Sunshine, Angelina, Sam, and Chesca: Make Your Mama Proud
The last two years have been rough on everyone; actress-singer Sunshine Cruz and her three girls—Angelina, 20, Sam, 17, and Chesca, 16—were no exception. But when they arrived at Bulb Studios in Makati City for FreebieMNL’s first Spotlight feature, they were all smiles.
Despite the too-early-for-a-Saturday call time, none of the girls looked sleepy or tired. To paraphrase an old saying, they were bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready to knock everyone’s socks off. (Which, spoiler alert, they did.)
While her mother and sisters were getting glammed, Angelina Cruz (the eldest of Sunshine’s three children with Cesar Montano) sat down with us and opened up about what it’s like to be the daughter of showbiz royalty.
For the most part, Angelina had a normal childhood. She knew what her parents did for a living. But she didn’t realize just how famous they were until a fateful trip to a mall in Quezon City changed everything.
“I wanted to buy sandals, and my parents agreed to treat me,” she recalls. “So we went to a shoe store where I tried a pair. Eventually, someone recognized my parents, [and] we got mobbed in five minutes. There was a huge crowd, and security escorted us to our car and everything. I think that was when it hit me.”
Incidents like that aside, she takes her parents’ fame in stride, and it helps that her mother was and is always there for her. Meanwhile, when Sunshine had kids, she stepped back from the limelight to focus on raising them. Angelina says Sunshine figured out how to avoid being a helicopter parent while maintaining an active presence in her daughters’ lives.
“Having her as my mom is great since we’re in the same industry now. Before I joined showbiz, I was mostly just curious about it. But she told me that I had to be aware of certain things if I wanted to follow in her footsteps,” explains Angelina.
Having been in the industry herself since she was young, Sunshine knows exactly how tricky showbiz can be. So when her eldest showed interest, she made sure Angelina knew what she was getting into. Sunshine reminded Angelina that there’s more to showbiz than fame and fortune. In the end, though, Sunshine gave Angelina her blessing.
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Angelina entered the industry with a famous last name that opened many doors for her. But she wants to transcend this. She recognizes her privilege but doesn’t want to rely on her last name forever.
“People looked up to my parents. They still do. So there was a lot of pressure on me at first. I acknowledge my privilege of having a name set for me. I was offered opportunities agad because of what my parents achieved, even if I hadn’t achieved much of anything yet. I’m very grateful for that, and I’m proud of who my parents are. But I also want to make a name for myself. I want to be known as my own person, not just as someone’s daughter.”
Aside from being “someone’s daughter,” Angelina is also someone’s ate—and it’s a title she cherishes, although it has sometimes gotten her into trouble.
“Being an ate is a big responsibility. Growing up, my mom would always remind me of that. I understood what she meant because my sisters looked up to me. I always had to make good decisions because they’d copy me.” She shares an example: “When I was younger, sometimes I’d act like I was sick because I didn’t want to go to school. My sisters would act like they were sick, too, so I learned to set a good example. Like with homework, I tried not to procrastinate so they wouldn’t.”
At 20, Angelina is three years older than Sam and four years older than Chesca. She admits being envious that her sisters are so close in age. Angelina also reveals that Sunshine was stricter with her than she is with her sisters.
“I have friends naman, but sometimes I’d get jelly because Sam and Chesca get to go through things together. Also, when it comes to going out, my mom was strict with me when I was their age. I didn’t go out often because I was kind of a homebody and an introvert, but whenever I did, I needed to make paalam.” She adds, “My mom’s more lenient with me now because I’m in my twenties, but she’s super lenient with Sam and Chesca [already]. I’m, like, ‘Wait a minute! Things didn’t work like that for me when I was their age!’”
Angelina says Sunshine has loosened up a bit, but she still has to ask for permission whenever she wants to go out with her friends. She can’t just march up to her mother and say, “Hey, mom, I’m going out tonight.” Sunshine, ever the mother bear, still has the final say. Any other 20-something would chafe under such restrictions, but not Angelina. She explains that since she still lives with her mother, she must follow Sunshine’s rules, especially concerning things like a curfew.
“We have to be home before [a certain time]. If we’re not, we’ll get a sermon. But it depends on how late we are,” explains Angelina. “When I make paalam, my mom also asks me where I’m going and who I’m going to be with. She just wants to know, like any other parent.”
Angelina understands why Sunshine is the way she is. After all, she witnessed how hard her mother worked to support them after her marriage ended. That helped Angelina become who she needed to be to help Sunshine.
“I saw how challenging it was for her. When we were younger, she was a stay-at-home mom. That was when my parents were still together. When they separated, she became a single mom. I was amazed by how she handled everything. It’s easier for her now because we can take care of ourselves a little bit. As the eldest, I also learned to be a mom to my sisters. So now they say I don’t have ‘motherly’ instincts, I have ‘ate’ instincts. I think that’s their way of calling me a nag,” she laughs.
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When Angelina stepped in front of photographer Wilmark Jolindon’s camera for her solo layout, Sam bounded up to the FreebieMNL team. At 17, she’s a ball of energy and enthusiasm, a contrast to her older sister’s reserved nature. Sam plopped down on the chair her older sister just vacated and opened up with tales of life as the middle child.
Sam says Sunshine is more like her best friend or another sister than her mother. “She’s very chill. We’re not afraid to come to her whenever we need advice on anything, like [with] our friends, love lives, or school,” explains Sam. “When we ask her for advice, and she gives it to us, we listen to her because she’s always right. Sometimes she’s right even when you don’t want her to be. I think it’s because she’s been through so much already. She’s experienced what my sisters and I are going through.”
To illustrate, Sam shares: “When I was younger, I had a Rainbow Loom. It was a plastic tool you could use to weave colorful, tiny rubber bands into bracelets. Everyone else made fun of me for that. So I asked my mom what I should do. She said, ‘If that’s what you like to do, you shouldn’t let other people stop you from doing it.’”
Because of her showbiz background, Sunshine is used to being judged for her choices. But she always stuck to her guns. She encouraged Sam to do the same, which the 17-year-old admits worked. The bullying died down, and Sam found her tribe.
“My parents’ fame never became an issue for me in school, but sometimes whenever there’d be articles about my family, people would come up to me and say, ‘I read this and that.’ If the issues were bad or weird, I’d get affected. You know how it is. When you go to school, all you want is to be a regular student, but you can’t because your family’s situation is the talk of the town,” admits Sam. “It was hard, but I had a great group of friends. My mom was there for me, too.”
Even if Sam had been exposed to the dark side of showbiz at an early age, she couldn’t help being drawn to it. Unfortunately, when she asked her mother if she could enter the industry too, Sunshine said no. She felt Sam—who was only 15 at the time—was still too young to endure the slings and arrows of showbiz.
“She was like, ‘No, not now. But your time will come.’ I had to work to get her blessing,” reveals Sam.
“When I told my mom what I wanted to do, she said, ‘Okay, but you have to get your math grade up first.’ At the time, my math grade was so low that it dragged my entire average down,” she explains. “But when my mom said I had to pass if I wanted to join showbiz, I pulled out all the stops. I had great relationships with my teachers, so they gladly gave me extra help. I also got a tutor. When I started doing well, I told my mom. That was when she finally gave me permission to join showbiz.”
Sam has since signed a record deal with Universal Records and released two singles, “Train Of Thought” and “Umiibig Pa Rin.” But her story proves that while Sunshine can be easygoing, she still puts her foot down whenever necessary.
“She’s a cool mom, but when it comes to things she should be serious about, she’s serious. For example, we’re allowed to entertain mga manliligaw, but Chesca and I can’t have serious boyfriends until we’re 18. We also have a curfew. We don’t have a chaperone when we go out, though. She trusts us naman.” And as if to confirm Angelina’s own confession, Sam adds: “Mom was strict with our ate, but she’s more chill with Chesca and me.”
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At the mention of her name, 16-year-old Chesca—clad in a schoolgirl-esque ensemble that made her look like “…Baby One More Time”-era Britney Spears thanks to stylist Gee Jocson—appeared at Sam’s elbow and took the chair next to her. Because she and Sam are only one year apart, they’re practically twins. They share the same mannerisms and set of friends.
When asked how she feels about having Sunshine as a mother, Chesca lights up. Her full lips and tan skin are pretty under normal circumstances, but she becomes downright stunning when she’s amused or excited.
“I feel good that she’s more lenient toward us, but she also knows how to discipline us,” shares Chesca. “She’s cool. Our friends love her. That’s why we’re so open with her. But she grounds us or gives us the silent treatment when she needs to discipline us.”
Sam chimes in: “When she’s really mad, she doesn’t scream or yell. She doesn’t talk to us for, like, a month. Honestly, the yelling would be better. I hate the silent treatment. It’s so creepy, but it’s effective because it makes us reflect on what we did wrong.”
Chesca verbalizes her thoughts on this: “After three days of the silent treatment, I’ll be all, ‘Oh my God, please stop. Talk to me.’ It’s so scary because you don’t know when it’s going to stop or if it’s ever going to stop. But yeah, it’s effective. Because if our mom shouts, it’s bad for a while, and then it’ll stop. But the silent treatment goes on for so long until you start thinking, ‘I shouldn’t have done that.’ And the thing with our mom is that you can’t just tell her you’re sorry. You have to show her.”
Sunshine’s youngest daughter reveals that she and her sisters got in trouble recently, so the silent treatment was in full effect at the time of the Spotlight shoot. “We’re in the midst of it. But this morning, mom broke the ice with me for a little bit. I was so happy that I texted my sisters to say, ‘Mom talked to me, I’m so kilig!’”
Mother knows best
It wasn’t until break time that the FreebieMNL team was able to verify the girls’ stories with Sunshine herself. She had just finished her time on set and was enjoying a light meal when we approached her for an interview.
You wouldn’t know Sunshine is 45 years old and a mother of three just by looking at her. If you didn’t know that Angelina, Sam, and Chesca are her daughters, you’d think she was their older sister.
“Meron kaming thin line,” begins Sunshine . “Okay, barkada tayo, best of friends tayo, but there are rules. Kailangan tingnan niyo pa rin ako as your parent. Honestly, sometimes mahirap ang setup namin kasi nakakalimutan nila na nanay nila ako, hindi ate o best friend. Pero kapag alam nila na galit ako, tatahimik sila.”
Sunshine, however, isn’t the type of mother who gets mad over the little things, only getting upset when her daughters really mess up. For a time, whenever her girls would put even one toe out of line, she’d read them the riot act. But not anymore. Sunshine confirms that she gives her girls the silent treatment when she feels they deserve it.
“Nagagalit ako kapag hindi nila sinusunod yung rules ko. I hate when that happens kasi nasisira yung trust na binibigay ko sa kanila. Before, ang style ko is papagalitan ko sila. Pero malambot din ang puso ko sa mga anak ko, eh. Yung tipong when they give me their ‘puppy eyes,’ I forgive them. Pero ang tendency kasi kapag ganun, nauulit yung pagkakamali nila. So iniba ko yung style ko,” explains Sunshine. “Ngayon, hindi ko na lang sila kinakausap. Kaya kong gawin yun ng up to two months para matuto sila.”
She had to be firm with her children to keep their household running smoothly after her separation. Sunshine and Cesar got married in 2000 and parted ways in 2013. She initially had trouble adjusting to being a single mother, but communicating openly with her kids helped.
“When my marriage ended, I told my kids, ‘Whatever you feel, tell me. I don’t want any secrets between us.’ Kaya naging mas open yung communication naming mag-ina after the separation. It was hard to be a single mom. There was a time na iyak ako ng iyak, pero hindi ko mapakita sa mga anak ko kasi ako ang sandalan nila. But being able to communicate with my kids helped a lot. That’s why I feel cheated every time may tinatago sila sa akin. Sabi ko nga, okay lang naman for them to trust their friends, but they should trust me, too,” reiterates Sunshine. “Kasi if there’s someone who will protect you, support you and tell you things na makakabuti sa inyo, it’s mommy. Sabi nga nila, mother knows best.”
Sunshine is a big believer in being honest and open with her kids, even when it comes to the tough stuff. When she got married, she took a step back from showbiz to focus on her family, which allowed her to be around her kids all the time. But after her separation, Sunshine had to work to put food on the table. She couldn’t devote as much time to her kids as she would’ve liked, which affected them all.
“Nalulungkot sila kapag may trabaho ako. So I had to explain our situation to them. At the time nagiging teenagers na sila, so I knew maiintindihan nila yung nangyayari kung ipapaliwanag ko ng maayos. Ayun, naintindihan nga nila na para din sa kanila yung ginagawa ko.”
Although Sunshine is a stickler for rules, she’s not very strict with her kids regarding their studies. All she asks is that they do their best. She occasionally rewards their efforts by taking them on shopping sprees or traveling with them.
“Yun ang pinagiipunan ko. I always tell people na kaya ako nagtatrabaho ng ganito, whatever I save, it’s for my kids. I want to travel with them while I can. Yun ang bonding namin,” she explains. “May reward system din ako. Ibibigay ko yung gusto nila, pero kailangan ipakita muna nila sa akin yung report card nila.”
When it comes to parenting, the pandemic taught her that parents need to be flexible when the situation calls for it. For instance, when COVID-19 first hit the Philippines, the entire country shut down, forcing people to do everything from home. According to Sunshine, the lockdown affected her kids’ studies in a big way. From being honor students, Angelina, Sam, and Chesca’s grades slipped. They lost motivation.
“Siyempre kinausap ko sila, pero I realized I have to understand the situation. Mahirap naman kasi talaga mag-aral ngayong pandemic. So I told them to just do their best to stay on top of whatever activities and homework they have.”
Sunshine came down with COVID-19 twice. Unfortunately, she has what doctors call long COVID or post-COVID conditions. It’s been more than a year since her last bout with the virus, but her lungs still aren’t back to normal. Even so, she continues to accept singing engagements to support her kids.
Speaking of support, Sunshine was all for it when Angelina and Sam told her they wanted to join showbiz. Despite this, she made it clear that under no circumstances were they allowed to put their studies on the back burner. If they wanted to act or make music, they could, but they had to stay in school and eventually finish college.
“Initial reaction ko was okay lang, I will support you, but gusto ko makatapos sila. In my case, it was a dream for me to finish my studies on time pero ang dami kasing nangyari. So even while I was struggling as a single working mom, naghanap pa rin ako ng oras na tapusin yung college degree ko,” shares Sunshine. “I want my kids to finish school, pero ayoko ibalik nila sa akin yung fact na hindi ako nakatapos. Awa ng Diyos, nakapagtapos din ako. Kaya yun ang condition ko sa kanila. I told Angelina and then Sam na sige, mag-artista sila, tumanggap sila ng offers, pero ‘wag nila pabayaan ang pag-aaral nila. Kapag nagpabaya sila, I will pull them out of showbiz. I feel like sa tindi ng competition in the industry, kailangan nila ng fallback in case it doesn’t work out for them.”
Luckily, things seem to be going great for Angelina and Sam; their acting and music careers are heating up. As for Chesca, showbiz isn’t in her plans right now. She dreams of studying abroad, but she’s open to following in her parents’ and sisters’ footsteps should an irresistible opportunity present itself.
Their mother-daughter bond
The rest of the shoot went off without a hitch. After strutting their stuff as individuals, Angelina, Sam, Chesca, and Sunshine gathered for group photos. They showed off their mother-daughter bond by clowning around in between frames.
While her mother and sisters gathered around our photographer’s laptop to check out the photos, Chesca thanked FreebieMNL for putting her, Angelina, Sam, and Sunshine on this month’s Spotlight feature. She says the shoot went a long way toward getting their relationship back on track.
Sunshine had been giving her kids the silent treatment for a while before they showed up at the studio, but her frosty demeanor melted over the course of the day. By the end of the shoot, Sunshine and her kids had the entire team in stitches with their witty banter. (Keep an eye on our socials for proof!)
As they were packing up, Sunshine admitted that she and her kids don’t have a perfect relationship. But at the end of the day, they’ve got each other’s backs. While she may get mad at them from time to time, it’s only because she wants nothing but the best for Angelina, Sam, and Chesca.
“I always tell them na natutuwa ako kasi kahit hindi kumpleto ang family natin, people still look up to us. Nagiging inspiration tayo ng single-parent families. I may have made mistakes in the past, but I always aim to be a better version of myself, for myself and my kids.”
However, as far as they’re concerned, Sunshine is already the best at what she does—whether in acting, singing, or parenting. Angelina, Sam, and Chesca believe they have the best mother in the world, and they’re as proud of her as she is of them.
Photography Wilmark Jolindon
Art and Art Direction Alexandra Lara
Interview and Text Julian Mauricio
Fashion Direction Nicole Blanco Ramos
Styling Gee Jocson assisted by Jason Mago
Beauty Direction Elisa Aquino
Makeup Toni Aviles (Sunshine and Angelina) and Justine Navato (Sam and Chesca)
Hair Toni Aviles (Sunshine and Angelina) and Carla Mariscotes and Manilyn Moster of Team Gorgeousa (Sam and Chesca)