Before Carol Claire Banawa turned 18, everything about her life in Barangay Gulod Itaas in Batangas, was ideal, blissful, and blessed. Hers was a church-going family. Parents Ben and Celine were active members of the Couples for Christ, eldest brother Alexander was in Singles for Christ, and Carol and elder sister Cherry were active in Youth For Christ.
"Talagang lahat ng kilos namin, para sa simbahan," says Mrs. Banawa. "Si Carol, kasali lagi sa mga concerts ng pari, o kaya sa mga foundation shows, feast days, ordinations. Ang tawag nga sa kanya ng mga matatanda doon, munting anghel. Kasi kapag kumakanta na, natutulala na lahat. Kumbaga, nakalakihan na niya na kilala siya sa lugar namin na magaling ngang kumanta." While all three children were growing up, their father scouted for a job abroad.
"Kasi pangarap namin na mapag-aral sila sa best schools," says Mrs. Banawa, known as Mommy Celine in showbiz circles. "E, paano naman namin gagawin 'yon, poor lang kami? Saan naman namin kukuhanin yun? Kaya si Papa, nag-communications engineer ng Saudi Aramco, isa siya sa mga pioneers doon."
This he would do for 20 long years, coming home only for short vacations. To help out, Mommy Celine maintained her job as a city-hall employee in Batangas.
"Maganda na rin ang suweldo ko noon doon," she says. "Officer ako doon sa isang section na naging department later on."
With their combined income, they fulfilled their goal of putting their children in good schools. Mommy Celine says: "Si Kuya [son Alexander], nag-Don Bosco Makati 'yan noong elementary tapos nag-computer engineering sa University of Asia and the Pacific (UA & P). Si Ate [daughter Cherry], St. Scholastica's at sinuwerte namang nakapasa sa Ateneo, computer din. Si Carol, elementary St. Bridget's sa amin sa Batangas, tapos nung high school St. Bridget's dito naman sa Quezon City."
They were behind their children all the way.
"Sabi namin ng Papa nila, kahit pa the most expensive school 'yan, basta mapasahan n'yo ang entrance, pagpupursigihan namin. Kasi yun na din ang best achivement namin bilang parents. Yung hindi namin naranasan, ma-experience nila. Kami ng Papa nila kapwa mahirap ang pamilya namin, sa probinsiya lang kami nagtapos. Suwerte naman na matatalino silang lahat."
But they gave the children their share of responsibility. "Pumapasok ang mga 'yan, pagkain lang, walang baong pera. Nagtitinda-tinda pa sila ng candy sa school. Sabi ko hindi porke't nasa abroad ang daddy n'yo magluluwag tayo dito. Naintindihan naman nila. Kaya maski sa bahay kanya-kanya silang toka. Mababait silang lahat."
Everything was working out the way everyone of them had prayed life would be. With the added bonus that Carol, the family's pride, had entered the recording scene.
Carol was only seven when her mother, who laughingly admits to being a frustrated singer, brought her to GMA 7 to join the Munting Mutya contest. And Carol made it to grand finals! But when the offers started coming in, it was Ben and Celine who turned them down. Carol's studies were for them the most important thing.
"Ang sa amin," says Mommy Celine, "makita lang namin siyang lumabas sa TV, parang souvenir lang ba? Masaya na kami, proud na kami sa Batangas."
But even without formal voice training, Carol's voice was bound to get noticed beyond Batangas City. Ivory Records certainly noticed and had her recording a kids' album, Carol Claire. Ateneo borrowed her—she was no more than Grade 4 then—from nearby St. Bridget's to appear at the Ateneo Children's Theater two years running, and then borrowed her again for Dulaang Sibol, its high school drama guild. Meanwhile, Carol was developing an interest in TV.
Mrs. Banawa recalls, "Gusto daw niya yung Ang TV, sinubukan namin. Nakuha naman siya after ilang try. Naranasan namin pumila-pila pa rin sa initan tapos dadaanan lang ng camera. Pinayagan ko na kasi tuwing Sabado lang naman 'yon, hindi pa rin maaano ang pag-aaral."
In all of Carol's adventures as a young performer, accompanying her were Mommy Celine and Kuya Xander who stood as the kids' father while Papa Ben was away.
When she reached college, she found life becoming even brighter. Her father had decided to come home at last.
"Tuwang-tuwa kami noong mag-resign na siya," recalls Mrs. Banawa. "Ang tagal naming hinintay na makumpleto kami. Talagang ang nag-ugnay lang sa amin, sulat at mga litrato. Doon lang siya halos nakilala ni Carol. Kung tutuusin stranger sa kanya ang Papa niya kasi baby pa siya noong umalis ito. And he's been a very good father kahit malayo siya.
"Marami ang nagpapatunay na hindi 'yan na-tempt man lang sa iba, na talagang napakalaki ng pagpapahalaga niya sa amin. Kaya noong dumating, para lang kaming magbabarkada, lumalabas kami. Sabi namin, 'salamat naman at napag-resign din namin si Papa.' Si Carol na lang ang mag-aaral, si Ate naman sinuwerte na makapag-abroad din, systems analyst siya sa Northwest Airlines. Sabi ko, magkakatulong-tulong na kami. Kahit simpleng trabaho dito sa Pilipinas, kako, mabubuhay na kami."
They were able to invest in a property in Taytay, Rizal, where as a complete family they set about finishing their dream home.
"Yung last money na nakuha ni Papa bago siya mag-resign, inilagay namin doon. Tapos, nag-loan pa kami para maidagdag sa bahay kasi hindi pa tapos na tapos. Noon pa lang sabi ko, 'Salamat po Lord wala na akong mahihiling pa,'" says Mommy Celine dreamily. "Ang saya-saya namin, si Papa noon lang niya nararanasan na magsundo at maghatid sa mga anak niya. Ang ganda!"