Modern Living

Senator Loren Legarda: "We need futurists who can see beyond the tangible'

ARTMAGEDDON - Igan D’Bayan - The Philippine Star
Senator Loren Legarda: "We need futurists who can see beyond the tangible'
Senate Pro Tempore Loren Legarda is conferred the award of “Commendatore” to the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic for her role in strengthening bilateral relations between the Philippines and Italy. The recognition is presented to Legarda by Italian Ambassador to the Philippines Marco Clemente. Senator Legarda says, “The Philippine and Italian partnership and cooperation are essential to our two nations. We may be oceans apart, but we have much in common — our love of food, diverse culture, passion for arts, and pride in our artists. At the core, we also share the tradition of family values and close-knit communities
STAR/ File

Why does Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda love textiles? The answer is as intricate as the weaves themselves. Firstly, there is the physical aspect. The colors and the patterns come in rich hues and graceful geometries. The cloth itself is textured and thick, but often warm and soft to the touch. The ways to use them are legion. The senator’s travels — first as a journalist and then as a legislator — brought her to places such as Lake Sebu in South Cotabato, Miag-ao and Calinog in Iloilo, Kiangan in Ifugao and Bugasong in her home province of Antique to encounter weavers and their woven magic. After all these years, she is still in awe at the diversity of cultural expressions in fabric form.

“The colors and patterns are narratives,” Legarda explains. “They narrate cultural stories passed on from generation to generation. Each fabric reminds me of the ingenuity of creative minds and hands.”

And she wears her heart on her sleeve, or — more precisely — wears the cuts of cloth and creativity she loves the most to the halls of Congress. In July last year, the senator donned a more-than-two-decade-old Patis Tesoro kimono made of piña, which she had even before becoming a senator. Loren paired it with an elegant, hand-woven pinya seda. The piña cloth from Aklan was created for more than a year by embroiderers in Lumban, Laguna. She has been also known to wear a traditional patadyong as a wrap, skirt, malong, bolero, or incorporated into a jacket. The variations, indeed, are many.

“I wear our own textiles in support of the indigenous cultural communities who are among the silent heroes of our local economy as well as to promote our weaving tradition.”

What was the genesis of Legarda’s love of culture? What is the root of her fascination with the art and songs and woven expressions of communities in mountains and mighty rivers who seem alien and inscrutable to most of us who obsess about everything online, streamed, going viral, or can be downloaded and upgraded, and have largely forgotten the old wise ways of doing things and living in tune with Nature that made our elders strong, proud, resourceful and resilient?

So, how did Loren become Loren?

She credits her late mother, Bessie Gella Bautista-Legarda, for instilling in her the love for culture and country at an early age, for starting that fire.

As a young girl in Potrero, Malabon, Loren played kundiman on the piano while her mom, who was taking voice lessons at that time, sang opera in the bathroom.

“When I was a child, I would also see artists visit our home on Sundays such as Romulo Galicano, and Sofronio Mendoza. I also visited the houses of Ibarra Dela Rosa, H.R. Ocampo and Mang Enteng Manansala with my mother. These were my positive influences at such a young age. The love for textiles also came from her because I saw that she had a chest full of ‘treasures’ — colorful textiles that she collected. My late grandmother Carmen Gella Bautista also wore the terno and baro’t saya proudly.”

That was Loren’s childhood home of arias, glissandos and camisas. That fire even grew more fervent when Legarda became a journalist and was exposed to different cultures and traditions.

“Oh, how unique our Philippine traditions are from others,” she points out. “Our way of living, our way of understanding, and our way of expressing unequivocally strengthened my love for our textiles, for our indigenous communities, for our history, for our culture. I have fallen in love since then, and I have never fallen out of it.”

And that love of art, culture and the narratives woven by one’s own people is infectious, inspiring, influential, and is lauded by those — in other parts of the world — who love their own art and culture as fervently, even more passionately. That fire, dear readers, is universal; goes beyond borders.

Senator Legarda was recently conferred the award of “Commendatore” to the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic for her role in strengthening bilateral relations between the Philippines and Italy. The recognition was presented to Legarda by Italian Ambassador to the Philippines Marco Clemente at the ambassador’s residence in Makati City.

She feels humbled and honored to receive this distinction. “This is something I did not aim for at all, but I can say that I am inspired and encouraged to create more platforms and expand the cooperative ties between the Philippines and Italy, especially in the international space.”

The title “Commendatore” is the second recognition bestowed upon Legarda by the government of Italy. In 2017, the Cavaliere dell Ordine al Merito Della Repubblica Italiana (Knight in the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic) was presented to her by then Italian Ambassador to the Philippines Massimo Roscigno.

How important is it to maintain cultural and artistic relations with a country such as Italy?

“Italy has been our country’s partner in many exchanges and is an extension of our peoples’ ways and ethos as we can easily relate to them,” she answers. “For instance, we share a family-centric culture. We both love food and sharing stories. On the other hand, Italy has since supported our country in developing our untapped potential in various sectors and fields such as environmental protection, economic development, sustainability, as well as cultural and educational cooperation, among others.”

The senator was the visionary and principal advocate for the Philippines’ return to the Venice Biennale in 2015 after a 51-year hiatus.

“Our return to the ‘Olympics of Contemporary Art’ communicated to the world who we are as Filipinos. It also became a platform for us to be more connected to the world. I have always been candid on the value of cultural diplomacy as not merely showcasing or promoting our culture, but also fortifying our deep relations, in this case, with Italy. In fact, I filed Senate Bill No. 492 in July last year to push for the institutionalization of Philippine participation in the international exhibitions of the Venice Biennale.”

As a cultural advocate and art patron, the laws and policies the senator has pushed consistently promote the distinctiveness of Filipino artists. She has always made sure that our artists are able to uncover their abilities and catapult their talents to greater heights. She amplifies, “I will continuously search for friendly platforms where our artists can connect with international art groups, meet global art luminaries, and continue raising our flag as they perform. They can be assured of my support just as I remain faithful to my love for our culture and heritage.”

Legarda filed Senate Bill No. 241 or the Proposed Philippine Handloom Weaving Industry Development Act of 2022. It aims to continuously empower our Filipino weavers and ensure mainstream government programs in developing our local textile industry. She also filed Senate Bill No. 622. The senator explains, “It is time to revisit RA 10066 or the ‘National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009’ with the integration of Cultural Mapping at all levels of our government.”

There is a lot more to be done. “We need futurists who can see beyond what is tangible.”

This legislator who is always on her toes does not let up. In fact, she will celebrate her birthday today as she always does: as an extension of her passion and advocacies. In previous celebrations, she launched tree-planting activities, donated wheelchairs, distributed mammogram certificates, and promoted the country’s textiles and fabrics, among other activities.

“For this year, I will be distributing tablets for our schoolchildren and vegetables from a rescue buy,” she shares.

Speaking of schoolchildren, we ask the senator what she would say to her 10-year-old self.

“I would tell my 10-year-old self how mothers are angels on earth. Life does not come with a manual, which is why Mama’s gentle nudges and strict words are ingredients to a more happy and meaningful life. Spend time with her, as she deserves your attention. When you become a mother, spend time with your children as much as you can, as you have a lot to share and learn from them, too.”

Senator Loren would also tell young Loren that failures are necessary to learn how to stand and be better, just as Samuel Beckett uttered his poetic mantra of “Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.”

For Legarda, what is important is not to be hard on oneself. “I would also say to my 10-year-old self ‘to see the magic of arts, music and self-expression as a means of communicating, of coping; to enjoy life while remaining faithful to your dreams; and — when you eventually are placed at the helm of taking care of people — to not forget to take care of yourself, too.’”

We see Senator Loren Legarda’s thoughts forming a pattern here, of how a combination of tribulations and triumphs and further tests make for one enthralling existential tapestry. Such is the way of weavers when faced with life’s many pushes and pulls: the key is to hold everything together.


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