Vic was actually hoping he no longer has to look far for her successor. “I was hoping it would have been Nadine but I guess I have to look for the new multimedia star.” His face, however, lights up at the prospect of finding one. “I can still handle isa pang multi-media star. I still have the energy.” Who knows, he might discover an even bigger star—and turn his loss into another gain, just as he always had.
Photographs by Pat Buenaobra