03 May Raissa Laurel-Subijano Stands Firm
Published on November 2016 by Olivia Women
On a regular hot Tuesday morning, San Juan city councilor Raissa Laurel-Subijano sits inside a small cafe in Makati getting her makeup done. Her distinct grin is as bright as the sunshine outside that fills the busy city with a veil of newness and hope. Save for the Olivia Team and her own staff patiently waiting outside, no one seems to know that she is a bilateral amputee. She walks with just a slight hitch, but does the same regular activities as everyone else in the room.
Except that six years ago she was a victim of a bomb explosion, where she lost both her legs. At just 23 years old, the then sophomore law student’s life turned upside down. While lying in the Emergency Room, Raissa gave thanks to God in song and her fighting spirit became a testament to the whole nation. She worked hard to obtain her law degree from Philippine Christian University despite the accident and today serves her first term in public office. She is also now married to husband Raine Subijano, and though one would think that the explosion would have been enough ordeals for the meantime, Raissa reveals she had more trying times afterwards and talks about how she deals with it.
Raissa’s cheery vibe and uplifting spirit outdoes our own dispositions, “There are really moments when you’re down,” she says, though it hardly shows when you talk to her, “but God never left my side.” Read the interview with Raissa below.
Ronna Capili Bonifacio (RB): What’s keeping you busy these days?
Raissa Laurel-Subijano (RL): I’m an elected city councilor of San Juan. Right now I’m focused on public service, and I only started last July 1. I handle three committees so it’s heavy–Laws & Ethics, which is in relation to all other committees, Youth Affairs, because I’m the youngest councilor, and Social Services, that’s women, children, PWD, and senior citizens. It’s a heavy load, but I still manage to atted a weekly leadership class at church every Thursday night.
My husband Raine and I are part of our church’s worship team, so Sundays is our ministry day. And then workout and exercise, because I’m not allowed to grow too heavy.
RB: It’s been six years since the bombing along Taft Avenue, can you briefly recount your story?
RL: It happened on September 26, 2010. I was waiting for my friends who were taking the bar exams–a law school tradition. I was still studying at San Sebastian at that time and in my second year. I already felt different that day, I just prayed for protection. Because I felt really weird and I couldn’t understand it. At 5 PM, something exploded. Next thing I knew, I was lying on the street. I had a vision from God entering a courtroom in a wheelchair. I guess it was God’s way of telling me, “You won’t be able to walk using your own legs anymore, my daughter.”
I saw my legs and they were mangled. I could feel everything. It was like a scene from Mission Impossible, everything was in slow motion. I was carried into a van and I still managed to call my then-boyfriend-now-husband and told him about the bombing. He thought it was just a minor injury.
Before I entered the Emergency Room (ER) at Philippine General Hospital (PGH), I almost had my white light moment. But I woke up. I fought against it. Next thing I knew, I was in the ER and Raine had arrived. He didn’t know it was that severe. While we were there, we were singing the worship song “Mighty to Save”.
I thought to myself, “What if this is my last day on earth?” At least what I did was to thank God and worship Him. Everything happened so fast. My parents arrived but I asked not to tell them how bad it really was because they might have a panic attack, right? That was the last I remember before they amputated my legs.
RB: What happened after the amputation?
RL: The only way I could communicate was through writing so I asked Raine–”Wala na?” (It’s gone, isn’t it?) They couldn’t answer me but I knew. When the doctors told me, I answered, “It’s okay. At least I am still alive.” I thought I had a 50/50 chance of survival and the doctor corrected me and said, “No, actually just 20%” It was really a miracle, this second life. 20%! That means God still has a purpose for me.
While I was in the ICU, I was interviewed by Julius Babao and I told him, “I will still be a lawyer someday,” and I think that’s what made an impact on people. People were surprised that despite what happened, my attitude and outlook in life was still hopeful.
On Giving Up and Gratitude
RB: In those moments, was it a conscious effort for you to be grateful?
RL: At that time, I was just thinking that I am thankful to God because He could just have taken me. But he gave me another chance to live, to fulfill his purpose. Weeks before I was praying for Him to use me for His glory, and of course, to find my purpose. Like our pastor jokes, “Be careful what you pray for!” [laughs]
RB: Did you feel like you had to be strong for your family and Raine?
RL: Honestly, I told Raine while I was in the hospital that it was OK for him to go. We had only been together for over a year and he was only 21, I was 23. I didn’t want to ruin his life. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like being a burden on others. I’m very independent.
In a way God corrected me that, “Yes, you’re independent. But everybody needs help.”
RB: Was there ever a time when you wanted to give up?
RL: In the hospital. In the morning, friends would visit me and I would tell them, “Why are you sad? Be happy! I’m alive!” A pastor told me they planned to come over to encourage me but they left the hospital encouraged because of me. I answered, it’s God. Without Him, I would not be able to do this. If it was left to me and my humanity, yeah, it hurts. When visitors would leave at night, I would cry and ask, “Why me?” But I am still grateful that He gave me this life. Instead of being negative, I turn it into positive.
RB: Why did you want to become a lawyer?
RL: My heart is in legislation, to make laws. I know I’m not smart enough for it but I still got into law school, surviving every day. I was just an average student. I just learned the skill to read a lot. And then the incident happened. I had a hard time. That’s why it took me six years to finish.
‘In a way God corrected me that,
“Yes, you’re independent.
But everybody needs help.”‘
Of course I felt hurt after the bar exam. I thought I would be a lawyer, I studied, but I didn’t pass. After all the challenges and struggles, I asked, “Why are things this way?” It was heartbreaking. I took the exam last November and the results came out in May, a week before the elections. So I said, “Okay Lord, I don’t want to get my hopes up that I will win the elections. I don’t want another heartbreak.” Those were my exact words. I gave up many things for the bar exam. I gave up many things during law school, like a scholarship abroad, speaking engagements, because I really wanted to finish. Although I did take one scholarship at the World Health Organization as an intern.
RB: How did you get into public service?
RL: I was invited to run because they wanted new faces. But nobody knew me in San Juan. In the surveys, I was thirteenth out of 14 candidates. And then after the elections, I was third. I just presented myself and what I have to offer. I gave out pamphlets with my story. I didn’t know my life had that much impact on the people, even to those in our party–even with important people.
I still act normal towards people. I’m still playful with the staff–as in, if I didn’t have to work inside my office, I wouldn’t. Just because God placed you somewhere, it doesn’t mean you can be proud. Stay humble, stay grounded. Because it was the Lord who called you wherever you are.
RB: What’s it like, working as a city councilor? How do you honor God at work?
RL: I draft resolutions for the mayor to sign and I still apply what I learned in law school, technicalities-wise. I have to have integrity. Other people should see that “this person is a woman of God.” I always pray, “Lord, may everything I sign be for your glory.” In every hearing, “Lord, please guide me in what to do,” because I’m new. The Lord just pushes me, but He is gracious. I’m surviving.
“Just because God placed you somewhere, it doesn’t mean you can be proud. Stay humble, stay grounded. Because it was the Lord who called you wherever you are.”
RB: Where do you find the courage to do it?
RL: It’s really faith in God. Sometimes I go, “Oh Lord, what am I doing? But You’re the one who put me here.” So it’s a big responsibility. And I just want to glorify Him. That’s why even if I’m a councilor, others are surprised that we still serve at church on a Sunday.
RB: You’ve had more than a fair share of hardships, how do you deal with it?
RL: My last heartbreak with the bar exam was hard. The night the results came out, there was a mini rally scheduled. I couldn’t attend. I was so broken. Up until now, I don’t think I can take it again. It’s still a struggle and I still ask, “Lord, why? Where did I lack?” But God spoke a word to me, He said, “You don’t need a title for you to glorify My name.” I thought, “Huh? So, no more?” But of course my dream is to be a lawyer. But I believe he will give it to me in His perfect time. I still can’t connect it, but I know that right now, this is what God wants me to do. I can’t do everything all together. Wherever He calls you for now, that’s where you go.
RB: Last question–At this very moment, what are you most thankful for?
RL: I’m thankful to God for this life. He entrusted me with a big responsibility which I never thought I would be able to do. I’m thankful that he entrusted this to me. It’s overwhelming. And He never left my side. He was there to comfort me when I was down. I really had low moments. But everything’s become okay. And He always provides.
Photographs by Jamie Espadilla Mapagu | Makeup by Al de Leon using MAC Cosmetics | Hairstlye by Rowena Sonido | Clothes Raissa’s own and Plains & Prints | Shot on location at Bean & Yolk, Unit G6 Bel Air Soho Suites, Polaris, Makati City; @beanandyolkph | Special thanks to Papo Jacinto Jorolan | Shoot Team: Rica Peralejo Bonifacio, Christina Cuna-Henson, Rinka Sycip, Bianca Paraiso, Mau Alvero