Loren: Back to before
FUNFARE - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - March 25, 2014 - 12:00am

The compound occupies almost a hectare at the boundary of two cities, half of which in Malabon and the other half in Caloocan, with four houses inside it. It’s full of trees, as green as the advocacy of the day’s host, Sen. Loren Legarda, who is pointing to where a Bahay Kubo used to be decades ago when she was a kid daydreaming during siesta time.

“There was only one house then,” recalls Loren, daughter of the late Bessie Bautista-Legarda who was the daughter of the (old) Manila Times editor and UST Philets professor Joe “Pepe” Bautista, the original owner of the property.

“Then Lolo Pepe’s seven children started building more houses here. Among us cousins,” adds Loren who now lives in Forbes Park, Makati City, “I’m the one who loves coming back here. I’m really an old soul; I love Malabon.”

Malabon was where Loren was born and spent her childhood and, adding without blushing, where as a teenager she entertained suitors. Asked if there were six of them, she says without batting an eyelash, “Anong six? Isang dosena, hahahaha!”

It’s recollection time, no special occasion at all, according to Loren. She invited her movie-writer/friends, “Those I’ve known for almost 30 years,” to share not just a smorgasbord of native goodies (Adobo, Kare-Kare, Lumpiang Hubad, etc. downed by Pandan Juice, plus an array of guilty-pleasure desserts, prepared by the household staff that has been with the family for decades) but also a leisurely shooting-the-breeze session.

No politics on the agenda. With five more years to serve as a third-termer senator, Loren claims she’s done with politics. Period.

The Bahay Kubo is gone but it comes alive in the memory of Loren this afternoon.

“Siesta time was daydreaming time,” adds Loren. “Every afternoon before I took a nap with Nanay Fely, my yaya up to now, beside me, and while Mama was working at PNB and Papa was busy with his buy-and-sell car business, I would escape from my bungalow home into the Bahay Kubo and dreamed small dreams, big dreams,” most of which, too redundant to be enumerated here because it’s public knowledge, came true.

“The whole neighborhood used to be an open field in the 1930s before it became a subdivision,” she continues turning misty-eyed, “at night I would hear the balut vendor hawking his wares, marvel at the fireflies around the trees, and wake up to the chirping of the birds and the ringing of the pandesal vendor’s bell. Lolo Pepe would make us line up and give us coins, holding each of us by both hands and swinging us between his legs.    

“Growing up, I started studying how to play the piano, with Tita Menen (Santiago, widow of movie producer Larry Santiago) as my teacher. The Santiagos used to live next door. We used to have a neighborhood sari-sari store called Torio where I would buy Royal Tru-Orange and Chocnut. I would buy several Chocnut, papatungan ko ng one centavo,  and sell them to the househelp. Even then, marunong na ako maghanapbuhay. I would wait for the taho and the ambulant ice-cream vendors. My favorites were Nangka Popsicle and Magnolia Ice-Cream sandwich.” 

The suitors came from far and wide, from as far as Makati, some in chauffeured aircon cars, some in jeepneys, some in tricycles and some walking from the main street (formerly University Avenue and now Joe Bautista Road). Who among them impressed her?

“’Yung mga naglalakad,” Loren laughs. “I still see some of them. They have become family friends.”

After spending 27 years in Malabon, Loren moved to Makati, bringing with her not material things but fond memories, including how she as a kid played with salagubang (beetle) and butterflies which she caught in the garden and placed inside a big bottle.

Soon, Loren has become free in the wide world, not bottled up like her winged playmates. Her life has become an open book from then on.

Asked what the walls around the Malabon compound would tell if they could talk, Loren says, “Ay, maraming istorya, maraming sikreto.”

Now 54, Loren still looks like the girl who used to daydream in that Bahay Kubo. How does she do it?

“Healthy living,” admits Loren who very seldom, if ever, sleeps with an aircon. “I never fail to include malunggay in my diet.” She looks up to her Aunt Lourdes “Luding” Bautista-Gaskell who, at 90, is still very active, pursuing painting as a hobby and writing poems, most of which are collected not in a notebook but in memory. Ask her to recite one, and Aunt Luding would do it without missing a beat. Together with a daughter, Aunt Luding shares with afternoon with Loren’s friends. Loren’s dad, Tony Legarda (who lives in the compound) helps entertain the guests.

Really now, is Loren done with politics?

“In the next six years of my incumbency,” she declares, “I will focus on my work for environment, greening and culture. After that, maybe I will take further studies abroad, maybe in Scotland where there’s a special university about climate change.”

At the moment, she’s busy supervising an environment-friendly film with Brillante Mendoza who also directed climate-change docus which Loren produced. No details about the film, so far.

Before we bid Loren goodbye, she invites us to take a look at her museum, with all her memorabilia accounted for (magazine covers, trophies, etc.).

Back to the present, Loren is happily watching her two sons, Lance and Lean, finding their own place in the sun.

“I’m in a good place,” Loren says.

It shows.

(E-mail reactions at entphilstar@yahoo.com. You may also send your questions to askrickylo@gmail.com. For more updates, photos and videos visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on www.twitter/therealrickylo.)

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