On June 15, 1991, lahar buried a great deal of Central Luzon, especially Pampanga where the volcanic titan Mt. Pinatubo is situated. Lots of property was destroyed, causing Kapampangan families to flee for their lives and make a choice between returning to their ash-slammed homeland after the catastrophe and finding residence somewhere else.
Last December, I participated as one of the TV show Maalaala Mo Kaya's production assistants. While Joross Gamboa was the lead actor of the episode, I was delighted to hear that a Kapampangan teen star was also in the cast: Joseph Bitangcol.
Joseph Mabalay Bitangcol is one of the top ten finalists of the network's reality hit Star Circle Quest.
Many of the young Star Circle Questors freely admit that they entered the top-rating star search with the hope of eventually being able to help their families. But even compared to most, Joseph Bitangcol's story stands out as one of the hardest struggles in the group.
Hailing from Sta. Rita, Pampanga, Joseph never really planned to enter showbusiness, but the Mt. Pinatubo explosion changed his – and his family's – lives forever. Fleeing from Pampanga and Pinatubo's wrath in a tricycle driven by their father, the Bitangcol family landed in Pasig with nothing but what they had in their tricycle.
While living his post-eruption life in the Metro, he joined in ABS-CBN's acting workshops, where he developed and took further interest in acting. And now, he's one of ABS-CBN's teen stars, said to be the boyfriend of fellow Questor Sandara Park.
End of profile.
When I encountered Joseph face to face at the set of Maalaala Mo Kaya, I waited for the right time to approach him and throw some questions. After shooting a certain scene which was sort of distant from the waiting area of actors, I was given the task by the Assistant Director of walking Joseph back to the waiting area.
While walking, I wasn't the one who started conversation. Probably to break the ice, he asked me what my business was in the production. After knowing that I was just there as an unpaid volunteer production assistant for the sake of practical learning, I segued into telling him my plans of devoting my filmmaking career to stuff with Kapampangan content. From then on, we began talking casually in our good old Amanung Sisuan, Kapampangan.
He speaks the language very well, in spite of not living anymore in Sta. Rita. He also was delighted to hear that I was making Kapampangan productions. By that, I hope he means he could be tapped one day to participate in our activities where his skill would be of definitely great use – being a not-so-bad goodlooking actor, an above average hiphop and street dancer, and, most importantly, a fluent Kapampangan speaker.
Actually, he had this statement which made my eyebrows secretly raise. He told me that the Pinatubo eruption was like a blessing in disguise, for if it did not happen, he couldn't have been the star that he is now.
In my head, I was asking: "How could you consider something tragic – families blown away from their motherland, infrastructures and farms swallowed by lahar, and provincial economy restarted from scratch – a blessing?"
Yes, he became a star because of that, but should you think only of yourself?
However, I understand his train of thought. If I became rich myself after the lahar, I would be considering the catastrophe an intervention of my personal fairy mother. But looking at the lives lost, I, too, would be thinking, "In return, I have to help them rise from the volcanic ashes."
Joseph, judging from our short encounter in the set of a TV show, honestly seems to be a nice, humble guy. I'm sure if tapped by his kabalen to help out in a cause devoted to the re-fortification of his homeland, he would definitely say Ua, sige!