You can vote by going to their Facebook page and "liking" nominees. (Screenshot via Facebook.com)

LOS ANGELES—What do actress-singer-film producer Bessie Badilla, bags and accessories designer Rafe Totengco, Payag bar and restaurant owner Rena Avendula, rocker Mig Ayesa, and fashion designer Josie Natori have in common? They are all nominated in The Outstanding Filipino Americans in New York (TOFA-NY) awards, which was created in celebration of the Filipino American History Month to recognize individuals and organizations that have influenced the Fil-Am community in a positive way.

What makes these awards unique is the organizers’ decision to allow the public to vote through popular social network Facebook to determine the winners. The more “likes” a nominee gets, the more chances he gets to win.

“We believe social media is crucial in getting the word out about the many personalities and organizations that have made us one significant and dynamic community in this part of the US," the organizers say.

Voting will end at midnight on October 8, 2011.


We asked Elton Lugay, one of the organizers, how the awards came about. Who are the members of their group, and what motivations led them to create TOFA-NY?

“We are a group of friends and multimedia professionals who one day agreed and decided to embark on a search for The Outstanding Filipino Americans in New York to coincide with the annual celebration of Filipino American History Month in October,” Elton said.

“The motivation for our search is to celebrate the achievements of Filipino Americans who are quietly doing outstanding work in their chosen professions, craft, or trade, but are largely unheralded, maybe because we do not see them often enough in many community events. By their deeds, however, they are raising the profile of Filipino Americans in the NY area and promoting the exceptional quality of service, artistry, and professionalism Filipinos are known in the world for.”

Aside from Elton, who is a journalist and a community events organizer, the other members of the panel are Marisse Panlilio, an audiovisual engineer; Percival Roque, a photographer; Cristina DC Pastor, founding editor of The FilAm and contributing writer to the Center for New York City Affairs’ immigration blog Feet in Two Worlds; and a couple more people who prefer to remain behind the scenes.

“We are well plugged into the community, know many of the personalities in traditional organizations as well as grassroots advocacy, and have maintained excellent relations with many of them even,” Elton pointed out. “We do not represent any organization, which gives a measure of independence to our decisions.”

We asked him how they decided on the nominees for the respective awards.

Elton disclosed, “The finalists were chosen on merit. We do accept suggestions from the public, and that's how we came across some nominees, but not all suggestions will be nominees. There is further vetting process involved.”

He added, “Finalists from 12 categories have been preselected by a panel that includes us, the organizers. The categories are: Arts and Culture, Business and Entrepreneurship, Community Service and Advocacy, Courage of Conviction Award, Entertainment, Fashion and Style, Food and Restaurants, Health Care, LGBT Advocacy, Media and Publishing, Public Service and Politics, and Youth and Sports.”

What makes this award different from other awards is the voting process. Elton explained, “The Facebook voting separates us from other award shows, hence, this is truly a people's award. The honorees and awardees are not required to pay ANY fees (registration, sell tickets or ads). In fact, their VIP ticket to the event is on us. The event coincides with the Filipino American History Month celebration.”

TOFA-NY organizers (left) Crien Pastor and Elton Lugay with honoree Lea Salonga (center) (Photo by Ivan Roque)

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Aside from the nominees, honorees will also be receiving Heritage Awards, renowned Broadway actress Lea Salonga being one of them. The others include Craig and Samantha Abaya (siblings who won the Dancing with the Stars Junior Championship), Loida Nicolas Lewis (CEO, lawyer, philanthropist, and advocate), the Filipino American Human Services Inc. (a community-based non-profit organization dedicated to serving the youth, women, elderly, and recent immigrants), the Filipino American National Historical Society (the group that documents and promotes Filipino American history), and the Filipino Reporter (a weekly newspaper that has steadfastly served the Filipino American community in New York City since 1972).

 “The honorees were chosen on merit,” Elton explained. “Likewise, the winners will be voted [for] entirely via Facebook, using the ‘like’ button. We are trying this novel idea for the first time, and FB management knows about our plan. Social media is the fulcrum here. The winners will not be compelled to sell tickets. The contest will be conducted in a transparent manner via FB, and even we, the organizers, do not wield any veto power—except maybe in the event of a deadlock.”

An awards ceremony, to be attended by honoree Lea Salonga and hosted by former Fox News anchor Ernabelle Demillo, will be held on October 29 at 8:00 PM at the Carnegie Hall’s Weill Hall in New York.

Consul General Mario Lopez de Leon Jr.
will be the keynote speaker, while community leader Loida Nicolas Lewis will deliver an inspirational address.

Those who will provide entertainment during the awards ceremony are Jonathan Badon, Kirby Asunto, Nina Mojares, Seven Odon, and Gabe Basalatan.

For a complete list of nominees and honorees, click here.

To find out more about the awards and cast your own votes, visit facebook.com/TOFAINY.

Email the writer at jrnepales_624@yahoo.com for your comments or questions.

(Photos courtesy of TOFA-NY)

Scroll through the list below to learn who was nominated for each category.


Bessie Badilla
—Film and music entrepreneur who is involved with the promotion of Brinoy (Brazil and Pinoy) music. She is also a producer of independent films;

Michael Dadap
—Guitarist and rondalla musician who founded the non-profit Children’s Orchestra Society dedicated to teaching chamber music to children and teens;

Roz Li—Preservationist architect and founder of Bakas Pilipinas. The non-profit is dedicated to celebrating Philippine historic buildings and sites, including the restoration project for San Sebastian Church, Manila;

Philippine American Friendship Committee—A community organization that seeks to enrich the quality of life of families by promoting inclusiveness, opportunities, interculturalism, advocacy and intergenerationalism;

Philippine Fiesta—An organization which provides an avenue for the mainstream business to reach the fast-growing and very strong Filipino American market, and connects Filipino businesses to the mainstream market in the United States; and

Philippine Independence Day Council, Inc.—An entity that organizes the yearly Independence Day Parade on Madison Avenue.


Aguila Sisters of Phil-Am Grocery and Merchandising—An entrepreneurial family that has built a grocery chain and food distribution network across the Northeast;

Lyna Larcia Calvario—Founder of KasalNY, a wedding and event planning company in Manhattan;

Grace Hufano-Labaguis
—A marketing professional who has her own media promotion company;

Johnny Air Cargo—A pioneer in the balikbayan box and air courier services with offices in Queens; and

Philippine National Bank Remittance Centers—A pioneer in remittance services, one of the first full-service banks to establish an office on the East Coast.


Association of Filipinas, Feminists Fighting Imperialism, Re-feudalization, and Marginalization (AF3IRM)—A women’s organization with a transnational, feminist perspective;

Catholic Action of Mary—A parish-based group that celebrates religious traditions and organizes the Annual Santacruzan on the Northeast, now on its 33rd year;

Damayan Migrant Workers Association
—Grassroots organization dedicated to promoting the rights and welfare of Filipino migrant workers;

Dr. Gabriel Esteban—First Filipino and first lay president of Seton Hall University in New Jersey; and

Philippine Forum—Community organizer and advocacy group, founder of Bayanihan Filipino Community Center in Queens.


Catherina Cenzon-de Carlo—Mt. Sinai Hospital nurse who refused to assist in abortion procedures for religious reasons; and

Jose Antonio Vargas—Pulitzer Award-winning journalist who outs himself as an undocumented immigrant in a New York Times essay.


Mig Ayesa—Manila-born rocker performing on Broadway’s Rock of Ages;

Teresa Victoria ‘TV’ Carpio—Broadway actress currently playing Arachne in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark;

J. Elaine Marcos—Broadway actress playing the Filipino mail-order bride character in the musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert;

Luis Pedron
—President and programmer of Manhattan International Film Festival, film director, and SAG actor;

Sounds of Manila—Pop and ballad band promoting Original Pilipino Music across the Northeast; and

Air Tabigue—Comic, entertainer, and a regular at comedy clubs, colleges, and community events.


Josie Natori—Fashion designer who started with a lingerie collection and whose line has expanded to include women’s clothing, home furnishings and perfume;

Cesar Obrero—Photographer and fashion impresario known for coaching aspiring Filipino models and beauty pageant contestants in New York;

Jerry Sibal
—Designer of events, from private parties to charity balls, by coordinating interiors with lighting, architecture, and tabletop arrangements;

Robin Tomas—Promising fashion designer whose award-winning T-shirt line is one of Bloomingdale’s best-sellers; and

Rafe Totengco—Designer specializing in men and women’s bags, leather goods, and accessories.


Rena Avendula—Owner of Payag bar and restaurant in Queens, a popular venue for community meetings and musical concerts;

Alex Dino—Named one of Best Cafeteria Chefs in 2008 by Fortune Magazine. Won the 2010 Sears Chefs Challenge cooking competition;

Romy Dorotan—Chef and owner of Purple Yam in Brooklyn. Published Memories of Philippine Kitchens with wife Amy Besa; and

King Phojanakong—Chef and owner of two Asian tapas restaurants—Kuma Inn in Manhattan and Umi Nom in Brooklyn.


Dr. Lorna Bayes—A doctor who runs medical missions in Haiti and the Philippines through her Mano-a-Mano International Relief Organization;

Kalusugan Coalition—Non-profit organization dedicated to improving the health care of Filipino Americans through educational activities, research, community action, and advocacy; and

Dr. Kevin Nadal—Professor, psychologist, performer, and advocate against childhood obesity under the banner of the Papaya Project. Promoter of Filipino American mental health with two books on Filipino American Psychology.


Barangay New York—Organization serving the needs of the Filipino LGBTQ community and providing a supportive safe space for discussion of issues;

Michelle Manangan—Transgender woman who organizes the annual Miss AsiaNYC pageant and advocates for rights and empowerment of transgender people;

Therese Rodriguez—Chief executive officer of the Asian and Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS; and

Anastacio Roxas
—Gay rights advocate and officer of the New York Police Department.


Sheila Coronel—Director of the Columbia University Graduate School’s Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism. Many of her students have won awards for their in-depth investigative reporting;

Luis Francia—Poet, journalist, and history and Tagalog language educator. His semi-autobiographical Eye of the Fish: A Personal Archipelago won the PEN Open Book and Asian American Writers literary awards in 2002;

Kristine Johnson
—Award-winning CBS 2 news anchor;

Elda Rotor—Penguin Publishing editorial director in charge of global promotion of Jose Rizal’s Noli and Fili novels, among other literary classics;

Don Tagala—Reporter and videographer at ABS-CBN International; and

Momar Visaya—Editor-in-chief of Asian Journal Weekly.


Filipino American Legal and Education Defense Fund—Provides pro bono services to immigrants, is the retained counsel for journalist Jose Antonio Vargas and the hundreds of teachers in Maryland at risk of losing their jobs;

Rolando Lavarro—The latest Filipino to run for a city council seat in Jersey City;

Ivy Suriyopas—A lawyer for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund providing assistance to victims of human trafficking; and

Roland Ubaldo—Deputy US Marshal and spokesman of the US Marshals Service of the Southern District of New York, the office which conducted an auction of hundreds of personal property belonging to Ruth and Bernie Madoff.


Bukas-Loob sa Diyos Youth Ministry-Newark—A Christian ministry for young FilAms aimed at building character and meaningful empowerment, and fostering spiritual growth;

Pilipino American Unity for Progress—Young professionals and students seeking to address historical and divisional problems among FilAms through dialogue and community building;

Apollo Riego—Popular magician who performs at Coney Island, with specialty in card tricks; and

The Filipino School of New York and New Jersey—A cultural and language school for children and teens.

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