TOFA goes national; 16 individuals, led by Miss Universe, conferred honors
By Lindy Rosales
As in previous years, it was a chilly fall evening when people started making their way to Carnegie Hall dressed in their formal Filipiniana best. This year, the rains came down hard to usher in The Outstanding Filipino Americans (TOFA) awards night celebrated in honor of Filipino American History Month.
This year’s awardees are:
Courage of Conviction – Aries Dela Cruz
Business and Entrepreneurship – Billy Dec
Community Service and Advocacy – Brendan Flores
LGBT Advocacy – Camille Rodriguez Araullo
Healthcare – Dr. Chris Ayroso Jr.
Arts and Culture – Erno Hormillosa
Senior Welfare and Advocacy – Fe Martinez
Education, Research and Technology – Dr. Fred Andes
Youth and Sports – Josh Sembrano
Public Service and Politics – Marie Blanco
Food and Restaurant – Linda De los Reyes
Fashion and Style – Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach
Entertainment – Ruben V. Nepales and Janet Susan Rodriguez Nepales
Media and Publishing – Lito Gajilan Jr.
Heritage Award – Amb. Mario Lopez de Leon Jr.
Commissioner Carmelyn Malalis of the NYC Commission on Human Rights welcomed everyone and thanked Filipinos for their contribution to the city’s enrichment.
“Here in New York City, we pride ourselves on our diversity. We embrace these differences as part of our real strength,” said Malalis, representing Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Keynote Speaker Loida Nicolas Lewis reflected on the letters G-O-D to denote the words Goals, Obedience to the golden rule and Determination. These, she said, are the secrets to success. She ended her speech with a shout-out to Hillary Clinton. The crowd responded with laughter and cheers. Although unexpected it was not surprising for Lewis to insert a little politics into her message as she is known throughout the community as a strong supporter and fundraiser for the Democratic presidential candidate.
Outgoing Consul General Mario de Leon Jr. accepted his TOFA Heritage Award which he dedicated to the Filipino communities across the Northeast. The Philippine Consulates serves 10 states in the Northeast, including New York and New Jersey.
“We really have to give back to our community here and to our home country in the Philippines,” he said. “We need to assume positions of leadership, whether in the public or private domain, or whatever field you can excel. TOFA has really grown to recognize the exemplary members of our community,” he said.
De Leon took the occasion to call attention to the plight of Filipino veterans awaiting their recognition as “war-time heroes” who defended America and its citizens during of World War II. The veterans have been campaigning for the passage of a bill that would confer on them the Congressional Gold Medal of honor. He said, “I trust that you will all continue to work towards further increasing the visibility of Filipinos and the Philippines in mainstream American society.”
Now on its sixth year, what started as a small endeavor founded in New York by chair Elton Lugay and a group of friends is now being celebrated nationwide. TOFA seeks to bestow honors on Filipino American achievers all across the country not just in New York, although Carnegie Hall remains the awards venue.
“TOFA has extended its prestigious award show from the Tri-state area to nationwide,” said Lugay.
Lugay said TOFA was created to acknowledge the tenacity, perseverance and talent of Filipinos around the U.S. He said the award serves to inspire the 4 million Filipinos to do well as they aspire for their American Dream.
TOFA has endeared itself to many in the Tri-state area and beyond. As a first-time attendee of the Awards Night, it was amazing to witness in person the unbridled talent and enthusiasm the crowd had for the awardees and its performers. The Weill Recital Hall was filled with attendees and performers some of them flying in from the Philippines and other states. Awardee Brendan Flores, who is the current chair of NaFFAA, drove 12 hours from Florida to reach New York City because all flights were cancelled due to Hurricane Matthew.
The night started with the singing of the Philippine National Anthem “Lupang Hinirang” by the Band of Brothers. The singing was marred by a fainting spell when one member of the band collapsed right after the song. He was quickly led off stage by the other band members, who are actually his brothers. The show proceeded smoothly after that.
It was a treat to witness a rare appearance by the Great Maestro Ryan Cayabyab who accompanied Rasmin Diaz on the piano as she sang “Sana’y Wala ng Wakas.” Cutuy Herrero dazzled and delivered an impressive solo performance of Adele’s song “All I Ask.”
Introduced in his new role this year as Chief Financial Officer was Vince Gesmundo, a long-time supporter of TOFA. He accepted the award on behalf of Awardee Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach who was out of the country.
Returning as this year’s Master of Ceremony is the King of Talk Dr. Boy Abunda, who was recently conferred a doctoral degree by Philippine Women’s University. The awards this year were handed out by Loida Nicolas-Lewis and Federal Judge Lorna Schofield.