Cutie Goes to Congress

August 21, 2010 18:01:00
Wilson Fang
Philippine Daily Inquirer

WE had just finished lunching at the popular Blondie’s Pizza in San Francisco, California, but Cutie del Mar has nothing but garbage on her mind.

Preparing to discard what remained of our meal, she notices that instead of the standard-issue trash bins found in most other self-service restaurants, Blondie’s has individual holders for various types of waste, such as plastics, paper, compostables, and so on. Moreover, these are accompanied by detailed signs listing the kinds of items, from disposable utensils to dirty napkins, meant to go into each container.

“This is how you treat trash,” declares del Mar, adding, “Segregating stuff from the get-go makes managing waste more efficient, and having this list of what goes where makes it easier for people to comply with the process.” She begins taking notes in her BlackBerry Memo Pad, peering intently into each receptacle to see if the setup is working as intended. This leads to suspicious looks from other patrons, so I gently nudge her toward the exit before Homeland Security is summoned.

Garbage cans are normally not considered an attraction by the average San Fran-bound Filipino visitor. But Ms. del Mar is not your typical Pinoy tourist. Rachel Marguerite del Mar was elected to Congress in a landslide victory last May 10, making history as the first-ever female representative from the Queen City of the South. Cebu City’s First District representative counts environmental causes as one of her many advocacies. Hence the rather trashy end to our repast.

At first glance, Del Mar is not someone you’d expect to find nosing around rubbish. A sometime ramp and commercial model, stage and screen actress and television host, Cutie del Mar was more known for her glamour and patrician good looks than for any abiding involvement in public affairs.

But unknown to most people, she has taken on several public roles for years, among them Cultural Centre of the Philippines board member, Cebu Chamber of Commerce assistant secretary, and Chief of Staff for her father, former Deputy House Speaker Raul del Mar.

“My dad has been in the public sector for most of my life,” says Del Mar, adding, “He never ever pushed me or my brothers to follow in his footsteps, but I think we all eventually felt it was the right thing to do, to continue the work he had started.”

Even so, many of her longstanding acquaintances had little idea that the chic, comely Del Mar seen at stylish functions and society events would be the same one making do with a few hours’ sleep to make it to the taping of her morning show, after which she’d dash straight off to a board meeting, then rush across town to Congress to work at the Deputy Speaker’s office.

Her rigorous and backbreaking campaign schedule, which saw her crisscrossing metropolitan barangay (villages) and mountain villages to gain support for her electoral bid, says Del Mar, was “bar none, the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

After elections, she found to her delight that she could actually take a short break to attend a wedding and visit a pal who was unwell in San Francisco. Being a friend of long standing, I was requested to suggest itineraries for her free days, so I drew up a list that included some shopping, sightseeing, and sundry other adventures.

Several of the stops on my list were expunged, to be replaced by destinations that might better be termed as eclectic, if not eccentric. There were a number of fairly conventional choices, including the Palace of the Legion of Honor museum and the Golden Gate Bridge. Others were unexpected, such as the San Francisco Health Clinic Number One, which led to me inquiring whether she had some sort of embarrassing disease she didn’t want to be treated for in the Philippines. This elicited a look from her that could’ve irradiated every microbe within a 10-mile radius. Then there were those, like spending the day in Sacramento, that seemed to be about as exciting as an all-day ride on a rheumatic horse.

When I asked about some of the more mystifying inclusions, she quickly remarked, “I’m no longer plain old Citizen del Mar, so my priorities are quite different.” As such, daylong outings to outlet malls were out, forays to civic and cultural institutions were in.

Arriving at Sacramento, the state capital, we stopped to pay a call at the office of Mark Leno, State Senator for San Francisco. One of his aides, Reese Isbell, is a buddy of mine and had helped arrange our visit to the California State Legislature, where we watched bills being introduced and heard measures debated.

The Cebu representative observed the goings-on with rapt attention, sometimes turning to me to discuss minutiae of proposed legislation and procedural motions.

On our return to San Francisco, first on the agenda was not to drive across the fabled Golden Gate Bridge or to hop aboard one of the historic cable cars. It was a visit to the Castro-Mission Health Center, or San Francisco Health Center Number One, as it is officially known. There, everything from the layout of the clinic to what kind of health literature is offered in the display racks was examined, along with brief conversations with some of the clinic staff and patients regarding methods and quality of care. We left soon after, thereby quashing any speculation that my friend was suffering from anything more serious than infectious enthusiasm.

Even the more traditionally touristy stops took on a different tone on this Cutie del Mar-specific San Francisco tour. At the Palace of the Legion of Honor, one of the city’s major repositories of fine art, this former Cultural Center of the Philippines board member recorded details like how access to the works are provided for special visitors such as the youth and the handicapped, what sort of outreach the Legion has for members of the community, and even what sort of merchandise is on sale in the museum store.

A jaunt up the vaunted viewpoint of Twin Peaks turned into an impromptu lesson in visitor management, crowd control, and parking schematics, since Del Mar’s father, the deputy Speaker of the House, was instrumental in setting up the Tops viewing area in Cebu so many years ago.

A trip to the tiny Marin County hamlet of Tiburon became an opportunity to take note of signage and merchant participation in the town’s well-received visitors’ trail.

More interestingly, our late-night excursion to the celebrated Bi-Rite Creamery, lauded by GQ Magazine as offering the best ice cream in the US, had me checking out cuties in the long line to buy frozen treats while the congresswoman quizzed store personnel about the sourcing of organic materials and the sustainability of their supply chain. Her inquisitiveness earned her a complimentary scoop of the superb Balsamic Strawberry flavor from the impressed Bi-Rite servers. I, on the hand, didn’t even get a phone number from all those I was scoping out...

It wasn’t until the good Representative del Mar was getting ready to depart, though, that the exceptional nature of this expedition came into sharp focus for me. Most Filipinos head out of the US with enough balikbayan boxes to give the impression that they’re supplying provisions for Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. Del Mar, in sharp contrast, left with the same amount of luggage she arrived with – one large suitcase, a compact rollaway as her carry-on, and a small purse.

But what she was bringing back home was a plethora of insights and information that promise to be put to good use during her next three years in Congress. Hopefully, Cutie del Mar’s constituents in Cebu have their seatbelts fastened, because if this summer sojourn is any indication, they are in for a great ride. •

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