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The Making of An Ybanag Ricky Lee

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The long creative dry spell for the Cagayanos is over. Finally, Benjamin Julian Lasam Lingan, an Ybanag from Tuguegarao gets nominated to the prestigious International Emmy Awards for his job on television.

Such news, first shared earlier by Hong Kong-based Ybanag Rabbi James Gannaban, literally stirs the once-dormant Ybanag pride, long been wounded by a derth of artistic and creative milestones otherwise enjoyed by the other lowland tribes.

It took a day or two before it sink in my sometimes turbulent subconscious. When it did, the adrenalin rush came gushing like a newfound spring up the Sierra Madre mountains. Among children of lesser gods, the scope and grandeur of the news likewise came like a cool refreshing rain in the middle of an El Nino phenomenon.

So what’s the fuss and what’s the buzz?

The Emmys recognizes excellence in television as what The Oscars do for film. The three Emmys- Primetime Emmys, Daytime Emmys and International Emmys- are given on separate ceremonies.

Benjamin Julian Lasam Lingan, or BJ Lingan, was cited in the International Emmys, awarded for excellence on television programming produced and initially aired outside of the United States. It is given in November each year by the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (IATAS).

The fuss is that BJ’s nominated work, “Bridges of Love”, under Telenovela Category announced in September last year by Bruce Paisner, president and CEO of IATAS.

BJ’s “Bridges of Love” was up against ‘Samuel Page” from Canada and Brazil’s “ Verdades Secretas” and “Rules of Game” in a field of 40 nominees across 10 categories and 15 countries in competition.

“Bridges of Love” was my first show for ABS-CBN as head writer,” BJ disclosed in an on-line interview Tuesday evening within the confines of The Northern Forum’s editorial office.

It would interest Tuguegarao residents that the telenovela was inspired by the old Josefa Bridge between Penablanca and Tuguegarao.

“It was funny because when I was writing it, naging inspiration ko iyong mga bridges ng Tuguegarao,” he adds.

Mother Marilyn usually brought BJ and brother Gabriel at the Josefa Bridge during summer weekends. Those juvenile experiences may have been too strong for BJ to resist as a writer that he made it into a world class story deserving of an Emmy nomination.

As most weavers of tales do, BJ cannot resist the temptation of naming his characters to those people he dearly loves.

Laughing out loud on messenger, he said the character of the older brother in ‘Bridges’ he named after his only brother Gabriel (a top honcho of CEZA) and the mother’s character he named Marilen after his own mother, Marilyn of the then famous, until its closure, Marilyn’s Restaurant in the city.

On hindsight and without him admitting it, he virtually brought the Ybanags on screen through his first show as head writer. How’s that for culture peddling on the boob?

“Generally, ang take ko diyan is, you always bring into your writing your values, your childhood even.”

“Bridges” starred Jericho Rosales, Maja Salvador, Jodi Sta. Maria (she was up against Judy Dench, M of the James Bond franchise at the Emmys for Best Actress) and Paulo Avelino.

The series tells the story of two brothers, one of them fell from the bridge and is thought to have died until he sprung back to life.

Like the rest of the Ybanags, BJ was humbled for his nomination. His use of the word ‘ lang’ in his message ‘we were nominated lang’ speaks of the real Ybanag upbringing.

As headwriter of “Bridges”, he was supposed to go to New York in November last year to receive the nomination but he was indispensible for a new show titled “Love to Last Tonight”, a drama he admitted was loosely based on an earlier story, “Madrasta”.

“The handle here is more real family drama on blended families. I’m a Christian and I really take my relationship with God seriously,” he says.

Through his shows, he wants to impart biblical principles but not necessarily preachy about it.

Cagayan’s first and lone nominee to that international award grew up already interested in writing stories. In fact, his youthful tales often landed in their school paper at St. Paul’s University.

It was a passion he nurtured until the break came, disguised as a workshop for ABS conducted by the country’s master story teller, the one and the only one Ricky Lee.

When it was announced, BJ joined some five thousand hopefuls lined up as applicants. The fierce Ybanag mengal (brave) in him resulted in his inclusion to the magic 29 individuals subjected to days and weeks of writing workshop for the small screen.

“We were tagged as the best of the best. Right after the workshop, 15 of us were deployed to various shows of the network,” BJ noted.

He was assigned as brainstormer (read contributing writer) for a soap titled “Kristala” and starred Judy Anne Santos. It was his first taste of a soap.

Being the restless country boy nurtured by the Pinacanauan River, he tried the movies and entered Star Cinema. He was part of the Concept Development Group for a while. He did “Ploning”, an indie film with Judy Anne.

In 2009, he decided to go back to television and became a writer for “Magkaribal.” From here, there’s no stopping this guy still deeply rooted in Ybanag culture even in his stories.

BJ now credits The Ricky Lee as his mentor including Olivia Lamasan and Henry Quitain. “They really took pains in guiding me as a scriptwriter,” he added.

This Ybanag who is closely following the footsteps of his mentor is proud of his own culture and traditions.

“To me, being raised an Ybanag is all about the value of family. Most of my shows have strong family themes,” he says and excused himself to do urgent scene changes for “Love…”

These days, he manages writers of ABS and admitted the approach is more strategic even in managing directors and taking care of the creative vision of the shows.

He sees training and encouraging writers as an inspiration.

“Hindi ko pa alam kung directing ang path ko. Maybe more on creative management ang pupuntahan ko,” BJ said, as a matter of fact.

He says this to all would-be writers: what you’re called to do, commit to it and give it all your heart”.

As a pioneering talent who successfully mainstreamed himself inside the confines of the powerful ABS-CBN, BJ will never rest on his laurels and will continue to do ‘what he was called to do’.

Goodies usually come in pairs. While the first pride-lifting news is the Emmys, BJ broke another news.

“ I will bring ABS-CBN pool of writers in Tuguegarao to train our writers”.

And that my friend is what an Emmy nominee, an Ybanag Ricky Lee, has promised to do.

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