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Gang Badoy rocks the talk

Gang Badoy has an advocacy—alternative education for prisoners: “Society can also be judged by how we treat the ‘least’ important of us all.”  Photo by Walter Bollozos

She is one of the founders of Rock Ed Philippines, an organization known for spreading awareness on social issues through and with the help of local music and artists. In 2010, she became the only Filipino to have been awarded The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS) and the Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) within the same year. One of the most influential people in the country when it comes to volunteerism, here are 10 things you should know about Gang Badoy.

1. Gang is the youngest child of two widowers, growing up with 14 older siblings.

Her dad Anacleto was a justice for the Sandiganbayan. His wife died of cancer. They had five children. Her mom Pura was a teacher. Her husband died in a plane crash. They had eight children. When her parents married, they had her brother Nuch (“If there is one person in the world I fear will die before me, it’s him. I don’t think I’ll survive if he goes ahead of me”) and finally, Therese, a.k.a. Gang, the bunso. Gang says she was neither bullied nor babied; instead, she considered herself a bystander just watching everybody. “The magnificent part of growing up with a lot of siblings is the expanse of the literature and music that you’re aware of,” she shares. If it’s a certain brother who would bring her to school, the playlist would be Steely Dan or Led Zeppelin, and if it was a certain sister who would pick her up, it would be The Carpenters. “Even sense of privilege and entitlement? Wala ako nun, ang dami namin eh,” she adds.

Gang was raised to become a lawyer. (“I’m the madaldal kid, and no one else was in law.”) From industrial engineering to education courses, she took many electives in fine arts (“so I could be classmates with my barkada”) and got really good grades, eventually shifting to art history. “I think I’m one of those rare students who didn’t take a course for a job in the future,” she recalls. Even if she never took up law, she says, “I realized I was really a student of civil and government history, but I viewed it from the reaction of songs and art.”

Picture of bliss: Gang Badoy-Capati and husband Jay Capati on their wedding day

Gang adds: “From my mom I learned how to talk. From my dad I learned how to shut up.”

2. As a student, she never admitted it back then, but she was affected by people bullying her because of her last name, “Badoy.” Until she realized the best way to handle it was to proudly post her name on her back. 

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“I’m baduy, and Badoy,” Gang candidly recalls how she was teased. It even came to a point wherein she purposely made herself lose in an interschool spelling competition because she felt like the other students were laughing at her. “How silly is that? Of course I’m a fantastic speller, mommy ko English teacher!” She went to St. Scholastica for grade school, and made a life-changing decision upon entering high school at Assumption. “I could base my movement because I didn’t want to be teased. It was my f***ing last name, what could I do? So I joined the varsity volleyball team, because my last name was going to be on my back. And I said I’m gonna be so good at this sport that they cannot help but equate me with being an excellent volleyball player!” And she did just that. She admits she was not a natural volleyball player, but she worked very hard at it. She eventually ended up on the RP Youth Volleyball Team, and was a college scholar for excelling in the sport.

3. Gang took her time and got married at the age of 39. She asked her then-fiancé Jay Capati for a computer instead of an engagement ring.

“Jay asked me if I was sure I didn’t want an engagement ring, and I said I wanted a computer. ‘Oh no, it’s so unromantic!’ But I needed a really powerful desktop to edit, and he was really cool about it,” Gang reveals. Even the manner in which they got engaged was unconventional. They had been living together for five years (“We had my mom and dad over and I had to pretend it was just my apartment, I think my mom knew, she just never asked because she didn’t want me to lie”) and during one phone conversation when Jay was in the US, before putting down the phone, he just casually said, “Oh, by the way, I told my parents that we might get married na.” Gang and Jay also decided to not have children. “I think parenthood is not for everyone. Of course I’d make a good mom, I love my nephews and nieces, but if you know yourself, you can tell if you want it or not,” she explains.

“I think that’s what the RH bill is about,” she adds. “It’s not even the sex or the population issue, it’s really about wanting a child; the deal is the loved child.”

4. She is convinced that she was probably the only virgin in the world who took an AIDS test. 

The proud daughter of lawyer Anacleto Badoy and teacher Pura Badoy

She was a junior in college when she was part of an AIDS conference, wherein she was very vocal and very graphic in describing how to use a condom and how to prevent STDs. Somebody from the audience asked if she herself used condoms when she had sex, to which she paused and answered: “You know, actually, I’ve never had sex.” She and the crowd started laughing. “I guess I represent the virgins? And even virgins have an opinion on AIDS!”

While living in the States, Gang had a roommate who noticed that she was really boyish, and thinking Gang might have been a lesbian, he set her up with a lesbian friend. So she did try to go out on that date, felt awkward that her date had bigger breasts than her, and as soon as they sat in the restaurant, a laughing Gang said, “I really think this is a mistake.” They became friends instead.

One time, her roommate asked her to accompany him to take an AIDS test. At the clinic, her friend asked her to have a test as well. “Eh, never kong in-admit na virgin pa ako,” Gang says. “So while the nurse was taking my blood I was really giggling and thinking, ‘Alam ko na yan!’” Gang reveals she lost her virginity at the age of 28.

5. One important life lesson for Gang: “Very few things are solved by hiding or not looking at something.” She learned that because she once did it herself. “I left in a hurry, running away.”

“I was going through my 20s existential angst, I was an awful human being,” Gang shares. “I started an ad agency with a group of friends, Indio Communications. My partners were the smartest people I know. Halfway through I felt, ‘Is this it? I thought I was destined for greatness.’” Gang just left, disappeared, no despedida, and admittedly kept them hanging, even financially. She left for the US when she was 24, and came back to Manila 10 years later. “That’s why you can’t judge people who were bad before but are doing good things now, they balance things out for themselves,” she says.

She took on jobs from being a barista to a saleslady to a journalist for ABS-CBN’s TFC. “Sometimes while serving coffee, half of me wanted to say, “Nag-graduate ako sa UP,” she recalls. She then realized that she needed to be valued, even if it was for the manner in which she served coffee, how she spoke, or even how witty she was. After a decade of living in San Francisco, Indianapolis and New York, she thought about going home. She was living a good life, had a great apartment, drove a nice BMW, had a fine-looking Italian boyfriend. “Every night I kept thinking, ‘eto na yun?’ This is the American dream? Pakadali naman. I realized the American dream is easy if you’re masipag. It’s the Philippine dream that’s big. It’s the Philippine dream that needs your brains and your physical presence.”

With one of her best friends, poet and writer Lourd de Veyra

When asked what finally made her decide to go back home, Gang says: “The truth? Because Gloria Arroyo became President.” She had interviewed then-VP Arroyo for ABS-CBN news and was immensely impressed by her grasp of economics, and Gang felt hopeful. Ironically, years later, Gang became very vocal during the “Hello Garci” issue, and to this day, still fights for good governance.

When she broke up with her fiancé, she had to tell his parents, “My country needs me.” She understood how stupid that might’ve sounded, but five years later, she e-mailed them the website of Rock Ed with a note that said: “I wasn’t sure at that time, but I think this is what I was talking about.” Even the money for parking tickets Gang owed them, they told her to donate to Rock Ed.

6. On why she does Rock Ed: “I feel like it’s my grand apology to people I’ve offended. A thank you to everyone I want to thank. That their children will grow up with a better, cooler Philippines.”

Rock Ed was founded as a 10-year campaign set to end in 2015. The concerts and events may end then, but programs like “Book Bigayan” and “Rehas Project” will go on. “Rock Ed will have completed its mission if every teenager already takes it upon him or herself to do volunteer work as part of their schedule, because we tried to make it normal for the teenager to volunteer, to make it cooler that they’re involved in socio-civic issues,” Gang explains. She says that before this decade, young people who volunteered were either just really religious or children born into politics. That was when she realized there was no venue for regular kids to feel comfortable about volunteering, and she chose music and art to be the medium for that. She and her husband Jay set up Samarami Asia, an events and ad agency business, to be able to fund the projects of Rock Ed.

“I wanted the role model of the teenager to look more like them. Our role models were always the awesome ones. But when they see someone like me or Lourd (de Veyra), they’d say, ‘Parang ako lang yun ah, kaya ko rin!’  It’s a reshaping of definitions.”

7. Gang’s list of important Filipino artists:

1. Radioactive Sago Project, musicians: “Biases aside, all of them are formally trained, they studied it, they don’t wing it. It really is poetry set to the beat of swing or jazz. Whether you like them or hate them, they stretch people’s lines.”

With friends from way back: Tim Yap and John Lloyd Cruz on Gang and Jay’s wedding day

2. Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, writer: “Other than the fact that she was my creative writing teacher, I like her because she can optimize creativity within the lines of classic grammar and classic forms.”

3. MM Yu, Poklong Anading, and Louie Cordero, visual artists: “Because they are so brave about their art, there is no hesitation. You don’t have to like them. They have roots of real studies and then they venture out, which makes the venturing out not bull.

“I think an important artist isn’t someone we all love. I think an important artist is someone who stretched our notions of art, stretched our idea of what can be produced or done. Once a teenager in their mind says ‘pwede pala to,’ that’s a gift to the next generation,” Gang says.

8. Gang has an advocacy unique to her: alternative education for prisoners. “Society can also be judged by how we treat the ‘least’ important of us all.”

Gang has been teaching a creative writing class in the New Bilibid Prison for six years now, with six other volunteer teachers part of the program. “I want that a story someday will be that we were kind to the worst of us all, allegedly. If you treat the ‘wrong’ of society with respectful regard, that they deserve education too, that they’re worth your time, then hopefully the bar is raised. Then we will have to treat children better, women better, unemployed better.” It was not part of Gang’s original plan. They were asked to do a series of documentaries called “Rock The Rehas,” and when the project was done, she says it didn’t feel right for them to just leave the inmates. “I was never a victim of any criminal, and so since I can afford to do this emotionally, sige, toka ko na to, I’ll take this.”

Until that fateful night in September 2009. One of Gang’s best friends, Alexis Tioseco, along with his girlfriend Nika Bohinc, were murdered in their home in Quezon City. Gang had to pretend to be their lawyer to be able to get in the house, as one of the first to arrive on the crime scene. She took a leave from teaching in Bilibid. “I realized my students have hurt people the way the murderers of Alexis hurt me. Am I not excused now? Pwede na ba to? Can I walk away from it? I didn’t go back for three months. I was angry. And then I realized, that wasn’t them. It taught me you cannot get mad without aiming,” she says.

“I just want it told that there was this group that didn’t stop, because they really believed that human rights is human rights.”

9. Gang Badoy in numbers:

1997: Year she started blogging. “Geocities pa yun!” Up until 2008, she had the habit of deleting all her blog posts every New Year’s Day. “It would push me to write new stories.”

5: Time in the morning she usually sleeps, then she gets up at 11 a.m.

8: Most number of gigs she has been to in one day. “Rock The Riles!” (an annual Rock Ed project with a mini concert happening at every MRT stop.)

4: Number of languages/dialects she speaks. English, Tagalog, Bisaya, German.

1,000-plus: Number of books in her collection. She reads multiple books at the same time, some more than once.

10. On why she will never join politics: “Because I’m not awake in the morning.”

“The propriety required of a government official, I don’t have! It’s not my expertise, and it doesn’t interest me. I feel utterly satisfied being a non-government official,” Gang explains. She says her standards for politicians are so high that she cannot bear the thought that she would be mayor of a certain city but she has tried smoking weed. (“Will I be arrested for saying that?”) Word has it that some public officials, including President Noynoy Aquino who she is quite close to, have asked her to run for office. “I want to be President of the Philippines from 12 midnight to 6 a.m., then I’ll turn it over to Noynoy Aquino,” she says in jest.

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One conversation with Gang can convince anyone to do their part for society the very moment the conversation is done. Sure enough, as we’ve seen the past few years, volunteering and being aware of social issues have become the norm. It is no longer baduy. The concept of “bayanihan” intrinsic to us Filipinos has been reinvented and revived, thanks to this woman and all those who believe in the same cause. If Rock Ed is her collective “thank you” to everyone, this article is a simple collective thank you to Gang from every single life she has touched.

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E-mail me at askiamsuperbianca@yahoo.com or follow me on Twitter @iamsuperbianca.

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