PHCM bounces back with Virtual Gala to Celebrate 123rd Philippine Independence

The Philippine Heritage Council of Manitoba (PHCM) bounced back this year with a virtual gala celebrating the 123rd anniversary of Philippine independence.

In pre-COVID times, the celebration was typically held at the Marlborough Hotel in downtown Winnipeg as a formal dinner replete with greetings from dignitaries, cultural performances and ballroom dancing to cap the evening. However, with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, it was cancelled like most other events due to gathering restrictions.

Because the online celebration was live-streamed for free on the website and Facebook page of PHCM and that of event partner Barangay Canada, it amassed over a thousand views as of press time. The occasion was made even more special because this year the Philippines is also marking its Quincentennial Commemorations, or the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the Magellan-Elcano expedition and the Victory at Mactan.

The evening kicked off with Yasmin Reyes singing the national anthems of Canada and the Philippines. This was followed by the opening remarks and land acknowledgment by PHCM President Perla Javate. A series of recorded greetings came next, starting off with the Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada. Others who brought greetings were the Hon. Erin O’Toole of the federal Conservatives, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, Winnipeg North MP Kevin Lamoureux, and Waverley MLA Jon Reyes.

Selected members of the Manitoba NDP Caucus also brought greetings. Among the delegation were Notre Dame’s Malaya Marcelino, Burrows’ Diljeet Brar, The Maples’ Mintu Sandhu and NDP leader Wab Kinew. Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman also provided a video greeting. Rounding out the well-wishers were Philippine Ambassador to Ottawa Rodolfo Robles, Winnipeg Honorary Consul Ronald Opina, and one from the Winnipeg Police Service as prepared by Officers Orlando and Maria Buduhan.

Because this year’s theme was ‘Celebrating Our Heroes OF Yesterday and Today,’ the main program was split into two segments. The first was a tribute to the Filipino Heroes of Yesterday – those from the Philippine Revolution – as presented by Pastor Victor Cuarto, a former history instructor at the De La Sallle University in Manila.

The second segment focused on the Heroes of Today, particularly the medical frontliners and essential service workers who kept the community and country going as we struggled to control the dreaded coronavirus. Digital certificates of appreciation were presented to representatives of a total of fifteen occupational sectors such as nurses, transportation workers, and health care aides, among many others.

No celebration would be complete without performances. The Malolos siblings Johan and Nathan showed off their HipHop and Jazz dancing prowess, while The Highlights Performing Group of Joy Lazo sang ‘Love In Any Language’ and ‘Seasons of Love’. The cast of MA-BUHAY! The Musical graced the occasion with two performances — ’Singin It, Bringing’ It’ and ‘Being Free‘– both numbers featuring Andrea Macasaet, star of the hit Broadway production, SIX The Musical.

Overall, it was a major accomplishment to have staged a major cultural celebration amid the pandemic by switching to an online platform. This columnist considers it a tremendous honour to have helped make the festivities possible as PHCM’s Vice President for Program and Media and as co-founder of the Barangay Canada media initiative. To the other officers of the PHCM, fellow advocates in the Winnipeg Filipino community, and to all kababayans in the country and around the world who watched and participated in the live stream and made it more engaging — maraming, maraming salamat po sa pagtangkilik ng aming pagtatanghal! Mabuhay po ang ating mga bayani ng kasaysayan at ng pangkasalukuyan!

Kris Ontong is an award-winning community advocate and a finalist in the 12th RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards. He is the co-founder of Barangay Canada, and hosts its weekly video podcast.