MANILA -- There are guys who will easily capture you with their dashing good looks. There are others who will readily impress you with their admirable elocution skills. Still, there are those who can simply enamor you with their charm.
Actor-politician Alfred Vargas undoubtedly oozes with all of the above. A management economics graduate from the Ateneo de Manila University, Vargas is about to finish his Masters in Public Administration (MPA) at the University of the Philippines this year.
Completing his master's degree is a promise Vargas made to his late mother, lawyer Susana “Ching” Vargas, who previously worked as deputy executive secretary for finance and administration in Malacanang, under three former presidents, Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Vargas’s father was businessman Alfredo Vargas, Jr., who passed away in 2011.
Vargas’s mom initially wanted him to follow in her footsteps and become a lawyer, too. However, the actor was bitten by the acting bug. Hence, Vargas joined showbiz and pursued an acting career, much to the frustration and disappointment of his mother.
“My mom was a very good finance lawyer,” Vargas says proudly. “The original deal was, I would go straight to law school after college then carry the Vargas name to a law firm.”
However, even before he finished college, Vargas auditioned for Star Magic Batch 10. “There were 24 of us who were launched at that time. Among my batchmates were Bea Alonzo, Dennis Trillo and Nadine Samonte.”
Before his college graduation in March 2002, Vargas was already introduced as Dyno, the third wheel in the love team of Jericho Rosales and Kristine Hermosa, who headlined the top-rating and long-running primetime soap, “Pangako sa ‘Yo.” At the helm was director Rory Quintos.
“I owe a lot to Direk Rory,” Vargas admits. “She got me among so many actors at that time for ‘Pangako Sa ‘Yo.’ When my mom saw how happy I was, she eventually relented and supported my decision.
“My mom told me, ‘Kahit huwag ka ng mag-law school, dahil diyan ka naman masaya (sa showbiz). Just promise me you will take up graduate studies or even doctorate.’ That’s why I continued my studies to fulfill my promise to my mom.”
FINALLY, A SON
The third child and the eldest boy in a brood of four, Vargas is married to Filipino-Italian looker, Yasmine Espiritu, who was born and raised in Trento, Northern Italy.
The couple has three children to date – two girls, Alexandra Milan and Aryana Cassandra, and a boy, Alfredo Cristiano, born three days before Christmas in 2018. “My wife thought about all the beautiful names of our kids. I should credit that to her,” Vargas beams.
The 39-year-old actor-politician is truly excited about his son. “I’m very, very happy. My son was born on December 22. He was a perfect Christmas gift for us.”
Yet, Vargas shares his wife’s pregnancy was a “very long struggle” for both of them. “Yasmine was even hospitalized for two weeks,” Vargas recalls. “She found it really hard to conceive, from the first until the third trimester.
“Our eldest is eight years old. The next is seven. So there was a seven-year gap before the boy came. She experienced hormonal changes after seven years. She was not used to it. Plus, she’s a bit older now.”
Espiritu was 31 when she gave birth last December. She celebrated her birthday last December 20, two days before her delivery. “She was on bed rest on and off. She always had to drink pampakapit. She was practically at home and in and out of the hospital the whole nine months she was pregnant.”
The baby, Alfredo Cristiano Vargas IV, was two weeks premature, but he was never placed in the incubator. “He was born a healthy baby boy,” reveals the dad. “His health score at birth was nine out of 10.
“After three days, we were out of the hospital. It took a lot of prayers. God is really so gracious to us. He gave us everything that we prayed for.”
Unabashedly, Vargas admits he was crying before his wife went into labor. “I was nervous. I was sort of desperate as a father and husband at that time. I was worried and down. But we kept our faith and we held each other’s hands the whole journey. Yasmine delivered in 45 minutes. Her total labor time was only three hours.”
Espiritu gave birth at St. Luke’s Hospital in Bonifacio Global City, with Dr. Celis as her OB gynecologist. “She has a 90 percent batting average in gender,” attests Vargas of his wife’s doctor. “We were able to have a boy largely because of her.”
Except for the eyes – the baby is not chinito – Alfredo Cristiano looks like his dad. He is being reared solely by his mother, who never hired a nanny to take care of their children, being the Italian that she is.
“Ever since, we only have one kasambahay for the whole house,” says Alfred. “Yasmine is a homemaker who takes care of the children and the household. She’s the queen of the house. She has her own business. She manages a nail salon and spa near the house, so she has her own time.”
Vargas and Espiritu met in Sta. Cruz, Laguna in 2008. She was vacationing in her family’s ancestral home in Lumban, Laguna. There was a fiesta in the nearby town of Sta. Cruz, where he was a guest. He was invited by the late director, Maryo J. de los Reyes.
“She was so beautiful,” Vargas vividly remembers about the first time he saw his wife. “The most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. I immediately noticed her. She stood out in the crowd. I found a way to meet her. We had a common friend who introduced us.
“When she approached, the first thing I told her when I met her, ‘Ang ganda mo!’ Then, my first question to her, ‘May boyfriend ka ba?’ When she said, ‘Wala,’ I returned to Lumban after two days and started courting her.”
When Vargas visited his wife’s ancestral home, he saw she had a poster of his previous endorsement. She even had the notebook where he was the model on the cover. She was undoubtedly a fan.
“A year before, she saw me for the first time in a TV soap,” Vargas remembers. “She told her cousin and her lola who were both watching with her, ‘Yan ang lalaking pakakasalan ko!’ They both laughed at her and branded her as ‘Ilusyonada!”
However, fate has a way of bringing them together. Their first few dates were in Caliraya in Laguna, near the Espiritu family house in Lumban. It was a long drive for him, since he resides in Quezon City. So for the subsequent dates, Espiritu made an effort and took the bus, so they could meet in Makati.
“Her relative told me wala daw silang tiwala sa artista. Baka lokohin lang si Yasmine, I was told, ‘Patunayan mo kung gaano mo siya kamahal. Willing ka bang tumawaid ng bundok?’
“She lives in Trento in Northern Italy, near Milan. So when she returned to Italy, I took a leave from the TV soap I was doing and followed her. I told her aunt, ‘Ayan, hindi lang ako tumawid ng bundok, pati dagat tinawid ko.”
They maintained a long distance relationship until Espiritu finished her Fine Arts degree at Instituto d’Arte in Trento. “She’s a very good painter,” Vargas beams. But she left everything for me. She left her life in Italy, sacrificed everything and supported me all the way when I entered politics in 2010.”
They fondly call each other “Amore,” which means love. “She told me, ‘I’ll do this for us because I love you.’ I was very thankful when she did that. Her only request was that once a year, we visit Italy.”
The last time they were there was in Christmas 2016, when they spent the holidays in Italy. In 2017, they went back, but only for only two weeks for their pre-nuptial shoot.
THANKFUL FOR SHOWBIZ
In his free time, Vargas brags, “I eat, I read, I sleep.” Thursdays and Sundays are normally spent with the family, although he swears those days can be flexible depending on his work.
“If I have a long free time, I travel with the family. I’m really a simple person. I have simple needs and simple pleasures.”
Every so often, Vargas still finds time to indulge in his other simple pleasure, which is reading. He is a big fan of Brazilian novelist, Paulo Coelho.
Meanwhile, Vargas’ present bedtime companion, apart from his wife, is “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” by Angela Duckworth, an American psychologist and science author.
Surprisingly, politics never runs in Vargas’ family, only government service. “My family strongly believes in education. There were times na ang dami naming utang, but we really gave importance and value to education.”
Interestingly, his first elected position was as sergeant-at-arms in fourth grade at Ateneo. “Maybe that was where it all started. Ang sarap ng feeling when people choose you to lead them.
“Ever since I’ve been a class officer. In high school, years first to third, I was class vice president. In my senior year, I became class president. I joined elocution contests, declamation. I joined Tanghalang Ateneo and tried theater. I joined Boy Scouts.”
“Everything fell into place. I owe a lot to showbiz. I must admit, I wouldn’t be a politician now if I were not an actor. There would be no name recall. People would not have known me.
“Being an actor opened a lot of possibilities for me, that’s why I’m really thankful to a lot of people who helped me along the way. I’m not going to waste it.”
Before he bravely joined politics, Vargas’ talent manager, Lolit Solis, seriously talked to him, sort of dissuaded him and laid out the ground of reality for him. “I remember that distinctly,” Vargas recalls. “Tita Lolit told me, ‘Alfred, you are at the peak of your career. Think about it carefully. What might happen.;”
At that time, Vargas was only 28 years old and had all the good breaks. His schedule was full. He was doing an afternoon soap, had a primetime show, was into a sitcom and even had a weekly musical-variety show.
Vargas was also averaging two movies a year. “Tita Lolit told me not to expect the same when I return. I really thought about it and I chose public service over satisfaction.”
“Though showbiz may be quite satisfying, service to humanity is the most fulfilling. I chose fulfillment over satisfaction. Though I can do both and balance it.”
In acting, Vargas, thankfully, does not have any regrets. “In an actor’s showbiz life, you will always have disappointments,” he maintains. “Not getting this role, not getting that project, missing that opportunity, your movie not earning that well. It’s all part of your career, whether you’re a superstar or not. Whether you’re a support, there will always be disappointments. But I don’t have regrets.”
In his first movie, “Bridal Shower,” Vargas already earned an Urian best supporting actor nomination. He received two other Urian nominations for best actor in “Teoria” and “Colorum.”
“If I win an Urian, that will be my life’s worth,” Vargas says. “That will be the goal. That remains my dream.”
He is now wrapping up a film, “Kaputol,” with Cherie Gil. It is written by Ricky Lee and directed by Mac Alejandre, with Lav Diaz as cinematographer. This early, the film has received invitations from several international film festivals abroad to exhibit it.
“The film is about a family’s journey,” Vargas offers. “Cherie and I play siblings here who are battling injustice, poverty and fighting for conviction.”
More than being an actor and a politician, Vargas insists being a father and a family man is one of his best achievements. “It’s hard and it’s very seldom that a person finds the love of his or her life.
“For me, I think I found mine in the person of Yasmine. We’re not a perfect couple, whatsoever. I think and I know she’s the love of my life and my soul mate.”
“I can disregard position, power and money. For me, personally, in your life’s journey, finding the love of your life is the best achievement. I’m so happy to have my family with me.”