Sarah Geronimo was 19, Rayver Cruz was 18—and they were each other's first love.
That was 2009, and their first exchange of "I love you" came on the very day of hearts, February 14. But by 2010, in April, it was over. They had lasted all of one year and two months.
The more unusual part of their tale is that very few knew the two were even in a relationship. Unusual because, while he was a rookie in showbiz, she was certainly one of the biggest stars in film and television. Then, even after the relationship fell apart, very few knew it was all gone.
Everything, after all, had been a matter of utmost secrecy. The two young stars, from the very start, were up against Sarah's parents, Delfin and Divine Geronimo, whose love for their daughter was as wide and limitless as their rule governing her love life was tight and ironclad.
Let no one get it wrong: Sarah was not to have a boyfriend.
It was not time, they said. Their daughter still had many things to do to raise the whole family from their terrible poverty with the gifts God had given her. Gifts, her Mommy Divine would add, that were God's clear answer to her devout and dedicated prayers as a mother.
Anyone disrespecting their rule was thus disrespecting not only them but God himself.
The Sarah-Rayver love story could have remained under wraps except that Cristine Reyes, 21, was also now in the picture, and in August 2010 revealed on national TV that Sarah and Rayver had been an item. On top of which, in December of that year, she let blast a series of angry tweets after taking offense at something Sarah had said while the Popstar was rehearsing for a Sunday variety show.
Effectively, Cristine had invited the public in.
This was when YES! Magazine came to do the report "Sarah: Her First Real Heartbreak." With text and interviews by its editor in chief, Jo-Ann Q. Maglipon, the narrative became the cover story for its March 2011 issue, covered 39 pages (not counting the ads), and used no anonymous sources.
At one point, YES! detailed its sources: "This story can be only be pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle, as our own search for the full story yielded only patchy vignettes:
"When Sarah's assistant and friend, Anna Dasig, came to us with a vigorous replay of the sequence of events leading to the breakup...
"When Sarah's Mommy Divine allowed us into her home and, over four hours, wrung out the story of her pain, prayers, and protestations...
"And when Sarah herself joined us in the Geronimo prayer room to give us answers, however bare, to our questions, however stunted.
"Along the way we picked up more of the missing pieces: from Sharon Cuneta and from Judy Ann Santos, Sarah's self-appointed sisters, who felt compelled, on separate occasions, to speak with Rayver...
"From Beth Tamayo, now based abroad, who is close enough to the Geronimos to leave her fish koi to the care of Daddy Delfin, and who talks about the Sarah she knows...
"And from John Lloyd Cruz, whom we ask about Sarah, the star he teamed up with for his two highest movie grossers, and the star he finds "magnetic" and "captivating."
"Then, almost by happenstance, we get the intriguing piece belonging to Cristine Reyes, the pretty and sexy girl Rayver left Sarah for.
"Finally, we get the piece that Rayver alone holds: his own version of the story, what he did for love, what he suffered, what he did wrong, and what Sarah truly meant to him."
It is this last that we have extracted pieces of, and now share with PEP.ph readers who have loyally followed the story of Popstar Royalty Sarah Geronimo.
The Sarah-Rayver love story began when, days before Christmas of 2008, Rayver received a totally unexpected e-mail from Sarah.
At the time, they had yet to start filming You Changed My Life, the second of a three-part film franchise starring Sarah and John Lloyd Cruz. Rayver was in the cast.
Sarah's email to Rayver was a short but cute message that read "Hi," followed by a smile emoji.
They had an exchange of "hi's" but nothing followed after, until one day Sarah initiated a phone call between them.
She wanted them to be friends as they were appearing in a film together. Rayver wanted the same.
Their friendship, fueled by daily phone calls, eventually turned into a full-blown romance.
Sarah would be, in fact, Rayver's first ever girlfriend. Rayver would be, in fact, Sarah's first ever heartbreak.
Rayver—interviewed by Jo-Ann when he was 19 and heartbroken too—said this of his and Sarah's love: "Natuwa rin naman po ako, kasi sa tinagal-tagal ko dito, and sa hanggang paglaki ko, wala pa akong nakikitang nagkakagusto sa akin na gano'n, 'yong nagmahal sa akin nang gano'n.
"Kasi, 'yon 'yong laging sinasabi sa akin ng tatay ko. Kinakausap niya yung mga kapatid ko, sinasabi niya, 'Ano ba'ng problema diyan sa kapatid mo? Bakit hindi magkaroon ng girlfriend 'yan? May hitsura naman. Mabait naman na bata.'"
He admitted falling deeply in love with Sarah.
"Unang-una, Sarah Geronimo siya, pero napakabuting tao.
"Hindi mo nga makikita sa kanya na superstar siya. Bungisngis. Mabilis mapatawa. Kahit sa TV naman kitang-kita."
"Kaya po kahit hindi kami nagkakasama—sa phone lang, over the phone, ganyan—natutuwa ako."
Indeed, their young romance was conducted from a distance.
While they were both mainstays in ASAP, they simply had no chance to talk because Sarah's Mommy Divine was always present or, at the least, had someone take her place to accompany her daughter at all times.
THE SECRET LIAISON
How did the young lovers communicate?
"Nag-i-Skype po kami," said Rayver, referring to the software application for voice calls and video conferencing.
But, even this was a scene straight out of a movie. For their private time together, Sarah would lock herself in her bedroom and begin to switch on the computer. But she would be stricken with shyness, and their conversation would be touch and go.
As Rayver told it, "Noong una, nahihiya si Sarah... No'ng una naming Skype? Pasok si Sarah [sa screen]. Ayaw pa niya pumasok. Una, kamay pa lang, tapos paa. 'Magpakita ka, pakita ka...' Mga 30 minutes pa lang po, no'ng magpapakita na siya, naputol 'yong Internet!"
Someone from Sarah's end had turned off the Internet.
"Sabi ko, 'Ano'ng nangyari?' 'Ay, tinanggalan na ako ng ano...' Tinanggalan na siya... Pinatay na 'yong modem."
THE 30-SECOND TRYST
In the months that followed, Rayver had become more eager to ask Sarah out to a dinner and a movie.
He actually suggested that Sarah bring her parents along if that was the only way they would allow the singer-actress to go out on a date.
However, Rayver said, Sarah was too scared to even ask permission, let alone tell them that they were in a relationship.
Still, love could not be denied, and the two lovebirds found a way to meet, if in secret.
"Sasabihin ko po 'yong totoo," Rayver told YES! "Nagkita kami ni Sarah—bilang ko 'yan—'yong isa 30 seconds, 'yong isa 30 minutes."
"'Yong thirty seconds po, sabi ko, 'Hindi ko na kaya. Gusto kitang makita.' Sabi niya, 'Sige. Sige.'"
Rayver was hanging out at the place of his brother's girlfriend, which serendipitously was in the same village where Sarah lived.
"Ang mahirap lang do'n sa kanila," he said about Sarah's circumstances, "kahit maglakad siya, hindi kasi siya pinapayagan. So, parang talagang do'n lang siya sa bahay nila. 'Yon 'yong mundo niya.
"E, ang lapit lang po, isang kanto lang. Sabi ko, 'Baka puwede tayong mag-meet?' Kung hindi ako puwede pumunta sa inyo... Kasi makita lang ako do'n sa pader... mahirap na, e.
"So sabi ko, 'Baka puwede kahit sa kanto.' So, siya rin naman pumayag. Sabi ko, di ko naman siya pinipilit, pero gustung-gusto ko siya makita. So ayun nga, nakatakas naman po siya."
The couple managed to meet by the corner of one of the village streets.
"Pagkakita ko sa kanya sa kanto, sa sobrang tagal naming hindi nagkita, inakap ko po agad! Hindi ko nga alam kung may thirty seconds or fiteen seconds lang yata. Mga gano'n. Basta ang bilis po. Niyakap ko siya. Niyakap ko. At least, nayakap ko siya."
And then Sarah left and rushed back home.
She could not stay a moment longer, Rayver said, because her Daddy Delfin was sure to come looking for her.
THEIR SECOND AND LAST MEETUP
Sarah and Rayver would get one more chance to meet, again in her village and again in secret.
When her parents had to bring one of the children to the airport, Sarah managed to get out of the Geronimo house.
This time, Sarah and Rayver hung out by the garden of the girlfriend of Rayver's brother.
That day, Rayver felt he was in heaven.
"Alam mo 'yong moment na ang sarap kasi nakakapag-usap kayo nang hindi sa trabaho, na hindi sa phone?"
But even their little chat was cut short by the persistent calls coming from Sarah's household.
"Tawag nang tawag sa kanya lahat—mommy niya, daddy niya. Ba't daw wala siya sa bahay?
"Tapos, nakita ko, kinabahan ako, kasi may mga rumoronda na. Naka-bike, mga dalawa, dalawang boy, tatlo... Pinapahanap na siya.
"Sinasabi sa kanya sa phone, 'Ba't wala ka...?'"
Sarah answered, "Naglalakad-lakad lang po."
HURT BY DISAPPROVAL OF SARAH'S PARENTS
Rayver says he and Sarah shared many happy memories despite their cellphone-and-Skype-only relationship.
But their forbidden love would take its toll on Rayver, who was hurt by the disapproval of Sarah's parents.
"Ako po, anak din po ako. Mahal na mahal ko din po 'yong mga magulang ko, and ayokong masira 'yong kahit ano'ng relasyon ko sa magulang ko."
He could not understand how he could so offend Sarah's parents.
In a separate interview with Mommy Divine for the same piece, the latter told Jo-Ann that she noticed a real change in Sarah since Rayver came into her daughter's life.
Mommy Divine blamed Rayver for disrupting the Geronimos' sacred family routine and their set moments of togetherness, with Sarah beginning to lock her bedroom door and taking calls at three in the morning.
In his defense, Rayver said that he never egged Sarah to disrespect her parents.
"Kung anuman 'yong sinasabi nila na nagbago si Sarah... Nag-uusap po kami, pero hindi ko siya binabawalan.
"Hindi ko gagawin na masira 'yong kung anumang relasyon meron siya sa nanay at tatay niya simula't sapul. Kasi, gano'n din po ako sa akin."
Rayver comes from the huge Cruz clan, which includes actors like his uncles Tirso Cruz and Ricky Belmonte, cousins Sunshine Cruz, Sheryl Cruz, Donna Cruz, and Geneva Cruz, and brother Rodjun.
Relations between Rayver and the Geronimos would only get worse. In April 2010—the month and year Sarah and Rayver would break up—Daddy Delfin was heard calling Rayver "gago" on the set of ASAP XV.
"No'ng nalaman no'ng magulang ko na ginano'n ako—pati no'ng nakakatanda kong kapatid, pati 'yong mga tito ko—gusto nilang sugurin na," Rayver said.
"Lalo na yung kuya ko. Sobra, overprotective yung panganay! Gusto niyang sumugod na gustong sabihin na, 'Sige, sapakin mo 'yong kapatid ko sa harapan ko!'
"E ang lalaki pa naman ng mga lalaki sa amin. Sabi ko, 'Huwag, huwag. Ako lang naman ito. Okey lang 'yon. May right naman sila, gano'n."
The cracks in Sarah and Rayver's relationship were beginning to show.
Rayver felt that Sarah could have fought for him more.
"For me, parang pakiramdam ko, sinasabi niya na ipinaglaban niya ako, pero... Siguro 'yon 'yong way niya na ipinaglalaban niya ako, pero para sa akin, mas may hinahanap po ako."
As if addressing Sarah, he said, "Hindi ito 'yong sinasabi mo na ipinaglalaban mo. Ipinaglalaban mo, pero hindi kita makasama."
Apparently, Sarah wanted him to wait five years.
"Aaminin ko, sinasabi ko talaga sa kanya na kaya kong maghintay. Pero alam naman nating lahat na may mga bagay na madaling sabihin pero mahirap talaga.
"'Yon po 'yong pagkakamali ko, na nangangako ako."
It did not help his resolve that her parents kept saying to him that he was only out to use Sarah.
"'Yon po 'yong unang-una sa lahat na sinasabi sa 'kin—kahit no'ng kami pa ni Sarah—na ginagamit ko 'yong anak nila.
"Pero... never ko pong ginamit si Sarah, alam n'yo 'yan. Never ako'ng nagpa-interview. May mga trabaho na na-cancel dahil bawal—hindi po ako nagreklamo."
He added: "At kung alam kong hindi ko siya magagamit, ba't pa ako nandiyan sa tabi niya?
"Ba't pa hindi ko siya hinihiwalayan no'n? Ba't hindi ko siya binibitawan? 'Ay, hindi ko 'to magagagamit sa trabaho, sa pagsikat ko!'
"Pero hindi, e. Wala naman akong pakialam do'n, e. Wala naman akong pakialam. Hindi ako nagmamadali [sa career ko]."
He understood, he said, how hard it was for Sarah to cope with everything around her: her career demands, her home situation, their secret relationship.
"Kahit ako rin... Nahihirapan para sa kanya noong time na 'yon.
"Ayoko na lang pong anuhin, pero ang hirap. Ang hirap. Kung ako 'yong nasa kalagayan ni Sarah, ang hirap."
Hinting at the overprotectiveness of Sarah's parents, he said, "Ano po, sila po 'yong mga mamimili ng mamahalin ng anak nila?"
In the end, Rayver, who could find joy in just imagining taking Sarah out for dinner and a movie, was also too young to handle such a complicated relationship.
It did not help that Sarah and Rayver had jealousy issues.
Rayver said he knew of Sarah's previous attraction to a guy he would not name.
And, once she broke up with him because of this guy.
"So, ang sa 'kin, noong nag-States ka, okey na tayo, e. Biglang binitawan niya ako. Nawalan kami ng communication.
"Siguro nalulungkot din siya. Kasi, ang alam ko, meron pa silang usap no'ng [isang lalaki], no'ng nasa States siya.
"And may mga lumalabas ding [balita] do'n kasi sa isa na nasasaktan din siya. Kasi nga, may mga [nali-link doon sa guy]."
Then Sarah wooed him back.
But then also, Rayver met Cristine Reyes during an ASAP XV show in Boracay.
Rayver said they made casual talk and took pictures of themselves together, but insisted that there was nothing there.
Of course, there was no denying that they clicked. Rayver and Cristine found themselves hanging out again at a restobar in Parañaque that Rayver and his elder brother Rodjun owned. Rodjun and his girlfriend Diane Medina were with them that night.
There began the constant exchange of BBM (Blackberry Messaging) between Rayver and Cristine.
"Aaminin ko po na no'ng kami pa ni Sarah, nakaka-text ko na si Cristine. Pero hindi ko po sila pinagsabay, na parehas ko po silang ginagawang girlfriend. Nakaka-text ko lang po si Cristine, pero 'yong lang po 'yon."
Rayver eventually took a liking to Cristine.
He said it was the reason he could not delete her from his BBM contacts even when Sarah had repeatedly asked him to.
It came to the point where he now wanted to break up with Sarah, but did not know how.
Still, he felt torn between the two women.
"Sa'n ba ako mas magiging masaya? Sa babaeng alam kong makakasama ko, mas makakasama ko, na masaya talaga ako?
"O do'n sa babaeng nagpapahintay sa akin ng limang taon, na kapag inantay ko ng limang taon, may kasiguraduhan ba?"
And of his relationship with Sarah, he said, "Hindi na rin po ako talaga masaya no'ng huli, aaminin ko po."
Rayver went for the girl who could proudly and openly commit to him.
But even before he could act on his choice, he made two big and wrong moves.
To Cristine, he denied his relationship with Sarah, when Cristine asked him. To Sarah, he denied courting Cristine, when Sarah confronted him.
In the end, Rayver broke up with Sarah.
This happened after a "speakerphone incident" involving Rayver, Sarah, Cristine, and Anna Dasig, the fan/friend who instigated a three-way call between the three stars.
Only, Rayver was kept ignorant of the setup. He had no idea he was on loudspeaker when he was on the phone with Cristine, and had even less idea that Sarah was on a third line listening to their entire conversation.
Here, Rayver told Cristine that he wanted to break up with Sarah, and that he was only looking for the right time and the right way to say it.
Cristine, however, made him choose between her and Sarah that very moment.
Rayver chose Cristine. Then, still not knowing that he had been set up, he did the brave thing: he called Sarah to confess that he had fallen in love with Cristine.
"No'ng time na wala na talaga, no'ng time na nasaktan ko siya, sobrang nag-sorry naman ako," Rayver said about Sarah.
"Sinabi ko talaga, sobrang nagso-sorry talaga ako, di ko alam kung paano ito aayusin. Di ko alam kung paano aayusin, kasi wala na, e. Nag-sorry ako. Sobrang nag-sorry ako sa phone."
Sarah felt very betrayed, and once again she turned to the only constant in her life—her parents.
She and Rayver were no longer an item by April 2010, and that same month, rumors about their secret romance and Cristine's involvement in the breakup began to circulate in showbiz circles.
All three kept mum. But, even had they wanted to speak, their respective management teams had expressly forbidden them from doing so. Nobody wanted this blowing up.
For a time, Cristine stayed away from Rayver because, as he himself said, she did not want to get caught up in his complicated situation with Sarah.
But he also said that the attraction between him and Cristine did not wane, and they eventually became a couple in October 2010.
Rayver wanted it known to YES! that he never blamed Sarah for their relationship crumbling, even if, for him, it had, before Cristine had even entered the picture.
"Hindi ko rin naman po masisisi si Sarah dahil nga sa sitwasyon niya sa parents niya. And sabi ko naman sa kanya, na hindi lang talaga ako deserving sa pagmamahal niya, kasi nga sa ginawa ko sa kanya," Rayver said, contrite.
"Sana, balang araw, makatagpo din siya ng sakto talaga para sa kanya... and sana balang araw, hindi naman siya bumabata, magkaroon siya ng sariling... kahit konting desisyon para sa sarili niya."