Fil-Am beauty queen turns Emmy-winning producerBy Ruben V. Nepales
Philippine Daily Inquirer
LOS ANGELES—A recent fundraising dinner in a home above LA’s fashionable Sunset Plaza area served as a wonderful opportunity to catch up with former Binibining Pilipinas International and Emmy Award winning producer Lisa Manibog Lew Brennan.
Lisa and her husband Peter Brennan, whose show credits include the very popular “Judge Judy,” opened their beautiful home once more for The Mulligan Project, a nonprofit organization focused on helping children with disabilities in Central Vietnam. More about the annual event, which is now on its third year, below.
Lisa comes from a prominent Fil-Am family. Her grandfather, Gonzalo Manibog, is one of the first, if not the first, Filipino to practice law in the US while her dad, G. Monty Manibog, is the first Fil-Am to be elected to public office in Southern California and served as mayor of Monterey Park for three terms. The Lew in Lisa’s name is from her first husband, James Lew. She has five stepchildren with Peter. “We’ve all been in each other’s lives since 1986,” Lisa said.
We share first an update of Lisa, who won the Binibining crown in 1982:
“I met Peter when he was the creator/executive producer of ‘Good Day New York’ and ‘Good Day LA’ and Fox’s ‘A Current Affair’ with Maury Povich back in 1986,” Lisa told us via e-mail a few days after the event. “I am proud to be one of the founding producers of ‘A Current Affair.’ Peter created a whole new genre of television—powerful and emotional storytelling that included reenactments and POV (stories told from a point of view). Many copycat shows followed. Since then, we’ve produced an assortment of news and legal-format shows like ‘Hard Copy,’ ‘Judge Judy,’ ‘Judge Joe Brown’ and ‘Cristina’s Court,’ which are recipients of eight Emmy Awards and many nominations.”
Lisa and Peter’s latest project is a syndicated show, “Last Shot With Judge Gunn,” which she described as being “headed by a remarkable woman who is saving drug addicts’ lives and giving them back to their families. We are also working on a crime series for The Biography Channel.”
We asked Lisa to share some of her memories of joining Binibining Pilipinas in 1982, starting with the candidates’ press presentation (by coincidence, we were there). She wrote:
“Wow, that was a most memorable day for me. I remember they assigned me as candidate No. 1. I was in the back of the line of more than 40 Binibini candidates gathered by the bridge over the pool. The press area was full of journalists and photographers. Then the pageant coordinator told us to turn around and I ended up being right in front of the line facing the media.
“It was a magical time! I had won one regional (Los Angeles) and one national stateside pageant (Binibining Pilipinas USA) to gain entry and be the official Binibining Pilipinas entrant from the United States. I made many wonderful friends among the girls. I had the pleasure of competing with Maria Isabel Lopez, Desiree Verdadero and Sharon Hughes, who were all stunning!
“That year, they assigned each group of eight girls a different region for the national costume segment. I had arrived with a beautiful terno for the competition made by Ariel Reyes. I scrambled to find someone to design an Igorot costume for me. It all worked out and I had a lovely Igorot-inspired ensemble for the national costume portion.
“The night of the pageant was exhilarating. The Araneta Coliseum was filled to maximum capacity. The entire arena crackled with excitement and energy. It became clear to me that no other country in the world loved pageants the way our country did. There isn’t a more loving, joyous and supportive audience than a stadium full of Filipinos!
“There was some talk of my candidacy being an issue since I was US-born. A few of the candidates’ managers questioned this. However, I had dual citizenship and Minister Greg Cendaña confirmed that my papers were valid.
“We had an amazing lineup of entertainment—Apo Hiking Society, Basil Valdez and Leo Valdez, who serenaded the candidates. Ariel Ureta was our host—a very funny man! When the time came to announce the special awards, we all held hands and waited for the names to be called out. Best Talent—I heard my name called. Lux Girl—I heard my name again. And the most prized special award, decided by the press photographers, Most Photogenic—I could not believe it, my name was called one more time! I was in heaven. What more could a girl ask for?
“Then came the final question-and-answer portion and the official announcement of winners. Sharon Georgina Hughes, Miss Young Philippines. Desiree (who was to become the big winner and third runnerup in the Miss Universe a few years later) was also in the finalist court. Ariel asked the crowd, ‘Who will be Binibining Pilipinas-International?’ I heard some of the audience yell, ‘No. 1!’ Ariel said, ‘No. 1’ and my name! Then our Miss Philippines-Universe, the lovely Maria Isabel Lopez, was crowned! What a fabulous night!
“I knew that night, as I have always known, that all the talk of citizenship issues, etc., never mattered. Whether in the US or back home, I am a pure Filipina in my DNA and, more importantly, in my heart and soul. It was a glorious and memorable year. I am always so proud of my heritage and I will never forget the overwhelming outpouring of warmth, generosity, joy and love that surrounded me that special year. I always carry these memories with me.
“One can never feel more loved than if they are loved by the Filipino community. We do it better.”
Back to the well-attended event last weekend, Lisa explained how she and Peter got involved in “The Mulligan Project”:
“A wonderful TV colleague of ours, Eddie Rohwedder, and his lovely and tireless wife, Kelly, introduced us to the needs of orphanages in Asia. They are the proud parents of an adopted son from Ethiopia and are awaiting the approval to adopt another child, this time from Vietnam. Their charity cause, The Mulligan Project, aims to help disabled kids through life’s challenges, especially since many are ill. This is only our third year. After our second year, we were able to build a rehabilitation center/school for the kids in Vietnam.”
Lisa said she’d “love to help out with a fundraiser to benefit children in the Philippines!”
Among the guests at last weekend’s event—which featured a fashion show, musical and dance numbers—were Siedah Garrett, Grammy winner and two-time Oscar nominee whose credits include “Man in the Mirror” (she came with top makeup artist Maxi Tone); Lisa’s niece Ariana Nicole, a beauty queen herself (Miss Asia USA 2010); designers David Tupaz (he led the recent creation of the Las Vegas Fashion Design Council) and Joey Galon; actor Sean Michael Afable and talent agent Oliver Carnay who helped bring in the celebs.
Other guests were “American Idol” semi-finalist and ABC’s “Duets” star Meleana Brown, who sang with her “Duets” colleague Jason Farol; Lisa’s dad Monty (still a dashing figure), mom Jean and brother Darren, who is also a lawyer; Hollywood journalist Mario Amaya and Quest Crew (award-winning hip-hop dance crew), and the 2012 Miss Asia USA candidates.
E-mail the columnist at email@example.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/nepalesruben.
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