Thursday, October 18, 2012

Meeting Tingting: Wife, Mother, and Politician

It's always interesting to meet well-known personalities; more so, when I get to chat with them and find out that we have things in common after all.

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of meeting and dining with Ms. Margarita "Tingting" Cojuangco at her home in Dasmarinas Village, Makati. She is a gracious host who gamely answered my, and my friends', questions. We chatted over dinner and marveled at her art and antique collections which were prominently displayed all over their home.

Being a mother of four boys, I was fascinated to know that Ma'am Tingting has five daughters! I'm only familiar with Mikee and China and didn't know they have three other sisters. For a change, it was nice to know more about them from their own mom instead of just reading articles online or offline.

Ma'am Tingting showed us an old photo with her girls. Lia is a doctor; Phine is a businesswoman; Mikee (as most of us know) is an equestrianne, movie and television actress, and civic worker; MaiMai, who has been living in Italy for the past 12 years or so, is a fashion designer for Segue and Benetton; and China, the youngest, is a chef and TV/stage actress.

The former governor of Tarlac said that when it came to her kids' careers, "I have no say in those. I only had a say when they wanted to go abroad. I thought that they could go abroad for their masteral degrees but not high school and college. She explained, "I think they should remain [longer] with the family. Because, taken from my example, when I married my husband, I was only 18. I've been married to him already for 40-odd years! Like our children, they end up living with their spouses longer than they did with their parents. So I didn't want to let them go." 

"I believe in having a strong family. Family is where you build a strong foundation My children used to come with me everywhere [when they were still young]," revealed Ma'am Tingting. "My daughters are very competitive. All of them. They really strive, they work hard. I think that's my trait." Although she was a ballet dancer, none of Ma'am Tingting's girls became one. "Lia was a bowling champion, MaiMai and China played softball and football. Phine [loves] baking. Mikee [learned to love horseback riding]. I used to ride a lot in a riding school and I would bring Mikee along all the time. She has a lot of heart because [when riding horses], you fall down [but] you get back up again."

The proud mom further reminisced that when Mikee was still a young girl, "She was disciplined enough to wake up at five o'clock in the morning to ride her horse, either in Tarlac or Batangas, and then come back [home] to go to school. She [made sure] to be out of the house by five to go riding, everyday, since she was 13. Very disciplined. Talagang that's her passion."

Since Mikee also entered show business, I asked Ma'am Tingting if she ever became a stage mom. "No, I get nervous!" she exclaimed. "When Mikee used to act, I think I only went to one rehearsal. And I'm so amazed at how everybody can remember their lines and their cues. It's hard!"

She then recalled the first time Mikee was asked to act in a movie. "Cirio Santiago, the owner of Premier Productions, came here with Fernando Poe Jr. because they were thinking of a movie where Mikee could ride a horse and play the younger sister of FPJ who was friends with Peping (her husband)." Mr. Cojuangco, at the time, was against movies where his children would be starring in. "[The reason] why very few people know my elder children is because istrikto si Peping. [Cirio and FPJ] came here twice, actually, and so Peping consented."

China, who also got bitten by the acting bug currently attends a lot of rehearsals revealed her mom. "She'll come home late and wake up late. [It made me think,] 'Ganito ba 'pag nasa play? Nasa sine?' Peping said, 'I think you'd better stop.' But I've always encouraged China to express herself. She's coming out in a play [called] Katy so she's back into acting. She's attached to Gantimpala Theater. I used to get the funding for them for shows and then they brought Ibong Adarna to different provinces."

"MaiMai likes [having] a lot of clothes but she works a lot with her hands. She asked to go to Italy for schooling and she went to [one] that's attached to the New York School for Design." described the doting mom. "She realized after one year that she wanted to make handbags. So, she makes handbags. She got married already to an Italian and they have a three-year-old child. They visit twice a year and I visit them also twice a year. I miss her a lot. I talk to her every Sunday and we text everyday. But it's so different, it's so sad."

She shared she gets to Skype with MaiMai when Phine comes to visit. "I don't know how to do those things eh. I dislike myself for not knowing. I can type but I cannot use the computer," admitted Ma'am Tingting. "I think eventually, I'll learn. Sa Facebook muna ako; one at a time."

At the moment, two of her children also live in Dasma Village while Mikee lives farther in Valle Verde. China still lives in the family home. "We get together on Sundays. But, if you have girls, when you're not feeling well, like when Peping has high blood, they come," described Ma'am Tingting. "It's nice to have girls, actually. When they're not feeling well, I'm the one who rush to their houses. [No matter how old they get], you'll never cease to be a mother."

Four of her girls have already given Ma'am Tingting grandchildren she adores. Six of them are boys, "The boys I never had," she wistfully said and added that she spoils the little ones. "They call me Wawa. I let them touch anything they like and that means a lot. I don't restrict them. And then I give them chocolates and potato chips when it's not supposed to be done," she confided with a big smile.

Displayed around the Cojuangco home are various items that range from wood carvings and metal containers to paintings and cloths. "Peping says there are ghosts in the house because of them," chuckled Ma'am Tingting. She showed us the Amorsolo painting given to her by her mother. "Amorsolo was a casual friend of my Lolo. When [the painter] needed money to buy a car, my grandfather was working in a car company and [Amorsolo] gave that in exchange for a loan."

Aside from serving as Tarlac governor for two terms (1992-1998), Ma'am Tingting is a Full Colonel of the Philippine Army's Reserve Forces (since 1989). She's also the current President of Public Safety College (since 2004) which is the premier educational institution for training, human resource development and continuing education of all personnel of the Philippine National Police, the Bureau of Fire Protection, and Bureau of Jail Management and Penology. "It's a big sacrifice to be a uniformed personnel," she illustrated. "My years in Public Safety College taught me that the police are not bad [and that] every person has to have some encouragement and dignity."

Ma'am Tingting, who is running for senator in 2013, acknowledged that there are many ways to serve the country but if she gets elected to the senate, among other things, "I'll be able to make policies that will help public safety and peace."

I wanted to ask her more questions about current issues that are plaguing our nation but it was getting late so I've reserved my curiosity for a later date. I hope I'll get another chance to talk to her in the future. All in all, it was a fine evening of stimulating conversations and good food with great company.

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