TOFA-NY at 2: One ‘enchanting evening’

2012 TOFA winners: the best and brightest. Photo by Tim David

By Cristina DC Pastor

Despite a ‘Frankenstorm’ threatening to pummel the New York area, TOFA-NY feted the Filipino American community’s best and the brightest at the historic Carnegie Hall in an “enchanting evening” of music, dance and laughter.

With speeches ranging from political prisoners in the Philippines to the struggle for equality for same-sex Filipinos, the awardees expressed delight and gratitude as the community recognized their varied contributions to American life.

On its second year, The Outstanding Filipinos in the New York Tri-State went to 12 individuals: Eduardo Sicangco (Arts & Culture); Edwin Josue (Business & Entrepreneurship); Yves Nibungco (Community Service & Advocacy); Agnes ‘Bing’ Magtoto (Education & Research); Kirby Asunto (Entertainment); Danelle Izza Dungca (Fashion & Style); Anthony and Lisa Siopongo (Food & Restaurants); Jona Jane Tajonera (Health Care); Cecilio Asuncion (LGBT Advocacy); Ryan Songalia (Media & Publishing) ; Mayor Guillermo Udarbe (Public Service & Politics); Advancement for Rural Kids, Inc. (Youth & Sports). They garnered the highest Facebook votes in their respective categories.

Five community organizations were honored with Heritage Awards for bringing committed service to the community over the years. They are the Association of Fil-Am Teachers of America NY-NJ; Ma-Yi Theatre Company; Philippine American Chamber of Commerce; the San Lorenzo Ruiz Choir of New York and the Philippine Nurses Association.

What this recognition means is that “Filipinos are capable of achieving great things,” said Consul General Mario de Leon Jr. in a speech lauding the honorees for “making Filipino American history.”

“What an enchanting evening,” cried CEO and philanthropist Loida Nicolas Lewis. She spoke following a mesmerizing mélange of musical numbers led by Broadway actors Adam Jacobs and Ali Ewoldt, a classical dance by Roberto Villanueva of BalaSole, and performances by “Glee” star Charice and The Voice finalist Cheesa. Local talents Kay Habana, Gail Banawis, Alyssa Shoemaker and Tiffany Viray entertained the audience with their unique singing styles and musical artistry. “Never again should we put down the Filipino,” she declared.

Many of the awardees dedicated their awards to family, friends and the community. Agnes Magtoto, a language and culture teacher at NYU, dedicated hers to her mother Amelia, who passed away just days before the ceremony. “To my mom who could not pursue her dream of teaching Filipino…I will fulfill your dream,” she said in an emotional speech.

“Outstanding to me is synonymous with service excellence which has been my guiding principle since I started my real estate career 20 years ago,” said Edwin Josue, a real estate broker for Halstead Property. “When I close a deal I do not close off my relationship with my clients.”

Anthony Siopongco recalled how he and wife Lisa opened the first Casa Manila with just the two of them and their newborn son in a playpen in their restaurant. “With perseverance, hard work and a bit of luck,” the restaurant has grown and now has three locations, he said.

Cecilio Asuncion, who produced and directed the “What’s the T” documentary on the transgender community, thanked his parents. His father never knew about his sexual orientation until his death. “I never had a chance to tell my father that I was gay. Now in front of you I can tell him. Not only am I a gay man, I am an outstanding Filipino gay man,” he declared to energetic applause from the audience.

Many of the awardees quoted from their favorite book, author or movie to express gratitude. Singer Kirby Asunto dedicated her award to aspiring singers, borrowing a line from the movie ‘Cinderella:’ “If you keep on believing the dreams that you wish will come true.” Lumen Castaneda of the AFTA recited from H.G. Wells who asked “What legacy did you leave for others to grow?” She said the teachers in her organization have left their footprints in the lives of students who have passed their way.

Jorge Ortoll of Ma-Yi stressed the uniqueness of theater as a community experience. He said, “It is a communal sharing of an event, a form of bonding with people of all ages, races, earning power, gender.” He said the TOFA-NY award serves as an obligation for them to “strive harder” to connect with various communities.

Mayor Guillermo Udarbe thanked the people who voted for him on Facebook. “When you win an award like this you cannot do it by yourself,” he said.

Immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas and Brinoy music producer Bessie Badilla kept the audience in stitches with good-natured humor about Vargas’ immigration status. Badilla teased Vargas about finding him a boyfriend who is an American citizen, which a gracious Vargas parried with a riposte about Badilla aping Imelda Marcos with her gown and do.

Another high point of the evening was the presence of 10- year-old Rosalyn de Castro who read her essay “I am Filipino American because…”. Her essay won grand prize in a contest sponsored by The Filipino School of New York and New Jersey.

TOFA-NY is an independent search to honor the exemplary Filipinos within the New York Tri-State. The board is composed of founder and executive producer Elton Lugay, producers Myrna de Guia-Gutierrez, Roland Gutierrez, Grace Labaguis, Ronald Labaguis, and Cristina DC Pastor. Check out last year’s winners here.

“It is astounding to see so many exceptional Filipinos weaving the fabric of American society,” said Lugay. “We would like to acknowledge and honor each and every one of them.”

GMA Pinoy TV and GMA Life TV are this year’s exclusive media sponsors.


  1. M. Matthews wrote:

    Ms. Pastor, Thank you very much for the report.

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