In triumphs and losses, Abunda says he's able to say that "I am okay because Nanay made me believe that I am okay.” Photo from ABS-CBN News
Culture Spotlight

Thanks to his shoutouts, Boy Abunda’s mom became a star—but who was Nanay Lesing in real life?

Just a few months back, the talk show host was quoted as saying, “I am grateful in both joy and pain. Grateful because kahit nasasaktan ako, I am being given the chance by God to be the best mother to my mother.”
Bam V. Abellon | Dec 04 2019

On Sunday, December 1, 2019, Licerna Abunda, dearly known as Nanay Lesing in showbiz circles and those close to her, passed away. The mother of talk show host Boy Abunda was 90 years old, and would have celebrated her 91st birthday this coming January 1, 2020.

Nanay Lesing may be one of the most famous mothers of showbiz personalities — her son Boy Abunda, the TV host and talent manager, always greets her in his programs and practically established a foundation, not to mention authored a book, in her honor. To immortalize Nanay Lesing’s love and efforts, in 2013, Boy founded the Make Your Nanay Proud (MYNP) Foundation Inc., which aims to honor mothers, and find ways to mold citizens to become someone their mothers would be proud of. 

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But little is known about the woman, and she is rarely ever in the public eye. Perhaps because the doting mother has always let her children—Boy, a celebrity, and Maria Fe, congresswoman for the lone district of Eastern Samar—take the spotlight.

But who is Nanay Lesing?

Licerna Capito Romerica Abunda was born in 1929 in Samar. She worked for the government, serving as councilor of the City of Borongan for three terms, from 1995 to 2004. When her term ended, she was immediately elected Vice Mayor in 2004, and remained in the position until 2007.

A Facebook user fondly recalled Nanay Lesing as “the teacher who helped me appreciate Christmas, the teacher who does not shout at her pupils, the teacher who gathers crayons when pupils go out hurriedly for recess.”

What is most memorable, however, to those who know the woman who raised the most popular male talk show host in the country, is her life as an educator. Nanay Lesing was a teacher at the Campesao Elementary School, Borongan City, where she taught first grade for 43 years. In fact, most of the Abunda family members are big supporters of children’s education. In 2011, Boy donated a building and cash for the rondalla group of his mother’s former school. He has also been donating books and funds for teacher training. His late father, Eugenio Abunda, donated the lot where the school stood.  

When the Congresswoman Abunda announced on her Facebook page, @baysayeasternsamar, the passing of their mother, condolences and sympathies poured in. But many of the comments, too, were praises for the kind of wonderful teacher they remembered Nanay Lesing to be.

One Facebook user named Crescentia Belizar, fondly recalled [edited in part] her as “the teacher who helped me appreciate Christmas, the teacher who does not shout at her pupils, the teacher who gathers crayons when pupils go out hurriedly for recess.”

Another Facebook user named Lunee Amoyo Medina, wrote [edited], “Ma’am Lesing was my Grade 1 teacher. And she was one of those who made me the person that I am today. She was a person who valued punctuality (when coming to school at 6 a.m. sharp was a routine) and excellence. Before she became a public servant, she was first a mentor to many young minds.”

 

Nanay Lesing’s Dementia

In 2010, Nanay Lesing was diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, the most common symptom of which is difficulty in remembering recent events. It’s a degenerative disease that has no cure. This prompted Boy, in part, to create MYNP. The talk show host also had to re-arrange his life, such as delegating a major part of his talent management tasks to his senior employees.

In an October 2019 episode of the talk show The Bottomline, for his birthday special (his birthday is October 29), Boy talked about a past in dire circumstances. Many times in the past, Boy has mentioned that he grew up in a far-away barrio, and his elementary school only had two classrooms. In that The Bottomline episode, he revealed that when his father died in a taxi on the way to the hospital, they had to stay at the hospital lobby for five hours because the family did not have enough money to pay for the bills. 

“That was the very moment when I had that resolve: magtatrabaho ako. Dahil ayokong maranasan ng aking ina, lalo na, ang naranasan ng aking ama,” the talk show host said. Boy mentioned too that although he has prepared himself, at least financially, for the moment when he had to take care of his mother, it was no less difficult.

Since the diagnosis, Nanay Lesing was cared for by nurses and caretakers 24/7, but Boy made sure he was present in her life for as many hours as possible.

In the same interview, he said, “I am grateful in both joy and pain. Grateful because kahit nasasaktan ako, I am being given the chance by God to be the best mother to my mother.” He added, “I’ll be very honest. I don’t know how I’m going to live my life without the presence of my mother.”

At the time, Nanay Lesing had been in the hospital for two weeks, and the family has been dealing with a lot of medical procedures, making tough decisions for the matriarch. Boy said he was just happy he was able to feed his mother at least five teaspoons of lugaw the night before.

To immortalize Nanay Lesing’s love and efforts, Boy founded the Make Your Nanay Proud (MYNP) Foundation Inc., which aims to honor mothers, and find ways to mold citizens to become someone their mothers would be proud of. 

In an October 2019 episode of the entertainment talk show Tonight with Boy Abunda, Vice Ganda took the role of hosting from Boy and asked the TWBA star the hard questions.

At one point, Vice asked Boy to name one moment with his mother that he wished she, despite the dementia, would still remember. Boy narrated a time when he, as a young student, had to perform a declamation piece in front of a crowd. When he took to the stage, he unfortunately forgot his lines. But his mother, whom he could see standing at the far-end of the audience, looked proud anyway. After the contest, he remembered his mother telling him “even before a contest begins, you’re my winner.”

A tearful Boy then concluded: “I am able to say that I am okay because Nanay made me believe that I am okay.”

Nanay Lesing’s wake at the Arlington Memorial Chapels and Crematory, Quezon City, will be until December 4. Her ashes will be brought to Samar, where a wake will be held for three days. The ashes will then be brought back to Manila for the inurnment.  

 

Photographs from ABS-CBN News