There must be something in that bato. Onscreen Darnas and real life heroes (from left): Angel Locsin, Vilma Santos, Nanette Medved and Regine VelasquezPhotograph from ABS-CBN News
Culture Spotlight

They played Darna onscreen but they're also Darnas in real life

Jane de Leon has some big shoes to fill if these four are her pegs. By ERIC CABAHUG 
ANCX | Jul 24 2020

Darna is back in the national conversation. Thankfully it’s not about casting changes, production delays, and broken finger bones. This time it’s about what makes Darna, well, Darna. 

The fictional Filipino superhero, who debuted on the pages of Pilipino Komiks 70 years ago (exact date: May 13, 1950), is on everyone’s lips these days because of Angel Locsin and her current real-world exploits that many consider heroic.

 

ANGEL LOCSIN

Darna, 2005 

Angel, of course, is one of the two stars who last played the iconic character onscreen, although you’d have to go back 15 years to her 2005 GMA fantaserye for that. She is also one of the two actresses who have kept the long-in-development, much-delayed, yet-to-start-production new Darna movie in the news since it was announced in 2013. Angel was set to reprise the role for the big screen but things just didn’t work out. The official reason is that she pulled out of the project because of an injury in her spine that she got after months of strenuous physical training. Her replacement, Liza Soberano, had almost the same experience; announced as the new Darna in 2017, she bowed out two years later citing an injury in her finger bone—something she got while on the set of the teleserye Bagani.

Photo from Red Cross Mindanao

Angel’s spinal injury has made its way back to social media in 2020. “Angel has broken her back again after carrying the weight of the entire government in the fight against Covid-19,” goes one particularly clever, albeit melodaramatic tweet. 

It’s both a rebuke of the administration’s unsatisfactory response to the pandemic and a recognition of Angel’s stellar personal contributions to the drive to provide much-needed resources to the frontlines. That drive took on a literal meaning when she sold one of her cars, a 2015 Dodge Durango, to raise funds for Covid-19 mass testing. (This wasn’t the first time Angel has donated one of her cars to charity. In 2013, she sold her 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle to a collector and gave the proceeds to the victims of Typhoon Yolanda.)

Fans were quick to call her “real-life Darna,” of course. Little did they know that that was not even the full Angel Locsin 2020 Narrative. The other half saw her fighting body shamers, and then crusading for the welfare of thousands of ordinary workers who stand to lose their source of livelihood with the non-renewal of ABS-CBN’s beoadcast franchise. The latter included raising her voice to both speak for and rattle into action fellow celebrities who have opted to remain silent. 

Locsin previously led the #UniTentWeStandPH, a COVID-19 fundraiser publicly lauded by the Department of Health. Image from @therealangellocsin on Instagram.

She’s been Darna to many people all these years actually. To people displaced by Ondoy, Yolanda, the war in Marawi, the Mindanao earthquake, the Taal volcano eruption. 

Fortunately, Angel is not the only Darna fighting the good fight on the ground, or at least lending their voices to worthy causes, that would make the superhero proud.

 

REGINE VELASQUEZ

Darna, 2003 

The OPM superstar slipped into Darna’s famous red ensemble for a cameo appearance in another superhero movie, 2003’s Captain Barbell. But it was her special participation in Angel’s TV series as well as the subsequent remake starring Marian Rivera in 2009 that became more memorable for its unique place in the Darna canon. 

Regine is the only star to lend her voice, literally, to the character’s signature yell that leads to Narda’s transformation into a superhero. And since there hasn’t been another Darna project yet since the Marian series, that yell stands as the most recent official performance of the soundbite, not counting Liza’s rehearsal take in 2017. 

Singing for the Jollibee Group Foundation's Joy From Home. Photo from official Facebook account

The Songbird has since lent her voice to many charitable causes with far more extensive use of her celebrated instrument, starring in a string of fund-raising concerts for various institutions. In fact, her two most recent solo shows, April’s “One Night with Regine” and June’s “Joy From Home,” were both benefits — the former for ABS-CBN’s Bantay Bata Foundation, the latter for the Jollibee Group Foundation’s project to provide food packs to poor families affected by the pandemic.

 

VILMA SANTOS

Darna, 1973 (2x), 1975, 1980

The Star for All Seasons is perhaps the most classic Darna actress. For good reasons. She played Darna the longest (7 years), has the most Darna flicks under her gold-plated belt, and those movies remain the most famous titles in the filmography: Lipad, Darna, Lipad, Darna Vs The Giants, Darna Vs The Planet Women, and Darna at Ding. 

There's good reason why Vilma is beloved outside of her acting profession. Photo from @rosavilmasantosrecto on IG

Her stint certainly helped make her an enduring gay icon. Commendably, she has taken that with her when she won a seat in Congress in 2016 and introduced during her first term a bill that seeks to establish an LGBT help and protection desk in each Philippine National Police station throughout the country. The LGBT Desk is envisioned to administer and attend to cases involving crimes against chastity, sexual harassment, and abuses committed against women, children, and members of the LGBT community.

Since winning a second term in 2019, her name has cropped up prominently in at least three controversial high-profile bills. But her record for siding with what most perceive to be good and right has not been spotless. She was very recently celebrated for being one of only 11 lawmakers who dissented to the resolution denying a new franchise to ABS-CBN. Her strong stance was made even more admirable given the reported threat of possible removal from their committee chairmanship as sanction for their opposition.  

Not that threats are new to this ex-Darna. She faced the same threat last year on the bill to reimpose the death penalty. She stood her ground and voted No. And she did lose the chairmanship of one House Committee. 

As Batangas Rep. Vilma Santos-Recto at a session in Congress. Photo by Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File

But for these three steps forward, she took one big step back in early June when she supported the Anti-Terrorism Bill. Few were appeased with her clarification that her vote was Yes WITH RESERVATIONS. Bottom line, her critics say, is she concurred with a law that could potentially be used to suppress human rights and free speech and oppress dissenters.

 

NANETTE MEDVED 

Darna, 1991

It was in Vilma’s first term in Congress when the House passed a resolution  honoring the people who made it to Forbes magazine’s prestigious list of Heroes of Philanthrophy for 2017. One of those heroes was Nanette Medved.

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The social entrepreneur and former actress was cited for her innovative bottled water business where 100 percent of profits goes to the Friends of Hope non-profit organization, which she also put up and which spends the money on building classrooms. Since Hope’s inception in 2012, it has sold over 30 million products and built 95 classrooms as of January 2020.

Nanette played the role of Darna only once, in the 1991 Metro Manila Film Festival entry simply titled Darna. But it was enough to put her on a journey towards finding her true real-life passion. The epiphany came during the festival’s traditional float parade. 

A recent photo of Nanette in Baseco, for Plastic Credit Exchange's waste-to-cash Aling Tindera program. Photo from Nanette Medved-Po’s Facebook page

“I remember looking down and seeing both young and old alike,” she says in an interview for ANCX last January. “It had nothing to do with me but with Darna. I personally didn’t have a strong appreciation for the history around the character but when you look at these people who kind of have their hopes and dreams in their faces, how could you, in good conscience, let that down? Prior to that, I wasn’t necessarily doing movies with characters who were inspiring. And so that’s when it clicked in my mind—I literally had a platform to do good and an obligation to these people to do so."