|Scenes at El Nido town in Palawan.
EL NIDO, Palawan - People in this laid-back municipality in Palawan province has cheered Katrina Halili’s success as an actress and model. Now they cringe as they also share in her dilemmas.
The controversial TV and movie personality who figured in a sex video scandal involving her liposuction doctor spent countless vacations, birthdays, and other special occasions in El Nido, the hometown of her mother’s half-Chinese family.
While fans adore her on screen and in pages of sexy magazines, the Cuyonons (El Nido natives) consider her as one of them. They refer to her as “Chiqui,” Halili’s childhood name.
Local people in this town with 30,000 residents are her relatives, her playmates when they were young, her grandmother’s scholars, her mother’s clients when they had a bakery, or the patients of her mother’s partner who is the town doctor. They saw her from the time she was a chinky-eyed fair-skinned child among tanned kids until she blossomed into one hot babe.
Months after the scandal broke, people in El Nido now harbor mixed feelings toward Halili. Their emotions range from sympathy to shame.
To show their support for Halili, the Palawan province chapter of the League of Mayors passed a resolution last June 14 that “strongly condemns the acts of Dr. Hayden Kho,” according to El Nido Mayor Leonor Corral.
|Villa Libertad. Katrina Halili's Barbie House built on a farm lot.
We are making a stand for Chiqui, Corral told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak. She added that they will also provide a token financial assistance to Halili who has lost acting projects and endorsements during the height of the sex video scandal.
Corral’s sister-in-law is the sister of Malou Pe-Halili, the actress’ mother.
The mayors’ sentiments are shared by many, including Joel Resanto who is obviously protective of the actress. He knows that some of his fellow Cuyonons have watched the Halili-Kho sex videos on the internet and even on phone screens. “If I catch anyone watching those sex videos, I will apprehend them,” Resanto said with the same resolve as how he leads the town’s environmental patrol team.
“She’s a good girl. She is not difficult to approach. When my nephew got sick, she sent P5,000 to help with hospital expenses,” Resanto shared.
Raised and sent to school by Halili’s grandmother, Resanto had been requested by Halili to cook seafood cuisines whenever she visits El Nido in between her previously busy showbiz schedule.
Resanto said that in Halili’s recent visits, she usually stayed at her 4-year old 2-level no-aircon “Barbie House” that sits on a 5-hectare property in Villa Libertad, a village about 7 kilometers from the town proper. Whenever Halili had to recover after cosmetic surgeries, she stayed at her room, which has a tranquil view of the nearby farm lots. Spring water snakes around the property.
Halili’s family has a house in the town proper, which is itself a scenic spot. Halili and her elder brother, Ian, stayed at their 2-storey house that has El Nido's famous marble and limestone cliffs on the east and the hills on the west as dramatic backdrops.
|Where Katrina Halili stayed before her farm lot was built.
The house is a town landmark since her mother’s partner, the only doctor in town, runs a clinic there. Halili’s mom, on the other hand, is engaged in the lucrative trade of bird’s nests. She and Halili’s dad, a lawyer from Novaliches, split when the actress was still very young—a possible reason why Halili tends to be a “survivor,” her neighbors pointed out.
Even when Halili was already in show business, people said she felt at home in El Nido where she and her brother stayed before in between their studies in Manila. She walked around the town’s tree-lined streets in simple shorts and tees, sometimes even in her pajamas.
The laid-back town has a sheltered bay with a crescent beach where Halili would sometimes swim with her local friends. When she joined boat tours to the different islands and islets, she just snorkeled, unlike her brother who is a certified diver. Ian Halili freelances for the wealthy guests of El Nido Resorts that has facilities in two private islands.
Cuyonons are used to being surrounded by drop-dead gorgeous foreigners who are charmed by El Nido’s sceneries, according to “Dong,” who tends to a motorbike renting shop. He said since a good number of Cuyonons are or have been hired in the posh El Nido Resorts’ Lagen and Miniloc island facilities, their training of not ogling at guests and tourists—no matter how beautiful or sexy—has been imbibed by the town’s folks.
“Bing-bing,” a young mother whose parents and her siblings have worked at Las Cabanas, one of the high-end resorts south of the town proper, said they have gotten used to beach scenes where Western tourists are nude while sunbathing, while some publicly display their affection or lovemaking along the shores. “That is probably their culture,” she explained. “But ours is different. It’s not nice if Filipinos do the same thing because that is not part of our culture.”
Ariel Masangkay, a boatman, agreed. He said that Halili erred in choosing the man she was with. “She should have been more careful.”
In a laid-back town like El Nido, morality still matters. A local government official who asked not to be named said, “I hope and had been praying that my own daughter will still follow tradition. I hope she gets married first before she engages in what Chiqui did.”
This was echoed by one of the parents of Halili’s childhood playmates who live a few steps from the Halili’s house in the town proper. “Perhaps Pastor Alex (Halili’s uncle based in El Nido) should have been more active in her spiritual upbringing. But then again, she was not here all the time.”
One of Halili’s male neighbors, however, was unfazed. “What positions did they (Halili-Kho) do that we all do not do ourselves? Let us not cast the first stone on the poor girl.”
Fame and shame
Residents who travel to other parts of Palawan shared that the impact of the Halili-Kho scandal has taken a more personal note than in El Nido.
“When I arrived in Puerto Princesa to pick up guests a few weeks ago, boatmen there were talking about the sex video. Then they turned to me, ‘Isn’t she your townmate?’ I was so ashamed,” shared Masangkay.
He said the feelings were the exact opposite of times when they cheered on and sent text votes for Halili back when she joined a reality talent search show that propelled her to stardom.
Bing-bing, too, remembered how proud they were when Halili was getting juicy roles in TV soaps. “We really followed all her shows. She is very good as a villain. It suits her.”
She added, “When her career in show business was getting better, people kept on saying that they hope she’ll keep on honing her skills and stay beautiful because we share in her success. We were proud telling other people that Katrina Halili is from El Nido.”
|Where Halili sometimes goes for a swim, a few meters away from their house at the El Nido town proper.
Not all Cuyonons, however, are keen on following the news anymore on the sex scandal.
While waiting for the island’s 18-hour electricity supply to resume at 2pm every afternoon, Fatima (not her real name) who tends a small eatery shared that her concerns about the future of her kids is more important than Halili’s short-term troubles.
“We should be focusing on Cha-cha (charter change). We should be focusing on poverty. These will affect the future of my country, so I’m more concerned about this than the issue on Chiqui. The leadership change will affect my own kids’ future,” she stressed.
But doesn’t she want to know how Halili’s cases progress so others who find themselves in a similar situation would also know what to do?
“I’m getting bored with the news on Chiqui because the scandal has been the topic for months to no end. To me, the major issue is who spread the video. Issues raised by the media other than that are just efforts to prolong this,” she pointed out.
It was in the news that tricycle driver Jhogar Rodriguez recently learned that Halili will be going back to work. Having been familiar with Halili since their childhood days, Rodriguez said, "If she decides to come back here, we will welcome her.”