The Australian Filipina takes a peak at the diary of Violi Calvert on her attendance of the Freedom Ball, a gala dinner and dance event hosted by the Alliance of Philippine Community Organisations, Inc. (APCO, Inc.).

As soon as I walked into the Grand Ballroom of the Bankstown Sports Club, I was transported back to a fiesta atmosphere in the Philippines. Most people milling around and engaged in a happy chatter were in colourful Filipinana attire. My stress from driving through the rain and from the other side of town disappeared as I took in the festive and friendly ambience. 

I knew I was in for a memorable and enjoyable evening when I heard Charles Chan, playing the role of 'Town Crier', announced in Filipino the start of the celebration’s program with the parade of colours. First to enter were the bearers of the Philippine and the Australian flags, followed by the APCO’s officials who were striking in yellow native gowns for the ladies and traditional barong shirts for the gentlemen with the exception of APCO’s vice president Jhun Salazar who was in a colourful sultan (or 'chieftain') attire.  The crowd cheered as groups representing the country’s three largest islands - Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao - were called next.

Two well known local entertainers sang the national anthems. Cleo Baltazar who looked fantastic in the traditional terno, did a heartfelt rendition of Lupang Hinirang while Linda Trinidad, also an APCO Director, sang with equal fervor Advance Australia Fair.  After the Invocation by Emylee Tuzon, Cen Amores did the Welcome address highlighting the theme for the celebration, Bagong Panahon, Patuloy na Hamon; Kapatiran, Katarungan at Kaunlaran (Modern Times, Ongoing Challenges; Mateship, Justice & Progress).  The message of Cen’s speech was simple and yet inspiring; encouraging each one to contribute in the way they can to contribute to the local Filipino-Australian community and at the same time help progress the Philippine economy.

The Alay (offering) Dance by the APCO officers that followed was very enjoyable and had everyone tapping their toes with the music.  The crowd also appreciated the speeches by Geoff Leigh, Member for Parramatta, who represented the Premier Barry O’Farrel; Laurie Ferguson (Member for Reid) and Councillor Jess Diaz (Councillor, Blacktown City Council).

Michelle Baltazar (editor and publisher of this publication), who was stunning in her modern purple terno by Claudio Javellana, joined Charles Chan as emcee. This was Michelle’s second time to be emcee for APCO’s Independence Day celebrations.  Her friendly and engaging manner helped the crowd relax and enjoy the program of entertainment.  She and Charles kept the program flowing smoothly.  For those who may not know, Michelle is the daughter of Cleo Baltazar; now we know where Michelle got her good looks and singing talent.  Albert Prias who was also behind the production of the entertainment side of things, looked after the ‘backroom’ arrangements during the evening.

The highlights for me were the singkil dance which was a great group performance and showcased the dancing skills of Brian Lorenz Babon, as well as his fellow dancers. Brian’s rendition of his first song Ikaw ('You') and the second one Save the Last Dance for Me were spellbinding and showed why he won the recent talent quest where he beat winners of a popular TV show “Australia’s Got Talent”.

Everyone present also enjoyed the contest for best attire for ladies and gentlemen (traditional, modern and most creative).  The Panel of Judges who selected the winners were Neria Soliman, Councillor Jess Diaz, Bhajune Malonzo and Daisy Cumming.

Later in the evening, the crowd had fun dancing with the music, which was provided by The M7 Band. Several raffle prizes were drawn as well.

Oh, I nearly forgot to say that the food was fantastic.  Everyone was happy with the alternate dish served to them (entree was creamy chicken vol-au-vont or prawn salad; main was salmon with béchamel and asparagus or seared beef with mashed potato and cauliflower.  Dessert was chocolate or vanilla flavoured pudding, served with coffee or tea.

I had a most enjoyable time. It was an occasion in which everyone present was involved in many levels. They were not mere spectators; as they got immersed with the meaning and significance of each dance and song number, they were reinforcing their cultural heritage which flourished following the Philippine’s independence from the Spanish government in 1898.

I congratulate APCO officers and all who contributed to the event, for a joyful, colourful and memorable celebration of the Philippine’s 113th anniversary declaration of independence from Spain.  I also congratulate everyone who attended the event, as without them all the preparation and effort by all, would have been in vain.  

Mabuhay ang Pilipino!  Mabuhay tayong lahat!  God bless the Philippines!

Violi Calvert is a freelance writer. She is also the Media & PR Officer of the Australian Handball Federation and of the Nenad Bach Band [Australia & Asia]. Calvert was a guest of APCO as a member of Radio Sandigan, an English-based community radio program showcasing Filipino music, family entertainment and news.


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