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Kris Aquino: Sister, entertainer and now, host extraordinaire

Ms Kris Aquino, sister of Philippine President Benigno Aquino.
Ms Kris Aquino, sister of Philippine President Benigno Aquino. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT OF KRIS AQUINO

Aquino clan's media queen sheds flashy image to host First Spouses at Apec meeting

Her publicists bill her as "queen of all media", and that pretty much has been how her life in all its soapy glory has unfolded - in all media.

If you live in the Philippines, there is no escaping Ms Kris Aquino. The TV presenter and actress is everywhere: On billboards towering over Manila's highways, on TV and radio, in magazines and tabloids, and lately on social media, with millions of followers on Instagram and Twitter.

This week, Ms Aquino, 44, sister of the country's bachelor President Benigno Aquino, 55, will find herself in a different kind of spotlight - as hostess to at least 10 spouses of foreign leaders in Manila for the summit of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum from Wednesday.

Ms Aquino is no stranger to this, having played the role of the Philippines' "First Hostess", attending to the spouses of visiting heads of state, since her brother came to power in 2010.

In fact, she is quite adept at it by some accounts. "When she hosts, she's not the celebrity. She's the President's sister. I think they enjoy her company. She carries conversations very well," Ms Abigail Valte, one of Mr Aquino's spokesmen, told The Straits Times.

Ms Aquino, whenever she represents her brother in front of foreign dignitaries, sheds the flashy clothes and the bubbly, fast-paced chatter, said Ms Valte.

She is muted, formal, pleasing, solicitous, and goes all out to make sure her guests take home a good impression of her and her nation.

But Ms Aquino is most at home on stage, having been watched by the nation since she was eight when she would climb on stage to sing at the campaign rallies of her father, the late senator Benigno Aquino Jr, a national martyr.

Well known as a chatterbox and compulsive gossip, Ms Aquino has not stopped talking about herself.

Millions of Filipinos, whether they choose to pay heed or not, are aware of her terrible choices in men, her elder son's autism, her weight problem and big feet, her preference for red on Mondays, the dramas with her mother and brother, and that she likes to walk around her house naked.

She somehow finds a way to stir up controversy even while talking about something mundane, as she once quizzed a male model on her talk show: "Are you sure you don't use steroids? You can tell by looking at the nipples, you know."

Ms Aquino has remained interesting to the public after 29 years, long after other entertainers of her ilk have faded from the scene.

And this is because she is no run-of-the-mill celebrity, carrying as she does the Aquino name, one of the least sullied names in Philippine politics.

Apart from her father, she also has a famous mother, the late Corazon Aquino, a democracy icon and president from 1986 to 1992.

Ms Aquino's enduring hold on the public has meant that her playing host to visiting dignitaries' spouses has helped to keep her brother's presidency vibrant, say observers.

This week's Apec meeting will be less glamorous than anticipated. Mrs Michelle Obama, wife of US President Barack Obama, and Ms Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, both widely followed by fashion buffs, will not be joining their husbands.

Still, Ms Aquino is promising "exceptional hospitality". She is putting together a 20-minute performance of Broadway songs to be performed by the nation's top crooners for a luncheon for the spouses on Thursday, and plans to take them on a "walk through time" in Intramuros, the oldest district and historic core of Manila, where her guests will get a glimpse of what the Philippines was like in the 1800s when it was a Spanish outpost.

This may well be Ms Aquino's last tour as hostess to the world's "First Spouses" - her brother will step down as president in June next year, and no one else in her family has made a career out of politics.

Ms Aquino herself has so far made good on her promise to stay out of politics, although she has hinted otherwise.

But she is looking forward to a career outside entertainment.

A brush with death in August when she nearly had a stroke was, she said, a "wake-up call" to "put my priorities in proper perspective".

Those priorities, she said, have been about building a nest egg for her two sons - 20-year-old Josh, from a short-lived affair with a married actor, and eight-year-old James, her son with her ex-husband, a professional basketball player.

Extroverted, engaging and energetic, Ms Aquino is seen by many as a natural politician.

She had dropped hints of running for senator, first in 2003, and then again in 2013.

And she is widely expected to run in next year's elections, but has said she is not yet "100 per cent committed" to a life in politics, although she has not ruled it out either.

"Public service, whether elective or appointed, will come in due time," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2015, with the headline 'Sister, entertainer, and now, host extraordinaire'. Print Edition | Subscribe