26 realities in the life of a Congresswoman

1. It is a crash course on how not to take things personally. If you don’t do this, you will become old, ugly, and bitter. That is why you must cultivate a mindset that whatever happens is all just part of a day’s work — when people are rude, or mean, or when your political enemy picks on you like it is his favorite hobby, be the better person and get on positively with your life and what you are mandated to do. Just move on. Other people’s bad behavior is a reflection of what’s within themselves; it is not about you. They can choose you to be their scapegoat, you have no control over that, but they don’t have to be your excuse to also act like them.

2. You cannot please everyone, and what you do may never be enough. Just keep doing your good anyway, it will count for something in the long run. Besides, Rome was not built in one day. On that note, budgeting is an art that needs to be coupled with wisdom and prayers. Because funds will never be enough. For instance, every barangay wants a multipurpose covered court, even if a paved road or two extra classrooms happen to be the more important need. Sometimes they cannot distinguish their wants (a crown and a big party for the town queen on the occasion of their fiesta) from their needs — potable water and an efficient rural health unit or barangay health station. Part of a representative’s job is not to cave in to the demand and instead make them understand and appreciate the wiser course of action.

3. When giving a speech, a representative must always take note of government officials and other personalities that must be individually mentioned, ideally according to rank. Normally, to make life easier, a representative assigns a member of his/her staff to take note of dignitaries present in the room and a piece of paper containing that information is handed to him/her right before the speech. It can be downright embarrassing and potentially even offensive when someone is left out. It is wise to check pronunciation of uncommon names/family names, too, as a sign of respect.

4. Often, you just grin and bear it. To keep the peace especially, you do that. There will be times when those you work with fall short, and to cover up they make all sorts of excuses, or hide behind all kinds of reasons. Sometimes you are taken for a fool and you have to know when you should play along or when you must put your foot down. You do not have to win an argument or be proven right all the time; sometimes you stand to gain more in the long run by choosing to save a relationship or mend a broken bridge even if that means making the other person believe he was able to successfully take you for a ride. Tito Douglas taught me that: to graciously stretch patience and allow others to save face. Be careful, though, that this is not abused, as it can have vicious consequences.

5. We are not gods, and we do not claim to have super powers; but the name of a representative is used and misused often. Usually by people who think our title is enough to get them a discount, wriggle themselves out of a traffic altercation, cut the line, trim red tape, get people to say yes even for matters that are not official.

6. There will always be people that will be hard to take and some even harder to figure out. The reverse is true, too, of course and when you find those who are intrinsically kind and honorable as evidenced in the way they conduct their affairs and how honorable they are in terms of standing by their word, keep and value them. In a world where alliances are loosely made and political survival is a reality, they are hard to come by.

7. We are issued Diplomatic Passports. Each time we use these we ask for a travel authority from the Speaker’s Office.

8. This job is fattening. Food follows us everywhere we go. During committee meetings in the House of Representatives, there are sandwiches and cakes and coffee and soda. When we do our rounds in the district, turning over projects, cutting the ribbon, there is always lechon, native kakanin or some delicious home-cooked meal. In the lounge attached to the Plenary, the food is always good. Every meeting, no matter how brief, has food in it. It is glorious, but it can be terrible on the figure. It is so easy to get fat.

9. We use custom-made dry seals on all our official correspondence. As a safeguard. Each representative can have his own dry seal, of his own design.

10. Lawyers are essential to the staff. There are endless documents to peruse, draft and sign. Having lawyers at the ready to go through each page is imperative.

11. We always have token giveaways and gifts at the ready. Public service is about relating to people and for me giving token gifts is, very simply put, the language of gratitude. In the same way that we give gifts at Christmas, throughout the ordinary days there are many people to thank, the very people who help make the job lighter than it actually is — the health worker who did an exceptional job during a medical mission; the housewife who helped organize the tree-planting activity; the cook who whipped up meals for an entire barangay at the shortest notice; the clerk who took the initiative to make extra copies and file all papers carefully. Plus there are endless weddings and birthdays and baptisms. These gifts need not be expensive, but it is important that they thoughtful, useful and nice. If they can be all three all at once, then all the better.

12. We must always bring cash in small bills, and in my case a lot of crisp 20-peso ones when attending fiestas. The latter is for the curacha, a dance all government officials are subjected to during fiestas in the province. The curacha is a dance of courtship between birds or chickens, as they fluff their feathers and flirt with each other, and basically it is a dance that simulates that courtship. There are flailing arm movements to mimic the flapping of the wings, the shaking of the hips is ever present, and flamboyant spins and curvy turns as they chase each other. It is fascinating when done really well, and just plain funny and silly when not. In any case, it is always entertaining to watch and makes for a happy heart. How do the 20-peso bills factor in? These are thrown high up in the air and it is poetic when you see them all flutter down to the floor. At the end of the dance, the money is swept together and bundled up in a bandana and added to the funds of the barangay. It really is more fun in the Philippines.

13. You must keep everything on file. And all correspondence must have a receiving copy. The district you represent is not the only one all these government agencies attend to and a lot of the letters sent could get buried under a mountain of other documents. Sometimes it gets stuck on the desk of the one who received it. So if you do not hear back from the person you wrote to after two weeks, do call and follow up. When they say they never received it you can always show the receiving copy as proof. Always write down notes and ideas; you lose them easily in the course of the day. I always make notes to myself, and I have endless lists. Keep business cards and make notes on them before storing them on file so you can remember who does what.

14. You have to be even more of your already best self. Be more efficient, more tolerant, more patient, more persevering, more forgiving, more loving, more mature. Wag mapagaptol, talo ang pikon. Yes, you cannot be easily irritated and neither can you be onion-skinned. Having those two traits will leave you disheartened and unproductive.

15. It’s good to have mentors. There are a lot of brilliant minds in Congress. Especially for a neophyte like me, I always ask a veteran public servant for guidance when I am faced with a situation I am uncertain about. Ask, observe, learn. Listen to your gut but open your eyes and mind and absorb lessons from the past, even if that has to be vicarious. Also, generally speaking there is an unspoken brotherhood among representatives. There is a predisposition to help each other. Ideas and valuable nuggets of wisdom abound. It is a lot like being in school but better because you need not compete against each other since you serve different districts anyway. In Congress, there are always many people to run to for help.

16. We follow a strict dress code in the plenary. For women, we are encouraged to wear Filipiniana on Mondays and on other days, business attire. Arms and thighs should never be exposed. Men should always be in a barong or a suit jacket; short sleeves are not allowed.

17. Just because two representatives take opposing stands on an issue and debate heatedly on the floor does not mean they are not or cannot be friends. It is not entirely uncommon to chance upon them sharing a meal in the lounge minutes after a very heated debate.

18. We don’t always go around with a prepared speech in our pocket. Most of the time we are asked to speak when we least expect it and especially as we do the rounds in the barangays, everything is informal and warm and just spontaneous. Basically, we just relate to whoever the audience is. But a speechwriter does come in handy especially for all those souvenir programs that ask for messages.

19. Never be too quick to judge others based on how they look. Sometimes, the sternest faces will break into easy smiles and be the simplest and most refreshingly straightforward to talk to, while the kindest face can camouflage a harsh tongue and flip-flopping attitude.

20. Not all Cabinet Secretaries respond to letters. Some will come through with their promises, others will promise to help just to get the meeting over with, and you out of the way. Some will say “Call me” but will never answer your call later. You try not to intrude and send a text message instead but even that goes unanswered. Which leads me to the next item…

21. Have a thick face. Your survival depends on that. If a representative gets disheartened after one “no,” there will be little hope for the district he/she represents. Like his/her title suggests, a representative “represents” the people; he/she is the voice of his/her constituency. Not knocking on doors and asking for help and assistance that can be brought to the many needy people in the district is tantamount to falling short of the mandate that was entrusted to you.

22. We do not have the power to bilocate. As much as we want to be there for every affair in eachbarangay, whether it is a fiesta, a baptism, a birthday party, the crowning of the town queen, sessions and committee meetings are held in the Batasan. The government agencies that are authorized to help and implement the government’s projects are in Manila. The bulk of the work that needs to be done happens in Manila. So please understand that we cannot be here and there at the same time. For as long as we deliver projects and services efficiently, for as long as lives and the economy is better, know that the job is being done faithfully.

23. It is a fulfilling job, and gives one a real sense of purpose. As representatives, we are in a position to do more than just say “I’m sorry” or “Kawawa ka naman, I will pray for you.” We can always help, maybe not by fully paying off the entire medical bill, especially if it runs in the hundreds of thousands, but we can help nonetheless and no one has to be turned away with nothing at all. You can also link the person in need to the right people, sometimes it can be as simple as that. There always are options to exhaust.

24. You see both sides of life, and that always teaches you to be compassionate. It is easy to be so comfortable in your own little corner of the world, sheltered from the harsh realities others have to live with on a daily basis. But just because you don’t see it happening does not mean it is not happening at all. What is taken for granted by us — things like light, electricity, abundant and potable water — can be a luxury to others. You learn to be more mindful of everyday blessings and not take things for granted. This job teaches you to expand and stretch your heart beyond its limits.

25. Meetings should not last longer than an hour, at the maximum. To be productive we all must make efficient use of time. Always go to a meeting prepared, don’t take up too much of the other person’s time. You are not the only entry in his/her planner.

26. Inattentiveness is the highest form of rudeness. However brief or long a meeting is, afford the other person your full presence. The basic rules of courtesy and respect apply.


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