EXCLUSIVE: Angel Locsin On Rising To The Occasion And The Consistent Practice Of Civic Duty
Angel Locsin brings it back to this simple truth: compassion is about speaking up for those in most need, on issues that are most important, knowing that our collective efforts for the nation will allow for change to happen
It was no surprise to anyone when Angel Locsin rose to the occasion of nation in a time of crisis. Like many calamities before, Angel would be that one celebrity you could depend on, doing relief work as quietly as possible, with the least amount of fanfare. But then again, her presence is enough to warrant cameras and social media posts, so the fanfare is default.
Angel herself though rarely talks about this work that she does, wary of romanticizing charity work, primarily not wanting to highlight it as part of her public persona.
“Ginagawa ko ‘to na hindi para sa’kin. May mga bagay na mas importanteng pag-usapan, mga bagay na dapat pagtuunan. Hindi ko ‘to ginagawa para sa mileage, or para mapag-usapan na tumutulong ako. Ito lang talaga 'yung kailangang gawin,” Angel says. “Nagkataon lang na artista ako, napapag-usapan, napo-post, pero as much as possible ayoko talaga siya pag-usapan, dahil hindi siya necessary.”
But at a time when the competence of the government is being questioned, and we are in dire need of a sense of the ways in which citizens rise to the occasion of nation, Angel’s story might be most crucial to tell. Because contrary to the mileage she gets for it as an actress, this is a lesson in the most basic sense of what citizenship means.
She pegs the year 2009 as the start of this constant and unrelenting exercise of practicing her civic duty. “I remember kung kailan ako talaga naging active. [It was] during Ondoy. Nakita ko na may mga extra ako na gamit, tapos marami sa mga kakilala ko walang-walang-wala talaga, nalimas ng baha ang mga naipundar nila,” she recounts. “So doon ako nagsimula na. Parang na-guilty ako na meron akong extra tapos maraming walang-wala.”
Middle-class guilt of course is something that many of us have experienced, and might be what fuels our first acts of charity and relief work. But Angel’s guilt is interesting because it comes not from a place of blind privilege, as it does from a very clear sense of having lived the life of the majority in this country who are most neglected and disenfranchised in times of calamity.
She explains: “Hindi kami lumaki sa mayamang pamilya. Nasa working class kami. Naramdaman ko talaga kung paano mag-struggle sa buhay. 'Yun ang pinagmumulan ng kung bakit kailangan tumulong,” she explains. “Kasi siguro alam mo 'yung pakiramdam na walang tumutulong sa'yo? 'Yung pakiramdam na mag-isa ka? Ayaw mong maranasan ng iba 'yun.”
This groundedness is what makes Angel’s experience most unique, as it also seems to be what allows her a sense of what gaps have to be addressed, what needs might not get the same amount of support as others. This is what pushed her in the direction of the work she ended up doing at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown during the first surge of cases in March to May.
UniTent We Stand was a project that sought to build tents in hospitals that were filled to capacity with COVID-19 patients. As with many things about Angel, it was premised on her own sense of how terrible it would be if she were a patient who doesn’t have the opportunity to get treated at a hospital.
“Nu'ng kasagsagan ng pandemya, nu'ng simula pa lang, alam ko na pagtutuunan ng pansin siyempre ang pagkain dahil 'yun ang prayoridad, at pangalawa PPEs na kailangan ng mga frontliners,” she recalls. “So nu'ng nakakita ako ng balita na maraming hindi na natatanggap sa ospital dahil puno ang mga ospital natin, nalungkot ako. Kasi paano kung nagkasakit nga tayo, ang una talaga nating takbuhan ay ospital. Pero paano kapag hindi ka pinapasok diba?”
“Doon ko unang naisip 'yung tents. Du'n siya nagsimula. 'Yun ang naisip kong pinakamura, pinakamabilis, at mapapakinabangan talaga right away sa panahon na 'yon.”
It wasn’t an easy thing to do, of course. Angel didn’t want anyone else to risk getting sick, so hiring anyone—even a driver—was out of the question. She and her fiancé Neil Arce ended up doing much of the work in the beginning, of going to hospitals and setting up tents. Later on, a group of people started helping them. The fear was real though, but so was her sense of responsibility.
“Difficult siyempre, panahon ng pandemya, nakakatakot talaga lalo na kung pupunta ka sa ospital. Pero walang ibang gagawa,” she says. “Kung may choice naman hindi kami lalabas, kaya lang walang ibang gagawa.”
This notion that this particular work needs to be done, and it needs to be done by her is also what’s refreshing about listening to Angel talk about this work. It’s like this is what’s expected of her, and so this is what she is going to do. It’s as if this is the work that she is meant to do, and she doesn’t expect anyone else to do it for her.
After 130 hospitals were served with tents, and all requests from hospitals fulfilled, she decided to end the project and move on to other needs. This time her old project with her friends from showbiz, Shop ‘N’ Share, became a way to raise funds for testing kits, at a time when there was a dire lack of it. It was a seamless shift, one that made sense really, for Angel.
“Parang na-realize ko na wala naman kasing dahilan para hindi kumilos. Ito’y isang obligasyon natin bilang tao sa kapwa natin, ang pagaanin ang buhay ng isa’t-isa,” she explains. “Wala akong nakikitang ibang dahilan, or kung kailangan ba ng dahilan para gumawa ng tama.”
This sense of what is right, alongside what is necessary, is at the heart of the civic duty that Angel practices. And while she rarely talks about it, it’s all very clearly tied to her sense of what is just and fair, and what role we play as citizens of the nation.
“Karapatan natin magsalita kapag tingin natin na may hindi magandang nangyayari. Kung may kaibigan o kakilala o may nabasa ka na binu-bully na walang nagtatanggol, pero alam mong kawawa. Kung sa tingin mo may magagawa ka para du'n, bakit hindi ka magsalita?” she asks. “Karapatan natin magsalita, at obligasyon natin tumulong sa kapwa natin kapag tingin natin naaapi 'to. Hindi tama na manahimik tayo kung merong naagrabyadong isang tao.”
This is also what she brings to a larger scale, in terms of her sense of nation, and the roles we play as part of its becoming. She brings it back to this truth: that compassion is about speaking up for those in most need, on issues that we feel are most important, given our collective work for the nation that hopefully, ideally, allows for change to happen.
“Naniniwala kasi ako na pantay-pantay tayong lahat. Para ma-improve ang serbisyo para sa mga tao, kailangang nakikinig tayo sa mga tao,” Angel says. “Paano nila malalaman na hindi tayo satisfied or natutuwa tayo or may concerns tayo kung hindi tayo magsasalita? Tulungan ito eh, bansa natin 'to, kung may malasakit ka, magsalita ka.”
Asked if she fears anything, she says yes, especially about speaking up. But then she feels that speaking up and having an opinion is necessary at a time like this one. “Mahirap maging neutral. Neutral is safe. Pero wala kang paninindigan kapag neutral ka. Sa'kin dalawa lang 'yan eh, tama o mali, black and white, 'yun lang siya.”
And one realizes that with Angel, this is not just about rising to the occasion of nation at the most critical times, but more importantly, a constant and consistent practice of civic duty. It's one that is grounded not just in a sense of charity and compassion, but more importantly, in a clear sense of the state of the nation, and the roles we play in changing it.
Photos from @therealangellocsin
Angel Locsin is a part of Metro Society's "Inspiring People" special. Check out the four-part feature below: