If she would get her hands dirty, she’d rather do so by planting trees.
Or so said reelectionist Sen. Loren Legarda, who spiced up a recent informal meeting with INQUIRER editors and reporters with random bits and snatches of what she called her unknown causes, notably climate change and indigenous culture.
Legarda picked a new catchphrase that she said would best describe her advocacy: “Cultural diplomacy.”
She said this would involve setting up local orchestras and theater groups, if possible at the barangay level, and museums that would showcase the unique materials and equipment—“an araro (plow) here, a balisong (fan knife) there”—of the natives of each town and city across the country.
“It would take our children away from drugs… much better than palabuy-laboy (bumming around),” she said while mulling over the benefits of organizing local performance groups.
“Every province should have a museum, like Germany. Ever state university should have a cultural theater group, an orchestra. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if those with indigenous musical instruments would use these during performances because the instruments are part of the culture, of who they are,” she said.
“Then people would understand the kind of livelihood we had, the culture that is unique to our province. Let them have pride of place, of who we are… We’re such a gifted people,” she added.
Legarda said she would use her annual P200-million Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or pork barrel, for the project.
Food for body, soul
The senator, who is seeking reelection under the administration’s Team PNoy coalition, is optimistic that it would eventually benefit the entire community, not just the students and participants.
Think tourism and livelihood for the unemployed, food for the body and soul, she said.
Legarda also advanced the idea of local communities having friendly exchanges, programs and other reciprocities with counterparts abroad.
“I should meet with the German ambassador,” she said.
Why Germany? Legarda recalled how she immersed herself in local folk traditions and operas during a trip to Germany, particularly noting a 20-hour opera in one German town, where culture buffs lined up for four consecutive days.
The chair of the Senate foreign relations committee said she would use the panel’s scope and connections to achieve this plan.
“This will bring us national pride. If we could have our own little fiestas and spend for it, why not spend for a museum, even in the provincial capital, even a small one in the little City Hall or municipal hall,” she said.
Legarda said participation of all state universities and colleges throughout the country would be assured if she could convince the Commission on Higher Education to endorse the plan.
School-based theater groups could focus on issues relevant to the Filipinos and their local community.
To sex it up
“This will divert our children from drugs. And we can have cultural diplomacy exchanges with countries like Germany who can fund us, teach us, show us despite the euro zone crisis. I believe we can achieve peace and even let it be an aspect of tourism and gain livelihood,” the senator said.
Once the public sees the wheels rolling, she said it would be easier to convince private institutions to commit to the project.
“It can be food for the soul and be an instrument of peace and provide livelihood to the young. It may seem something ‘unsexy’ but believe me, we will sex it up,” she said.
Legarda credits her 20-year career in broadcast media for the ability to find an interesting angle on any assignment, highlighting it as the peg for her story.
The senator recalled a time when, as a Senate newbie, she attended a meeting of the entire membership for the distribution of committee assignments.
She said the Senate committee on cultural communities was a panel that “nobody cared about” and someone wondered whom it should be given to.
“Walang may gusto. May nagsabi, ‘Kay Loren na lang.’ I said, ‘Sige,’ (Nobody wanted it. Somebody said, ‘Give it to Loren.’ I said, ‘Yes,’) and I made something out of the assignment,” Legarda said.
“I had a dialogue with all indigenous peoples all over the country. So give me something that is seemingly uninteresting, I’ll accept it,” she added.
The senator’s efforts at bringing indigenous culture to the fore culminated in an exhibit called “Hibla ng Lahing Pilipino: A National Cultural Indigenous People’s Summit” held in the mall a balisong’s throw away from the Senate building.
With Legarda’s twin passions for the environment and climate change, she said she plans to level up and focus on disaster risk reduction and response.
She said changing weather patterns coupled with slow government action would make it hard for her to drop climate change and its consequences from her legislative agenda.
The senator said she would not stop visiting populated areas to personally ask for the people’s support.
Anyway, it is something she enjoys very much.
“Even if there’s social media and there’s radio, TV and print, in our culture, they still want to see you in the flesh. Like in Plaza Miranda, I’m not boasting, ha? But people would pinch, touch, grab, kiss you,” she said.
No substitute for hard work
“There’s no substitute to hard work, meaning, have your presence felt in every media outlet possible in the most heavily populated areas and at the same time go to the big cities, markets, malls, fishing ports, ports and bus stations,” Legarda said.
Apparently, Team PNoy’s big bosses have found a willing teammate in Legarda.
Sen. Franklin Drilon, the campaign manager, has requested Legarda to use four of her allotted eight minutes onstage during rallies to endorse the rest of the candidates.
This was exactly what she did at Plaza Miranda.
“I think they really appreciated it that I used my time for them. Anyway, I just played my audio visual presentation to tell people about the laws I’ve done, including the Climate Change Law, Anti-Trafficking in Person Act, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises [Act], Expanded Senior Citizens Act, Anti-Child Labor Law,” she said.
Should she be blessed with another term, Legarda said it would be her last. The next step is to pursue “life out of politics.”
Legarda first won as senator in 1998. She ran for vice president, as running mate of Fernando Poe Jr. in 2004, and lost. She sought and won another term in the Senate in 2007. She became Sen. Manny Villar’s running mate in 2010, lost and stayed put to serve the last three years of the term that began in 2007.
At the height of the 2011 Senate investigation on poll fraud, Legarda admitted to mourning her losses in 2004 and 2007. But she said she sees things differently now.
“I’m just so grateful God has given me two careers—TV, where I was relatively successful, and 15 years in public service, where I found my advocacies being appreciated, [being elected No. 1 Senator twice]. So who am I to complain,” Legarda said.
“I am no longer interested in running for president or vice president. The secret to happiness and contentment is knowing what is yours and what is not yours,” she added.
“What is not for me is what is not given to me. Until such time that you have accepted what is for you, what is not for you, you’ll never be completely content with your life and I think the secret to happiness is to accept what is given to you,” she said.