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List of Articles by Emmanuel Rivera, RRT

Morris East and his Filipino-American Thanksgiving

By Emmanuel Rivera, RRT
25 Nov 2015

Newark, California---This is a story of Thanksgiving. It is about a Filipino boxer, his long lost father and their reunion twenty three years ago. The Washington Post and CNN dispatched reporters. Muhammad Ali told my dad (during a Macy’s meet and greet) he caught the story on television; therefore, it must have been true.

In 1992, Morris Santillan East got his trifecta---becoming a boxing champion, coming to America, meeting his dad.

Fast forward to April 12, 2014 at the MGM grand presser for Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley 2.

I get this call.

“This is Morris East. Remember me?” the man asked.

“One never forgets a ferocious champion with a friendly voice,” I quipped.

Morris East was (and still is) the youngest Filipino to have won a world boxing championship---the WBA 140-pound crown. He demolished Akinobu Hiranaka of Japan (in Japan). It was a thrilling come-from-behind 11th round knockout. The feat was KO Magazine’s 1992 ‘Knockout of the Year’.

“Hey, your mom still cooking up Turkey?” he asked.

“Aaah, the largest ‘fried’ chicken you ever saw and ate,” I reminded him.

It was Morris’ first and last holiday with his father John East who passed away a couple of months later.

“Salamat sa tulong ni manager at nung abogado. Nakilala ko din ang Tatay ko bago pumanaw. Thanks to your dad (manager) and his lawyer. I finally got to meet my dad before he passed away,” Morris reminisced.

Attorney Emmanuel Tipon is an immigration attorney practicing law in Hawaii and California.

Morris East is living his American dream in Las Vegas as a trainer for amateur and world-caliber boxers like Zab “Super” Judah and Nonito “Filipino Flash” Donaire, Jr.

Mr. Mark Fainaru of The Washington Post knew a good story when he saw one.

“Please tell Morris that it was an honor meeting him and his father. Thanks for inviting us to be a part of their story,” said Mr. Fainaru.

Here’s the rest of his viewpoint.



By Mark Fainaru
The Washington Post
November 26, 1992

OAKLAND -- On a cold Tuesday morning in a dirty, grim part of this city, Morris East, the WBA junior welterweight boxing champion, his manager Hermie Rivera and several members of Rivera's family guardedly climbed the steps toward Room No. 21 at the Maya Motel.

The 19-year-old East had traveled across the Pacific in search of his long, lost Navy father, John East, and walked back into his childhood, into a place much like the slums of Tondo, where Morris spent some time during his youth in the Philippines.
"He says it does not look like his father lives in such a nice place," Noel Rivera, Hermie's eldest son, said of Morris's reaction.

They had been here the night before, but John was not home. They waited several hours for his return and after one more night of waiting -- Morris had waited 19 years to meet his father -- finally, it happened.

Morris told Rivera that he would not cry. Rivera tapped on the door. No answer. Rivera tapped again. John pried open the door, wearing tattered blue shorts, a light blue short-sleeve collar shirt and a look of near fear, looking older than his 48 years. Rivera said: "John East? This is your son, Morris."

John grabbed his son and the two hugged. Morris wept for the next 15 minutes straight, and off and on thereafter.
They were tears of joy and sorrow.

Later, John would say to Morris, "I'm very sorry you caught me in this place."

"When I saw my father in that condition, I felt sad," Morris said, with Rivera interpreting. "Knowing that my father was living in that existence, it's not what I had imagined."

Still, there was much joy in all this for both son and father. John, while stationed at Subic Bay Naval Base, fathered John Jr. in 1972 and Morris in 1973 with Rosario Santillan, a Filipina from the island of Cebu.

Said John: "This is the highest point of my life. Out of all my life, this is all I have."

Said Morris: "I have dreams to make lots of money and buy a house for my dad."

As the two sat next to each other in Room No. 21, John periodically wiping away tears and Morris constantly wiping away his own, the father did all the talking. He see-sawed between English and Tagalog, the language used in Manila.

"I love you, man, I hope you don't be mad at me," he said in English, though Morris could not understand. "I hope you don't be mad at me and will listen to my story. I have much to tell you. Just like a tabletop or a coin, there are two sides."

John said most of his story was private and for Morris's ears only, but he did say he got his transfer papers in 1973 and was forced to leave abruptly, when Morris was only 6 months old. He planned to return but never did. From his home town of Little Rock, Ark., he did write a letter to Morris and John Jr. in 1984, but he faded after that.

"I don't know what went on inside my mind," said John, who described himself as a general laborer who has been out of work since last December and is currently collecting disability. He walks deliberately, aided by a cane.

After winning the WBA title in September with an 11th-round knockout of Akinobu Hiranaka of Japan, Morris insisted on setting out to find his father. But Vic Ancheta, Rivera's partner at the time, apparently didn't want Morris to leave the Philippines.

Ancheta hastily set up a title defense for Dec. 7 in Buenos Aires against Juan Coggi. Morris balked and got Rivera, who has a home near Oakland, to bring him to the United States for the search.

Morris plans to stay here and establish citizenship through his father. Meanwhile, Rivera wants a postponement of the Dec. 7 bout, but what the manager and fighter really want is a shot at Julio Cesar Chavez, the WBC junior welterweight champion.

"John, Morris had two obsessions in his life," Rivera said. "One was to be world champ and the other was to see his dad. We've located you, now we can locate Don King {Chavez's manager}."
Before that, though, there was the matter of the holiday. "John, tell me, do you have plans for Thanksgiving?" asked Rivera.

"No, no, I don't."

"We would like you to be our guest then. You will be with your son."

"Yes, yes. I'd like that."

(L-R) Hermie Rivera, Atty. Emmanuel Tipon, Morris Santillan East, Mr. John East

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