How Dessa pulls herself together
How Dessa pulls herself together
Dot Ramos Balasbas-Gancayco (The Philippine Star) - February 1, 2008 - 12:00am

As I was watching Charice Pempengco do her stunning performance on the Ellen de Generes show that made so many Filipino people worldwide proud to be Filipinos, I was reminded of another Filipino songstress who not so long ago also caught us by storm. Who would ever forget Dessa?

She was never ashamed of her lowly beginnings.  Her father was a humble government employee at the Quezon City Hall;  her mother, a simple housewife.  To make ends meet, Dessa would sometimes sell icedrop in school. Her mom  made the icedrop. But, she had the talent and the burning desire to make it big.

Entering singing contests became a means to help put food on the table. With her mother, she sought out vocal competitions she could join, even roughing it out in town fiestas.  With her excellent vocal quality, power singing style and range, and her extraordinary gumption, she always ended up the champion.

At 14, Mitch Valdes discovered her and brought her to the attention of Boy Abunda, then just starting out as a talent manager. In 1990, she became Boy’s Backroom baby. She went on to conquer all the major singing contests and in 1993 she bagged the top prize in the Voice of Asia, besting all the other representatives from about 70 different countries. Asked to do the front act for the major concert of Mike Francis at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, she was initially booed upon her entering the stage;  but when she started singing, the hard-to-please Filipino audience was in awe and would not let go of her after her last song. From then on, she was dubbed as the Front Act Queen. After also fronting for Patti Austin, the great vocalist, astounded by Dessa’s superb performance, was said to have remarked, “My God! She is so good, I should be the one doing the front act for her!”  That was the start of a flourishing singing career.  We, at the close-knit Backroom family (that then also included Vernie  Varga, Calvin Millado, Ai Ai de las Alas, The CompanY, Ariel Rivera and Dante Ponce), were very, very proud of her.  People thought of her as the new Filipino Cinderella, after  Nora Aunor.

Having had a very short singing stint due to a much-awaited pregnancy and deciding to spend more time with my family instead, I retired from singing and lost touch with Dessa, until she called me up one day to inform me that I would be ninang to her baby Noshka. At 21, Dessa was a mother. A few months thereafter, I got another call from her, this time to share with me her grief and sufferings at the hands of the father of her daughter.  She was physically abused and emotionally battered.  The abuse became so bad that it reached the point where Dessa would be running to her neighbors for help while the man continued beating her up. Dessa’s mother, who loved her so dearly, felt even more pain than her daughter. Being the older sister, I, together with other friends, advised her to immediately leave the guy.  At 21, Dessa was a single mother.

Having to support a six-month old baby all by herself, aside from her parents and siblings, Dessa worked very hard and did not mind having more than one show a day, which we in the entertainment business call lagare. Her Herculean efforts enabled her to acquire a house and lot in Antipolo where she brought her family to live with her.  She saw to it that her siblings got better education than she had while she sacrificed her own schooling.  She made sure that her parents had the comforts in life.  Until another failed relationship came along.

In 2004, Dessa left quietly for the US for a much-needed break.  In Los Angeles, she was rescued by her Prince in Shining Armor, Jay Inoue, a Filipino-American ready to offer her more than friendship.  He, together with lawyer Richard Wilner of Wilner and Oreilly, worked on her documents to enable her to work in the US legally as a Person with Extraordinary Talent. In 2006, she got her green card and married Jay. They have a handsome baby boy named Jay Mathieu.

Dessa is back in the country and my husband Paul (Dessa’s lawyer in the Philippines) and I were ecstatic to see Dessa again after a long time, all aglow at the Boulvar Lounge of the Manila Pavilion Hotel. She is busy preparing for a Valentine show on Feb. 15 at the Celebrity Club. (For details, call 931-1955 or 0916-7477314.) She raved about how happy and contented she was in the US, more especially now that she would be able to bring with her daughter Noshka for good.  She gave us an endless list of what has preoccupied her in the US, which includes her cookware and candle business, small production company and singing engagements spanning the West and the East Coasts like her upcoming show with The Cascades in Chicago on March 1, and a recording in L.A. for an album to be released this year. She proudly informed us that from Los Angeles, she and Jay have moved to Las Vegas where her husband has now a thriving business providing computers and other machines to various hotels there.  Dessa, on the other hand, has so many big plans for herself as a singer and a producer.

Although she misses the country of her birth and the friends she left behind, Dessa is very happy in the US, where all her dreams are slowly but surely being fulfilled. Making it big in the States is now Dessa’s goal.  It is a new battle she is ready to face even as she is a new Filipino immigrant with no rich relatives or friends to back her up. With her steely determination, never-say-die attitude, industriousness, and all the lessons she has learned from the trials she has successfully surpassed in life, I know that Dessa will win this battle with flying colors. As Vernie correctly said to Dessa and me at our dinner-reunion, “The path you take in life is dependent on you and nobody else.”  So, go forth, Dessa, and realize your big dreams. We, your family and friends, are so glad that you have chosen the right path. With your supportive husband, beautiful children and strength of character, the path will definitely lead you to more triumphs.

(For those who want to help build houses for the poor through Gawad Kalinga, call 718-1738 to 41 or text 0917-5239777; or e-mail me

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