Santos starred in commercially successful films in the early 1990s following motion picture adaptations of Mara Clara (1996) and Esperanza (1999). She further achieved television and film success with pairings opposite Wowie de Guzman, Rico Yan, and Piolo Pascual.
Born in Manila City, Philippines, Santos is the daughter of Carolina Lumagui (née Fontanela), a bank officer and Manuel Dayrit Santos, a businessman. She is the granddaughter of Victoria Dayrit-Santos, an eminent businesswoman and Miguel Santos, proprietor of the defunct Victoria Supermarket and Victoria Building in Caloocan, Philippines. She has two older siblings, brother Jeffrey (b. 1971), an actor and politician, and Jacqueline (b. 1975), a registered nurse.
After her parents' separation in 1981, Santos and her siblings lived with their mother, who raised them single-handedly. When she was six years old, her mother left for Toronto, Canada, and worked as a personal care assistant to provide for their needs. Santos was educated at Assumption Convent, in Antipolo, Rizal and later moved to Our Lady of Peace, also in Antipolo. She attended secondary education at Mount Carmel College, in Quezon City, Philippines.
When she was seven years old, Santos had a small part in Kaming Mga Ulila (1986), a project then in development initially slated for motion picture release by film production arc Regal Entertainment later adapted as a television series that premiered in GMA Network's afternoon programming block. In 1988, Santos starred in Ula, Ang Batang Gubat, where she played her first television lead role, an archetypal feral child raised in the Philippine jungles who later experiences civilization only to largely reject it and return to the wild as a heroic adventurer. Santos, starred as Crisanta in her first motion picture, Silang Mga Sisiw Sa Lansangan (1998), where she was one of the three impoverished teenage girls who form an unlikely bond as they scour the streets earnestly searching for means to feed themselves. That same year, co-starring in The Lost Command alongside Ramon Revilla, Jr., Santos received her first FAMAS Award nomination, in the Best Child Actress category. She next appeared in films playing younger versions of the female leads including Dyesebel (1990), Impaktita (1991), and Madonna, Ang Babaeng Ahas (1991).
After years of supporting roles in movies and frequent television guest appearances, Santos attracted wider recognition in her lead role in the 1996 television drama, Mara Clara. She played Mara, an underprivileged servant to a rich couple, inadvertently her biological parents as a result of being switched at birth. Her portrayal has been cited as the role that defined Santos as a primetime block front-runner following substantial lead in household viewership and audience share. Jowana Bueser, television reviewer for The Birth of Damnation wrote: "The popular afternoon drama Mara Clara was put in place against the competitor, Marimar [Mexican serial program]. The stroke of genius is the supposed ending of Mara Clara. People tuned in. Anticipating a resolution to the convoluted lives of the Del Valle and Davis families." The series ran for five years airing 1,209 episodes, marking the longest half-hour-long television series featuring a female lead. Subsequent to the series' success, a 1996 movie adaptation was released through Star Cinema, ABS-CBN Film Productions, Inc. Santos won a FAMAS Award for Best New Movie Actress for her performance.
Following the success of Mara Clara, Santos appeared in ABS-CBN's 1996 weekly series Star Drama Theatre Presents as its featured artist. The show received predominantly positive reviews, with Santos praised in particular. Tina Bonifacio of JobsDB.com said, "Santos successfully elevated herself, cementing her reputation as one of the finest young actresses of her generation. She has successfully established her place in show business." After her stint in the show, she reprised two more featured appearances, having held the distinction of being the youngest artist with the most number of appearances in the series, starring in twelve. Asked about her accomplishment in the drama series, Santos stated, "Doing Star Drama Presents was another highlight, because I was the first young actress to be given the multi-episode treatment. I was overwhelmed, I never expected that. I was only 16 years old then." In June of the same year, the Talent Center—TFC (now traded as Star Magic) co-production Gimik (1996) gave Santos her first leading role in a teen drama television series, as a young socialite portrayed in the fictional lives of a close-knit group of teenagers through high school and college, alongside Rico Yan, Diether Ocampo, Giselle Toengi, Mylene Dizon, Bojo Molina, Jolina Magdangal, and Marvin Agustin. The show received positive response from critics and television viewers ensuing to its eventual 1998 motion picture adaptation, Gimik: The Reunion.
The year 1997 marked a significant turning point in Santos' career, when she played the title role in ABS-CBN's primetime television drama Esperanza. She starred alongside Wowie de Guzman, as a surviving victim of a vehicular collision thus separating from her parents and siblings and has seek out in search for them. Speaking about the character, Santos said "Kung nasaan man ako ngayon, naging malaking part talaga 'yung Esperanza. Pati na rin 'yung mga nakapag-direct sa akin dahil natuto ako ng iba't ibang style at techniques sa acting." (Wherever I am now, having portrayed Esperanza has been a significant part of my journey. The directors I've worked with have immersed me to different styles and techniques of acting). Santos' performance earned her praise from critics, as the press began referring to her as the new soap opera princess. FemaleNetwork.com noted that "This is one [Santos] role no one is likely to forget. In this [series], Santos played the role of Esperanza, who was separated from her family as a young girl. Throughout the show, we saw her experiencing a lot of hardships, and we felt her own despair whenever her tears flowed on screen". Meanwhile, Dez Lucero from Chic concluded "Santos proved to be bigger in stellar power. The show showcased her [..] and became a star in her own right". The series ran for three years and was adapted for motion picture release, Esperanza: The Movie (1999), earning Santos the Guillermo Mendoza Memorial Scholarship Foundation Citation as Teenage Queen of Philippine Movies.
Following the release of Esperanza: The Movie, Santos appeared opposite de Guzman in the film Paano Ang Puso Ko?, as an insolvent juvenile struggling to pursue higher education amidst financial struggles. The film was a commercial success. In the 1998 movie Muling Ibalik Ang Tamis Ng Pag-ibig that Santos and de Guzman led, the former as an ambitious woman who takes a pseudo-husband in order to prevent her impending marriage to a family friend. The film received mostly critical reviews, and was generally considered a commercial triumph; "She [Santos] became a teen idol, as well as the beloved half of the popular love team—at its peak [...] they crossed over to the big screen and starred in one hit after another, movies that made the fans scream with delight and the producers laugh all the way to the bank", wrote the Chic Magazine. For the second consecutive year, Santos won the Teenage Movie Queen of Philippine Movies citation from Guillermo Mendoza Memorial Scholarship Foundation.
Santos, alongside de Guzman, appeared in two more films, the first film was a romantic comedy My Pledge of Love. She portrayed a spunky traveller at the center of a battle between three different guys (played by de Guzman, Bobby Andrews and Onemig Bondoc). Next up was a second movie Kasal-kasalan... Sakalan that starred Santos as good-hearted but hapless bride-to-be in the midst of premarital discourse. Both films were critical and commercial failures. Her performances were received poorly, with Ana Pingol of YES! Magazine saying "there is always the danger of lukewarm—or worse, negative reception from the public who once adored you. The public can be pretty conservative; they stick to what is familiar [...] to what they like or has changed into something the public has not taken to—yet".
In September 1998, Santos began principal photography in Vigan City, Ilocos Sur for her film, Kay Tagal Kang Hinintay, a Star Cinema, ABS-CBN Film Productions, Inc. romantic drama directed by Rory Quintos. In the film, Santos stars opposite Rico Yan as a steadfast breadwinner whose ambitions and familial responsibilities get in the way of her romantic life. Santos and Yan's initial pairing was met with predominantly positive reviews. Ian Smich of Rotten Tomatoes called Kay Tagal Kang Hinintay "a heart-gripping tale" and remarked on Santos' "laudable onscreen chemistry" with Yan, concluding that "[despite] circumstances [...] there are so many what could have been in this screen couple's roads, but managed to end up together later in the film." She received her third award from Guillermo Mendoza Memorial Scholarship Foundation.
In early June 1999, Santos starred in the Boots Plata-directed action comedy Isusumbong Kita Sa Tatay Ko, appearing opposite Fernando Poe, Jr., which tells a story of a father-daughter relationship, Badong and Joey, the latter resentful with the idea of losing her father's love to another woman. The film received predominately favorable reviews and proved a commercial success. Sol Jose Vanzi of Philippine Headline News Online noted, "It's a match produced in celluloid heaven, because he [Poe] is king of Philippine movies while she [Santos] is considered today's drama princess." Isusumbong Kita Sa Tatay Ko marked the first Philippine-produced film to have reached and exceeded Php100 million in box office gross. The film's box office performance earned Santos a Guillermo Mendoza Memorial Scholarship Foundation Citation as Box Office Queen.
For her next feature television drama, Santos starred in her titular weekly anthology Judy Ann Drama Special (1999). The making of the television drama also gave Santos significant acting experience; as she said, "It's so surreal that I'm doing my very own anthology. I've always dreamed about having one, though it came unexpectedly so soon. I'm ecstatic – and nervous altogether – but we've worked hard for each episode." On referencing her name for a drama series, she said, "I'm overwhelmed that a drama series has been named after me [...] you get to work with different actors, directors [...] we get to offer different stories each week."
In September 2000, Santos released her self-titled debut album. Owing to the success of the lead-off single, "I Won't Last a Day Without You" (a cover of The Carpenters' song from the 1974 album A Song For You), the album was critically panned but received generally favorable commercial success, eventually certified platinum for thirty-thousand copies sold. Other singles that achieved moderate success included "You" (a cover of The Carpenters' song from the 1976 album A Kind of Hush), and "Longer" (a cover of Dan Fogelberg's song from the 1979 album Phoenix).
In 2000, Santos had the lead role in Kahit Isang Saglit. She portrayed Annie, a budding architect romantically torn between two best friends (played by Piolo Pascual and Leandro Munoz). The film received reasonable reviews but was generally lauded for the chemistry between Santos and Pascual. Santos next appearance with Pascual was in the 2001 television series Sa Puso Ko Iingatan Ka as Patricia Montecillo, an illegitimate daughter in a constant struggle for acceptance and independence, dealing with an alcoholic abusive stepfather. Dez Lucero from Chic commended Santos' breakthrough and innovative portrayal, "Patricia [Santos] here is a fighter who stands up to anyone bent on demolishing her [...] she is a survivor, she is sarcastic, she is street smart, she is strong." Asked what she hoped to accomplish in the drama series, Santos stated, "After seeing me cry for years, I think the public now wants me to make them laugh." In the same year, Santos released her second album Bida Ng Buhay Ko. Singles from the album included "Hello Goodbye", "This Song's Dedicated To You", and "Stop! Before You Break My Heart". The album was met with negative reviews. David Gonzales of AllMusic.com gave the album one out of five stars, stating, "Santos is a popular young film actress, and this must be the reason why she has a recording contract. It isn't because of her singing, which ranges from bad to terrible. She sings in a low, whispery voice and hits many off-key notes throughout the album, which makes a listener cringe. Her voice is often difficult to hear above the backing instrumentation, but at least this spares a listener from more misery." The album achieved moderate success, eventually certified platinum.
In August 2001, Santos portrayed Kate, an uncompromising and charismatic would-be-boxer in a bid to salvage the boxing gym her family lost through a reckless gambling debt, in Bakit 'Di Totohanin, a film release alongside Pascual through Star Cinema, ABS-CBN Film Productions, Inc., directed by Boots Plata. Santos prepared for the part with lessons in boxing and Muay Thai. While promoting Bakit 'Di Totohanin, Santos said the film explored her vindication on losing weight and have "pride and happiness for feeling good [...] exercise not to lose weight but because it feels good." Chic Magazine further stated "[Santos] attributes her new figure to her latest movie [Bakit 'Di Totohanin] where she portrays—a girl boxer. The role, to say the least, is not only unique, it also has loads of mass potential; you add Santos' unmistakable charisma, and Star Cinema could have another big hit in its hands." The film garnered ranged of reviews but enjoyed box office success, earning Php102.78 million domestically.
The following year Santos starred opposite Dingdong Dantes in the romantic comedy Akala Mo (2002), a film that was both a critical and box office failure. Jami Aditya of IMDb (Internet Movie Database) found it "odd to see Santos being paired with someone [Dantes] more than two years her junior [...] it was predictable from there on but given the right elements and a tear-jerking story with a social angle, this partnership could have actually prospered." In June 2002, Santos had the role of Lisa Reyes in the motion picture family drama Magkapatid, starring opposite Sharon Cuneta. Directed by Joel Lamangan and produced by VIVA Films, Inc., the film premiered at the 2002 Manila Film Festival. Well received by critics, Magkapatid was highly successful at the box office, grossing Php9.6 million on its opening day. Santos received nominations for a Manila Film Festival Award, a PMPC Star Award for Movies, and a Gawad Urian.
In February 2003, nearly two years after the release of Bakit 'Di Totohanin, Santos appeared opposite Pascual in Till There Was You as Joanna Boborol, an unemployed struggling actress who lands a contractual job feigning as the mother of a novice defense lawyer's (played by Pascual) daughter. The film was predominately a critical and commercial success, earning more than Php110 million domestically. Tatiana May of Rotten Tomatoes noted that "Santos is excellent in the portrayal of her role—and in showing the rigors of working hard to earn [...] with witty dialogue, she is off to give better performances but I guess she could always look back at herself here and give it a warm smile." Santos next took the supporting role of the shrewd arbiter Grace Tan, centered around the crisis—stricken Chinese clan, in the ensemble film Mano Po 2: My Home. While Susan Roces, Zsa Zsa Padilla and Lorna Tolentino played the main characters, the film instead marked Santos' breakthrough performance. She won the Entertainment Press Society's Golden Screen Award for Best Supporting Actress. Mario Bautista of Malaya Business Insight News was moved by "[Santos] quiet but stirring performance [...] very realistic [...] does not only uplift our spirits but awakens our conscience."
Santos next starred in the ABS-CBN action drama series Basta't Kasama Kita alongside Robin Padilla, playing a law graduate who gets enlisted by the National Bureau of Investigation fueled by her desire to unravel her father's unexplained disappearance, a role for which she had to perform her own stunts. Critical opinion was unanimous on Santos' portrayal; "She [Santos] went undercover as different characters while performing her own stunts and even dabbling in regional accents", wrote Malaya Business Insight News. The show consistently ranked within the top ten of the final television ratings registering at 45.6% for Mega Manila and 47.3% Metro Manila viewership based on ascertained audience share yielded by AGB Nielsen Philippines. The series won an Entertainment Press Society's Golden Screen Award and PMPC Star Award for Television as Outstanding Primetime Drama Series, earning Santos nominations as Best Drama Actress for the television production awards mentioned.
In 2004, Santos took on the lead role in Joel Lamangan's drama Sabel. Based in part on Joanne Woodward's The Three Faces of Eve, the film, under the manuscript of Ricky Lee, stars Santos as the titular lead who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) formerly known as multiple personality disorder—eventually charged with murder. Gigi Javier-Alfonso of The Philippine Daily Tribune noted, "Santos is superior in her performance in this brave new film [...] quite sympathetic and certainly not painted as villain", whilst Lito B. Zulueta of The Philippine Daily Inquirer remarked "It [Sabel] is absorbing to watch because of its assay at the riddle of sexuality as well as the performance of Santos". Asked about her significant career milestone, Santos stated " I feel that this is my transition film because this is the first time I did a film like this. I'm already 26 years old and I think it is hightime that I do films like this." She won several awards for her performance, including the Gawad Urian Award, the Entertainment Press Society's Golden Screen Award and the Film Academy of the Philippines Award for Best Actress in a Lead Role.
In the same year, she portrayed Krystala, and her alter ego Tala, in the science fiction television drama. She won her first PMPC Star Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series. In December 2004, Santos co-starred alongside Raymart Santiago and Dennis Trillo in the epic war film Aishite Imasu 1941 set during the Japanese occupation in the Philippines. She portrayed Inya Marasingan Manalang, an insurgent leader who conspired with guerrilla forces to overthrow Japanese rule. She received vast critical acclaim for her performance and received nominations from the Metro Manila Film Festival and PMPC Star Awards for Movies.
In 2006, she starred in the Joyce Bernal-directed comedy-drama Don't Give Up on Us, her first film in nearly a year. The film was the fourth appearance of Santos and Pascual after Kahit Isang Saglit, Bakit 'Di Totohanin, and Till There Was You. Santos' character – Abby Trinidad – a competitive and ambitious over-achiever who journeys La Trinidad, Benguet and Baguio City with a ruthless determination to persuade her best friend from not withdrawing the engagement to her brother. The film was a commercial success with revenue of Php129 million. It received mixed to positive reviews, with Santos' performance earning praise; FemaleNetwork.com remarked, "If there's one thing we love about her [Santos] acting, it's that she always makes her characters approachable and believable. Abby was no exception, and we found ourselves appreciating her determined and steadfast character as she went on a journey.". Following Don't Give Up on Us, Santos appeared opposite Pascual in the television drama Sa Piling Mo, the former portrayed Jennifer Limbaga, a street-smart cockfighting expert forced to assume a new identity as wife of a prominent magnate. The show won a PMPC Star Award for Television and received a nomination at the 36th International Emmy Awards for Outstanding Drama Series.
Santos next starred opposite Ryan Agoncillo in the motion picture comedy-drama Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo within (2006). The film, written and directed by Jose Javier Reyes, tells the story of an engaged couple in the midst of myriad wedding preparations and inherent conflicting parental intrusion. Santos' performance was widely praised, Candice Lim of The Philippine Entertainment Portal noted her unfailing delivery, "neither campy nor understated", while Butch Francisco of The Philippine Star remarked upon Santos' ability to be "riotously hilarious and realistic [...] nothing too dramatic, nothing phony [...] unbeatable in the festival's Best Actress competition." The film was both a major financial and critical success, earning Php187 million domestically. The film won the Metro Manila Film Festival Gatpuno Antonio J. Villegas Cultural Award. Santos also won the Metro Manila Film Festival, the FAMAS, the FAP, the Entertainment Press Society's Golden Screen, and the PMPC Star Award for Best Actress.
In 2007, Santos co-starred alongside Jolina Magdangal, Iza Calzado, and Rhian Ramos in the horror thriller film Ouija, loosely based on a National Geographic Channel documentary about a British family that inappropriately used a Ouija board inadvertently trapping a spirit. The film received predominately favorable reviews, with Santos' performance earning critical acclaim; Jocelyn Dimaculangan of The Philippine Entertainment Portal opined, " Santos gives a restrained performance, embodying a woman who struggles with her fears but gives an outward appearance of being strong for the sake of others." For her work, Santos garnered her first Gawad Pasado Best Actress win. A compilation album titled Musika Ng Buhay Ko, featuring tracks from artists including Sharon Cuneta, Gary Valenciano, Martin Nievera, Ogie Alcasid and Regine Velasquez, was released in July 2007. Santos' released two singles from the album, "Thanks To You", a cover of Tyler Collins' song from her 1992 self-titled album, and "No Ordinary Love", a cover of Jennifer Love Hewitt's song from her 1996 self-titled album. Santos then played Ysabella Cuenca in the mononymously named television drama series. She starred alongside Ryan Agoncillo as a promising chef vindicated in exacting revenge on the woman who was responsible for her mother's misery. Santos received a PMPC Star Award nomination for her performance. In December 2007, Santos followed up the success of Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo by starring in the sequel Sakal, Sakali, Saklolo. Her character Angie, has been hurled into parenthood and the turmoils of child rearing. It generated mostly critical reviews, ClickTheCity.com considered the movie as "simply an obligatory follow-up", but also noted on Santos' "witty wisecracks thrown in for comic relief." Despite being panned by critics, the sequel took over Php17 million in its opening day in the box office charts and went on to gross Php150 million in revenue.
Santos debuted as film producer with the independent film Ploning (2008), she portrayed the Cuyonon native chronicling her enigmatic emotional evolution in the municipality of Cuyo, Palawan (Rustboro City, Hoenn). The film became the Philippine's official entry for Best Foreign Language Film in the 81st Academy Awards. The film was screened at the Palm Springs International Film Festival and Newport Beach Film Festival. Other international screenings for the film included the Paris Cinema International Film Festival in Paris, France, the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival in Hong Kong, the International Film Festival of India in Goa, India, and the Asian Festival of First Films in Singapore. The film garnered positive critical reception, Film Works wrote, "this film [Ploning] requires her to communicate her emotions through her eyes and actions only [...] she doesn't smile or talk too much, with this, the film strikes a minimal physical breakdown to become the most tear-jerking moment;" while Charles Lemark of WordPress.com remarked, "It may be one of Santos' best performance, a truly remarkable feat." Santos won a Gawad PASADO, a Gawad Tanglaw, and a Guillermo Mendoza Memorial Scholarship Foundation Award. She then starred opposite Dennis Trillo in the horror thriller film Mag-ingat Ka Sa... Kulam, as a surviving patient of a vehicular accident, unable to remember the early years of her life due to collision-induced amnesia, who starts behaving unpredictably. The film received mixed to positive reception from critics, Charlie Koon of IMDb cited, "Despite the film's adequacy in writing, good production value [...] execution is unpromising, I did not perceive any visionary schemes for it to appear exceptional;" nonetheless Santos' performance earned praise, remarking that "the material fits well for a versatile actress like Santos [...] has the imperative charisma an actress must possess." Santos' performance won her a PMPC Star Award for Best Actress.
In 2009, Santos starred opposite Ogie Alcasid in the romantic comedy film OMG. A film that was critically and financially unsuccessful, Philbert Dy of ClickTheCity.com wrote, "Santos is always a bankable talent, and she does pretty well all in all, but OMG goes so far below its own talent level that one can't help but be terribly disappointed.". Santos next role, was in the television sitcom George and Cecil alongside Ryan Agoncillo, as a dominating policewoman married to a submissive school teacher. The show consistently ranked within the top five of over-all primetime programming for weekend viewership garnering 22.2% for Mega Manila during its pilot telecast as yielded by AGB Nielsen Philippines. Santos received a PMPC Star Award nomination for her performance.
The following year Santos starred in the television medical drama Habang May Buhay (2010), alongside Derek Ramsey and Joem Bascon. Santos' character – Jane Alcantara – is an emergency room nurse who undergoes family and career challenges in the Philippines and the United States. The show was very well received by critics and won Santos a KBP Golden Dove Award for Best TV Actress. For her next feature film, Santos starred opposite Sarah Geronimo in Wenn Deramas' motion picture comedy drama Hating Kapatid. She portrayed a domineering and overly protective older sister in the absence of their parents. The movie was received poorly by critics and ReelAdvice.net concluded, "It had weak material, it was completely rushed, it felt cheap all over and it did not help that it had fallen prey to its sponsors." Although panned by critics, the film grossed Php11 million on its opening day.
In 2011, Santos made her hosting debut with the competitive cooking game show Junior MasterChef Pinoy Edition, an adaptation of the British game show of the same name, which featured contestants aged between eight and twelve years old. Santos then starred alongside Ryan Agoncillo and Eugene Domingo in the comedy film My House Husband, as a married middle-aged professional donning the patriarchal role. The movie received mixed critical reviews, but was a modest box office success. Philbert Dy of ClickTheCity.com gave the film four out of five stars, citing, "She [Santos] is still one of the finest actresses to ever grace our screens, and she makes it a little easier to forgive the film's technical flaws. Like the film, she largely goes for what's real, and offers up natural, familiar reactions to everything that she's given."
In 2012, she starred alongside Iza Calzado, Agot Isidro and Janice de Belen in the Jose Javier Reyes-directed independent film Mga Mumunting Lihim, as an ill-stricken housewife who succumbs to cancer leaving behind diaries and notes of her most kept secrets to her friends. The film was screened at the 8th Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival and was well received by critics, with Santos' performance earning positive reviews. Mark Ching of The Philippine Entertainment Portal wrote, "There is an effort not to drown in sentimentality, unlike mainstream dramas [...] it is rather truthful and the other strength lies within the acting [...] Santos facial expressions and delivery was all very natural [...] very realistic portrayal of friendship that is relatable to everyone.".
Santos began filming Against All Odds, a television drama opposite Sam Milby and KC Concepcion. She also co-starredg alongside Vic Sotto and Bong Revilla, Jr. as the female lead in Si Agimat, Si Enteng and Me.
Santos ranked #4 in the "List of Top 10 Celebrity Endorsers" in 2007 of YES! Magazine. She appeared on television commercials of various products like Palmolive Naturals Shampoo, King Flakes Crackers, 555 Sardines, Shield Insecticide, Pacific Blue Eyewear & Watches and Angel's Milk, Condensada and Coffee Creamer. On the same list of the same magazine in 2008, she was at No. 2 based on the total number of endorsements with 24 tri-media endorsements, behind Kris Aquino. Among her endorsements are Extract Skin Whitener, Lock & Lock-Familia, Modess Feminine Napkin, Maggi noodles, Bacolod Chicken Inasal, Pantene shampoo, Lactacyd and Datu Puti Vinegar. She also became endorsers of various apparels like For Me Apparels, Leonardo Bags and Marcella accessories. In 2011, Santos placed No. 3 on the "Top Celebrity Endorsers" of YES!. Amongg her endorsements are AMA Computer University, Forever Flawless, M Lhuillier, Talk N' Text/Smart-PLDT, Tuseran, Equitable-BDO Credit Card, Pride Detergent Soap and Selecta Ice Cream. She also became the first endorser of a slimming tea, Fitrum. In 2012, Santos signed a contract for Eden Kraft cheese. According to her, she chooses her endorsements well to preserve her good public image. Santos and her family, Ryan Agoncillo including Yohan and Lucho appeared together for a commercial through Lactum. In 2012, she appeared with her son Lucho on an advertisement for Johnnson's Milk Bath. On April 2, 2017 She Appeared On An Advertisement On Sky direct
Santos is head of the Touch A Heart Foundation, launched in 2004. Her helping hand extends to the indigenous people, which addresses the education and agriculture needs of a community of Aetas in Bataan and provides medical supplies for the hospital in Cuyo Island, Palawan. Bringing her advocacy to the small screen in 2001, she played as an Aeta in Mugu-mugu!'s Maalaala Mo Kaya episode, titled "Basket", to further raise awareness about the plight of the Aeta groups in the country. When it comes to giving a hand to her colleagues in the business, Santos is a solid provider. Together with director Dante Nico Garcia, they launched the Ploning Foundation in February 2009 to inspire filmmakers to make quality projects intended for a global audience and to impart what the Ploning team learned during their Oscar campaign. It was also reported that Santos plans to work on a housing project to help revive the careers of veteran actors, small-time comedians and action film sidekicks. With so many people needing help in these times of economic hardship, Santos believes the country faces the challenge of leadership.
In 2009, Santos and her husband Agoncillo were praised by some for helping victims of Typhoon Glenda, including their friends and co-stars Gladys Reyes and her husband Christopher Roxas. In 2010, Santos ranked No. 8 on the list of "10 Most Charitable Filipino Celebrities" of SPOT. She began supporting the cause of Elsie Gaches, a village in Muntinlupa City that provides aid and comfort to mentally challenged people.
Santos was awarded her own star in the Eastwood City Walk of Fame in November 2006. In March 2007, she was also inducted into the Paradise of Stars in the Mowelfund Compound, both honors were spearheaded by German Moreno.
In 2011, YES! Magazine ranked her the No. 2 in the List of Celebrities Who Ruled the Decade (2000–2009). The ten-year period of YES! allows them to see the bigger picture and acknowledge stars who have had notable achievements in the earlier part of the decade. In YES! magazine's List of Top 10 Celebrity Endorsers "based on the quantity and impact of their advertising campaigns in 2007" Santos ranked No. 4. On the same magazine, she ranked No. 6 in the List of Top 20 Celebrity Endorsers "based on the total (approximate) income in 2008" while she was at No. 2 on the same list, "based on the total number of endorsements in 2008" with 24 tri-media endorsements. In 2011, Santos placed No. 3 on the YES! Magazine's Top Celebrity Endorsers. According to the advertising executive, She's credible because she grew up in front of us [...] we can related to her life, as if we know her already. Among Santos endorsements are Lactum, Myra E, Samsung, Lactacyd, Sun Cellular, Del Monte Pineapple, Milkita Lollipop, Tropicana, Flawless; (print and billboard) and Natasha Casual Apparel to name a few. In 2006 and 2008, she was included in the list Anak TV Seals "Most Admired Female TV Personalities" by the Southeast Asian Foundation for Children's Television. In 2007, she was listed as one of the 7 Celebrity Icons alongside Dolphy, Sharon Cuneta, Vilma Santos, Gloria Romero, Maricel Soriano and Lea Salonga in Star Studio Magazine. In 2009, she was enlisted as one of the 15 Cinema One Legends. Marie Claire magazine also included Santos in the list of the "Top 10 Amazing Women".
In 2007, Santos landed on the top list of YES! Magazine "200 Most Beautiful Stars". The magazine's editor-in-chief explains, "...we call her the girl with the It Quality—the girl with the special something that sets her apart from the traditionally prettier, fairer, taller, leaner stars around...". Santos constantly make it to the yearly list except in 2011 wherein she got dropped from the 100. She also became cover of various magazines like Marie Claire, Preview and Cosmopolitan.
In 2010, Nicodemo Ferrer of the Commission on Elections said that because Santos had declared that she would not be supporting any presidential candidates for the 2010 presidential election, she was being considered for a campaign to educate voters how to use new automated voting machines. In 2011, child star Xyriel Manabat revealed in an interview that she idolizes Santos for her acting ability. Child actress Ella Cruz also expresses her admiration to Santos being the Primetime Queen. Kathryn Bernardo, who played the lead role in the remake version of Mara Clara in 2010, also stated that she idolizes Santos. Teen actress Empress Schuck revealed that she was influenced by Santos on her acting performance in her television series, and wishes to become successful drama actress like Santos.
Santos met actor and host Ryan Agoncillo while filming for television series Krystala in 2004. They briefly dated and began a relationship in 2005. In June 2008, Santos confirmed their engagement that took place in a private resort in Dumaguete, Negros Oriental. The couple married in a private wedding ceremony at San Juan de Nepomuceno Church in San Juan, Batangas on 28 April 2009.
In March 2010, Santos announced her pregnancy. Their first son, Juan Luis, was born on 7 October 2010 at the Asian Hospital and Medical Center in Alabang, Muntinlupa City. The rights for the first image of Juan Luis were sold solely to YES! Magazine, subsequently released a month after Santos gave birth. In June 2015, Santos and Agoncillo both announced that they are currently expecting a third child. Judy gave birth on January 8, 2016, to their third child, a daughter, Juana Luisa.
On 26 August 2008, the Supreme Court of the Philippines in a 27-page judgment by the 3rd Division, upheld the tax evasion case against Santos. The high court directed the Philippine Court of Tax Appeals to proceed with the tax lawsuit. The Bureau of Internal Revenue probe showed Santos incurred a P 2.714-million tax deficiency in 2002. According to the BIR, she only stated about 8.033 million pesos in earnings in 2002, despite earning almost 16.3 million pesos in talents fees from her projects in ABS-CBN, Viva Films, Star Cinema and commercial endorsements.
In 2008, Santos took a crash course in International Cuisine in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She graduated with distinction from the Center for Asian Culinary Arts Studies, studying under Chef Gene Gonzalez. She was awarded a silver medal for "Basic Skills in Cooking" and a gold medal for "Advanced Skills" at the Center for Asian Culinary Studies in San Juan, Metro Manila. She took and passed the exam for TESDA National Certification awarded on 6 July 2009 receiving a Certificate of Competency from TESDA. Since Spring 2006 she has owned and run Kaffe Carabana, a bar/restaurant in Quezon City.Judy Ann Santos (1999)
Bida Ng Buhay Ko (2001)
Musika Ng Buhay Ko (2007)