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LUISA Mendez Marshall receives the Gawad Bagwis award from UST Vice Rector Fr. Pablo Tiong and AB Alumni Association president Ed Morada. photo by WILLY MENDEZ

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AWARD-WINNING director Dante Mendoza in his trophy room. photo by janet r. nepales

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KORINA Sanchez, Nelia Silverio Dee and Narciso Chan of Sony BMG

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RACHEL Alejandro, Rowell Santiago, Mikee Cojuangco and Girlie Rodis with guests.



Only in Hollywood
Like a sped-up film, our whirlwind visit to Manila

By Ruben V. Nepales
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 17:57:00 03/27/2010

Filed Under: Family, Travel & Commuting, People, Entertainment (general)

LOS ANGELES ? A visit to the trophy room in the home of internationally renowned Filipino director Brillante ?Dante? Mendoza was one of the highlights of our recent homecoming trip to the Philippines.

?Eighteen years!? exclaimed several friends and colleagues in shock when I told them how long I?ve been away from my homeland. So, as soon as my wife Janet and I settled in our seats aboard a jet bound for Manila, I exclaimed ?Toast!? to her with a glass of Chardonnay.

After about 50 toasts, we landed and I was truly home. We stepped out into the sunshine and heat. My whirlwind visit began, like a sped-up film. ?Where?s the welcome marching band?? I teased our friend, Ciso Chan, who welcomed us.

Pulis Oyster?

As we drove out, I asked why the street cleaners are wearing shirts with ?Pulis Oyster? printed on them. Nobody knew how Metro Aides evolved into Pulis Oysters.

?Oops!? I exclaimed as our jeep almost hit a car. It would be the first in a million and one ?Oops!? I would say throughout my 10-day stay. But near-collisions are no big deal in the Philippines, it turns out; it?s a way of life.

I was tired and couldn?t wait to shower but Janet knew her priorities. We had to stop by designer Oliver Tolentino?s San Lorenzo Village shop to get Janet?s Filipiniana attire for the University of Santo Tomas? inaugural AB Gantimpala Awards the following day.

Next, we picked up my brother Alex who arrived a day earlier. He?s been away from ?Pinas longer ? 28 years. He said his hotel was a hangout of ?pokpoks.? I think he sounded more amused than annoyed.

Finally, we headed to our hotel, where we had time only to change clothes. Then we dropped by the Sony Music Philippines headquarters, where the prime window offices of Ciso, Rudy Tee and Vic Valenciano offered stunning views of the skyline in the Ortigas area. The Meralco building used to be the only structure in this area ? that was how long ago I?ve been away.

Then it was off to dinner at Romulo Caf, the first of many dinners, lunches and sometimes even breakfasts we had with friends and relatives (the Nepaleses, Rodriguezes, Estrellas, and Viados). The caf?s location, at the corner of Scouts Tuazon and Lozano in Quezon City, was apt because we lived in the neighborhood before we moved to the United States.

Sentimental trip

The next day, Saturday, March 13, was the big day ? a sentimental trip back to the beloved old UST campus on Espaa Street. Finally, we were inside the storied school grounds where Janet and I first met. She likes to stress that I was ahead by two years and that, sorry, I looked like a stick figure nerd then. It was not a case of mutual instant attraction, she claimed.

Anyway, if this whole trip seemed to run at a warped speed, this afternoon and evening at St. Raymund?s Building appeared to be even faster-paced. Dang Uy Koe and Egay Morada, two former classmates, and Ted and Nenet Perea, their fellow organizers of this event honoring outstanding alumni of the Faculty of Arts and Letters, welcomed us at the entrance. Many students in their AB uniform, still the same after all these years, extended a warm welcome.

More classmates showed up ? Cleo Mangulabnan Webb, Marichu Maago Ramos, Nida Lagrimas, Aurora Mallari de los Reyes, Rene Durian, and Luisa Mendez Marshall, who flew in from Canada to receive her Gawad Bagwis citation in Entertainment. She is a performer and a TV talk show host in Vancouver.

I took the stairs to the second floor to view the exhibit on the awardees, which brought back memories of nervous moments looking at the bulletin board, to see if I made it to the Faculty of Arts and Letters as a freshman, as staff of The Flame, the college journal, or as a major in Communication Arts.

After dinner, the awards program began in the Rizal Auditorium, where our class used to stage a Saturday noon variety show aired on Radio Veritas. The Gantimpala Program was well organized and did away with acceptance speeches. Two awardees brought the house down. It was our first time to watch Herman ?Isko? C. Salvador, another awardee in Entertainment. Brod Pete to many, he kept us laughing with his antics. There?s intelligence in his humor.

Tina Turner act

Via e-mail, Egay had fretted for weeks about how the sexy Tina Turner act of Luisa would go with the priests who would attend the program. But Luisa won over everyone with her stage dynamism and fine vocals. For weeks, too, Luisa threatened, also through e-mail, that she would call us, her former classmates, onstage as impromptu backup dancers. Well, she did call us and up we went on the stage, bumping and grinding as she finished belting ?Simply the Best.?

The awardees also included my editor Emmie Velarde, Sunday Inquirer Magazine editor Pennie Azarcon de la Cruz and her family (husband Edwin, children Andrea Nicola and Emil Karlo), Judge Oscar Herrera, Mayor Ramon Ilagan, Jose Javier, Reverend Father Jose Antonio Aureada, Glenda Gloria, Lito Tacujan, Sandra Aguinaldo, Luisa Mendez-Marshall, Osias Barroso, Cesar Apolinario, Loida and Cesar Viria, Justice Esperanza Fabon-Victorino, Jose Garcia, Charlie Villaseor, Butch Francisco, Dean Nilo Divina, Lucien Dy Tioco, Attorney Liza Lopez-Rosario, Noel Albano, Khristine Gabriel, Dante Santiago, Emi Calixto-Rubiano, and Avic Alcantara.

Right after the program, we headed to the weekend home of Janet?s brother, Jun, and his wife Yoy, in Sta. Elena, Laguna. After a grand reunion with the Rodriguez clan the following morning, it was off to many meetings with old friends.

Perfect afternoon

We spent a perfect afternoon having lunch under the trees in the Tagaytay weekend home of Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Rina Jimenez-David and her husband, Pie. We had opted to catch up with Rina, Pennie, Edwin, Ida Bata, Marian Martin-Layug and Czar Viria, fellow Thomasians who were former Varsitarian staffers like Janet, instead of watching the Pacquiao-Clottey fight.

My reunion with former Communication Arts classmates was a riot. We sang karaoke, danced some more and traded jokes. It really was a wonder that we were not kicked out of the hotel room we rented for the night.

I finally got to visit the Inquirer office that I could only visualize for many years. Janet and I were touched by the warm welcome of this paper?s top brass, led by president Sandy Prieto-Romualdez, publisher Gani Yambot and editor in chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc. We finally met the Entertainment staff, including Bayani San Diego, Marinel Cruz and Mina Erandio. Even our fellow columnists Nestor Torre and Dolly Anne Carvajal joined us for the yummy dinner prepared by no less than LJM?s personal chef. It was also good to see Lifestyle editor Thelma S. San Juan again.

Bayani texted Dante Mendoza, who had just won yet another award, this time in the Miami International Film Festival. Dante invited us to his home, impromptu, so off we went even though it was quite late.

Dante led us into his trophy room, where we sipped coffee and tea. I made sure to see his Cannes? Best Director certificate, which is probably the most important in the room. I also read Quentin Tarantino?s handwritten note to Dante in which the ?Inglourious Basterds? director raved about ?Kinatay.?

With only a few hours of sleep, we left at dawn for a visit to our hometown, Calasiao, Pangasinan. We visited our childhood home in Gabon, which was quite a moment for Alex and me. We dropped by our grade school, where they were practicing a dance to the tune of ?My Heart Will Go On.? Goodness, they?ve also gone Hollywood here at Bued Elementary School?

We braved the sweltering heat to visit the graves of my father and other loved ones.

The next day, we found ourselves in Forbes Park for Nelia Silverio-Dee?s lavish welcome lunch for us and birthday bash for Girlie Rodis.

In the evening, we had energy left to watch ?Avenue Q.? Bravo to Rachel Alejandro, Aiza Seguerra, Joel Trinidad and the rest of the cast. Singing-wise, this Pinoy ensemble is top-rate.

We spent the last two days of our short stay with Janet?s family in Laguna and Tagaytay, where we went to the spa for the first time.

We left Manila with sadness and made a promise like General MacArthur?s. On our first night back in LA, I heard my late mother?s voice, or I dreamt of her talking to me again for the first time in many years. I don?t remember what my mother was saying but it sounded very comforting. I think I made her happy just by going home again.

E-mail the columnist at rvnepales_5585@yahoo.com.

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