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All eyes on Loren

- Paula C. Nocon () - January 28, 2004 - 12:00am
It was high noon at Ricco and Tina Ocampo’s spacious home when she walked in the door, and then it began to simmer even more. As she glided through the foyer and into the living room, all eyes were upon her, but this woman’s gaze was transfixed on an object of special interest planted in the lawn: A large billboard of Senator Loren Legarda, endorsing The Black Shop.

Yes, Loren Legarda, staring at herself staring right back at her.

She’s used to it, being the center of attention, having lived most of her life in the public eye. A champion elocutionist in her school days, a Close-up toothpaste commercial heartthrob in her teens, an honor student from childhood to college, an award-winning broadcaster in her adulthood, and then a politician’s wife, an honorary Muslim princess, a crusading environmentalist, a Senator of the Republic, and now a controversial candidate for the office of the Vice Presidency, the running mate of the most-watched presidentiable in this year’s race.

"Oh, won’t this make me look frivolous and kikay?" she asked us half-jokingly. "A politician doing fashion?!"

Ricco Ocampo, her friend of 15 years and The Black Shop co-proprietor, responded quickly, "What’s wrong with being beautiful, Loren? It’s nothing to be ashamed of!"

We all laughed and agreed with Ricco. But there was something telling about the situation. Here was Senator Legarda, wondering out loud if this current endorsement of a fashion label would garner unwanted exposure, when deep in our minds we were wondering about the already intense public scrutiny she was going through since she agreed to run with Fernando Poe Jr.

But it was not meant to be an afternoon of political speculation. She was here to talk about The Black Shop, which she agreed to pose for pro bono, as a favor to the Ocampos ("We are like siblings already; Tina and I actually share the same birthday!") and because she "believed in the company, which is 100 percent Filipino-owned and targets an aspirational market." The deal was sealed long before she registered as a candidate nearly a month ago, and in lieu of her talent fee, the Ocampos will donate to her favorite charities.

So I asked her about style, her sense of fashion, culture, her love of beautiful things. Apparently, she inherited this from her mother, the late culture vulture Bessie Legarda. "My mother was the vain one; I am much simpler, more practical. Even if my mother didn’t directly have to instruct me about how to collect art, antiques, jewelry and fixing up the house, I grew up with it. So I supposed what I have now, in terms of style, is effortless. It’s surprising to me when people say I’m fashionable or stylish. It’s something I really don’t think about."

Loren Legarda’s style, however, has been thought about – by other people. As a TV personality for over 20 years, her field get-up of crisp white cotton shirt and jeans, loafers, and hair pulled back in a bun became a trademark, so much so that when she lopped her hair off into a short bob, it was talked about for a week. As a newscaster, viewers would ogle at her suits, flawless pearls, ethnic jewelry, and gems inherited from her mother. And as an opposition senator voting for the opening of the hot "Who is Jose Velarde?" envelope, her pashmina shawls in dozens of different colors formed a fashion subplot underlying the political drama.

The focus on her style, then, is a reflection of our need to find something fragrant in the muck that is Philippine politics, an attraction to the good and the beautiful after having seen all the hideous and the corrupt, an extraction of yin from all the yang. When asked whether she still considered herself feminine, she said, "I think that’s up to you to decide. That’s for you to judge."

So just as being beheld and scrutinized is nothing new to Loren, whether for her beauty or her brains, she must be used to something else as well˜for what is beheld is, more often than not, inevitably judged. Anyone would imagine that this constant judgment would be the most trying part of living in a fishbowl.

"The transition from being journalist to politician was mainly about that˜from being the observer to being the observed," Legarda explains. "Journalists watch, then report. Then I became a senator, and so I was suddenly on the opposite end. Every sneeze, every yawn, every gesture is taken into account. I never would have imagined my pashminas would get so much attention. I mean, I just wore them for health reasons, since it’s so cold in the Senate hall!"

Looking at her, outfitted in a red embroidered shirt (from The Black Shop, of course) and jeans, her hair down, relaxed and animated on the sofa, one would really want to know what was going through this woman’s mind at that moment, playing the roles of lawmaker, wife, mother, and candidate for the second highest office in the nation while answering questions on how she fixes herself up in the morning. Journalist to journalist, I beheld her while resisting every temptation to judge her, knowing that this lady was fighting daily battles we ordinary citizens could only speculate about. The strange thing was, the more you looked at her, and the more you tried to guess what she was thinking, the more mysterious she became.

So I asked my final question: After all that she has seen and experienced, after all that she has sacrificed and compromised, after all that she has become and is becoming, isn’t she, well, quite jaded?

Without batting an eyelash, she had a ready answer. "No. I never want to lose my youthful idealism, that’s what keeps me going. That’s what inspires me to break the traditional politics and cut through this sense of deprivation, helplessness, hopelessness. I always want to bring about change, renewal, reformation because I believe in the Filipino. I believe that the Filipino is good, beautiful, hardworking. I’m doing this Black Shop campaign because it projects this image of a hardworking woman who can be an inspiration to others. Tina and I were not born wealthy, we were middle class, but we worked our way up, so we could have a better life, and then help other people. So how can I ever be jaded?"

Perhaps after this year’s elections, I’ll ask her again.
BESSIE LEGARDA BLACK SHOP FERNANDO POE JR. JOSE VELARDE LOREN LEGARDA OCAMPOS RICCO AND TINA OCAMPO RICCO OCAMPO SO I TINA AND I
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