Nature and nurture
Arriving at the shoot, Venus immediately made sure her mom was at ease for the interview and even offered to translate, after sharing that her mom might be more comfortable speaking in their native dialect. But Mommy Ester has been getting ample practice speaking in Tagalog with Venus’s boyfriend and fellow Umagang Kay Ganda (UKG) co-host Andrei Felix, who was also present during the cover pictorial.
It’s not hard to see where Venus got most of her beauty queen looks when you see her mom. Long before the entire country knew about her, Maria Venus Raj’s No. 1 fan and supporter has always been her mother. Being the youngest of her five daughters, Ester admits that Venus already had beauty queen aspirations by the age of 4. “Nung maliit pa siya at hindi pa nag-aaral, pag naglalaro sila nung mga kapitbahay, nag-pa-pageant-pageant sila at saka nag-fa-fashion show, mahilig na siya talagang rumarampa-rampa,” she says, remembering how Venus’ sisters would play hosts, taking on the question-and-answer portion. Venus’ enthusiasm carried on through the years, which is why Ester supported her during pageants, “mula nung elementary, hanggang high school, hanggang college, hanggang ngayon, lagi pa rin akong kasama.”
Early bird schedule
Named after the Roman goddess of love, this self-confessed probinsyana who grew up in Bicol, Camarines Sur became known for not just being the epitome of beauty, poise and class, but also for her wit and candor. After deciding to join UKG and ABS-CBN’s roster of talents, Venus also decided she wanted to bring her mother along to live with her in Manila.
Venus reveals that ever since she could remember, Ester played the double roles of mom and dad of the family. She’d do everything—from ensuring her daughters’ education, to putting food on the table, to taking care of wardrobe and laundry duties, even to ironing the clothes. That’s why Venus, now a fulltime TV personality, endorser and actress, wants to make sure her mom gets the break she deserves. “[S]abi ko sa kanya, ‘Ma, hindi ka na bumabata at hindi ka na dapat nag-tra-trabaho. Hindi na dapat ikaw yung nagpapagod at kumikita for us.’ Kasi tapos na siya sa role niya eh, sa pagpapalaki sa amin, tapos na sa pagsaway sa amin (laughs). Tapos na siya sa phase na lahat siya ang inaasahan.” Now that her siblings have families of their own, and she herself has a stable career, “I think it’s my turn naman na mag-take charge sa mga gastusin or kung ano mang kailangan niya.”
Being in UKG requires her to be up before sunrise, which means her mom also starts her day the same way. “Nagigising ako pag umpisa ng Umagang Kay Ganda ng 5 a.m., tapos nanunuod ako sa buong tatlong oras na yun dahil gusto kong laging nakikita sila sa UKG,” Ester admits.
Venus says she has gotten used to coming home each day knowing her mom approved of her work. “Puyat na puyat na nga sya lagi (laughs). Lagi naman niya nagugustuhan. Talagang she’ll make sure na papanuorin niya ako every day.” The TV personality’s day is complete when she comes home to her mother, ever ready and waiting to see if her daughter has had anything to eat yet. It’s this normalcy that Venus cherishes. She claims no special treatment as the youngest in the family; in fact, the 24-year-old says she and every member of the family share a very close relationship.
A strict but loving mom
Raising five kids in the province wasn’t easy, but Ester admits she never had to be unreasonably strict with any of her daughters. As a mother, she believes in balancing discipline with freedom. “Strikto ako sa mali, pero pag tama hinahayaan ko lang,” she explains. “Si Venus, nung maliit pa siya, tahimik lang siya. Pero pag napapagalitan siya, matutulog lang siya, pagkatapos ako ang inaamo niya pagkagising niya.”
The doting mom says she and her daughters have always been extremely affectionate with each other. “Ang pagmamahal ko kasi sa mga anak ko ay pantay-pantay talaga dahil lahat sila mahal ko, lahat sila mga anak ko. Lahat din sila mahal nila ako. Yung mga anak ko malambing sa akin. Yun ang gustong-gusto ko sa kanilang lahat,” she adds.
Venus listens to her mom with a smile and then shares, “When I was in high school hanggang college, she was really strict. Kailangan ko talaga tapusin yung pag-aaral ko, kailangan ko magkaroon ng edukasyon kasi mahirap kaming pamilya eh.” For Ester, putting education first was important, to give all her daughters a fighting chance for a better future. It wasn’t something that drew her daughters’ resentment; quite the contrary, Venus says her mom has helped mold her into the person she is now. “I think that’s the best method ng pagpapalaki ng isang bata, kasi as long as bata pa, kailangan mong higpitan talaga,” she concedes, citing early childhood and the teenage years as the most crucial formative periods. But now that she seems to be more than able to stand on her own two feet, her mom has loosened the reigns a bit. “Sa tingin ko tama lang naman na luwagan kasi kung hanggang malaki na siya hihigpitan mo pa rin, dun na lumalabas yung rebellious kids,” Venus observes, saying that it’s important for mothers to know “kung saan luluwagan at kung saan hihigpit.”
Strength of character
Venus says she wouldn’t have become who she is without her mom as living example of how to deal with challenges in life. Ester grew up with her mother, who got widowed early. The two women had to fend for themselves in the mountains where they lived back then. They planted, harvested, did work fit for both males and females, whatever it took to survive. Venus is full of nothing but admiration for her mom. “She’s a very strong woman. Inisip niya mag-abroad sa India para kahit papaano, meron namang pagkakitaan at pagkunan ng pera para sa mga anak, at dun ako nabuo at isinilang,” she shares. Understanding all the struggles her mom had to endure, Venus is inspired and humbled by her example, saying, “Kahit sabihin na natin na she was a single mom raising five of us, kung hindi ka malakas na babae, I don’t know kung kakayanin mong mapag-aral, mapalaki ng maayos at mabigay sa kanila yung values na kailangan nila. I think hindi lahat ng kababaihan kayang gawin ang ganun,” she stresses.
Venus herself was faced with one of the biggest challenges in her life when she fought to be reinstated and represent her country as Binibining Pilipinas-Universe. “I think my being strong, I got it from her. Kasi before pa naman, madami rin akong mga pinagdaanan sa mga beauty pageants, dun mismo ang dami dami na. I was dethroned and then I went to Miss Universe, ang dami daming issues sa Philippines. So, if ang isang babaeng katulad ko ay hindi malakas ang loob, hindi fighter, sa tingin ko gi-give up na ako, sasabihin ko, ‘Sige bahala na kayo, sa inyo na yang korona niyo, sa inyo na yung title, hindi na ako lalaban!’ Ganun. Pero I fought for my crown and I fought for the right to compete for Miss Universe. And sa tingin ko yun ang nakuha ko sa kanya, yun talaga,” she says with conviction.