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Ed Guevarra: Bringing the spirit of “barkada” alive

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Ed was born in Pandacan, Manila, and attended Zamora Elementary School and Adamson University. Their patron saint is the Santo Niño. The Ati-atihan in Pandacan always won in their town. When Ed migrated and settled in Australia, his first hope and dream was to introduce this religious activity in Melbourne.

Ed Guevarra is involved in many community organisations, but his name became synonymous to Ati-atihan as he introduced and elevated this dance festival to a respected level in Melbourne, when his troupe performed in many local and national events, even performing before the audience of ex-President Fidel Ramos when he visited Melbourne. 

Ati-atihan was born during the time of ex-Consul Maina Walkley, who encouraged Ed to think of ways of promoting the Filipino heritage during the Centennial Year of Philippine Independence. 

Joey Velasco gallery experience | H...
Joey Velasco gallery experience | Hapag ng pagasa (table of hope) | Michael's Hut
Ed Guevarra of Ati-atihan group
Ed Guevarra of Ati-atihan group

Ati-atihan is not simply banging the drums and dancing in a frenzy. It is one of the most colourful festivals in the Philippines, falling on the feast day of Santo Niño (the Infant Jesus), and combines Christian and non-Christian elements. 

The challenge to Ed was getting the authenticity of the costumes, the rhythm, and the perfection of dance steps and attracting people to join in the frenzied tempo once the drums start to beat.

Family support was very important in their setting up of Ati-atihan, as the group needed as many members to make it festive (at its height, it had 60 members). Having children who did cultural dancing when they were young until high school helped a lot, with the wonderful help of choreographer Ludy Dellamas, who is a dance tutor par-excellence.

They aimed to bring the Australian Filipino community together to participate in cultural dancing, street parade dancing, ballroom dancing and Zumba for all age groups. They used to meet every Thursday and Sunday evening in Lynbrook Community Centre. They had 30 dancers in the cultural group, mainly composed of family and friends – their “barkada” (gang), so to speak. Their organisation was a casual, informal group but with solid commitment and respect for one another.

Ed and Obet (Leovigilda) and the kids arrived in Melbourne in 1988 and lived in Mount Waverley. He established the South Eastern Filipino Neighbourhood Association (SEFNA) in Hampton Park Reserve to connect and socialise with Filipino families as his main intention.

Ed and Obeth with other Black Nazarene devotees in 2016
Ed and Obeth with other Black Nazarene devotees in 2016
Ed Guevarra with wife Obeth in 2015
Ed with wife Obeth in 2015

Because boredom was something he always needed to fight – just like in the Philippines, after work, he would roam the streets and try to find his “barkada”. When they moved to Hampton Park, he wanted to capture this spirit and commune with friends as well, thus the birth of SEFNA.  

The first activities they organised were Pinoy Bingo, disco, cultural dancing and many similar social and festive events.

SEFNA was dissolved to “rest” their home and take a break after five years of being a hotbed and beehive of activities, when their family life was permeated by the constant hustle and bustle of communal life.

Then they organised “karoling” (carol singing) with the help of Jovi Adeva, a musician. They became the forerunners of providing meaningful Christmas Filipino celebrations. They moved on to basketball groups to connect with men and organised Filipino basketball competitions. This is his passion – “barkada”, but productive barkadahan

EMG cargo services has become their business-based foundation in barkadahan to combine his socials and work time. Ed resigned from his job at a carpet company to become self-employed. Obet worked at SIGMA laboratory pharmaceuticals for 15 years and accepted the redundancy package. Their freedom meant they could join the family in their trips and holidays, along with friends, while running a school bus business as well.  

Ed Guevarra EMG Cargo Services in 2017
Ed Guevarra of EMG Cargo Services in 2017 | PHOTO: Facebook

Their EMG cargo balikbayan service that started 20 years ago keeps them active and productive. Although there are quiet seasons, they use these to spend time with family and self-care. Now in their 60s, Ed and his wife want to spend more time with their grandchildren.

Ed recalls it has now been 32 years and looking back, he has a sense of gratitude and contentment and says that the organisation has actually served generation of friends. His wife, Obet, children – Gina, Gelyn, Gladys, Gino Bernard, Joanna – now all grown up and married with children, are proudly part of this heritage of spreading joy and preservation of Filipino culture in the best way it can be delivered and appreciated.

Community leaders and members who know Ed well, including those from AFCS with whom he has very strong ties in the organisation and delivery of cultural events and performances, will for many years attach his name to Ati-atihan, festivals/fiestas, basketball, carolling and life-giving events that make “barkada life” so much exciting, meaningful and a number one antidote for boredom!

Ed Guevarra with Dolphy in 2010
Ed Guevarra with the late comedian, Dolphy in Hong Kong in 2010
There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality; and then there are those who turn one into the other. – Douglas H. Everett

(Edited by Dina Mananquil-Delfino. For comments or feedback, email evamarie09@bigpond.com)


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