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Friday, May 15, 2009

Martin Nievera's letter to Ricky Lo

Dear Ricky,

I have been waiting to speak to you to share a very heart-warming behind-the-scene story that happened backstage during the Pacquiao-Hatton fight right before I entered the ring to sing the “now” very much-talked-about Philippine National Anthem. This story may not mean anything to anyone but I want to share it with you anyway.

It’s funny but this is the first time in all the years I have known you that I am writing you feeling nervous and insecure. I have never been one to look before I leap, but with all the names and words that have been thrown at me, above me, through me and below me, I come to you now wounded, hurt, confused but inspired.

It happened during the second to the last round of the last fight before the big, very publicized “main event” between Manny Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton. I was so nervous I could actually hear my heartbeat as I paced back and forth like an expectant father alongside Tom Jones. I was going over the lyrics of Lupang Hinirang for the one millionth time. It was right about the time we were all being called to stay together to form the first half of the usual boxers parade and their teams, when my son Robin tapped me on the shoulder with what I thought at the time was extremely bad news.

“Hey Dad, remember the minus one CD we used during the sound check earlier today? Well, I left it in the car.”

I nearly had a heart attack. If you have ever been to any Pacquiao fight or any event of this size, you know the car was not right outside the backstage. No, no, no. The car was parked just a little closer than Earth is to Mars!

So before I could be arrested for killing my first-born, I calmly, in almost a crying kind of a voice, asked Robin, “What? Am I not a good father? Do you really want to kill me now? Or, if you do, puede after the fight?”

I mean, with all that was going on way before this recent controversy, with the rumors about being a jinx because I was the first male anthem singer and so many people telling me to NOT forget the lyrics, and so on and so forth... I was a wreck!

Okay, pause. Let’s go back to a month before the fight...

Weeks before flying to Las Vegas, I think I asked at least 10 people about how I should or should not sing the anthem. If I remembered correctly I asked Louie Ocampo, my back-up singers and vocal coaches. Then there was Karylle, Christian Bautista, Regine Velasquez, Zsa Zsa Padilla, Kuh Ledesma and even Pops. Oh, and lastly, Ryan “Mr. C” Cayabyab did “advise” me against changing notes and melodies. All of the above did.

But Mr. C “advised” me; he did not “warn” me. There is a big difference. In fact, he was the first one I received a text from right after I sang that night and it read, “Awesome!” I am forever grateful to you, Mr. C!

Anyway, right before I left I took the advice of all the above mentioned and had another minus one arranged that was more traditional and safe even though I knew no matter how I sang it I was gonna get criticized. So I decided to put my original “version 1 minus one” on hold and made “version 2” to try and avoid even more criticism than I already knew I was gonna get.

Okay, back to real time...

You can probably feel my frustration and pain right about now, but I tried to keep calm and not de-focus from the enormous task ahead.

Just as I was already telling myself to sing it a cappella, my son Robin leaned over to me and told me a mouthful I will never forget for as long as I live.

“Don’t worry, Dad. I have already put in the ‘version 1 minus one’ in the sound booth. Come on Dad, this is the version you dreamed of doing and now we are finally here. I know how hard you worked on this song and you got it! I know you want to do this version and not the one we did during sound check so I purposely left that CD in the car. So you can finish what you started. Never mind what others may say, Dad. You get that all the time. Don’t compromise a goal that you yourself set. If you compromise, what will that mean for the next singer? Get up there, Dad, and do it!”

My eyes, already watery, finally gave way. Everything went screams, no music, nothing. After my son pushed me up into that ring with his wisdom, I thought either I was dead or going deaf. Then I realized that I had plugged in my monitors into both ears and I wanted to laugh. I realized at that moment that my son was absolutely right.

With all my heart and my love for the Philippines mixed together with my wanting Manny to win just like anybody else, I felt a surge of energy that literally lifted my feet off the ground. It was as if the Holy Spirit ran through my veins right at that moment and, with as much humility mixed with an over abundance of honor, I knew I had to make this the proudest moment for every Filipino.

That night I was not a concert king. That night, I was the proudest Filipino alive. That night, I was a hero in my son’s eyes and that to me was all I needed to get over the fear and finish what I started.

I think we all learned loads from all this and I know that the next anthem singer will be more informed the next time around than I ever was or those who sang before me. My hope and prayer is that he or she be free to sing the anthem without laws and limitations, but with pride and passion and respect for country and the history that defines it.

For me, History should be remembered, taught and learned, but never repeated. Unless, of course. You are Manny Pacquiao.

Thanks, my friend.



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