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A road he didn’t walk alone: the valedictorian who realized ‘we’ is better than ‘I’

Through others, he realized things about himself that he could never do so alone and because of this, he was able to grow and become much stronger, not just for himself, but for everyone else.

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Photo grabbed from John Rabena's Facebook account

In this time and age, it has always been ideal to be independent, to not rely on anyone but ourselves. The belief that people should be able to make it on their own had always left a gaping hole in one’s heart as the feeling of incompleteness settles in. Eventually, life becomes a search for meaning—a quest to look for something to piece everything together. 

People believed that being at the top meant being alone. Those who run ahead often leave others behind and continue down an empty path where success becomes their only fuel for motivation. It’s a lonely feeling but it doesn’t have to be that way. To celebrate with, to be with, and to love others is what this graduate from Philosophy mentioned in his speech.  

Having been given the award as valedictorian for Batch 2019, John Alfred Rabena shared with TomasinoWeb his thoughts, his experiences, and his realizations during his stay in the University.

He’s grateful for being the only one in the world, unique and gifted in his own way—but it doesn’t stop there. “Subalit, ang ‘ako’ ay hindi maaaring mapag-isa at makulong sa sarili, sapagkat kulang ang ‘ako’ kung wala ang ‘ikaw’,” he stated.

Rabena realized that he was not alone and this simple realization changed his views on life. Through others, he realized things about himself that he could never do so alone and because of this, he was able to grow and become much stronger, not just for himself, but for everyone else. “Kaya’t sa kabila ng sakit at pait na iniwan ng taong minahal natin o patuloy nating minamahal,” he explained, “masasabi nating mas nakikilala ang sarili sa pagbangon araw-araw at mas lalong tumatatag sa pagharap sa buhay.”

Rabena also took the chance to extend his gratitude to the people that gave him endless support right from the start, up until the very end of his Thomasian journey. To his family and his friends, who were always there for him through his ups and downs and the ones who never got tired of cheering him on and telling him that he will make it.

“To our teachers who went beyond the minimum in order to boost our willpower when we thought that the routine [seems] to be endless and obscure,” he continued, “To our librarians and staff who quietly and persistently work in order for us to receive the education that we deserve.” He also thanked the security guards who always put the safety of others as their priority instead of their own, a selfless and kind act that deserved to be recognized and appreciated.

Of course, hardships and problems are inevitable. Rabena admits to feeling like giving up and hopeless, just like everyone else but he gives out a reminder to just hold on and hold on tight, “kayang-kaya ko ito dahil may tayo.” He points out that as education increases academic knowledge, it should also help in nurturing talents so that the life lived will be inclined to one with purpose and meaning. To live a life with love and compassion is enough proof that what was learned inside the classroom could be manifested into actions. For knowledge and promises to be acts of kindness and service, it’s the highest form of success anyone could imagine. “These are the people who gave me the courage to say: KAYA KO ‘TO!”

“Because our education does not end in the cultivation of IQ or the feeding of inert ideas,” Rabena expounds, “We ought to live up to the mission of our University: to spread the light! LUMINA PANDIT.”

To stand up for what is right is what he believes in, even if it’s scary, even if no one else is doing it, do what is just. Life can be better understood if people would step out of the box that’s keeping them from realizing that knowledge is useless if it’s just words. The only time education has fulfilled its purpose is when what was learned turns into what should be done. “Only then can we say that our education has gone from the classroom to the real venture called “life”,” Rabena stated.

The world is a cruel place, but this doesn’t serve as an excuse for it to stay this way. While change is still possible, aim for it—aim for a world where everyone is safe and on equal grounds, where hate could no longer be defined. It’s not too late to fight for what is right, for what is the truth, all while being kind and compassionate. To feel scared is normal and understandable, but don’t let that fear take over—push through.

“Panalo ang Tomasino dahil siya’y may paninindigan sa katotohanan. Panalo ang Tomasino dahil siya’y nagmamahal,” Rabena continues, “Panalo ang pamilyang Tomasino, dahil ang bawat isa’y tumatatayo para sa “tayo.” Tomasino, tayo naman!”

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Sila-Sila in its spectrum

Being under the constant waves of change, companionship paves through distances and personal struggles. The movie emphasizes that ‘ghosting’ also happens between friends and rekindling episodes are a challenge.

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Screengrab from Sila-Sila movie trailer

Giancarlo Abrahan’s entry for Cinema One Originals Film Festival Sila-Sila is a groundbreaking film that sprouts a queer narrative molded by queer people. Anchored to the intimate stories of real people, this ghosting film pierces through the lens of post-breakup experiences.

Its lead actors, Gio Gahol and Topper Fabregas had a harmonious rhythm as Gabriel and Jared inside one frame. With Gab being helplessly displaced and Jared as someone who craves settlement, they were in an endless loop of push-and-pull, making every scene burst in different colors of expectations.  

The film revolves around the story of Gab (Gahol), as he tries to reconcile with his friends (Phi Palmos and Dwein Baltazar) and his ex-boyfriend, Jared (Fabregas) after ‘ghosting’ them for almost a year. Fueled by guilt and regret, the old lovers find themselves igniting a fire that once burned the bridges that connected their lives.

Five minutes in and the sensual relationship between Gab and Topper will cuff the audience with its bare exposure of same-sex actualities. These characters played by both theater artists allow the scenes to flourish with remarkable nuance.

The scenarios in the film allow you to peek at realities that manifest through Gab’s life as a person who fails to find his roots being settled in one place. As his portrayal walks you through the story of uncertainties, the progress of the film lets you trace into a deep contemplation whether or not you may be the Gab or Jared in your own story.

Despite having fragments of scenarios that lowers the momentum of the film, it serves as a breath of fresh air as Gab undergoes the phase of vacillation. Gab’s journey of finding a home in people he once felt was is a cycle anyone can relate to. His doubts linger in trust issues and the feeling of not belonging. It soon uncovers that the quest of settling in places, people, and experiences will be unending unless one finds their sense of home.

Phi Palmos and Dwein Baltazar’s characters are spices to the story as they portray a decade-long friendship of overcoming tendencies. Being under the constant waves of change, companionship paves through distances and personal struggles. The movie emphasizes that ‘ghosting’ also happens between friends and rekindling episodes are a challenge.

Sila Sila won the Best Picture Award. Its undeniably well-plated palette satisfies the eye of the audience. A lot of scenes will tickle one’s humor especially if you are used to friendships that blatantly roast each other as a way of showing one’s love language.

Alongside its award-winning cinematography, Sila Sila also received the Audience Choice Award and Best Screenplay by scriptwriter Daniel Saniana. Also, Fabregas was recognized as Best Supporting Actor for his role.

“We’ll always love each other, however it manifests, it’s just always going to be there.”, this line by Jared carves through the hearts of those who had to let go of a person but never the love that they have for them. Gab’s relationship with Jared shows that there is never just one way of loving someone. Every day, with every version of themselves, love prevails. 

Distance can never make things small. It only deceives you from thinking that you’ve escaped your troubles. One way or another, you will find yourself crawling back because time never lets anyone off its claws—Sila-Sila teaches this. Furthermore, sometimes, having no closure is not the closure.

The character of Gab serves as an example that a person will remain trapped in the past unless they find closure from people and from themselves. People are bound to face the naked truth that we need to find our sense of home in this world that is full of broken fragments of imperfect individuals.

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Metamorphosis, a film that challenges the conventional

Tiglao tells this story through the never-before-seen character of a Filipino intersex teenager, and he tells it almost flawlessly, with the scenes that make you nostalgic, like you’ve been there before—a sort of déjà vu.

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Screengrab from Metamorphosis Trailer

As a coming-of-age film that probes more extensively into the adolescent psychosexual conflict, J.E. Tiglao’s Metamorphosis is dangerously daring. The film stirred a wave of controversy when the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) classified it as X-rated for exploring intersexuality, later on, it was reclassified into R-16, permitting its screening in local cinemas. 

It opens with a scene at a waterfall in a 1:1 aspect ratio and ends in the same setting, where we find the protagonist, Adam, exceptionally portrayed by Gold Azeron, no longer irresolute. Supporting actress Iana Bernardez, who plays Angel, complements Azaron almost naturally—Adam isn’t without Angel, vice versa. However, the gorgeous visuals of Metamorphosis overshadow the disarray that’s often ignored in the film.

Tiglao tells this story through the never-before-seen character of a Filipino intersex teenager, and he tells it almost flawlessly, with the scenes that make you nostalgic, like you’ve been there before—a sort of déjà vu. Apart from the brilliant footwork of Tey Clamor, the film’s cinematographer, the musical score by Divino Dayacap, from the University of Santo Tomas Conservatory of Music, gave the film its oomph: as if the music understood the complexity of emotions portrayed, and the aesthetics with it.

Tiglao almost easily got away with poor writing by compensating for the other elements in the film. Instead of sustaining its relaxed delicateness, it lost its momentum when Adam’s exploration into his intersexuality was hastily overturned by uncalled-for predatory themes, and sexual awakening was realized by means of harassment.

The film relied heavily on aesthetics while leaving the plot unsustained and undernourished. It undermined the audience’s capacity to understand beyond the script because there was very little depth to it—the metaphors were surface-level and revealed themselves too easily. Some scenes appeared to over-explain themselves because expository writing was brought to an excess. Nevertheless, the film communicated what it sought to: the magnitude of embracing your own uniqueness in pursuit of self-acceptance.

Perhaps one of the most moving scenes in the film was when Adam’s father, a conservative Catholic and a pastor with a strongly-held vision for Adam to reverse his intersexuality – an “Ok, boomer” moment – abandons his unyielding bigoted principles at long last, giving Adam the autonomy to decide on and for his own. Here, the conservative adult matures with the troubled adolescent—and it is this shared acceptance that is unique to Metamorphosis.

Although the film suffers from tacky dialogue and some questionable subplots, it does exactly what a coming-of-age film is supposed to: the audience becomes an echo chamber, where we feel for the protagonist while accompanying him into growth and resolution. 

Metamorphosis, along with its stillness and vulgarity, makes for an ample directorial debut. The “I” in LGBTQIA+ rarely gets talked about, but Tiglao changed that by giving us Metamorphosis: it contests machismo without overemphasizing the feminine, it astounds without unnerving, and most of all it is unrestrained. Metamorphosis, even with its sloppy writing, is sufficiently beautiful—it questions and challenges the conventional, and it does it without fear.

 

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Tayo Muna Habang Hindi Pa Tayo: An Endless Cycle

Falling in love in this generation is like using a trial and error method that gets you nowhere. In the emergence of dating apps such as Tinder and Bumble and websites like Omegle, finding a prospective partner has become fairly easy but also quick to lose.

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Screengrab from Tayo Muna Habang Hindi Pa Tayo official trailer

Labels. There is a silent debate going on about whether labels are important or a factor for complications. Though there is a need to define relationships to know where to draw the line between friends and lovers, it is often terrifying to know what the truth really is. The word ‘commitment’ may seem an intimidating word for some, but it is also loved by many. 

Tayo Muna Habang Hindi Pa Tayo is one of the entries for the Cinema One Originals 2019. Written and directed by Denise O’Hara, who won an award for Best Director in this year’s Gawad Urian for a movie called Mamang, a film about dementia and the struggles of remembering one’s life. 

The film festival ran from November 7 until November 17 in selected malls and microcinemas. Starring Jane Oineza and JC Santos as Alex and Carlo, the story portrays the characters’ struggle in the process of falling in love, falling out, being confused, and being sure at the same time. 

Falling in love in this generation is like using a trial and error method that gets you nowhere. In the emergence of dating apps such as Tinder and Bumble and websites like Omegle, finding a prospective partner has become fairly easy but also quick to lose. 

Alex, played by Jane Oineza, is a woman with big dreams and ambitions, eager to prove to the world that she is more than just a pretty face. Carlo, played by JC Santos, on the other hand, is your typical go-with-the-flow kind of guy who works in the field of graphic design and freelance work. The story progresses as the two create something that neither of them knows what is and what to call. 

By slowly cracking her shell and breaking down her walls, Carlo manages to see the parts of Alex that no one really sees. Underneath her cold gazes and intimidating aura, lies a sappy and marupok girl. One night, after planning and talking about the design for Alex’s upcoming project, a cockroach scare prompts a rush to the bedroom; ensuing a somewhat emotional conversation that turns the atmosphere into purple and red hazes. 

After that night, awkwardness sits between them in the office. Alex, trying to figure out what happened, asks Carlo directly; as to his reply, along with the words “Masaya pa rin naman ‘diba?” creates a questionable feeling both to the characters and the audience. 

Stemming from the title itself, the movie—from start to finish—draws a problematic and complicated cycle that reflects dating and almost-dating. The dialogues lacked a bit of emotional appeal and the concreteness of thought cannot be easily grasped. The movie has a back and forth sequence, showing the past and the present, how the moments came to be, what arguments were thrown out to get to the scene where they chase each other in the sidewalk with pain and hesitation in their eyes. 

Cinematography-wise, the color palette of the film shifts along with the emotion that is being presented on the screen, making up for the lack of substance in the exchange of dialogues. It is a mess, paralleling to Alex and Carlos’ relationship, the shaky camera angles and the abrupt shift from one scene to another provides support in pulling off the movie’s complicated narrative. It could have had more backstory and fewer gaps in the storyline but it somehow works as it leaves you hanging and still questioning what happened. It keeps you in the cycle even though you have stepped out of the cinema already. 

Filled with contradictions and trouble waiting to happen, O’Hara’s work garners attention from those who are in the same position. The film dwells on complex-minded characters, pretty much like our generation, and their decisions on whether they should leave or keep fighting for something that is vague. It is a ticking time bomb of tears and regret or maybe, just maybe, something magical and worthwhile. 

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