Sunday, July 23, 2006

Conversations With Ricky Lo
The Philippine Star July 20, 2006

How did I stumble upon Nora Aunor, a.k.a. Ate Guy, the Superstar left in virtual limbo by an incident at the LAX (Los Angeles Airport) last year when she was caught allegedly with shabu and accompanying paraphernalia? She’s supposed to be scarce, isn’t she, "hiding" from (especially) media guys from Manila? Did she simply drop from the sky, like a "scoop" aching to come out, a story nagging to be told?

Yes, she did – "drop from the sky," that is. Figuratively speaking.

I was in L.A. last month for the press junket for Walt Disney Pictures’ Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (starring again the winning triumvirate of Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley; which scored the highest opening weekend gross in the US) when I got a text message from Albert Sunga (then vacationing in Manila), president of a Nora Aunor Fans Club in San Francisco, asking if he could get my e-mail and cellphone number for his idol. By all means, I told Albert who said "Good!" when he learned that I was in L.A.

Barely three minutes after I texted my e-mail/cellphone number to Albert, including the landline of the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel where the invited journalists were billeted, I got a call from – you guessed it – Ate Guy herself. It was 3 o’clock in the "jet-lagged" morning for me, and Ate Guy and I set a pictorial/interview two days later "somewhere in Burbank," she said, where she’s staying.

We met not at her home but at a restaurant so noisy that we had to do the interview (both for

The STAR and GMA 7’s Showbiz Stripped) outside. Ate Guy was accompanied by a female friend. When I wondered where her manager/bosom buddy Norie Sayo was, Ate Guy said she was in San Francisco and promptly contacted Norie on her cellphone and passed it on to me. (It was Norie who furnished Conversations Ate Guy’s two photos, above and right.)

Did I find Ate Guy "guilty" as charged? Did she look, according to persistent nasty rumors, "impoverished" and "homeless," reduced to asking money from fans and friends out there? Did she sound, well, "depressed"?

Not the type who would judge anybody, I’d rather that you hear Ate Guy’s own story, direct from her.

What is your present status? Were you sentenced by the court?

"’Yung mga
lawyers ko, pinasok ako sa program, okay? I want to make it clear that no, there’s no sentence. They just entered me into the program for meetings and counseling, good for one year. After one year, parang walang nangyari."

So you’re not on probation?

"No, I’m not. What’s not nice about my status is that I cannot have a show outside of L.A. I cannot go out of L.A. within the period of one year. But what’s good about it naman is that after the one-year program/counseling, wala nang kaso, as if nothing happened. But then, I can’t just sit idle and not work. My lawyers thought of a compromise by which I can go out of L.A., so the court agreed to change the program."

Did you plead guilty?

"I did under the new program. But it doesn’t mean that just because you plead guilty ay under sentence ka na."

Was it part of a plea bargaining?

"Yes, it is. The ones who made that decision were my lawyers."

What happens under the new program?

"I have a meeting every day, six times a week, and have counseling. The meeting usually lasts about one hour. There’s also a drug test twice a week. I’ve been ‘negative’ since the drug test started; all the tests were negative. The only problem is that I can’t find work because not all producers naman are based in L.A. How can I survive if I don’t work?"

So can you now travel out of L.A.?

"Yes, I can on the condition that the program would be extended to 18 months instead of just one year. It will be over by October next year."

Are you now free to move around California or other parts of the US?

"Yes, I am. But I can’t go home to the Philippines until after the program is completed."

Do you have any scheduled concerts?

"On Aug. 5, I will have a concert in Chicago with John (Rendez, her special friend) and Willie Nepomuceno."

So John is with you.

"Yes, he’s here."

You two are okay naman?

"Oh yes. We help each other. Nagtutulungan pa naman kami. Whatever the tsismis are, we just ignore them."

Like what tsismis?

let’s just forget them! Hayaan na lang natin."

Well, I’m glad that you and John are okay.

"Basta, as I’ve said we are helping each other. When nobody is available, he drives. Basta, let’s not mind the tsismis about John. Let’s just hope that he can find a job and get a chance to show and share his talent with the people."

Any other concerts?

"On Sept. 8 in San Diego, Sept. 16 in Washington and Oct. 7 in Boston."

No restrictions (mga bawal) under the new program?

"None, as long as I’m not doing anything wrong, anything against the law."

You’re a holder of an extraordinary-ability visa, aren’t you?


greencard ka na ba?

"Hmmmm. I’m still thinking about it."

How long have you been in the US?

"Two years."

When you came, was it for vacation, for a concert or for a longer (if not permanent) stay?

"For a concert tour with Kuh (Ledesma), Power of Two. I intended to stay longer because I was confused with what was happening back home. The (2004) elections were just over at ang gulo sa atin noon."

If that airport incident didn’t happen, do you think you’d be in the Philippines now?

"I don’t think so. I think I’d still be in the US."

Were incidents following the elections too painful for you?

"Not really, but then... Let’s not talk about it na lang."

Everybody knows that you campaigned for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
When that airport incident happened, didn’t you ask help from her?

Actually, nagpahatid ng balita na susuporta sila; they sent word that they’d be helping me. But it never happened. It was only lately that the Philippine Consul here in L.A. had a meeting with me. May naitulong naman; there was a little help. He told me that that help came from Manila."

What sort of support, moral or financial?

. Financial ng konti. It’s okay, basta’t galing sa kanila. Whatever support it is, as long as it comes from them, it’s okay."

During your two years here, how many concerts have you had?

"A lot. I think more than 20 already. Wait, maybe less than that. With Kuh alone, I did 10."

And you even did a movie, Care Home (which is about caregivers, directed by Suzette Ranillo who also stars in it; together with US-based Filipino actresses Rebecca, Suzette’s mom Gloria Sevilla, Divina Valencia and her son Dranreb).

"Actually, what we agreed upon was not a movie but a teleserye. It was done in digital and I shot for only three days. They told me that it would be shown just once on GMA 7. So when I heard that they made it into a movie, I called their attention. I got worried when I heard that they’d show it in movie houses. You know, kung pang-TV ang usapan, dapat sa TV lang talaga. If it’s for TV, why show it in a movie house?"

What else are you busy with?

"I also did a project for the same group, initially called Bea but they changed it to Ingrata. We have one more taping day to go. I think they plan to show it as a movie."

What is Ingrata about?

"It’s the story of a Filipina, my character, married to a man who gives her nothing but headaches and troubles."

How has your life been in general?

"Well, I’m based here in L.A. In the beginning, it was hard because I don’t have relatives here. I have a sister (Tita Aunor, widow of actor Arnold Mendoza) but she’s in San Diego. It’s difficult, talagang mahirap, but as you go along you learn many things. Actually, I look at what happened to me as a blessing in disguise. I think God is trying to send me a message."

Trying to, you know, wake you up?

"Not only that. You know, sometimes nakakalimot tayo, so kailangang bumalik na tayo sa Kanya."

As an ordinary citizen, do you go around freely – you know, unlike in the Philippines where you can’t go anywhere without feeling that your every move is being monitored?

"When I was new here, somebody saw me take the train. Before I knew it, word spread around na si Nora Aunor nagtri-train na lang. What’s wrong with that? Especially in America where nobody minds anybody. You know, walang pakialaman. I can do here what I cannot do in the Philippines, like going to the grocery, eating anywhere I want to. Kahit anong suot mo, wala silang pakialam."

There are other rumors... That you’re hard up, moving from one friend/fan’s house to another, that you’re asking money from your fans/friends.

"Well, the same old tsismis about me in the Philippines. You can’t stop people from talking, can you? Hindi ko na lang pinapansin. Why would I let myself be bothered by those tsismis? At least here, I drive, I have my own car."

What are your daily activities when you’re not busy with concerts and tapings?

"A lot. There are some projects which I cannot reveal just yet. Kitchie (Benedicto) and I have plans but I can’t discuss them yet. (Kitchie is the producer of John En Shirley, the new ABS-CBN sitcom premiering on Saturday, July 29, starring Dolphy, Susan Roces and Maricel Soriano, directed by Bert de Leon. – RFL)."

Are you in touch with your fans and friends here?

"Yeah. Nakakausap ko sila. We get in touch every now and then. My fans in San Francisco, headed by Albert Sunga, have formed an organization."

What are your plans especially after October next year when the "program" is over?

"I still don’t know. My immediate plan is to save. I have to work, so I can save. I don’t want to go back home empty-handed. I know that because of what happened – and I’m not only referring to the L.A. airport incident – some people have lost their respect on me. You know, ‘yung sa politics..."

How do Filipinos here react to your case/situation?

"Many of them want to help me. I don’t want people to pity me but I appreciate their sympathy."

What do you miss about home?

"I miss my children – si Lotlot, si Ian, si Matet. The other day, I talked to Matet on the phone. She passed the phone to her child and I heard the kid say, ‘Ma Guy! Ma Guy!’ Ang sarap ng pakiramdam; it felt good. I’m happy for Matet. Since she got married (to basketball player Mickey Estrada), ang laki ng ipinagbago niya; she has changed for the better. She used to be pasaway (troublesome), di ba? Matet always sends me text messages. On my birthday last May (21), she greeted me, she wanted to find out how I was doing. She and her family are leaving for Norway."

What about Lotlot (separated from Ramon Christopher by whom she has four children) and Ian (who, with his family, is staying in a house annexed to that of his father, Christopher de Leon, and his family in ParaƱaque City)?

"We keep in touch."

Do you have any regrets – you know, about going into politics, breaking ties with Erap (President Joseph Estrada) and campaigning for PGMA?

"None. When I did all that, I did so with all my heart; taos sa puso ang ginawa ko. Whatever happened to them and to me, wala akong dapat pagsisihan, I don’t have any reason to regret, because it was I and I alone who made the decision. And whatever had happened to me here in the States, I leave it all to God. Maybe He is testing me again; sinusubukan Niya siguro ako."

You do sound like a changed woman.

"You know, unlike before, everytime I have a concert, like the one I did in San Francisco produced by the Divine Mercy group, I include at least one Gospel song. Like ‘yung Raise Me Up."

What’s the best lesson that you learned from all this?

"Huwag kalilimutan ang nasa Itaas.
Don’t forget God."