Former VJ Belinda Panelo stars in romantic starrer ‘Love & Karma’

Romantic starrer ‘Love & Karma’ is the ‘perfect present’ for Belinda Panelo

By: - Entertainment Editor
/ 12:20 AM January 21, 2024

Scene from “Love & Karma”

Scene from “Love & Karma”

Belinda Panelo may have been dubbed one of MTV Asia’s funniest and wackiest VJs in the early 2000s, dishing as many snicker-inducing wisecracks as pop-music updates alongside the pretty and witty likes of VJs Donita Rose, Utt (Greg Uttsada), KC Montero and G Toengi. But we’ve always known there was more to Belinda beyond the cool gig, the meme-worthy bons mots and her ravishing Cherie Gil-channeling looks.

We didn’t know Belinda before we were “commissioned” by theater director/Philippine Daily Inquirer editor Nestor U. Torre to create choreography for a scene in his stage adaptation of “Etiquette for Mistresses.”


Thereafter, we acted with her in “Mga Bagong Bayani sa Ibayong Dagat,” the Bayanihan Philippine Dance Company’s first-ever musical-theater production (with NUT as director, National Artist for Music Lucrecia Kasilag as musical director and National Artist for Dance Lucrecia Urtula as choreographer).


We also helped out in Belinda’s two-hander musical-comedy revue “Beauty and the Best” (with Cinema One best supporting actor awardee Andy Bais), then worked with her in the different incarnations of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” for Monique Wilson’s New Voice Company.

In fact, the fearless actress was such a hit in a V-Day production of the controversial Obie-winning play that she eventually became part of New Voice’s touring production in Asia.

Don’t be fooled by her outgoing, larger-than-life image, though. Up close and personal, Belinda isn’t the party girl her gorgeous looks make her seem to be. She’s actually more private, often preferring to keep her personal affairs to herself than oversharing them on social media.

By holding her thoughts and insights closer to her chest, she manages to parlay her “underutilized” artistic chops, energy, intellectual curiosity and unexpressed frustrations into thespic gold.

We’ve urged Belinda to pursue more acting assignments despite her current day job in San Diego (she relocated to the United States with her husband, tennis ace Joseph Lizardo, some years after her stint with MTV in the mid-2000s). The couple has two teenage kids, Devon and Salma.

So we were more than thrilled to learn about her recent return to acting by way of Giovannie Espiritu’s upcoming rom-com film from Bontika Films, “Love & Karma,” which Belinda topbills with Jojo Riguerra.


The movie revolves around successful US-based real estate agent Alessa (Belinda) who finds love on the rebound after a tumultuous divorce. When she flies to the Philippines to attend a class reunion, she crosses paths with childhood friend Victor (Jojo), who unexpectedly reignites her interest in romance, sending her on a quest for self-discovery.

As if starring in a movie isn’t impressive enough, Belinda’s costars are nothing to scoff at. They include Oscar nominee Eric Roberts (“Runaway Train”), Golden Globe nominee Joanna Pacula (“Gorky Park”) and Hong Kong Film Awards/Golden Horse winner Bai Ling (“Dumplings”).

Belinda Panelo as Alessa

Belinda Panelo as Alessa


We caught up with Belinda on Zoom—still disarmingly warm and unfiltered without being obsequious—just as she was wrapping up work at her office and before she was scheduled to pick up her daughter, Salma, at school.

“The role fell from the sky and landed on my lap—like this (she picks up a cat and playfully puts it on her lap),” said Belinda, laughing, when asked how she got the part. “I live in San Diego now, but I was based in Los Angeles for a long time … where I met a lot of people.

READ: Kris Aquino bares onset of lupus amid worsening health before holidays

“I’ve always been doing artistic endeavors on the side, but not full time—parang raket-raket lang. I met someone during a theater reading in LA who said she was casting for this movie. She said, ‘The role is a snug fit for you—basta, mag-audition ka!’ And I was like, ‘You know I live in San Diego now, right? I can’t really make a film in LA.’ But she insisted, so I said, ‘Bahala na … whatever.’

“So I auditioned for it and never heard back. I didn’t think anything of it. This was around September 2022. You know how it is with actors—if you don’t hear from anybody, you move on … it’s no big deal.

“Then, I got an email at work from Giovannie Espiritu, saying, ‘This is the director of ‘Love & Karma.’ We want you to audition again …’ Apparently, they had already cast the film, but it fell through. Maybe I was their second, third, fourth choice (laughs) … We began filming in May 2023, if memory serves. And the film is in postproduction now …”

Asked how Alessa’s issues resonated with her, Belinda said, “She’s an older woman, so we have that in common … although the age isn’t really that big of a gap. But I relate to her spirit, her tenacity for life, her willingness to be open and discover new things.

“She finds herself exploring her identity, her sexuality … to see what else the world has to offer, and to do so with vigor and force and with no apologies. In that sense, I wish I could be more like her. She throws caution to the wind, and I think that comes from having a measure of comfort in life, the opportunities and resources to do that.

“Our stark difference though is that my kids are younger than her child in the film. So I’m a little more tethered in that sense since I can’t just do what she does.”

How would Belinda explain the difference between her larger-than-life image as a celebrity and the more private aspect of her personality?

“I think we make that shift depending on the space we’re in, the room we occupy, and the people we meet,” she mused. “These seemingly different ‘personalities’ are still me, you know? There’s still part of me that’s much like the ’90s MTV Asia VJ that people remember, with her catchy energy and zest for life. I still have those in me.”

“At the same time, as you mentioned, I also have that other side that’s a little more private. That part of me doesn’t share everything. And I’m sure most people are like that.”

Panelo (left) with Jojo Riguerra —PHOTOS COURTESY OF BONTIKA FILMS

Panelo (left) with Jojo Riguerra —PHOTOS COURTESY OF BONTIKA FILMS

The rest of our Q&A with Belinda:

What will viewers take away from “Love & Karma”?

What I love about this film is that there are so many things in it for a lot of people—it isn’t just a love story. It’s also about the relationship between a mother and her child, about friendship. It’s a story about compromise, and the willingness to nurture a relationship despite the differences—which is very important in this day and age.

As you’ve seen in the Philippines as it is here in the US, it’s very polarized right now. There are so many people who are very protective of their beliefs. You’ll see in this film that the two main characters are quite different, but they’re willing to listen to each other. They accept one another without trying to change the other—and that’s hard to do. I don’t know kung kaya ko ’yan (laughs)!

There’s a reference to karma in the film’s title. Would you change something you did in the past if you could?

Oh, yes. And I think it’s because as we get older, we have more context, more knowledge, more lived-in experience. And so we think, “Ah, if I could be this person in my head now with my younger body or my younger self, I would totally do things differently.

And I always reference that to how I’ve been as a parent … because there are a lot of parallels with Alessa in the film as well. She has difficulty connecting with her child. In that sense, that’s very relatable to me.

Do you also have that dilemma as a parent?

Absolutely. We talked about this during Mother’s Day a few years ago [in 2020]. I still don’t know what I’m doing, Rito! It’s always been trial an error. You can read all the books and get all the advice, but at the end of the day, your children are their own person. They’re not an extension of you!

They have their own quirks, nuances, beliefs, personality traits, temperament—everything. And so, what works for one might not work for another. So, for me, honoring and facilitating a safe space for them is what I try to do. But, as a parent who’s constantly trying to be better, there are definitely things I regret doing (laughs).

You’ve always been hot-wired for acting. So now that things are opening up and the kids are bigger, you should really go for it. Because every single director we’ve worked with loved your talent as much as your work ethic. It’s time to take the bull by the horns and pursue more acting projects, don’t you think?

You’re making me so emotional … and I really appreciate that. But that’s something that I grapple with. I always have this conversation in my head because, you know, I have a regular day job that helps pay the bills.

When I moved here in the States with Joseph, it was a very abrupt, emotional and perhaps reckless decision. I was really unhappy with who I was as a person. I think the fame and the money were getting to me—and I was disgusted with myself, to be honest.

And so, I thought, “I need to get out!” I knew I needed to distance myself from all that … but with the intention of going back after I have found myself and trained at a respectable theater conservatory, which I did!

But life had other plans for me. Joseph and I got married and had a kid. I did some theater here and there, but then life happened so fast—ang bilis-bilis. Before I knew it, I was busy with my kids, then I went back to school and discovered my other passions.

But for some reason, every now and then, someone will come knocking at my door and offer me something I’m excited about, like “Love & Karma”! It just feels like opening the most perfect present … ’yung hindi mo ini-expect … and it just fills an empty bucket!

Do you still get in touch with the other VJs at MTV, like Donita or Utt?

Not so much now. But every now and then, I’ll message with Utt on social media. I’ve seen Donita a few times, of course. G came way before me, but out of all the people I met at MTV, G is the closest I’ve maintained contact with because I also lived in LA before I moved to San Diego.

How did your experiences as a VJ and as a theater actress inform your decisions as a person?

In theater, we create families … what you do always results from a collaborative effort—and that’s how I approach work Even as we treat each other as family, we’re creating something beautiful for people to enjoy.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

The VJ thing, on the other hand, is just a cool story to tell people (laughs)—but nobody believes me when I do! It’s a conversation starter, for sure, although I never really bring it up. To this day, I’m still baffled that I got to do that in my 20s (laughs). But it was such a blessing!

TAGS: Love & Karma, MTV

© Copyright 1997-2024 | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.