My Close Encounter With Michael Jackson in Manila

My Close Encounter With Michael Jackson in Manila
By Gwen Cariño

I receive an email from a friend. It is about an experienced of one of the Hotel PR officer with Michael Jackson in Manila 1996. To verify if the story is authentic, I try to search in the net. Fortunately I am able to contact Miss Gwen Cariño (author) and ask her permission to re-publish the story. The article was originally printed in Ricky Lo's section in The Philippine Star I love the story and I want to share it. I appreciate that she allows me to re-publish her great experience with Michael Jackson generosity.



*************************************************************************************
The author (right) shares a light moment with Michael Jackson during a Christmas party for orphans in Manila on Dec. 7, 1996.

Manila Hotel's former PR officer Gwen Cariño writes about her close encounter with hotel guest Michael Jackson in December 1996.


When I was a PR officer at Manila Hotel, I was assigned to head the annual Orphan's Christmas Party where 300 children from different orphanages around Metro Manila were treated to a day of fun and surprises. It was one of the biggest projects on my plate and it was such a challenge to focus on work the day before the big event, knowing Michael Jackson was billeted in the hotel.

Two nights before, I had been fortunate to be part of his welcome line at the hotel lobby together with the rest of the PR and sales staff but was content enough to see him walk by.

The day before, a guy claiming to be Michael Jackson's aide from Mamarao Productions came to the office. I couldn't recall his name but he looked for the "person in charge" and said his boss had read the announcement about the event in the Dear Guest flyers we had circulated to all the rooms a week before. Michael wanted to know how he could help. His aide went up to the Penthouse and down to the PR office several times after we gave our suggestions.

Michael offered to fill up the 300 loot bags with goodies and toys, candies and chocolates. But after getting close to 50 sponsors, it was actually a problem for us to dispose of everything.

So I thought hard...how can the King of Pop meaningfully join the affair? I couldn't possibly have him be with the kids in the palayok game or the pabitin as he might end up being mobbed! And since the annual event was really all about giving, I mustered all my courage and told the Mamarao guy that the best thing I could think of was for Michael to literally be present to help distribute the loot bags, sign autographs and pose with the children for photos. "Wow, that may not be easy. You're talking about handing goodie bags to 300 children and I can just imagine the chaos. We'll see, Ms. Jacinto. I'll get back to you," he said.

Lunch break came and it was the most hurried one I ever took in my entire life. It wasn't until after 5 p.m. that Michael's aide came back and said, "Michael is more than happy to do whatever you suggest. How do we go about it tomorrow?" I wanted to scream. I had to calm myself and regain composure as the Lizzie Maguire in me said, "Get real, get back into focus."

We agreed that Michael would join after the games, musical program and snacks, and at the last part to give out the loot bags. My colleague Annette Africano and boss Dulce Agnir requested for additional security around the garden and the stage area as this was where we decided to distribute the gifts. We made sure the children would form an orderly line.



Then the moment arrived. It was at the Champagne Gardens on Dec. 7, 1996. I was surprised to see him walking towards us, guided by his aide. Michael came up to me as I had to brief him.

"Hi, how are you? Thanks so much for letting me in, I know I'm early 'coz I didn't want to miss the program." I said, "Are you kidding? Thanks so much for volunteering! Here's what Michael, why don't you just sit here and watch the musical numbers before we get into the gift giving. I will have to tweak the program a bit." He replied, "Sure, anything you say... (pausing to look at my name tag) Gwen!" I was stunned at how incredibly sweet and modest he was. And in my mind it was, "Oh my God, this is really happening!"

Amazing how he patiently sat through the whole program. Carol Banawa, then an Ang TV mainstay couldn't believe MJ was watching her perform. She had her red blouse signed by him right after her number. Then followed Stefano Mori's dance number. Later, his back up singers and dancers came up on stage followed by select kids from different orphanages who danced to the beat of Billie Jean. Oh, the smile on Michael's face was just amazing.

Then we announced that Michael will be distributing gifts onstage. I explained to him that there's a loot bag for the younger kids and another for the older ones and he nodded. The thrill and excitement he gave those children was incredibly touching. It was in between the gift bag distribution that I caught a glimpse of MJ, not as a performer but as a person.

It was one in the afternoon. Santa Claus (David Endriga, a friend of fellow PR officer Francis Capistrano) was with us. The heat was scourging and I was worried that Michael felt so hot with his black long-sleeved signature attire and hat.

"Are you alright Michael? We can let you take a break," I asked. He said, "I'm cool Gwen. Just imagine how Santa feels inside his velvet suit and beard. We'll be fine." I never heard him complain or say a word about how hot it was or how long the line was. He had the most beautiful manners. He didn't even ask for a drink or a towel to wipe his sweat but one of our banquet staff made sure he got a glass of fresh orange juice.

An hour passed and we were halfway through gift-giving when we noticed that the garden was getting filled up. Suddenly, there were people from media, politicians, officials and hotel guests including those in a wedding reception at the nearby Champagne Room who deserted the newly-weds just to get a glimpse of the King of Pop.

"Oh oh, this isn't supposed to be, I'm so sorry," I said. It's all right, we'll get through it," Michael said smiling. As we finished giving out the last loot bag to an 11-year-old orphan, a new line of more kids and adults formed. Michael's bodyguard, Wayne, said. "We can leave now."

Michael replied calmly, "We can't leave when there are still people in line. It's Christmas, dude."

I felt my heart beat faster and the hair on my arms and the back of my neck stood up. He wasn't just the most electrifying performer, but the most generous person.

One of the most memorable moments was when a lady came up to him for an autograph. Laughing and holding his tummy, he said "Hey Gwen, you've gotta check this out. He whispered, "It's a blank check. The lady is making me sign on a blank check."

We laughed hard and little did we know that it wasn't even half of the comedy. He later showed me and Wayne other stuff people would use or pick up on the ground when they couldn't find paper for him to sign on. One lady made him sign at the back of her elegant, designer Filipiniana gown. One teenager came up to him holding a dead leaf and another one, a popped balloon. Imagine how our laughter ballooned as well.

It was an amazing, genuine experience. At one point he asked if I was going to catch his History concert and I said "tomorrow night." "Oh, you'll have a blast!" Michael told me.

At this point he became concerned about the stage as adults outnumbered the kids. His face had nervousness written all over it but he still didn't complain. He tapped the wooden floor with his foot several times making sure it was sturdy enough not to fall apart. "I've experienced the stage collapse and I just want to make sure we're all safe here," he explained.

Half of me wanted the line to finish because we were literally melting and worried about our safety, but half of me didn't, knowing that once the line ended, Michael will leave.

At some point it did end. I managed to get an autograph for my sisters and me before our general manager, Clem Pablo, requested him to sing 'Give Love on Christmas Day'.

Cesar Sarino, one of the hotel's officials, addressed his thank you note to the King of Pop. Then I saw his guards and aides whisking Michael off stage. I said in my mind, "Oh man, I didn't even have the chance to say goodbye."

Suddenly, I saw Michael return on stage and say, "Thanks so much to you and your team, Gwen. This really means a lot." Then he held me beside him and said, "I'll see you at the concert."

As Michael Jackson is laid to rest and returned to pristine condition in the afterlife, these two incredible acts of the King of Pop --- volunteering for charity and unselfishly spending time with the less fortunate, will forever be the way I will remember this man.

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All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor,
the very thing I was eager to do.
(Galatians 2:10)

6 comments:

Mokong™ said...

mabuti ka pa nameet mo na siya...

The Pope said...

Nakakalungkot isipin na sa kabila ng pagiging sikat ni MJ, nanatili syang mababa ang loob at mapagmahal sa mga bata, at hindi ri matatawaran ang kanyang kabutihang loob sa pagbibigay tulong sa napakaraming charitable institutions.

Salamat sa pakikibahagi ng napakagandang kwento.

Life Moto said...

Moks - that was a great moment for Gwen. It's a one in a life time experienced.

Pope - I hope that the goodness of MJ will be remembered. Your welcome and the credit is to Miss Gwen for sharing her story.

Sardonyx said...

Isa rin akong tagahanaga ni MJ, kahit marami syang bad criticisms ay hanga pa rin ako sa talent niya. Sayang at wala na siya, I even introduced MJ to my son before he died through watching MJ sa youtube kaya kilala siya ng anak ko sa "moonwalk" style niya hehehe. Thanks for sharing the story of Gwen, ang bait pala ni Michael.

isladenebz said...

Naiyak ako. Not because I sooo love MJ but because it validated my long time belief that we should not judge a person by the way we read them in the newspapers.

I love MJ's music kahit ano pa ang sabihin ng detractors nya.

MJ, for me, is a star (in all the sense of the word).

Salamat for sharing us this story.

Life Moto said...

Sardonyx - Ito yata yung era natin :) sayang at meron pa naman sya series of concert. Yan ang sia sa mga stories behind his issues. It's nice that there is someone have the story to share.

isladenebz - well if it is true or not I believe na maraming panahon ang nawala sa pagkabata nya. Pati na rin ang buhay nya. I read one of his biography sa wiki, truly na napakabait nya. dahil sa mga big charitable events na nacontribute nya. Simple story like Gwen is really heart warming.

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