Tuesday December 1, 2020

By: Melody Garcia


“Dare to do what you dare to dream.” -John Tortorella. 5 years ago, what seemingly was a monumental, risky, and uncertain task, Sonia Bermejo took on regardless. In doing so, she thus paved the way for the birth of Manila Up! International Magazine.

A Faith-Activated Journey

Sonia, whose entrepreneurial background includes previously owning a security surveillance company, property management company, and being a loan officer, had no media or publishing background. She was armed with an eye for attention to detail. During one of her dealings, a friend noticed this in her and suggested, “you should be a publisher” out of the blue. Despite not having any experience, the seed was planted. This seed grew into a strong desire; she consulted God in prayer on the direction that she ought to go. All she knew was that she had a desire to send a message to the world.

How does one uplift humanity? At that time, she was focused primarily on the Filipino heritage. So then, how does one connect to culture? Then, the answer became apparent: “get a hold of writers across the globe”. Sonia, armed only with her faith, started with a writer from the Philippines; her friend Becky Garcia. She then went on to add another columnist from the Philippines. Early Adversities; “The attacks come from within” First came praise, then came the criticisms, seemingly from many directions – from those whom she thought were supporters of her vision and dreams. The words stung because it came from the same people whom she had supported in the past. Criticisms such as, “What does she know about owning and running a magazine? She knows nothing! We will give her 3 months and it will all fail; she’s not going to ‘last’.”

Those who used to applaud her endeavors had gone silent. Sure they watched from the sidelines, but no support came. They were curious, but quiet. That didn’t stop Sonia from pursuing the bigger focus that God had planted within her, which was to impact the world via media. She prayed for the right alignments.

There were financial challenges, there were branding challenges, and there were personal resilience challenges. Yet the God she believed in delivered in ways she never could have expected. The lesson here is this, “Your journey to destiny will reveal those who no longer can go to your next levels. It will reveal who you thought were friends or supporters that really are not, unless it was about them. It will also reveal the incongruencies and disloyalties… Because jealousy is often masked as adoration and God will clear the path & align His order in exchange for your obedience.”

She learned it was never about quantity, but quality. Are they (your friends) happy for you when you win? More often, the attacks will come from within.

When God moves, He doesn’t play small – and neither should you

Sonia knew the direction to success would be going global, but didn’t know how or where to start. Sure she had the Philippine columnist, and at the time had some US-based writers starting in Los Angeles, but what was next? Leaning into faith, she learned that when God is at the helm, He opens doors that no other man can shut.

In just two months from the first issue’s launch, a writer reached-out from London and asked to be part of the team, which established the first United Kingdom presence for Manila Up. In a series of serendipitous moments, Sonia reached out to someone she had met the year prior at an event. Now, while through a series of unfortunate events, this particular individual proved to be treacherous in their motives, God has a way to turning trials into triumphs and testimonies.

That particular project may not have come to fruition, but a deeper purpose emerged. It was then that Sonia met me in 2014. I was not known just yet and was in my former corporate career. Neither one of us knew then that this friendship and collaboration would become one of the major, pivotal turning point for Manila Up. Sonia offered me a position as a contributing columnist. She wanted me to write about the “who’s who” in Florida at that time, which I had counter-offered with a different column focus: “Life Journey”. This is because, unknown to her at that time, I was going through some deep adversities and was in search of answers of my own. My column allowed me the space and platform to externally express what I had been internally suppressing. Having the full freedom to explore and share thoughtprovoking questions, and interview who then would be a line of global influencers from different industries, unknowingly opened-up the next level opportunities. And the readership grew. We had shared the same walk of faith. God first and service to humanity second…and as we journeyed forward, God had a way of positioning us first as well.

One by one – and rapidly at that – the right alignments came. Valuable relationships formed. Sonia started getting contacted by some influential people with a track record of solid success to become part of her start-up magazine. Sonia gained a mentor who owned a different media platform and asked to be part of the team.

Next Level …Manila Up grows globally

In just 6 months after its first issue, Manila Up found God’s favor shining on the magazine. An invitation to watch a Manny Pacquiao fight in Las Vegas led to meeting one of the Philippines’ billionaire business tycoons, who ended-up being on the cover of the magazine. This led to a private launch event of the magazine in the Philippines, where some of the country’s most elite dignitaries; former First Lady Imelda Marcos, high-ranking government officials, celebrities, and more, were in attendance. Manila Up became a brand that was recognized.

And as time passed, contributing writers were added from different countries in Europe, Asia, and North America, bringing the current distribution to 10 countries and growing. I brought in a significant number of global columnists. Manila Up went from local to international coverage; connecting not just the Filipino culture, but rather an international diverse culture that led the way to its continued impact and success.

Sonia stated, “My close trusted friends became the conduit of bringing high-level interviews, and God positioned them.”

Over the last 5 years, Manila Up expanded to also become a TV show, hosted by 6 television hosts. Led by multiple Emmy award-winning TV producer Marc Anthony Nicholas, and joined by the internationally known “Relationship Alchemist” Stefanos Sifandos, as well as Mrs. United States 2017 Lauren Ziegler, YouTube rising star Tomas Orlina, and yours truly – whose list of collective accolades resulted in a rapidly-growing reach.

Manila Up was invited to cover mainstream stories as an established credentialed media company. The Miss Universe Pageant in 2017 and 2018, and by representation also covered the Toronto International Film Festival, Grammy Awards, Golden Globes, and Manny Pacquiao matches just to name a few. The magazine also highlighted global success, such as Dr. Steve Maraboli; the most quoted man alive, Luis “Chavit” Singson, Joel Cruz, and more.

The Awards Came Rolling

In Manila Up! International Magazine and its columnists started winning awards: from Gawad Amerika, the City of Los Angeles’ Board of Public Works, the LA Press Club, etc.

It was also named International Magazine of the Year in 2016, 2017, & 2019, and Sonia has also been recognized as Publisher of the Year twice since Manila Up’s birth.

Speaking from personal experience, I went on impact global stages, sharing platforms with iconic figures, such as former First Lady Michelle Obama, Tarana Burke, and Jane Fonda during the 2018 United State of Women Conference. I’ve also been invited as a keynote speaker to Harvard University, London, Dubai, India, and share the stage with Elena Cardone, Les Brown, Kim Kiyosaki, and more! I too won incredible awards, such as TOFA’s Top 100 Most Influential Filipinos in the last 10 years (I won 1 out the 10 spots in 2020), among a sea of 4.1 million Filipinos living in the USA. I’ve also been named as 1 of the top 75 most influential Fil-Ams in the USA by Blogtalk Radio, and I also became a #1 best-selling author with my co-authored book, “Women who Influence”, which was accepted into the US Library of Congress. I went on to become a multi-media powerhouse with my columns in both Manila Up! Magazine & EXQUISITE International, my podcast called “Life Unscripted”, and a streamed TV show of the same title. I have also had the opportunity to meet with some global leaders.

While I can only speak on my awards and accomplishments, there are so many other writers, columnists, and our editor who have also won numerous awards & titles. Manila Up! also launched its sister magazine EXQUISITE International Magazine that also just won 2020 Lifestyle Magazine of the Year! Additionally, several new writers including my dear friend Mark Anthony King have recently joined our team of elite writers.

Reflections and Lessons

There is so much to be grateful for, so many blessings to count in the last 5 years of our journey here at Manila Up! International Magazine. Sonia did dare to dream, had faced a mountainous height of challenges – but consulted God despite it all. God aligned the right people over time; and as I like to say, “sometimes God places strangers in your life to take you to higher places”. The lesson here is: Consult all things with God, believe with unwavering faith, and watch what happens.

A lot of our success was because ego was absent. We made it all about elevating humanity in through their shared stories. We share their stories that inspire the masses, and just as diverse as our columnists are, so are our features. Our writers put talent, time, and heart in what each of them did. We honored the integrity of our work and our words. This lesson? Make it about them, not yourself. Leadership is from the platform of service, NOT power.

It’s truly the teamwork that makes the dream work. When you build a team or business, having the space to promote creative talents, to be heard, and to listen is critical. “You don’t reach the top of the game by ignoring the trenches”, as I’ve told Sonia, and we share this belief. Leaders are made in the trenches. This final lesson: Build a strong team that is built on trust, having the same vision and mission, as the attacks comes from within.

And last but not the least, God will never fail you, so if He gives you the vision, trust the process and trust the walk. One of Sonia’s favorite bible verses is found in Jeremiah 29:11, which states “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”.

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