COVER STORY

The very public life of Agot Isidro

The ‘Call Me Tita’ actress admits her privilege and talks about her role in these times.

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Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The post-election scenario for 2019 was easy. For candidates on the side of the current dispensation, it would be time to recoup the hundreds of millions spent on their campaign: historically, payback happens via government projects and public funds, we all know that drill. And then we saw what the opposition candidates did: they quickly and unceremoniously went back to real life. As lawyers and activists, human rights advocates and union leaders, there was no time to lick their wounds. Nation demands quick and decisive action, too many are suffering.

But what was the post-election scenario for the rest of us? Supporters and campaigners, who felt we were doing what we could — maybe even more than usual — for what we saw was a slate that was giving us hope, because new and different, because exactly what we as a nation deserve? What was the post-election scenario for us?

For Agot Isidro, time was spent taking stock, fleshing things out in her head. “Nanahimik ako. For a few months. Gusto ko muna kumalma lahat.” It wasn’t that she thought the whole slate she campaigned for would win, but she didn’t expect a complete loss. “Nung una, I thought: seriously? I was disappointed. But then again, ‘yun nga, I’d tell myself, ‘It has been decided Agot,’ they had the means, the money, to turn this election around in their favor.”

This kind of push-and-pull between the emotional and rational, the righteous indignation and the need for clarity, the raised fist and sanity — it is one that is familiar to many of us, the middle class, the middle force, the ones who are neither Left nor Liberal, but in between.

This is the space Agot clearly operates in.

On Agot: Polka dot tube dress by VANIA ROMOFF. Photo by JAKE VERZOSA

Like the rest of us in this space, post-elections, she needed the distance to find her balance. It helped that the project “Call Me Tita” started moving soon after the elections. “Matagal na naming pinag-iisipan, na parang sana there were projects that portrayed women our age na hindi naman mother roles na lang parati,” she says. “And this one has been really fun to do, kasi the women characters are so different from each other, and apparently it did well so we have a second season!”

In true tita fashion, she wasn’t sure how exactly these digital shows earn money (and to be fair, neither did I), but Agot sees this shift to digital to also be a sign of the times. “I think this is a way to deal with the possibility of franchises not being given, kasi you know …” she trails off, and I nod, clear as we both are about the context of that statement, additional words were unnecessary.

But where some things need not be said, there is still much to talk about. Burying herself in the new show and distancing herself from the political was nothing more but a reprieve. It was not because she was giving up, neither was there any regret about having worked on the campaign the way she did. “You had to aggressively campaign. And any form of resistance, you have to do it. Because otherwise you give them a free pass,” she says. Afterwards though, given the realization that the election was decided long before it happened, she spent time figuring out what to do next. “I wanted to see where we were, what we can do.”

Unsurprisingly this was also time for some self-reflection relative to nation. “I realized, I think we’re giving too much importance on government,” Agot reflects. “Seriously? Ako, nasa self-reliance na. Like how can we rely more on ourselves, given how government doesn’t seem to care?”

She is well-aware of how this response is of course borne of privilege. “For us of course, we have the means to move forward regardless. It’s clear that for many others things are different. But for us, it might be as basic as growing your own food. Nandon na ‘ko kasi ano ang gagawin mo?”

On Agot: Ribbed blouse and skirt by YOYA. Photos by JAKE VERZOSA

The laughter that ensues is one of discomfort: ano nga bang gagawin natin? For Agot, in the meantime, and on an individual level: “Magtanim ka ng pechay, kangkong. Maybe pull your community together to have a small backyard patch. Rely on yourself, rely on your community. Kasi wala eh.”

She also, like many among us, did some research on elsewhere. “May Golden Visa! You invest a particular amount in the business of a given country, and after so many years you’re given a visa that allows you to reside there!” This, despite the fact that she feels like migration isn’t for her. “I don’t think I can leave, I’m already too old, and you know ….” Agot trails off.

“Seriously? Ako, nasa self-reliance na. Like how can we rely more on ourselves, given how government doesn’t seem to care?”

The ellipses speak to all of us, uncertain as we are about what to do next, even as we feel like we need to do what we can to keep our wits about us. The irony is that we are still the ones who have the privilege to speak in ellipses, to speak of growing our own food, and even leaving altogether. We are not the ones who are suffering the most but, Agot supposes, it seems to be part of government strategy to ensure that we barely have the energy to even talk about issues.

“Ako, I feel it. The oil price hikes, the inflation, the traffic. But I think many of us are just living. Coping with the mess. Ang galing because this mess is part of the distraction. It’s made us an exhausted populace. ‘Yung quality of life, it’s gotten worse. And imagine the commuters, the people, those who have less than us.”

Again, the shift: from self to others, from privilege to the ones who have it worse. This kind of making sense of nation would be familiar to many of us, who want to keep fighting but are also losing the energy to do so — our time and money eaten up by the shameless incompetence of governance, the systemic breakdown of basic services.

Agot herself has been figuring out how to find a balance between engagement and stepping back, which is ultimately about choosing the battles that are worthwhile. “Kailangan pa rin mag-speak-out. Always. I will not stop talking about the kapalpakan, na todong in-your-face, no shame. Na parang natatawa pa sila, they’re proud of what they’re doing. Talagang hubris.”

On Agot: Ribbed blouse and skirt by YOYA. Photos by JAKE VERZOSA

Given the massive number of issues, this has meant being calculated about what it is she talks about. “Kapag makita ko na marami nang bumabanat, hindi na ‘ko dumadagdag. Unless I feel strongly about something.” She refers to that morning’s tweet, which happened after reading about how the President raised the issue of the West Philippine Sea ruling “apologetically” with Xi Jinping. “Talaga? Tayo pa ang naga-apologize? Eh tayo ang nanalo!” she shakes her head.

Agot also finds herself interested in what Duterte allies are doing in the Senate. “I think we should be keeping track of that. Anong ginagawa nila diyan? Because I really feel that they’re just there to cover up for the President, panangga lang sila. Kasama nina Cayetano, Villar, Revilla.”

Political commentary comes with the requisite trolling and online hate, and while before Agot would give these false arguments the time of day by laughing at them or commenting, post-elections, things have changed. “Before, pinapatulan ko pa. Ngayon, I realized it’s such a futile exercise. Just block them because they’re either making money out of you, or they’re just out to harm your balance.”

“Ang hirap ma-achieve ng balance ko ah! Tita na kasi! Kailangan ko na ng peace and balance, mahirap nang makatulog nang ayos!” Again, laughter. And in these times, it’s almost absurd that we have the capacity for laughter, but here we all are. Responding to issues, stepping back, writing a tweet, and then … forgetting to post it.

“Marami akong saved drafts sa Twitter!” Agot explains. “Kasi galit na galit ka, you compose a tweet, and then you say, mamaya na, papalamig ka muna. And then after a while dumaan na pala, tapos makikita ko sa saved drafts. Tapos nagugulat ako: wow galit na galit ako dito ah!

It’s this ability at humor and self-reflexivity — the admission of one’s privilege, and its contingent limitations — that makes Agot’s experience of the present resonant. “Kaya nga ako lumalayo nang kaunti. Kasi ‘di ba you need to keep your sanity,” she reflects. “I stop and think, teka muna, kung papansinin ko ito, baka mapunta sa hopelessness. But you cannot not be hopeful. Otherwise you’re just allowing them to railroad you, you’re allowing them to take over your life. There has to be some resistance.”

On Agot: Polka dot tube dress by VANIA ROMOFF. Photos by JAKE VERZOSA

Of course there is frustration, especially in those of us who are in this middle force, angry as we are but also unable — not wanting — to do anything. “I’m a little disappointed na parang harap-harapan na tayong ginagago, pero wala lang. I’m like, guys, it might not matter to you because you can still distance yourself, or you don’t feel it, but what about for the rest of Filipinos? Baka we can set aside our self-interests, ‘di ba?

There is also a weariness in the fact that those in the opposition — Left and Liberal — lack the unity that is urgently needed. “I think we really should set aside differences and recognize it’s just one person, one government, that’s responsible for all this. Set aside everything else muna. Kapag na-overcome na natin ito, e ‘di mag-away-away na tayo ulit!”

Maybe common sense is a form of resistance, one that Agot does well, despite the lines she now draws, the adjustments she has made, as far as political engagement is concerned. It’s a resistance that she does well, and that would be familiar to many of us in this middle, clearly not Left nor Liberal, and wondering what it will take to move things forward.

In the meantime, here we are. Speaking up despite the seeming smallness of our voices on social media, living our lives even as it’s become more and more difficult. We try not to let the state of the nation get us completely down. For Agot, some backyard farming here, doing a new comedy series “Call Me Tita” — these are short but necessary respites from the political even as she keeps track of the issues that matter.

And laughter, Agot reminds, is crucial. “I try to bring in a little positivity, you know, I tell myself: we can do it! I try to find some peace of mind ... in the midst.”

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Video by SAMANTHA LEE

Produced by PORTIA LADRIDO

Styling by CHICA VILLARTA

Makeup by MYRENE SANTOS

Hair by ROBERT LUMBRE