Daily Archives: July 16, 2008

Isang Libo’t Isang Tuwa: The phenomenon that is ‘Eat Bulaga!’

by Nickee V. De Leon/AJPress

Now celebrating its 29th year, Eat Bulaga! (EB) is the longest-running noon-time show on Philippine television. It is, without a shadow of doubt, the epitome of Pinoy pop culture.

The name Eat Bulaga! (bulaga is the equivalent of peek-a-boo in Tagalog) was coined by Joey de Leon himself. In a Q&A session with iGMA.tv, Joey shared that he considers this as a monumental achievement.

EB does live up to its name — it’s a crock-full of surprises with an ever-evolving collection of games, jokes and formula song and dance numbers that more than satisfy every giddy Pinoy’s fix for showbiz personalities.

The Bulaga factor

The concept behind EB is the brainchild of Malou Fagar and Tony Tuviera and a production of Television And Production Exponents Inc.(TAPE). The noon time show aired in different networks before it finally settled in GMA-7 in 1995.

The show premiered on July 30, 1979 in Radio Philippines Network (RPN-9). At that time, the comic troika of siblings Tito and Vic Sotto and Joey de Leon was getting rave attention. Together with Chiqui Hollman and Richie Reyes (aka Richie d’ Horsie), the threesome were hired as hosts for the show.

Their co-hosts may have come and gone, but the formidable trio of Tito,Vic and Joey is still going strong. Tito left the show when he was elected to the Senate in 1992 to fulfill his obligations as senator. He did manage to appear on the show in special occasions. Tito served two terms in the senate, from 1992-1998 and 1998-2004. After the last year of his term, he began to stage a comeback on the show on a weekly basis. He has since reverted back to more regular appearances on the show.

The late Helen Vela and Rio Diaz, Tessie Tomas,Coney Reyes, Sharon Cuneta, Pops Fernandez, Plinky Recto, Christine Jacob and Aiza Seguerra were some of EB’s mainstays in the past.

Currently, veterans Jimmy Santos and Ruby Rodriguez; Pia Guanio, Toni Rose Gayda, Anjo Yllana, Michael V, Francis Magalona, Keempee de Leon, Paolo Ballesteros, Allan K, BJ Forbes, Julia Clarete, Pauleen Luna, Jose Manalo, Lougee Basabas and Wally Bayola make up EB’s brady bunch of ‘Dabarkads.’

Because of its out-of-the-box innovations in noon-time show programming, EB has become a template for rival shows. EB earned its share of accolades from both local and international press and other organizations.

Fond memories

EB was an integral part of my childhood years — a fixture on our TV set during the lunch hour. It was an after-school delight that paired well with my dad’s very Pinoy home-cooking.

When I heard that Eat Bulaga! was coming to Los Angeles, the first thing that came to mind was Little Miss Philippines.

I was swept by a rather vivid memory. I remember sitting beside my aunt as she furiously and relentlessly dialed (I think it was) TAPE’s number on the rotary phone at my cousin’s house. She was going to make an inquiry so that my little cousins could join the pageant. All she got was an annoying and resounding toot-toot of a busy line. Apparently, thousands of other callers had the same mindset.

I also remember how EB launched Aiza Seguerra’s lucrative career in showbiz. She was one of the contestants for Little Miss Philippines in 1987. Because of her innate wit and charm, Aiza won the hearts of EB’s viewers and soon became one of the most sought-after child actors of her time. She also became a regular on the show.

Now in her twenties, Aiza has since found a new passion as a recording artist.

Another flagship feature of EB is their game segments. Hands down, I think one of EB’s funniest and most memorable game segments was the Hybrid 5 Cooking Chicken contest. Here, contestants were asked to recite Hybrid 5’s lengthy tagline (it’s funny that it remained stuck in my head all these years) — “Hybrid 5, the cooking chicken, malasa, malaman, makatas, malambot, malusog,“– without faltering, for as many times as they can within a certain time frame . The winner gets a cash prize and moves on to earn even bigger bucks from the final round where, blindfolded, the contestant is placed inside a chicken coop to catch as many live chickens as possible. Each chicken had a monetary value. The amount of winnings was dependent on the total cash value that they obtained from all the chickens that they caught.


is, perhaps, the most enduring segment in the show. Here, Tito, Vic and Joey and their other co-hosts do slapstick comedy sketches. A young and playful Aiza used to do her famous “duck walk” as an intermission between every skit.

EB is also well-known for its dance contests. Not one popular dance tune escaped them, possibly because Joey de Leon began his career as a radio disc jockey and was also a co-host in the now-defunct show, Discorama. He is also a noted composer of songs which are now considered as OPM classics — Ipagpatawad Mo, Awitin Mo, Isasayaw Ko, Boyfriend Kong Baduy and Iskul Bukol.

An archive video from EatBulaga.tv (EB’s official website) features a special presentation from past dance contest winners during EB’s 10th anniversary in 1989. Dance hits as Xanadu (1981), Macho (1980), Breakdance (1984), Rico Mambo (1986) and Supersonic (1988) were all part of the spectacle.

Pageants that cut across genders were another main fare in this ninth wonder of a TV show. Beautiful Girl, Maid in the Philippines Mr. Pogi and Super Si Reyna gave the masses a chance to live their dreams.

Dance and sing-alike contests like Lola Madonna and Doble-Kara opened doors for celebrity fanatics to emulate their idols. EB was (and still is) on a roll in coming up with fresh and crowd-drawing concepts for the show.

In his November 23, 2004 column in Star Bytes, Butch Francisco shared a bit of trivia about EB.

“In the early ’70s, the only performers on TV who wore undershirts colored sandos, actually – were dancers like Lito Calzado (father of the great beauty Iza Calzado). The gentlemen who came out on TV that time wore mostly suits – especially the hosts of talk and variety shows. (Imagine Eddie Ilarde on Student Canteen or Archie Lacson on Penthouse 7). But if they were feeling a bit informal, they donned long-sleeved shirts with or without a tie. Tito, Vic and Joey changed all that.”

“On Eat Bulaga!, they freely wore the very casual collarless T-shirts and jeans. If I picture a scene on Eat Bulaga therefore, the images that come to mind are of T-shirts and jeans – very, very relaxed. Obviously, it took Tito, Vic and Joey to revolutionize the getup on TV,” he added.

Butch also recounted the “endless trailers of movies from Regal Films. Back then, we still enjoyed watching sneak preview of forthcoming films (something we find intolerable now that there are so many of them during intermission in mall theaters). In the early days of Eat Bulaga!, there were hardly any commercials coming in and the show had to accommodate instead films trailers that paid much, much lower than the regular 30-second TV advertisements. The show, however, is eternally grateful to Lily Monteverde for supporting a small program like Eat Bulaga! back then.”

TVJ – TV’s Jokers

Perhaps as equally institutional as EB would be the formidable comic triumvirate of Tito, Vic and Joey (TVJ). Siblings Tito and Vic Sotto went through humble beginnings before striking it big in showbiz. Vic began his career as a folk singer and guitarist. Tito also began with musical roots. Joey started out as a radio disc jockey in the 60’s for top FM stations. He worked for a couple of radio stations and was writing songs and scripts for gag shows on the side.

TVJ’s collaboration officially began in a gag show called OK Lang in IBC-13. Other mainstays of the show included the APO Hiking Society, Val Sotto and Ricky Manalo, Jr.

In 1975, Joey was invited to become a co-host in Discorama, alongside Bobby Ledesma. At that time, the show was getting poor ratings and was on the verge of being axed. Bobby Ledesma went on vacation and asked Joey to take charge of the show. Joey then asked the Sotto brothers (Val, Vic and Tito) to join him, but only Tito and Vic took the offer. The chemistry between the three was undeniable. Comedy newscast segments combined with Joey’s Top 40 hit song parodies gained Discorama new attention from televiewers.

TVJ also became regulars in Student Canteen, a noon-time show hosted by Bobby Ledesma. However, it was their antics in the sitcom Iskul Bukol that fully launched the trio’s career in showbiz and brought them to EB’S door. The rest, they say, is history.

In 1989, TVJ had their first show at the Shrine in Los Angeles entitled The Three Kings of Comedy. Together with their EB crew, Tito, Vic and Joey brought fun and laughter to Pinoys in the city of Angels. The show was produced by Sam Adelan, Lito Ocampo Cruz and Pat Reyes.

Angeleños will have another chance to see the comic trio when Eat Bulaga goes live on July 19, Saturday at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Famous Pinoy celebrities like Judy Ann Santos, Ryan Agoncillo, Marian Rivera, Dingdong Dantes, Pia Guanio, Allan K, Francis Magalona, Julia Clarete, Anjo Yllana, Pauleen Luna, Wally Bayola, Jimmy Santos and Jose Manalo will grace the event. (Sources: Wikipedia.com, Philstar, Eatbulaga.tv and iGMA.tv)


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Close Encounters of the Pinoy kind

by Rene Villaroman/AJPress

In 1991, on the eve of his historic concert at the Universal Amphitheater, I met Gary Valenciano while he was doing one of those promotional appearances at the couture shop of fashion designer Boy Lizaso. Lizaso’s shop was then located on Vermont St., in a strip mall that was also the location of several FilAm establishments, including a Filipino supermarket and a Goldilocks Restaurant.

Already a sensation in Manila, Gary was almost an unknown in the US when he performed a sold-out concert at the Scottish Rite Auditorium in Los Angeles in 1985. Gary’s Universal Amphitheater gig was shaping up to be another milestone for a Filipino artist about to hold a concert in an important mainstream venue. Just three years prior, another Filipino superstar, actress-singer Sharon Cuneta, had made history as the first Filipino artist to perform in and completely sell out the 7,000-seat Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.

“Sharon is the first Filipina artist to sell out at the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium first in 1988 and her latest June 11th, 2005 concert. Her poster is enshrined in The Shrine’s Hall of Fame next to stars Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand and the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico. She created a traffic jam in the 90’s and puzzled the former Mayor of Los Angeles Tom Bradley. After hearing of her success, the mayor attended the concert and awarded Sharon with an Honorary Key to the City of Los Angeles,” says Artistopia.com

Although Gary V’s concert established another milestone for a Filipino performer in Los Angeles, the highly successful concerts that the Apo Hiking Society had done in New York City’s prestigious Carnegie Hall and the Massey Hall in Toronto, Canada in 1987 had predated it by four years. Not only were they the first Filipino pop artists to have performed in those venues, both shows were also officially sold out. Those Apo concerts came in the heels of the Apo’s international recognition for Jim Paredes’ anthem on the 1986 People Power Revolution, Handog Ng Pilipino sa Mundo, which was performed by 15 Filipino artists in April 1986.

There would be a succession of Apo concerts in the United States and all over the world where there are concentrations of Filipinos. The trio had performed in 50 key cities in the US and Canada, in Singapore, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Bahrain, Hong Kong, Guam, Australia, England, Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Japan.

During the waning years of the 80s, just a couple of years after the Filipino nation’s delirious celebration of the People Power revolution had waned, a 7-year-old Filipino musical prodigy — Banig — joined the amateur singing contest, Ang Bagong Kampeon and became champion for seven consecutive weeks. Two years later, Banig, born Josephine Roberto, broke into the US entertainment scene, competing in the International Star Search talent competition at the age of 10, and reportedly beat Christina Aguilera, becoming the only Filipino champion to date.

Banig’s Star Search victory led to numerous guest appearances in the day’s popular television and radio shows, including the Arsenio Hall Show, Maury Povich Show, Into The Night with Rick Dees, then the pre-eminent radio DJ of KIIS radio, Super Osborne Show, Good Day LA, Am Los Angeles and more.

“She’s got the vocal range of Whitney Houston and Patty Labelle combined. Watch out Whitney, careful Janet. We got a 13-year-old singing sensation!” exclaimed DJ and host Rick Dees in his show after watching Banig’s performance. “What a voice! We want to come back as the next Whitney Houston, the next Mariah Carey, and better than that, the next Banig Roberto,” said Maury Povich. More shows followed suit in 1989. A concert in Manila, which was attended by a half-million people; sold out shows in the Atlantic City Trump Taj Majal; solo concerts in the Wiltern Theater, the Roxy and the Palladium in Los Angeles’ Cow Palace in San Francisco, City Center in New York, San Diego Convention Center and Copley Symphony Hall and many more. In 1994, Banig finally released her first US album, entitled Can You Feel My Heart? Perhaps still unknown to many, Banig doesn’t only dance and sing, she also plays musical instruments and collaborates with her younger sister, Jhoanna, in writing songs.

In 1998, I attended the APO Hiking Society’s concert at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. Back then I had a column in a magazine where I described the trio of Jim Paredes, Danny Javier and Boboy Garovillo: “As funnymen, they have a gift of gab and sense of perfect timing. They have the sharp wit of an experienced debater and the confidence of a tightrope walker. The only changes I noted were the graying hair and the receding hairlines. Perhaps, the Apo is good for another thirty years, and we sure hope so. For the Apo is unique in our history — not only for their longevity — but also for their extraordinary intelligence, artistic sensibility and patriotism.”

In the same magazine, entertainment writer Jackie Regala had this to say about them: “Any Filipino music enthusiast would tell you that they grew up listening to the music of the Apo Hiking Society. And why not? This very popular and successful trio, who has been in the entertainment biz for almost 30 years now, is considered a pioneering exponent of Original Pilipino Music. Nothing can compare to their music, original compositions, with and humor — which is the best representative of the Filipino lifestyle.” (www.asianjournal.com)


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A Shining, Shimmering, Splendid Evening: Lea Salonga performs at Disney Hall

by by Gale Gatchalian/AJPress

Something beautiful lit up the glorious stage of the Walt Disney Concert Hall last Friday night. Kicking off a series of new shows called ‘Global Pop at the Music Center’, Lea Salonga, the multi-award winning Broadway star now with a platinum album under her belt, truly lived up to the concert’s tagline: isang gabi, isang bituin.

Leaders from the sponsoring Blue Ribbon group welcomed the excited guests. Blue Ribbon is a support group of women leaders who serve the Music Center, its resident companies and its art education programs.

A landmark event, Lea is the first solo Filipino performer to grace the stage of the esteemed Disney Concert Hall. No other honor is worthy of the artist who displays the Olivier, Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics, Ovation and Theater World Awards on her mantle. The love for her in that room was palpable, and not just because of the dominant Filipino contingent that came out to support her. She was able to use her utter talent to draw the audience closer to her and make them feel open to the deep emotion she infuses in every song. Plus, she was just downright cute. Years of experience have made her a flawless performer, slipping jokes and fun silliness in between her songs.

Her powerful opening could leave no doubt in anyone’s mind: Lea’s voice is a finely tuned instrument the years have only served to perfect. Its character changes with every song, reverberating, caressing or teasing the listeners accordingly. Her role as the singing voice in two Disney movies, Aladdin and Mulan, made this night a sweet homecoming of sorts as she performed select songs from the multitude of projects she has been involved with, Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, her upcoming role in Cinderella and of course a smattering of her OPM hits, among others.


While each number was riveting to be sure, impressing long-time fans and making new ones, several stood out as truly remarkable.

I Dreamed a Dream

from Les Miserables was a veritable showcase on its own, demonstrating her pin-point control and vast range.

The rearranged Bakit Labis Kitang Mahal was the first of her Filipino songs, an updated version that sizzled with a little more pop but still had the crowd singing like it topped the charts only yesterday.

Honoring her fellow countrymen who, she said, she would be nothing without, Lea offered Ha-hanapin Ko to “all those away from home who kept a pearl of the old country in their hearts”, over time and across the miles.

Dedicated to her mother (who unfortunately was stuck with babysitting duty that night), Lea rendered The Way You Look Tonight with a cool, jazzy feel that made one feel warm inside.

Lea revealed that in many of her past roles, she couldn’t quite get the feel of what the lyrics were saying. The recent onset of motherhood however, has self-confessedly brought her closer to the words she sings. She was able to animate the unconditional love felt by mothers in a sonorous ephemeral moment. The gravity of emotion weighed down on the hall as she went a cappella for I Give My Life for You from Miss Saigon.

A surprise to even Lea herself, Cliff, an American who volunteered to duet with her for A Whole New World proved a worthy Aladdin, reversing all expectations one would have for audience participation numbers. Generous in her praise, Lea revealed that she had “dreamed about this moment at least three times”, reinforcing the much deserved standing ovation Cliff received.

Reminiscent of Julie Andrews, There’s Music in You provided a sneak peek for her upcoming role in a Broadway Asia Entertainment international tour of Rodger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. This song, along with Everybody Says Don’t and John Lennon’s Imagine uplifted the audience with its purposefully motivational and inspirational tone.

Her double encore, composed of Annie’s The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow and Someone’s Waiting For you embodied the brightness she brought to life in this fantastic show that left nothing to be desired.

The rest of the performance included: Sana Maulit Muli, a tribute to Starbucks baristas,Taylor, the Latte Boy, the full version of Reflection from Mulan, the celebrated Someone to Watch Over Me and On My Own, the song that got her the job as Éponine in Les Miserables and became her audition piece for Miss Saigon.

The siren’s setting

The Walt Disney Concert Hall can inspire true awe in all those who see and enter it. Its outward visual grandeur belies the auditory spectacle found within its walls. The acoustics of the hall wrapped the audience with Lea’s melodious voice from all sides. Accompanied by an impressive and highly skilled orchestra of 19, the intimate, wood-paneled interiors of the Frank Gehry structure in downtown LA could only perfectly complement the historic show of that night.

Somewhere in the middle of her performance, Lea thanked the exuberant crowd, saying “you make me feel like a rockstar.” Lea, that’s because you are.


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A Giant LEAP

by Joseph Pimentel/AJPress

“This Lea concert as great as it was, we don’t see a lot [mainstream] concerts featuring Pinoy or Pinays,” said Winston Emano, a public relations executive, who was hired by the Disney Concert officials to oversee the Salonga performance. “Lea is a pioneer. She’s the first Filipino to headline at the Disney Concert Hall. This is special to our community. Given that the historical significance is that Bunker Hill was the first Filipinotown in Los Angeles. She represented the community.”

Emano has been active in the Filipino community for the past fifteen years. He knows too well about the ups and downs of many Filipino performers who were on the cusp of mainstream success but, like the Greek mythical character Sisyphus, just could not get over the hump.

Fifteen to twenty years ago, you’d be hard pressed to find a Filipino performer in a large mainstream venue unless it was being rented out, said Emano.

“These mainstream venues were not available in the past to us,” he added. “The only way to get one is if you’d rent it but we all know that’s very expensive.”

He said the first time he saw a Filipino concert was Gary Valenciano performing at the Universal Amphitheater in Hollywood in the early 1990’s.

“I think he was the first Filipino to ever play at that theatre,” said Emano.

But nowhere did Valenciano get the same type of love or adoration that Salonga received from a diverse crowd at the Disney Concert Hall last July 12.

Valenciano, Regine Valesquez, Freddie Aguilar, Martin Nievera, Jocelyn Enriquez, and Pops Fernandez have done well performing in front of pre-dominant Filipino crowds in the US. However, their success in the community has not translated to the larger mainstream concertgoers.

Emano explained that there are a lot of reasons why the mainstream (non-Filipinos) were blasé about Filipino artists. He said perception. Radio executives did not know how to type caste a Filipino artist or their style to fit a specific audience.

“It’s hard to find good radio play,” said Emano. “The problem is that back then, a lot of record executives, a lot of DJ’s they wouldn’t play a Filipino person’s song because for example, they’d say that the ‘black listener wouldn’t want to hear someone do R&B coming from a non-black performer,’ and so on.”

“But now people’s perceptions are changing,” he added. “You see Lea. There’s Arnel Pineda who’s doing a great job replacing a very popular pop singer. Charice Pempengco is an Internet star. Slowly the mainstream is changing the perception of Filipino artists.”

Ana Puno, President and CEO of Star Media, produces shows featuring Filipino talent in the US and Manila, Philippines. She’s produced shows for Martin Nievera, Pops Fernandez and other Filipino artists.

She said that it’s difficult for an established artist in the Philippines to reach mainstream success in the US.

“Lea was gradually brought in [to the mainstream’s consciousness],” she said. “Now she’s being exposed. Look at Charice. David Foster is helping her career.”

“There are a lot of Filipinos that are really talented, who can sing really well but they are not given the proper break,” she added. “Sometimes they have bad management, or don’t have the proper agent. It’s already so hard to penetrate the mainstream market.”

Emano hopes that Salonga’s performance is a wake up call to music producers about Filipino talent. He also said Salonga is setting the trail for those behind her.

“Lea’s performance on Friday is going to open doors,” he said. “Now, this sets the stage for all the upcoming Filipino singers and artists around the world. The audience at the Concert hall was treated to world-class artistry that is Filipino artists. I hope this is a start of something.”


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‘Legends nAPO Sila!’

by Carmie O. Carpio/AJPress

The Apo Hiking Society is considered as one of the pillars of Original Pilipino Music (OPM), having popularized a great number of outstanding Filipino songs. Composed of the remarkable trio of Danny Javier, Jim Paredes and Boboy Garrovillo, this legendary musical group has etched life, creativity and wit to the Filipino entertainment industry.

Before reaching the summit of their success, The Apo Hiking Society was but a casual meeting of students at the Ateneo de Manila High School (AMHS), the same acronym which inspired the group to come up with the moniker Apolinario Mabini Hiking Society.

Who would have thought that a juvenile and innocent act by a youthful yet prolific group could produce a fecund collection of original Pinoy songs? Awit ng Barkada, Batang-bata Ka Pa, Di Na Natuto, Doo Bidoo, Just a Smile Away, Kabilugan ng Buwan, Mahirap Magmahal ng Syota ng Iba, Panalangin, Pumapatak ang Ulan, When I Met You, and Yakap sa Dilim, have become timeless classics.

Originally a quartet with Lito de Joya as the fourth member, The Apo Hiking Society had its first taste of recognition during a two-night farewell concert held at the Meralco Auditorium (now Meralco Theatre) in July 1973. At that time, Apo was already gaining popularity from college students who were drawn to the group’s humor and musicality.

However, the group was on the verge of disbanding. Jim Paredes wanted to go to Turkey as an exchange student, while Lito de Joya opted to join the corporate world.

The farewell concert, which they had taped, became Apo’s first album a year later. Jim Paredes didn’t push through with his Turkey trip and the trio continued making good music that brought them to new heights in the music industry.

Three decades later, Apo has almost reached the summit of success. Encompassing themes of friendship, young love, heartbreak, romance, and even nationalism—all branded with Apo’s unique approach to music through their brilliant lyrics and catchy melodies—made them win the admiration of thousands.

Within this period, the Apo came up with 22 record albums and countless major solo concerts as well as provincial, dinner, and corporate shows. Their local success extended towards the international scene, paving the way for their performances in over 50 cities in the US, Canada, Europe and Asia. In fact, the Apo is noted as the first Filipino pop group to perform at the Main Hall of New York’s Carnegie Hall. That particular concert in October of 1987, as well as that in the prestigious Massey Hall in Toronto—Canada’s music capital, were both sold out. In that same year, Apo performed at the Shrine in Los Angeles. Then LA Mayor Tom Bradley declared October 10, 1987 as Apo Hiking Society Day.

Apo’s dedication to OPM has brought them a wealth of well-deserved acclaim and achievements, including being one of the first groups to be recorded on compact disc.

In 1994, Apo won the first Dangal ng Musikang Pilipino by Awit Awards – the Filipino equivalent of the Grammy. It was also conferred the Tanglaw Ng Lahi Award, the highest recognition given by Jesuits in the field of culture and arts.

During the height of the People Power Revolution, Jim Paredes composed Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo, which was recorded by 15 Filipino artists in April 1986, as a tribute to the bloodless revolution. Equally famous as the revolution itself, an English version of the song entitled A New and Better Way was launched in Australia. Handog was also released in London during the first anniversary of the People Power. Its lyrics can now be seen on a wall of the Our Lady of Edsa Shrine, the heart of the revolution.

The Apo also hosted several television shows, including their own noontime Sunday show Sa Linggo nAPO Sila.

In 2006, as tribute to and in celebration of the musical influence and achievements of the Apo Hiking Society, various contemporary Filipino artists launched Kami nAPO Muna, a compilation album containing Apo’s hit tracks in a new light and with a modern twist. It was immediately followed by Kami nAPO Muna Ulit.

Currently, Danny, Jim and Boboy are working on their much-awaited comeback concert, dubbed Apo of the Philippines. The concert is set to take place at the Araneta Coliseum on September 20. As early as now, it is already touted to be the greatest concert in OPM history. (www.asianjournal.com)

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Kuh Ledesma’s Universal Appeal

by Rene Villaroman/AJPress

LOS ANGELES – Although I have not watched her perform in acoustically proper venues like a concert hall or an auditorium, I have been fortunate enough to watch her perform twice in the entertainment portions of two trade expositions, once at the Los Angeles Convention Center, and again at the Del Mar Fair Grounds in San Diego County. Both performances were in the mid-1990s.

In 1997, I attended the launching in Los Angeles of her CD, Precious, at the Philippine Village Center in Eagle Rock. Kuh’s performance was truly impressive.

Some of Kuh’s back-up musicians and her co-producers were there, and she sang a couple of tracks from the CD. I was very impressed by what I heard. I got hold of a CD a few weeks later and had ample opportunity to listen to all the tracks. I was so impressed. I said to myself, with the right marketing push and direction, a few tracks in that CD could be candidates for Top 40 honors in the R & B and smooth jazz stations across the United States.


was such an excellent product of a collaboration of an acclaimed Filipino vocalist and contemporary jazz and R & B musicians and composers, and was out in the market for years. Unfortunately, it wasn’t marketed aggressively and the effort was left mostly unheralded. The album missed out on the opportunity to get airtime in mainstream radio stations across America.

Years later, kudos were still coming from people across the globe. These reviewers were not all Filipinos. Consider this one from a British chap, Bob Seddon, dated September 29, 2001: “I first discovered the golden voice of Kuh after obtaining the album The Soul of Smooth Jazz Volume 2, released in the UK by Jazz FM. That CD features the tracks Lover’s Journey and Dreaming and when I heard them, I had to investigate this artist’s work further. The CD Precious is, I would say, one of the best buys I’ve made in a long time. The track Keep on Loving Me encapsulates the spirit and mood of the CD and Kuh’s rendition of the Doobie Brothers classic What a Fool Believes demonstrates that she keeps her finger on the soulful pulse; it also demonstrates her incredible vocal range, as does the moving ballad Love Begins With You. I first heard Love Will Follow on Kenny Loggins’ album Outside-Live from the Redwoods, and he teamed up with Shanice for his rendition of the song which he wrote. Kuh’s version is good but lacks the length of Kenny’s version. Moonlight, Silence and I Remember Your Love all demonstrate the fact that Kuh knows how to ‘put a song across’ in her own unique style. I say ‘unique’ as I know from other reviews that she has been compared to Barbra Streisand; I don’t agree. Whilst both are excellent vocalists, their work, I think, is aimed at different audiences. Barbra has her won style and, thankfully, Kuh has hers. Their recorded material, whilst featuring strings, horns, etc., stands out as different to anyone who has a musical ear. I took this CD to Gibraltar recently and when played, many asked with interest who it was. That speaks for itself! I look to future releases by this artist.”

This is, by far, the best accolade I have read directed at Kuh Ledesma’s universal caliber as an artist, and I feel so proud for her. I have been a smooth jazz and jazz fusion enthusiast for more than three decades in the Philippines and in the States. So when I heard Kuh’s Precious CD, I knew that it had struck gold as a smooth jazz and R & B CD. Precious could have achieved the commercial and critical acclaim that it deserved. (www.asianjournal.com)

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‘The Bright Knight’ Illuminates Sydney

by Malou Liwanag-Aguilar/AJPress

Pope Benedict XVI rekindles ‘the Light’ at the World Youth Day in Australia

With all that’s happening to the world today,holding on to our faith takes a little more effort, especially for the youth. At present, there are too many things that distract our young people that we wonder about their future and how they can have a life with meaning. Because of this, the Church has found a way to unite the world’s youth and send its message of hope.

And it all began with Pope John Paul II’s love for young people. In 1984, during Palm Sunday, the Pope convoked the youth of Rome to celebrate with him the Holy Year of Redemption. The response was enthusiastic, that in 1985, he wrote a letter to the young people of the world.

“All young people,” said Pope John Paul in the annual encounter with the Roman Curia, “should feel followed by the Church, that is why all the Church, in union with the Successor of Peter, feels more and more committed, on a world scale, on behalf of young people, their worries, their questions, their openness and their hopes, to respond to their expectations, by communicating the certainty who is Christ, the Truth who is Christ, love who is Christ…”

This opened the door to World Youth Day, which is held annually in the local Churches on Palm Sunday and every two or three years on an international level, traveling from continent to continent.

The Philippines was the host country for the World Youth Day in 1995. Presided by the late Pope John Paul II, it was his second trip to the Philippines. It was a joyous celebration of brothers and sisters, to worship and to learn of each other’s cultures. The Pope’s close relationship with the Filipinos was evident, since the closing Mass held in Luneta Park was attended by more than fi ve million people, considered to be the largest papal gathering in Roman Catholic history.

This year’s World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia and presided by Pope Benedict XVI, has again called in the faithful. Reaching out to participants, the Holy Father sent out his message, “This will be the XXIII World Youth Day and the theme will be: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses.” The theme is a verse from Acts 1:8, refl ecting on the Spirit of Fortitude and Witness.

This is the shining message that the Church and Holy Father want to convey – to have the courage to live according to the Gospel – and to boldly proclaim it. (www.asianjournal.com)

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Filipina Claims Baja Family ‘Enslaved’ Her, Baja Lawyer Says ‘Lies!’

by Momar Visaya/AJPress

NEW YORK – “My eyes became blurry from crying every night. It was like I did not have hope to escape or to continue to live. I thought about committing suicide because I was so depressed,” Marichu Baoanan said in between sobs, as she narrated what transpired during the winter of 2006.

After keeping her silence for more than two years, Baoanan broke her silence and spoke about the case she has filed against former United Nations Ambassador Lauro Baja, his wife Norma Baja and daughter Elizabeth Baja Facundo for violating federal laws against human trafficking. The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) filed the complaint in New York federal court on behalf of Banaoan.

At a press conference Wednesday, July 9, Baoanan said she paid P250,000 to Norma Baja and her travel agency, Labaire International Travel, for her airfare to the United States, her visa, a work permit and job placement. A nursing graduate, Baoanan thought she would be working as a nurse.

Holding her tears, she said that she arrived in New York in January 2006 and was taken straight to the Upper East Side townhouse where the Bajas lived. She said that Norma Baja took her passport. She was then told that she needed to work for them so she could pay off her debt.

Since Mr. Baja was an ambassador, Baoanan said that there were always parties in the house. She claimed that she was the only domestic worker in the house so most of the time, she was the only one left awake in the house, cleaning up and washing dishes non-stop for several hours.

“The earliest I would finish my work would be at midnight. My body ached from exhaustion and I felt so devastated,” she said.

Grabe ang paghihirap ko sa kanila. Sobra. Inabuso nila ako ng husto,” she added.

The 39-year-old Baoanan also described other atrocities that the Baja family allegedly committed while she worked with them for three months.

She said that she was not fed well and were only given leftovers and that she would be watched to the point that she could not swallow her food anymore.

Baoanan arrived during the middle of winter, and she had no idea how cold it was in New York and the only clothes she had were thin pairs of pants, t-shirts and slippers. She said she endured the situation even if her entire body was shivering from the cold.

She also took care of the Bajas’ grandson, Elizabeth’s son, who by then was five years old. Baoanan said that the grandson hit her with a broom, spat in her face and kicked her in the face in front of the former ambassador.

“I felt like they treated me worse than an animal. They didn’t treat me like a person,” she said, adding that she was also called “stupid” and “slow”.

“I served the Bajas for three months – cooked, took care of the child, cleaned the really big townhouse, did the laundry, ironed and other tasks as a domestic worker. In return, they paid me with curses, insults, disrespect and $100 from Beth. What do I call this kind of experience? Oppression. Slavery,” Baoanan, a mother of three, added.

Because of what she describes as a “good samaritan,” she was able to escape from the house.


“There is simply no truth to what she is claiming,” Salvador Tuy, lawyer of the Bajas, told the media after the press conference. He showed photographs of Banaoan in full winter gear. “We will provide more pictures because we have taken pictures of her touring the United Nations in full boot gear in the middle of winter.”

The lawyer also disputed Banaoan’s statement that the Bajas got her passport when she arrived.

“That’s simply not true. All you have to do is to go to the Philippine Consulate and you will find out the she renewed her passport. You will find out that she still has her diplomatic passport,” Tuy added.

In earlier interviews in the Philippines, the former ambassador has likewise disputed Banaoan’s claims.

In an interview with DZMM, Baja said that Baoanan had a room to herself on the same floor of the Philippine consulate’s building in New York, contrary to her claim that she stayed at the basement.

“She was sleeping on the second floor, she was eating the same food,” Baja also said.

He also denied allegations that Banaoan was only paid $100 for the three months that she worked with them. Baja said Banaoan received $200 a month.

The former ambassador’s wife told the Inquirer that they did not commit the allegations being thrown at them by Banaoan.

Hindi naman kami walanghiya (We’re not shameless),” she was quoted as saying.

Mrs. Baja also denied that Baoanan was made to eat leftovers, saying they had more than enough food in the house. She also said she had given Baoanan used winter clothes and had bought her a pair of winter rubber shoes, contrary to what Banaoan claims.

Human trafficking

“Human trafficking is far more complex than many people realize,” said AALDEF staff attorney Ivy Suriyopas, who leads the organization’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative. “It can involve domestic workers that cook food for, clean the house of, and take care of the children of your next-door neighbor. Trafficking involves the severe exploitation of workers regardless of the industry of the worker or the reputation of the trafficker.”

Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), individuals can sue their former traffickers and also legalize their immigration status. “T” visas are available to sex and labor trafficking survivors who have been subjected to force, fraud or coercion.

Through the DAMAYAN Migrant Workers Association, a Filipino labor rights group, and AALDEF, Baoanan was able to secure a T visa and Derivative T visas for her husband and three children.

She was reunited with her family in April 2008.

“The only reason why I came here was to work and make money to support my family – for their day-to-day survival and so that they could have a good education,” Baoanan said.


“What happened with Marichu Banaoan was dehumanizing and deplorable,” said Ana Liza Caballes, overall coordinator of Damayan. “We hope that this news will resonate throughout the United States and the Philippines, and hopefully all over the world.”

Damayan has launched the “Justice for Marichu” campaign, in an effort to end trafficking and modern-day slavery for all Filipina domestic workers.

According to their petition, they are demanding that the Arroyo administration and the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs conduct a full investigation of the Baja family on charges of human trafficking, involuntary servitude, racketeering and US wage and hours violations.

The group is also supporting Baoanan’s demand for a public apology from the Bajas for violating her human dignity and subjecting her to involuntary servitude. (www.asianjournal.com)

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FilAm Hospital Workers Strike for Fair Wages

by Joseph Pimentel/AJPress

LOS ANGELES – Dressed in a blue shirt and jeans, holding up a sign reading “Service Workers on Strike: Taking Back UC” Rodolfo Aquino was one of many Filipino University of Calfornia service workers employees on the picket line marching in front of the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical center for fair wages.

“We are the lowest paid employees among all the UC campuses,” said Aquino. “Striking is the right way to do it.”

About three hundred service workers and supporters picketed in front of the brand new UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center Monday, starting the first of a five-day strike.

Throughout the state, thousands of union members from the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299, which represents about 8,500 UC service workers at 10 campuses and five hospitals, marched in solidarity for fair wages.

Meanwhile, UCLA hospital officials are concerned that the strike is affecting the care of UC medical patients.

The AFSCME also represents more than 11,000 patient care workers and patient care technical units. Leading up to the strike, UC Officials were afraid that many of the workers would cross the picket the lines, leaving many patients unattended for the week.

“Right now, it’s on a shift to shift basis,” said UCLA Chief Medical Officer Dr. J. Tom Rosenthall to the Asian Journal. “We don’t know who’s going to come in for work or strike. So far, many have come in for work. We were afraid that we would have to close down the emergency room because we can’t operate without them.”

He added that the union disregarded a San Francisco judge’s order that the five-day strike poses an immediate danger to UC hospital patients.

“We believe that the union should follow the law,” he said. “The union believes that a restraining order is a minor technicality.”

On July 11, a San Francisco federal court granted a temporary restraining order against the AFSCME from pursuing the five-day strike.

However, the AFSCME continued forward with their plans to strike.

According to union leaders, the paramount issue is fair wages. With the increase in lifestyle costs skyrocketing nationwide, union leaders said that service employees, who work as gardeners, janitors, cooks and servers across campus, just couldn’t afford to support their family with their current salary of $10 an hour.

Aracelli, who did not want to disclose her last name for fear of retribution, said that she’s been working as a custodian for UCLA for the past ten years and has only received a raise in salary maybe one or two times. She said her salary is less than $11.

“It doesn’t really matter if they give you a raise anyways,” said Aracelli, who originally hails from Ilocos Norte, Philippines. “The money you make goes away because they increase [campus] parking, and food cost. They automatically deduct your parking from your paycheck every month like $60 or $70.”

UC Representative Nicole Savickas said that they have offered to increase the service employee’s hourly rates from $10.28 to $11.50 or $12 including health benefits on a “sliding scale” and pension benefits.

“The University of California is disappointed that AFSCME has chosen to strike, despite the court’s ruling prohibiting such activity,” said Howard Pripas, executive director for systemwide labor relations at the University of California. “More importantly, we regret that we have not been able to reach an agreement with the union and hope its leadership will return to the bargaining table so we can continue our discussions. Our employees deserve good contracts and they deserve them now. Our offers would result in wage increases worth well over $125 million and good benefits.”

The union rejected their last offer.

Aquino, who works a second part-time job to support his family in the Philippines, said that the UC’s latest proposal is still not enough.

“We’re doing this for our family and other employees,” he said. “We all want to be respected and get a fair wage.”


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