Philippine Customs and Traditions Continue to Thrive Online, In Cinema


“COVID ka lang, Pinoy kami!”

After more than a year of enduring the COVID-19 pandemic and the frequent lockdowns and isolation that came with it, this expression of good-humored bravado is one that the average kababayan has heard or seen on Philippine TV and social media. For non-Filipino speaking readers of this column, that translates to “You are just COVID, we are Filipino.”

It also characterizes the efforts of the Philippine Heritage Council of Manitoba, Inc. (PHCM) in tandem with Barangay Canada in coming up with the online series on Filipino Customs and Traditions. These two organizations did not let the pandemic stop them from continuing to promote Philippine culture and heritage. As the public health restrictions on gatherings put a stop to workshops and seminars, Pinoy resourcefulness and tech-savvy found a way to keep the important conversations going by moving them online through video conferencing.

Philippine Customs and Traditions Online Series
The free monthly program started back in February of this year, with its inaugural episode showcasing the courtship rituals in the Philippines. The episodes are live streamed on the Facebook pages of the two organizing entities and embedded on a page on their respective websites as well.

For the month of March, the topic was the kickoff of the Quincentennial Commemorations in the Philippines. Pastor Victor Cuarto, a former history instructor of the De La Salle University, was the invited resource person. He provided additional historical context about the occasion and discussed the significance of the celebration’s chosen theme of Victory and Humanity.

The most recent episode of the live stream series came out a week after Mother’s Day so the topic was naturally ‘Buhay Nanay sa Canada’ as it paid tribute to Filipino moms in Canada. Three different Filipino-Canadian moms were invited as resource persons. They each represented different mom-scenarios: one who started a family here, one who migrated to Canada with their kids at a young, formative age, and one who is a second generation Filipino-Canadian raising a family. The guests were Notre Dame MLA Malaya Marcelino, Lorna Aquino, and Girlie Romero. On the side of the panelists were ‘Tita’ Perla Javate, PHCM President, secretary Gani Casalla and yours truly.

The full episode can be viewed at https://barangaycanada.com/life-as-a-filipino-mom-in-canada. After listening to the guests share their experiences and insights, one can’t help having a deeper sense of respect and admiration for all the Filipino mothers here in Canada who are raising a family while building a new life, far away from relatives and life-long friends.

‘Dito at Doon’
The world of Philippine cinema also devised a way of creatively turning the table on the coronavirus pandemic – by using it as a plot device in the new film ‘Dito at Doon’ (international title: Here and There). This latest production from TBA Studios and WASD Films stars Janine Gutierrez, JC Santos, Yesh Burce and Victor Anastacio. Directed by JP Habac, ‘Dito at Doon’ also features the special participation of Janine’s mom, Lotlot De Leon. Its original Philippine release was in March of this year. On May 1st, it began streaming globally through https://www.tba.ph/global.

‘Dito at Doon’ starts out as an online argument between two strangers. After they are introduced to each other by a common friend, a romantic relationship slowly develops, albeit through online communication only due to the pandemic-related lockdown. With such a relationship relying heavily on online contact, how will it survive when taken offline?

As part of TBA Studios’ marketing blitz in the Middle East and North America, Barangay Canada was among the programs that were contacted to arrange a guesting of the film’s lead stars. Sure enough, the May 15 edition of the Community Update welcomed director JP Habac and Janine Gutierrez who is also the 2020 Gawad Urian Best Actress. Apart from the usual spiel to promote the film, the duo also participated in a fun-filled drawing/guessing game and brought along their fur babies into frame as the episode wound down.

Although ‘Dito at Doon’ is touted as a ‘lockdown romance,’ the film also takes viewers to a time when love was new, unpredictable and exciting, but it is grounded by the reality of a fearful and uncertain future as the pandemic rages on. It’s also a homage to Filipinos’ resilience, sense of humour, and boundless optimism that have enabled us to thrive even in these darkest times. I dearly hope that readers of this column will consider watching ‘Dito at Doon’ as a way of supporting top-notch Filipino storytelling and artistry establish a presence on the international stage.

Filipino Heritage Month & PHCM Virtual Gala
With the month of June just around the corner, the Filipino community across Canada gets ready to celebrate Filipino Heritage Month once again.

It was a historic milestone for kababayans in Canada back in 2018 when the Filipino Heritage Month Act passed in Parliament and was celebrated for the first time the following year. With the arrival of COVID-19 the following year however, all celebrations got scrapped. But now that the community has learned to adapt to this new normal, a lot of organizations are busily preparing to resume activities by switching over to the virtual platform.

Case in point: this year’s Filipino Heritage Month features a slew of culture and heritage programs that are free and accessible online. The Filipino Heritage Month coalition – made up of the Philippine Advancement Through Arts and Culture (PATAC), Barangay Canada, East Coast Filipino Portal and other notable kababayan organizations – have banded together for the SALUDO 2021 project. Invoking the spirit of Bayanihan, the project aims to cooperatively promote all events and programs of Filipino Heritage Month. The gallery of events and their dates can be seen on the website at http://saludocanada.ca. Site visitors who are also organizing celebrations in their area in Canada are encouraged to sign up and add their event so that kababayans in other parts of Canada will be aware of them and tune in.

Here in Manitoba, the PHCM is in the thick of preparations for a Virtual Gala to celebrate the 123rd Philippine Independence Day as well as the Quincentennial Commemorations in the Philippines. The event will be live streamed over the Facebook pages of PHCM and Barangay Canada, and will also be embedded on special pages in their respective websites. The Virtual Gala is scheduled on June 12 at 7 p.m. central. More details will be announced soon on social media when they become available.

As the Filipino-Canadian community looks forward to successfully pulling off these online celebrations for Filipino Heritage Month, we would have earned the right to say, “COVID ka lang, Pinoy kami!”

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.