By Bayani San Diego Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Imagine Regine Velasquez daunted by another female singer. Not likely, but not impossible, it turns out.
When they were young girls and among the most familiar faces in amateur singing contests, Minerva “Eva” Castillo never budged to hand the top prize to Regine. Ever.
“I was a lot luckier,” Eva told Inquirer Entertainment in an exclusive interview recently.
Eva and Regine — still known at the time as Chona — joined countless competitions from ages 9 to their teens in the late 1970s through the early ’80s.
Eva, originally from Tondo, would go as far as Regine’s home province in Bulacan and, even farther, in Pampanga, to compete.
“Backstage, Chona and I would play jack en poy,” she recalled. “Or she would put makeup on me so we wouldn’t feel sleepy.”
Onstage, however, they were the fiercest rivals.
Eva’s usual winning piece in those days was George Canseco’s “Ako ang Nasawi, Ako ang Nagwagi,” as interpreted by her idol, Dulce.
“I also sang the jukebox hits of Imelda Papin and Eva Eugenio,” Eva said. “Chona and I preferred Tagalog songs.”
In their entire run as competitors, Eva remained unbeatable.
“Except once,” she recalled. “Chona and I tied in Pulilan, Bulacan.” Among the judges were singers Lerma de la Cruz and Susana Pichay.
It became a showdown, with Eva and Regine belting out one song after another. “The crowd didn’t want to let us go,” said Eva, “until the judges declared a tie.”
For her recent GMA 7 special, “Roots to Riches,” Regine thought of reuniting with Eva.
The show’s staff, led by director Louie Ignacio, searched high and low for Eva and found her in Tondo — selling merienda fare in a modest stall at the corner of Bangkusay and Pilapil streets, near Magat Salamat Elementary School.
Regine learned that although she and Eva walked the same path as youngsters, their roads dramatically diverged as adults.
Eva related: “I ran away when I was in third year high school and got married at 17.” She and her husband, a driver, now have seven children — ages 10 to 21.
She became too busy with life and raising seven kids to even dream of turning professional. Also, she was dissuaded early on from joining show biz.
“I never tried television because I was warned that, without connections, I couldn’t win. I was also told that I had to be pretty, slim and well-dressed,” she related.
Eve remembers only one “professional” gig, at a neighborhood pub called Paquito’s. “I was 11, and I was paid P30, enough for my school needs.”
She stopped joining contests, however, only two years ago. “I started losing na kasi,” she explained. “Voice is no longer enough to make you win. You also need to look good, wear expensive clothes. And I only used minus one tapes, while my competitors could afford musical arrangements.”
Not a joke
Whenever she saw Regine on TV, Eva said, she felt nostalgic. “I’m happy for Chona, but I also feel sad for myself, for all the missed opportunities.”
She had totally given up music, when GMA 7 people knocked on her door. “I thought they were joking,” she said.
On the set of “Roots to Riches,” when Eva and Regine came together, the two wept buckets. Eva sang Papin’s “Bakit” for her spot number and “Ako ang Nasawi” with Regine.
Of the duet, Eva said, “I was nervous, tearful, happy.”
Now blessings are pouring in.
“She has a wonderful gift,” Regine said. “I hope she won’t quit singing.”
Dulce, whom Eva met on “Mel & Joey,” is now a text-mate and gave her a minus one and CD of her songs.
Allan K. hired Eva to perform in his club, Klownz, on Quezon Avenue every Thursday night. (Regine’s dad, Gerry, had asked Allan K to audition Eva.)
Ignacio said GMA 7 has tapped Eva to record the theme song of its latest soap, “Kung Aagawin Mo ang Lahat sa Akin.”
Her neighbors in Tondo treat her differently now. “People who used to snub me are now friendly.” Her husband, she said, was “nakatulala,” (stunned speechless) when he saw her on TV, and her seven kids are “extremely proud” of her.
“They can all sing,” Eva said, “but I don’t want to force them to go into music.”
More than anything, the 39-year-old merienda vendor looks at her second wind as a chance to build a stable future for her children.
“I thought I was too old, but I’m happy na nakapag-enroll ang mga bata this year,” she said. “I want them to finish school and have a good life,” Eva said.
Who knew that Regine, Eva’s former rival, would turn out to be her fairy godmother?
Eva joked: “Maybe I can ask Chona to be ninang (godmother) of my first apo, who’s seven months old.”
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