Tiya Dely, a national treasure


For almost seven decades since 1940,
Fidela Mendoza Magpayo aka Tiya Dely has been gracing every
Filipino home through the radio on a daily basis.  And for the past 67 years, her honeyed voice remains
as the most recognizable among radio listeners. In fact, so great is her influence
and contribution to Philippine culture, she is considered a national treasure.

As the country’s most trusted
confidante, Tiya Dely is a straight-shooter.
“I talk to my letter- senders as if they are my relations,” she says. “Hindi ba, minsan kinakagalitan ko pa? Even
to our friends na naloloka, hindi ba ganun tayo? Ang tingin ko
sa problema,
if you can solve it, then by all means solve it. But if not,
just leave it to God.”

“In giving advice, I always put
premium on Filipino values,” she explains. “Yun
sana ang gusto kong manatili sa atin.
There are new ways that we have to
accommodate, but our foundation as a people should always be anchored on our
intrinsic values.”

Like any successful franchise or
enterprise, Tiya Dely, the national
shoulder-to- cry-on, didn’t just happen. She is a product of a careful planning
by a lot of smart people, including herself.

“Our program director, Rey Oliver thought
of transforming me as the radio counterpart of the famous advice columnist in
the U.S, Dorothy Dix,” she relates. “But being inexperienced, I was hesitant. ‘Ano ang ipapayo ko?’.  Then he said, ‘Alam mo,  bawat tao, may
 opinion. Just give
your opinion, and they can take it or leave it.”  And that was how, on October 6, 1953, the
landmark program “Mga Liham Kay Tiya Dely
was born in DZRH.

The moniker Tiya Dely was, of course, her own invention.  Mr. Oliver had thought of Ate Dely as her radio alias but she
suggested that she’d rather be called Tiya
Dely despite her youth.  “Sabi ko, ‘ang alam ko sa Filipino, mas
pinapakinggan yung
auntie eh”.

Sure, she’s happy that she stuck to
her instinct, especially now that she’s 86. “Imagine if I will be called an ate at this point, hindi ba?”

Even her famous opening and closing
spiels were carefully designed. “It was Rey who thought of my program extro, ‘Sa ‘yoo, sa iyoo, at sa iyooo.’ I think
he copied the style from an American program”, she says.  However, the intro, ‘Itong inyooong Tiya Dely’, which she delivers in a sing-song
manner to open each show was another of her concoctions.

Dely gained confidence as soon as the program started because of its instant
prominence. “The listeners loved it because it was different. Nang kwela na, ayan dumami na ang tagapayo”,
she says.

Among her mentors in broadcasting
was Lope K. Santos. “Number one critic ko
yan  sa Balarila,  sa pananagalog.
He would immediately call
to correct me when I made a mistake”, she

“When I was starting on radio,
I had no idea about fade-in and fade-out, but Ben Pangan who gave me the break
in radio drama, was so patient with me. I listen to authority.”

Her early directors also included Mervin
Samson and Fred Gonzales. “Fred coached me into voice acting. Mahigpit sila kapag mali ang sambit
”, she says. “I’m proud that the first leading lady of our soap, Esther
Chavez in ‘Ilaw ng Tahanan’, is still
with me. The veterans might be old but they can make at least five voices. Magagaling.”

Of course, it was a period when the
radio was hailed as the number one form of entertainment. “The standard then
was so strict,” she remarks. “Yung 15-
minute drama noon, terible  ang rehearsal. Iba noon.

Until now, Tiya Dely does not compromise the craft that she learned from her
mentors. “Sa pakikisama, magaling ako
kung magaling ding makisama sa akin.
I’m a disciplinarian. If our recording
was set at one o clock, I expect that they would be there at twelve, to read
the scripts.”

However, no successful career is not
without heartaches. And even Tiya
Dely wasn’t spared. “When Geny Lopez regained the ownership of ABS-CBN in 1986,
I rejoined his company. He sat as the Chairman while the management was left to
the younger executives. To me, it seemed that the people around Gabby Lopez
didn’t have much faith in senior broadcasters. I truly felt that I was being
eased out. In fairness, Geny, who pirated me from DZRH in 1957, tried to stop
me. Pero sabi ko, “Kung baga sa
nakaupo sa bangko eh inuusog  ka na
I don’t want to fall. So, I resigned from DZMM. That was in 1990.”

“I cried the day I left ABS CBN,”
she continues. “Paano ka namang hindi
, I help built the station. I was there for twenty years. Ang naisip ko nga, when I heard that a
post in their studio bears my picture, baka
ako pa ang nakapagtayo nung poste na yun eh
. When I left, I couldn’t
control my tears because all my former colleagues in ABS CBN were waiting for
me at the foot of the stairs. And they were crying.

Rey Langit, who was then at DZRH, was quick to her rescue. “The very next day, I
had lunch with Rey and that’s how I was able to go back to my roots here in
DZRH. I am grateful that Fred Elizalde accepted me. He didn’t know me because
my boss in 1957 was his uncle, Don Federico Elizalde”, she says.

nangyari pa, nung lumipat ako, lahat ng mainam na
awards that year napunta sa DZRH. Even Geny was a listener in my 4 to 5 morning broadcast. Maagang nagigising yun eh.”

Dely  is certainly one of the
country’s most admired icons.  She was a
KBP Lifetime Achievement awardee. She also received the Pama-As Gintong Bai
award from the National Commission on Culture and the Arts.  Her alma
(Far Eastern University)
during its 75th anniversary also chose her as one of its 75 outstanding alumni.
She was also honored by the University of the Philippines with the Gawad Plaridel
(2006), and recognized by the Feminist Movement as its Centennial Awardee for

However, deep in Tiya Dely’s heart, no accolade can ever
compete with the patronage of her devoted listeners. “Siguro, achievement na ‘tong
kinalalagyan ko ngayon,
” she muses. “I’m glad that I lasted this long. At saka,
feeling ko, habang
tumatanda ako, parang pinaniniwalaan ako lalo.
Sabi ko nga, ba’t ganon, kung kelan ako tumanda eh…. That’s why  I’m very,
very careful with what I say.”

Through the decades, she has managed
to be credible and unblemished. More importantly, despite her unparalleled
success, she remains humble. “Palagay ko,
habang tumataas tayo, dapat matutong magpakumbaba,”
says Tiya Dely, the gorgeous First Lady of
Philippine Radio.  (For comments, send e-mail to


Tiya Dely–Up-close and personal


No disrespect to Barbara Walters but
her  record as a media diva pales in comparison to the 69-year reign of Tiya Dely Magpayo as  the Dame of Philippine Radio.

 For almost seven decades, Tiya Dely remained on top as a radio superstar.
Yet she was more than that, for Tiya Dely was also an athlete, a singer
and a movie actress.

At 86, (when this interview happened) she was the epitome of elegance—-fair
and slender and regal—physical attributes that complimented her stature as the Filipinos’
national confidante.

“I was an athlete kaya siguro medyo diretso akong tumayo,”
she said when complimented about her bearing. “And I was trained to be
lady-like in school.”

“My first passion was baseball,
and then I did softball. I also tried track and field but my favorite is
softball. My unfulfilled dream was my inability to be a volleyball athlete for
the Olympic games. Nagkagiyera kasi.”

The early frustration didn’t ruffle Tiya Dely for she had many aces up her
sleeves. For one, she can sing. In fact, singing was her passport to radio
superstardom. “During the 40’s, you cannot be a radio personality if you can’t
sing”, she said.

Her singing talent was first put to
good use during the senatorial campaign of Manuel Roxas, where she was one of
the featured singers in the political rallies.

“When Roxas won, I was assigned at
the Senate and eventually transferred to Malacanang as the confidential
secretary of then DFA Secretary Elpidio Quirino, pero actually receptionist lang
And because my boss was the Foreign Affairs Secretary, I was influenced
into taking Foreign Service.”

As a working student, Tiya Dely earned P120 a month. She
finished Foreign Service from Far Eastern University with a major in Political  Science in 1950, three years before her
rebirth as Tiya Dely  via DZRH’  “Mga
Liham Kay Tiya Dely.”  

As a singer, she also performed on
stage during the Japanese occupation, with actors such as Angel Esmeralda. She
also managed to do several records like “Pamaypay
ng Maynila
” and  “Una Kong Pag-ibig.”

It was no surprise therefore that
when it came to Filipino music, she had an opinion. And it’s quite strong. “I
hope the new singers won’t modernize the kundiman.
Even the Christmas songs recorded by Villar Records, minodernize nila. I dont
like it. The kundiman should
be sang as written by the composers. Bahagi
culture natin yan.”

She continued, “This reminds me of
Atang dela Rama, who was so furious when Ryan Cayabyab and Celeste Legazpi modernized
her songs. She called me and said, minarder
daw ang kanta namin.
I just reasoned that it was their style.

“I prefer the kundiman over pop songs because kundiman
is forever. These are the works of
(Nicanor) Abelardo, (Francisco) Santiago
and (Juan) Buencamino like “Bituing
Marikit”,” Ako’y Isang Ibong Sawi”,
and “Madaling Araw”.  They’re

On the side, Tiya Dely also worked as an actress and appeared in the successful ‘Sebya’ series with Pugo, who, she said,
had thought her the value of timing in comedy.

For all her accomplishments, she
was most stellar as a radio personality. She was the pioneer in the advice format but she also did well in other shows like the talent search “Hamon sa Kampeon” and
the  kundiman program “Serenatang

When asked about her extra-ordinary staying
power, she was thoughtful. “Bakit
nga ba?,
she mused. “I don’t really think about it but I sure enjoy my
work. Hindi naman trabaho itong akin. Haharap
ka lang sa
mic at magkukuwento. Ano
nga kaya?

She managed to reveal one
secret  though. “Off the microphone, I am a very good listener. By just
listening, I get to learn new things that I share on the air. ‘Di ba, maganda rin yung nakikinig ka lamang?”

As a woman, she had a few passions. “Ang hilig ko lang naman, damit at
.” For her wardrobe and ternos,
she went to Nesty of Rafaela, her designer for ten years. I go for vegetables
and fish but I also like lechon.
Every two hours, I get hungry. Pero kapag
sinabi ng tiyan ko na tama na,
I would stop eating even if I still have the

Dely came from a family of intellectuals. Her grandfather was Miguel Magpayo,
who constructed the Barasoain
Church in Bulacan.

She was married to the late Col.
Leonor Reyes who was in the Traffic Control Group of the Philippine
Constabulary.  She said, “He was never
insecure about my career. He used to be in the military but he retired and
joined me on the radio as a writer and director. As a wife, our friends said na takot daw ang husband ko sa akin. He was everybody’s kabarkada,  a very
kind and understanding man.”

“I have three children, Violeta, Delia,
and Leonor Jr,” she continued. “Hindi
mababaw ang luha ko.
 But I cried
when my children died. I lost Violeta to cancer. She was very intelligent. She took
two courses from U.E,  summa cum laude sa isa, at magna cum laude
naman sa pangalawa.
My only son Leonor Jr. also died very young. Sa kanya ako nagka-apo sa tuhod, si Jello.
My daughter Delia is the one helping me now.”

Like her husband, Tiya Dely was also loyal to her friends.
“It’s my basic principle. Kapag
nakipagkaibigan ka, tapat ka.
I will stand by a friend no matter what
happen. It doesn’t matter if my decision is unpopular, because I know the

Malaki rin ang utang na loob ko kay (Ramon)
Magsaysay. When Florentino Daz made a record as the first Filipino to sail on
boat from Hawaii to Philippines, I was sent by DZRH to
cover his grand welcome in Malacanang.  I
was clueless. So, I just stood there amid the throng of male reporters. Eh nahalata yata ni Magsaysay na bagito ako. He approached me, took my
microphone at doon nagsalita. Nung
bumalik ako sa
station, akala nila
ang galing-galing ko.”

Tiya Dely also considered the
ill-fated Magsaysay as the best President of the republic. “He was very
much loved by the people. He opened the Palace to the masses. At saka, kapag nagpupunta ‘yan sa Camp Aguinaldo,
walang bodyguard. He drives his own

She added, “I admire people who love
our country, like President (Manuel) Quezon.
The Philippines could
have been the 49th state of the United
States, pero
hindi siya pumayag
. I also admire heroes like (Jose) Rizal. He was well to
do and yet.  Ma-tsiks din yun. (Andres) Bonifacio, because he was brave, and the
rich young men who sacrificed for the country  like (Juan) Luna and  Plaridel (Marcelo del Pilar).

Among the present crop of leaders, she
singled out Gina de Venecia as the most fascinating.  “I admire her strength”, she said.

Dely Magpayo was a remarkable gem and through the years, she had been an icon of
grace, professionalism and excellence.

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