A LONG season of giant lights, colorful rice cakes, evening Masses, gift-giving, festivals, and reunions with friends and families are the things Filipinos abroad miss most during Christmas.

For Thomasians and former Varsitarian editors Ricardo Endaya and Bernardo Bernardo, the best gift to fellow Filipinos abroad is to be their own Santa and to make Christmas distinctly Pinoy.

Santa in Kuwait

Ricardo Endaya, the Philippine ambassador to Kuwait and the youngest Filipino ambassador in the diplomatic service, would be spending Christmas in his post in Jabriya.

Endaya intends to spend Christmas eve dinner with the 254 stranded OFWs in Kuwait. At present, the embassy in Kuwait serves over 110,000 OFWs—the fifth largest concentration of Philippine expatriates in the world.“The saddest part of being in another country is missing the people you love at home,” Endaya said. “But we always try to cure this sadness by bridging the Filipinos abroad.”

A former Varsitarian Research and Special Reports editor and UST Law Review managing editor, Endaya has always been interested in public service and international affairs. Endaya graduated with a Political Science degree from the Faculty of Arts and Letters in 1977. He tucked in a law degree, cum laude, from the Faculty of Civil Law in 1981.

“The belief that I can do something to make lives better for my fellow Filipinos got me into this career,” he said. “My appointment by President Arroyo was a big honor. I’m happy that I can extend more help to the Filipinos.”

Endaya’s desire to learn new things pushed him to fly as far as Brussels to get his Master’s degree in International Law in 1984 at the Vrije Universiteit in Belgium. Two years later, he took his Master’s degree in International Relations at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Boston, Massachusetts.

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As ambassador, Endaya has to disregard many of his personal interests to attend to his responsibilities.

“My priority here is not to be another Filipino expatriate,” he said. “My priority is to help the country’s economy and protect my fellow Filipinos.”

But Endaya’s services aren’t only limited to Filipinos in Kuwait. Sometimes, he has to perform difficult diplomatic missions in other Middle-East countries.

Ambassador Endaya was one of the three negotiators who bargained for the release of truck driver Angelo Dela Cruz after he was kidnapped by an Iraqui militant group.

“The decision was difficult, but I believe that human life is priceless. I pursued my goal to secure Dela Cruz’s release,” he said. “The best part of that ordeal was when Dela Cruz was turned over to my custody after his release. He even embraced me and said: ‘Maraming salamat po’. Those words gave me confidence that I am appreciated in my work.”

Endaya was also present in evacuating hundreds of stranded OFWs when hostilities broke out between Israelis and the Hezbollah in Lebanon.

“They (OFWs) did not come here just to waste their efforts and be killed,” Endaya said. “They went here to help their families back home—and we must protect that goal.”

Comic

Meanwhile, renowned actor Bernardo Bernardo will be spending a blue Christmas in Los Angeles.

“It’s not really a white Christmas here in L.A.,” he said. “But a cloudy holiday because of smog.”

Not wishing to spoil his Christmas, Bernardo said that he would choose to spend the day instead with his sister, Rosalinda, packing Christmas gifts to send to families and loved ones back home.

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“Life is too short to waste,” he said. “Why worry if I can do something else to brighten my Christmas?”

Although Bernardo has lived most of his professional life under the glaring lights and canned laughter of the entertainment world, he explained that his success was the result of a twist of fate.

His first dream was to become “the next great journalist in the country” after graduating with a degree in Journalism at the University and being editor in chief of the Varsitarian in 1966. But he enjoyed acting so much when he joined UST’s Aquinas Dramatic Guild.

“That guild was my turning point as an actor,” he said. “I never thought I loved performing so much.”

The discovery of his acting talent drove him to take a Master’s degree in Dramatic Arts at the University of California.

Before migrating to the US, Bernardo had established himself as an all-around actor and entertainer. He became one of the leading lights of the performing arts. Onscreen, he is best remembered for his Matanglawin role in the musical , and his homosexual role in Ishmael Bernal’s City After Dark,which won for him the Gawad Urian best actor.

In the 1990s, the younger generations rediscovered Bernardo for his funny contravida role in the TV comedy sitcom like Home Along Da Riles, with comedy king Dolphy.

“The constant thing on my mind is my work,” he said. “But I’m at my happiest when I perform and see people laughing at some jokes I made.”

He also believes his unorthodox name has helped him.

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“Well, I thank my dad for that artistic choice,” he said, referring to his name Bernardo Bernardo. “Recalling is important, repetition is a key. Double the pleasure, double the fun.”

Last year, Bernardo was recognized by the Filipinas Magazine, a top magazine for Filipinos abroad, as one of the Top Ten Filipino Achievers in Entertainment. “To stand with nine other achievers, including Lou Diamond Philips, Tia Carrere, Rob Schneider, Jocelyn Enriquez and Dean Devlin, was an honor,” Bernardo said.

Although Bernardo rarely appears on local TV today, he continues to inspire people in Philippine and American theaters. In fact, he has performed lead roles under the direction of US Theatre founder PJ Paparelli in the play Voyage and in the play The Long Season under renowned musical director Peter Dubois.

Most recently, Filipinos have become reacquainted with Bernardo when the digital movie, Ingrata, starring Nora Aunor was shown. Aside from playing Aunor’s brother, bernardo also wrote the screen play.

Bernardo is also doing volunteer work, organizing for instance, the Filipino American Library and the Historic Filipinotown Rotary in Los Angeles. He also assists in the Search to Involve Pilipino Americans (SIPA), which raise awareness on Filipino issues, and in the FilAmArts Festival, an annual Filipino-American film festival.

“Whether you’re in the Philippines or abroad, life is always a constant audition,” he said. “It does not stop after you get what you want.”

The separation from loved ones truly makes Christmas less than happy for Filipinos who are abroad. But Endaya and Bernardo keys Thomasians as they both show that Christmas is in the sharing and the fellowship, whether at home or elsewhere. Rieze Rose T. Calbay

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