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Cinestudyante 2019: Thomasian Filmmakers’ Triumph In the Local Film Industry

This first ever Filipino all-student film festival, Cinestudyante, features forty-three short films by high school and undergraduate students alike—three of which were created by Thomasians.

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Photo from Santolan Town Plaza Facebook page

Filipino cinema has been noteworthy insomuch as the popularity of film festivals boomed within the last few years. This is evident in the ever-increasing volume in queues in local theatres, the demand for better if not quality films in contest to mainstream entertainment, and the emergence of new film festivals. 

Last August was Cinemalaya season, an independent film festival celebrating its fifteenth year. September’s  Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (PPP), founded just three years ago, promotes locally produced films. These festivals have inspired hundreds of film aspirants. Thus, birthing Cinestudyante. 

From the partnership of Santolan Town Plaza and the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), the first permission was held from September 25 until October 1. This first ever Filipino all-student film festival, Cinestudyante, features forty-three short films by high school and undergraduate students alike—three of which were created by Thomasians.

 

Heist School, directed by Julius Renomeron Jr.

Photo from Cinemalaya Facebook page

Producer: Last Minute Films, Writers: Julius Renomeron Jr., Johmar Damiles, John Paolo Barrameda, Editors: Julius Renomeron Jr., Johmar Damiles, John Paolo Barrameda, Assistant Director: Alvin Jamora, Keanu Managuas, Production Manager: Klaire Ellise Dulay, Production Designer: Ezren Caneda, Casting Director: Pauline Carlos, Zhino Koe

Heist School, a film that debuted in the 2019 Cinemalaya Film Festival under the Short Feature category, was also featured in Cinestudyante.  A film about friendship and the role that a school holds in our development as a person, it’s told through the story of a ragtag group of students who tries to steal the answers to their math exam inside the faculty room.

“It was also a critique on the educational system in the country and how students’ moral uprightness are shaped early by their environment, especially in school,” director Julius Renomeron Jr. said.

In an online interview with TomasinoWeb, Renomeron, the director, shared how the idea for Heist School came about, “It was actually a joke when we pitched it and I wasn’t really that serious about the details of the film itself. […] We’ve had other film ideas for our film production class but Heist School stood out for us. Throughout the development of the script we molded the story from our experiences and struggles in college of passing the exams with my co-writers, Johmar Damiles and John Paolo Barrameda. […] It is also inspired by our friendship since back in college we were always having petty fights because we are dormmates, classmates, and orgmates.”

According to Renomeron, prior to the creation of Heist School, he and his friends, who are part of the production team, have been creating short films ever since. Consequently, they lacked funding in the post production process so they had to do everything by themselves. “Malaking pera rin kasi ang kailangan for the production so we had to sell stuff and rumaket ng mga video editing jobs. […] The filmmaking process was complicated but I guess being members of TomasinoWeb helped us in the production process because we were doing video production in the org before we started the project.”

On the subject of those struggling with the creative process, Renomeron shared that young creative should have the attitude of always wanting to learn new things. “Wala na kasing original na idea ngayon. What matters is how well you execute your ideas and how much of “you” can you put in your work.”

In retrospect, the whole process in creating Heist School was grueling, to say the least, but they were able to pull it off because everyone in the group was passionate about making the film and they took the time to exchange ideas and take into account every single idea that was pitched, no matter how foolish, because it could be valuable to the filmmaking process later on. Renomeron added, “The friendship bled through our script and that’s what made the characters feel more grounded.”

 

Garing, directed by Dan Pablo

Photo from Garing ng 1PM Films Facebook page

Producer: Emery Principe, Assistant Director: Charlaine Mutia, Emery Principe, Associate Producer: Ynna Dizon, Screenplay: Georgie Cerbolles, Production Manager: Katarina Mendoza, Production Designer: Cally Calleja, Director of Photography: Dan Pablo, Casting Director: Charlaine Mutia, Alex Garcia, Location Manager: Alex Garcia, Art Director: Barbara San Diego,

Another film featured in Cinestudyante, Garing, was the brainchild of a group of friends who shared the same vision for a short film, initially conceptualized by assistant director Charlaine Mutia. According to Screenwriter Georgie Cerbolles, “It is a story of a mother with a love for her child so strong that she loses her judgment to do what is right. It shows the struggles of being powerless while holding on to something as trivial as faith.”

Although the film was just a requirement for their film production class, they took the initial concept for the film and from there, they developed it to what it is now. “The first drafts of the screenplay were miles apart from the final script, but we ultimately wanted to keep the religious and motherly elements of the story,” Cerbolles shared.

Deciding which direction to go was one of the most troubling parts in the process, secondary to the tight budget and the lack of time. “It was our first time to do a short film with a budget and we knew that it wasn’t going to be perfect. Decision making was a hit or miss since we lacked the experience,” director, editor, and director of photography Dan Pablo added.

There was also an instance where they almost gave up and considered taking on a different story. “But in the end, we knew we had to go with Concha’s story, no matter how challenging it was,” assistant director Emery Principe said.

No easy step was found in the making of Garing: pre-production required the group to be confident in what they were about to do, and where they failed to do right by the story, they made up for it during post-production. “Every stage of production felt different. […] But it was fulfilling to finally witness the result of what your team has been working on in the last three months,” said Dan Pablo.

One of the film’s challenges was the fact that ideas could come anywhere and from anyone, so it was equally important for the group to collaborate, and in turn, move to create their vision for the film. The important takeaway for the group during the filmmaking process was that hard work alone isn’t enough to craft a good story—it takes collective effort.

“It takes time. It will always take so much time and energy to do something as impactful and wonderful as a film. If you’re given great material and happen to be around the right people to work with, it will all come together in the end,” said Cerbolles.

 

Beyond the Mats, directed by Dan Angelo Eligado

Photo from UST Tiger TV Facebook page

Executive Producer: Gwen Segarra, Supervising Producers: Pauline Linsangan, Jomari Hernandez, Writer: Oscar David Poblete, Editor: Ma. Lynette Pamintuan, Dan Angelo Eligado, Director of Photography: Dan Angelo Eligado, Production Assistants: Mivel Ambas, Charlene Jaranilla, Clarissa Sulit

Beyond the Mats is a documentary about the University of Santo Tomas Salinggawi Dance Troupe—their journey and remarkable legacy in the UAAP Cheerdance Competition. The film started off as just an idea, but the group found that Salinggawi had a promising story to tell, especially since the dance troupe has went through a great deal of experiences. “Noong una, it was Ma’am Faye’s vision to create a documentary for Salinggawi. Since ako ‘yung Sports Unit Head that time ako ‘yung tinap niya for this project,” said Jomari Hernandez, one of the supervising producers.

The team for the production of the film was the sports unit under Hernandez. He shared, “Nagtulungan kami in producing this film kahit na we’re bombarded with lots of deadlines and requirements. Nag-outsource rin kami ng mga tao from the operations and we tapped our Junior Producers para pag-graduate naming, alam nila ang galawan sa paggawa ng documentary.”

Before the production of the actual film, Beyond the Mats was actually a part of a larger series called Routine to Redemption, but because Salinggawi didn’t make it to the podium, it was discontinued. As a result, Beyond the Mats was created to show Salinggawi as they truly are, warts and all, as they enter UAAP Season 81.

Kaya in the end, we made sure to highlight Salinggawi’s value na they are more than cheerleaders, they have the passion to serve for UST,” Hernandez added.

According to the group, the most troubling part about the creation of the film was when Salinggawi lost because the vision for them and for the film was that they would win and they would get to do their podium finish. Although this led to the difficulty of redirecting the film to a different angle, they believed it told the story of Salinggawi as it should be, and that the process towards that goal justified it.

Because the documentary was about Salinggawi, the group had to immerse themselves in their lives—their training, their life outside the dance troupe. “Feel nga namin Salinggawi na kami eh,” Hernandez remarked.

Other than the Salinggawi Dance Troupe, the group was inspired by all the other student-athletes in the university—they believed that all of them had a story worth telling, that they are so much more than student-athletes. There were so many opportunities to tell a different story, but they chose to tell this one—one that hasn’t been told yet.

“Always be resilient and put your heart in your story,” Hernandez stated, “Kailangan mong mahalin para maging matagumpay sa isang bagay.”

 

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These films are a telltale that the Filipino youth have the ability to amplify their own stories. The ways in which they communicate their brilliant ideas transform into something greater. Cinestudyante, even on its first year, has become another platform to champion the local film industry.

 

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Thomasian scientists on the painstaking process of validating new COVID-19 test kits

“When I accepted this clinical validation, I realized that, as a scientist, I have been living in a bubble. First, I expected that things would be a breeze but doing research in a pandemic is totally a different story,” Albano said.

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Team of researchers and faculty members from the College of Science — (From left to right) Asst. Prof. Nikki Heherson Dagamac, Dr. rer. nat., Prof. Pia Marie Albano, Ph.D., Asst. Prof. Maureen B. Sabit, Ph.D., and Mr. Reuel Bennett, Dr. rer. nat.

Thomasian researchers are on the brink of validating a cheaper and faster PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction)-based detection of the COVID-19 virus.

The cost of a PCR-testing can be marked down once enough research has shown that this kit can successfully track the presence of COVID-19. This can eliminate the need for trained swabbers and enable the patients to swab themselves. Self-collection will expedite the process, reduce the spread of infection, and lessen labor.

As if the science behind it was not meticulous enough, the execution did not come easy either.

Singaporean Biotech company MiRXes Pte commissioned lead proponent Prof. Pia Marie Albano, Ph.D. to provide clinical validation of the company’s qPCR (quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction) kit for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 via nasopharyngeal and saliva samples. Her team was composed of Mr. Reuel Bennett, Dr. rer. nat., Asst. Prof. Nikki Heherson Dagamac, Dr. rer. nat., and Asst. Prof. Maureen Sabit, Ph.D. from the Department of Biological Sciences. 

“When I accepted this clinical validation, I realized that, as a scientist, I have been living in a bubble. First, I expected that things would be a breeze but doing research in a pandemic is totally a different story. I encountered several challenges that I did not encounter pre-pandemic,” Albano said in the 2nd Science and Technology (STS) Summit.

During the 2nd STS Summit on Nov. 12, Albano outlined the key challenges the team had to hurdle through, namely ethical approval, study site, participant recruitment, team safety, and molecular analyses. 

The surge of Delta cases nearly ruined everything

In May 2021, the team chose Ilocos Norte, 512 kilometers from the city of Manila, to serve as their study site. Ilocos Norte seemed like the perfect place to get their samples processed. The facilities needed to successfully conduct the validation and the endemic situation of coronavirus cases were kept at bay.

“When we were about to send the equipment and materials to the study site, our research partners in the area could no longer commit because COVID-19 cases [had] started to dramatically increase after detecting Delta,” Albano said. 

While waiting to get cleared by the ethics committee, she noticed the spike of COVID cases in the locale and began to draft contingency plans. Thanks to their proactivity,  the team was able to subcontract Singapore Diagnostics (SGD) which is a private DOH-accredited COVID-19 molecular testing facility in Makati. They figured that, with the sticky situation, it might not be “wise” to partner with a government-run hospital at the time.

“At this point, there was no turning back. I am accountable and I was committed to successfully implement the trial despite all the odds,” Albano said.

They set foot – rather by boat, in the province of Candaba, Pampanga as their new and final study site. The new study site exposed the team to language barriers and boisterous weather conditions. Their kick-off was pushed months later on Aug. 6.

During its early stages, the team’s first batch of swabbers and drivers had tested positive and resigned after their quarantine. Luckily, the team had been training additional swabbers and drivers in high-risk areas, and strictly imposed biosafety guidelines and testing every week. This smooth transition meant that the trial could go unhindered despite the setbacks faced.

COVID-19 stigma among participants

Participant recruitment for the validation of cheaper and faster COVID-19 PCR-based test kits. Screengrab from the 2nd Science and Technology Summit

“A positive result was equated to loss of income,” she said as she described how the stigma of getting a positive result affected families. 

Many potential participants hesitated due to the stigma associated with positive cases. Positive COVID results meant that breadwinners could not provide for their families; they could starve while waiting in quarantine. 

This spurred Albano to give sacks of rice rather than the initially planned monetary compensation. 

Political and administrative power dynamics

“In the past, I would only need to present to the medical director and department heads of hospitals whenever I would invite for collaboration. However, in this clinical trial, this clinical trial taught me the importance of understanding the local power dynamics in order to access potential participants,” she said.

According to Albano, access to areas with high COVID-19 cases, quarantine facilities, and community-based testing sites were the hardest. 

“I had to ask the support of medical technologists to have access to their COVID-19 testing facilities. I approached factory workers and factory owners to have their members and employees tested for free. I also invited healthcare workers, especially the volunteers in vaccination sites. And of course, I invited the UST community to participate,” she said. 

Regulations at the local level are dependent on the current COVID situation. Some places have implemented local lockdowns based on where the cases are. The strategy became focused on a constant dialogue with community members and different organizations within communities. It resulted in genuine collaboration between stakeholders in all aspects of the clinical trial. 

“Principal investigators of COVID-19 clinical trials should possess flexibility because the pandemic presents unforeseen changes and diversity of situations one should be able to adjust to constraints and to make fast decisions and plans during ambiguous situations,” she said.

Conducting clinical trials during a pandemic is no easy feat. Albano’s team learned that through the various obstacles that they faced. From the study site to the lack of participants, team safety, and the various political and administrative hurdles, they broke through to the other side to tell the tale.

Despite the odds, the team was still able to pull-off figures beyond the required 300 positive and 500 negative cases for testing. The results will then be sent to MiRXes for further validation and application by the FDA in Singapore. 

Christine Nicole Montojo
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UST creative writing major Aleia Anies’ shot in the dark

After submitting the revised version of her piece about siblings tackling grief and mental health issues for her playwriting subject, Anies didn’t hope for anything let alone be accepted.

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Photo courtesy of Ellie Bun

UST AB Creative Writing student, Aleia Marie Anies will be joining the three-week Virgin Labfest 16 Writing Fellowship Program starting Nov. 16 until Dec. 5. 

In an interview with TomasinoWeb, Anies shared her excitement from being one of the eight fellows for this year’s CCP’s Virgin Labfest Fellowship (VLF) Program. 

Being the first Creative Writing undergraduate from the University to attend the event, Anies couldn’t help but feel ecstatic. “Actually, hindi pa nagsisink in, as in ang surreal,” she said.

Although she initially considered dropping out, there were questions that lingered around her. “Kasi alam mo ‘yung feeling na pumapasok na, ‘What if hanggang dito na lang ako?’ ‘What if hindi ko na kayang gumawa pa or magsulat pa ng mas maganda?’ ‘What if hindi ako mag-improve as a writer?’” 

But for the creative writing major, the mere fact that she was chosen and given this opportunity was enough reason for her to keep going. It was the sign that she was waiting for.

Anies also shared that her submission for the VLF was “a shot in the dark.” After submitting the revised version of her piece about siblings tackling grief and mental health issues for her playwriting subject, she didn’t hope for anything let alone be accepted.

When asked about what motivates her to write, the 36th Gawad Ustetika winner for Fiction used soap suds and sponges as metaphors for writing.

“Writers are like sponges, we have to be able to absorb the things around us at ang gamit natin ay ‘yung senses natin. I think soap suds are the perfect analogy for our regurgitating words […] Kasi kailangan mo talagang pigain yung sarili mo as a writer before ka makaproduce ng soap, before ka makaproduce ng work or literature,” she said.

Originality comes second for the writer as she emphasized the need for a writer to be able to squeeze themselves and create a good piece. “I think a good piece of literature comes from a writer who can squeeze themselves, ‘yung kayang dikdikin ‘yung sarili nila and someone who is always willing to absorb new information, always willing to learn, to learn from themselves, but also, to learn from others.” 

For three weeks of exchanging insights and establishing a bond, Anies is excited about what will happen, “I’m looking forward to learning from other people, I’m looking forward to watching a lot more plays and sobrang excited ako sa workshop kasi nga diba […] gusto kong pigain pa ako, gusto kong mapiga pa para mareach ko ‘yung full potential ko.” 

The Virgin Labfest Fellowship Writing Program is an annual event of the Cultural Center of the Philippines that focuses on training young aspiring playwrights through lectures, discussions, and workshops. This year, Glenn Sevilla Mas, the multi-award-winning playwright, will be mentoring the fellows. 

Aliah Basbas
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Tale of struggle: Music alumnus shares thyroid cancer journey

“You will always find answers to everything. Not until you die, it’s not yet a dead end,” Mendoza said.

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fonzy mendoza
Artwork by Wendell Adrian Quijado/TomasinoWeb

Fonzy Mendoza, 38, could not help but be nervous as he gripped on the results of his fine-needle aspiration biopsy after discovering a lump on his neck. With trembling hands, he opened the envelope to find the words “Suspicious For Papillary Carcinoma” written in bold on the front.

Mendoza, a music alumnus from the University of Santo Tomas, prides himself as a healthy person. Despite not being a health buff, he never smoked and always ate healthily. But one day, he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, taking his life in a different route.

“I was really stunned and for a temporary time, I’m really unable to react […] Hindi ako makapaniwala totoo ba to? Is this really happening to me? Marami-raming tao nung time na yun pero wala akong marinig na ingay […] I felt numb,” Mendoza told TomasinoWeb

Once he told his parents about his diagnosis, Mendoza came up with an action plan. He didn’t go through the in-denial stage as he immediately learned which doctors to meet and what treatments would possibly be done to him. 

“I was also afraid to lose my life. When I say life, life in general, life per se, passion gives me life. Like singing is my passion. There [was] a possibility that I could lose my voice too,” he said. 

There was no other way aside from getting surgery, so he met with a number of doctors who would take care of both his life and his passion.

“Alamin mo yung ino-operahan nila na [thyroid cancer patients] in a year because you need to know their expertise at ilan ang successful rate. […] If they will fit not only to operate me but in a way that I could still live the way it was,” he said. 

After a tedious search, Mendoza found Dr. Gerard Agcaoili, a doctor in Medical City who he believed to be the most fitting doctor to operate on him.

“[Dr. Agcaoili] will also take care of my life and my voice because he’s a doctor of singers, so he knows my aim,” he said. 

Being ‘strong’

“Because people see me as a strong person, […] feeling nila I can do everything on my own so yung expectation ng tao, kaya ko,” Mendoza said as he remembered the struggles of realizing that his diagnosis somehow altered his relationship with the people around him. According to him, being “strong” does not seem to fit with him when he was battling cancer, but people would still see him as such. 

There was not enough support as his parents couldn’t fly to the Philippines, and he only had his best friend and ex-partner with him. Although he had friends checking up on him from time to time, Mendoza said it felt different.

“Iba ‘yung nandoon sa tabi mo eh. I wasn’t getting that [support] kasi nga ang taas taas ng tingin nila sakin,” he said. “I hate it that people look at me so strong. I hate that people look at me as [if] I can do everything. Because [during] that time, I want to feel loved. I want to feel embraced. I want to feel that I’m weak.”

The lack of support Mendoza got was the reason he felt that he did not have enough strength even though his doctor said they were ready to operate on him. But when he prayed before getting inside the operating room, he felt a different kind of love. It was a sudden feeling of ease, and that made him feel ready.

“Kaya sabi ko noon faith has revived me kasi it makes me feel that I will be okay, that I’ll live my life after this operation, [and that] I can do things with a purpose,” he said. 

Words of affirmation

Mendoza understood that people’s words of affirmation were their way of supporting him through his cancer journey, but there were instances when it didn’t feel like it.

“People and some doctors will always say [thyroid cancer] is good cancer, but how can it be good if it’s cancer?” he said after some people told him that his cancer was “curable compared to others.”

But what those people failed to understand was his cancer had already altered the physical and emotional effects he would go through. Someone even assured him that taking levothyroxine, a synthetic version of a thyroid hormone used to treat thyroid hormone deficiency, would help him feel better.

“[Thyroid cancer] changes the phasing of my life. When we say life, it’s how you live it. Kung ano yung proseso kung pano ka mabuhay, na-alter ‘yun and how can I be okay if I cannot be the same?”

Another thing that Mendoza didn’t want was people who would look at him as if he would die. He felt that with some of his friends who told him they “needed” to go out when they found out about his ordeal. 

“Lumabas tayo in a way because we want to celebrate life [and] not because as if that’s my last day,” he said. He wants people to know that it’s not okay for a cancer patient to hear these kinds of words.

“Kahit sinong may sakit na tao, ‘wag mo iparamdam na last day na nila […] because once you lose hope, they will lose hope.”

Surviving ThyCa

It usually takes five years to know that a person is already cancer-free or is already in remission. In Mendoza’s case, it’s been two years since his test showed that the cancer was undetectable. 

“Even though I’m not yet in [full] remission, […] I can say that I’m really a survivor,” he said. 

Mendoza plans to launch a non-profitable organization called “Be Your Own HERO” where people with different types of cancer uplift each other through sessions. 

“[Ang] cancer patient, ang kailangan niyan moral suport eh aside from financial […] Sa pamilya minsan kulang, kailangan manggaling yun sa mga tao na nakaka-experience noon mismo […] ‘yung on-hand experience minsan mas tangible sa tao,” he said. 

Mendoza said battling cancer could be paralyzing emotionally, physically, and mentally but he told people never to lose hope.

“You will always find answers to everything. Not until you die, it’s not yet a dead end,” Mendoza said.

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