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The Los Cantantes de Manila choir was on their way to Korea last Oct 14 to represent the country in the Busan Choral Festival and Competition when one of its members, a 19-year-old female student, was detained by airport authorities at Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. A bullet was purportedly found in her carry-on sling bag.
“I had already boarded the plane when I received a call from my frightened singer that she was being held for questioning,” choir conductor Darwin Vargas tells Coconuts Manila. “Papasok na siya sa boarding gate nung harangin siya. Her voice was shaking from fear.”
The airport officer manning the monitor was very hostile, but thankfully, the 19-year-old girl was assisted by a calm, SWAT-looking officer for questioning. “Siguro they figured out na hindi nila magagatasan so they waited for her mom to pick her up and eventually released her,” Vargas continues.
It was too late for her to join her group so with the help of the mother, the college student immediately booked another flight to join the competition. “How could there have been a bullet in her bag? She is a student, maayos yung record niya. Nag-cause pa sila ng abala at trauma. Besides, how could they have not found the bullet at the scanner that they use when you are entering the airport?” he says.
He continues: “They assisted the girl in rebooking, but I think may guilt iyon dahil estudyante ang nasiksikan nila.”
The choir member had to miss the first two legs of the competition but was able to join the grand prix, where all category winners competed for the gold. In the end, the Los Cantantes de Manila choir bested 26 other countries who joined, and brought home the top prize.
“It was all very stressful. Apart from the travel and attending to things like sound checks, I also had to coordinate on the girl and make sure she’s alright, she gets picked up from the airport when she arrives. Iniisip namin lahat kung paano siya hahabol talaga.”
With the Palace down playing the matter, Vargas retorts, “I am actually disappointed… kahit isa o dalawa lang ang victim they should pay attention to this. Maraming biktima ang napiperwisyo.” And besides, the victims are mostly regular folk and OFWs.
The Los Cantantes de Manila choir sings regularly at a small church in Sampaloc, near the Dangwa bus station, and 80% of its members come from poor families. Vargas says that he had to go through a lot just to raise funds, even borrowing money just for the airfare of his choir.
The only cost he asked his group to shoulder were PHP1,620 in travel tax/airport fees.
“For us, higit sa perang pinamasahe ko sa mga bata na hirap-hirap akong bunuin, kasi community choir lang naman kami na nangarap magrepresent ng Pilipinas sa international competition, it was a choir competition and each soul was important. It is a good thing that we still managed to win the Grand Prize.”
He describes that the experience of having no support from the government pre-competition and the incident at the airport as “nakaka-dismaya at nakaka-disappoint.”
Well, you can add nakakahiya to that list, Sir.
Photo: Darwin Vargas/Facbook
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