Changing the lives of 30 young people
STAR BYTES - Butch Francisco () - May 16, 2009 - 12:00am

I don’t know of anyone who can still question the fact that Eat, Bulaga! is the most successful noontime show — ever. It is now the longest-running lunchtime program and is still the most popular (you can check the ratings). This year, it turns 30 — a rare feat, especially if we go back to its beginnings.

Eat, Bulaga! actually went through the most difficult birth pains because — to begin with — it dared go against the then king of noontime shows, Student Canteen, which everyone thought was unbeatable. Then still on Channel 9, Eat, Bulaga! didn’t have the resources of the competition because advertising support went to Student Canteen, which then enjoyed immense ratings. Since very few were supposedly watching Eat, Bulaga!, the more important stars all went to Student Canteen to do their guest appearances.

On its first anniversary — held at the Philtrade (now the present site of Aliw Theater) — their major guest stars were the late couple Balut and Matimtiman Cruz. But they managed to give away prizes to the live audience — mostly refrigerators. The high point of the event was when the cast members released doves — plenty of them. The second anniversary was even less memorable and nobody remembers it practically.

In 1982, however, things turned around for Eat, Bulaga!. Channel 9 went Domsat (short for domestic satellite — a device thrown up into airspace that allowed shows in Manila to be seen simultaneously all over the archipelago, even as far as Palau). Coney Reyes was also fired from Student Canteen, got the sympathy of the public and brought viewers with her when she moved to Eat, Bulaga!. That was the beginning of the success of this now unbeatable noontime fare.

By the time it marked its 10th year, it was already able to afford to stage its anniversary show at the Araneta Coliseum and it was dubbed as the day of 1,000 stars. Actually more than 1,000 entertainment celebrities showed up, led by Sharon Cuneta. Eat, Bulaga! had moved to ABS-CBN that time and it undeniably helped push the network to No. 1 around that period because that is the purpose of noontime shows — these serve as flagship for the network. In 1995, Channel 2 put up its own lunchtime program — ‘Sang Linggo nAPO Sila — and Eat, Bulaga! was welcomed by GMA 7, which as the ratings would prove is now the top network. Industry people widely believe that wherever Eat, Bulaga! goes, the station becomes No. 1.

Five years ago, Eat, Bulaga! celebrated its silver by putting up a show to end all shows and the venue was the Clark Expo. It was so grand and magnificently put together that it even won Best Special Annual Production at the prestigious Asian Awards held in Singapore.

Now on its 30th year, the Eat, Bulaga! bosses Tony Tuviera, Malou Choa-Fagar, director Poochie Rivera, creative head Jenny Ferre (all the way to the staff, Sunshine Delgado Benadiel, etc.) were put in a quandary on how to celebrate this milestone. How else could anyone top that 25th anniversary show? 

The solution is to give back to the public that has supported Eat, Bulaga! all these past three decades. Instead of spending on lavish production numbers — all of which the show had done in the past — Eat, Bulaga! has opted to change the lives of 30 young people by supporting them through high school.

Starting early this year, the show launched a search to find 30 (symbolizing the show’s 30 years) deserving students from all over the country. This was announced daily on the show and you can just imagine the tons of nominations that came in.

Dubbed as Eat, Bulaga!’s Excellent Student Awards, the project was already in full swing by February and Eat, Bulaga!’s hardworking staff went all over the Philippines for this program. Of course, that’s in keeping with the “Mula Aparri hanggang Jolo” jingle (the show, however, is beamed all over the world now). But sorry, they had to skip Jolo and don’t we just all know why.

The candidates chosen for this program were those about to enter high school this year because in the words of Jenny Ferre — “most of us probably do not even realize the fact that there are so many who cannot afford to even go to public high schools due to poverty.”

Under Eat, Bulaga!’s Excellent Student Awards, the show will provide the 30 students with a little seed money to get started with high school, regular school supplies and will basically see through their needs (Eat, Bulaga! will do a quarterly monitoring on them). Those selected will continue attending public schools because that is the better arrangement since most of those chosen don’t live in areas where there are reputable private education institutions. “The last thing we want to do is disrupt the lives of these young people by taking them away from their respective families,” explains Jenny.

Those who will benefit from this program are those who finished the grades with honors — with a lot being valedictorians and salutatorians. The Eat, Bulaga! staff also made sure their parents are also determined to see them graduate at least through high school.

What about college? “We’ll take it one step at a time,” says Jenny. “At this point, these kids are already very grateful that they are assured of making it through high school because some of them were not going to enroll anymore because their families can’t afford to send them to pursue higher education.”

One kid, for instance, lives in a house with no electricity and has to read and study in the dark. Another girl never experienced owning her own pair of shoes and bags. On her graduation day from elementary — where she graduated valedictorian — her mother had to borrow a pair from their neighbor. Some have family members who have illnesses and a huge chunk of the household budget goes to medical expenses. And almost all of these 30 youngsters go to school every day hungry and without baon.

Since last month, Eat, Bulaga! has been featuring their life stories and on May 23, they will all be gathered in the show’s Saturday edition — a day that will surely change their lives. Finally, there’s hope for them to have a brighter future.

The May 23 event is just a pre-anniversary show. There will be a bigger one and they’re not telling yet what will happen. My guess is that it will not be extravagant — in keeping with the times — but relevant.

I salute Eat, Bulaga!. After 30 years of unequalled success, instead crowing about how it beat all sorts of competition, it chooses to celebrate by extending help to the public it entertained in the past three decades. Happy 30th Anniversary, Eat, Bulaga!

ALIW THEATER ARANETA COLISEUM ASIAN AWARDS BULAGA EAT EXCELLENT STUDENT AWARDS JENNY FERRE MDASH SHOW STUDENT CANTEEN
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