Planet Philippines Feature

Once there were 13 harmonizing Ateneans. Let’s do a roll call (not in any order): Sonny Santiago, Gus Cosio, Chito Kintanar, Kenny Barton, Bruce Brown, Butch Dans, Kinjo Sawada, Ric (Segreto) and brother Goff Macaraig, Doden Besa, Lito de Joya, Boboy Garovillo and Jim Paredes. Danny Javier came in later in college when he and Paredes became “yearmates.”

“They didn’t ask me to join. I insinuated myself. I had my own group made up of Basil Valdez and Gerry Paraiso,” Javier recalled. He also sang with Alice Zerrudo and Mandy Marquez, mainstays of folkhouses, and he played a lead role in all 52 episodes of the ground-breaking (for its nudity, among other elements) musical “Hair.”

The Ateneans practiced at the university guidance counselor’s office. They knew several songs and sometimes exchanged guitars. Before long the members were thinking of a name for themselves.

They toyed around with Jose Rizal Bulletproof Vest Company, Kataas-taasang Kagalang-galangang Kombo and even dared to use The Purple People, “but only for two days,” Javier averred. Finally, they settled for Apolinario Mabini Hiking Society.
Paredes said, “Mabini was a paralytic. We aimed for a double take so people would take notice. Everybody else carried English names.”

Javier said the early Apo operated like a basketball team. “There were more than a sufficient number of people who could perform. Whoever was ready and practiced regularly got to go onstage.”

Baby boomers and martial-law babies remember their covers of Broadway songs and hits of popular groups (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Three Dog Night, among others) of the era. Javier said they didn’t sing Beatles songs publicly but reserved them for private moments, for pang-ligaw (wooing girls).

The Apo members were singing and clowning around mainly for fun and to release their juvenile energy. Javier said, “Lots of puns, lots of irreverence, lots of bravado.”

Paredes reflected that they might have considered leaving a legacy. “We were envious of the Britons because they had The Beatles. What The Beatles were to England, we wanted to be in the Philippines. We had a lot of ambitions, but meanwhile, this was what we were doing.”

In July 1973, Javier, Garovillo, Paredes and De Joya had a two-night concert at the Meralco Theater, the first of several “farewell” concerts. They were breaking up because De Joya decided to join his father’s advertising company.

Javier called it a “for our welfare” concert since they played to a paying standing-room-only audience of mainly college students. If memory serves, Corazon Juliano-Soliman, now a Cabinet secretary, was in the crowd, dressed to the nines, and afterwards walked the stretch of sidewalk from Meralco to E. de los Santos Avenue to commute home while a typhoon howled around her.

The foursome had the concert taped for posterity to celebrate their four years of togetherness. Apolinario Mabini Hiking Society Live became their first album a year later.

After parting ways, Javier started working at a television station, Garovillo helped in the family farm, and Paredes waited for his ticket to Turkey where he was selected to be an exchange student. Within months in the same year, they regrouped. Suddenly they were in demand to do more shows and guest in TV shows. Best of all for these young men who, a few years earlier, were living on their parents’ allowance, they were getting paid. Their song “New Day” was repeatedly played to accommodate listeners’ requests over radio station DZRJ.

While bands like Juan de la Cruz and Circus went electric, Apo remained implacably acoustic. Their back-up band came much later until it became a permanent fixture.

Although their English songs like “Show Me a Smile” and “Love Is for Singing” were popular, the three observed that the bands that sang Filipino compositions had more hits. “We discarded our Arneow-accented English and went Tagalog,” Javier said.
Paredes, the other composer in the group, concurred. “Filipino is easier, more fun and gets us more mileage.” Who can forget “Mahirap Magmahal ng Syota ng Iba,” “Pumapatak ang Ulan,” “Lumang Tugtugin,” “Kabilugan ng Buwan” or “Panalangin”?
Even “Salawikain” hits the guts of a lot of unemployed, under-employed and underpaid Filipinos. Note the lyrics:

Kapag ang buhay mo’y malungkot
Huwag kang sisimangot
Kapag bulsa’y walang pera
Daanin sa tuwa
Wala nang pera
Sisimangot ka pa

(Rough English translation: If your life is sad/Don’t frown/If your pocket has no money/Just laugh /You’ve already got no money/And you worsen it by frowning.)

A Garovillo favorite is “Awit ng Barkada.” He said, “It speaks of our group. At the same time it is universal in theme and spirit. ‘Batang Bata Ka Pa’ breaks through all generations. The theme awakens young and old alike. You can identify with both sides of the song’s subject.”

This Apo member seems the shy type compared to Javier with his antics and the taller Paredes who cuts a glamorous figure. Garovillo admitted, “I’ve always played the little innocent boy since we began. From time to time I get back at the guys with a smart alecky remark. That gets the audience reacting. Like I’m such an underdog that by the end of the show, they’re egging me on to stand up to the two guys and fight for my ‘rights.’”

Apart from being entertainers, these men are also politicized. Javier joined some Ateneans (Rigoberto Tiglao, now the presidential chief of staff, Edgar Jopson, among the more prominent names) in the Jan. 26 and 30, 1970 mammoth rallies against then President Marcos.

He said, “At the outset we were a politically aware group. We saw how things were going down.”

Paredes added, “The Filipinization movement was strong in school. Ed Garcia founded (the moderate activist) group Lakasdiwa. Edjop was the Student Council president.”

Before martial law was declared, Apo appeared in the late-night TV show “Gridiron,” spoofing Imelda Marcos. When her husband showed his iron fist, the trio’s name was censored. They were made to drop Mabini, became Apolinario Hiking Society until the name was shortened to Apo Hiking Society.

As the middle forces joined the mass movement, which became stronger in the wake of former Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr.’s assassination in 1983, Apo was banned from radio and TV. They tried to hold a concert entitled “Eto nAPO Sila,” a pun on the Visayan word pusila (shoot him), the order overheard before Aquino was shot and fell on the tarmac. The original venue was the ULTRA in Pasig, but they were given a tough time so they moved to the Ateneo University Loyola Gym. The place was jampacked for “Eto nAPO na Naman Sila” with hordes, estimated at 5,000, on the football field listening and clapping.

There were no real, physical threats to the Apo members’ lives. Their friends reportedly overheard one of the dictator’s children thinking aloud about how to shut up Apo. It might have been hearsay, but there was talk of “Padamputin na ang mga ’yan (Have those guys picked up and detained).” Apo learned that the Marcos siblings were “pikon na (pissed off).”

Javier said, “You don’t have a concert unless you know there’s a critical mass. We used to perform in small venues like the old Tavern in the Square where tickets sold for P200 each. Then we were having soldout shows at hotel ballrooms where tickets cost from P1,200 to P2,500. And without dinner at that. We wondered why the people kept coming. Then we realized that it might be the night we would get arrested, and they wanted to witness that.”

Paredes remembered going offstage after a performance and seeing a military man in civilian clothes talking through his walkie-talkie and reporting to Malacañang.

So when People Power I triumphed in 1986, the triumvirate had cause for a celebratory concert entitled, what else, “Nanalo nAPO Sila.”

Unknown to many, Javier was the silent driving force and a convenor of Konsiyensiya ng Mamamayang Pilipino (Kompil).

At the height of the Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan-led coup attempt against then President Aquino’s government in December 1989, Javier was appalled at how mesmerized many Filipinos were with the military rebels.

Using his influence as an entertainer, he called on Filipinos to light a candle for peace and democracy on Christmas Eve that year. He got 70 percent positive response nationwide.

He looked back on Apo’s more halcyon days when they tried to live by “Desiderata.”

Now, he jested, “It’s Deteriorata. We’re taking care of our (body) machinery. It’s not as good as before. When we started, we were just counting our allowance. Now we count our uric acid level, our cholesterol level.”

And yet they feel sturdy enough for their concert tour of North America that will take them to Reno on June 7, Chicago on June 21, New York on June 28, Vancouver on July 12 and Los Angeles on July 19.

They prefer going live because, Paredes said, “it’s easy to get into a ‘zone,’ a good performance. We’re more likely to fall accidentally into excellence.”

Javier agreed, “Our instincts are so honed. Like a weather vane, we know where the audience wants to go. We’ve gotten cynical about TV, governance and politics in this country but never with live performances, whether ours or others. Iba na ’yung parang napapatiwakal ka (It’s like committing suicide) in front of an audience. The people come from far and wide. Their attitude is, ‘Sige nga, make me happy. Entertain me.’”

Paredes elaborated, “TV is a corny medium. It doesn’t capture us. The station managers keep telling us, ‘You’re too intelligent.’ What they want is pabobo ka nang pabobo (you get more and more stupid) whereas a live performance is always a leap of faith.”

Garovillo, however, is more open to TV. “I do appear on television in various shows. I love TV work despite Apo’s withdrawal from the medium. I still feel that TV is the entertainment wave today. We should be so lucky to have access to it. I dabbled in theater after our TV show was axed three years ago.”

He played a lead role in Nick Joaquin’s play “Pinoy Agonistes” in 2001, confessing that “it was excruciating for me not only because I was alone on the stage without the Apo, but theater acting is different from TV and the movies where I’ve had experience already.”

He agreed though that “TV executives tend to underestimate the audience. They are playing safe by catering to the lowest common denominator. However, when a network has more than one channel, they should be willing to invest in higher programming.”

Told that they have the endurance and staying power akin to another British group, The Rolling Stones, Paredes grinned, “That’s a real compliment.”
Javier punned, “But, pare, Mick Jagger has to work out for eight months before he goes on a live tour.”

This time Garovillo has the last say on the matter: “Everyone knows that Apo’s live concert is incomparable to listening to our albums.”

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