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Rules of engagement

It could be said that the news of their engagementwas a pleasant break from the doom and gloom in local Showtown.

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After singer Aiza Seguerra popped the question to actress Liza Diño—onstage, in the middle of a play where they were the lead actors—on Feb. 8, the couple’s Facebook and Twitter pages quite understandably burst with giddy and gushing congratulatory messages from friends.

We sort of saw it coming. When Aiza and Liza sat down with the Inquirer late last year, it was already evident that they were irrevocably in love.

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LIZA Diño and Aiza Seguerra visited the Inquirer late last year; even then it was clear they were committed to the relationship. They got engaged last week and plan to get married in Los Angeles, California, where same-sex unions are legal.

Still, a slew of discoveries cropped up during the two-hour conversation. For instance, that they actually met over a decade ago. That their romance got stalled then and got back on track only last year. That they pick a different theme song after every concert. That Liza’s daughter loves playing video games with Baba (her pet name for Aiza).

And perhaps most telling of all, that Aiza had to overcome not a few issues, including a reluctance to get attached to kids, when she reconnected with Liza.

All this came tumbling out of the two quite unbidden.

That Liza was loquacious was not shocking, but that Aiza should reveal parts of herself that were, until then, well-guarded and concealed from the public was nothing short of stunning.

It was only Liza who was supposed to do the talking, but before she (and we) knew it, Aiza had jumped in as well. Yes, the famously reticent Aiza—that is, until Liza came along.

As Liza pointed out during the chat: “I am so proud that Aiza has learned to open up.”

Must be love.

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How did you meet?

THEY have weird fights. “We argue about our processes as actors,” Aiza says. “We are both passionate,” adds Liza. “But we’ve realized the importance of constant communication and honesty.”

Liza Diño: We met over 13 years ago. She was in fourth year high school; I was in second year college in UP (University of the Philippines) Diliman. I was 18; she was 16.

We met through my first boyfriend, who was her colleague. The boyfriend and I were about to break up. Aiza and I started talking… She said she wanted to take the Upcat (UP entrance exams) and I gave her an application form. It started there.

Was there already physical attraction?

LD: Yes! It was a friendship. Was it more than friendship? I think so. We just didn’t [act on] it. We didn’t know what we were getting into. I was afraid. I was confused. I didn’t see myself getting into a same-sex relationship.

At that time, Aiza was also at a crossroads. She was not yet a singer. She was no longer a child star and was seriously thinking about going to college.

Aiza even watched my first play, “Taming of the Shrew,” with Jonas Sebastian and Dulaang UP.

AT THE MMFF Awards last December, with child actor JM Ibañez and indie filmmaker Will Fredo. Aiza won Best Supporting Actress for “My Little Bossings” that night.

How long were you together then?

LD: Nine months. It was a bad parting [of ways]. It was so cinematic daw [for her]. She saw me with my ex-boyfriend. Then she asked her driver to buy beer for her.

Then you lost touch for over a decade?

LD: We didn’t talk for 13 years. I remember we bumped into each other in a mall, sometime in 2004. She was with a girlfriend and she snubbed me. I felt bad because I thought she had belittled our friendship.

How did you reunite?

LD: It was just random. I tweeted her in late December 2012. My friend (indie filmmaker) Will Fredo was doing a script on gay relationships. He asked me about [the subject]. I said I had had one … I wasn’t even sure if it could be considered a relationship … It was with Aiza. That was how her name cropped up.

So I tweeted her. She sent me a direct message. Two days later, we met. That was Jan. 6, 2013.

What happened when you saw each other again?

LD: I really didn’t think much of it. It was nice to see her. Before we met, she texted, saying she was looking forward to our reunion and that she was sorry for how things ended between us.  It felt good. It assured me that she treasured what we had before.

Was it a difficult decision to come out as a couple?

LIZA wore a Monique Lhuillier gown at the 2013 MMFF. In 2012, she won Best Actress in the festival’s New Wave section for her role in “In Nomine Matris.”

LD: Honestly, I didn’t have any problem with that. I’m at a point in my life where … I don’t care what other people think [although] there were concerns that it might affect my career. I’m just starting over here [in the Philippines, after six years in the United States], and no one may hire me to play wives or mothers because I am in a gay relationship.

It was a long, slow journey to get to where I am now. I am in a sweet spot. I am not popular, but I am proud of my craft. For sure, I am not after fame. I am not after image. I just want to pursue my passion.

I was never open about my personal life before. But now I’m just so happy [I can’t help it].

Aiza Seguerra: Naks!

Liza, how did you break the news to your mom?

LD: It was my mom who broke the news to me [sort of]. She was angry, initially. At first I thought she was mad because I was in a relationship with Aiza. But, it turned out, she was upset because I kept her in the dark.

I didn’t plan to hide it from her. I’m 32 years old. I didn’t think I should ask permission pa. She used to be based in Japan. So I wasn’t used to her being around.  [But] mothers being mothers … they just want to know.

That was also good because I realized that, for as long as I am happy, my mom will be happy for me, too.

What was your first meeting with Aiza’s parents like?

LD: They met me before pa.  I used to go to their house, 13 years ago. When Aiza got sick and was hospitalized, I took care of her. Her mom (Tita Caring) first saw me at the hospital.

Aiza says that I won Tita Caring over because I was ma-chika (chatty). We have a common interest: dance. She’s into ballroom dancing; I’m into flamenco. Tita Caring says she wants to learn flamenco.

We hit it off instantly. Aiza’s family is aware of all her relationships. And they really voice out their opinions.

AS: I wanted to know where they stood. After one relationship drove a wedge between me and my family, I promised myself that that would never happen again. This time, I consulted them and they all gave their comments.

My mom said that she liked Liza on their first meeting at the hospital pa lang. More than anything, my mom saw that Liza would exert effort to show how important I was in her life. She saw how Liza took care of me in the hospital.

My mom told me, “I like Liza because she knows what she wants. She knows the world. You don’t have to guide her.” Kumbaga it’s about two independent people getting together.

My dad said the same thing: “Liza is independent. She knows how to take care of herself.” The most surprising observation came from my brother, who told me: “Ate, now I see that you are genuinely happy. Before it seemed you were only forcing yourself to be happy in the situation that was given to you.”

I am happy that my family sees that. More than anything, I think, Liza and I both value family.

Liza makes it a point to bring our families closer. Instead of just the two of us going out, she would invite my mom, dad and brother along.

They go out of their way to watch her plays. The same support and criticisms they give to me, they give to Liza. My mom gets bothered when Liza’s role in a certain project is not significant. My mom often acts as Liza’s publicist!

Was the song “Pagdating ng Panahon” dedicated to Liza?

AS: No. It was just coincidental [that the lyrics reflected our story]. “Pagdating” was written by Tito Moy (Ortiz) and Tita Edith (Gallardo).

I have written an untitled song for Liza, which has not been recorded. The song is about losing someone and “hoping you’d be mine someday.” The same story as “Pagdating.” It’s funny. I told her about that, too.

LD: One night, we talked about the song that she wrote for me. The following night, she had a concert at Pagcor. In her every show, she would sing lots of songs, but there was always one song that would resonate with us.

AS: We always end up having a theme song for the night.

LD: It would be different each time. In that Pagcor show, she sang “Pagdating.” I never paid attention to that song before. I never thought it was for us.

AS: I am so used to that song. I’ve been singing that song forever. I never related to it before. But that night, I remembered my untitled song for her while singing “Pagdating.”

LD: While Aiza was singing, I suddenly recalled our conversation from the night before. I found myself tearing up. She sang it differently. After the show, I told her: “It’s weird, but I felt as though you were singing ‘Pagdating’ to me.” We both ended up crying.

Do you fight?

AS:  Oh yes. Well, she hates being cut off in the middle of talking.

And she can be a chatterbox?

AS: Ay grabe! Ako pa naman when I think of something, I have to say it agad because I tend to forget things. We have the weirdest fights. We often disagree about our processes as actors.

LD: People think we are arguing about serious issues. ’Yun pala acting style lang. We are both very passionate kasi. I feel that the things other couples go through are not big problems for us because we talk about issues openly.

AS: There are no petty quarrels; no small issues.

LD: For as long as you felt it, it’s valid. The problem starts when you look down on your partner’s concerns. We found a way of communicating our feelings.

AS: I appreciate her being naturally talkative. I’m the complete opposite. I tend to clam up. She is very emotional, too. I can see that she really tries to understand where I am coming from. When she isn’t familiar with something, she would even Google it. If there were no Wi-Fi, our relationship would be in trouble.

Had you gotten together 13 years ago, do you think things would be different?

LD: Yes!

AS: Honestly, I’m not sure if it would’ve worked then. But I think we had to meet 13 years ago. We had to know each other when we were not yet jaded. We saw our core as individuals. If I met her just now, I would’ve been intimidated.

Does it help that you are older now?

AS: May maturity na. She said that we met when we were just building our dreams. But now, we are very secure with what we have. I can say that I’m in my sweet spot, too, as a singer.

You used the same words.

AS: You’d think after a 13-year gap, there would be a need to catch up. With us, there was none … everything felt natural.

LD: Grabe! The same wavelength. The same humor.

AS: I laugh at her jokes even if others don’t get it. (Laughs)

LD: Sometimes I feel sad when I remember we were not in each other’s lives for 13 years.

AS: She doesn’t like looking at photos from those 13 years. When I look at her old photos, it seems as if we would never cross paths again.

LD: We have our moments. Like when we see old photos with other people.

AS: Ewan ko. I was never the jealous type.

LD: Me neither!

AS: I was so not used to getting jealous that I had to talk to a life coach. I got so anxious. I don’t want jealousy to get in the way of our relationship.

LD: Sometimes, we’re having a nice dinner in a restaurant, I would say: “I’ve been here before.” She would snap, “Who were you with?” Ay, affected siya!

AS: I hate it because my brain knows it’s silly.

You learn from each other?

AS: That’s what I love about her. Even when we fight, she always chooses to understand. She tries to get to the bottom of things.

What did you pick up from your life coach?

AS: I am not good with emotions. Maybe that’s why I am an effective singer, because the feelings come out when I sing. But in real life, I suck. I don’t even tell my parents I love them.

But with Liza … it may sound cheesy, but I will try to say it matter-of-factly: I love her so much. It’s like I never loved anyone as much as I love her, and I am not used to that.

I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t handle it. I thought I was doing it wrong. Kasi I get jealous, and I don’t like that.

My life coach told me that my brain is super advanced, compared to my heart. Before I used to appease myself in the wrong way. I would reprimand myself for feeling something. That is wrong pala. You have to accept the fact that you got hurt, no matter how trivial you think it is. She taught me that it’s OK to get hurt.

LD:  There’s no wrong or right when it comes to emotions … it’s valid for as long as you felt it.

AS: I’m still going through that. There are times I’m OK; there are times I’m an “epic fail.” But I am learning. Baby steps.

LD: We’ve realized how important communication is, how crucial openness and honesty are to make it work.

Aiza, what’s your relationship with Liza’s 5-year-old daughter like?

AS: I had an issue with kids. Even before we got together, I told her about my problem. I thought it would be a deal-breaker, but she didn’t push me to get closer to her daughter.

Actually, I was OK before. Then I had a relationship with someone who was pregnant and had a kid. When we broke up, I could no longer see the kid. I hit rock bottom. I was so depressed I landed in the hospital.

Who doesn’t love kids? Me! I put up a wall. For self-preservation. I remember I had an ex-girlfriend who was close to her pamangkin. She wanted the child to live with us. I said no way. I had lots of justifications. Kids are selfish.

LD: It was funny because she was a child star!

AS: Kids are self-centered.

LD: She had no patience with kids.

AS: Then Liza came along. When I realized that it was getting deeper, I opened up to a friend: I don’t want my issue with kids to affect our relationship. My friend said that I should just tell Liza. So I told her. And she was very accepting. But she was protective of her daughter, too.

I saw that I had to face my fears, my issue with kids. So I contacted my ex-girlfriend and asked about her kid, who’s now 10 years old. I thought I had been completely cut off from the kid’s life. But I learned that my ex-girlfriend had told her child about me—that I was her ninang, that I took care of her when she was a baby. Then I got to see the kid again.

After that I felt I was ready for Liza’s daughter.

We bonded over video games. I’m a big gamer. Soon enough, Liza’s daughter didn’t want to leave my side anymore. When I had a show, she watched and cheered me on. She now calls me Baba.

It was a great way to say goodbye to the past and say hello to a new chapter.

LD: Now, they are very close. They are best buddies.

(Aiza Seguerra will have a concert, “Journey of Love,” on March 1 at the Newport Performing Arts Theater, Resorts World Manila.)

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TAGS: Aiza Seguerra, Bayani San Diego Jr., Engagement, Entertainment, Gender Issues, LGBT, Liza Diño, relationships, Take Five
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