WOMAN OF STYLE: Loren Legarda: Topnotcher in fashion + nationalism

Millet M. Mananquil (The Philippine Star) - March 6, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - On her list of priorities right now, fashion is certainly the last thing that Senator Loren Legarda will bother about. Of course, she will appreciate a nice bag but perhaps mainly because it is of good quality and it can contain all her necessary things,meaning her tons of paperwork for the day.

But whether she likes it or not, Loren has become a new fashion icon — for fashionalism, that is. Loren's brand of nationalism — her heart for everything Pinoy — is something she wears on her sleeve, literally.You can see her fashionalism in the details of her attire — be it a neckpiece of beads painstakingly stringed together by a tribal woman, or a coat of many colors fashioned by a Mindanao weaver. One of her current favorite bags is a Bagobo Tagabawa beaded bag from Tudaya, Sta. Cruz in Davao del Sur, looking so hip yet so Pinoy as she matches it with her usual white long-sleeved blouse and denim jeans.

These are the fashion items that she finds exciting. Last weekend, she was not just excited — she was ecstatic — after meeting up with STAR columnist and National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose over a project she is so aching to start.

“Manong Frankie emphasized the need for a museum in every province — one that will house the folk arts and culture of its people.” This folk museum — it can be just a room in a heritage house or a even a donated space in a provincial mall — can also have a shop where the local artisans and craftsmen can display and sell their wares.“That will also give these unsung folk heroes more livelihood opportunities.I can hardly wait to do this project right after the elections. No, in fact, I think I will start working on it now,” the workaholic senator says.

I asked Manong Frankie  about their meeting and he notes: “I have met countless government leaders and politicians, and Loren is the only one I know who has the vision and the heart to promote the folk arts and culture of the Filipinos. Siya lang talaga.”

Bagobo beauty: Loren wears an antique Bagobo skirt woven by master weaver Tia Ines Pandian of the Bagobo Tagawaba community in Davao del Sur. It takes three to four months to weave such skirt. She is also wearing a brass belt with bosok (a kind of seed) beads from the T’boli community of Lake Sebu in South Cotabato. Sen. Legarda’s earrings are made of excavated gold previously owned by her late mother, Bessie Bautista-Legarda.

Whether working on environmental issues, or building  peace, or providing for quality education, or looking after the welfare of women and children, or establishing cultural diplomacy, or protecting the rights of indigenous people, Loren Legarda is always there — the fashionalist in blue jeans — wearing her heart on her woven piña sleeve.

PHILIPPINE STAR: Wow, that is an interesting ethnic belt you are wearing. You are making ethnic look hip and fashionable. Where did that belt come from?

SENATOR LOREN LEGARDA: It is a belt done by the T’bolis. It takes one week to finish one strand so it took months to do this. I like using indigenous materials, handcrafted by our indigenous people and I wear them proudly.

Do you put together the other native outfits you have been seen wearing on several occasions?

Yes, I put them together myself. My moods and choices vary. Sometimes I wear a Kalinga blouse or a piña burdado or a Maranao malong made into a jacket or banana fiber made from my home province, Antique.

You are the trendsetting icon now for fashion + nationalism, or what is termed as fashionalism. No wonder SM Kultura chose you to be its endorser.

I admire Kultura for putting Filipino arts and crafts in the frontline and even making available the “arts for a cause” products, which are the implementation of my law, Ecological Solid Waste Management Law.  I wish we could do more of this and provide a market for Philippine products from rural livelihoods and fair trade.

As a broadcast journalist, you wore mostly corporate blazers. Then later, as a senator and environmentalist, a down-to-earth white blouse plus denim jeans became the Loren look. Now you have gone totally Filipino ethnic.

I still wear blazers to work and speaking engagements. I still love my crisp white cotton-linen blouse and denim jeans especially during the campaign and I promote my ethnic wear, too. All are a part of who I am. My mood dictates what I wear and promotes my various advocacies.

You obviously enjoy bonding with the ethnic communities you have met on the job. Any interesting stories you’d like to share with us?

There was Lucia Caballero who embroidered a lovely blouse for me in the Panubok tradition of the Panay Bukidnon. She is the wife of Federico Caballero, a Gawad ng Manlilikha ng Bayan or GAMABA awardee for Epic Chanting of the Sulod-Bukidnon — a National Living Treasure.

The Ifugaos loved it when I went there and adopted a village in Banga-an to do cogon roofs instead of yero and when they chanted the Hudhud for Queen Sofia at the National Museum.

Bilaan tribal chieftain Boy San of Malita, Davao del Sur gave me the very jacket he was wearing during an IP consultation in Davao when I expressed interest in its unique design. It was a denim jacket he had embroidered in the Bilaan cross stitch motifs. Hinubad niya sa harap ko !

I remember in 1994, I covered the Philippine galleon exhibit in Paris with then First Lady Ming Ramos cutting the ribbon and Inno Sotto presenting a Filipino fashion show. You were also at that event. And now, the French Embassy is collaborating with you for another first in Paris — the exhibit of prehistoric Filipino art and artifacts in April this year.

Yes, I was with you as a young TV journalist then in Paris. That was the height of the Philippine-France cultural relations and FVR did that so well in his presidency. I hope that the Musée du Quai Branly exhibit this year will jumpstart our “cultural diplomacy” and revive heightened cultural exchange with France and other countries.

I am supporting the English translation of the catalogue of the museum’s exhibit, which will present Philippine pre-colonial artifacts in Paris, so that every library and SUC in the Philippines will have a peek into this exhibit since not many will be able to go and see for themselves.

If not a broadcast journalist-turned-senator, what would you have been? What was your childhood dream?

As a young child, the moon and the stars fascinated me and I wanted to be an astronaut. Of course, that was not to be. That was the time of Armstrong, the first man on the moon. But I have always aspired to be a journalist like my Lolo Pepe (former Manila Times editor Joe Bautista) whom I grew up with in Malabon and I am fortunate to have entered television at a very young age through the help of my then professor, Orly Mercado, who was instrumental in opening doors to my TV career.

You were also a print model for ads of lifestyle brands. You have maintained your beautiful skin and figure despite your rigorous job. What is your best beauty secret? What beauty prod-ucts would we find on your dresser? In your bag?

Yes, I have modeled for Close-up, Ponds cream, Kodak, Kanebo cosmetics, Sunsilk, Blue Clinic Shampoo, Ariel, Swift hotdog, Lagerlite beer, Happee toothpaste...

I drink lots of water. Never smoked in my life. I hate smoke! I don’t drink alcohol. I eat moderately and lots of veggies. I don’t eat anything white — no white bread, no white rice... I eat malunggay, saluyot… I also have quiet moments and have learned to pace myself and have a good attitude in life.

A beauty queen once said that her best beauty secret is being in love. Do you agree?

I am always in love! In love with life because God has blessed me with both success and trials to strengthen me. In love with nature because we have been blessed with the bounty of na-ture. In love with the Filipino people whom I am passionate to serve.

What have you learned from your past unsuccessful relationships?

I have learned that I make mistakes, I have suffered for it, I have forgiven and forgotten. I have learned to move on.  I have learned that life is not perfect so I simply thank God for what I have.

Are you in love right now? Would you consider marrying again? What kind of man would merit your attention now?

I want to fall in love again as long as the man is monogamous, intelligent, dignified, kind, compassionate, accomplished, generous and hopefully, with no vices just like me.

What is the worst or funniest rumor said about you?   

I don’t know but rumors come with the territory of being a celebrity and a public figure for three decades.

What is the best advice you give to young people on love and relationships?     

Listen to your mother. My mama was always right.

What is the best advice you have received from anyone?         

Learn to pause and smell the flowers.

Who is your mentor? The people you admire?

I am grateful to Orly Mercado for introducing me to television, to Max Soliven for introducing me to print journalism as a writer for Manila magazine, to Geny Lopez for handpicking me to anchor ABS-CBN’s English newscast, The World Tonight, in 1986 while I was living in Los Angeles.  Many people have helped me, including former President Fidel V. Ramos and former Speaker Joe de Venecia for drafting me in 1998 for senator. The rest is history.

What makes you happiest?  

I am happiest when my two sons ( Lanz and Lean) are healthy, happy, fulfilled and when we are all together.

When was the last time you cried?

It has been a while, thank God.

Northern belle: Loren loves this blouse woven by master weaver Jane Bucatan from the Gaddang community in Paracelis, Mt. Province. The blouse is accessorized with an antique Bontoc necklace, also from Mt. Province.

What is your biggest frustration or unfulfilled dream right now?

I want our country to be clean, green and blue. It breaks my heart when I see a 10-year-old child who is an orphan wandering aimlessly in a market in QC. I feel sad when a mother comes to me and asks for help to buy medicines for her child. I feel frustrated when I see uncollected garbage on the streets.  I feel anxious when I read the crime stories in our midst. I feel in-spired when I am among inspirational people who are self-made and have the passion to do well and to do right.

As a person in public service, what achievement are you proudest of?

My legislation for the environment, women and children, health, improvement of Filipino workers’ welfare, promotion of livelihood and MSMEs.

I am proud that the two laws which I authored — the Climate Change Act and the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act — were considered “the best laws in the world” by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlstrom.

I am the author of the Magna Carta for Micro, Small and Enterprises Act, which provides more assistance to entrepreneurs by requiring lending institutions to allocate at least eight percent, an increase from the previous six percent of their total loan portfolio.

The President has also recently passed into law the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, which I sponsored. The law further strengthens our country’s efforts against trafficking. Through this law, the days of human traffickers are numbered.

Soon, the Universal Healthcare bill will become a law, to cover the five million poorest Filipino families.

If President Noynoy asks for your advice on what top three things he should do asap, what would these be?

Solve the peace and order problem — stop criminality.

Focus on job creation — micro and small enterprises in rural areas.

Make every barangay disaster-resilient.

What advice would you give the following people: Enrile, Miriam, Binay, Mar, Pacquiao, Obama, Hillary Clinton, the next Pope.

Enrile: Enjoy life.

Miriam: Enjoy The Hague.

Binay: Pace yourself.

Mar: Solve criminality.

Pacquiao: ‘Til the next bout. You are still our winner.

Obama: Let the US put funds in the Green Climate Fund to help vulnerable nations like the Philippines.

Hillary: Run for President in 2016.

Pope: Heal the wounds of division in the world.

You have met a lot of world leaders. Tell us about the best encounters.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Laureate — A few months after she was released from house arrest, I met her in her lakeside home in Yangon. She was serene, beautiful in her simplicity but exuded strength and firmness despite her gentleness. It was an honor for my two sons to have met her and she said my sons were the first non-Burmese youth she met after incarceration.

Kofi Annan — Former UN Secretary General. I participated in his Global Humanitarian Forum as an opening speaker in Geneva where I was with world leaders and was privileged to have been invited in all its activities with Mr. Annan, where I was enriched with my knowledge of climate change and the many challenges facing humanity. He was brilliant, articulate and charming.

The Queen Mother of the Kingdom of Bhutan — What a down to earth lady she is and so humble and exuding in kindness and warmth. I was invited to her home for an afternoon tea with my son Lanz while on a UN Mission regarding DRR (Disaster Risk Reduction) in the Kingdom of Bhutan.

Which person in history would you like to meet and what would you tell him/her?

Mother Teresa: How could you have been so selfless?

What was your best life-changing moment or experience?

I think that undergoing trials and challenges are life-changing. You learn to appreciate what you have in a more real sense. Losing the elections in 2004, becoming a single parent soon thereafter, raising two young sons, fighting an electoral battle at the same time — these experiences are sad memories but have made me stronger now and have made me realize how fortunate I am to have overcome them without resorting to vices or going into emotional depression. God has blessed me with resilience, tenacity and moral courage.

What do you picture yourself doing 10 years from now?

Hard to say but hopefully, still looking young, healthy and happy. And still serving humanity.

What is your biggest luxury? Your cheap thrills?

Having a deep tissue massage, having manicure/pedicure without polish please!

Your biggest fantasy? Secret crush?


What is it about you that the public doesn’t know?

That I have a very soft heart.

Name three things on your bucket list.

1. To do cultural immersion for three months (watching opera, theater, going to museums) and temporarily forgetting the daily grind.
2. To build an artists’ village.
3. To resume painting in watercolor and try oil/pastel.

If you had to live in another place, where would that be?

Anywhere by the sea in a small but comfortable cottage or in a place surrounded by trees, so I will be inspired.

You have been the only female senatorial topnotcher to be no. 1, twice, in Philippine political history? What makes you such a winner?

Yes, it is a great honor to be elected as such and with it comes the big responsibility to live up to the people’s expectation. I continue to work diligently as I have always had — hard work with compassion. I am also unrelenting in my tasks. I persist in my mission and am passionate about serving our people. The people’s love fulfills me.

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