I’ve met John Lloyd Cruz countless times in press conferences where I got to ask him assorted questions.
Star builder and publicist Ethel Ramos would always introduce me thus: “The next question will come from Pablo Tariman, who as we know always asks profound questions. May we remind the gentleman from Catanduanes that this presscon is not about pianos and Cecile Licad. Please confine questions to the subject of John Lloyd Cruz and his film, Honor Thy Father.”
And so I did as told.
Before this, John Lloyd played the role of Tarik Kahn, son of an island OFW and a friend from Catanduanes in one episode of Maalaala Mo Kaya (MMK).
His mother, Esperanza Tresvalles from Bato town (Catanduanes), was an island OFW who worked in London and went home without realizing her dream of building a house. I wrote her tragic story in the Philippine Star and the Inquirer and in time, she became the most famous OFW in the island.
When her son Tarik died, the MMK (Maaalala Mo Kaya) staff got in touch to ask if they could do a story on mother and son. I referred them to Tarik’s wife, Reashiela Khan.
MMK finalized the cast thus: John Lloyd Cruz as Tarik Khan, Agot Isidro as Esperanza Tresvalles, and Kaye Abad as Reashiela Khan.
That the drama anthology made many islanders cry was undeniable. Matey Alberto from California posted on her Facebook how she felt the pain of Tarik (superbly acted by actor John Lloyd Cruz). “I would say this episode is a great tribute to a much-wounded person and how he coped with his traumatic past.”
Character actress Vangie Labalan, who starred with Nora Aunor in the award-winning film Himala, said she could feel her chest explode with pain for Tresvalles’ son played by Cruz. “The story is heart-wrenching,” she added.
Before the 2015 advanced screening of Honor Thy Father during the cocktails, I told John Lloyd, “Did you know the man you portrayed in MMK was my friend?”
“I know,” he said which surprised me. He said he read all my articles about the mother and son to prepare for his role in MMK. “I was looking for you during the taping of that episode.”
Sadly, the network coordinator told me about the MMK episode only a day before the airing.
Our next meeting was January 28, 2016 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). I got the surprise of my life when I saw him watching Cecile Licad with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra. With him was Ms. Virgie Ramos.
It was an evening of Tchaikovsky’s First and Rachmaninoff’s Second—all great warhorses in piano repertoire. From where I sat, I tried to see how the actor was reacting to the pianist. I could see that his attention went beyond fascination. He was so focused on the pianist, I could see another Cecile Licad fan in the making.
During intermission, I approached him and Ms. Ramos, and asked him, “Would you like to meet Ms. Licad after the concert? I will escort and introduce you.”
He was so focused on the pianist, I could see another Cecile Licad fan in the making
I was surprised by his reaction. After the Tchaikovsky concerto, I could see excitement all over his face. And I added, “I can give you this book (Rosario Licad’s My Daughter Cecile) and have it autographed.”
“I would be happy to meet her,” the actor said. And he added, “Thank you for that beautiful review of my film, Honor Thy Father. It meant a lot to me.”
“Oh, you are most welcome,” I answered.
After Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, there was euphoria in the theater. I saw John Lloyd with Ms. Ramos joining the standing ovation. I had not seen happier faces in a long, long time.
I escorted the actor and his date to the dressing room, and even the pianist was surprised. “Oh it’s you,” she greeted the actor. “I saw your film in California. Was it The Mistress?”
I made the proper introduction and took souvenir pictures. I noticed the actor even volunteered to take pictures of other Licad fans wanting to greet her. But most of all, I saw extreme happiness on his face that night.
John Lloyd later told Star Lifestyle editor Millet Mananquil about his first Licad performance: “I was blown away by her performance. It was like watching an actor perform. I don’t know much about music, but my take is on how Cecile affects me emotionally. She took me along on her journey as she performed.”
That was 2016. In 2017, he took a sudden and indefinite leave from showbiz. Occasionally, I would see him watching musicals with Bea Alonzo and documenting theater pieces at the CCP. He was in some art openings, refusing to be interviewed even by showbiz media friends. He was traveling all over the country without doing any showbiz project.
In 2017, I learned he had become a father to a bouncing boy named Elias Modesto (mother is former girlfriend Ellen Adarna). In November 2018, I sent a message through a common friend based in Cebu, inviting him to another Cecile Licad concert, this time in the historic heritage house, Nelly Garden, in Iloilo City.
Initially, he was interested. He requested that his presence not be announced, and the name of the hotel where he was staying should remain confidential. I told him I could reserve four seats for him and girlfriend Ellen and friends. At the last minute, he could not make it. I presumed he could not leave his five-month-old baby Elias.
Between 2018 and 2019, we lost touch. When the pandemic struck in 2020, I learned only on his Facebook page that he still traveled a lot all over the islands.
He has been seen going to the wet market incognito, riding jeepneys, and greeting fans on the streets
He has been seen going to the wet market incognito, riding jeepneys, and greeting fans on the streets. Later, I would see more pictures of him and Elias on the beach, enjoying the boy’s third birthday party.
I could see that the actor was going through young fatherhood and enjoying it immensely. I could only be happy for him.
In May 2021, Facebook was in an uproar over news of his showbiz comeback. His FB page announced he was now under Crown Artist Management of Maja Salvador.
The welcome video was fit for royalty. He was shown riding a private jet, with a welcome carpet as she descended from the plane. A vintage yellow car awaited, and he drove it himself. This was followed by endless photo ops with his new manager, Salvador.
In June, he was in the frequent company of TV host Willie Revillame, who gave him a grand welcome at Smart Araneta Coliseum. The actor was emotional.
In July, it was made official: he was now part of the GMA family along with his long-time screen sweetheart, Bea Alonzo.
After all the exclusive interviews, he took a respite from all the comeback euphoria and chose a radio interview that focused on his life, and less on showbiz. He made it clear that his desire was just to come back to what was simple and natural.
To be sure, four years is indeed a long time to be isolated from the work he has learned to love for two decades. And yes, he was raring to work again. But beyond his screen roles, he is keen on fulfilling his real-life role. I can see him figuring out a beautiful dream for his son Elias Modesto. Yes, he is also ready to love again.
What did he learn from being alone all those years he was away from showbiz? He said, “Nang tumahimik na lahat, doon mo talaga maririnig yung dapat mong marinig.” In other words: “When you finally get the silence you badly need, you realize this is the time you can really pay attention to what you need to hear.”