Our friendship started in 2001. As congressman then, he passed the censorship-exempt lower house version of what became RA 9167, or “An Act Creating The Film Development Council of the Philippines.”
But the censorship-free draft died in the Senate Bicameral Committee after (some) movie industry leaders told conservative senators the problems of local cinema only had to do with money and not with censorship.
My husband Carlitos was then president of the Directors’ Guild of the Philippines. Like me, he appreciated that this congressman delivered what the other entertainment-based legislators could not.
Francis Joseph Guevara Escudero did not win the bill, but his steady efforts won us over. Completely.
Now, everything’s been thrown at Chiz, including the cliché of a kitchen sink, only because he loves and is loved in return.
If he’s hurting, he doesn’t show it, and even manages to joke, “Kulang na lang sabihin na ako ang pumatay kay Rizal (They stop short of saying I slew the National Hero, Rizal).”
As well as calm down friends—most especially this writer—who bristle at “walang nagawa (accomplished nothing)” accusations.
“Look, guys,” he’d say, “kayo’ng nakakaalam kung ano na’ng mga nagawa ko (you’re the ones who know what I’ve done), so relax.”
As his “frenemy (friend and enemy),” I go down the list of his accomplishments in his first term as senator: His Zero Backlog program created 281 additional courts to ease congestion in the hearing of court cases nationwide; he heard and acted upon all the 645 bills referred to his committees; public markets undergoing construction and renovation in all cities and municipalities in the country received P500,000 each from his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF); he allocated his PDAF to all regional hospitals; he filed 149 bills as principal author, and authored/sponsored 63 Laws.
I ask him to recite the list out, or just the laws, the Republic Act this, the Republic Act that, at the movie press conference tendered by “Mother” Lily Monteverde last May 1, but he refuses.
“I feel uncomfortable parroting out my achievements. May press kit naman (there’s a press kit), from there they’ll find out. Nakakahiya kung ako ang magbando (it’s embarrassing to have to tell them myself).”
It was from the late Fernando Poe Jr. that he learned, “Pag tumutulong ka, hindi mo na dapat ipaalam sa iba (When you help others, you don’t need to tell the whole world).”
And from his father, the recently departed Salvador H. Escudero III, “Hindi mo dapat sumbatan ang mga tinulungan mo (Do not remind those you’ve helped of what you’ve given them).”
His mentors are gone, but the lessons they’ve instilled in him continue to live.
No wonder he’s on even keel.
I cannot count the activists and old university professors he’s given guarantee letters to, for treatment in government hospitals. He does not hem and haw, or reason out “Pula iyan, ayokong magbigay sa kaliwa (He’s a Red; I don’t like helping leftists).” But he will not name or brag about whom he’s given aid.
“The money’s not mine, it’s merely entrusted to me,” he says. “No one also likes asking for help when sick, hindi fair para sa mga natulungan ko kung magne-name-drop
pa ako kung sinu-sino sila (it’s not fair to those I’ve helped if I reveal their identities).”
After bringing my daughter to the US to study in 2008, Carlitos left for the first semester of his teaching stint at the New York University’s Tisch Asia in Singapore. We’d just moved into a new place, most of our stuff were still in boxes. Every time I’d take out an item, I’d burst into tears.
Chiz called me the evening of that crying jag of a day to ask about some unrelated thing.
“Why are you crying?” he asked. I explained why so, and he was there in less than an hour, helping me unpack, cracking jokes so corny that soon enough I was laughing.
Sometime early 2005, while doing chemotherapy for breast cancer, I saw him on TV, delivering an angry speech as House Minority Floor Leader. I informed him through text that I was watching. He read the text only after his speech, and had already left the lectern; still, he peeped in again, to wave at me.
He’s become an older brother to my children. He sees my daughter in a gathering and he introduces her around, “Hulaan mo kung sino’ng nanay nito, di ka maniniwala (Guess whose daughter she is, you won’t believe it).” He also banters with my son.
Chiz teases Carlitos, because he thinks my husband owns a sorry lot of cars.
“Kung magmahal ka ng kotse, parang pagmamahal mo sa asawa. Matanda na, talagang di mo papalitan (You love your cars like you love your old wife)!”
In pain, I’ve seen him put others before self. When his marriage ended, one of the first things he did was take up cooking lessons. He explained, “I want to give the twins a childhood memory of a parent puttering about in the kitchen.”
The painting of his former wife Christine he also did not take off the wall.
“She’s the mother of my kids. I want them to adjust to her absence first before I take the painting down. Ayokong biglain ang mga bata (I don’t want to startle the kids).”
As much as he can, he goes home to have dinner with his Chesi and Quino. He puts them to sleep, they stay in his bed. The boy is my inaanak (godson); he shares his dad’s wicked sense of humor.
Making an arrangement disallowing “sexy women” to visit, one night Quino walked in to find me in a meeting with his father. Chiz goes, “Quino, si Nangnang, o?”
“OK lang, Daddy, hindi naman siya sexy,” the little boy quipped. That was a story Sonny Escudero loved hearing over and over again the last week of his life.
Blessing in disguise
What’s hard about this campaign, Chiz reveals, is not the brickbats thrown at him by the various vested-interest personalities out to benefit from a non-stellar Escudero final ranking in the midterm senatorial elections.
“It’s having to go home as much as I can, as often as I can be home, to be with Chesi and Quino. Dati kasi ang Mommy ko, nasasamahan sila pag wala ako (My mother used to pinch-hit for me in my absence). Pero kandidato rin siya ngayon (But she’s running for election herself), so I’m parenting on top of campaign duties.
“Which is a blessing in disguise,” he continues. “The kids stop me from being angry, from entertaining negative thoughts. Makita ko lang sila, maamoy ko, mayakap, OK na ako (I see them, smell them, hug them, and I’m OK).”
It doesn’t take much to make my friend happy. He’s a simple guy, a provinciano through and through, and he’s proud of it.
For instance, he spent a couple of hours with us the first day of my father-in-law Leonardo Siguion-Reyna’s wake, in December of 2010. Soon after he left, the chapel workers brought in a huge flower arrangement that came, they said, with six fancy-style bilao of kakanin (six native trays of Filipino merienda), all from Senator Escudero.
I rang him up, “Hey, Chiz, thank you for the flowers and the food.”
“What flowers, what food?” he wanted to quickly know. “What’s the name on the wreath?”
“Hoy, ano ka ba? Hindi kami iyan. Pamilya lang kami, hindi kami Familia (Hey, that’s not us, we’re not to the manor born)!”
It’s going to take more than a kitchen sink to do my buddy in.