Miss Cebu 2016 Raine Baljak talks about her advocacies for the youth’s health and well-being, natural farming and providing a venue for the disadvantaged children, and how she plans on using the crown to fulfill her causes
Dawn was breaking, and while most people have yet to get up and start their day, the scene at the 8 Hills Farm is already quite busy in preparation for this issue’s cover shoot. On one end of the farmhouse, Raine Baljak sits for hair and makeup, talking to the team about the farm. “We have papayas, calamansi, pomegranate, passion fruit, rose apple, lanzones, rambutan, soursop, red custard apple, malunggay, mangoes, ginger, guyabano, and much more,” she explains rather energetically for someone who’s been up since four in the morning. Occasionally, in the midst of her chatter, she would clarify something with mom Merce, who was busy preparing sandwiches and fruits for everyone. Mother and daughter would yell—good-naturedly, of course—over the blasting hairdryer just to be heard across the room.
Despite the welcome intrusion of the Zee Lifestyle team, it was a wonderfully domestic scene, like a preview of life at the Abellana home when they’ve taken off their high heels and makeup and are ready to relax. Of course, with Merce occupied with the family business and Raine’s increasing responsibilities as the reigning Miss Cebu, the pair barely has enough time to sit down. Although Raine, a media relations officer at Create Cebu, a sought-after model at Origin Model Management, a radio jock on Monster Radio, and the newest member of 22 Tango Records’ street team, is quick to admit that the busy schedule has only brought her closer to her family and that she treasures any free time she has. Whenever she is fulfilling her obligations and attending functions, you can almost always expect Merce standing on the sidelines, proudly supporting her daughter’s every move.
While Miss Cebu is her first pageant, Raine is not a complete stranger to them. Her mom was crowned Miss Cebu Tourism in 1986, while her aunt Mae Beverly Lao-Abellana was a runner up in Binibining Pilipinas in 1981. Her grandmother Maria Fe and great-grandmother Mercedes Durano Lao were also beauty queens, having been Miss Danao during their times. Ever since Raine was little, Merce had always talked to her about Miss Cebu, although Raine herself wasn’t quick to follow into her footsteps. “I was never really interested in the beauty world, because I was more focused on my school commitments,” Raine says, citing her participation in the varsity football, volleyball and basketball teams, along with various school musicals. Other school activities she enjoyed volunteering for were the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation, Beep Beep Books and other fundraisers.
Her story took a different turn when her grandfather Eulogio was hospitalized. “Both my grandparents influenced me a lot during my younger years, and I wanted to do something to show my gratitude to them—something that would help preserve our family history on this island.” Alongside the beauty queens, the men in Raine’s family were also quite the achievers, with her great-grandfather Gregorio having fought against the Spanish as a Katipunero, while her grandfathers Jovito Abellana and Reuben Lao fought in World War II.
The family history, Raine shares, has given her the confidence and pride to stand tall, although she says that growing up in a clan of leaders, inventors, artists and perfectionists wasn’t easy. “The idea of being ‘good enough’ is never enough, because just as my mother has instituted in me, ‘If you are not practicing, someone else out there is,’” she says. “This allowed me to become very globally aware and conscious of my actions at an early age.” She thanks her mother for giving her the drive to achieve more, but is bashful in confessing that she’s still trying to pick up on the feminine grace that her mother exudes. “Special thanks to Jonas Borces and Mark Shandar for teaching me the ‘walk’!” Raine quips.
The early morning sun brought the farm to life, making the greens of the field and the colors of the flowers more vibrant as Raine—decked in an intricate floral Philip Rodriguez gown—hoists herself up on the side of a terrace for the first shoot of the day. It didn’t exactly look like a comfortable spot, yet the beauty queen managed to carry over that grace she is so dedicated to perfect.
Being Miss Cebu goes beyond having grace, as Raine found out herself throughout the entire duration of the competition. “When you’re in a room filled with brilliant, bodacious and beautiful young women, how can one stand out from the other?” she questions. “That’s when personality comes to play, and how being your unique self is your greatest weapon. At the same time, self-esteem and paranoia are your biggest opponents, so my biggest challenge was really myself.”
It’s almost hard to believe that, given Raine’s shining confidence on the stage that fateful January evening. Behind the seemingly poised composure, however, Raine was nervous just like any candidate would be, especially at the final question and answer portion in which the candidates were asked, “If you could talk to the reigning Miss Colombia to convince her to visit Cebu, what would you tell her?”
Raine’s answer, which sealed her victory, was definitely one for the books in Miss Cebu’s recent history. “As a proud Cebuana, I would tell her to visit Cebu because it is where the heart sings. And with that, Cebuanos have a genuine passion and we love to share. Miss Colombia is gorgeous and confident, but during that night, she might have given a little too much confidence and sometimes that gives another meaning. I believe we can show her how to enjoy the little things. Because Cebuanos are happy no matter what, and that’s what makes Cebu where the heart sings.”
“My initial reaction was, ‘Really! This is the final question?’” she reminisces. “But then I was like, ‘Oh, okay, gotta calm down…’ and then I recalled the three prominent historical tourist destinations—Magellan’s Cross, Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, and Fort San Pedro—but I thought locations are worth nothing without the people.”
“That is what makes any history live on, the culture that is deeply embedded in the hearts of the people. Found in our resiliency, compassion and appreciation for the simple things,” Raine adds. “That is why I answered looking into the genuinity of what makes Cebu where the heart sings.”
Winning the crown is just one of the many significant steps that Raine is taking to further her cause. “My advocacy is to create a venue for the disadvantaged children of Cebu to develop their potentials in a safe and nurturing environment, while appreciating art, culture, history and nature,” she shares. This young adventurer hasn’t been given the opportunity to fully work with the government yet because of the upcoming May 2016 election, but her crown has already given her an advantage. “My presence has a significant impact on our community when I participate actively, and when I use social media,” Raine explains. “Whenever I connect with other members of the community to push my advocacy, or to speak up for those who do not get enough credit, I am a voice that is heard.”
Raine further regales us with tales of her family’s farm as we move on to the second layout, this time she’s dressed in a stunning white Barbie Alvez two-piece. It looked like any other ordinary photo shoot, except the aspiring singer-songwriter was cradling an adorable—yet rather noisy—kid in her arms.
Even with the flawless makeup and the carefully styled hair, Raine looks well and truly in her element walking around the farm and cooing softly to the baby goat. Her love for the place is quite evident. “Only with Mother Nature I find serenity and sanctuary because I know, this is home,” she shares, explaining how she used to live in Danao until her family moved to the city when she was seven.
Witnessing the development of Cebu City is astonishing, she says, but it’s also painful to face the problems of commuting within the city because of the rush, noise, pollution, and other related stresses. “When I’m in the farm, I feel so refreshed by the space surrounding me, as the only noise I hear are the birds, the bees, the crinkling of the leaves, the goats, or the neighboring cows.” The farm is her sanctuary, where she can free her mind to write a song, draw, or paint at ease. “I like spending my breaks here with my squad goats,” she laughs.
The Abellanas’ family farm, pioneered by Raine’s grandmother, started out with only a few goats, some coconuts, other crops, and one farmer to take care of everything. Since her grandmother passed away, Raine’s aunt Mae took over, and it is currently a work in progress towards being a certified organic farm.
It’s hard to talk about Raine without mentioning her vegetarianism—one of the things that she kept highlighting throughout the Miss Cebu pageant. Back when Raine was a child, her immune system had difficulty adapting to the surroundings, leading to diagnoses of eczema, atopic dermatitis and skin asthma. She was 13 when she began exploring the concept of ‘you are what you eat’ and through personal research and the inputs of an allergist and a traditional Chinese doctor, she became a pescatarian. At 17, however, her skin began to react to seafood, leading to a transition to vegetarianism. “But as I learned more about the world and myself, I realized that veganism is the best for myself and our planet, because just as Hippocrates said, ‘let food be thy medicine.’”
Raine plans to take a more proactive approach about her veganism through the family farm. This month, she plans to attain her formal training on natural farming. “With this, I hope to make the concoctions for our own natural pesticides, natural fertilizers, fish amino acids and everything else involved in the processing of our raw produce,” she expresses. “One day, I would like to develop [the farm] to be a venue for healthy living, including yoga, cooking, education and so that it becomes a playground for all ages to come together and enjoy.”
For now, creating awareness on eating clean with proper nutrients, knowing where your food comes from, how they are produced, and living a healthy lifestyle is Raine’s immediate priority. “The more educated we are with our food and the environment, the more concerned we become in taking care of everything around us, so that we do not deplete the resources for the future generations.”
The Cebu City Tourism Commission, through the Miss Cebu pageant, seeks unique, confident, and goal-oriented women of potential and substance to represent the Queen City. With Raine’s achievements since winning the crown and her long-term plans to fulfill her advocacies for the environment and the youth, the Commission single-handedly did quite the Raine check on the crown by handing it over to Raine Baljak.
by Patty Taboada sittings editor Shari Quimbo photography Dan Douglas Ong makeup Arnauld hair Gino Fonghe styling Blaq Mafia locale 8 Hills Farm
Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, April 2016. For back issues, subscribe via Magzter.