Thursday, 16 March 2023

20 Years Ago: Witnessing Sarah Geronimo's Life Change In "Star For A Night"

A year before I left the Philippines to work in Seoul, Korea, my team and I were the official tabulators of one very popular singing competition created by the the Viva Television, which was our audit client. 

It was March 1, 2003, a Saturday, and it was the finals of "Star for a Night", a yearlong singing competition hosted by Regine Velasquez, known as Asia's Songbird.  My team - Kathy, Bom, John and Jameson - assembled at the 28th floor of our Makati office around 2:30PM as we intended to be at the ULTRA stadium in Pasig City by 4PM, where the live show would be held and aired during primetime over Channel IBC-13, another audit client of mine.

Although the show wasn't going to start until about 7PM, ULTRA slowly filled up with the fans, friends and families of the contestants hours before. 

Working as official tabulators for a live show wasn't my first rodeo, so to speak.  I previously led a team to tabulate scores for a modeling competition, which was a glamorous break for us as our work as auditors always involved being buried under accounting records and financial documents all day long. Watching models  compete in swimwear, casual and long gowns was more than a break we needed; it was a treat.😄

Although some of our audit clients were fun to work with, my Viva Team, which was led over the years by my senior associates Chiara, Joyce, Selyn and Concon, always had fun as the atmosphere was always 'showbiz', not to mention that Viva's Ms. Tess C., Boss Mike S. and Irene J. were very professional and accommodating. We appreciated the way they made our work easier.😊

The night before the finals, during the dress rehearsals, I was already at the venue to survey our tabulation area backstage. After checking our assigned workspace, I took a seat at an almost-empty hall to watch the contestants rehearse. 

All of them were good, but I was surprised that during Sarah Geronimo's turn (she sang Celine Dion's To Love You More), she fumbled, earning a scolding from the musical director who was in front of the stage watching and listening to each of them intensely. I later learned that it was probably the arrangement of the song that caused her trouble during rehearsals. But as we now know, she aced her final performance, even strategically dropping her white shawl at a certain point in the song to add drama.

As I had anticipated the final show would run until late evening, I instructed my team that, once they and their laptops were already settled at our designated area backstage, they would drive to the nearest McDonalds to get us burgers, fries and drinks as our stand-by dinner. We didn't want to starve in the middle of the show. So, that night, when our tummies started grumbling, my team simply brought out our take-outs while listening to the performances backstage. It was more than a happy meal.😆

I remember minutes before the show, I was asked to join and meet the judges who were huddled in one conference room, minus Ms. Sharon Cuneta, who was yet to arrive. She was to be the chair of the board of judges. Although I would have loved meeting her, the other judge I was thrilled to really meet was Mr. George Conseco, the composer of immortal OPM songs and most of the theme songs of Viva Films.

When I entered the room, the judges were seated by the long table and being briefed by Viva's staff. I can't remember the name of the assistant director who introduced me to the judges, but I simply shook hands with each judge as they were seated by the table. But what I remember in my meeting with Mr. Canseco, who was wearing a light-brownish, gray jacket, was that he stood up from his seat, turned around to face me, and shook my hand. 

I would have understood if he did not even stand up, considering he was already seated and more important, he was already a legend in the music industry. He didn't have to stand up just to shake my hand. Seated or standing, the honor was all mine. 😎 And although I had my film camera in the right pocket of my brown jacket, I didn't think it was appropriate for me to even ask for a photo. As official tabulators, we needed to be independent, although I now ask myself (and regret😥) why I didn't ask for a photo after the show. Mr. George Canseco died of cancer the next year.😭

The finals night breezed through without a hitch. The performances of the contestants were impressive, but unfortunately, only one could win. ULTRA was jam-packed with some fans even sitting on the floor in front of us. Ms. Irene, the partner-in-charge, and I were seated on the first row on the left facing the stage, and we could see everything. I was able to snap a few shots from where I sat but since it was a film camera, the resolution of the photos was bad.📷😂

          (Regine performing with the contestants)

As Ms. Regine Velasquez was performing with all the contestants for their final number, it was time to review the final tabulated results. I dragged Miss Irene from our front-row seats  to our tabulation area to finalize our work. After the team verified and reviewed the final scores, it was time to place the winner's name in the envelope that we would hand over to Regine on stage. For other tabulation work before 'Star For A Night', I already came up with the idea of using the firm's logo-sticker to seal envelopes containing official tabulation results, which I first used for KBP's Golden Dove Awards years before. 

(Regine performing with the contestants)

That night, after Miss Irene and I initialed the paper containing the name "SARAH GERONIMO" and the words "GRAND CHAMPION" below it, I used the firm's logo-sticker again (which I sourced from Ms. Rocky S.) to seal the envelope and the fate of the winner. I initialed in green ink; I couldn't remember what pen Ms. Irene used though. The 'envelope' is actually a three-fold paper with a golden cover (that I sourced from everyone's favorite bookstore) that was then sealed with a sticker after folding them together. To open, one only had to break the sticker-seal and read what's written on it. No pulling out of paper anymore. It's the same type used at the Oscars now, but not the ones they made in 2003.  As I was already using the three-fold envelope with sticker-seal in 2003, I guess I was way ahead of the Oscars. Or shall I say, PwC-Manila was way ahead of PwC-Los Angeles, which tabulates Oscar votes. 😆

Miss Irene and I then went back to our seats with the 'golden envelope' and waited for the cue to hand it over to Regine. The stage was not that high, and we just took a few steps from where we sat to navigate the dimly lit path. After giving it to Regine, she then turned it over to Sharon Cuneta who was already on stage with Boss Vic Del Rosario.

(Miss Irene and I after handing over 
to Regine the 'golden envelope')

I had a sense from the audience that they expected Sarah Geronimo to win because she probably performed the best, superbly interpreted a tricky song, and looked like a real star on stage wearing a Rajo Laurel gown.

As Sharon was about to rip open the seal of the 'golden envelope', I watched the contestants as they sat with Regine and waited for the announcement. And since I knew whose name was in the envelope, I watched Sarah, who was seated at the rightmost side. She was motionless and quiet, not interacting with anyone, but with her head bowed. She must be praying, I thought. This was moments before she learned that her prayers were answered.🙏

When Sharon read the envelope, the whole ULTRA went crazy, and since I had a good vantage point to where the contestants' families were seated, I saw Sarah's father run to the stage to hug his daughter, forgetting to bring his wife with him. I guess the director's plan was to bring the winner's parents to the stage after the announcement as I saw the floor director chastising a stagehand for forgetting to bring both Sarah's parents to the stage. Her mother was left behind. The stagehand probably forgot to do his job from all the excitement.😝

(Sharon about to read the winner's name)

As euphoria and cheers were filling the stadium, and as Sarah Geronimo was being celebrated onstage, we left our seats and headed to our area backstage. After about three hours, our work was finally done.😍

(Regine and the contestants eagerly awaiting the announcement. Notice Sarah G. at the rightmost side with head bowed down in prayer.)

It was now about 10PM and we needed to grab something to eat before we all headed home. 🍴

This was 20 years ago this month. She's now a huge star with millions of fans, and my Viva audit team members have all soared in their professional careers in different parts of the world; as have I, modesty aside.😎

But I wonder what happened to that 'golden envelope'. Did she save it? Had it framed? Or it got lost in the night's excitement?📩📨✉

I wish I could ask her when she comes to perform in Victorias City this weekend for my hometown's Kadalag-an Festival. 

So, this was the night when Sarah Geronimo's life and fortune changed forever.👩 

And I had a front-row seat (and a 'golden envelope') to that memorable night.😍

(Boss Vic, Regine, Sharon and Sarah after the announcement)

* * * * *

The blurry photos above were from my film camera. I just had them cropped and filtered to try to enhance the resolution.💚 

These are screenshots below, however, are from Youtube. I hope Sarah saved the 'golden envelope'.😀

#SarahGeronimo #SharonCuneta #Regine Velasquez #VivaTV #StarForANight #music

Thursday, 23 February 2023

DINAGYANG FESTIVAL 2023: Salamat Guid Sang Kasadyahan, Iloilo City!

When we decided to go to Iloilo City (from Negros Occidental) to enjoy the 2023 Dinagyang Festival, what we worried about was the hotel. 

So I called up the business inn that is located downtown where we always stayed because it was a walking distance from the San Jose de Placer Church and from the restaurant that makes everyone's favorite siopao, Roberto's, and other fastfood restaurants. The location is also very accessible and is just a few minutes from the ferry terminal.

The business inn still had rooms available, but unfortunately, we learned that the roads to the hotel would be closed during the festival. So we opted for another hotel elsewhere.

We ended up at a hotel along Ledesma Street that has a mall next to it. The location was very convenient for us as our mom, who has trouble walking, came with us, although we had some difficulty getting a cab a few times.

As always, even on the days leading to the festival, the streets of Iloilo City were full of revelers, tattoo artists, and vendors of snacks, bottled water, balloons, and colorful Dinagyang masks and necklaces. It also made us feel safe that there were a lot of policemen and women posted on every corner. There was even a police assistance desk just outside our hotel.

The competing tribes participating at the Dinagyang Festival were to be judged at the Freedom Grandstand and three other stages around the city, following a route that would meander through the main streets downtown.  

On our trips to the Dinagyang Festival before the pandemic, we were able to watch the performances at the Freedom Grandstand as well as experienced having photos with the costumed performers on the streets as they moved to the next performance area.

Although it was an amazing experience watching the whole performance of the tribes from our comfortable seats at the Freedom Grandstand, it was more fun seeing their creative and artsy costumes up close and chatting with them as they passed us on Rizal Street where we picked our spot.  

Feasting on the colors of their ensemble was a delight to the eyes and to my camera, although I realized their costumes must have been very heavy and their make-up that colored their faces and limbs made it even uncomfortable as they walked the streets under the sun.

But seeing the smiles of the performers without the masks on brought even more fun to us, revelers and tourists, as we enjoy once more the fun, excitement, and merrymaking of the Dinagyang Festival this year.

So, thank you to Mayor Treñas, the festival organizers, and to the men and women in uniform for keeping us safe during the 2023 Dinagyang Festival.😎😎😎

Salamat guid sang kasadyahan, Iloilo! Until next year!😍😍😍

#Iloilo #IloiloCity #Dinagyang #Dinagyangfestival #Philippines #ItsmorefuninthePhilippines #travel #travelblog 

Monday, 26 December 2022

Of Christmas, Cakes, and Fools!

As I enjoy a slice of my chocolate cake paired with fresh melon shake tonight, I think of what the Holy Family was going through that cold night in Bethlehem two thousand years ago: they didn't have a place to stay as the couple had no Booking app to reserve a room, they had to make do with riding a camel as they had no Grab transport, and they were probably worried there was no lying-in hospital nearby. Or worse, no hospital would take them in if they couldn't pay the required deposit. 😭

But in the end, as they trusted His plans, everything worked out just fine for the three.They had shepherds and sheep to keep them company, angels to sing for them, and even royalty as ninongs. The couple even ended up with new acquisitions of precious metals at the end of the night.😊

Today, there are the scarcity of public transport, scarcity of basic staples, no angels but demons singing praises for themselves, and worst, fools believing the promise of false gold.😨

The three, two thousands years ago and without any cake or fresh fruit shake, were better off than us today.😁

Merry Christmas!

#MerryChristmas #Christmas #Pasko #MaligayangPasko #ensaimada #tableaTsokolate

Tuesday, 1 November 2022

Our Prayers For The Victims And Families of the Itaewon Tragedy

On the night of October 31, 2015, a Saturday, I passed by Itaewon on my way home to Hannam-dong in the Yongsan District of Seoul. 

I was taking the Subway Line 6 from Gongdeok Station to Hangangjin Station, but I decided to get off at Itaewon Station to see what Halloween thing was going on there.

When I came out of Exit 4 of Itaewon Station, what welcomed me was a huge crowd of Itaewon revelers who were there to party.

It was the the biggest crowd that I have ever seen in Itaewon, bigger than the crowds during the Itaewon Village Festival (read blog here) The crowd consisted mostly of young people, probably students, I thought.

Never have I thought it was a tragedy waiting to happen.

I know that narrow alley behind Hamilton Hotel too well. My friends and I have been to those nice restaurants located along that alley.

Last Saturday night's tragedy was a shock to everyone, especially to me and my friends who used to have fun there in Itaewon. 

We remember the victims and their families in our prayers during All Souls' Day.🙏

(This is the welcome arch of Itaewon that greets everyone at the Noksapyeong side) 

#Itaewon #ItaewonHalloween #Itaewonstampede #Seoul #Korea

Friday, 28 October 2022

Philippine History: Chapter 26 - Why April 26, Instead of October 7, is the Feast Day of the Our Lady of Victory Parish in Victorias City

When I learned that, according to the General Roman Calendar, the feast day of the Our Lady of Victory, also known as the Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, is October 7, I wondered why, in Victorias, it is celebrated on April 26.

When the Catholic states won over the fleet of the Ottoman Empire at the Battle of Lepanto in the Gulf of Patras in Greece on October 7, 1571, Pope Pius V, who asked all the faithful at that time to pray the Holy Rosary to help win the Catholic fleet win the battle, that day was declared by Pope Pius V as the feast of the Our Lady of Victory. She was later known as the Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.

Victorias was named after its patroness, Nuestra Señora de Las Victorias (read Chapter 4 here), and the town used to celebrate the feast on October 7. But in a memorabilia prepared years ago for the town fiesta, I read that it was moved from October 7, which is in a rainy month, to a day in the dry season.

So, why did the parish, probably in consultation with the local officials then, choose April 26?

I found the answer in the 1953 compilation.

Thanks to Ms. Christine Mae Sarito, who downloaded the Compilation from the archives of the National Library and made it available to the people of Victorias, we can now answer the question.

On Chapter 17 of the history of Victorias (read here), I wrote about the life of the people of Victorias during World War II. In my research for that chapter, I stumbled upon a date, April 26, 1944.

That date is very significant to the people of Victorias. It was the date the first American soldiers arrived in Victorias.

During the war, all church activities stopped. There were no baptism, burial masses, blessings, and even weddings at the church. Even the parish priest at that time, Fr. Vicente Luzada, had to flee for his life.

Maybe, years after the war, when the October 7 fiesta celebrations were always rained out, the parish priest, parishioners and town officials began discussions about moving the town fiesta to a day in the dry season.  They probably had many dates as an option, including other important dates in the Catholic calendar, but must have settled, in the end, to one very important date in the history of Victorias.

During the two years of living a life under the Japanese colonizers that brought cruelty, hunger, sickness and death, the people of Victorias prayed to the Virgin for help.

On April 26, 1944, their prayers were answered.

The arrival of the first American soldiers in Victorias on that day, a Wednesday, brought joy and happiness to the people, knowing that freedom, as well as the old ways of living in peace, would finally return to Victorias.

The feast of the Our Lady of Victory is celebrated by the parish with an early morning procession of Her image and a concelebrated mass presided by the Bishop of the Diocese of Bacolod.

Let's bring back the old traditions of celebrating the April 26 fiesta in the name of Nuestra Señora de Las Victorias.

                                   * * * * *

Attached are the screenshots of the pages from the 1953 Compilation showing the listing of April 26, 1944, as a significant day in the history of Victorias.

Note: Words written in neon green are links. Do click them.

Complete history blog: "Ang Kasaysayan sang                                                Victorias"

#Victorias #VictoriasHistory #History #Philippinehistory

#OurLadyofVictory #NuestraSeñoraDeLasVictorias



Tuesday, 6 September 2022

ANGAT VICTORIAS: The Blessing of our Angat Victorias Banca

After our ANGAT VICTORIAS banca was completed (read blog here), we asked the help of the staff of the Parish of St. Roch in Daan Banwa, Victorias City, whether Fr. Christopher Entrata, parish priest, could bless the banca.🚢

On the sunny morning of August 31, 2022, the completed blue banca (color choice by carpenter Nonoy) was brought to the southern side of the Malihaw River where we gathered for the blessing. 

Along with Fr. Entrata's blessing, we prayed that the boatmen and his passengers will always have a safe passage across the Malihaw River each day and night.

The whole banca project took us a little more than a month. It was July 29, 2022, Friday, when we chanced upon Justin on the Malihaw River, and on that day, we asked the riverside restaurant owner to help us find a banca carpenter.

Finally, on August 31, 2022, Wednesday, the banca was blessed and was turned over to Walter, the boatman.

This photo is my favorite as it clearly shows the colors of the day: the pink ANGAT VICTORIAS tarpaulin, red/yellow/green/blue of the beach umbrella, the dark blue banca, the clear blue skies (let's exclude the murky waters!) all portend the happiness our little banca would bring to its passengers who will ride it, as well as the financial help it will bring to the family of Walter who will use it during the week, and to the family of Justin who will use it during weekends and when he is off from school.😊

We, the ANGAT VICTORIAS volunteers, endeavor to help our fellow Victoriahanon in our own little way. 😊

#AngatVictorias #AngatBuhayLahat #AngatBuhay #DaanBanwa #volunteerism #boats #banca 

Monday, 5 September 2022

ANGAT VICTORIAS: Our Banca For The Daan Banwa Community

In Victorias City,  Negros Occidental in the Philippines, the Malihaw River separates two of its barangays, 6A (Villa Miranda) and 9 (Daan Banwa) The latter is closer to the public transport terminal, a mall, and the fruit and vegetable market.

Instead of taking the longer route, the residents of Barangay 6A take the banca ride to cross the river, and the crossing only takes a couple of minutes.

Each passenger pays P5 for the crossing, and the boat men earn a living by using the banca to ferry passengers. During classes, students would prefer crossing the river instead of taking the longer route to school.

One day, as we visited Daan Banwa to have snacks at a restaurant near the bank of the Malihaw River, I watched a kid take a banca to cross to our side. He then took passengers and ferried them to the other side. I thought his family owned the boat.

But after talking to the kid and to the owner of the restaurant, we found out that the kid, Justin, only 15 years old, borrows the banca and pays P50 to the owner as rent. 

Justin then ferries people across the river. His earnings would help his mother, a laundry woman raising nine kids on her own. 

We asked the restaurant owner to help us find a carpenter to build us a banca that he kid could use when he's off from school.  

Nonong, a 54-year old carpenter who builds banca for a living, would build our ANGAT VICTORIAS banca that will be blessed by our parish priest once it is ready for use.

We, the ANGAT VICTORIAS volunteers, endeavor to help our fellow Victoriahanon in our own little way.😊

#AngatVictorias #AngatBuhay #banca #boats #Daan Banwa #volunteerism