Tessie Villarama, the bag lady 

Published July 23, 2022, 10:32 PM

by Deedee Siytangco

Conversations with “bayong bag lady,” Scholastican Teresita Batista Villarama, occupied my week quite happily. 

A true Piscean, (March 17) she has always had the heart for the arts.

“Even as a young girl, I would dabble in drawing and painting,” she says. “I would also fancy making paper dolls and fashioning their clothes after Grace Kelly. As I grew older, my love for anything artistic transferred to designing handbags, which in turn made me venture into a handbag- making business named ‘Sew and Sew’ corporation. I patterned my denim bags on air letter envelopes, with handpainted designs of Raggedy Ann and Andy in the front. The bags were such a big hit I became a supplier at Cinderella’s.” 

Tessie at 45, with all her children having graduated from university entered into show business. She says she felt she needed to channel her creative juices into something that would also challenge her as a person.

“I came face to face with my heartfelt longing to be an actress, which my husband Willie Villarama readily supported. He introduced me to Cecille Alvarez, who became my mentor,” she says. “Even though I had no professional acting training or experience, Ms. Alvarez dared include me in her Balintataw television program, Sali-salising Buhay. This was the launch of many more acting projects that fueled more and more the artist in me.”

As time went on, Tessie took mother roles to well-known actors and actresses like Aga Muchlach, Lorna Tolentino, Judy Ann Santos, Bobby Andrews, and Polo Ravales. She also portrayed the wife of Eddie Garcia in Pangarap kong Jackpot.

Her blossoming show business career became an asset to her husband in his campaign for congress. His constituents in Bulacan recognized her from herteleseryes and movies.

“They were amazed to see me as I campaigned, most especially as I performed many Filipino poems, which I composed myself. Because of this, I was able to gather many votes for him,” says Tessie.

Being in show business became her stepping-stone into government service. Tessie was appointed as one of the board members of Movies and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB). 

“My intrinsic love for children compelled me to seriously review and appropriately rate TV programs and movies so they would be safe for young viewers,” she said.

Tessie retired from acting to focus more on MTRCB. Aside from closely monitoring TV programs and movies for children, she also became the chairperson of the office’s senior citizen committee.

“I wanted to be an example to my fellow senior citizens so that no matter what the age, we can still be productive and creative. My being a plantita (which developed during the pandemic) also became an inspiration that we can bloom where we are planted and be thriving and contributing members of society,” she says. “I am proud of the infomercial assigned to our committee as I was able to provide inputs and suggestions to our storyline, which is love and respect for senior citizens. I was able to put my artistic talents to good us too.”

Recently, she went back to her old hobby beautifying  handbags. These “labors of love”—decoupaged bayong bags—started when she saw plain, ordinary looking bayong bags at the Kamuning market.  

“I realized I could transform these bayong bags into something unique and beautiful,” says Tessie. “At first, I drew flowers and used watercolor to paint them. They came out nice, but I developed back and carpal tunnel pain. That was when I shifted my design and used floral appliques instead, which I decoupaged onto the bags. These bags have become very much in demand from then on.”

One of her first buyers was her niece, Rep. Geraldine Roman, who overwhelmed her aunt Tessie with her order of 30 bayong bags for her colleagues in congress. 

“I was challenged, but thrilled. From then on, my decoupaged bayong bags had become popular, up until the business temporarily halted due to the pandemic,” she says.

“Thankfully with the country opening up once again, many balikbayans have ordered these bags from me. Since it’s the summer season in the US, the bags are suitable for the weather.”

Tessie acknowledges that her talent for the arts is God’s gift. 

“Everything that has happened in my life has likewise been for His purposes—to put this talent to good use, for His glory. Being an Evangelical Christian has reinforced this conviction more and more, most especially as I receive encouragement from Victory Church and Christ’s Commission Fellowship,” she says. “I do not know where else the Lord will lead me. All I know is He will continue to harness the artistic talent He has endowed me with. One thing I am certain of though, I would not have made it this far if God did not bless the work of my hands. I give Him all praise and honor for being the true artist of my soul.”