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THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE MAN WHO TWICE BESTED NORA AUNOR IN SINGING TILTS
By Herbert L. Vego
(As published in Weekly Nation, January 25, 1971)
HE beat today's phenomenal singing sensation twice. And yet, unlike Nora Aunor, he has not yet burst out from the cocoon of anonymity, although he used to be Nora's partner long before Tirso Cruz III, Manny de Leon and Victor Laurel came along.
"Nora and I were both born and raised in Iriga City. In fact, we were schoolmates from grade four to second year high school. Those years, the two of us made good as singing sweethearts of our school."
Speaking is Elmer Aballa, a little known name, a bolt out of the blue, what with this revelation of his good old days with Nora. And to say that he beat Nora twice arouses great surprise. For who is he anyway?
This writer came to know Elmer by accident when somebody in town made this remark: "There's a friend of Nora Aunor who beat Nora herself, but he must be dogged by back luck since he is still groping in the dark for success." That aroused my curiosity to inquire about this fellow and to meet him personally. In a week's time, Elmer showed up for a hearty interview.
During his first three years at the Iriga Central School, Elmer Aballa earned the title of "the song sparrow of Iriga" from his teachers. He was always asked to do a song in school programs. When he was in grade four, Nora Villamayor came along.
"This newcomer," Elmer recalls, "enrolled in the same section (one) where I belonged. I learned that she had been born in Iriga, too, but that she had gone to Manila to study in grades one, two and three. During the first days of classes, some of the boys and girls teased her, 'Negra! Bulilit!'
"We discovered that Nora has a golden voice. Her voice was enough to shut the mouths of her teasers. From then on, I had a partner in the person of Nora Villamayor. We two were always chosen to represent our school in district meets. Actually, Nora's part in most of these meets was declamation; she was more of a declaimer then, both winning and losing at times, same with me as a singer.
"Nora and I both belonged to a poor family. Her father was a porter. My old man was a Philippine Air Force crew member receiving four pesos a day. But poverty didn't deter us from our obsession of becoming successful singers someday. We both finished elementary grades and graduated in 1964. After that, we thought we would be on our own -- quitting school and joining choral groups."
But in July of 1964 when the new schoolyear opened, Elmer and Nora found each other enrolled in the same school again -- this time at the high school department of Mabini Memorial University. Their parents decided that they continue their studies. Elmer and Nora agreed to keep the ball rolling as singing partners again.
One morning while Elmer was studying his lessons in the library, Nora came over with a jolly message: there would be an amateur show at Nabua, Camarines Sur the following night. Elmer agreed to Nora's suggestion that he go with her to join the contest. They joined. Singing Granada. Elmer bagged the first prize of P50, edging out Nora, whose You And The Night And The Music placed her second with P30. It was past midnight when the show ended; no transportation was available to take them home to Iriga. Nora and Elmer walked home with only the moonlight to guide them the distance of three kilometers. Back home, their parents were the proudest of 'em all.
In the middle part of December 1964, their principal, Timoteo Panga, called Nora and Elmer to his office, requesting them to represent the freshmen in the intramural. They had to compete against each other, however, since only one would be sent to Cabanatuan City for the national PRISAA MEET IN 1965. It was Elmer who made it to the PRISAA. This, then, was the second time Elmer beat Nora.
"Nora was a good sport that early," Elmer avers. "When I left for the PRISAA, Nora was my most enthusiastic wel-wisher. It was unfortunate I lost by some points to a Cebuana!"
The opening of the schoolyear in 1965 found Nora and Elmer high school sophomores still at the Mabini Memorial University. Early part of the second semester in December, however, Nora had to bid Elmer goodbye. Her auntie Belen in Manila had asked her to study at the Centro Escolar University. But education would prove later to be secondary to Nora's personal plans while in Manila.
Elmer decided to keep on singing even if he had to commute to Naga City. He joined the Darigold Jamboree in Naga City over dzGE and was proclaimed champion for the year 1965 during the show's grand finals.
Nora must have heard of Elmer's good luck. For in the summer of 1966, she took a vacation to Iriga and made use of it by joining the Naga Darigold Jamboree, too. She did make it as a champion but only for two weeks, unlike Elmer who had pushed through seven weeks of defending his crown until finally owning it for good.
But Nora was not the type of person who would easily give up. When she returned to Manila, she joined an even more prestigious contest. Leila Benitez' Darigold Jamboree over dzRH. There she held on to the championship for 14 consecutive weeks and on the 15th week got edged out. Elmer had been following her career over the radio in Iriga.
In 1967, Nora Villamayor received her trophy as the year's grand national champion of Tawag Ng Tanghalan. Prior to this, she had placed second but had tried out once again, retaining the title for several weeks until the final triumph.
This big news saturated practically every barber shop, beauty shop and household in Iriga. Elmer felt a bit bogged down just thinking that a girl he had defeated twice was already carving for herself a national name; but being Nora's townmate and childhood chum, Elmer was himself beaming with pride. Eventually, he motored all the way from Iriga to Manila just to see Nora at the ABS-CBN studios in October 1967. Nora was rehearsing her songs when Elmer arrived bu she asked for a one-hour recess upon recognizing her visitor. For one hour, Nora and Elmer, recalled the good old days. This would later prove to be Elmer's last talk with Nora, for when Elmer attempted to see Nora last November just before she left for Hollywood, the guards of Channel 9, where Nora was performing, would not allow him to enter the studio and he was just at the audience booth.
Graduating from high school in April 1968, Elmer decided to reside in Manila and seek greener pastures.
Almost three years have elapsed since then and Elmer has been working hard finding a place in the sun. Only trouble is that his climb has been quite slow.
For instance, he was not given a second chance like Nora after had placed second in Tawag Ng Tanghalan in December 1968.
In January 1969, Elmer studied voice culture in Cubao under the private tutorship of Prof. Grace Turla Melendrez, finishing it in one year and a half.
That year Elmer started joining different radio and tv shows. The year ended with a good deal of laurels to his credit: as a three-week champion of dzXL's Talents Unlimited, as a second placer on Channel 5's On Stage, as a four-week champion of Channel 2's Oras Ng Ligaya.
Last summer (April 1970), Elmer joined the audience participation of the Monday edition of Stop, Look And Listen (Channel 2) under the hostage of Eddie Mesa, Carina Afable and Joey Lardizabal. He was the undisputed week-after-week champion of the show until he was hired by the UP Mobile Theater. For about six months, he went with the choral group hopping from one province to another in singing engagements.
Later it became impossible for him to stay with the theater: a ray of success was finally alighting on him. Elmer is now a regular performer in three radio programs, on two tv shows and a first-class discotheque.
This young fellow of 18, the third of four children of Moises Aballa and Jovita Jacob, shoulders a herculean responsibility. His father in Iriga, now a retired PAF enlisted man, is suffering from thrombosis and his mother has to spend her time caring for him. Only the eldest in the family, a sister teaching in high school, is gainfully employed. And so Elmer has to help financially.
Elmer's wish for 1971 is to make it this time as recording artist. He is still waiting for somebody to salvage him from anonymity.
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