Eat, Bulaga! and Bayanihan ni Juan: Of the irreverent but not irrelevant

Nenet Galang-Pereña (The Philippine Star) - December 27, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - My fascination with lunchtime shows began in the late ’60s during my elementary school years, when my Grade 5 teacher, Mrs. Josefina Lagua, treated us to a field trip to Manila for having obtained high grades in her class at the F. Mendoza Memorial School. We took the long journey from Calumpit via the old McArthur Highway aboard her husband’s taxi cab and landed at the Manila Broadcasting Company (MBC) building along Taft Ave., just in time to see  Darigold Jamboree and we gawked at the pretty as a doll Jean Lopez before going to Luneta and Intramuros. In college, I was dragged by some freshmen classmates to see Ariel con Tina and even joined their quiz contest which my mother saw during her lunch break from teaching and made her aghast at what I was doing out of UST on a school day. In my junior year, I redeemed my truancy when I supplied a winning answer at the Pamantayan ng Talino on GTV4, the government station then at the GSIS building in Arroceros, and my team came home with prizes for our dean, Dr. Maggie Alonso-Villaba.

Now, in my golden age, I trooped with some friends for a field trip that we never took together in high school because many of us did not have the money to join the only big excursion organized by Calumpit Institute in 1971. Of course, we had to include the oldest noontime variety show in the Philippines, Eat, Bulaga! in our itinerary.

Arranged by Roger Samano, longtime advertising executive of the show’s producers, Television and Production Exponents, Inc. (TAPE), we arrived at the Eat, Bulaga! Broadway Studios in New Manila two hours before the live airing, just in time to see the Aling Maliit being prepped for the pre-programming Ryzza Mae Show. The diminutive celebrity (in the footsteps of former child star Aiza Seguerra who became a regular talent of the show in 1988 after winning as runner-up in its Little Miss Philippines contest) was talking to a girl with Down Syndrome and cell phones were clicking all around when she gave her new-found friend a souvenir. Once the cameras were rolling, she went about her spiels and segments like a pro, such as the personal endorsement for Chooga Juice, uttering without buckling: “It is masarap and in a wise pack!” Chooga is the latest product to sign up the child wonder as its brand ambassadress. In between takes, she romped around like the studio was her own big playground.

Eat, Bulaga!, pun for the Filipinized juvenile game of hide and seek and roughly translated as “Lunchtime Surprise,” holds the record of being the longest-running noontime variety program (going strong in its 35th year) in the history of Philippine television, airing weekdays from 12 noon to 2:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. It was launched on the Radio Philippines Network (RPN) in 1979, moved to ABS-CBN Network in 1989 and finally landed on the GMA Network in 1995. It became the first Philippine show to be franchised abroad, when Eat, Bulaga! Indonesia premiered on Indonesia’s SCTV network on July 16, 2012.  

The show ran like clockwork, with the staff expertly trained to handle big crowds, distributing the sponsors’ freebies, including flashlights with whistles for emergencies. The show jesters were professionals though very young, who primed us to clap with our hands above our heads for all the segments, like That’s My Tambay, the talent and pageant for indigent youth and unemployed young adults; Ang Joke Ko, e-mailed comic sketches performed by the hosts and co-hosts; the ubiquitous Pinoy Henyo, similar to 20 questions, and the vintage Bulagaan with “knock-knock” type jokes in a classroom scenario, culminating in a pie throwing spree with the old timers Tito Sotto, Vic Sotto, Joey de Leon and later addition, Allan K.

But the centerpiece of the show is Juan for All, All for Juan: Bayanihan of d’Pipol. The segment is anchored on what Eat, Bulaga! considers its mission-vision: Helping poor people and giving them a ray of hope and shower of happiness. It includes the Plastic ni Juan Project, where the plastic bottles they collect from the communities they visit are turned into school armchairs, and are later donated to chosen barangay schools.

While Vic anchors in the studio, the Sugod Bahay Gang, led by Jose Manalo and Paolo Ballesteros, marches off to the house of a contestant drawn from a box containing registration forms from a chosen barangay. They bring the food to be shared for the day, motorcycle, appliances, cellphones, food products, gift certificates and other goodies. They are also given a Bossing Savings account wherein they can deposit the final cash bonanza (usually P35,000 to P50,000). The shout of “Bayanihan na!” signals the announcement of the chosen barangay’s name. Taken from the Filipino word for country or community — bayan — the suffixed bayanihan refers to the spirit of belongingness of the people who live there.

This segment’s newest corporate supporter, BioFresh anti-microbial socks and underwear, is now part of the boon, and we caught Jose and Paolo mouthing the slogan “Smell the Bango and Feel the Lambot!” as they carried two gift packs, one containing the famous socks and the other, undergarments like shirts and boxer-shorts. Since socks connote gifts, as in the Christmas tradition of hanging these for Jolly Old Nick to fill with treats, Bio Fresh includes a swerte socks containing P5,000 as part of the loot.

Inanities may be the stuff of most noontime variety shows, but Eat, Bulaga! brings the entertainment a notch higher with the value of samahan or togetherness through good and bad times. When Ryzza appealed to the viewers to help Typhoon Yolanda victims, good samaritans like Refreshment Republic, Burlington Industries Philippines, Inc., ad agencies such as TEAM Ads, Inc. and alumni organizations from schools such as Paco Catholic and Calumpit Insititute heeded her call.

This close-knit samahan among people who care has enabled both Eat, Bulaga! and our country to weather disparities and disasters. Like this writer and her husband’s batchmates from a long time ago, Eat, Bulaga! is looking forward to its four decades milestone of camaraderie with grace and gratefulness. Fortunately, the spirit of bayanihan saves the irreverent surprises of Bulagaan and this noontime show from irrelevance.

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