[PHOTO - During happier times: Sharon Cuneta and husband Sen. Kiko Pangilinan with Aunt Helen Gamboa and uncle, Sen. Tito Sotto have been divided by political intrigue. Will they get back together again as a happy family? Only time can tell.]

MANILA, MARCH 14, 2012 (PHILSTAR) FUNFARE By Ricardo F. Lo - Has politics created a gap so wide between Sharon Cuneta and her aunt, Helen Gamboa (younger sister of Sharon’s mom Elaine Gamboa-Cuneta), that it might take long before it can be bridged, if ever?

From the way Helen, wife of Sen. Tito Sotto, sounded, the gap seemed to be widening.

In a free-wheeling interview published in The STAR’s Life section last Sunday, Wilson Lee Flores asked Sharon as his last question: When you say politics divides people, were you referring also to your uncle Senator Tito Sotto’s past rift with your husband (Sen.) Kiko (Pangilinan)?

Sharon’s answer: Yes, politics does divide families, like when my uncle says something bad about Kiko, you don’t understand why…

Tears welling in her eyes and choking with emotion, Helen said, “Nagulat lang ako. Why did she say that?”

The interview was done at a private corner in the house of MTRCB Chief Grace Poe Llamanzares last Sunday during a birthday dinner with friends. Earlier that morning, Helen called, her voice trembling, presumably after she had just read the Sharon interview.

She held back and said she would talk lengthily at a party she was attending that night. Funfare happened to be invited to the same party.

“Tito also read the article,” added Helen. “He said, ‘Oh my God, you know me. I never say anything bad about or against a person.’ I know that Tito never said anything bad about Kiko or against Kiko, and God is our witness.”

But Sharon could be right in saying that politics has a way of dividing families.

As Helen recalled, back in 2004, Tito was the campaign manager for FPJ during the presidential elections when he ran under the Coalition ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. During the Senate probe into allegations of cheating, Kiko, who belonged to GMA’s party, was the presiding officer.

“Nobody can deny that because Kiko was the one saying ‘Noted, noted, noted!’ Even when Tito was pleading to have even just one ballot box opened…isa lang galing sa isang lugar… to prove that there was cheating, hindi pinagbigyan si Tito. Kiko just said, ‘Noted!’ Everybody knows that.”

The misunderstanding between her and Sharon didn’t start there.

“In 2007,” continued Helen, “Tito joined GMA’s party that merged with that of Danding Cojuangco, and ran again for Senator. He lost. When that happened, walang nakiramay sa amin kundi sina Sen. Tessie Oreta and Sen. Gringo Honasan, and some of our closest friends. They were the only people who stood by us.”

In 2010, Tito ran again for Senator, this time as an Independent, and won.

[PHOTO - Helen (center) with Susan Roces (left), her co-star in the ABS-CBN Walang Hanggan, and Boots Anson-Roa during last Sunday’s birthday dinner where Helen poured out her feelings about Sharon.]

“Several friends helped us, sila ang pinagkakautangan namin ng loob. When they were electing the Senate President, nag-request sina Sharon at Kiko na bumoto si Tito kay Kiko. But Tito couldn’t do that because of his commitment to those who helped him during the campaign. He explained that to Sharon. I thought that Sharon understood the whole thing; I thought that there was a closure already.

“Imagine how surprised I was when I saw Sharon on TV saying na masama ang loob niya sa Uncle Tito niya dahil hindi nya sinuportahan si Kiko. Look, Tito was only one vote; Tito’s vote was not the decisive factor para manalo si Kiko. Ang importante ay ‘yung boto kay Kiko ng mga kapartido niya. That’s the way I understood it ha. Ako, never do I meddle in my husband’s political career, kaya nagulat ako kay Sharon. Bakit siya nagka-ganun?” That was two years ago. Aunt and niece have not spoken to each other since then.

“Siempre, masakit sa akin kasi ako tiya n’ya, nakakatanda ako di hamak,” said Helen, tears fi nally falling. “I took care of her, ako halos nagpalaki sa kanya, I treated her like my own daughter, like my eldest child. The Lord knows how much I love her,” adding, unable to stop crying, “ang naiisip ko, siguro pag masyadong yumayaman ang isang tao, nag-iiba; nakakalimutan ang kanyang roots.”

Every now and then, Helen said she would still pay her ailing Ate Elaine a visit.

“I love Sharon so much na siguro nga, kung binigay siya sa akin ni Ate Elaine, hindi na ako nag asawa at aalagaan ko na lang siya. My children still look up to Sharon as their ate.”

Recovering herself, Helen said, “Not because I’m saying this doesn’t mean I don’t love her anymore. Hanggang mamatay ako, hindi magbabago ang pagtingin ko sa kanya. Kaya lang siempre, sumasama ang loob ko. I feel that it is not right na ang pamangkin ko ay masyadong matayog. I could feel that she’s so unreachable. Hindi ko na siya maabot.”

Sharon has let things off her chest in the STAR interview and so has Helen in this interview.

“I would have kept quiet,” said Helen, “until I read that interview last Sunday.”

Well, sooner or later, hopefully family would prevail over politics, and allow aunt and niece to let bygones be bygones.

“In the long run,” Helen sighed, “what really matters most is family. Politics is only politics. Nothing can replace family.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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