Woman of Steel

(Politiko note: This article was originally published on Politiko 365 Magazine in 2018)

There’s not just one incident that will bear out that Ria Christina Fariñas is a woman of steel.

Exhibit A. In September 2014, Fariñas, together with her family, was walking on the church grounds in Ilocos Norte after attending a funeral mass when a sports utility vehicle plowed into pedestrians. Minutes later, she was pulled out from under the vehicle, which stopped only after hitting another car. The freak accident, allegedly caused by the vehicle’s sudden unintended acceleration, broke her collarbone and three ribs, and caused her lungs to collapse.

Exhibit B. Few months after her operation, now with titanium plate and screws in her body, Fariñas was back into her favorite sport – running. She kicked off her return with a 5-kilometer run, then a 21-kilometer marathon, and finished two Ironman triathlon races doing the marathon segment.

Exhibit C. In March 2017, despite a smear campaign by her family’s staunchest political rival, Fariñas topped the election for provincial board member and was elected president of the Provincial Board Members League of the Philippines, a traditionally male-dominated band of local politicians.

Finally, only the tough and strong-hearted will be able to pull through with a father like Rudy Fariñas, the Majority Leader at the House of Representatives and the Speaker’s right-hand man. She once served as chief-of-staff of her father, before crafting her own path in politics. The elder Fariñas admitted he designates one of his children as his chief aide because he is a slave driver.

Fariñas, 34, and mother of one daughter, as a woman of steel, inspires the label that juxtaposed femininity with strength. She is tough and decisive, and at the same time, compassionate and discerning.

Now, her specter is looming even larger with her sights trained on a congressional seat in next year’s election. Get to know Ria Fariñas as she tells her own story.

I was one of the victims of the sudden unintended acceleration. Totoo, it happened outside church compounds, may CCTV sila, so may video talaga. Ang daming cases in the country and out of all the cases, sa amin lang iyong may namatay, two people died. I got into that accident. I broke my collar bone, three ribs, both lungs collapsed. We were walking, si daddy, my sister-in-law, my brother, and I, we were walking to the cemetery after the mass, ang may-ari nung Montero, iyong kamag-anak ng namatay, ang nakasakay iyong kapatid ng namatay. Makikita mo sa video, tumutumba na iyong mga tao. I looked behind me, it was going toward the right, so I ran toward the left, not knowing na talagang lumiko, talagang sinundan ako. Pinulot ako ni daddy sa ilalim ng makina ng car. We are just thankful na buhay pa kami.

I have seven screws here, a titanium plate, three ribs, both lungs collapsed. Last week I just had surgery, dito naman sa leeg ko, which is still part of the accident. Second life ko ito. Parang pinanganak ka uli. You have to let go of everything, kasi you can’t do anything, para kang bata na walang magawa, you can’t bathe yourself, you can’t go to the bathroom, pero sobrang lucky ako kasi clean lifestyle, mabilis ang recovery ko.

At that time, my baby was one year old and I was on my first term as Sanggunian Board member of Ilocos Norte. I was in the ICU for five days. After a week in the hospital, they found out may internal bleeding sa liver, they have to do something, so first setback. They had to do an angiogram sa bikini area, they have to look for the nerves na nagdudugo. I remember I was praying the rosary, luckily it was successful. After 13 days in hospital they sent me home. A week after, I returned for follow-up check-up, the doctor said may nakausli na bone na hindi nag-fuse, so operation na naman. It was frustrating for me because I want to hold my baby, I want to be with her, so I went back to the hospital, but that was the last.

Three months after, I was back to running my five kilometer. A month after the accident, I convinced my brother to sign up for the Ironman with me. It was a conscious decision, kasi when your lungs collapse, kahit konting talking lang mapapagod ka, hinihingal ka, so I really had to learn everything again – strength to walk few steps in the room, strength to talk, so it was really back to zero.

I’ve never done 21-km before, once lang ako nag-10-km, so I said let’s do this. But what happened was, nine months after my accident, I ran my first 21k, it was before the Ironman. I was able to do it three more times after the surgery, then last month when I was having problems with my neck, I had to undergo surgery, kasi from the accident, nasira lahat iyong structure ng spine, so all of my discs are drained, parang sa kotse na metal to metal na nagkikiskisan, ito bone to bone na, so naiipit na iyong nerves, so I was having weakness in my arms and in my left foot.

I got operated here three weeks ago, they have to shave off parts of the bone, and the doctor said I have to give up running, I said for how long, he said, forever. But it was humbling too because during that time I was getting messages on Instagram, saying I don’t know you but I heard about your story and I just want to say we’re praying for you, nakakatuwa rin. All the more it motivated me to make something out of it, instead of saying na nabangga ako I can’t do this and that, it actually showed me that you can beat it.

I had two Ironman after the operation. And one regular marathon for the World Vision run, 21-km. I finished it in two-and-a-half hours. I had a break from running, puro gym na lang.

During the impeachment trial in 2012, I was one of the so-called 10 cuties at the trial. It was a brief moment at the limelight, parang distraction lang iyon. I was still working for my dad then as his chief-of-staff. Now, it’s my brother. Sanay kasi si daddy working with his kids, he doesn’t trust anyone.

On federalism, I think it will fly because it’s what the President wants and he has the support of the majority. I’m also a member of ULAP (Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines), representing the Board Members League. Ang daming pumupunta sa amin, nag-e-explain, the first concern was what will happen to the board members, matatanggal ba, mawawalan ba ng posisyon. Apparently, it’s going to be the same, iyong clustering nga lang daw of the provinces and the delegation, which I think would actually be easier for us and parang less corruption na rin, more delegation of power, easier delivery of services.

I entered politics in 2013. The concept behind the alignment was One Ilocos Norte, magkakasama lahat. Before the filing, I took my oath with NP (Nacionalista Party), which is the political party of Governor Imee (Marcos), and when I told her about my intention of running, at first she was like, okay, okay, we’ll see, and after a couple of weeks she said, sorry no more slot, so I had to run on my own. I won and placed number one. She was unopposed at that time, but she really went all out to campaign against me and their campaign before was 5-0. My dad was saying, I’m the incumbent congressman, ano ba naman iyong isang slot lang ibigay mo sa anak ko eh magkakaalyansa naman tayo.

I was pregnant with my baby in 2013, and high risk pregnancy ako, so I was on bed rest. At first, my dad and my brother were campaigning for me. I was in Manila, I couldn’t get clearance to fly, I was bleeding. She actually came out three weeks before her due date, so nakahabol pa ako sa campaign. Nine days after giving birth, C-section, may bandage pa ako, nandun na ako. Pag naglakad ako, mararamdaman mo iyong hiwa. Sabi ni daddy, mag-wheel-chair ka, pero sabi ko para naman akong baldado.

Noong bata ako, sanay ako sa campaign. Pero now for the people to see na tao ka, you’re a mother like them, natutuwa sila, and I breastfed for a year, so nung umiikot ako kasama ko ang baby ko. Kaya sabi ko pasensya na hindi ako makatayo nang matagal. At the end of the day parang tatrangkasuhin ka, iyong buto mo ang sasakit. But there’s just my dad and my brother, walang babae, so no one would tell them, nobody understands how it feels, sa kanila, nanganak ka na, so tara na. Pero kaya naman.

It was my decision to join politics. One thing I appreciate about my dad, he doesn’t force us to do anything. He would guide us but at the end of the day, kung ano gusto mo.

I’m now in my second term as Board Member. There’s 12 of us, and I’m the only female and I’m the only minority, so it’s like a kid going to school who is being bullied all the time, and it’s hard in a way because sa Sanggunian, at the end of the day, lahat botohan. Even if you stand up and say ‘mali ang ginagawa niyo’ eto ang gusto nilang mangyari, so wala rin, it’s also frustrating in that sense.

Why was there bad blood with the Marcoses? That’s the thing, anak pa niya ako sa binyag, hindi rin namin maintindihan. Ang tingin namin it’s because she wants to take the congressional seat in our district also, so when I entered, nakikita niya na I was a threat. Sa inyo na nga iyong governor, the vice governor is her first cousin, board member, her son is there, second district sa kanila, now pati frst district gustong kunin.

The next path is Congress because dad is on his last term, if there will be elections. My brother, the one after me, is already barangay captain. My youngest brother is interested, he’s 21, he has the charisma of my dad, ang galing sa mga tao, mga kapitan barkada niya.

Ayaw na ni dad. Ang dami ngang nagtatanong. Sayang, kasi I know how smart he is, but for him, he’s happy right now, how he can control his time, his schedules, so ayaw niya talaga.

I had a brief stint in showbiz. What happened was I have a Facebook friend who is close to Tita Ida Henares, nakita niya iyong picture ko and she wanted to sign me and she found out na anak ako ni Maria Teresa Carlson, so I said it came to me, I didn’t go asking for it, I gave it a try but it wasn’t really for me, kasi sobrang mahiyain ako, and they make you go there for eight hours before your call time, so sayang talaga sa oras. I was with Go Bingo. I also did movies with Marian Rivera and Richard Gutierrez, My Best Friend’s Girl Friend, and then guestings. But all the time hiyang-hiya ako, so that was it for me. Si Ryan, my brother, mas nagtagal pa, he became part of a soap. They used my second name, Christina, kasi bago lang si Rhian Ramos nun, and Ria would be too close. That was short-lived, just for the experience.

I’m outgoing, adventurous, fun-loving. Originally I wanted to become a doctor, kahit nung bata ako the drive was to help people. One time, we had to rush my brother to the ER, tinahi iyong tongue niya, right there and then, I fainted. Tawa nang tawa si daddy, right in front of everyone, I fainted. Later on, sabi ko, okay hindi ako magdo-doktor, but I’ll be in politics, so I can still help people.

The happiest memories are traveling as family. My dad loves to travel. Ang hilig nya mag-road trip and he’s also very outgoing, iyong tipong tara, camping tayo, kaya kung saan-saan kami umaabot, and up to now, he still does that.

My mom, she’s such a comedian. Kung ano’ng sinasabi ng tao sa TV, ganun talaga siya in real life, she’s such a happy person. Imagine when we would go around, ‘pag umiikot sa mga barangay, natutuwa ang mga tao sa kanya. She’s very charming, very malambing, also very down to earth. I’m still more mahiyain than her. Si Ryan is the one who got that side of her. Si daddy was hands on as governor, laging umiikot, bata pa lang kami natutulog na kami sa mga barangay, dinadala niya kami kung saan-saan, so sanay si mommy sa ganun.

I have great dreams for the province and for the Board Members League. For the league, it’s been a long-time dream to have our own hotel. We have funding now, but nagka-problema sa lot, gustong kunin ni Senator Villar, she wants to use it as a rehabilitation center. Now that plan was put on hold.

For the province, gusto ko sundan si daddy kasi we are very much involved with all the barangay captains, with all our constituents, talagang pinupuntahan namin, natutulog kami dun, up until now, so nakikita namin kung saan iyong mahihirap iyong buhay, iyong mga wala pang kalsada, iyong pag umuulan, tumataas na ang ilog, divided na, and right now ang daming nagagawang road projects, bridge projects na noon pangarap lang na ngayon nagiging totoo because there’s someone who’s really looking at their concerns and really addressing them, I want to continue that. Aside from that, I want to improve hospital services, as well. Ilocos Norte is so big.

It’s not really hard to be a woman in politics. For me it’s not hard because it’s second nature to me, ito ang kinalakihan ko, so it’s not new to me, how to deal with people, and I always love it when people approach me and say ang simple mo. My parents didn’t raise us to feel different from the rest, even with the household help, the drivers, dapat galangin sila, that’s how we were raised, so ganun ang approach namin sa tao.

Everyone’s talking about women empowerment, no one’s putting you down if you don’t let them step on you. I lost my mom when I was 17, I have 6 brothers and a sister, and my dad raised them, so medyo sanay na na all men are in the environment. Actually, my brothers ang tingin nila sa akin is more of a boy than a girl. They would say lalaki yan, hindi babae. Among the greatest lessons in life is one I got from dad. Kay dad, everything’s a race, if you don’t move, maiiwan ka.

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