In September 2014, I met Tootsy Echauz-Angara for a Metro Society cover story (with Heart Evangelista and Shalani Soledad). My interview with her started (as I try to with any subject) by establishing a connection between us. In this case, it was easy: I called her mom Tita Baboo, who supported my nanay’s book on EDSA and put out money for it without hesitation, who had (with Tita Laida) fed me so well on a spur-of-the-moment trip to Baguio in 2013, smarting as I was from a hit against me by Esquire Philippines. We didn’t talk about it, but I could only be thankful that there were Titas to make me feel like it did not matter.
Tootsy would be one of the more memorable interviews I’d do that year, mainly because she seemed removed from the enterprise that is being a magazine cover girl, even as there she was, having her hair done and her face made up, cracking jokes and making chika, no pretensions. She would also go back, fall back, on talking about her mother and how she is kept grounded by Tita Baboo, how it is her mother’s voice that keeps her head above water and beyond the trappings of whatever position she might hold.
Here are excerpts from that feature on Tootsy entitled “Funny Girl,” which was published in the October 2014 Metro Society issue.
A tribute to Tita Baboo in her daughter’s words.
Tootsy Echauz-Angara ironically makes the news because we know so little about her, yet she reveals so much of herself in those little moments when the camera might capture her beside her husband Senator Sonny Angara.
Say, during the 2013 Senatorial campaign when she became the other Mrs. Angara who campaigned for Sonny, as she and her mother-in-law took on their share of the campaign trail. Then, the stories about Echauz-Angara were also about her upbringing, growing up in the mountains of the Cordilleras as she did during Martial Law, as her mother integrated with the rebels and the little girl learned about sharing and kindness from strangers.
The other story of course is that of her having survived neurosurgery to remove a tumor from her brain, when the senator-to-be took on the role of mother in stride, and saw his wife and family through a trial they would all ultimately survive.
Once her husband won the Senate seat, Echauz-Angara went back to her private life of being mother and working woman, rarely in the limelight, and choosing if and when she might appear with her husband in public and political outings.
The annual State of the Nation Address is one such event, and for two consecutive years Echauz-Angara would be in the news for superficial media’s best-dressed lists. This year more than last year it seems, as for 2014 she wore a Rajo Laurel gown made of woven cloth from Narda, a Baguio weaving icon.
It was heritage as fashion as political statement. But also it was just this independent woman of Manila proudly paying tribute to her Cordillera roots.
Between two cities
Echauz-Angara talks animatedly about growing up between Baguio and Manila, cracking jokes about how long ago it was, and what it was like for her in retrospect.
Settling down in Baguio after EDSA, she speaks fondly of that space as the home she will always go back to because her mother, writer and artist Baboo Mondoñedo, resides there. As a teenager though, the thought of living in Manila was about being able to spend time with her father, businessman Toots Echauz, as it was about hearing from cousins what it was like.
“It is so not pang-Metro Society, but the idea for me was like lumuwas ako ng Maynila,” she laughs. “I wanted to go to Manila because I saw the life of my cousins, and saw that there was so much more out there. And because anyway Baguio was something I could come back to, because my mom’s still there.”
But the simple carefree childhood that the Cordilleras afforded her could only be up against Manila as the center of commerce and development. It was enough to worry her mother.
“She wanted to make sure, what she said to me was: make sure you don’t become burgis. Don’t become materialistic,” Echauz-Angara says with a smile. “My dad was opposite kase of her, he was a businessman, he was into sailing.”
“If my mom was all about being down to earth, my dad taught me the value hard work, even in materialistic Manila,” she continues. “The moment I graduated from college he said to me: ‘Honey, I’m going to cut you off, no more allowance, no gas, you have to get a job.’”
It would be no surprise that she would find herself working for ABS-CBN. She had wanted to work in the news department but ended up in the position that she was told was open. “I wanted to be a journalist, a reporter. But when I went to apply, I realized I had to go the police station pala to do that,” Echauz-Angara quips. “Then they told me there was a job in sales, so I took that.”
It was a sales position that demanded of her an amount of creativity. Here, corporate Manila would find value in her Baguio background. “When they interviewed me for the job, they wanted to make sure I wasn’t just some spoiled kid with connections. So when I told them my story, my background, they said okay you’re hired. So they wanted to make sure that walang arte-arte dito, that we were willing to put in the hard work,” she explains.
Now married and with children, Baguio remains as one of two places she visits with family at least once a month – the other being Baler, from where the Angaras hail.
“I have that artistic connection to the Baguio community. My husband naman is also into the arts – he likes the young artists. So every time there’s a show, say the Baguio Arts Guild, we’d go. And my mom is also into poetry and they have poetry readings at the café, and so sometimes we go. And we want to make sure our kids are really grounded and saw a lot of nature. And Baguio is for that.”
In the present
Where she might like to live in the present, it could also so easily mean getting lost in the trappings that go with being politician’s wife. We have seen many who believed the media attention and positive mileage, and we watched how that also quickly spiraled down to shameless excess.
But Echauz-Angara is very clear about who she remains, even as she might enjoy being made-up for this cover shoot for example. “It’s more about one’s thinking. Shoots like this I enjoy, it’s fun. But when you get home you’re still who you are. When I get home, I’m still mother and wife, and homemaker. When I’m at work I’m still inuutusan forever,” she chuckles. “It’s still about being happy where you are. So here of course, I want to be pretty, I will enjoy the manicure.”
She says that her mother is like the conscience that reminds her to stay grounded, to not get sucked into the system, to not be mayabang. “My mom is like a konsensya. Super konsensya siya,” she smiles. “She has constant reminders. Of course because during the campaign she worked so hard for Sonny, and she’d always tell the two of us, stay grounded, this is all temporary.”
“But for me it’s not about getting sucked in,” Echauz-Angara continues. It’s just being versatile. I don’t want to be judgmental naman and say I’m anti-this, I’m anti-that. It’s accepting what is there, and enjoying it. It’s also accepting that being chosen as part of this cover is really because I’m with Sonny, so it’s about me being his wife.”
She pauses, and then quips: “Because honestly on my own, I don’t think naman Raul (Manzano, MS EIC) will ask me to be on the cover. He’s known me for eight years, first time niya ‘ko tinanong ‘no!”
It seems she continues to learn the lessons from her mother well. “My mom always tells me just go to the important events that will help, you have a job to do, you’re his partner, you support him. But in the end you’re still Tootsy. You’re not Mrs. Sonny Angara.”
Asked to talk about who she is, Echauz-Angara jokes: “Who am I? Parang philosophical question!” But she continues after a while: “I’m really just a funny happy girl who loves to be around a lot of people, who has a lot of friends. Maybe that’s also my influence on Sonny, because when I met him, he was a super quiet introvert, a bookworm. I think that’s why the two of us, we have a lot of fun together, because we’re super opposites. He’s an intellectual, quiet, he likes to be on his own, and me I’m like always cracking a joke.”
Which is in this interview, as it is in the many other stories that must stay off-the-record. Echauz-Angara is surprised that this cover issue’s topic is future first ladies, and says that Sonny doesn’t want to be President. Yet it seems that if it is charitable work that we demand of the role of First Lady, then she’s also got it down pat, without public attention – exactly the way she likes it. And as with many things in her life, she views charity as a way of thanksgiving.
“Charity is something that I like to do because it was given to me at a young age as well, when we were in the mountains, and we relied on people to share their homes with us. We go to the Philippine General Hospital’s (PGH) children’s ward and have been there with Sonny as well as my Sales Team. PGH because the doctor who did my neurosurgery, we went to seven doctors here and abroad, and the doctor I chose is the head of neurosurgery of PGH, and he did it for P20,000 pesos,” she still sounds awed by it. “And I’m normal, when everybody told me your life will change, you’ll lose your muscle on your neck. So PGH because of that, because I live normally and I’m so lucky to be alive.”
It all seems like a simple way to live, yet Echauz-Angara refuses to define herself as simple, because that would be ironic given how we were at this cover shoot doing this cover story interview. But it does seem that between Baguio and Manila, what she became – what she remains – is her parents’ daughter.
“I think being taught the value of hard work stuck in my head, kase my dad worked until the end, my Lola worked until she was 90. And they always said that you have to work, because in the end you have to be self-sufficient, because you get a lot of respect that way. You can be sitting pretty, but be self-sufficient!” she laughs.
“And then the whole being down to earth, and not being materialistic, is something I learned from my mom. My husband’s so proud that his wife’s biggest extravagance is food. Because other women, it’s diamonds, or travel. But me talaga, I’m very happy with just being at home, and having good food.”
Simplicity might not define her, but as Echauz-Angara stands beside her husband the Senator, balancing career and motherhood, it’s entirely possible that she is in fact redefining simplicity. Sense of humor included.***