Hello, Yellow, Hello, Leah Navarro

Leah Navarro

by Wilfredo G. Villanueva

I don’t see much of my color nowadays. People power must have folded its EDSA One tent for shame of being called dilawan—choicest cuss word in the realm of the uncouth—but I’m sure anti-Marcos pro-Aquino Filipinos yearn for the time when it was politically correct to sport yellow. But not this lady in the spotlight of The Society of Honor. Any time of the day, everywhere, she is deep yellow, fighting yellow, unabashedly, categorically yellow.

She’s Leah (pronounced: Lee-yah) Navarro, convent-bred, Forbes Park Kabataang Barangay president when she was 18, award-winning Original Pilipino Music artist, reluctantly singing gigs to the Marcoses and friends in the days of martial law, Namfrel (National Movement for Free Elections) watcher in the 1986 snap elections, participant from shaky start to grand finale of the People Power revolution on Epifanio de los Santos avenue in 1986, leading marches against Binay in Makati in 2014, and today in her senior years, one of the incumbent president’s fearless dissenters.

At the onset of EDSA One,

Marcos still held sway at that point in time. All the republic’s guns were in theory deployable to wipe out the handful who said Cory Aquino won the snap elections, not the ailing dictator and master thief. It was hours later when Cardinal Sin called the multitudes to EDSA, but Leah and her NAMFREL colleagues were there when the place was empty and defenseless, in the country’s darkest night before tens of thousands stood the following day before Brig. Gen. Artemio Tadiar’s armored troop carriers to stop their advance, for helicopter gunships under Col. Antonio Sotelo to defect to the rebel side, and for the conjugal dictators, family and cronies to bolt to Hawaii.

Leah the passionate advocate of good governance, Leah the singer, Leah the EDSA One veteran, Leah the Black and White movement co-convenor, it doesn’t matter, she’s all of those, all notes in complete harmony. She still sings, retaining the sparkle of ages past as she protests “the incumbent” as she calls President Duterte. In style.

In her rented apartment in the heart of Makati central business district, she is unfazed by fame, extending full welcome honors with the fruits for which I stated preference prior to the interview. A corner of her residence is dedicated to the memory of Arianne her sister who passed away three years ago. They were close.

Love and passion defines the warbler who captivated the country with such tunes as Ang Pag-Ibig Kong Ito, Buhay ng Buhay Ko, Hindi Ka Lilimutin, Kailangan Kita, Lagi Na Lang, Ligaw Tingin, Patingin Tingin Lamang, among others.

Her interpretation of Isang Mundo, Isang Awit in 1976 won for her the Grand Prize in the annual Metro Manila Popular Music Festival then actively sponsored by Imee and Irene Marcos, presidential daughters and music aficionados. (Source: Wiki)

She sang in 1976, lyrics by Nonong Pedero:

Ngayon mundo’y gulung-gulo
At lahat tayo’y litung-lito
Pag-ibig sa kapwa tao
Sa daigdig dapat ituro
Kung bawa’t puso ay marunong magmahal
Kapayapaa’t kasiyahan tiyak na makakamtan
Lahat tayo’y pantay-pantay
Sa biyaya ng Maykapal
Lahat sana’y akbay-akbay
Handang tumulong kanino man
Kung bawa’t tao ay marunong magmahal
Ano mang kulay o salita
Tiyak na makiki-isa

A foreshadowing of EDSA One? Perhaps I should stop here and let the story write itself. Just listening to her songs makes my heart race as in being in love, because she sings of it, pure love, immortalized and accessible by YouTube.

“I am proud of my being a singer, actor, entertainer. I was blessed to have been able to bring pride to our country by representing it in the Tokyo Music and Seoul Song Festivals. I brought home the Bronze Prizes from each. I had a few hit songs and I am most grateful that I helped endear OPM to many,” she said. OPM is Original Pilipino Music.

But Leah’s more than her songs.

When she was residing in Forbes Park, at age 18, she was tapped to lead the Kabataang Barangay due to her being the village’s Youth President, eventually heading the Makati chapter and attending leadership workshops on the slopes of Mount Makiling.

“The Forbes Park kids

of my generation were not uncaring or all about themselves. We were active, helping in whatever way we can. Together with Rotary, my fellow youthful companions and I would pack relief goods for storm refugees, we would collect donations. That’s really where my love for country manifested itself. At age 13, I was socially involved, and the desire to help those in need was strong.”

“I was 18 years old when I became KB representative. At first it was okay, attending trainings, helping out. I thought, from where I was, maybe I could help change society from the inside, to be a force for good in my own circle of family and friends.”

“But in Kabataang Barangay all we did was to sign resolutions for changes of street names,” she said.

“At 19, I entered show biz. My mom Nelda Navarro (jazz singer and tv show host in the 60s—WGV) inspired me to follow in her footsteps.”

Because she had a name in OPM, she would find herself singing in Marcos parties. Seeing my raised eyebrow, she explained, “I couldn’t say no. They controlled the country and there were anecdotes of what they did to their enemies.”

What were Marcos parties like? “Lavish, but wait,” she said, “I wasn’t a willing participant in the strictest sense. I didn’t want to belong in their crowd, but being a singer and entertainer during martial law made it almost impossible to avoid them.”

Remind us, why should we be afraid of the Marcoses?

“They are a very charming family, they ingratiate (to gain favor or favorable acceptance for by deliberate effort—Merriam-Webster) themselves with your space, and it was easy to be hoodwinked especially since I was impressionable at that young age,” Leah said.

“Because my step-grandfather, Jose Yulo Sr., was a political ally from the 50s, the Marcoses were often invited to our parties and my cousins and I would sing songs from The Sound of Music for them; it was time to be carefree.”

But things changed when the effects of martial law hit her family as in ground zero—her mother Nelda lost her job in Channel 11 and her father, Jimmy Navarro, lost his Program Director job at Geny Lopez’s ABS-CBN upon the declaration of martial law.

“My parents were separated by then. My Mom decided to move to Canada, and my sister soon followed. I stayed because of my music career,” she related.

Still, the singer, the socially-aware youth in Leah kept her peace through the martial law years. But there must have been a change in circumstance when her mother left for abroad, and her silent outrage at the dictatorship simmered just above boiling point until August 21, 1983 when Ninoy Aquino was shot in cold blood on the airport tarmac.

“That’s when my activism boiled over,”

she said. “It was time to disassociate myself from the Marcoses, or whatever tied me to them by way of my KB involvement and singing.”

Did Marcos order the killing of Ninoy Aquino?

“For anyone to say that it was other than the Marcoses, it would really change my understanding of things. They ruled the country. Nothing escapes their attention. Up to now, they even have residual power.”

“I was living in Toronto when the Marcoses came back here. I couldn’t understand for the life of me, why they were allowed to return. They didn’t even return a single thing, to this day we’re fighting them for what they stole from us. That kind of pisses me off.”

“Are we nationally clueless? The only way out of this rabbit hole of cluelessness or stupidity, is education. Educating our youth may take a while, because, sadly, most political lords love to keep their voters dependent.”

“Is it a cultural thing? Tribal? We insist on a padrino, someone in charge to change things as we meekly stand by and accept their decisions. It seems as if we haven’t gotten beyond serfdom and fiefdom. This leader must pierce the culture of political dependence.”

If civil war is 12 midnight, what time would it be now?

“It was five minutes to midnight in ’86,” she answered, not bothering to answer my question, lost in thought.

“It’s like we are living in the age of information—Google, Wiki, laying history in front of you, but they still don’t get it. The truth is not elusive. They are there, easily found.”

“The Marcoses are very bright. They saw the usefulness of the internet, they flooded the internet with their revisionist history.”

“But the parents of these young people were alive at the time of Marcos, so I don’t get it why young people would believe the revision.”

“Perhaps we have misinterpreted Christian values, we believe that just because we have gone to Confession, we can sin again. Maybe they forget the promise made at the end, not to sin again. Selective memory?”

Jim Paredes, I see a similarity, I said.

“I’m very close to Jim, our families were friendly since the 50s. We were neighbors in New Manila, behind Arcega’s, straddling Aurora boulevard and E. Rodriguez Sr. avenue in Cubao, Quezon city. Jim’s father, Jesus Paredes and my grandfather, Congressman Pedro Lopez were in the same plane that killed President Ramon Magsaysay when it crashed into Mount Manunggal in Cebu.”

On being, uhm, dilawan?

“It’s a lifestyle, a philosophy, if you love your freedoms, if you want to be an informed and active citizen, if you want the best for your country, you are dilawan.”

“We have been called names, yet we are not deterred. Why? Because we are insulted and maligned by people who seem not to have our country’s best interests at heart. They go after truth seekers, fact checkers and whistle blowers.”

“If you hate tokhang, EJK (extra-judicial killings of the so-called drug war), if you have compassion for the families left behind, you may be dilawan at heart. If you are rabid about keeping the freedoms we enjoy, desire a level playing field as described by PNoy many times, be a decent human being, then you may be dilawan. Nothing wrong with all that.”

Why the fake news about the Aquinos?

“There are people who are hell bent on revising history because they were either caught doing something wrong or were shamed, not by the Aquinos, but by their selfish actions. If Cory was so bad, if Ninoy was so bad, if Noynoy was so bad, why are they loved? Ninoy’s death awakened a sleeping freedom tiger in our people, Cory reinstated all the freedoms we enjoy today, and PNoy gave so many the opportunity to improve their lives, many of the effects of his administration are still felt today.”

“Could it also be because PNoy got Janet Napoles, Jinggoy Estrada, Enrile, others to account for their alleged misdeeds? Do people not find it sad and strange that they’re being exonerated now?”

“Why are all the things that PNoy did being undone?” she continued.

Senator Leila de Lima?

“She’s one of my heroes. I firmly believe in her innocence and am awed by her courage.”

Will you ever change color or defect, do you think?

“I was one of the many who received inspiration from Ninoy, Cory, and their children, which makes me yellow as yellow can be. I will persist to be dilawan, I will be dilawan till I die.”

From whom you draw inspiration?

“I particularly value the friendships made over the years with my fellow Black and White Movement convenors, among them: Enteng Romano, Manolo Quezon, Edwin Lacierda, Dinky Soliman, Ging Deles, Vicky Garchitorena, Dan Songco, Bro. Armin Luistro, Butch Abad, Mely Nicolas, Bertie Lim, Soc Banzuela, Chito Gascon, Gerry Bulatao, Karen Tañada, Gus Lagman. I am grateful for their inspiration and mentorship. I am proud of my first cousin Sen. Risa Hontiveros. I am empowered by Sen. Leila; she is fierce and courageous.”

Why persist when 80 per cent still support?

“We are perceived to be a country of the uncaring. Deep inside us, we are not that at all. We must rekindle the compassion we have for one another, the same compassion we exhibited during EDSA 1986. I cannot understand why people have to be killed in this so-called war on drugs because killing doesn’t clean things up. Tokhang is so un-Filipino. Tokhang has ruined lives.”

“ I have met children whose parents were murdered via tokhang. All of them are impoverished. Despite the absence of the simple comforts of life, having been dealt a terrible hand, they’re courteous, using po at opo; it’s natural for them to be decent, dignified and respectful, even after having been made to experience horror and the death of a loved one. They are heroes to me. They bear their suffering with grace and quiet strength.”

Another EDSA, do you think?

“We have to work hard to bring back hope. The Spirit of EDSA is an ongoing inspiration. The Spirit is spread by enlightening people, you must provide the kindling, the matches. It takes a village to keep the fire of freedom burning, and we have to reignite that fervor in people’s hearts.”

Social media and its role?

“Social media has made us keyboard warriors, that’s okay, there is nothing wrong with that, but if you don’t walk your talk, you’re not doing much. Get out of your comfort zone, dive into the trenches. I admit that I dislike fence sitters. They straddle both sides of an issue in order to appear as if they see everything and are above it all. I get the feeling that they remain in the middle so they can move easily to whichever side gains ground. To some that’s smart, to me that’s being opportunistic.”

What do you do now?

“I’m an events specialist, usually golf tournaments, corporate activities. Political advocacy work is not meant to pay the rent.”

Good in golf?

“Yes. I competed in amateur tournaments like the Philippine Women’s Golf Open.”

Becoming Canadian?

“I returned here in 1998 after living in Toronto, Canada for almost a decade. I chose not to take on Canadian citizenship, but I do love Canada, it is my second home. I have family and friends there. I missed a lot of momentous events in the 90s: the Pinatubo eruption, the Baguio earthquake. Wasn’t here when the Marcoses returned. Came back in the late 90s when Erap was president.”

Your legacy?

“All I have is my name, and what I believe in, because I value my name, heritage, family, the things I believe in.”

Regrets, frustrations?

“I rant to my close friends, vent my frustration on what’s happening to the Philippines. I can’t understand why so many people cannot see it. The insults, profanity, misogyny, killing people, these are accepted. I have no problem with people cussing in private, but if people think we don’t need decency, we’re in trouble. This is why it’s so easy for parents to pull a gun on teachers (referring to the Ateneo de Davao gun-toting incident).”

What keeps you going?

“What fuels me? This strange ignorance of basic values, a lack of a nurturing nature, the scarcity of access to education, the seeming disappearance of an awareness of right and wrong. In this age of access to true facts, the supporters of the incumbent seem blissfully unaware. This seeming comfort in being unaware is infuriating. I would be more forgiving if we were still dependent on smoke signals and snail mail, but we live in the Information Age. What encourages their blindness to facts? Their lust for power now being satisfied? Would we hear these declarations if we were privy to their thoughts: meron ba tayo diyan, ito na ang pagkakataon natin para magkapera at proyekto, what are we in power for?”

“Those same statements have been made by many in previous administrations, but we have to focus on what those administrations accomplished for the good of all, not for individuals. Some were better at working for the benefit of all than others,” she added.

Are we being quixotic already?

“What else do we hang on to but hope for a better world to thrive in? The basic values we learn from parents are our bedrock, these make us whole and hungry for what is better. You have to be driven by your ideals, and passionately in love with your country and its people.”


“We’re on a precipice all the time, we’re never sure where the future will bring us. We had six years of boring in the sense that people could actually live their lives, but we wanted change by other means, for some reason. Do Filipinos love living on the brink of disaster all the time? I don’t think so, but we have a tendency to shoot ourselves in the foot.”

What will you say to a wavering dilawan?

“What has shaken your foundation? Is it because you realized Cory and PNoy were not super heroes and capable of imperfection? I never demanded perfection from the Aquinos because I am not capable of it. By and large, being dilawan or however you want to call it is still the good answer. It’s also not really about personalities. Remember what moved you to believe in what they represented. Being Dilawan is not being partial to a color, it’s a way of thinking that acts like a rudder that propels you through life. ”

You smoke? Doesn’t it ruin your voice? I asked as she opened a window.

“No. It doesn’t bother me. I’m not proud of it.”

Books? Movies?

“I haven’t had much time to enjoy a good book lately, but I do enjoy watching movies when I have time —Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, historical movies. I have enough angst in my life; I don’t like love stories.”

She has enough love in her life, enough passion, that she can choose to confront it directly, without infusions from the outside world. Thank you, Leah, for showing us that love, commitment, clarity, talent, yes, patriotism can still exist in these days of gray skies and blurry horizons.


62 Responses to “Hello, Yellow, Hello, Leah Navarro”
  1. karlgarcia says:

    Thanks for the interview of Ms. Navarro Will!

    • Wilfredo G. Villanueva says:

      You’re welcome!

      • wbar says:

        Teary eyed…I was also there in Mount Makiling during that time. I also became a Namfrel watcher who received death threat from KBL supporter Barangay Chairman during 1986 snap election.

  2. IB says:

    I associate Leah Navarro with a certain kind of purity and sweetness untainted by corruption that reminds me there’s still 1% of the world (and the Strand) completely free from any kind of assholery or bitchiness.

    Leah Navarro is, genuinely, the most sincere, down-to-earth famous person I had the privilege of knowing. Some people will go out on a limb, but Leah Navarro goes further.

    I only wish she understood how grateful we are of everything she’s done for our country. She represents the absence of light in our collective soul.

    • Wilfredo G. Villanueva says:

      Wow, IB. Good doesn’t come to waste. Leah just looks forward; I didn’t detect regret, forgiveness, arrogance or I told you so. Ang laki ng pag-asa natin.

  3. Thanks Will – yet one question. Surely someone in Leah Navarro’s circles (Makati etc.) has and had enormous freedom in the Philippines. But what de facto freedom did the average Filipino enjoy?

    Of course it could be many still prefer the padrino to freedom. But could it be they are needed? Because even if institutions were being built, it is I think still not like the rule of law defends the rights of ordinary people. So how can you expect them to realize the value of ‘freedom’? I wonder.

    In real democracies it isn’t like in the Philippines where the ordinary are intimidated at every turn. Meaning the promise of EDSA may have remained an empty husk for them. So they looked for a ‘resbak’, a national patron, to feel better or as a gamble. How to give them real hope? Don’t know.

    • Wilfredo G. Villanueva says:

      The good will just have to keep doing good, I guess, Irineo. We’re out of options. Love seems to be the only option left.

      • CJ Sereno’s bold reforms of the court system were one step in the right direction I think. Just wondering why they were hardly mentioned before, to give people a feeling that those with less in life would finally and really have more in law, to paraphrase Magsaysay.

        The less privileged often feel helpless, which is why they look for strongmen. If the state and its institutions can replace strongmen, win people’s trust, then things could change. Imelda was also a master of being nice to people, but what did that ‘love’ from her help?

  4. Tancio de Leon says:

    Leah Navarro is not merely dilawan, she is golden – like many among us. We need to prod the dilawan to come out of their shells.

  5. edgar lores says:

    1. Leah Navarro, in the language of Existentialism, is a woman engaged (or committed).

    1.1. I believe that translates to “C’est une femme engagee.” But, pardonne moi, don’t trust me. My French is inexistante (non-existent). I just love hearing the language and pretend to know it because I can toss out a couple of phrases. Bon appetit. Je t’adore! It is, after all, like Italian, a Romance Language — a language of love.

    1.2. My love of the language goes back to hearing the incomparable Emmanuelle Riva enunciating such soothing, sibilant, and susurrant syllables in “Hiroshima Mon Amour.”

    1.3. Emmanuelle. Leah. Beauty and intelligence. What a combinaison devastatrice!

    (See, I told you “devastating combination” looks and sounds better in French.)

    2. In Existentialism, engagement gives meaning to life. It means leading the authentic life. And Ms. Navarro certainly seems to be living such a life.

    3. In her political activism, I am impressed by three things. First, her commitment, bien sûr. Second, the accuracy of her causes. And, third, the durability, the longevity of her passion.

    3.1. I understand her causes were always anti-establishment, against the existing dispensation, with the exception of PNoy’s.

    3.2. For many activists, the fires of their passion burn out after the frustration of not being able to refashion the world to their hearts’ desires. With Ms. Navarro, this is not the case. The opposite seems to be happening.

    4. I am chuffed by the fact that in Ms. Navarro I find a quixotic, highfalutin fellow-traveler. I hope she will forgive my présomption.

    Don and Doña Quixote’s of the world, unite! We have nothing to lose but our windmills!

    • Wilfredo G. Villanueva says:

      Are you calling me, Edgar? Hahaha!

    • Edgar, Irineo notes that Senator De Lima has pulled a quote, her last line, from your article on the seven other sins.

      • edgar lores says:

        I’m surprised she would have access to soc-med… unless visitors are printing relevant articles and providing her with the same.

        Did I say I’m chuffed?

        Gadzooks! I did, didn’t I?

        • Her staff print out relevant articles for her.

          • Wilfredo G. Villanueva says:

            She reads The Society of Honor, Edgar. She said it to me herself. First person. Hi, Senator Leila! Praying for you every day in Holy Rosary.

            • edgar lores says:

              Will, that’s good to know, thanks.

              When I think about it, the Society of Honor is not just cross-cultural America and Philippines. It’s a blend of European (West and East), Chinese, Malaysian, Indian, and Oceania cultural influences. If anything, we just miss African and polar (the Arctic and Antartic) influences.

              And we represent traditional, modern, and futuristic — I would even say cutting-edge — thought. In politics, philosophy, religion, sciences, arts and the humanities, and ethics.

              The perspectives are varied and rich. And yet, despite the spread of diversity, we come together in an accord not on essential worldview and universe view paradigms but on essential moral values.

  6. it’s a privilege to have met Tita Lee, first in the Martial Law anniversary concert in Quezon Memorial Circle in 2015. i never thought back then that just a few months after, I would be with her in the campaign, especially that I was generally apolitical before that. I am proud to be with her in this fight for democracy, and I’m proud to say I’m as dilawan as her. 🙂

  7. Okive mestidio says:

    Run for Senator Leah! We will support you!

    • Wilfredo G. Villanueva says:

      Message relayed, Olive. Can you imagine, Mocha makes it to the Senate, and people like Leah Navarro tiptoe around the edges, gritting their teeth, knowing what the country needs to do to survive and prosper, yet helpless against the electoral culture of popularity and winnability? Sex purveyorship vs. purity and clarity of purpose?

  8. Victoria Pangilinan says:

    Galing! May substance talaga. Love you Miss Lea Navarro. Thank you.

  9. karlgarcia says:

    Just curious, how do you prounounce ich liebe dich?
    ishlibidish or iklibidik.

  10. Sup says:

    Off topic…
    Whenever there is illegal there are Chinese.
    Don’t understand why this government brings in Chinese for everything..Like Boracay rehab almost all contractors are Chinese…

    US seizes pot-growing houses tied to China-based criminal


  11. Thank you, Leah Navarro. Indeed, learning is the way post Marcos generation needs to understand the true value and meaning of the yellow other than a political identity. I was employed at the airport where Ninoy was assassinated and it’s stupid not to understand the connections under a dictator. This tragic event was the end of my optimism and hope that I decided to leave the country to work as household servant abroad in lieu of my accountancy job at the airport but I was back to join the EDSA One. It’s a treasured experience. I chose to live back in Canada though and am now retired with the desires of spending my retirement in the Philippines….but here we go, again!!

    • Wilfredo G. Villanueva says:

      Yes, Manuel, here we go again. In any rally, I see the same faces, but you know what? They don’t look tired, frustrated, desperate, and yes, old. Principle must be the fountain of youth.

    • NHerrera says:

      I hope the replacement is not the clown with the funny attire, or the one without “calidad” — as we usually ascribe to a good lawyer with a good measure of independence, integrity and honor. (Please, don’t anyone say such a person does not exist in the Philippines.)

      • NHerrera says:

        Oops, I made the comment above without reading the link through. The last line of the link says,

        Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte on Thursday appointed Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra to replace Aguirre.

        The Headline is not consistent with that line.

    • edgar lores says:

      And another one bites the dust.

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