Wine dinners are still a rare occasion in Cebu.
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In the near hour-long talk that the media had with the newly-crowned Miss Cebu 2016 Gabriel Raine Baljak, this much was established: she is a young woman bound for utter greatness. Hers is the new crown that fits snugly like it was made for her, and just for her.
Mere hours after winning the coveted crown just like her mother Merce Abellana had 30 years ago, Raine sat down, looked every reporter in the eye and poured her heart out into every single word she said.
No pretensions whatsoever.
Though all dressed up as a beauty queen should, this was Raine at her most raw, sharing not just her time but a piece of herself with the assembled media that had the privilege to sit down with the new face of Cebu. Emotions spilled over. Tears fell. And it was perfectly alright as this was beauty queen unlike any Cebu has ever seen.
Sure, there were some who were prettier. There were some who were taller and fairer. But there has never been anyone who exuded light, goodness and sincerity like Raine does. Cebu has a new queen and weíre all the luckier for it.
What did you tell yourself when you arrived home last night?
I broke out in tears and I thank the Lord because backstage no one really sees what goes on between all the hustle and the bustle and the rush. I sat there with my journal, writing. I was just so grateful for the entire journey. It was an opportunity in itself to be one of the candidates and without the universe guiding me to where I am right now, it just wouldnít be possible. Iím just so blessed to have such a supportive family who devoted so much of their time to me.
(Voice trembling) The reason why Iím struggling to say this is because on the day of the screening, I lost my grandfather on my motherís side and we were very close. He always inspired me to always have substance, humility, to be sincere, to always open my heart to other people.
I was just so thankful for so many things and for so many people and we just stood there holding hands and we prayed together. It was just a blessing to have the Lord with us and we can feel His presence no matter where we are. Personally, as a vegan, thatís why I donít want to eat another life. I only eat plants. I canít find myself eating another form of life. Whatever lifestyle anyone chooses, I respect that because at the end of the day, thatís what everyone deserves Ė respect and goodness.
Standing there at the stage, it can feel lonely. But seeing people cheer and open their hearts to you, people you know and people you donít, it feels like everyone is coming together and so thatís where I just found my comfort.
What was your momís reaction considering she was also a pageant title holder?
She was overjoyed. She herself lost the right words to express herself because weíre all very different but with her, itís through her smile. To just see her look at me, you can just feel how happy and proud she was. Like any mother, they just want whatís best for their child. For her to see me stand there and do something Iím really not keen on, she was just so happy that I took the time to devote myself to something sheís really passionate about. I took a risk and I feel that it has provided me with such a positive future.
Every since bata pa ko, ganahan man jud mag-share sa akong kasing-kasing, I grew up in the mountains of Danao City Ė Tabunok Maslog Ė around people who really didnít have much, people who made a living fishing and farming. I grew up on a farm, playing on carabaos and climbing trees, and itís just the simple things that made me happy. And as much as Cebu wants to innovate, I just hope we never forget that itís in the simple things where we can find true joy.
How much of an influence was your mother during this entire journey?
My mother has always been a strong woman and when she separated from my father when I was young, she devoted so much of herself to provide me with the best. And sometimes, she may not have been there in person because she had to work two jobs. I just admire her strength. She never cried in front of me unless it was a dramatic film. From my momís strength and how open she is to people, sheís so giving, and thatís something I have always admired. Thatís the one thing sheís always told me: to open my heart to people because thatís the time theyíll really get to know who you really are, when youíre vulnerable. I can never thank her enough for guiding me, for teaching me, itís really sulod sa dughan.
How do you feel when people say that you and your mom are like sisters?
First off, Iím like, wow my mom has great genes (laughs). We have such a gap but she looks like my sister. But thatís because she smiles so much. Sheís like my partner in life and itís always been that way ever since I was a kid. Iím so proud of her because not only has she seen me grow but I too have witnessed her grow as well and thatís when I can truly say that she is my partner in crime. I am proud of my mother and her experiences, from where she started to where she is now, she never forgets anyone. Sheís able to just give herself completely and for people to reciprocate that completely, itís the most beautiful thing. She has such a big heart.
Letís say Miss Colombia will take you up on your invitation to come here, where would you take her?
Sheís coming from Mactan Island. I hope she arrives during sunrise or sunset because then together we could stand on the bridge and enjoy how the sun would rise or set here because the colors on this side of the world are different from anywhere else in the world. Even this morning, there was a light rain at around 4 or 5 in the morning and slowly the color changed at sunrise from a dark palette to a light blue and a yellow and then an orange and it was like, wow. As a visual artist, I learned in school that light is what brings color. Seeing as we come from the earth, we come from the planet. And the planet broke off from the sun and the stars so technically, weíre all made from the sun so we have that light all inside us. And if you read the Bible, you learn that we all have this halo around us and as time passes, somehow that goodness vanishes a little bit. And in our own little way, Iím like ďcome back!Ē Because you see it in someoneís eyes, you see light. Thatís why I enjoy looking into peopleís eyes because you see what they are and when they open their mouth, you get to know a little more. Itís like a book you have yet to read, you never really know until you do. And by letting her see the sunset, I wish she would see that light that we have.
And then weíd go around the city and sheíd the see the happiness and joy in every citizen even though they donít have much. Iíve been to Hong Kong where if you ask for directions, they may or may not help you. But here, if you ask for directions, even if they donít know the answer, theyíll find someone to ask. Mutabang jud sila nimo and nindut jud kaayu na because theyíre just so willing to share.
Then Iíd take her to the mountains for her to see how Cebu has changed. Take her to the ocean where a lot of people work so hard to provide for their day-to-day needs. I hope somehow she can see what life is like here and how itís not so different from what she may have there in South America. Eventually, I would like to take her to the Basilica del Sto. Nino because thatís where Christianity was brought. I would just like her to see Ė maybe Ė I donít know where our happiness comes from. It could be from where the sun is always shining bright upon us. The land is so lush and fertile. Or it could be from the devotion and faith that we have, our hearts are just so connected to our religion. Or maybe it comes from the people, people are always so willing to tabang and go out of their way.
When people look into your eyes, what do you hope would they see?
Well, Iím not sure because speaking as an artist, everyoneís interpretation is based on whatever history they may have and whatever they may feel like. Personally, I just hope they would see positivity. They also may see hope and light because thatís something I hope to radiate, goodness. Whenever you meet someone, you donít know where they come from. And at that point, everyone deserves your goodness, your respect and your love because we all deserve that peace from someone else. But I just hope that when people look into my eyes, they see my happiness.
Why are you so emotional?
It was like this yesterday. I was just a mix of emotions! And then when I made it to the top five, I was in awe because each of these ladies was so beautiful like Barbies. But unlike the plastic dolls, these girls have substance and they shine in their own way. Itís truly amazing! I guess now I feel like I have this obligation to really help our city not only the young but also the mature.
Do you see yourself joining any other pageants in the future?
Right now, Iím just taking each day one step at a time because a year ago, I was thinking that maybe I will go to a university of performing arts or maybe herbal medicine or law or linguistics. I didnít know. It was always between the arts or the people. Then I realized that on the last month before I graduated, thereís quite a number of opportunities that I have been blessed with because people see my passion or my perseverance or my patience, there was something in me that they wanted to develop. It was here in this city that I have been blessed with these opportunities so I took a chance and then I realized that as much as we want to plan, life may not always go in that direction. Personally, I plan my life maybe three weeks to three months at a time. You can never truly predict because there might be another plan that the world has for you. Right now, Iím just thinking what can I do to help our city and our people. Thatís what it means to be in this position and Iím ready to give myself as a whole to this position and grow not just by myself but with everyone.
You have a number of tattoos. Care to share with us the stories behind those?
The first one I got was a revolver and the reason why I got this is when I was young, I had ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). I was overly excited, overly active. And so in life, itís important that you hold the gun and you decide where to shoot the bullet and no matter what negativity people may throw your way, you always have to remember to shoot your bullet forward and never get lost from what youíre passionate about. I donít believe in violence, so in a way, thereís irony.
My next one was the symbol ďOm.Ē Itís present in Hinduism and Buddhism, two of the oldest philosophies in the world. And I have many different faiths but this is just something to remind me of the flow in life. And that leads me to my next tattoo which is a lotus, the only flower that grows in a balance. And as I live here on this earth, I hope to continue to keep a balance, not only with the purity in my mind but also with a genuine heart that would balance my whole. The last one that I got was the sun and the moon, two forms of light that exist in darkness and in light. And I got these on my ring finger because all the arteries and vessels here are connected to your heart. We find love not only with a partner but also with our family, our friends, with strangers, anything and everyone. It could be absolutely anything. This just reminds me to keep my love with the earth, with the sun and the moon that radiates light.
Jonas Rey N. Panerio
Contributor - Lifestyle