Filipino celebrities

[Only IN Hollywood] Famous Philippine faces, from Leni Robredo to Kaladkaren, invade LA

Ruben V. Nepales

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[Only IN Hollywood] Famous Philippine faces, from Leni Robredo to Kaladkaren, invade LA

MIFF in LA. Rochelle Ona, JP Habac, Karl Moll, Jun Robles Lana, Eisel Serrano, Kaladkaren, Romando Artes, Enchong Dee, and Perci Intalan.

Ruben V. Nepales/Rappler

'I was seated beside the lovely Kaladkaren and her British boyfriend, Luke Wrightson, who are in Los Angeles for the first time and enjoying it'

LOS ANGELES – Talents from Manila, representing their films that will be screened at the launch of the inaugural Manila International Film Festival (MIFF), are in town.

About Us But Not About Us star Romnick Sarmenta, director Jun Robles Lana, and producer Perci Intalan; Here Comes the Groom stars Enchong Dee and Kaladkaren; and Love You Long Time star Eisel Serrano and director JP Habac Jr. are gracing the first overseas edition of the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) on November 2 at no less than the Directors Guild of America on famed Sunset Boulevard.

The Manila group, including Metro Manila Development Authority acting chairman and MMFF overall chairman Romando Artes and MMFF executive director Rochelle Ona, was welcomed by MIFF in a dinner at the Hollywood Hills home of multiple Emmy-winning producer Lisa Manibog Lew.

I was seated beside the lovely Kaladkaren and her British boyfriend, Luke Wrightson, who are in Los Angeles for the first time and enjoying it. She laughed when I asked her, “So, are you called Kalad or Karen for short?” She said people call her KK or Jervi, her real name.

KK shared how she began impersonating broadcast journalist Karen Davila in her University of the Philippines days. Now, she’s breaking barriers. She is the first transgender to bag best supporting actress honors in the inaugural summer edition of MMFF for Chris Martinez’s Here Comes the Groom. She also made history as the first transgender news anchor in the Philippines when she joined TV5’s Frontline Pilipinas.

The LGBTQ+ trailblazer was excited for people, especially her boyfriend Luke who is watching Here Comes… for the first time, and fans, including a family who is flying all the way from Florida to catch the MIFF screening.

Incidentally, About Us… and Love You… also debuted at MMFF’s summer festival held last April.

For the actual MIFF which will run from January 30 to February 2 next year, the 10 entries in this December’s MMFF will be screened for the first time outside of the Philippines. More details of the launch at

(Full disclosure: I am on the board of MIFF and TOFA.)

The Outstanding Filipino Awards (TOFA)
Clothing, Pants, People
LENI. California Attorney General Rob Bonta, Global Awardee Leni Robredo, and National Federation of Filipino American Associations Chairman Brendan Flores. Ruben V. Nepales/Rappler

Leni Robredo, May Parsons (the Filipina nurse who made news for administering the first COVID-19 vaccine outside clinical trials), my accomplished media colleagues – GMA Network’s Jessica Soho, ABS-CBN’s Ging Reyes, and Fil-Am talk show pioneer Jannelle So Perkins – and Here Lies Love led the honorees in the 13th annual The Outstanding Filipino Awards (TOFA) held for the first time in LA at the Zipper Concert Hall.

Elton Lugay, the indefatigable founder of TOFA, explained in his message the move from New York, where the awards show’s venues included the prestigious Carnegie Hall:

“The decision to move the TOFA show from its longstanding home in New York to Los Angeles was not taken lightly. As the search for outstanding Filipinos has expanded globally, we recognized the importance of bringing the event to different cities and regions. This move reflects the ever-growing reach and influence of Filipino talent and serves as a testament to the global impact of Filipino achievers.”

Crowd, Person, People
BOY. TOFA 2023 co-host Boy Abunda. Ruben V. Nepales/Rappler

Boy Abunda flew from the Philippines to host the awards show, which was probably about his tenth time. As usual, the witty emcee mixed just the right amount of seriousness and humor to keep the show breezy and interesting.

In mentioning MIFF at one point, Boy joked that he knew my wife Janet and me when he was still a virgin. But it’s true that Janet and I knew Boy way back from his days as the PR of the Manila Metropolitan Theater in the early 1980s (the late Tita Conching Sunico’s Met reopened last April after what I understand was a loving restoration).

Boy and I rode the now-defunct Love Bus from Quezon City to Manila to go to our respective workplaces while Janet worked as a reporter so she knew him as the Met’s publicist. Maybe Boy was indeed still a virgin back then.

Crowd, Person, Audience
CHER. TOFA 2023 co-host Cher Calvin. Sthanlee B. Mirador

Cher Calvin, KTLA 5’s talented and Emmy-winning new anchor and the daughter of veteran actor Roger Calvin, co-hosted.

The other TOFA honorees included Miss Universe R’Bonney Gabriel, Kenneth Mejia (who scored many firsts when he became LA’s controller – first elected FilAm official in the city of LA, first Asian American elected to a city-wide office, first person of color to hold the position, and the youngest), Dr. Tess Mauricio (beauty and wellness), Ted Castro (one of the most successful chess coaches in America), and Mariela Fletcher, president of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations.

Also feted were Gigi Manzanilla (women empowerment), Ma. Victoria Mejia (fashion and style), and Jason Lustina (arts and culture). The Presidential Lifetime Achievement Awards went to community leaders Sonia Delen, Rocio Nuyda, Jessica Caloza, and Roger Santos.

The Presidential Volunteer Service Awards went to Garth Garcia, Tommie Mopia (both also performed numbers), Maria Damian, Shine Balasico, and Gene Juanich. The other honorees were Alexander Gesmundo, Astrid S. Tuminez, Annabelle Manalo-Morgan, Homer Tuazon, Reynosa Rada Espadero, Marie Cunning, Giovanni Duaqui, and Romeo Gutierrez Jazo.

Adult, Male, Man
KING. King of RnB Jay R. Ruben V. Nepales/Rappler

Filipino King of R&B Jay R led the top caliber talents who performed sterling numbers, including TOFA and Starlink artists and Parangal Dance Company.

Congratulations to Elton for another successful show and all the TOFA 2023 winners!

Earlier, on the red carpet, movie producer and actress Evelyn Vargas-Knaebel, who was in town from Europe to see her nephew, Ted Castro, accept his TOFA trophy, had a surprise reunion with Omen Ortiz, her fellow actor from their PETA Kalinangan Ensemble days in the 1970s.

Omen immediately recognized Evelyn. But she did not so she squealed in delight when she finally realized it was Omen from their Fort Santiago acting days. The two old friends caught up through the night and are plotting a good project to do together. By coincidence, Omen is the chairman of the board of MIFF.

Gold House’s Filipino/x independent filmmakers showcase
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FILMMAKERS. Kayla Galang, Alex de Ocampo, Grace Hanna, Nicole Dizon, Iliana Garcia, Irene Soriano. Ruben V. Nepales/Rappler

Leave it to those amazing folks at Gold House, a non-profit organization that champions Asian Pacific creators and companies, to come up with a noteworthy way to cap Filipino American History Month.

Gold House, which is headed by CEO Bing Chen and COO Jeremy Tran, held the Independent Filmmakers Showcase of short films by Alex de Ocampo (Bareknuckle), Grace Hanna (Lola), Iliana Garcia (A Guide for When Immigrants Become Ancestors), Jarreau Carrillo (The Vacation), Kayla Abuda Galang (When You Left Me on That Boulevard), and Nicole Mairose Dizon (Morena).

Film curator and programmer Irene Soriano moderated the panel with these filmmakers after the screening in the theater of the Beverly Hills-based United Talent Agency, one of the largest agencies in the world. I hope to see more works by these directors who can be leading original voices and headline the next generation of Fil-Am directors! –

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Ruben V. Nepales

Based in Los Angeles, Ruben V. Nepales is an award-winning journalist whose honors include prizes from the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards, a US-wide competition, and the Southern California Journalism Awards, presented by the Los Angeles Press Club.