PHOTOGRAPHY JONES PALTENG
With a firm grip on the art of life and his craft, Kokoy De Santos is committed to telling stories and essaying character truths that above all, shine light on the human condition.
On his left chest, right above the chasm that holds the thumping and beating heart, is the word “blessed” inscribed in the permanence of ink. It isn’t exactly a highly groundbreaking term, especially when put into the context of a social media-driven vocabulary where it has gained a notorious prominence as a hashtag of gratitude. For Kokoy De Santos, it is something that not only holds meaning, hence the tattoo, but it also has served as his compass in life, so to speak.
“Blessed kasi tungkol ito sa lahat ng nangyari sa akin. Kahit maraming challenges, mga pagkakataong may rejections, masasabi ko pa rin sa sarili ko na blessed ako, kasi laging may balik or may binibigay na something na hindi ine-expect,” he says, explaining the written reminder that constantly guides him in all his endeavors, decisions, and adventures, which he clarifies are far from paved and lined with flowers. “Madaming rejections ang nangyari sa akin, as in madalas mas maraming rejections kaysa sa pagkakataon maipakita ang kaya ko,” he says. “Masasabi ko nga talaga na tiyaga lang and dadating din ‘yung para sa iyo. Sinong magaakala na sa pandemic pa ako mabibigyan ng pagkakataon na mapansin ng ilan at mabigyan ng ganitong blessing nga na sinasabi.”
Kokoy De Santos is of course talking about the beautifully nuanced and unassuming telling of Gameboys, one of, if not the first Filipino BL (boys love) series, where he starred as the charming and complex Gavreel Alarcon. With his tumble of luscious curls and a sly smile, it would be easy to dismiss his portrayal as coasting along the tropes of a fundamental rom-com in theory. However, a swirl of honesty, earnestness, and confidence easily dispels all preconceived notions, revealing a portrayal that is truthful, sensible, and necessary. “Nung dumating sa akin ‘yung Gameboys at tinanggap ko siya, sabi ko, hindi nga siya ‘yung typical na kwento. Kahit madalas ako malinya sa mg LGBTQ+ related na mga story at sinsasabihan ako na baka ma-typecast ako,” he says. “Para sa akin, wala naming masama kung ma-typecast, kasi baka napapansin ng tao na nabibigyan mo ng buhay at naniniwala sila sa’yo. Depende na lang ‘yun sa kwento.” For him, story is of utmost importance, because with his keen understanding of the art of acting, he is but a vessel to the reality of his character.
“Siguro sa pagkakaalam ng iba, nag-a-artista ang iba para yumaman at sumikat. Pero iba 'yung satisfaction sa akin 'pag gumaganap ako ng ibang karakter. Bukod dun, nakakatulong din ako sa magulang ako ‘pag kumikita ako kahit papano at nasho-showcase ko ‘yung talent na alam kong kaya ko pang i-improve araw-araw,” he says, conveying a deep and profound appreciation for the craft that belies his age. “Tsaka iba din ‘yung nakakasama mo na alam mo na iisa ‘yung gusto niyo: ‘yung mabigyang hustiya ang kwento at karakter na talagang totoong tao, hindi lang naisip ng basta-basta naisip lang.” This doesn’t seem out of base for Kokoy De Santos, especially knowing that he has been actively working in the business of show since he has 8 years old. “Diyan papasok ‘yung blessed ako nagkaroon ako ng family na talagang gumabay sa akin. The way na ako pinalaki, laging pinapasok sa kokote ko na hindi, hindi pa para sa’yo ‘yan. Meron talagang paparating para sa'yo—magbubunga din ‘yan. ‘Yun na tumatak sa akin, simula’t sapul talaga,” he says, detailing that despite the many doors that were shut in his face over the years, he persisted and persevered at what he loves to do. “May mga taon din na medyo nawawala na ako sa track. ‘Yun ‘yung tipong pag nagkaka project, mas ginagawa ko para dun sa financial na pangangailangan. Medyo nawala ‘yung passion ko, pero tina-try ko pa din. Balang araw, sabi ko—baka hindi lang ngayon.”
HE IS HERE
Much like the many tales of romance immortalized in film, literature, and television, you know, that ones that for better or worse informed the way we lens our own matters of the heart, the distinct caveat of destiny has always been time. It isn’t any different for Kokoy De Santos and the trajectory of his career. After biding his time and putting in the work with uncredited and supporting roles, he would finally clinch a breakthrough role in Fuccbois, which really made people notice of his gift. However, while it seemed to be the fast pass to the next level of success in the playing field of his career, the pandemic and the shutdown of ABS-CBN, which produced what would have been his first foray into the rabid realm of BL series, Oh, Mando, would prove to be a temporary halt to his progress.
“Nung na-shutdown ang ABS-CBN, nalungkot talaga ako kasi paano ba? ‘Yun na ‘yun eh. Nung nag-start ang Oh, Mando, dun na dapat ako mapapansin ulit kahit papano kung ano ‘yung meron ako,” he recalls. It wouldn’t be too long when his path crossed with Gameboys, which would prove to be godsend for him and the industry who until then were trying to figure out a way around the restrictions of isolation and lockdown, as well as of course, an entire community that has been constantly starved and parched for stories that we can call our own. “Kaya sobra akong nai-inspire talaga ulit. Kasi with Gameboys, marami kaming nakakausap from the community, nasa industriya man o nasa labas, lagi nilang sinasabi na nung panahon nila walang ganyan. Sobrang fulfilling at napapatunayan ko sa sarili ko na totoo ‘yung ginagampanan ko at maraming nakaka-relate sa akin,” he says. “Lagi kong pinu-push ‘yung sarili ko na hindi ‘to para sa sarili ko. Para ‘to sa mga taong maraming pinagdaanan, lalo na ngayon sa pandemic. Natatanong ko nga sa sarili ko, bakit ba….ano ba ‘yung pumipigil sa pagmamahalan ng mga tao?”
A proud ally of the LGBTQ+ community with a considerate and substantial understanding of the oppression and struggles, particularly with love, Kokoy De Santos is baffled by the way humanity in general operates in general. “Wala naman talagang masama eh. Ako, marami akong kaibigan sa community, and noon pa man, iniisip ko na bakit big deal ang pag-a-out. Tingin ko kasi, hindi na siya kailangan, kasi tao din ang nasa community,” he wonders, even further comparing it to how heterosexuals who shove down their heteronormative points-of-view on everyone have all the privilege in the world, especially not needing to spell out their sexuality and gender identity to anyone. “Nasa kultura din natin ‘yung mga bulong na: ‘Bakit ‘di pa siya nag-a-out?’ ‘Di mo na problema ‘yun. ‘Di mo na kailangan pang malaman ‘yan. Ang importante, confident, honest, and masaya sila,” he says, urging a bandwidth of compassion and empathy for the LGBTQ+ community. More so, he turns his attention to those still continues to grapple with figuring out and defining who they truly are. “Hindi mo kailangan itago ‘yan habang buhay. Mas makakahinga ka ng maluwag…At di mo kailangan i-please ang lahat ng tao para lang matanggap ka nila. Paano pa ‘yung sarili mo? Kung ano ka, ‘yun ang importante.” It is this genuine support and thought that has given depth and detail to his work and growth as an actor and as a human being. “Sino pa ang magsasabi at makikinig sa mga kwento na ‘to? Tao lang din naman na nagmamahalan ang napapaloob dito. Walang pinagkaiba sa mga straight ‘yun. ‘Di din naman sila pinapakialaman ng mga LGBTQ+. Dapat dedma na,” he says defiantly, arguing that there is no other pressing concern for him other than to essay the truth of the character and the story.
More than anything, he is more than grateful to have been an instrument in giving stories of this sort to occupy a space that normally wouldn’t be given the light of day. “Ang dami talagang nagsasabi na emotional sila, nagpapasalamat talaga [sa amin at sa show.] Hindi ko inakala na ganun ‘yung impact, iba talaga. Ang sarap sa pakiramdan na yung kwentong ito na experimental, eh talagang nakakatulong pala sa LGBTQ+ community,” he says. With the unexpected and unforeseen success of Gameboys in the gravity that is has been realized, portraying a love that isn’t different from anyone else’s, and most importantly, underscored by a conscious attention to the introduction of SOGIE and the effective weaving of the pandemic to propel the essential narrative forward, the show that was initially to run for a few episodes got a full season order, as well as of a follow-up, character spin-offs, and a film on its horizon.
WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW
“Ang dami kong natutunan, lalo na sa pagmamahal,” contemplates Kokoy De Santos on his immersion into the stories of a community he now holds near and dear his blessed heart as an ally. “Kapag love mo talaga ‘yung tao, walang imposible kahit kung through social media man ‘yan, kasi mararamdaman mo naman kung totoo ‘yan. Pangalawa, ‘yung buhay ng tao, dapat wag tayong masyadong nagho-hold back. Kasi tayo din ang magsisisi, puro tayo panghinayang at sana.”
With a more realized understanding of life, he now has a greater appreciation for the people around him. The process in the midst of the pandemic has only helped be a better actor and person, letting go of a control that otherwise consumes him and his craft, and more importantly, to break down barriers of whatever precedes him. “Wala naman akong trust issues, lagi lang akong sigurista,” he says with a chuckle escaping the mask he had on. “Tingin ko ngayon, ‘pag sumosobra ang pagiging sigurista, ‘di din nakakatulong kasi nakakaapekto sa ibang tao. Kailangan mo din i-consider ‘yung ibang tao. Hindi mo na-enjoy 'yung buhay, mase-stress ka lang." Without missing a beat, he drives his point further along, saying, “Pag hindi mo binibigay ‘yung 100% sa alam mo namang gusto mong ginagawa mo, eh hindi mo talaga alam kung ano ba gusto mong gawin sa buhay.”
If there is anything to be learned from Kokoy De Santos, is that you just go for it, whatever that may be. Circumstance and context will always matter, as is evidenced in the path it took for the world to take closer notice of his winsome and warm demeanor, with eyes that truly speak of what was now untold that is being seen, heard, and felt by many. And yet in the end, he is self-effacing in the deluge of appreciation, reiterating in a heartfelt sincerity that is deliberate and decided: it isn’t about him, but rather the real stories that he takes on, one that truly needs to be told now for a generation to be assured that their love is valid and that they matter, too.
Cover story ANGELO RAMIREZ DE CARTAGENA
Creative direction and styling ANGELO RAMIREZ DE CARTAGENA
Art direction KENNETH DIMAANO
Photography JONES PALTENG
Fashion direction LYN ALUMNO
Makeup VICTOR LOONG
Hair JA FELICIANO
Video CHINO VILLAGRACIA assisted by ED ENCLONA
Sittings editor ELYSE ILAGAN
Dried flowers by BLOOMS ARTISAN