one thing i like about my job is that it allows me to record history, however inadvertently. it allows me to see events and people evolve, and i feel privileged to have been a wee part of it.
having said that, i can’t help but feel directly affected and sincerely saddened when i hear someone i had interviewed has passed away (like maestro sculptor boy caedo, or model patricia borromeo), or split up—especially when they seemed genuinely happy—like Sen. Chiz Escudero and wife Christine Flores.
their split was officially announced in Ricky Lo’s column on April 19.
HIPP ran a story on the senator for our father’s day issue in 2009. aside from a “scoop” (he told us first he was considering running for president the following year), we were thrilled to see him in action as a husband and father. it was a really fun shoot. christine opened a couple of bottles of wine and the HIPP team and our photographer Veejay stayed loooong after all the gear, makeup, and clothes were packed away.
well, not all the clothes—just as christine was about to return one of the Rajo Laurel creations used in the shoot, the stylists stopped her. “the senator paid for it na,” they told her. genuinely surprised and smiling like an ingenue, not a wife of (then) eight years, she immediately called her husband. “thank you,” she said, her voice silky and sweet. “i love the dress.”
like i said, sad.
head: More Than This
subhead: He likes ‘80s music, sneaks back into the house to spend time with his kids, and still keeps in touch with his elementary school batchmates. Just your regular dad? Maybe. If your dad was the most popular senator in the country
He had us right from the beginning. That black shirt (a tad tight, bordering on Right Said Fred-tight), the chain-smoking, the mastery of the vernacular. Yet, at the same time, the gravitas, the razor-sharp mind, the ability to argue and debate and elucidate clearly and fluently in English, Filipino, and Bicolano.
Francis “Chiz” Escudero blazed from his hometown of Sorsogon as congressman (first elected at age 28 in 1998, and two more times after that), to capture the national limelight as campaign spokesman for FPJ in 2004, then more prominently as one of the young representatives moving for the impeachment of President Arroyo in 2005. In 2007, after wowing (almost) everyone in a relatively easy race with his idealism and his youth, he was elected into the Philippine Senate with the second-highest number of votes. It wasn’t a surprise: here, at last, was somebody who could hold his own against older politicians and still gain their respect; someone who had the looks and demeanor that appealed to the youth (it helps that he resembles rockstar Bamboo); and someone who could speak the language of every man—be he intellectual, pilosopo, or pedestrian. A February 2009 “Asian Journal Los Angeles” article suggests that he could be the Philippines’ version of Obama. Nonetheless flattered, says the article, Escudero asserts that the Philippines needs “something more.”
Could that “something more” be found in his study during an overcast Thursday morning, watching a “Bollywood-something” and feeling a bit under the weather? The first time I meet the senator, it’s at a hotel lobby with his brother, Philip, a photographer who I worked with several times when I was starting out in the glossies. The small talk morphs into a discussion about the price of beer, and Senator Chiz impresses even my usually jaded partner by knowing exactly how much a beer costs from the sari-sari store (P18 for a Pale Pilsen; P22 for a San Mig Lite). “Alam niya kung magkano, ano?” he says, laughing, as we drive away. “Dapat ganon ang mamuno sa bansa natin!”
As he reluctantly turns the TV off and lopes out to speak to us, his aura is different. Defenses are up, as they usually are with people when they know they’re about to be interviewed. But hey, we’re no hardcore, hard news outfit—we’re HIPP, and once we get started on the questions about his twins, Senator Chiz turns into yet another doting parent who is soon scrolling through the photos on his camera phone to show me how huge Quino is compared to Chesi, even if the two are only a minute apart.
Chiz, the father
Conceived through in vitro fertilization, the twins were born prematurely in 2007. Up until the time they were, Senator Chiz admits to being scared. “Scared because something could always go wrong. Scared because Christine (his wife) had an ectopic pregnancy in 2001. She was about two to three weeks pregnant before she lost the baby. That was a traumatic time for her. This was a difficult pregnancy. She was required complete bedrest in the first trimester.”
When Christine gave birth, Chesi wasn’t breathing and had to be respirated manually. Premature and weighing only about three pounds each, they spent a month in the incubator. It was a depressing time for the new parents, especially for Christine, who had to pump her breastmilk alone while waiting for the senator to come home every night so they could deliver the milk to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit).
“I used to cry just looking at them,” Christine shares. That she felt she wasn’t getting enough emotional support from her husband didn’t help. “I felt he couldn’t relate. I was being such a drama queen. But he explained to me how he felt, ‘I don’t like seeing them like that, so helpless. I want to see them home and healthy.’”
When the twins did come home, it was Senator Chiz who went around inviting everyone to visit. He still wouldn’t carry them, though. “They seemed so fragile. I only carried them after a month, when my confidence level grew.” But he admits to never changing a diaper. “Si Christine bahala don. Pag tulog na at naglalaro, ako.”
Now, he horses around with them all the time. Quino, only a year and a half old, already weighs 28 pounds and likes body-slamming the senator while playing “kabayo kabayo” on his chest. “Saaaraaap katabi,” Senator Chiz says of his children, “Lalo na’t sumiksiksik in the middle of the night, and in the morning, when they’re still drowsy. Kahit yakapin mo at halik-halikan mo, di sila makakapalag kasi mabagal pa.” A system the senator and his wife came up with to make sure Quino and Chesi are given equal parts of attention during nights is the alternate sleeping arrangement—one night it’s Chesi’s turn to sleep in her parents’ bed; the next, it’s Quino’s. And so on.
“As a dad, he’s very responsible. Maaalahanin. Kahit wala sya sa bahay, tatawag yan, ‘kumain na ba mga bata?’” says Christine. “Sometimes we have arguments about the time spent with the kids, because we’re both working, but we try our best.” Christine, an actress and singer (as a teen she was a regular on German Moreno’s “That’s Entertainment”), runs Bel Canto, a music school on Scout Borromeo, Quezon City.
They also banter about the children’s education. Senator Chiz wants the kids in school as early as now; Christine says that if “what they’re going to get from home is what they’re going to get from school (at this stage), wag na, tayo na.” In the background, as Christine explains this to me, her husband is cooing to his son: “Quino, di ba you want to go to school na?”
Chiz, the son
The senator’s parenting style couldn’t be more different than his dad’s, Salvador “Sonny” Escudero, who used to be Minister of Agriculture during the Marcos era. While the younger Escudero squeezes his time to be able to hop back in his house for an hour with his children, if his schedule permits it, the elder Escudero was always out. “But I remember when I was young, we used to go with my dad on his out of town sorties if they fell on the weekends. On weekdays he would leave early in the morning, come home late at night. My mom was also working at that time, although intermittently.”
A constant fixture in the Escudero children’s—Philip, Chiz, and Bernadette—lives was their yaya, who stayed with them for 20 years before she married and went away. Still, their mother was hands-on in her own way. “She was always there. I don’t remember her ever yelling at or spanking us. No recollection whatsoever.” Sonny Escudero, though, was another thing. “Pag galit siya katapusan na ng mundo, but as soon as nalabas niya, akala mo walang nangyari. Basta ma-release lang nya, tapos na yon. You don’t even have to kiss and make up.”
It was his father’s influence, however, that obviously got the young Chiz started in politics, according to his longtime friend, Dem Magno. The senator was just a regular guy in UP Integrated School, Dem says. “Kami yung maliliit sa klase,” he recalls. “Front of the line lagi. He was a shy, quiet person. Then little by little, he bloomed. In high school, ang goal na niya talaga (was to be in politics). In college, it turned more serious. Malaki talaga influence ng tatay niya.”
It is noteworthy, though, that the older Escudero never spoke in a single rally when his son first ran for office. “He let me do and decide on everything. The first time he heard me speak was my miting de avance na. He couldn’t believe I could speak Bicolano,” Sen. Chiz says, laughing. “So he didn’t campaign for me. I’m sure he did work in the sidelines, in the background, but he never actively stood on stage and shout, ‘iboto niyo anak ko.’ Ako din naman, nung tumakbo siya in the last elections for congressman, I never stood in any rally to say ‘iboto niyo tatay ko.’ No.”
When Sonny Escudero became congressman—an elective position, unlike the appointive position of minister—he never allowed his kids to visit him in his workplace. Chiz follows the same rule now. Quino and Chesi have yet to set foot in the Senate. “The first time I was able to visit Congress was when I was a congressman already,” Sen. Chiz says. “In fairness to my father, he never went to visit me in the nine years I was there. He only got to go back to Congress now that he’s congressman again. I adopted that rule from him.”
He explains that his father made that rule to separate his family life from politics. “Totoong dapat hiwalay yon.” Case in point: Christine isn’t your typical senator’s wife. She doesn’t attend functions; an actress for Repertory Philippines, she has a life totally removed from her husband’s world.
“When I come home, it’s a sanctuary. If I involve Christine in what I do, and we make and share the same enemies, where are you going to hide? Pag uwi mo sa bahay, ganon pa rin? Masarap pag sara mo ng pinto sa baba, wala, di na pinag-uusapan ang pulitika. Pag labas mo ng pinto, bibitbitin mo na naman. Christine does her share in connection with my work, but as much as she can, I want her to have a separate life. She doesn’t have to live the life that I’m living.”
Chiz, the dude
Not that he had to make major adjustments to his current life. According to Dem, the guy he befriended in the first grade is the same man who is, as of this writing, asking that the names of the incorporators of the remaining bidders for the Comelec’s 11.3-billion automation contract be revealed. “His feet are still on the ground,” says Dem. “the way he dresses, ganon pa rin.” The senator has only missed out once on Dem’s birthday celebration—last year, and it was because the airport where he was flying from somewhere in Mindanao had closed because of security reasons.
Though they don’t meet up as often as before, on account of the senator having kids now, Dem says that when they do, it’s still usually over a few drinks. They talk about the old times, catch up on who’s doing what, and when music from the ‘80s starts to play, Sen. Chiz will sing along—especially if it’s “If You Leave” by OMD. “It’s his way of unwinding,” Dem, who works for PCSO, surmises. “He can talk to someone without being on guard.”
One of Dem’s fondest memories of the young senator was during his birthday in fourth year high school. “Kumain kami sa Shakey’s Loyola (Katipunan),” he relates, laughing. “Eh hindi pa kami legal mag-smoke, so lumayo pa kami. Ang takot namin kasi his dad, before he became Minister of Agriculture, was Dean of Vet Med. My dad was working in UP Integrated School. Nahuli kami ng guard na nagyo-yosi sa no smoking area. Ipapahuli raw kami! Takot na takot kami, kaya umuwi kami agad. Mas nakakatakot pala pag nahuli ka ng di mo kilala!”
Another distinct memory: When the senator was courting Christine, Dem reveals, he called and asked him to come with him to Sulo Hotel, where Christine was singing in the Diwata Lounge. “Escort kunwari, alibi, inuman lang—di talaga ‘visit.’” On their way to Sulo, however, they got hungry and ate at Tapsi ni Vivian in Project 2.
And yet another, and probably the most telling of future events: A fraternity brod of the senator’s had come to Dem after Sen. Chiz had joined Alpha Phi Beta. “He told me that Chiz had said something that really made an impression on him during the initiation rites,” says Dem. Under pressure and under threat of more hazing, the would-be senator was asked: “What do you want to be in the future?”
“President of the Philippines,” he had answered.
“Nabilib yung kaibigan namin,” Dem says. “No one in his right mind would answer that during an initiation. But he did.”
Fast forward to present day. “I have a green light right now, unless I see 10 red lights,” Sen. Chiz replies when we ask him if he is running for president in 2010. “If I see a yellow light, bibilisan ko ng konti para (tuloy tuloy) na ako,” he adds, breaking out into a guffaw. “So unless I see 10 red lights…its depends,” he jokes, deliberately mangling his English, perhaps to make light of the matter. “What would be those 10 red lights? One would be if I haven’t fulfilled (what I promised on my) platform yet. Another would be that I have no chances ever of winning—but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a question of timing. If it doesn’t come now, it might not come anymore. Another one would be something beyond my control that would prevent me from running, like if I have to spend more time with my family because of a problem or a physical condition.”
He says he doesn’t want to grow old and decrepit in politics. “Given a choice, I’d rather that I be given the opportunity now, rather than at an older age, or I may not be like this anymore. What’s like this? Still intact, mind, body and soul, not eaten up by the system. Although not wanting to lose, not afraid to lose.
“Ayokong tumanda sa pulitika e. At takot ko pag tumanda ako baka pare-pareho na lang kami, di ba? So the earlier I’m given the chance, I’ll take it. Ang pinagkaiba ng bata sa matanda sa pulitika e, yung bata, ayaw matalo pero hindi takot matalo. Yung matanda, takot matalo, ayaw pang matalo. ‘I will do anything and everything to win.’ If you won’t be able to satisfy yourself, at least now you know. Kesa naman 60, 70 years old ka na, naglalaway ka pang tumakbo di ba? Suspended animation yung buhay mo, buhay ng pamilya mo kasi gusto mo e! Tama na yan. Once you’ve tried to go for it, tama na yan. You made it, fine. You don’t, tapos na yan. Pangako ko sa asawa ko, pag natalo ako sa eleksyon, that’s it. I’m done with it. What’s the point of running for senate, for congress, then losing it, then running for mayor. Ibigay mo na sa ibang tao. Pag di mo na kaya, may makakagawa ng trabahong yan.”
He may be it
It’s hard not to get caught up in Sen. Chiz’s enthusiasm. He speaks rapidly, sometimes too rapidly, words running into each other. It’s as if his speech is running alongside the speed of his thought. Then it slows down, especially when he’s talking about his kids and family, and his English curves around the soft consonants and draws out the long vowels in his Filipino. You try hard to catch the slightest bit of insincerity, like he’s “switching it on”—but you can’t. This guy’s too good to be true, you try to tell yourself, trying to be objective. But then he comes out in the trousers the stylist has picked out for him, and they’re way too short—Michael Jackson “Beat It”-days short—and you laugh at the ridiculous sight: the most popular and probably the most intelligent senator in the country twisting his ankles left and right, the pant hems flapping against his legs. His wife slaps his arm and tells him to change back into his jeans.
Nah, you decide. He’s not too good to be true.
As his friend Dem and many others have illustrated and proven, Senator Chiz is the real deal. He shares your potato chips, gets surprised when he learns he’s to pose outdoors on the jungle gym (but does so just the same), plays tricks on his kids when he leaves the house to avoid them making a fuss, and, because he likes to see his wife looking pretty, he buys her the Rajo Laurel cream strapless dress you see on these pages.
It may be precisely because of all these seemingly inconsequential, common acts, that Francis “Chiz” Escudero may have—no, be— “something more.”