What Alfred lost... and gained
Quezon City (5th District) Rep. Alfred Vargas also talks about his pet bill inspired by his mom who died of cancer
What Alfred lost... and gained
CONVERSATIONS - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - September 13, 2020 - 12:00am

It was a Herculean task, no less, and Quezon City Fifth District Rep. Alfred Vargas felt as if he has won another “best” award although not in acting. Yes, he lost several pounds and regained his self-confidence. Winner!

“Last March 17,” Alfred told Conversations, “my weight was 224.4 lbs. On Sept. 5, my weight was down to 179.3 lbs. Goodbye, 54.1 lbs.!”

He’s deadset on shedding a few more pounds through dieting and regular workout at his gym at home. If there’s a will, he said, there’s a way.

Even if he’s locked down at home with his wife Yasmine Espiritu and their children (Alexandra Milan, Aryana Cassandra and Alfredo Cristiano), Alfred continues to perform his duties as a congressman, and to help his district’s 600,000 plus residents. He’s grateful that the “cancer bill” he authored in memory of his mother, lawyer Susana “Ching” Vargas, has been passed.

Vargas has proposed an incentives program for foreign film and TV producers in a bid to attract them to shoot in the Philippines. The Film Philippines Act seeks to “institutionalize the grant of cash rebates to qualified foreign productions.”

Alfred’s latest movie, Tagpuan (which he himself produced and stars in with Iza Calzado and Shaina Magdayao, written by Ricky Lee and directed by Mac Alejandre), is on hold. It was supposed to be shown as an official entry in the first Summer Metro Manila Film Festival (SMMFF) last April but was postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic.

With his wife Yasmine Espiritu.

Asked when he thought people will return to moviehouses, Alfred said, “I think there are people who can’t wait to go back to moviehouses again and have that cinematic experience long unavailable to everyone since the pandemic. Perhaps, starting December, hopefully, we would be able to allow Filipinos to watch movies again in a safe and secured way. The industry needs it.”

What did you lose (aside from the poundage) and what did you gain during this pandemic?

“Because of the health adjustments that I’m doing, I lost some of my insecurities from being out of shape and I became a more confident person. I used to feel old and lethargic but now I feel energetic and youthful. Now that I am well within my ideal health and well-being status, I am more at ease with myself in knowing that I am taking good care of myself this time. I gained an opportunity to practice self-love.

“This pandemic has given me more time with my family and more time to reflect and strive to become a better version of myself.”

How do you connect to (get in touch with) your constituents?

“On-ground, online and through personal text.

That’s how Alfred looks at his gym at home minus 57.1 lbs. after regular workout and strict dieting.

“On-ground. We have very hardworking and dedicated staff in our district office in Novaliches who make sure that while following all safety protocols, we are still able to accommodate and hear out our constituents.

“Online. My official FB receives thousands of private messages a day. We make sure we are able to answer them one by one. Right now, this is the most accessible way for everyone to reach me. It doesn’t matter how big or small their concern is. What’s important is that each of them is heard and we do our very best to help.

“Personal text. During the start of the pandemic, I got around 1,000 text messages per day. People in District 5, Quezon City, know my personal mobile number. It has been my one and only number since college. Now, I still get around 600-plus messages on a daily basis and I make sure I am able to answer all of them. I practice an effective system of going about this. It has become a daily habit. I spend several hours every day just to reply.”

What is the most challenging part of seeing to the needs of the residents of your district?

“My district has a population of around 600,000.

With his wife Yasmine Espiritu and their children Alexandra Milan, Aryana Cassandra and Alfredo Cristiano.

“The most challenging part is facing the backbreaking reality of balancing the limited resources and the infinite needs of everyone. While we sincerely want to help everyone, we really cannot. As we see in memes, there’s always an enormous difference between expectations vs. reality.”

Have you adjusted to the new mode of sessions by Zoom?

“Yes. But I still prefer the face-to-face, personal type of meetings. I realized that Zoom is good for task-oriented and information-centered meetings but not that effective for vision-setting, planning and motivational type of meetings. I actually have more meetings now because of Zoom than compared to before. Pero iba pa rin ‘pag personal kayong magkaharap ng kausap mo.”

Quezon City Councilor PM Vargas keeping their mom, lawyer Susana ‘Ching’ Vargas, constant company during her battle with the Big C.

How has been your life at home?

“Surprisingly, it’s more productive than before in terms of legislative work, research, planning, and implementing programs and projects in the district.

“Life is a lot more meaningful now because I am able to spend more time with my wife and children. They remind me of the real important things in life. Being an actor and public servant for a long period of my life, I realized that I have been this busy and stressed, go-getter kind of person for almost two decades already. In many ways, I have forgotten to take good care of myself, my health included.

“This pandemic provided me a different lens to see everything better. Life at home has been a retreat to my core being. It has also strengthened my faith in God and made me see how lucky I am to have my wife, Yasmine, and my three beautiful children.”

Alfred and his siblings Vanessa Vargas- Unlayao, Veronica Vargas- Cruz.

How is your pet bill (about cancer)?

“It is now a Republic Act, the National Integrated Cancer Control Act. This is one of the pieces of legislation that I principally authored that I am most proud of.”

How many years ago na ba nawala ang mom mo and how did you comfort her during her illness?

“She succumbed to cancer in 2014. Six years ago.

“During her battle with the big C, I wanted to make her feel happy and special so much that all my actions predicated on these. I wanted her to be proud of me and everything that I was doing. I see her most joyful smile when we, her children, do things that make other people’s lives better. This was the best way to comfort her, to show her that we have learned the lessons she taught us.”

What are the lessons that you learned from her?

“Compassion, integrity, competence. These were her exact last words to me on her deathbed.”

She wanted you di ba to be a lawyer like her?

“Yes. That was her dream because she was one good lawyer and public servant herself. She didn’t talk to me for several days when she found out that I decided to become an actor instead of pursuing law school after my college graduation. We ended up having a compromise. She made me commit to take up graduate studies instead. This semester, once I pass my paper defense, I’ll be on my way to get my MPA degree from UPNCPAG.”

Of course, sana nakita niya ang achievement mo as an actor (how many awards ba) and as a politician?

“I have received two Best Actor awards so far. I have also been nominated in the Urian three times and received a few dozen awards for public service. She was always there for me. Seeing my parents proud of me has always been one of the best feelings of my life. I yearned to make them proud. They inspired me to be better every day.

“The only thing I really regret is that she and my dad didn’t live to see me receive the 2019 Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines (TOYM) last year. It is the most important and most prestigious award I have ever received and I dedicated it to both my mother and father.”

And, of course, hindi niya naabutan ang mga apo nya sa’yo (would she have been a doting lola)?

“I am grateful that she was able to spend a few years with my two daughters, Alexandra and Aryana. She was very fond of both of them but she was always fair while being very generous to them. Alexandra looks like her Lola. We gave her the nickname, Ching-ching, after my mom.”

Saan nakahanay ang showbiz sa buhay mo? What’s your comment on the new-normal way of shooting?

“Acting will always be my passion. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it were not for showbiz. But my priority is public service. This is my vocation. And if given the chance, I would be more than willing to offer all the years of my life until I grow old to serve our country.

“As long as we follow health and safety protocols, shooting and production in the new normal will be manageable. As long as we are all willing to sacrifice for the protection of every member of the production and give equal importance to all, the new-normal way of shooting will be successful.”

(E-mail reactions at rickylophilstar@gmail.com. For more updates, photos and videos, visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on Instagram @therealrickylo.)

ALFRED VARGAS
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