By Rachelle Cruz
TORONTO — The true Bayanihan spirit beamed brightly as Filipino communities and many other Canadians – in a show of unity and strength, came together to support and respond to the gargantuan record-breaking typhoon that washed up over eastern Philippines about two weeks ago.
The star-studded, talent-brimming Canada for Philippines Benefit Concert performers graced the stage at the grand Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York Hotel on Sunday, November 24, in partnership with the Kol Hope Foundation for Children, to raise funds and give hope to the millions of people affected by Typhoon Haiyan, in support of the World Vision’s Philippines Disaster Relief Fund. Among them were Toronto’s original Kim in Miss Saigon, Ma-Anne Dionisio, Broadway star Cornelia Luna, Viva Record’s artist Chiqui Pineda, award-winning Canadian singer/songwriter Amy Sky, members of Prison Dancer, including the original cast members of 1993’s Miss Saigon Princess of Wales production, with many others.
Jeff Rustia, organizer and host of Canada for Philippines Benefit Concert
“Like everyone else, I was desperately looking for ways to help, and in my continuing and passionate efforts to promote the Filipinos– our culture and our talents, I thought what better way to help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, than to have a benefit concert with the country’s brightest Filipinos stars sharing their incredible talents with Canada, in association with Kol Hope, all in support of World Vision’s Philippine Disaster Relief Fund,” Jeff Rustia said, Host/Organizer of the Canada for Philippines Benefit Concert and Co-founding president of the Kol Hope Foundation for Children. The official announcement on total funds raised will be on Friday, December 6 but donations are estimated to be $30,000.
Dave Toycen, president of World Vision Canada expressed that the Filipino community set a really high standard and that the strong activity abroad has sent a message to all of Canada that this is a major disaster and that every Canadian can do something to help,
“One advantage for us at World Vision is that we have been working in the Philippines for 45 years and we have an active group within our organization there prepared for emergencies. So we were able to respond right away,” he said.
“I think what makes this one somewhat unique at least in recent experience is the fact that there’s so many people on islands. It’s not one land mass and so the access is much more difficult. That’s what concerns us because we know as late as a week there were people who had no help at all,” he added.
Kol Hope president, Melinda Rustia, handed out a cheque to World Vision’s Executive Vice-President, Michael Messenger for the benefit of the victims of super typhoon Yolanda; it was held at the Philippine Consulate Toronto on December 6, 2013; also in the picture are Consul General Junever Mahilum-West, Vice-Principal of Malvern Collegiate Institute Fermer Santos, Marita Lee of Atin Ito Newspaper, Rory Elefano and Zena Flores of Kol Hope; and Melinda Manlapaz of Bank of Nova Scotia. (PHOTO: ARIEL RAMOS)
Other notable attendees lent their support. Global TV’s The Morning Show Host Kris Reyes was present with her mother; Consul General of Toronto Junever Mahilum-West arrived with her husband John West; and CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi made an appearance. Even former Premier of Ontario Mike Harris joined the front row audience with his family, “Canadians are really good at coming together to help people who are in stress or duress anywhere around the world and of course there are many Filipino expats here in Canada contributing to this country. So my wife and I, my daughter, we felt that this was a good cause, something that we should show our support for, and here we are looking forward to the evening,” Harris said.
Melinda Rustia, president, Kol Hope Foundation for Children
Folklorico opened the night, with a traditional Filipino dance followed by a string of performances by the brightest talented Filipino stars. Les Miserable’s Broadway star Cornelia Luna’s duet with Ken de los Santos garnered praise with their rendition of the song “The Prayer” but it was the young and upcoming stars-in-the-making that wowed the audience and lifted them off their seats to reward Martina Ortiz-Luiz and Maria Aragon standing ovations because of their vocal quality and talent. Martina, the 12-year-old perky, bright-eyed, fresh-faced singer wooed the audience with the song “Over The Rainbow”, and ended her number saying “Follow me on Instagram and Facebook”, which drummed up a few laughs from the crowd.
Maria Aragon, famed YouTube video singer-gone-viral performed Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way”. While Aragon sang that familiar track on piano, she also performed an original song called “Runaway”, a pop ballad that’s sure to be a hit once it’s officially released.
“I’m very, very excited! Having a band here made it so much better!” Aragon exclaimed.
“A lot of my support comes from the Philippines and I’m very proud to be Filipino. I visited the Philippines a couple of years back and the people there are so nice, and kind-hearted. Seeing what they are going through now is just completely terrible. I was so devastated when I heard the news because my family on my mom’s side lives in Ormoc. The roof blew off my auntie and uncle’s house but at least no one got hurt,” Aragon said.
But the most anticipated, star of the night was none other than Ma-Anne Dionisio, Filipino-born Canadian singer/actress made famous for her role as Kim in Miss Saigon. The crowd gave her a standing ovation, and others were brought to tears with her performance of the song “I Still Believe”.
Like many other performers, she felt the same helplessness the moment the news of the disaster struck but want to help our kababayans, “We are all affected, whether or not we are in where it happened. It affects the entire country, even us from all the way over here. I can’t even imagine what those people are going through. It’s one of those things where you don’t know what to do because we are over here. Jeff is really good at networking and connecting with people, I mean he put this together in a week. All I had to do was say yes really. That pretty much goes to other fundraising that I am doing. It’s people who want to do something from so far away,” she said.