Chat Silayan came at a time when beauty titlists were regarded as real queens. She belonged to that golden age of beauty contests, when Filipinas held the world at their dainty hands. It was the eighties, the period that ushered the emergence of such distinguished Pinay beauties as Desiree Verdadero, Dang Cecilio, Armi Barbara Crespo and Melanie Marquez. And then, there was — Maria Rosario “Chat” Rivera Silayan, daughter of great actor Vic Silayan and Antoinnette Rivera.
Her dusky splendor captivated the discerning judges of the 1980 Miss Universe Pageant in Seoul, Korea, where she notched the Third runner-up honor. In the fashion scene however her stint in Korea, where she sashayed in a light blue long dress at the evening gown competition, ushered the return of serpentina—a gown characterized by a skin-tight bodice that flared at the hem. “I will always remember Chat as the one who made the serpentina famous again.” said one of her mentors, fashion designer Rene Salud in one interview.
During the pageant, host Bob Barker asked Chat whether she wanted to become an actress like her famous father. Chat halfheartedly said, “ No! Because the movies are not good for women.”
At eighteen, Chat indeed was unsure of many things. “Everything happened so fast,” she said. “I was barely eighteen when I started modeling at the Hilton under Conchita Sunico. I had to work early as a model-dancer for Tita Conching, because I have to earn for the family.”
Her parents separated when Chat was on her last year in college at the Philippine Women’s University. “I felt sad when they separated but I was too busy to delve on it. After the beauty pageant, I was plunged into showbiz. So, dinadaanan ko lang yung buhay ko na ganon- ganon lang”.
But even if her life was moving at a very fast pace, she did not overlook her studies. She willed herself to finish school. She, in fact, was a registered nutritionist-dietitian. She was scholarly. Her skill in TV hosting did not just happen. “I was always an honor student. That’s why people thought I was okay” she said. Little did they know that everything was just a front.
The solid pretense was Chat’s way of coping with her pain. The truth was, she was always craving for affirmation of her worth, brought mainly by the sad fact that hers wasn’t her father’s real family. “I already knew the truth when I was in the elementary, maybe Grade Five or Six”, admitted Chat.
“I really couldn’t recall how I came to know the truth about our family. But I could still remember the time when I saw the names of my father’s real children in one write up. Parang wala lang. I never asked my Mom about it. Maybe because, we were not so open as a family. When we were young, we thought that Dad was just shooting his movies, when he wasn’t at home.”
When her parents finally separated in 1979, life crumbled for her two brothers. But not to Chat. “I was 18 years old when they separated. My friends complimented me for being so strong. Ang ganda ko daw magdala ng problema, parang ‘di halata. Wow, they said I was so brave”.
And while her brothers succumbed to serious juvenile problems common to children from broken homes, Chat did exactly the opposite. She excelled in her modeling job, finished her studies, went on to win an international beauty contest, and made a name as a good television host and movie actress.
Chat said that she only realized her inner problem, when she was already in her late twenty’s. She noticed that all the while she didn’t have any meaningful love relationship. “I have my “Suwerte sa Siyete” and “Student Canteen,” where we got to entertain the public, but deep inside I was sad and empty. I didn’t know how to relate to people. I got hurt easily. I was sensitive to criticisms, pero tipong mataray na me pagkasuplada na tipong self centered naman” she mused.
Then, she knew that her parents’ problems which she had been ignoring for many years had left an indelible mark in her psyche. “I was afraid of falling in love. I wasn’t trusting. Hindi rin ako masyadong marunong makisama sa ibang tao. I didn’t know how to relate to the opposite sex, because I have no role model. All I have was the notion that love would only bring you pain. Nothing in my past showed me that commitment could be true and lasting “ she said.
Confused, she went to the United States, where she did odd jobs to survive, like managing a yoghurt store or selling in a boutique. Her friends, puzzled by her decision to leave showbusiness in favor of blue collar jobs in the U.S, have questioned her judgment. “Sabi ko, kasi parang may hinahanap ako na hindi ko alam. Hindi ako pwedeng maging artista sa Pilipinas kung magulo yung utak ko“, she said.
Her personal journey to self discovery ended when she lost her dad. Vic Silayan died of heart attack in 1987. ”He was the only man in my life. I had nothing. I was so furious I even blamed the Lord for not allowing me to see my father before he died”, said Chat.
In an effort to console her, Chat’s half-sister, Marivic Simon, wife of former Quezon City Mayor Jun Simon, invited her to attend one of the seminars of the Lord’s Flock. Chat resented it, at first, “I was liberated, and suddenly I was in the middle of a religious crowd, mostly senior citizens who were singing in praise of God, with their hands swaying up in the air. To my surprise however, the next day, I was the very first person to arrive at the seminar site. And in the afternoon, I accepted Jesus, as my personal Lord and savior. ”
In a way, when I lost my earthly father, I have gained a heavenly Father”, said Chat. “In an effort to understand my father’s death, I learned about the real meaning of life.”
Chat married Mike Bailon on December 30, 1991, when she was 32 years old. Previously, she had an unsuccessful three-year relationship with Euro filmmaker Edoardo Margheriti. They had a son, Victor Anthony, now 17. Chat and Edoardo were able to meet for the last time, when the latter visited Chat in the hospital before she died. The meeting was arranged by Mike, Chat’s devoted husband of fifteen years.
In the movies, Chat was last seen in “My First Romance” (2003). She also co-hosted “700 Club Asia,” with Dulce and Peter Kairuz. Her other films included “Kamakalawa,” “Kung Ako Na Lang Sana” (2003), “Esperanza: The Movie” (1999), “Ipaglaban Mo: The Movie Part 2” (1997) and “Dyesebel” (1990).
Chat Silayan died in her sleep last April 25 after a two-year battle with colon cancer. She is survived by her husband MIke and their three children: Victor Anthony, Timothy and Michaela. She was only 46. (This article is based on Gina de Venecia’s interview of Chat Silayan in the radio program, “Nagmamahal, Manay Gina” on DZBB. For comments, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.)