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. Anticipating a resolution to the convoluted lives of the Del Valle and Davis families." The show received predominantly positive reviews, with Santos praised in particular.
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." 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.
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).
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.
Speaking about the character, Santos said "Kung nasaan man ako ngayon, naging malaking part talaga 'yung Esperanza.
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." 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.
Until one day, a rich and good-looking lad from Manila visited the mountainside and found an abode place in their vicinity.
Gilbert (Shanghai) was captured by Ligaya's (Nika Madrid) naive and chaste heart and fell in-love with her.