Breaking down the notions of predisposition and privilege, Frankie Pangilinan is proving to be the voice of reason we all need to listen to, especially at a time like this.
“What book are you reading now?” I ask Frankie Pangilinan, primarily to deflate our usually kilometric Instagram correspondence. “I’m re-reading The Life And Struggle Of Edgar Jopson,” she promptly replies, followed by a trail of the internet equivalent of syllabicated crying. “Indeed very apt for now. Stole it from Dad again. I’m counting the days ‘til he notices.”
It is a little bit of a known fact that she likes to run her fingers through the spines of her father’s library of literature, sometimes even taking a special penchant for some by borrowing it even if she’s read it twice. However, unlike that scene in Beauty and the Beast where the bookseller gifts her the title because she liked it all that much, this one had no far off places, daring sword fights, a prince in disguise. Instead, it traces the life and times of Edgar Jopson, a man of considerable privilege who gave it all up to join the underground movement during Martial Law, where the eventual martyr of the regime already earned the ire for being a student and political activist, turned intriguing figure of the First Quarter Storm. To some, it might seem like a lofty title to take a liking to, but for Frankie Pangilinan, it is but a manifestation of her many human interests, one that she shares with her father, Senator Francis Pangilinan. And in a time unprecedented, it appears to be the one that precisely matters the most.
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You see, while the Pangilinan household may seem unattainable for some, Frankie maintains that despite whatever they are predisposed to, they will always be a normal family, one that enjoys the luxury of sharing meals at one table where discussion and discourse is very much encouraged. “The regular routine would be to sit with him at the dinner table and grill him with questions. It’s been this way since I was little,” she shares. “He has a habit of explaining decisions and choices to the very last detail so that it’s easier for us to understand why they’re made. But as I got older, I found myself asking for more, especially when it came to his work. I tend to borrow his books (more like momentarily steal), his documents, his minutes. I’ve always had an obsession with reading those because I figure few people have that kind of access, and it would be foolish to deny oneself an entire education, just sitting there, hidden between scrap paper and muddy pages.”
However, due to what was then the relatively early lashes of the coronavirus, they both had to be quarantined—him due to exposure at work, and for Frankie’s potential exposure at the airport on the way home. This was the point when the highly contested and hotly discussed Bayanihan We Heal As One Act was in its early stages, and just like the rest of the country, she had questions. “I’m usually awake anyway, perpetually awake. But what kept me awake that particular evening was not the usual creative overflow or intense writing, which tends to keep me up most days. It was fear, a kind of terror which I’ve only ever heard about in history books—the kind which is usually taught to have been overcome,” she recalls of what urged her to text her father with what we all wanted to know then. “I realize that that sounds incredibly fantastic and might be worth mocking to some, but I’ve chosen these words with care and I’m being honest. It was strange to feel already so unsettled and anxious about this unprecedented global pandemic, but to also come to terms with the realization that the establishment, which fundamentally exists for the protection and guidance of our countrymen’s best interests may have been intentionally operating against them.”
The information she had then could have easily ended between the father and daughter, chalked up to their usual back-and-forths, but nudged by a bigger responsibility, one that she holds a firm grip on through having her ears pressed to the ground of social media, she shared the exchange on Twitter to primarily deflate the cloud of uncertainty keeping everyone with even an ounce of concern up that particular night. “I saw that Twitter was stirring with rightful rage and so, as my Dad informed me that the bill was redrafted, I felt the push to inform others, because it had significantly eased my worries. It was a kind of minimal peace I could offer in these troubling times. It felt selfish to keep it to myself, then. So, there was a sort of responsibility to put it out there,” she says.
Aside from being compelled to function as a liaison between the public and political, this circumstance was an exercise in sculpting an opinion in a time where it is so easily peddled just because, with nary a consideration for thought and information. “It was important for me to understand, to have this conversation in order to fully comprehend the value of such decisions before formulating my own opinions or thoughts,” she explains. “To blatantly accept things as they are, without context nor provision, is unacceptable in this ever changing socio-political landscape. People my age truly need to fully wake up and gain the awareness that just because things may not affect us personally does not mean they are not of worth. In fact, I believe that from my position of privilege, things that don’t affect me tend to be worth a whole lot more than the things that do. Transparency and accountability is what the Filipinos deserve, most especially at this time of severe unrest where people aren’t experiencing the safety and security they should have.”
When all that was put to bed very early in the morning, how did she finally settle with the rabid ringing of responsibility and recourse? “I slept relatively soundly,” she says.
ON HER OWN
Now, this isn’t the first time Frankie Pangilinan is speaking up. While she has maintained a relatively low profile over the years despite her pedigree and predisposition for the spotlight, she was never one to stay silent, especially when it comes to things that matter to her, family ranking high up that list, of course. Remember when the President himself insinuated that her parents were embroiled in marital trouble, and that he would resign if proven otherwise? Well, the outspoken young’un didn’t hold back, quickly displacing a sense of anonymity doing what was just right, defending the honor of her family.
Or how about the time when enraged by the arrest of 21 Sitio San Roque residents who were protesting for the lack of food, she was quick to swoop in and sponsor bail for one while her parents covered the other 20? “I’m sorry really sorry, I don’t normally put that stuff out here, but nanginginig ako sa galit, and they need to be set free and the faster we can get this done the better,” she writes on Twitter.
While operating on a completely personal space, eloquently articulating convictions with an emotional depth and brevity that is infinitely admirable, Frankie Pangilinan has been inadvertently thrust into a landscape where worlds and opinions collide on exponential, by-the-second increments. It isn’t exactly uncharted territory, but for someone who not only constantly owns up to the liberties accorded to her, consistently defraying it with a currency of apology, she is merely doing what is not only right, but human. “I’m a whole woman with a brain, okay?” she tweets following the response to the Sitio San Roque incident. “Like, still growing up and def still learning, but don’t come for my parents or my family if you disagree with me, because I’m the one who would be held accountable for my own choices and actions, and I am committed to growth.”
We’ve said this before and we will say it again and again: Frankie Pangilinan may be young, but she is wise well beyond her years, putting to shame even those twice and thrice her age. Where there exists an enviable sense of idealism akin to an untainted youth, she is impressively anchored to the realities of our times, perhaps even more so than those who aren’t as privileged as her. Chalking up to the way she was raised by her parents, as well as of her own acute understanding of the inequalities and imbalance to the societal equilibrium, her point-of-view is not only educated, but also empathetic.
“I’m my own person now. I figure, at some point, our views will intensely diverge in the future. I guess, in simplest terms, I’m not opposed to fighting for what I believe is inherently right, even if that means opposing my Dad. I don’t have political loyalties. It just so happens my Dad’s ideals tend to align with my own,” she explains. “I think at the end of the day, that’s what politics is—its when people seek to achieve the same ends, albeit through different means. As you mentioned, a lot of families, I think in the Philippine especially, may already struggle with opposing or non-correlating beliefs, but as with anything to do with human nature, those well-intentioned can always get involved in healthy discourse, fuelled by intention to communicate, and not by selfish agenda. It’s about putting aside pride and being open-minded to the extent that we can truly listen to each other without simply waiting to respond.”
Just the like the rest of us, Frankie Pangilinan is taking matters into her own hands, when and where necessary. But most importantly, it is something that is completely of her own making, even the so-called burden heaved on her shoulders by a world before her. “I think that my privilege is precisely that—my responsibility. To have these opportunities, like being able to speak up, I think that’s exactly what privilege is. My parents raised us in such a way that always reminds us why we’re here and how we can do better for others,” she affirms. “I don’t know how to explain it—the culture at home, I feel, is very different from what people perceive it to be. We never ask for things we don’t need. If there are any wants, we have to save up for ourselves or wait for birthdays and Christmas. And there are consistent reminders from our parents that not everybody can afford this phone or those school supplies or even that blanket. We get in trouble when we keep the lights or air-condition on in the room because we need to save energy and keep the energy bill low. When I was younger, it felt annoying almost, how everything I did or used began to be stained with a certain level of guilt because of those constant reminders. But now, I find it’s kept me grounded in a way I can’t thank my parents enough for. Everything is a privilege if you can take it for granted. They taught me to never take those things for granted, ever and this platform is one of those things. I didn’t ask for it, it’s a great blessing. Now, I feel it’s simply my turn to make use of it, to not be a waste of such opportunities that are so rare in this third world country.”
There is a lesson to learn here, and while the older folk would furrow their brows and maybe even roll their eyes, it is something that everyone should start taking to heart, especially in this unprecedented upheaval. Now isn’t the time to sit still in comfort and convenience knowing that the rest of the world gets pummelled by the great inequalities that gnaw at the very foundation we stand on. It is very easy to just watch with hands held up as if to signal no accountability, but make no mistake about it, all our actions and inactions contribute to where the compass of our lives will point to next. Look, mountains being moved did not build glorious civilizations of a bygone era, but rather a cumulative stacking of rocks to form the groundwork of significant shift in history.
Piecing her own fragments and casting it to the grander design of what is bound to be, Frankie Pangilinan is taking bigger, bolder strides in getting the message of the youth across to where it needs to be. She has raised her voice along with ours, and now, it is time we make that change happen, according to how we want it, and not the other way around, because our future is at stake here, too.
“To be honest, I can’t ever see myself formally entering the political sphere, which may come as a surprise to some, for precisely the reason that I see what it does to my Dad. I don’t think I’m brave enough. And there are people much better suited, much more educated in experience, particularly to do with the masa. It’s such a privilege and an honor to be able to look up to my Dad and his strength and integrity in such a time when so many public figures are unraveling and coming to terms with their own misguided values,” she elucidates as we round the corner of this deep and critical context of concern. “While, in a third world country, we may be somewhat accustomed to operating under a system which does not always work for us, we should never settle. There is always betterment there for those who wish to seek it, in any aspects of life. This is the purpose of governance, to change lives for the better, never to threaten them.”
It doesn’t need to be necessary political, as she ascertains, but this is profoundly personal for Frankie Pangilinan, who is by all means and accounts necessary, braver than she can ever imagine.