She’s too gorgeous, too independent, too smart, and too tall to have to share the spotlight.
I'm looking at a photograph of Sarah Lahbati. Her normally luxuriant hair is a dull brown, her Tonga-tanned skin now sallow, and her eyes, which appear sometimes blue, sometimes gray, are weighed down by dark shadows. This is the face of a drug addict. A victim of bad choices and even worse dealers, possibly a future casualty of the War on Drugs: tomorrow’s headlines.
Girl, you look like Beyoncé, I say. “A haggard Beyoncé,” Sarah replies. She is showing me a photo of herself in methface as Valerie, the young woman she plays in the upcoming film Kamandag ng Droga, directed by Carlo J. Caparas (yes, that Carlo J.—is there any other one?) A singer in a rock band, Sarah’s character falls into the fame trap and ends up doing a bunch of drugs, which she inevitably gets hooked on. This movie, whose title translates to Drug’s Poison or the more poetic Venom of Drugs, is what some quarters might call a propaganda film, but what the producers describe as being made “in support” of the President’s campaign, although Duterte is not one of its backers. Joining the cast are industry veterans like Christopher de Leon, Lorna Tolentino, Jackie Lou Blanco, and Sarah’s future father-in-law, Eddie Gutierrez.
I take it that all the actors must be on board with the President? Sarah answers in the affirmative. “Everyone in the film are supporters, otherwise, you’d be hypocritical.” It’s a Sunday evening in the Lahbati-Gutierrez household, and Typhoon Karen has just left our area of responsibility. Zion is watching cartoons while other family members move in and out of view—there’s never not a Gutierrez around. “It’s an eye-opener for the youth, and I hope the message affects people in some way,” she continues. “I’ve been enjoying this movie because it has meaning, and it’s not just another love triangle where I have to cry about a guy leaving me.”
Political leanings aside, we’re looking at a just-turned 23-year-old who is owning the ups and downs of her life, the twists and turns of her career.
Sarah Lahbati is not just another actress. Political leanings aside, we’re looking at a just-turned 23-year-old who is owning the ups and downs of her life, the twists and turns of her career. Initially attached to GMA and now repped by VIVA and Star Magic, Sarah’s been working for six years, leading as a frog princess in an afternoon soap and dancing regularly in noontime variety shows. To be clear, she’s not one of those ingenues who gets paired up with a similarly fresh-faced young man and then ’shipped as a love team for the next four years or more. Whether it was deliberate on her part or not, Sarah resisted that route. Her name was never spliced into an awkward yet catchy portmanteau with someone whom she was not in an actual relationship with. As a result, she might have missed out on the hype machine that such a love team would bring, including ready-made soap operas, rom-coms, book deals, and that almighty chance to trend.
On her own, she adds up to so much more, and to be artificially shackled to another actor in a facsimile of an arranged marriage would be a slight to her individual talents. She’s too gorgeous, too independent, too smart, and too tall to have to share the spotlight. With 2.1 million followers on Instagram, she’s not doing shabby at all. And she’s totally fine with it: “I’d rather have a zigzag career than a shoot-up career where I’m unhappy and unsatisfied and untrue to myself.”