Starweek Magazine

Senator Francis Pangilinan : A Well-Placed KIK-o

Philip Cu-Unjieng - The Philippine Star

Maybe we should all take a dip in the gene pool of the Pangilinans. Over several generations now, there’s been an over-achieving DNA that’s found a home there.

After the Second World War, Mark Pangilinan (Kiko’s distant uncle) left his family’s meager land holdings in Pampanga and boarded a naval ship for Guam. He’s now a pillar of commerce in Guam, reputed to be one of the richest men on the island. Manny Pangilinan (another uncle) left for Hong Kong, worked his way up the corporate ladder of First Pacific, returning a few years ago to take over the helm of PLDT, the Fort Bonifacio Development and now, GMA-7. Angeli Pangilinan-Valenciano (Kiko’s sister) is a force in the entertainment industry.

And now, we have Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan–emerging from the shadow of wife Sharon Cuneta, ready to assume his duties as a Senator of the land. It’s a progression that has its seeds in the early ‘80s when, with Ninoy Aquino’s assassination and the subsequent snap election, Kiko was mired in student activism and the nascent search for empowerment and result-oriented idealism. With a law degree and a Masters in Public Administration (acquired at Harvard), Kiko is well equipped to apply his knowledge and determination to the august halls of our 12th Congress.

"As I took my oath, foremost in my mind was the burden. It’s caused me several sleepless nights. I’m entering this Congress with the enormous problems we are facing. Peace and order, the economy, the attempts to create political instability. When I was running, I centered my platform on education, public accountability, justice and poverty. So I’m hoping that I’ll be able to actively participate in committees such as the Blue Ribbon Committee, Education, and Justice and Human Rights to follow through on the legislative agenda upon which I was elected."

Asking Kiko to take a step back and analyze the elections of two months ago, I posited that while EDSA 2 was purported to be a call for "new politics," it seemed that in the May elections "old politics" still ruled. What then was at fault, the process or the electorate?

"I guess it’s both. If you want substantive change, it’s a combination of several things. You have to have electoral reform, by way of a system, of mechanisms, factors that will really facilitate popular will. At the same time, you want to have an electorate that is steeped in issues. For an election to be issue-oriented, you have to have strong political parties.

"Today, we really have elections that are personality-oriented. In my view, somebody like Joker (Arroyo) won because people were impressed during the trial. Several I spoke to commented that they voted for him because he’s matapang (courageous). And this had more to do with it than whether he was pro- or anti-Erap. I say this because we have to put it in the context of Loi (Estrada) winning. Similarly, with Noli (de Castro), they felt they knew him, his years of TV exposure gave him familiarity that they expressed in votes. This all shows that we still have some way to go before we transform our politics away from personalities and towards issues. And to achieve this, it’s not only political and electoral reform, but economic growth and development that’s needed; and this is one challenge.

"Unwittingly, several key individuals in leadership posts at various levels have imbibed the culture of powerlessness and this is manifested in the ‘wala kasi naman tayo magagawa’ attitude. Why try to change when it’s been tried and didn’t work. If you look at it, it’s practically a remnant of a feudal mindset; depending on direction from above and not moving until prodded. While that is the dominant culture, I hope to be part of an emerging culture that defies this and believes we can be results-oriented, that we can make a difference.

"And remember, there really are no more excuses this time. We just don’t have that luxury. While it may sound desperate, I really believe this may be our last chance. So much is hinging on what we can or cannot achieve. While I can’t predict what the dynamics of the incoming Senate will be, given the affiliations of the incumbents and the incoming batch, I just hope that we somehow find some consensual way to effect the reforms and changes that are so vital for our advancement.

"Even today, we see the trend that people are slowly realizing that they can effect substantial change in spite of or without government support. But this can be taken only so far, specifically at the community level. And while this is very important, to produce far reaching transformational change, government will have to play a role. So we have to identify the individuals in government who are allies in trying to create this change. And that’s essentially the challenge, how do we get the broadest consensus and unity behind fixing our state of affairs, and moving this country forward. And mind you, this takes commitment over time; this cannot come about overnight."

It’s a can-do attitude that Kiko has applied not only in his professional life, but in his personal life as well. "From the beginning, we were both very busy. Sharon, with her career in the movies, television and recording. Myself, with my law career and before the elections, my radio and TV public service shows. But through all this, we made the effort to ensure that time was devoted for the family. So, I don’t foresee much change in the basics. She will still be busy, as I will be; it’s a matter of addressing the demands. You have the four quadrants of your life: spiritual, emotional, physical and mental; so you have to make sure that all areas are satisfied, a perpetual balancing act."

To ensure that time spent in the bedroom is hinged on interaction, it may be interesting to know that Kiko and Sharon do not have a television in their bedroom. "It works! We lie down and talk and before you know it, an hour or so has passed just talking. If there was a TV there, it would be so easy to just pass the time watching before falling asleep."

It may also come as a surprise to learn that when courting Sharon, Kiko had to admit that he had seen none of her films. Sensing that Sharon may not have taken this too well, he "bluffed" his way through by saying that she should be more worried if he were to say that he had seen all her films. At least, she could be certain he wasn’t some stalker!

Sharon used to refer to him as her "man with his head in the clouds"– the idealist through and through, and now tempered by what he has learned from the world of "realpolitik".

She readily admits that he may very well be "just what the doctor ordered". As Sharon remarked,"Just the other week, someone commented to Kiko about how well my latest album was doing, and wouldn’t you know it, he tried to be knowledgeable and gave the title of an album I recorded two years ago."

When asked what would constitute his "guilty pleasures," Kiko readily admitted that it would have to be songs from his school days, from the late ‘60s to the very early ‘80s. The Bee Gees, the Beatles, England Dan, James Taylor, from the sublime to the sappy and syrupy, he loves them all as they transport him to a time when life was simpler.

"It’s therapeutic for me. In fact, under the guise of introducing Kaycee to the music of my generation, I buy her all these CDs that’s really for my consumption. Fortunately, she’s also taken to them and enjoys Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder and so on."

As fair warning to his fellow Senators, I‘m letting on that Kiko has a reputation for hanging on to a mike and taking on toastmaster or master of ceremonies duty. In fact, have a karaoke or pianist nearby, and he’ll even take on his wife and believe he’s the singer in the family. Believe me, I’ve seen it happen on at least two occasions and, while he won’t admit it, that, for me, is his real "guilty pleasure".

On the day of our interview, Kiko was going through swatches of fabric for new suits and shirts with Manny, his tailor for several years now. He laughingly remarks how Manny has given him legitimate reason to refer to his wardrobe as coming from "our Manny". And that’s Kiko–substance more than style.

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