by Bro. Anthony Capirayan, SSP
Whenever people see me, they would exclaim, ‘Uy, si Santino!’ Before I felt uncomfortable about it. They still see the little boy image of me when in fact I’m already a teenager,” Zaijian knits his eyebrows in slight exasperation.
“But I have gotten used to it,” he continues. “I have now figured out why they still call me Santino. “Nakuha pala talaga ang puso nila sa show na ’yon kaya hindi nila makalimutan.”
Zaijian Jaranilla gave a stellar and unforgettable performance in the Philippine drama series May Bukas Pa (2009–2010). He portrayed the boy “Santino”—an ophan adopted by priests who has a supernatural confidant he affectionately calls Bro. With the emotional depth he brought to the teleserye, many were simply glued to their televisions after supper to witness the boy’s adventure in the town of Bagong Pag-asa. His intimate conversations with Bro, his triumphs over his plights, and his healing powers gave hope and consolation not only to the folks of his little town, but also to the viewers. More than reaping countless awards, Zaijian’s acting restored the faith of many.
The Wounded Healer
However, the “Miracle Boy” was not without his sorrows. Zaijian grew up in a broken family. He was barely five years old when his parents decided to separate. His grandmother Dulce, whom he calls Mommy, brought them all up.
“Mahirap naman po pero nakaya naman po ng lola ko na palakihin kaming magkakapatid nang maayos,” he remarks.
Though the separation left him struggling emotionally, Zaijian says he has now understood why his parents had to part ways. “Pero masaya naman po ako ngayon kasi nakikita ko pa rin po ang mama at papa ko.”
He was born in Mindoro, grew up in Manila, and spent most of his summer days with his relatives in Marinduque. Together with his father, grandmother, and two siblings they are residing in Quezon City.
Zaijian landed a spot in the entertainment industry by an ounce of luck . . . and a whole lot of hard work. His grandmother once worked as a secretary in an ob-gyn clinic. His photo was sitting on her desk and one doctor caught an eye of it to which she candidly remarked, “Pwedeng artista ang apo mo ha.” The doctor then referred them to a TV production in Makati. Armed with faith and a few acting techniques, they went and took their chances.
“Hindi ko po talaga makalimutan yon sa buong buhay ko. Pabalik-balik kami ng Makati. Tapos naghintay kami sa pila nang four to eight hours for the audition. Hindi ko rin po akalain na makukuha po ako,” he recounts with fervor.
Zaijian started out with a few commercials. He then scored small guest roles in Goin’ Bulilit, as the young Nicolas in I Love Betty La Fea, and as the young Tony in Komiks Presents: Tiny Tony. Top creatives in the industry spotted the kid’s charisma, energy, and flexibility, and so he was made the key figure in May Bukas Pa. The teleserye was inspired by the Spanish film Marcelino Pan y Vino (1955).
“Sobrang unexpected po kasi ’yon eh. Parang two episodes lang sana para sa Holy Week. Nag-tape kami, maraming nakapanood, at maganda ang feedback,” he relates. And thus began his ascent as an actor. May Bukas Pa is one of the longest running teleseryes in the Philippines, churning out a whopping 236 episodes, lasting for one year and four months.
The boy Santino became a household name as he, in one way or another, brought Bro closer to the people. As strange as this sounds, outside the set, some people would come near him not for a selfie or autograph; instead they wanted to touch him that they may receive healing and comfort.
Life is a Game
Zaijian, however, says that even amidst the klieg lights, adoration from people, and the whole crew supporting him, acting remains pretty exhausting. He even thought of bailing out when he was doing May Bukas Pa.
“Hindi ko po talaga siya [acting] passion eh. Siyempre kung bata ka, gusto mo lang maglaro,” he says. Being a child star comes with great perks and a huge responsibility. Zaijian often has to carry the show and he has to pull it off. Thank God, even before boredom and weariness get the better of him, her grandmother comes to lift up his spirits.
“Siya po talaga nagpu-push sa akin. Sinasabi niya na mag-pray lang po ako palagi, na gawin kong inspiration si God para matapos ko ang mga dapat kong gawin.” She would also tell the boy to consider acting as a fun game so he would not lose interest.
The truth is, Zaijian is a hardcore strategic gamer. Despite being in the upper crust of the industry, he remains a normal kid who goes to school, who can be at times naughty and mischievous, and needs time to play. When the clapperboard strikes to signal the end of shooting, Zaijian spends time in front of the screen and relentlessly tapping a video console or striking the keys of his PSP.
“Kahit hindi pa po nag-start mag-acting, minulat po ako ng papa ko sa gaming. Kaya hanggang ngayon naglalaro pa rin ako. Yon po talaga ang hobby ko,” his eyes sparkle with enthusiasm.
Dota, League of Legends, NBA 2K17, GT, Counter Strike—he talks about these games with much gusto as if he were born to them. But the boy has a bigger “game” to play. He knows sometimes he has put aside his gadgets in order to bring to life his character on TV. He knows that he has to be on the set in order to support his family. He knows that somewhere out there he turns someone’s pain into strength, misery into love, disappointment into excitement, failures into lessons, despair into love, and with all these he does not want to step away from acting.
A new TV series is currently in the works. Alas, he is not playing Santino anymore. The boy has indeed grown up and is ready to take on more challenging roles. The endearing little Zaijian is now a lad, but his heart remains selfless and full of love.