By Dot Ramos Balasbas-Gancayco
In July 2005, when Manila Pavilion Hotel (now Waterfront Manila Pavilion) management was planning the opening of Boulvar Lounge, I suggested the name of the very young Sitti Navarro, virtually unknown at that time, for the opening act, as I believed she would best epitomize what Boulvar was all about. She was young, only an 18-year-old college student then, very intelligent, chic, classy and exciting. With a few people vehemently disagreeing, I predicted that the beautiful girl will go places. I asked my good friend Verni Varga to take a look at her at the Boulvar and Verni agreed. “With a little change in her packaging, she could make it big in the entertainment world,” Verni said. She advised Sitti on what to wear (e.g., something that fits her age not the long black unbecoming gown she wore); put on a little more makeup, and put more style and body into her hair. In less than a year, Sitti’s Bossa album was such a hit you would hear her voice wherever you went — in the mall, in the restaurant, even in the office. In less than a year, she was Aliw Awards’ and MTV Pilipinas Best New Female Artist. I was so proud of Sitti.
In a short period of time, Sitti “crossed over” from singing to TV, doing guestings, hosting and even acting. In spite of her popularity, Sitti has not changed a bit in her simplicity and humility. During my interview in Stonehouse, E. Rodriguez, Quezon City (owned by Garrie Trinidad, her ever-efficient manager) where Sitti performs every Tuesday, I still saw the same Sitti with more makeup though and better hairdo. She is now every inch the singing star I saw much earlier but still ever the sweet, soft-spoken person she has always been.
Although she looks so fragile and vulnerable, Sitti is made of much firmer stuff inside. A rundown of her credentials would include graduating Valedictorian in pre-school, Second Honorable Mention in Grade School and Valedictorian in High School. Whew! In college she finished Bachelor of Science in Business Economics (one of the more difficult courses at the University of the Philippines-Diliman as far as I can remember) in four years’ time, while singing almost nightly at different venues starting during the summer before she entered first year college at 16. Having gone through lounge singing myself, I asked Sitti how she could have possibly managed nightly gigs that ended at 2 a.m., go home to Las Piñas, sleep at around 4 a.m., then wake up in the morning to commute going to UP for daily bouts with her demanding teachers. Sitti admits it was very tiring but she just had to do it as a working student. “If there was one thing I developed during my college years, it was my faith in God,” Sitti shares, “and God was there to watch over me.” (Oh, did I also mention that she was also a Dean’s Lister at UP?)
She was in third year college when she decided to concentrate on Bossa Nova and I believe this move by Garrie for his ward was just perfect for Sitti’s singing career that swiftly soared to unparalleled heights. Aside from the Lord and her manager Garrie, Sitti is also very grateful to her grandmother who encouraged her to sing even before she went to grade school; her ever-protective Mom (who I recall accompanied her in all her hectic gigs); her Ninong Tito Raymond; Warner Phils.; her lounge singing groupies who followed her wherever she sang (including Mr. Ongking, and a very private unnamable person who later became her boyfriend) and her Sitti-zens who go to all her gigs. She has fans all over the country and those from the Visayas would definitely be catching her in Dumaguete on Feb. 13; Roxas City, Feb. 14; and Tagbilaran City, Feb. 15.
But Sitti is not just a singer and outstanding student. Surprise, surprise! In between singing and studying, Sitti would also be joining beauty contests and winning them. In 2001, she won Miss Visayas in the Miss Travel Girl pageant, and in 2004, she was first runner-up in the Miss Silka competition where she also won the Best in Swimwear award.
For someone who has had so many great achievements at a very young age, Sitti has no plans of stopping to reach her other goals in life. Typical of any UP graduate, she has advocacies. First, she wants Filipinos to change their view of themselves. She wants to erase the mindset that as Filipinos, we are always late. Told of an organization called O.R.A.S. which espouses the principle that “Filipino Time is on Time,” her eyes grew wide with excitement, telling me that she would want to be a part of it. She wants to instill the value of integrity to Filipinos, especially those still in their formative years. She wants to remove the so-called crab mentality and the mañana habit in the thinking of Filipinos. She is much dismayed by the fact that the literacy rate has gone down and she wants to fight for the improvement of education in the Philippines.
For almost three years now, I have been an ardent admirer of Sitti. I know how talented, intelligent, beautiful and hardworking she is. But after she shared with me her principles and advocacies, my admiration was transformed to greater respect. Her grandmother, who passed away even before Sitti recorded her first album and who believed that Sitti was very special, must be smiling so proudly in heaven. For, not only has Sitti become a singing star; she has also become a mature, sensitive and God-fearing person who cares for the future of the Filipino youth and her beloved country.
(For those who want to help build houses for the poor through the Gawad Kalinga, call 718-1738 to 41 or text 0917-5239777. E-mail reactions at firstname.lastname@example.org or text 0927-5000833.)