Pokwang Laughs Her Way to the Bank

Pokwang Laughs Her Way to the Bank: Her journey from a negative past to a positive present and future

By Ruth Manimtim-Floresca

Marietta Subong, more popularly known as Pokwang, sashayed into Patio Carlito Restaurant on a rainy Friday morning with a warm smile and rollers in her hair. She greeted us cheerfully and excused herself for a while to have some brunch.

After the quick bite, we proceeded with the photo shoot which turned out to be a very amusing affair. Pokwang is a natural when it comes to posing for the camera. She took our photographer’s directions gamely, made faces, and showed her serious side while making us laugh with her hilarious comments.

Likewise, the interview was mostly filled with fun because Pokwang kept the conversation light despite the serious nature of some of the topics we talked about. In less than half an hour, we learned more about the woman who has been making millions of Filipinos laugh since she was discovered in 2004 via a TV show’s talent search for comedians.

Difficult Beginnings

Hearing her hearty laughter and seeing her big smile, people who are not familiar with Pokwang’s background would be surprised to know what this lady went through prior to being one of the Philippines’ most famous comediennes of her generation.

“Marami kaming magkakapatid, dose kami at hindi lahat kayang pag-aralin ng aming mga magulang dahil kapos kami sa buhay. Pang-siyam ako sa dose. Ang konti ‘no?” she jokingly asks. “So ako, bilang meron akong talent sa pagsasayaw, nagamit ko yun.”

Pokwang applied and got a job as a group dancer in Japan. “Bale, two years akong nagtrabaho doon,” she computes citing she went back four times from 1990 to 1992 to finish six-month contracts each time. One of her main goals was to have their house fixed. “Yung bahay namin nung araw, pag sinipa mo, gigiba agad-agad. Kaya nagpapadala ako sa nanay ko. ‘Pag medyo sumosobra yung kita, papadala ako buwan-buwan tapos, unti-unti, yung bahay namin, from kahoy na dingding, nagkaroon ng pader-pader, ganon!” she describes.

“Sa sarili ko naman kasi, mayroon kaming food allowance every 15 days. Halimbawa, sampu kaming babae dun sa club, maghahati-hati kami dun sa allowance. For two weeks, mamimili na kami ng food stocks namin kasama na ang shampoo, sanitary napkins, lotion, and everything. Tapos minsan, may mga galante kaming mga guests, pinaggo-grocery kami.”

“So hindi ko ginagalaw yung sweldo ko para magmukhang bahay yung bahay namin,” she recalls. “Bago ako umuwi ng Pilipinas, medyo umayos-ayos naman s’ya. Dati kasi, kapag nagtakbuhan ang mga pamangkin ko, yung mga anay nahihilo!”

Pokwang had to stop working after she got pregnant abroad and went home. “And then, nagkahigpitan ang Japan kasi nagkaroon ng problema sa mga OFWs doon.”

Still very determined to earn for her family, Pokwang grabbed the chance to work in Abu Dhabi in 1998 when the UAE opened its doors to OFWs. “Nagtrabaho ako doon for six months. Yun na ang last ko na pagiging OFW.”

Asked why she decided to come home for good, Pokwang becomes serious and shares that her firstborn, then only five years old, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. “Hindi ako nakauwi noon dahil ayaw akong payagan ng manager ko sa Abu Dhabi hanggang ‘di tapos yung kontrata. So, bilang isang ina na hindi mo man lang nadamayan ang anak mo …” she trails off as a lump seems to form in her throat. Her voice breaking, she continues, “Mahirap yung may pinagdadaanan ang pamilya mo dito tapos malayo ka. Naranasan ko yun.”

Working With A Purpose

Pokwang remembers how hard it was to be away from home for the first time while adjusting to life in another country. “Bukod sa nami-miss mo yung pamilya mo, culture shock ka muna,” she illustrates. “Kaya nag-aral ako talaga na magbasa at magsalita ng Hapon.”

Her salary at the time was $350 a month which she didn’t receive in full. “Shempre, may cut pa dun yung manager mo. Ang natitira na lang yata sa akin is $250 kasi may ibang cut-cut pa yun. Sa tip and commission sa drinks and food kami bumabawi. Actually, mas malaki pa yung mga tip namin kaysa sa sweldo,” she explains.

“Basta madiskarte ka lang. Eh ako, sadyang komedyante na ako every since the world began so natutuwa yung mga guests ko sa akin. Kahit hindi nila ako maintindihan, siguro sa facial expressions ko, yung kilos ko, body language ko, natatawa na lang sila. ‘Pag sobrang tuwa nila, medyo malaki yung nakukuha kong tip.”

Finding A New Direction

After her firstborn passed away, Pokwang decided to find her destiny back in the Philippines. “Sabi ko, hindi na ako aalis, makikipagsapalaran na lang ako dito para yung anak kong bunso na babae, na 16 years old na ngayon, ay matutukan ko. Kasi parang na-guilty ako na namatay yung isang anak ko na wala ako sa tabi nya,” she confides. “Tutal, may talent naman ako sa pagsasayaw, naging choreographer ako, naging floor manager ako sa mga clubs noong fluent na ako sa Japanese, alam kong kaya ko nang gawin ang mga ganyan dito.”

Pokwang found a new career as a standup comedian at the Music Box in 2002 and continued until she joined a contest called Clown in a Million in an ABS-CBN TV show where she became the grand champion. “Hindi ko akalain na blessing talaga yung dumating at nagdire-diretso. Kaya sobrang pasasalamat ko sa programang Yes, Yes Show!”

For Pokwang however, higher pay doesn’t mean she already has the freedom to splurge on just about anything. In fact, she pays for everything in cash, never in installments, according to her close friend Eric John Salut, ABS-CBN’s Ad Prom Head.

“Bakit ako nagbabayad ng cash ‘pag meron akong gustong bilhin?” she asks. “Ang trabaho namin ay very unpredictable. Ngayon mainit ka, susunod wala na. Kaya kapag may gusto akong bilhin, pag-iipunan ko muna. ‘Pag kaya na ng budget, then go. Kasi paano kung isang araw, wala ka ng trabaho, tapos may utang ka? Ang sakit-sakit sa loob mong nakikitang hinihila yung sasakyan mo o pinapalayas ka dun sa bahay ‘di ba? Noong bata pa ako, palipat-lipat kami ng bahay dahil hindi kami nakakabayad.”

Spending Wisely

Her first major purchase was for a vehicle which she paid for in cash. “Kasi sa aming mga artista, mahirap kung wala kang sasakyan lalo na kapag may mga taping. So inuna ko yun. Then, unti-unti, sinuwerte naman tayo, sunod-sunod ang blessings ng proyekto, nakaipon ulit ako and then nakabili ng bahay, tapos bahay ulit.”

Pokwang admits she prefers investing in real estate. “Meron din kaming insurance, life and education, hindi pwedeng wala! Ano ba, hello?! At saka yung legs ko, naka-insure,” she reveals. Eric John once again pipes in to share that Pokwang belongs to the top 10 Star Magic highest paid artists alongside Piolo Pascual and John Lloyd Cruz. “’Di ko alam yun!” exclaims Pokwang in surprise. “O, sabi n’ya, yun daw yun. Pero nagbabayad kami ng tax ha.”

“On being matipid, depende, pero bihirangbihira talaga ako magka-gusto sa mga bagay. Bumibili ako kapag talagang gusto ko lang. Hindi ako yung kada kibot, ‘Ay, eto, eto, eto!’ bibili.”

Aside from being a TV and movie personality, Pokwang is a businesswoman who used to own a videoke bar with three partners. At the moment, she has Salon de Poohkwang located in West Avenue, Quezon City which she co-owns with fellow comedian, Pooh. She plans to go into the food business next year when the mall being built near their house in Antipolo opens.

Maintaining A Positive Outlook

An early riser whose eyes automatically open around 6AM every day, Pokwang shares that she has no secrets to maintaining her slim figure. “Ganun yata talaga ‘pag laki sa gutom,” she rationalizes amid much laughter.

How does she keep the positive attitude all the time? “Kailangan eh, kasi galing na ako sa negative na buhay — matutulog ka, walang pagkain; papasok ka sa school, wala ka pang project. Naranasan ko ng mag-alternate kami ng kapatid ko ng damit nung graduation kasi iisa ang outfit namin, ‘Bilisan mo, ako na ang tatawagin, dalian mo!’” she recollects. “Uniform namin ng kapatid ko, iisa lang, MWF ang pasok ko, s’ya TTH. Yung sapatos namin, nakanganga na, pagkakasyahin mo ang daliri mo doon.”

“’Di ba? Galing na ako dun, hanggang ngayon ba naman, dadalhin ko pa?” she rationalizes. “Dapat masaya na ako dahil blessed ako ngayon. Actually, nagagamit ko sa skits ko ang buhay ko noon. Natatawa ang mga tao kasi kino-comedy ko na lang; na nakakarelate naman din sila kasi totoong nangyayari sa buhay natin. Pinagtatawanan ko na lang ang lungkot ng buhay ko noon.”

“Boyfriend, lovelife?” she offers. “Wala! May balak ba? Hindi ko hinihingi or hinahanap. Bahala na kung dumating. Sa ngayon, sinasamantala ko yung pagkakataon na marami akong trabaho.”

Improving Her Craft

Pokwang is known for perfectly impersonating well-known personalities like Annabelle Rama, Mommy Dionisia Pacquaio, Dra. Margie Holmes, and Marlene Aguilar. “Minsan mukha akong luka-luka sa harap ng salamin pagpa-practice kung paano ko idi-deliver ang ganitong linya, ganitong expression. At saka humihingi ako ng advice din talaga sa mga director, at sa mga beteranong aktor at aktres na katrabaho ko.”

She describes that whenever she wants to impersonate someone, she really observes and researches about the person. “Pinag-aaralan ko muna ang kilos n’ya, yung mata n’ya, yung buka ng bibig, yung galaw ng kamay, tapos yung itsura n’ya. Kailangan panonoorin mo s’ya, yung mga ginagawa n’ya; dapat lagi kang tutok sa kanya, kailangan updated ka.”

On playing dramatic roles like the ones she played in the movie A Mother’s Story and the currently showing teleserye Aryana, “Yung hugot siguro, kasi nakaka-relate ako bilang nanay. At saka ilang beses akong nag MMK (Maalaala Mo Kaya) at malaki ang naitulong nung bawat episode na nagawa ko sa pagda-drama ko ngayon.”

How does she deal with bashers and detractors? “Block!” she says pertaining to Twitter trolls. “’Di mo naman lahat mapiplease. Pero kinatutuwa ko yun, kasi sa kabila ng ganyan sila, lalo kong pinagpupursige ang trabaho ko. Magpapaapekto ako sa kanila eh ‘di nagutom kami! Ganyan lang naman ang mga yan ‘di ba? Papansin. At hindi lang naman ako; lahat ng artista na may Twitter ngayon, nakakaranas sila ng mga cyberbullying. Patulan mo yan, hello? Hindi kayo ang nagbibigay ng sweldo ko!”

Finding More Reasons To Smile

Riemae, Pokwang’s 16 year old daughter, is already in her senior year in high school. The doting mom shares how much she wants her teen to grow up “na maging responsableng tao, maging responsableng anak, para maging responsable s’yang ina.”

“Hangga’t maari, hindi ko s’ya binibigyan ng chance na magkaron ng galit sa akin. Kahit anong busy ko sa trabaho, ‘pag may free time ako, triple ang balik ko sa kanya,” Pokwang discloses. “In all fairness dun sa anak ko, wala akong masasabing pintas. Kapag mataas ang grades n’ya, may mga rewards s’yang nakukuha sa akin na magagamit naman n’ya.”

At this point, Pokwang is shown a preview of the photos shot earlier. “Ay! It’s a human being! Diyos ko Lord, mukhang mayaman! Si Lucy Liu ‘teh!” she exclaims in delight.

How much is Pokwang worth? “Ang halaga ko ngayon, ang ngiti ng mga taong napapasaya ko. Kung gaano kalaki ang ngiti nila at gaano kaingay yung tawa nila, yun po ang kita ko. ‘Di ba, ang saya?” she ends with a wide smile.

Pokwang’s Advice To OFWs And Their Families

  1. Study the culture of the country you are going to. “Unang-una, shempre lalabas tayo ng bansa, pupunta tayo sa ibang lugar na hindi natin alam ano ang susuungin natin doon. Kaya para ‘di tayo magka-problema, pagaralan natin ang mga culture nila, kung ano ba ang bawal na ayaw nilang ginagawa natin doon. Respect shempre.”
  2. Never lose hope and keep in touch with your family. “Magpakatatag lang tayo palagi. Huwag tayong mawawalan ng pag-asa at make sure na laging may communication tayo sa family para ‘di nagmumukhang pinababayaan natin sila kumita lang ng pera. Shempre pinakamatibay na d’yan is prayer. At saka yung values ng pinaghirapan natin. Ang hirap kumita ng pera sa abroad. Yung ‘di mo alam ano ba ang susuungin mo dun, yung lungkot lahat tinitiis mo doon kumita ka lang. Kaya make sure na yung pinaghirapan mo, maganda ang pupuntahan.”
  3. For families of OFWs, value your loved one’s sacrifices. “Pahalagahan natin yung mga pinagpapaguran din nila. Wag nating iisipin na ‘Ah kumikita naman s’ya dun, ok lang gumastos kasi malaki naman ang kita.’ No, ako naranasan ko yung gabi na ‘di ka makatulog na may gusto kang bilhin para sa sarili mo pero ‘wag na lang kasi gusto mong maganda yung sapatos at bag ng anak mo pagpasok n’ya sa school. Eh umiiyak ako ng ganun. Basta, ang hirap. Ang hirap hirap ng buhay ng OFW. Bigyan natin sila ng halaga, bigyan natin sila ng importansya. Yung pag hindi kayo naaabutan ‘wag kayong magtatampo sa mga kamag-anak kasi hindi n’yo alam kung ano ang pinagdadaanan nila doon.”

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