The serious side of Dingdong Dantes
Amadís Ma. Guerrero (The Philippine Star) - April 25, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - During the mid-1980s, I befriended a young activist named Elmer Argaño and his group, and we would meet with some of my own friends at Mayrics, a popular folkhouse in front of the University of Santo Tomas, where Heber Bartolome (and his Banyuhay) and Joey Ayala (and his Bagong Lumad) would sometimes sing.

And we would rant and rave against the US-Marcos dictatorship. For I was a board member of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP), headed by the likes of Lino Brocka, Behn Cervantes and Pete Lacaba, and we would join the rallies against the dictator, his US patron, and his cronies.

After EDSA I, I wrote a short story entitled Red Roses for Rebo, in which the main character, called Rebo for short, was killed during a demo at Mendiola Bridge near Malacañang Palace. The character was loosely based on Elmer, and I had to apologize for “killing” him in my story.

Elmer didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he was rather flattered he had become a “martyr,” however fictional.

Flashforward to late January this year. After many years I bump into Elmer at the National Commission for Culture & the Arts (NCCA), where he grandly informed me he was now the public affairs chief for the young actor-director Dingdong Dantes. In charge, in effect, of Dantes’ serious side.

My eyebrows went up a bit. “He has a serious side?”

“Oh yes,” Elmer said earnestly. “You know he doesn’t like his image as a glamour boy. And he feels strongly about the youth and the country.”

And so one fine day an interview was arranged at a favorite coffee shop of the actor in Makati City, where one of the specialties of the house is named after him.

Of Ilocano-Pampango-Visayan parentage, Sixto (Dingdong) G. Dantes III, 30, grew up in Manila in an English-Tagalog-Spanish-speaking home; but somewhere along the line he forgot the beautiful language of Cervantes.

He is the eldest of five children born to Sixto Dantes, Jr. (of the Coast Guard Auxiliary) and Ma. Angelita Gonzalez. His grandfather was a brigadier general in the Philippine Constabulary, and many of his relatives on his father’s side, including brothers, are with the military or police.

Dingdong attended grade school and high school at the Ateneo de Manila, then studied philosophy and human resource development at San Beda College for two years. Later he returned to the Ateneo to take up Interdisciplinary Studies, but is now “on leave” from his studies.

Dingdong’s advocacy projects center on three key components: Youth, education and service.

The actor-director believes in the capacity of the youth to initiate meaningful changes, as he put it, but is worried “how society in general provides the necessary support infrastructure and encouragement for them to realize their historical mission to society.”

As obstacles to the development of youth, he cites inaccessible education or venues for learning, and common manipulation and corruption of Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) leaders by older politicians.

In response to the first problem, he has just launched a flagship project Para-Paaralan, which hopes to bring learning tools to where these are most needed.

“Right now,” Dingdong says, “I’m still trying to muster the wisdom to know the things I can and cannot change as an individual. But I know my strengths, too. That’s why I formed the organization YesPinoy Foundation (YPF), in the hope that I can rally those who share my beliefs towards helping more young people find and develop their niche.”

He concludes: “I believe one reason why our country cannot swiftly move forward is because most young people hardly know and appreciate their roots and identities as Filipinos.”

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