Being admitted to the University of Santo Tomas was Rafael Ortega III’s dream since childhood. Perhaps exemplifying the stubborn spirit of a Tamaraw, he persisted despite being rejected twice. Years later, after graduating Magna Cum Laude from UST, Rafael set his sights on another goal.

Rafael recalled being surprised at the honor bestowed upon him. He shared that when he was an SHS student applying to UST, he had no true direction with his application.

“Noong high school ako, never naman ako nagkaroon ng honors, bago lang ako nagkaroon ng award with honors ay pandemic kasi automatic lahat pasado. (…) Wala akong alam kung ano talagang gusto ko. Nung time na iyon, varsity player ako ng Palawan SU sa football. Yung lahat ng oras ko ay binababad lang sa paglalaro ng football,” he said.

However, Rafael was benched after suffering from hyperextension of his ACL. He said that his time away from football gave him time to think about what he really wanted from life when a chance opportunity to join his school’s TV Broadcasting event nudged him in a new direction.

After discovering his passion for communication arts, he decided to take the undergraduate applicant examination for Human Resource at UST, which he failed.

Rafael was not dejected by the results. “Blessing in disguise naman na di ko siya naipasa, kasi yung time din na iyon na nagte-take ako ng exam ay kasagsagan ng [Division Schools Press Conference], so wala talaga akong pakialam sa exam. Okay na iyon, kasi mas focus ako doon sa TV Broadcasting,” Rafael said.

It wasn’t until his second rejection from the same university, this time for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Arts, that he decided to throw caution to the wind and take the tamaraw by the horns. He boldly sent a letter of reconsideration to the school and was soon interviewed by the Dean.

As it was still the middle of the pandemic, the AB Communications program had some open slots, and one virtual interview later found Rafael treading a careful balance between work and school.

Rafael, son of provincial Board Member Rafael Ortega Jr., served as his father’s Chief of Staff while attending online classes for UST. When the university declared face-to-face classes around January 2023, he was already in his second semester of classes for the third year.

Rafael, with bullheaded determination, decided to keep balancing both spheres of his life.

“May one year ako nun, one year and a half pa ako nung face to face classes. Everytime na may klase ako pupunta ako Manila. Yung week na wala akong klase, uuwi ako ng Palawan so nakakafocus ako sa trabaho. Even sa Manila, tuloy-tuloy yung pagmomonitor ko sa office namin through phone calls and communication,” he said.

His studies complemented his work at the office, something that Rafael said contributed to his shifting goal from broadcasting to public service. His immediate plan was to keep serving as Chief of Staff until he accumulates enough inertia for another goal.