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The Divine Ms D: Getting to Know Dina Bonnevie

Dina Bonnevie
In a world where even the greatest beauties do come and go, one image continues to linger despite the passing of time. Dina Bonnevie may have reached her peak and passed her prime, yet, to this day, she remains one of the most iconic actresses ever to grace the Philippine cinema. Perhaps, none could outdo, let alone match the bida-contrabida portrayals which she showcased in most of her films. Indeed, it is easy to grab the audience’s pity by playing helpless heroines, so much more endure the enmity of the masses by being the villain. But then, not all are gifted enough to play both roles all in one film. That’s acting the Dina Bonnevie style. Famed for her exotic beauty that endures to this day, Bonnevie is equally praised for her intelligence and quick wit, an attribute that not too many of her contemporaries, or even stars of succeeding generations, are not quite known for.

Birth and Childhood

Dina was born Geraldine Schaer Bonnie on January 27, 1962. She comes from an illustrious background of French , Italian and Swiss families. His father, Honesto Bonnevie was of French and Spanish descent, while her mother, Jeannette Schaer, hails from Switzerland. In fact, Dina and her children actually holds Swiss nationality. On the paternal side, Dina’s great grandfather, Don Jose Pedro Bonnevie, was a half-French, half-Italian settler who came to Bicol and eventually amassed a huge track of land.

Dina must have inherited the love of acting from her grandmother, Rosita Rivera, who was a pre-war movie actress and was a huge hit in such films as Makiling, Namumukod na Bituin, Kalbaryo ng Isang Ina, Monghita, Ikaw ang Dahilan, Ang Magmamani and Bago Lumubog ang Araw.

She spent her elementary years at St. Theresa’s College in Manila, although she moved to St. Agnes’ Academy in Legazpi City, where she finished her basic education. There, she had her first experience in acting after she joined the school’s drama guilds. In 1980, Dina decided to pursue Communication Arts. She enrolled at Ateneo de Manila University and later transferred to the University of the Philippines.

Early Years in Acting

Dina Bonnevie plays one of the
leads in Temptation Island.
Before Dina started out in show business, she was originally a beauty title-holder, winning first runner up in the search for Miss Magnolia in 1979. In an interview with radio hosts Chris Tsuper and Nicole Hyala, Dina revealed that she really had no plans of joining the contest. It was actually her sister who was one of the contestants. Somebody noticed her unique beauty and convinced her to join. And as they say, the rest is history. She ended up landing an exclusive contract with Regal Films.

Eventually, her would-be leading man Alfi Anido introduced her to Joey Gosiengfao, who cast her in teen dramas, namely Underage (1980) and Temptation Island (1980). The latter became one of the major hits of the 1980s. Although initially criticized for being campy, the film was praised as a “cult classic,” and is perhaps considered “one of the most hilarious Filipino films ever made,” that “dares to expose complex themes,” and “leave[s] [the audience] howling in laughter and tears.” In the film, Dina managed to hold her own despite being a newcomer. She easily got noticed for her beauty, even though she was pegged against more prominent beauty queens of the day.

One of the initial hurdles that Dina had to surpass was learning how to speak Tagalog. Being raised by an English-speaking household, Dina would recall that even her nanny had to speak in English, no matter how thick her accent was. Whenever caught speaking the local language, Dina and her siblings would be fined. Eventually, the actress realized that if she wanted her career to go on better mileage, she needed to learn Tagalog. She would tell that she used to devour on Tagalog komiks and she was forced to speak in Tagalog at set. Dina eventually introduced the fad of colegiala taglish (Tagalog-English) one-liners such as "kadiri to death," "kilig to the bones," "yuck” and "you're so baduy," which became associated with her.

Dina Bonnevie topbills Katorse.
But Dina’s breakthrough came until after she was cast as the innocent country lass, opposite Gabby Concepcion and Alfi Anido in Katorse, where she fell in love with her childhood friend and eventually got pregnant. The film was a huge hit and propelled her not only as one of the “Regal Babies” (named after Regal Films, the movie outfit), a status which she shared with then-studio queens Maricel Soriano and Snooki Serna,  but it also made her one of the hottest stars of the 1980s. Then followed a slew of teeny-bopper and coming-of-age films like Age Doesn’t Matter (1981), Bakit Ba Ganyan (1981) and Tender Age (1984). Dina recorded first and only studio album Bakit Ba Ganyan (1981). Released by OctoArts International, the album hit gold. She has also recorded a slapstick comedy ballad titled “Upakan” with Joey de Leon and she performed live on a primetime TV in the 80s.

However, Dina’s newfound fame had to be cut short after she married comedian Vic Sotto. The young actress was easily smitten by the charm and charisma of one of the country’s top comedians. Their marriage announcement surprised both their their fans and the Philippine movie industry in general. Dina had to shift her attention from being a celebrity to being a wife and eventually being a mother to Danica (born 1982) and Oyo Boy Sotto (born 1984). In fact, during the first years of their marriage, they were the it couple of Philippine showbizEventually, the marriage ended and Dina decided to regain her aborted fame as an actress. 

Critical and Commercial Success

It would be very difficult for anyone to start over, so much more to resume a halted career with two kids to raise. But Dina persisted and went on. Dina’s comeback vehicle was Hindi Nahahati ang Langit (1985). Dina Bonnevie, the actress, has finally arrived. She was cast as Christopher de Leon’s wife who committed suicide after becoming the recipient of an unrequited love.

Tinik sa Dibdib
Dina Bonnevie wins the Famas for best supporting
actress for her role in Tinik sa Dibdib.

Dina Bonnevie with fellow Famas winners. 
1985 to 1987 were banner years for Dina. Eventually, her status as one of her generation’s best actresses was solidified in Tinik sa Dibdib (1985), where she portrayed Philip Salvador’s crazy sister, Moret. Her acting was not left unnoticed and despite the overbearing presence of Nora Aunor, Dina managed to hold her own. She eventually bagged the Best Supporting Actress trophies from the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS) and Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP), as well as a slew of praises from movie critics.

It would be remembered that by the time that Dina received the role, she was fresh from her separation from Vic Sotto. That must be the reason why such a gush of emotional overflew from the actress. After winning the awards, Dina’s career began to go uphill and more critically acclaimed roles followed.

Her next foray into dramatic acting was the 1985 drama Palimos ng Pag-ibig, where she played the role of Ditas, Vilma Santos and Edu Manzano’s young and alluring baby maker. The movie was famous for Vilma Santos’ tagline: “Para kang karinderyang bukas sa lahat ng gustong kumain!”  in reference to Ditas’ work as a prostitute. 

That same year, she was featured in the Sharon Cuneta- Gabby Concepcion starrer Pati Ba Pintig ng Puso.

Dina Bonnevie plays Nida Blanca's role in Magdusa Ka.

Dina Bonnevie topbills Magdusa Ka

Dina Bonnevie, who wins numerous best actress awards for
Magdusa Ka, with costar Pinky Amador.
In 1986, Dina starred in one of her most memorable films, Magdusa Ka. She plays the role of Christine, a poor, young waitress who lives with her mother (Nida Blanca) and eventually discovers that she is actually the daughter of a rich man. The film was a critical and commercial success. She almost hit grand slam after winning the FAMAS, FAP, and Catholic Mass Media awards for Best Actress. She also grabbed a nomination from the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino.

With Sharon Cuneta and Cherrie Gil, she topbilled Sana’y Wala nang Wakas, which tells the story of three friends who were connected by music, divided by fame, but were eventually reconnected together after reaching their lowest ebbs and finding out that their strength comes from friendship.

In 1987, Dina joined the cast of Maging Akin Ka Lamang, where she portrayed the role of Elsa, Christopher de Leon’s wife who had to fight her way against Lorna Tolentino’s bratty role just to keep the man of her life and reclaim her long-lost child. The film garnered her another nomination for best supporting actress from the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences.

In 1988, Dina played the role of Desiree, the club dancer, who fell in love with Gabby Concepcion in Paano Tatakasan ang Bukas (1988).

Dina had the opportunity to showcase her skills in an international project, after appearing in A Dangerous Life, the English-language Australian film about the final years of the Marcos dictatorship, the assassination of Benigno Aquino, Jr. and the People Power Revolution in 1986. Although Dina’s role as Celie Balamo was uncredited, her performance eventually received critical acclaim.

In 1989, Dina sizzled in Ang Babaeng Nawawala sa Sarili, a critically acclaimed performance as the sweet lass possessed by Cherie Gil’s character.

In Lahat ng Ito Pati na ang Langit, she played one of Susan Roces’ models who bore the latter’s adopted child and eventually brought misery into her life.

Another dramatic performance of the year where in Dahil Minsan Lang and Kung Kasalanan Man, the latter earning her another nomination from FAMAS for best actress. Here’ she played the role of an innocent wife who was caught in a web of evil spun by the people she loved.

Dina Bonnevie in Gumapang ka sa Lusak.
She started 1990 with Pangarap na Ginto but her most unforgettable film role was yet to come. In Gumapang ka sa Lusak, she plays Rachel, a starlet who also happens to be the mistress of an ambitious mayor. As the election nears, the mayor’s wife wants him to end his affair. She relented only if he releases her imprisoned boyfriend. The mayor concedes but wants the former jail-bird to kill his opponent. Her costar and the film’s main antagonist Charo Santos, admitted that Dina was so far the best actress she’s ever worked with. The film garnered her a nomination from FAMAS and Urian.

In Bakit Kay Tagal ng Sandali (1990), Dina played a Julio Diaz’s girlfriend who will do everything for him, to the extent of marrying an old man to grab his wealth.

In 1991, she scored another critically acclaimed performance for her role as the television commentator who turned blind on the evil deeds of her politician-benefactor. She once again bagged nominations for best actress from FAMAS, FAP and Urian.

In Tag-Araw Tag-Ulan, she played the role of a woman who was running away from a broken relationship.
Huwag Mong Salingin ang Sugat saw Dina Bonnevie team up once again with Christopher de Leon, where the plot centers on leprosy.

In 1992, she once again portrayed the-other-woman role in Akin ang Pangarap Mo, causing havoc on Dawn Zulueta and Richard Gomez’s love affair.

In Hanggang Saan Hanggan Kailan (1993), Dina portrayed as Alix Dixson and Vina Morales’ mean-spirited sister.

1994 saw her appear in the comedy film, Hindi Pa Tapos ang Labada Darling opposite former husband Vic Sotto. The couple eventually re-teamed in 2000 in Bakit Ba Ganyan (Ewan ko nga ba Darling).
Dina also appeared on a slew of true-to-life films, including Ka Hector, Minsan May Pangarap: The Guce Family Story, and Eskapo (all 1995).

In 2000, she starred in the religious-family drama Tanging Yaman, where she played the role of Grace, Gloria Romero’s daughter who ran away with the man she loved, only to come back after her mother became ill.  Her performance scored a nomination for best supporting actress from the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino.

Her other notable films during this decade included American Adobo (2002), where she was cast as a social butterfly, Bridal Shower (2003) where, together with Cherrypie Picache and Francine Prieto, she appeared as an advertising executive in frantic search for the perfect guy, and Noon and Ngayon, where her character became Jericho Rosales’ love interest.

Film Slow Down and TV Series

Dina Bonnevie in May Bukas Pa.
By the turn of the 21st century, the country’s film-making industry, once the most bustling in Asia, began to decline. And as film making outfits either produced less and less films, or have eventually shut down, Dina also saw less and less movie offers. This was the time when she started appearing on television, in drama series aside from hosting her own daytime show, D-Day (1999-2001). In 1999, she starred in IBC-13’s drama series, May Bukas Pa, opposite Cherie Gil. Here, she portrayed the rags-to-riches singer in search of her long-lost daughter.

In 2001, she was featured in GMA-7’s Ikaw Lamang ang Mamahalin as the series’ antagonist, Martina. Another villain role came her in Narito ang Puso Ko (2003), when as Jolina Magdangal’s aunt, she hatched plans to grab the family’s wealth.

In 2004, she accepted the offer in ABS-CBN to play the role of Sofia, Kris Aquino’s domineering and ambitious sister in Hiram. The show was a consistent top rater in the primetime block and lasted until 2005. In 2006, Dina went on a hiatus and went to the U.S. for business purposes, coming back in 2007 to lend her acting in the Piolo Pascual-Claudine Barretto starrer Walang Kapalit. She played Claudine’s mother who fell in love and married Piolo Pascual’s father, played by Edu Manzano.

As the 2000s progressed, most of Dina’s hits in the 1980s were remade into TV series. This included  Katorse (1980), Tinik sa Dibdib (1985), Palimos ng Pag-ibig (1985), Magdusa Ka (1986), Maging Akin Ka Lamang (1987), and Gumapang Ka Sa Lusak (1990), while her roles were portrayed by Erich Gonzales (2009), Michelle Madrigal (2009), Kristine Hermosa (2007), Katrina Halili (2008), Nadine Samonte (2008) and Jennylyn Mercado (2009), respectively.

Ironically, Dina also starred on several film-to-TV reprisals. She played Marita Zobel’s role as the long-suffering mother in Natutulog Ba ang Diyos (2007). In 2008, she returned to GMA-7 to play Evita, the tough-hearted matriarch in search of her long lost daughter in Babangon Ako’t Dudurugin Kita. In 2012, she played Sharon Cuneta’s role in the TV sequel of the hit motion picture P.S. I Love You.

Dina’s most memorable TV role was perhaps May Bukas Pa (2009), a loose adaptation of the critically-acclaimed Spanish film, Marcelino Pan y Vino. In an interview with PEP, Dina claimed that she was elated to have received the offer since not all the time one is invited to star in a show that gives honor to God. Dina was cast as the power-hungy and ambition-driven Malena, Albert Martinez’ wife, whose role was haunted by her past after she accidentally pushed Chin-Chin Guttierez’s character off to the cliff, which, killed her, and the subsequent abandonment of her baby in the cemetery. Dina’s role eventually eased from being mean to becoming the repentant, thanks to the miraculous hands and touching heart of the show’s child lead, Santino (Zaijian Jaranilla). Dina’s role was well-received, but she had to quit the show in the midst of the plot due to ill-health. The series was a runaway winner in the ratings game and it eventually became the most awarded TV series during its run.

Dina also appeared in a number of episodes in the country’s longest running drama anthology, Maalaala Mo Kaya. Among the roles she portrayed included the poverty-stricken mother of the boy who suffered from brain tumor in the episode “Poon.” The story evolved on the family’s fervent prayers that miraculously healed the sick child. In 2012, she appeared in the episode “Flower Shop,” which tells the story of a vendor and mother of 12 who was compelled to face up to the trials, deaths and teen pregnancy that befell her family.

Business World

In an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer way back in 2005, Dina quipped that an actress’ beauty and image will have to eventually fade. “Show biz is not a permanent thing,” she said. “As they say, when lines begin to show and waistlines begin to grow, you are good to go. So I made sure I would be in another business before I totally disappear from show biz.”

Dina’s foray into business ventures followed shortly after her career went on a hiatus in the early 80s. She started to a production outfit called White Wings which backed numerous concerts and TV specials. "It was her first taste of dealing with prima donnas and soliciting corporate sponsorships." She later ran an employment agency named Transtar, which hired cabin crews and entertainers for luxury ships.

Then, there's her shipping business, which she opened in 1992. A friend convinced her to venture out in this industry and she admitted that it's always difficult to start anew. "I didn't know anything about shipping, but then they said, “madali lang matutunan 'yan…and then eventually, you know, I got the knack of it," she said in an interview with Philippine Entertainment Portal. To gear herself up with the intricacies of the trade, she had to go to Singapore to study and earn a certificate from the International Standardization Organization, one requirement for her business.

Dina also entered the export business. Her company carried a line of products which included placemats, hats, and bags made of native materials like abaca. Meanwhile, her handmade door latches were highly in demand in UK. From this, her interest in another field sprang--telecommunications. Her web designer was the one who introduced her to VOIP (voice over internet protocol). Dina started using the product to communicate with her family abroad. She started doing testimonials until in 2004, she was asked to join and become the firm's partner. She eventually became vice-president for International and Business Development and in just one year, she was able to expand the business in most Southeast Asian countries and even in UK.

Dina prides that it was actually her company that introduced VOIP in the Philippines. "When nobody knew what VOIP was, we were already doing VOIP. Wala pang Skype, 'di pa alam ng tao kung ano ang Skype. Wala pa ang Skype talaga, nauna na kami dito," she mentions.

But problems began when officials in the government started to harass her. "Some people in the government made problems for us. I don't want to go back there anymore. Malungkot yung kwento na 'yon, so I was forced to leave because some people just want to get the business and grab it from us, just because they are in power," Dina narrated. Eventually, Dina went to the U.S., where she stayed for almost a year. There, she was absorbed by Fusion Telecommunications and was appointed as the firms's director for overseas market development. Her tasked involved "developing strategic VoIP business opportunities for Fusion within the Philippines and the global Filipino community."

In a press release, she said: "I am excited to join Fusion and to be a part of the next evolution of VoIP.
"After many years of working in the global Filipino community, I believe Fusion's revolutionary VoIP services and the introduction of the Worldwide Internet Area Code(TM) will bring tremendous value to Filipinos around the world. In addition, I believe in Fusion's vision and know that our efonica brand of advanced VoIP services will provide significant value to all of our consumer and business customers who communicate to, from, in, and between emerging markets worldwide," she added.

She eventually returned to the Philippines to open her own VOIP business.

"It's difficult. I would always attend the conferences in Dubai, and then they would wonder, 'What is a woman doing in telecommunications?' The same thing people would say if I attend shipping conferences, 'What is a woman doing in shipping?'

"So I would say, 'Great, an icing on the cake! Would you imagine, without women in telecommunications, it would probably so boring. So good thing there are people like us who do the marketing, and we are the ones who close the deal.”

She added: "I think women are better in marketing than men are. Because it is very hard to say no to a woman when a woman is trying to close a deal!"

And because of her busy schedule, Dina would admit that she really did not have much time to socialize on the set.

"There are times when shooting brings us to a sugar plantation in Tarlac, for instance, and I panic when I am told there are no longer Internet facilities," she recalled. "But in places where there are and it is taking long for the camera people to set up, I head for the nearest Internet cafe... when I'm, in my costume... There are always business details to attend to, so I spend those hours of waiting going through my e-mail and answering them." Such a dedication and professionalism!

Dina credits her success in the business world to her popularity as an actress. "You have more persuasive power in business if you are known in show biz," she said. However, Dina emphasized that she knows how to draw the line between "camaraderie and exchange deals."

Dina also claimed that "what she earned [as a businesswoman] in four month I can earn for four taping days." But the good thing is, she would invest her earning back and she pays her employee in dollars.

Perhaps, one virtue that keeps her succeeding as an actress and as a business woman is patience. "The patience I acquired waiting for other starts to show up and for the cameras to grind has proven to be an asset. I have met a lot of prospective buyers and investors who can bully you out of your wits but I've kept my cool. Good memory--honed by memorizing a lot of scripts--has helped, too. I [know by heart the] corporate laws in Japan and Singapore."

On her work principles, she said: "My motto in life is to strive for the best and never settle for mediocrity. My dad always said that work badly done is better than work undone. That's why I strive to do my best in every endeavor."

After Dina’s marriage to Vic Sotto ended (they are good friends now), Dina tied the knot with Dick Penson, although the marriage ended in separation. In 2012, Ms D. married Ilocos Sur vice-governor Deogracias Victor Savellano.

The Divine Ms D

Ms D, as she is fondly known in show business, could brag about a career that any budding actress and fallen star could aspire for. She’s got the beauty to lure moviegoers. She’s got the skills and acting prowess to deliver a heavy-weight performance. She’s got the brains to run one business after the other and she’s got that professionalism and tenacity that not too many of her colleagues and the succeeding generations of actors could take pride of. Most of all, she has those hit and critically acclaimed movies, dozens of awards and nominations and a loving family to crown her achievements as a star and as a person. Way into her 40s, Ms D still attracted the attention of the younger generation of fans after she graced the cover of FHM. It was reported that she was one of the only two FHM cover girls (the other one was Marian Rivera) with sold-out issues! That's one hot momma, eh?

One article online labeled Ms D as the “Other” Movie Queen. But I say, she is a Movie Queen and that's beyond any reasonable doubt. Try to cast her opposite an actress of her same stature and you’ll know what I mean. She has proven her mettle many times over and more than held her own even when she was put on an acting showdown with Nora Aunor, Vilma Santos, Sharon Cuneta, Lorna Tolentino or Maricel Soriano. In today’s filmdom, no one could portray “bida-kontrabida” the Dina Bonnevie-way. Yes, there’s the promising Angelica Pangiban who makes her mark in that manner, but I guess, Ms D would also be a genuine trendsetter.

Ever honest and never the hypocrite, she continues to receive both praises and criticism for her straight-to-the point manner of answering questions, demystifying rumors and disclaiming controversies. Well, that’s the way it is. That’s why I am true blooded Dinanian… FOR LIFE!

Sources and additional readings:

Dina Bonnevie manages time between two careers by Glen Sibonga

Dina Bonnevie plays businesswoman for real by Pablo Tariman, Philippine Daily Inquirer Jan. 5, 2015
Dina Bonnevie rises to challenge of handling a telecommunications and shipping business by Nica Tomines

Dina Bonnevie says son Oyo Sotto and future daughter-in-law Kristine Hermosa have prepared themselves for marriage by Roy Pumaloy

Dina Bonnevie wants to conduct workshops for actresses who do remakes of her old films by Joselyn Jimenez,


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