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Living the Testimony

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THOMASIAN Leandro Alverio Santos II recalled that cold January weather like it was yesterday while he waited for his turn to read his testimony in front of Pope Francis and to almost 24,000 people in UST last January 18.

Santos, a fourth year working student from the Faculty of Civil Law and a former Central Student Council president, was one of the young people selected to represent the youth by telling his experience in relation with the relevant issues affecting the young today.

Stress on Values

According to Santos, his testimony about the age of information was inspired by his ‘accidental’ encounter of seeing a hand painted quote about values on the 7th floor of the call center company where he worked for as a legal specialist.

Santos recalled, “Dun kasi, sa seventh floor, I never go there. Nung araw na nandun ako sa seventh floor, dun ko nakita yung isang hand painted na quotation about values. So na-struck ako nun.”

Just then, he received a call from the Archdiocese of Manila saying that he was selected to make a testimonial for the upcoming encounter with the youth of Pope Francis in the University of Santo Tomas.

He was given five days to create the testimonial that would represent the Filipino youth. The thought of the hand painted quote lingered. Combined with his habit of reading news about the trends in technology, the idea of the importance of values in the age of information immediately entered his mind.

He explained that the idea was born out of the prevalence of unlimited sources of information that is considered as an advantage but also becoming a source of distraction to the youth. He also compared how contemporaries of Rizal and Bonifacio worked hard to inspire change and progress even without the use of technology.

“I think na kaya siguro ganun kasi dahil sa mga values ng some youth ngayon,” he continued, “Although very simple siya, it affects everyone talaga so I ask to give us guidance and help with regards to how we can find God with technology.”

Special Experience
Before reading the testimonial, Santos said he had difficulties while practicing how to read the words efficiently and at the same time admitted to being frightened and intimidated by the Pope. Fortunately, the contrary happened.

“Big part of it was the presence of the Pope,” he said. “His presence was very inviting and calming.”

That moment, Santos revealed that he was encouraged to continue because the Pope seemed very attentive and was really listening to his message.

After reading the message, he gave a gift to the Pope called ‘The Jar of Memories’, which contained 5,000-7,000 notes written by UST volunteers for the Papal visit, symbolizing their prayers and messages. Along with the jar was also a picture taken by Paul Quiambao, showing a young girl who survived typhoon Yolanda in a devastated church while holding her scar.

Santos also applauded the Pope for reiterating their messages and by deviating from the prepared speech.

“Parang mas gumanda yung experience kasi he really took the time to reinforce it,” Santos said while remembering some of the lessons he learned from Pope Francis.

Right after, big part of his experience, which he described as a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity, was the blessed feeling of embracing the Pope and really seeing him up-close. He admitted that he only intended to kiss the Pope’s ring as a sign of respect but he never expected that inevitable moment would happen.

The Pope Francis Effect

Santos said Pope Francis definitely had the charisma in terms of connecting with the youth. He believes that his teachings would trigger the youth to form a movement for some cause that would help other people.

Part of it was because Pope Francis has a personal approach and application in his pastoral teachings for the youth to be participative. He believes this to be significant and that the ‘Pope Francis Effect’ would definitely last.

This experience has also prompted him to examine the way he is living his life. He said that he is still in the process of discerning things and still contemplating about what he should do about it.

“The other two who gave their testimonials, they deserved it. Pero of all the people, I continuously ask myself,’why me?’ Parang instead of being enlightened, I got really bothered by it,” he humbly said.

Santos believes that the hand of God is working for him ‘to do something’. After the Papal visit, he said he has been receiving requests and invitations to speak on seminars and some people are now even talking to him about values formation.

He admitted to having difficulties in making and inspiring advocacies because of the limited time he gets from being a Law student and from working full time; but he is taking things slowly right now.

The experience definitely strengthened his faith and that he would certainly incorporate the personal approach and application he learned from Pope Francis when he become a lawyer.

“Everyone should meet people on a personal level, participative yung gusto niya e so ganun, ganun yung application na gagawin ko,” he said.

Photo By Adrian Castillo

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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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Shameless Pride: Why the Face of Belongingness Lives on in the Streets

There is an ongoing turmoil within the community that needs to be discussed, and so they continue to go out into the streets together. This tells us that they have more stories to tell. Their existence tells us that what the world needs is not to ignite hate but to spread love.

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Photo by Elizabeth Nicole Regudo

It is an inevitable sight: a depiction of a rainbow in several forms—a flag draped over an arm and a wristband fastened on wrists that make up a crowd. Sometimes the details are subtle: a pin attached on a collar and a hint of a dyed layer of hair, perhaps done in the middle of the night, hours before the march. Yet this expressive and riotous aspect of the Pride Month retains its sense of being triumphant through its buoyancy and evocative command. It is the time of the year when the LGBTQIA+ community dismisses every custom that seeks conformity by simply huddling together and being in the moment.

A manifestation of multi-colored resilience

Resiliency is something that is vital to any form of resistance. For Jolo Gonzales, a first-year Economics student from the Faculty of Arts and Letters, the Pride March is not merely a celebration; it is the very embodiment of the LGBTQIA+ community’s tenacity throughout the history.

“Those people who join Pride, it is a choice for them to go out and celebrate or come out as who they really are,” Gonzales shared to TomasinoWeb. “And in this country, that choice is present to those who are courageous enough to accept and to fight for who they are.”

Photo by Elizabeth Nicole Regudo

Gonzales, who identifies as a bisexual, believes that Pride Month is not just about gender and sexuality; it is about being the kind of person who you truly want to be. As a member of the community, he does not condone stereotypes among the other members, for he thinks it is contradictory to what they are fighting for.

There is an underlying issue that often remains undiscussed. According to JV Reyes, a student from the College of Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines – Diliman, there are “threats that seek to falsely sensationalize the community” in regards to the interests that do not exactly concern it. What actually concerns the LGBTQIA+ struggle, he believes, is oftentimes disregarded by many.

“Perhaps one main struggle that, I think, each member of the community has is the conflict with fearing who you are and, eventually, fearing for yourself and the people that you value,” Reyes said. “There is the fear of rejection, which may come from our respective families and loved ones, and as well as the society we live in.”

But the community’s struggle is an intricate matter; it transcends personal battles and affects one’s social status and economic position. There is the fear of securing a stable job, the threat in one’s health condition, and the presence of violence and direct aggression. There is also little representation and recognition.

“And the thing is, despite these vulnerabilities from various threats, we don’t get as [many] rights as heterosexuals do. We don’t get as much protection,” Reyes added.

When asked if he would be able to name at least one place where he feels comfortable with his sexuality, as someone who identifies as queer, he said: “As long as this society disregards that we exist and that we deserve equal and fair treatment, I won’t feel safe of judgment and discrimination from anywhere.”

Overcoming heteronormative barricades

Jeman Malibiran, a senior high school student from the University of Santo Tomas, plans to attend this year’s Pride March. “[It] is a manifestation of resistance,” he said. “It is not merely a statement on who we are, on identity, but more so a statement about our dissatisfaction with the status quo and about how we envision such to change.”

Malibiran went on, “It will be my first time because I only recently have fully confirmed that I identify as pansexual, come out to my mother, and found true people who genuinely support my identity.”

Photo by Elizabeth Nicole Regudo

Gabriel*, a first-year student from De La Salle – College of Saint Benilde who identifies as asexual, believes that acceptance is the true meaning of the community’s struggle. “Giving them a home and a place to express themselves,” he explained.

Because the nature of his identity is rooted in fairly intimate concerns, Gabriel usually struggles when it comes to explaining how his orientation works. “It’s a bit aggravating,” he confessed. “It wasn’t just a ‘phase’ or ‘I haven’t met the one.’”

There is rarely any conversation about asexuality as well. “If there is any, it’s in the fringes,” Gabriel said. “So there really wasn’t a guide to how I felt, or how to put words into feelings. It’s not exactly a point of public discourse at the moment.”

Malibiran emphasizes that this is the reason why LGBTQIA+ members have a hard time expressing affection in public and often face stigma.

“There is still a struggle of being wrongly perceived as sinful, lustful, and disease-carrying among the community due to the dominant patriarchal mindset and the lack of education about gender and sexuality,” he added.

Carving out safe spaces

Protests are not something we should overlook; they must upset us. They are unsettling for a reason. Aurora*, a freshman student from the Faculty of Arts and Letters, has gone to two Metro Manila Pride March—one from 2017 and one last 2018—and plans to do so again this year.

“I went to the Pride March 2017 out of curiosity. I wanted to feel what a Pride march is,” he remarked. “I went to the march again last year because of the people I met. I wanted to meet more amazing people who are just like me. I wanted to experience the rain, the chants, the clothes, the program, and the love all over again.”

“[These] celebrations are for our brothers and sisters who were persecuted and being persecuted for being who they are,” he added. “[The] March is not only parties about our genders and sexualities, [but it also] is a protest for our rights.” The true meaning of being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, for Aurora, is for them to look out for one another. “We fight for them and for those who perished in our battles,” he said.

Jules*, a first-year student taking up International Studies at De La Salle University, believes that the Pride March is, first and foremost, a protest. “We see its roots in the Stonewall riots. Nothing about that was pretty. It was queer people fighting back against the police. They laid their lives on the line so we can have a little bit of safety, a little bit of acceptance, just enough so we can continue the fight,” she said.

Photo by Elizabeth Nicole Regudo

“So when I look back at history, I see Pride March as a protest against the system, against repressive institutions, against hate,” Jules added. “It’s going into the streets to revolt as one, and nowadays we have a lot of things to revolt about as well.”

Aurora believes that coming out is not merely a self-acknowledgment; it is the declaration of one’s willingness to be part of something real and honest. “I want everyone to know that I am a bisexual man,” he said. “Because I want everyone to know that people like me exist.”

For Jules, it is something that has a different meaning for every queer person: for some, it may mean being out and proud; for others, it may mean a select few only. “You define your journey,” she said. “What’s important to remember is that being out to only a few people doesn’t mean that you are less brave. We are all brave for living our truth in ways we’ve made our own.”

Aurora admits being a victim of internalized homophobia, which is still seen in dating applications like Grindr and Blued. These applications, according to him, have a niche of homosexual men who cater Masc4Masc dating scenes, which is when masculine, discreet queer men only date men of their own description. For him, this entails heteronormative narrative of gay acceptance.

Bi-erasure is also often left unspoken within the community. “Bisexuality faces a lot of stigmas still today,” Jules said. “The conversation [between] masculinity and femininity should also be discussed. Why is there a stigma against effeminate gays? How does this stigma feed harmful stereotypes?”

“I remember being bullied for being feminine,” Aurora revealed. “It gave me some kind of trauma that still affects me to this day. I’m still scared walking down a hallway full of men, anxious to be noticed and made fun of.”

The Pride March is not only a symbol of resistance; it is also the overt prompting of the community to seek a safe space. “It’s carving a place in this unforgiving world and sharing the burden of the fight with people who understand,” Jules said.

This is why protests are unsettling—because the way of life the LGBTQIA+ people are succumbed to is unwelcoming. There is an ongoing turmoil within the community that needs to be discussed, and so they continue to go out into the streets together. This tells us that they have more stories to tell. Their existence tells us that what the world needs is not to ignite hate but to spread love.

This is what is truly inevitable about the LGBTQIA+ struggle: the community’s sheer denial to believe what it has been conditioned to think it deserves. It is the community that speaks back and takes a stand, after all—and it will do this with the message of courage and compassion. Do not wonder why they come out into the streets and leave a trace of their vivacity behind. Instead, ask why they must keep doing so.

Names with asterisks (*) are pseudonyms. Pronouns used in the article are the preferred pronouns of the interviewees.

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Independence Day: Of Ceremonial Defeats and Freedom Myths

The history of our country immortalizes the meaning of our life then, as well as the scuffles and tragedies that wrote our present. But what we celebrate does not often mean we remember, for why and what we see today are contradictory to the freedom we sought after.

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Artwork by Kurt Tecson

From Lapu-Lapu, Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio to the warriors of the Philippine revolution and veterans of World War II—we remember the heroes who resisted those who attempted to conquer us by celebrating Independence Day. After all, history is a series of recollections. We remember Ninoy Aquino’s words—“The Filipino is worth dying for”— with such clarity that we can almost convince ourselves we have heard them even before we left our mother’s womb.

History may be a time long gone, kept only in books and mumbled in university lectures. But history signifies character and the Philippines is brimming with it. The history of our country immortalizes the meaning of our life then, as well as the scuffles and tragedies that wrote our present.

But what we celebrate does not often mean we remember, for why and what we see today are contradictory to the freedom we sought after.

In certain times we forget the true meaning of our independence. For instance, we as Thomasians no longer pause for a moment and sing the national hymn with necessary courtesy. Outside the school premises, our sense of freedom as Filipinos has been tainted in ways that now we have been constantly barraged with news of public accusations and political posturing. Aside from the execution of the war on drugs by the Duterte administration and the ongoing Martial Law in Mindanao, the China conflict has further aggravated the territorial disputes.

Yet it is clear that several things have not descended in some of the Filipinos’ consciousness, such as that of the way of the youth to resist submission. Instead, we reprimand them for their courage in never cowering in silence.  We overlook the organized language they speak in the streets, the shared protests they cultivate in their art, and the blatant refusal they hurl with raised fists and collective voices.

Photo by Dainish Santos

We forget that the youth of today are no different from the likes of Rizal, whose command over words has proven to be one of the things we continue to hold dear. Another Thomasian we ought to remember is Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista, also known as ‘Don Bosyong’, who waved the first Philippine flag. He finished law in the university and was one of the people who co-wrote the Philippine Independence proclamation.

The youth who resist are some of the heroes we must not forget. ‘Ang kabataan ay ang pag-asa ng bayan,’ Rizal said. They are the heroes who do not brandish themselves with rifles. Instead, they arm themselves with a philosophy meant for the people and the hope that the freedom of Filipinos will be recognized once more for what it truly is—the very embodiment of our country’s right to life and liberty. This is what the fight is all about: to call to mind the legacy our ancestors left behind and to live it out in our everyday life—because we must not flinch from the threats; we ought to break free from them through resistance and defiance.

The celebration of our Independence Day does not only mark the remembrance of the past; it is also the struggle we continue today for those who have been forgotten, hurt, and misled. It is our way of reminding ourselves over and over again that it is the compassion and love for the people that make being a Filipino meaningful.

We were a nation that fought for the freedom of the Filipino people. We can still be that nation today. And we ought not to forget that our country’s history, at its core, does not simply remind us—it lives within us.

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