MANILA - More than 2 decades since headlining one of the most influential Filipino children's TV shows in the 1990s, Bok, Anatom, Agatom, Palikpik, and Ugat-Puno looked back at their roots in "Sine'skwela" and agreed its legacy of teaching never left them through the years.
While the ABS-CBN educational show has hosted mainstays like Jon Santos, Winnie Cordero, and Giselle Sanchez, the "S.S. Sine'skwela" crew became the most identified with the show for millennials who grew up watching it.
It was a very visual association: homegrown costumes and names plus the namesake spaceship which could explore both biological and heavenly bodies.
Christine Bersola-Babao, who played Anatom, called their group the original "Guardians of the Galaxy" that powered local kids' imaginations long before the hit Marvel movie.
But at "Sine'skwela's" core, she recalled, was the desire to make science and technology exciting for its young viewers.
TRULY FOR KIDS
Bersola-Babao and four of her co-stars caught up with each other and reminisced about their days on set at a reunion via Zoom streamed live on Facebook in late June.
With her were Brenan Espartinez, who played Anatom's sidekick Agatom; Sheena Ramos, a.k.a. Palikpik; Roobak Valle, a.k.a. Ugat-Puno; and Icko Gonzalez, who played Kuya Bok.
Their fello cast member Maan Munsayac, a.k.a. Kulitsap, could not join the online reunion because of her work as a nurse in the United States.
Gonzalez later posted a before-and-now collage of the cast with the hashtag #VoteYesToABSCBN to express support for the embattled network's franchise bid.
In the post, he thanked ABS-CBN for pushing educational television or ETV.
"One of the best things that happened to our generation, the new gen, and Philippine TV... ETV! Ito ay dahil sa (This was because of) ABS-CBN!" wrote Gonzalez.
Bersola-Babao, an original "Sine'skwela" cast member, shared how the late ABS-CBN Foundation chairman Gina Lopez recruited her to join the show.
"(Sabi niya) masyadong mababa ang grades and performance ng mga kabataan sa Pilipinas pagdating sa science and math. So lagi tayong tail end, laging bagsak," she said.
"Dahil mahilig manood ng TV ang mga tao, kailangan ng isang show na maeengganyo silang manood na pambata talaga para tumaas at mag-improve ang grading ng mga kabataan at magkaroon ng love for science. Sabi ko 'Wow ma'am, I'm in, susuportahan ko kayo.'"
(She said the grades and performance of Filipino children in science and math were very poor. We were always at the tail-end and failing.
Since people loved to watch TV, she said we needed an engaging show truly for kids that would help improve their grading and nurture in them a love for science. I said 'Wow, ma'am, I'm in, I will support you'.)
WHERE THEY ARE NOW
Bersola-Babao appeared first as a human character before assuming the role of "Anatom".
Later becoming a TV morning show and radio host, she ventured into writing children's books and handling a financial literacy online program with Chinkee Tan.
Plus, as a mother, Bersola-Babao home schools her children Antonia (Anya) and Antonio (Nio).
"The teacher in me never left. I'm very fortunate and thankful (to) Ma'am Gina. She saw the teacher in me that's why she invited me to be one of the cast of 'Sine'skwela' and (we carried that over) and carry on in our lives," she said.
Icko Gonzalez is still also at it imparting lessons to children as a director-producer at CBN Asia, where he hosted the kids' show "Oyayi" that aired on ABS-CBN.
He also taught theater locally, became a teacher abroad for more than a decade, and now volunteers at kids church in Victory Makati.
"'Di na yata matatanggal sa aking pagkatao ang children's content (I guess children's content will never be separated from who I am)," Gonzalez said.
"And I'm grateful to Gina Lopez for instilling the value of really putting premium in taking care of the next generation."
Roobak Valle, already a theater artist before being cast as tree-man "Ugat-Puno" (or as Bersola-Babao dubbed him, the original "Groot"), put his stage experience to good use in the role.
When guests found it difficult to deliver scientific names and technical terms, the lines were given to him.
But it soon went counter to the writers' initial design for him as an curious character.
"On the spot me-memorize-in ko rin yun. Tapos eventually sabi ko, 'Teka muna, ang tali-talino ko na,' di ba dapat tatanga-tanga ako dito?' So nagbago na character ko noong tumagal na," he recalled.
(I would memorize the lines on the spot. Later on, I realized, 'I was already becoming smart, wasn't my character originally not? So it changed as the show went on.)
For a short period, Ugat-Puno was also played by Herbie Go and Ding Lucina.
After "Sine'skwela", Valle taught at children's theater workshops and now directs both stage productions and events.
Younger cast members Sheena Ramos and Brenan Espartinez, meanwhile, recalled their difficulty remembering lines and trying to balance the show with their studies.
"Parang Grade 2, Grade 3 lang kami noon, nag me-memorize kami ng (pang) Grade 6 or Grade 5. Hindi namin naiintindihan yun. Ang haba talaga, sobrang hirap for us. Tapos ganyan kakapal ang script," Ramos said.
(We were only Grade 2 or 3 then, but we were memorizing concepts for Grades 5 or 6. We couldn't understand them. It was long and difficult for us. Plus, the scripts were thick.)
And yet the two kept a foot in media later on.
Ramos became a registered nurse and then worked for the digital arm of TV5. She is now a digital marketer yet continues to act in commercials, films, and web series.
Espartinez, whose singing voice graced "Sine'skwela" and other ABS-CBN educational shows like "Bayani", pursued a music career.
He did vocal coaching, backup singing, and is now part of a band named Subprojekt.
He also streams a video game vlog named after his character "Agatom".
The "Sine'skwela" reunion came after the show began re-airing on ABS-CBN Channel 2 and later on the Kapamilya Channel.
The show has also been cited as a resource in the push for blended media-assisted learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an earlier nostalgic throwback to the show during the quarantine, composer Ryan Cayabyab performed the "Sine'skwela" theme song at an online concert.
The reunion also featured select "Batang '90s" who grew up with the show and shared how it influenced their career choices.
The cast said they are planning a follow-up to their so-called "Zoom'skwela" that would invite other former "Sine'skwela" cast members.
They added they were open to reprising their roles or joining a children's show again. #
Watch the full video of the "S.S. Sine'skwela" cast reunion below: