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Celebrating one’s birthday in an orderly fashion and in the pandemic

Whether we like it or not, one has to pass through one’s birth date—real or imagined (there are people who adopt a birthdate if one is a foundling or because of confusing or contradictory bio-data validated or not by a government agency like the census etc.)


I have no problem with my real natal day which is October 18, 1954. I was clearly born in Lopez town in the Province of Quezon by my legitimate parents Jose Villasanta and Bernardita Villegas. Although I underwent a late-registration procedure of my birth certificate with the National Statistics Office (NSO) (now Philippine Statistics Authority) (PSA) because all the legal documents in the municipal building were burned when Lopez was razed to the ground in 1968, the Holy Rosary Parish Church—our parish—could always guarantee that I was born on that day as written in my baptismal certificate.  


I am always happy to celebrate my birthday annually no matter with or without parties. It is a holy day for me. It is a thanksgiving of life. It is to look back at the life spent the days, weeks, months, years and decades past. It is an assessment of what I have and haven’t done in the preceding year. It is to foresee what’s ahead of me although not all plans are realized because of a lot of factors.


Celebrating a natal day, though, is a gift in itself.


There are many unforgettable birthday bashes I had in the past.


            I remember when I was in my first year college at the Faculty of Arts and Letters at the University of Santo Tomas. I was half-board, half-bedspacer at my cousin’s house in front of Arellano University in Legarda Street in Sampaloc, Manila.



To mark my day, I cooked pansit (a kind of Chinese noodle) and to make it more unique, I prepared niyubak (a pounded banana and when already mashed is mixed with shreds of coconut meat and sugar) which wasn’t easy because there was no available lusong (mortar made of wood) halo (pestle also made of wood) in the city. Creatively, with the help of my cousins Sonia, Irma, the late Susan and Mitha (most of them singles Ardiente yet) and their mom Tia (a term of endearment to an old woman or aunt by blood or affinity) Luming we were able to pull off a niyubak which was a rare delicacy in Manila until now. (Some people call it nilupak).


It was a jolly, memorable birthday party with some boarders had joined us.


I remember also when I was still a high school student at the Lopez Provincial High School in the town I just had pansit and sinaludsod (a native pancake made of crushed ripened banana or plain flour with sugar and a baking powder). It was, for me, a merry day already.


When I became an entertainment writer I noticed that most of my colleagues would mount a birthday shindig with show people invited over like movie stars, directors, writers, producers, fellow reporters and other entertainment populace.


I remember when I had my first birthday party in showbiz which was held in the apartment I shared with Lhar Santiago and Roland Lerum in North Road in Cubao very near the late Julie Vega and Jay Ilagan’s residences at the time. Lhar, Roland and I shared a room in an apartment rented by the Patawarans of Minalin, Pampanga.


Although the space was small, we managed to extend our venue to the neighbor's passageways of the other flat renters.


I wanted to experience what was like hosting a birthday party in show business.


As early as ten in the morning, Lhar, Roland and I would go to Farmers Market to shop for wet and dry goods and other items including ingredients to cook up dishes like laing (taro leaves in coconut milk), inihaw na bangus (grilled milkfish) or pork and other easy mixes.


What occupied the bulk of our birthday party budget was the purchase of cases of beers knowing that most of the guests—especially movie reporters like the late Gil E. Villasana etc.—were beer drinkers.


I would invest in these drinks although I would also buy soft drinks.


Some guests would bring in hard drinks as birthday presents although I wasn’t known earlier to be a drinker.



I remember award-winning scriptwriter Ricardo Lee, also known as Ricky Lee, was one of my guests. We just had our Ricky Lee Free Scriptwriting Workshop at the time so days after classes he and a companion graced my event. I vividly recall Ricky brought with him a basket of fruits. As we were already members of Special People group of popular (but still missing) TV host, entertainment writer, talent manager and starbuilder Boy C. de Guia, the other members of the group were around like Pilar Mateo, Ronald Mendoza, Danny Vibas, Josie Mañago and the late Rino Fernan Silverio.


Other guests, especially stars and producers, would gift us with cash we truly cherished and replenished the cost of the party.


More than that, getting together and reminiscing the past, seeing the present and imagining the future were mostly the pieces of conversations in my parties. The camaraderie was such a priceless moment with friends and acquaintances.


There was a party I exclusively held to pay homage to my creating and organizing a theater group—a community-based theater organization in Lopez, the DUMALO (Dulaang Don Mateo Lopez). Most of the cash gifts I got were spent for the sustenance of the theater group. I was already renting out my own flat at the time.


There was also one birthday gig when there were actresses with their basketball star-boyfriends in tow and it was fun.  


This one I couldn’t forget all my life.


As I wanted to celebrate my birthday and prove to all and sundry that I could pull off a party even without much budget, I went ahead with this unique one. I asked my friend singer Pinky Pop Fernandez if I could hold my party in her bar somewhere near Roosevelt Avenue. Literally, there was just a scarce preparation. Didn’t you know what I did? I bought giniling (sautéed ground pork with potatoes and bell pepper) from a nearby eatery and made it as one of main dishes plus one or two courses given by Pinky Pop as a b-day gift.


It was a success and everyone went home happy.


Now that the pandemic is here to wreak havoc in all of us, an exclusive birthday party is done.


I would cook pansit and distribute them to my neighbors as a sign of offering and thanksgiving.


Yes, happy days are here again despite COVID-19.

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