If all goes well, and enough young candidates make it to the Senate, this year might well mark a “generational change” in national politics. Among the candidates counted as members of the new generation are Rep. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara and Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino, both of the Liberal Party coalition’s “Team PNoy.”
But what makes Sonny Angara’s and Bam Aquino’s candidacies even more exciting is that their successful entry to the Senate will also introduce two women of the new generation to national politics: their wives Tootsie Echauz Angara and Timi Gomez Aquino, who exemplify a new breed of political wife, one who, while remaining staunchly supportive of the career and ambitions of her husband, has marked out a career—and an identity—of her own.
Tootsie is an advertising executive at ABS-CBN, helping to package TV shows such as teleseryes to advertisers and ad agencies, and tracking ratings to make them even more attractive to the industry. Timi works on the “other” side of the advertising game, working on marketing for the consumer products giant Unilever, specifically on hair care products.
“We need to keep working,” says Tootsie, “if we want to maintain our lifestyle.” “Yes,” adds Timi, “we still need our double incomes.” They don’t say it, but I tell them over lunch that their financial independence could well be a factor in keeping their husbands honest, that plus their refusal to make extravagant, expensive demands. Oh yes, agrees Tootsie, “I think we’ll have to keep working until we’re 85 years old!”
But part of their support for their spouses also requires sacrifice. Both have taken a leave from their work, and have gone on sorties around the country to expand their husband’s coverage. Timi, Bam’s wife of seven months, says that at the beginning, she needed to take antidiarrheal tablets every time she was required to give a campaign speech. “It’s not so bad now,” she adds. “I just avoid eating before I have to give a speech.”
Both are also discomfited by how “personal” some attacks on their husbands have been. But, they shrug, “they only need to look at their track records to realize how qualified they are for the post of senator.”
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Tootsie herself has lost 10 pounds since she embarked on the campaign trail, although she says she enjoys her time on the road, to the extent of planning “food trips” during campaign stops.
“He’s the shy type,” Tootsie describes Sonny, even if she says she feels no need to burnish or exaggerate his credentials and accomplishments during his three terms in the House. “I just tell them the truth,” she says of her campaign style, noting that because of his championing of bills that deal with education and the expansion of the senior citizen law, “young people and senior citizens love him.”
That constituency might well include women as well, since he was one of the authors of the Magna Carta of Women and worked very hard to shepherd the bill through the legislative warrens. This may well be, as his supporters put it, because Sonny is a staunch believer in gender equality, not just in politics or in law, but especially in his family and household. His mother Gloria has long been an active supporter and campaigner, while Tootsie says she saw proof of his qualities as a husband and father when he took over the reins of raising their three young children when she underwent treatment for a brain tumor.
No wonder Tootsie says that all she has to do to “sell” her husband to voters is “to talk about what he has done, the laws he has worked for, and what he is as a husband and father.”
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Timi says she went into a relationship with Bam not knowing of his ultimate plans to join politics, even if she knew his heart was not in business or profit but in public service. She has met the women entrepreneurs being empowered through the “Hapinoy” movement of which Bam is cofounder. And she is proudest of the fact that, despite his excellent academic credentials, a life of service is what he has chosen.
She tells of how P-Noy himself has boasted of being in the trenches of campaigns with Bam when Bam was just seven years old, talking before groups in the aftermath of the Ninoy assassination, and during the campaign for Cory. “And it was this experience that shaped his life decisions,” she says, still with a trace of awe in her voice. “This is what the Aquinos have in their blood: service,” she declares.
But as a boyfriend and husband, she says, “Bam is so sweet. That is how he won me over. He really knows how to turn on the charm.”
Her father, who is a doctor, once asked Timi: “What is wrong with Bam?” Apparently, he was concerned about her future husband’s seeming aversion to money matters despite his being internationally acknowledged as a young achiever. “But that is precisely why I fell in love with him,” she admits.
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It is exciting to imagine the role of two women like Tootsie and Timi not merely as “Senate wives,” but as the most influential persons whose views and attitudes could very well shape the opinions of their husbands and the legislation that will result from these same opinions.
There is change afoot in national politics, change that could usher in reforms and social movements that would move us away from calcified norms and attitudes. I have no doubt that Bam and Sonny could take the lead in this movement for change, and I am equally sure that behind them, cheering, if not pushing them on, will be Timi and Tootsie. But first, we have to make their husbands win.