MANILA, Philippines - Their group name reminds one of a British boy band, although the members look and sound one. What is interesting about their individual “make-up” is the Juan dela Cruz in them who, in his adult life, begins to discover what it’s like to become a Filipino in the truest sense.
That’s why Daniel Marsh, Brian Wilson, Michael McDonnell, Henry Edwards and Charlie Sutcliffe of Juan Direction channel Marco Polo, touring around the country and getting into the life and psyche of the Filipino. Their “self-titled” Saturday show on the Kapatid Network shows all that. What they do is perhaps a special case of acculturation or enculturation? Their enjoyment speaks of a thousand and one ways to have fun in the Philippines and reasons to be proudly Filipino.
“(In the) first one, we were by the riles,” says Brian of Cavite about the adventures the group has done for the TV5 reality series. “And we were experiencing what it was like to live by the rails. In the third episode, we went to a haunted house, we went to a cemetery… The second episode was going to Quiapo. We took a jeep and then we took the LRT. Then, (came) the Bacolod episode. We were experiencing (the) Masskara (festival).”
Since each episode promises new places to visit and new people to meet, the Juan Direction boys can’t help but be awed by the unique sights and sounds in the country. Although all past episodes would land on their favorite list, a particular place or task still stands out. “For Juan Direction, it was driving the jeepney. It was so much fun,” says Charlie. “And for IMA (Island Media Asia), it would be our experience in Nueva Vizcaya. We went there for a week and DOT (the Department of Tourism) took us around. We experienced (the highlights) of the province.” (Note: Before TV5 got the boys for Juan Direction, they did similar videos on YouTube through IMA. The opportunity to break into mainstream TV came when Kapatid reporter Laila Chikadora made a segment on them.)
The Todos Los Santos (Halloween) episode tops the list of Henry and “I would also go with the same one with Charlie (for IMA). It was a different (experience).”
Daniel, the Crush ng Bayan also chooses the Nueva Vizcaya sojourn for the adventure aspect and considers it their best Holiday experience thus far. “Para sa Juan Direction, my favorite episode so far, in terms of meaning, would be Cebu. It’s close to my heart.” Daniel’s mom is a Cebuana.
The Bohol-born Michael, who is also called Miko by friends, enjoys the “back-to-school” episode because it brings back his Grade Two memories. It saw him interact with frank, energetic pupils and sing some Pinoy nursery rhymes.
“It’s hard to have your one favorite Juan Direction episode because everywhere you go, there are so many cool people and cool things,” says Daniel.
Asked what’s their reason for embarking on such reality TV-documentary-and-social study type of journey, Michael answers, “Whatever our reason for staying here it’s because we’re all half-Filipino and that just made us come here and get us together here. But what really made us decide to stay is because we really like the culture. It’s something new for us. Perhaps, if we lived here all throughout our lives, we (could) have taken it for granted. Since it’s all new to us, that makes it more unique to all of us.”
Juan Direction’s recent exploit was the Kiss for A Cause campaign which aimed to raise funds for the Supertyphoon Yolanda survivors. The boys’ first stop was the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, where everyone could get a kiss from any member for P20 only. Their arresting looks and the good intention behind the drive had the students gravitating to them and participating in the event.
From Sta. Mesa, Manila, the Juan Direction guys proceeded to España to grace the kiss booth at the University of Santo Tomas. Students had their time to meet and greet the boys. The group earned P6,690. And the amount will be deposited to the Alagang Kapatid Foundation account.
Where do the boys attribute their appeal to those who watch them on TV and those who meet them in the streets?
“We’re just us — being us — tayo lang,” says Charlie. “Because this is reality, they see who we really are — us exploring — and we love doing it. And they can see it through the camera and we’re not pretending that we like doing it.” Besides, the public can relate to the jobs the boys have tried in the show such as being a taho vendor and a jeepney driver that comprise the city landscape. They have also proven that they are real troopers.
Daniel recalls a lady told him that the boys are “humble and hindi maarte.”
What has also propelled their popularity is their ability to speak in the vernacular. “Our Tagalog is comedic. We get the spelling right but we get the pronunciation wrong,” says Charlie. Listening to the locals and living the life have helped them learn the language. Their teachers are the ordinary people. The viewers, as Daniel says, can also see them improve their Tagalog.
The newfound fame grounds the boys more, unlike those who have “walked on air” and have swollen their heads because of their celebrity status.
“I don’t consider myself celebrity,” says Brian. “I’m still living the same way. I still take a jeep. I still eat in the carinderia. I still do all the same things I did before the show started.”
For Henry, he is just “a tiny person who entertains the crowd and brings new and interesting stories.”
This is true because their intention is to know more about their Filipino roots. The adulation from swooning fans is just a surprise.
“A lot of us always came here for a vacation when we were young,” recalls Michael. “So, we knew a little bit of our culture. (But) it’s a lot different when you’re older than when you’re younger… you’re more independent when you’re older. That’s what makes it a lot better and a lot more interesting for us.”
“There is more to Philippines than just the city and the town,” adds Brian.
That seems to be the direction these Juan dela Cruzes will take, revisiting anything Filipino that perhaps many of us tend to forget.