The Filipino Champion: Pinay power

WHEN we are saddled with seemingly insurmountable problems in our day-to-day life in America, we yearn for inspiration — one that will reassure us that all will be well. That there is light at the end of the tunnel. That we can use our challenges to become better human beings, not just for our own sake, but also to make our light shine upon others.
To fulfill that need is the goal of our segment “The Filipino Champion” on Balitang America. This week, let me share with you the stories of two amazing Filipinas who (as Barry Manilow croons) “made it through the rain”, as presented on Balitang America.
Bessie Badilla
From her humble beginnings in the Philippines, this former beauty queen became one of the first Filipinos to model for the House of Balenciaga in Paris in the 70’s.
In the 80’s, the hit show Eh, Kasi Babae turned her into a household name as a TV celebrity. She was even nominated as most promising television star and best actress in a comedy show.
Bessie Badilla told Balitang America that for someone who only wanted to become a flight attendant so she can travel the world, all these were unplanned.
Wala sa balak ko yung maging Miss Philippines, maging Miss Visayas, tapos maging model. Those were all unplanned. Yun yung mga sopresa ng buhay.”
She would later turn her back on a lucrative modeling and entertainment career in the Philippines, to raise a family in the US.
She was living her American Dream in Stamford, Connecticut when it was cut short. Her husband, Vicente “Bambi” Del Castillo died in his sleep in 2006 – due to an aneurysm.
And as if losing her husband wasn’t enough, the grieving Bessie was diagnosed with thyroid cancer after her husband’s death.
“In my mind, gagaling ako, hindi yung ‘Oh My God, may cancer ako.’ In my mind gagaling ako and it will only give me more reason to live (In my mind I say I will get well. I don’t say ‘Oh my god I have cancer.’ That gave me more reason to live)” she said.
To take her mind off the pain, she learned how to speak Portuguese and how to dance the samba. She even participated in a Brazilian Carnival Parade.
She never stopped dancing until she was crowned the Carnival Queen in Sao Paolo, Brazil in 2009, not just once but twice. She also became the first Filipina Carnival Queen at that.
After an aggressive radioactive iodine therapy, lots of prayers and an absolute will to live — she was declared cancer-free in three years.
“I don’t think about being sick. I had to perform, I had to really dance well and sing well all in Portuguese, she said, “There are 5,000 people with me dancing Samba and singing with me. I had to give them the best energy that I could, I think that’s what actually help cure me too, the positive energy.”
Today, Badilla is finishing up the final touches to Brinoy Dois, a follow-up album to her successful Brinoy music album, which was launched in 2011.
Brinoy is Brazilian music infused with Filipino lyrics, written and sung by Bessie Badilla herself.
Brinoy launched Badilla’s career as a singer and created a new genre of Brazilian music that is uniquely Pinoy.
“There’ll be ups and downs, sometimes there will be more downs, but you have to get up, and try again, until you get what you want, Badilla said.
The girl who had nothing and who almost lost everything at one point in her life said she will continue to sing her life story in a Filipino-Brazilian kind of way. She couldn’t ask for more.
Shiela Coronel
Award-winning Filipina investigative journalist Sheila Coronel was named the first ever Director of the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at the Columbia University’s School of Journalism in New York in 2006.
Before coming to the US, Coronel was better known as an advocate for free press, at a time when the freedom of speech was being suppressed by the Marcos dictatorship.
Coronel chronicled the EDSA movement, which took down the Marcos dictatorship through a peaceful revolution in the mid 80’s.
Her compelling stories appeared in New York Times and in The Guardian.
Together with 8 other journalists, Coronel founded the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) in 1989.
Led by Coronel, the non-profit media agency produced hard-hitting investigative pieces which unearthed graft and corruption in the Philippines. Whether it involved a Philippine government official, the Supreme Court, a military official or the Philippine media, this gutsy Filipina made it her business to uncover wrongdoings.
Under Coronel’s leadership, the center became the Philippines’ and Asia’s premier investigative reporting institution.
Coronel also wrote Philippine Panorama Magazine, The Manila Chronicle and she also filed reports from Manila for the New York Times.
She was named the Philippines’ Outstanding Print Journalist in 2001. In that same year, she was elevated to the Hall of Fame of the Jaime V. Ongpin Awards for investigative journalism, after winning the top award 4 times in 12 years.
Coronel was also the recipient of the 2003 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communications Arts, for leading a groundbreaking collaborative effort to develop investigative journalism — an important component in keeping democracy alive in the Philippines.
“There’s the adrenalin of following a story through exposing, but you know this is a different kind of fulfillment. You’re fulfilled if you see a story being published that makes an impact,” Coronel said on Balitang America.
Here in the US, Coronel received the Presidential Teaching Award in 2011 — the highest honor given by the University of Columbia to recognize a teacher’s role in excellence building.
Shiela Coronel said that while she continues to write stories on the side, she found passion in teaching and in passing the torch to would-be investigative journalists.

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Gel Santos Relos is the anchor of TFC’s “Balitang America.” Views and opinions expressed by the author in this column are are solely those of the author and not of Asian Journal and ABS-CBN-TFC. For comments, go to,

Gel Santos Relos

Gel Santos Relos is the anchor of TFC’s “Balitang America.” Views and opinions expressed by the author in this column are solely those of the author and not of Asian Journal and ABS-CBN-TFC. For comments, go to and

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