What It Was Like Growing Up The Daughter Of A Politician In The Philippines

Luke Mattson

I lived in a green house. Green walls and a green roof made up the small structure. We had smooth, green cement floors inside the house.

My siblings and I also have several childhood photos together, sitting by our green staircase. And enclosing the entire compound was a tall concrete border, sealed off in the front by a gigantic green metal gate. We also had a green pickup truck, as well as a green family van to match.

It was like living in Oz.

You see, green is my grandfather's favorite color. It's the color he's been using in all his hotel and restaurant businesses in Tuguegarao, our small hometown in the Philippines, as well as all his political campaigns since 1988.

Green is also my father's favorite color, a color he has carried on as a trademark for his own cereal trading business, and—following my grandfather's footsteps — for his own political career.

I, on the other hand, have never inherited their fondness for the hue. Growing up, I hated green and everything it stood for. I'm glad we eventually moved to a new house with tasteful beige walls.

I don't mean to offend anyone who loves the color. I only ever despised green because it reminded me of my place in society. It reminded me that I was part of this political family.

It reminded me that I was the mayor's granddaughter, who would later on become the mayor's daughter, and who would then turn into the congressman's daughter.

It reminded me that I was in this privileged position that I never asked to be in, a position that I never wanted to be in, and a position that still makes me uncomfortable to be in today.

I feel this way for three main reasons: 1) I resent the undeserved and unnecessary special treatment, 2) My siblings and I weren't allowed to do the things that “normal” kids could do, and 3) my family's safety was, and still is, constantly at risk.

Even when I was studying for my undergraduate degree in Manila, I would go home to Tuguegarao for the holidays. And every Christmas, my dad would get invited to our barangay (village) parish church's Christmas Eve holy mass.

He, of course, expected all of us to go with him. Even my younger brother, who identifies as an agnostic.

Although the parish was ridiculously close by (the equivalent of around four or five blocks in New York City), we always take the car, along with my father's bodyguards.

Last Christmas was no different.

We pulled up in front of the church, and through the dark tint of the windows, I saw that the place was, as it always has been: packed with people dressed in the nicest clothes they could probably find in their closets.

A lot of little girls were in Sunday dresses with lace trimming, while the little boys were in their best collared shirts and button downs. These were outfits their parents probably picked out and forced them to wear.

As soon as we got out of the car, all eyes were on us. My father is a man well-loved, and very well-known, by the local community. Everyone who saw him recognized him immediately, and was eager to shake his hand.

And so, by association, we would get a good amount of attention as well.

I never liked the attention.

When we walked up to the church entrance, a young altar boy — who I am sure didn't entirely know who I was — without saying anything, reached out and tried to shake my hand.

I just stared at him. I froze because I was so confused. Looking back, I now realize I could've just shaken his hand. Maybe he was just trying to be friendly.

But I was so disturbed that this little boy thought that I deserved his attention, and that he thought I was this personality worth shaking hands with.

He hadn't tried to shake anyone else's hand. Why should I be any different than the other church-goers? I'm no one special.

At that moment I wished he just ignored me. I just wanted to blend in with everyone and disappear.

The barangay captain then greeted my father and led us to seats in the front of the church, seats they had especially reserved for us.

I was so embarrassed that all these people had to trouble themselves and make way for us. Some of the old women and children were even asked to get out of their seats for us.

And when I protested, they insisted, and found themselves other chairs. The special treatment disgusted me. The privilege I had over these people disgusted me.

Back in the Philippines, my siblings and I couldn't lead a “normal life.”

Aside from the privilege that came with being a politician's spawn, we also had many restrictions. We weren't allowed to play on the streets. We always had to have an escort nanny or driver waiting for us at school, to make sure we got home right after class and club meetings.

And as much as my sister and I dreamt of having sleepovers like the girls from the Australian show "The Sleepover Club" (2002-2008), we could never have them as kids — unless it was just with our cousins, and even then it had to be in our house.

When we moved out of Tuguegarao and went to Metro Manila for college, I thought my parents would loosen up since nobody really knew who we were and our last names didn't ring a bell.

To this day, we still aren't allowed to sleep in other people's houses.

This is why we always found solace in summer and holiday vacations abroad. Being away from the country lessened my parents' paranoia and lowered their shield of overprotection.

It was the only time our father could ever really relax, the only time we were free to roam and walk the streets without fear of being abducted or killed, and the only time security wasn't constantly breathing down our necks.

You have to understand that politics in the Philippines, especially in the municipal and local levels, is a dangerous world.

When my father was the mayor in 2002, he attended a barangay fiesta (village party) as part of his duties. During the crowning of the “king” and “queen” of the pageant portion of the fiesta, as he was chatting with some people off-stage, somebody had flung a big rock at him.

It hit him hard on the head, and he got sent to the hospital. Clearly, despite being a popular and likable guy, my dad still had his haters.

As a 4-year-old hearing the news from my mom, I cried for fear that my father would die, and I cried in anger for the bad man who had the audacity to commit this crime.

I couldn't understand why such evil people could exist in this world. Luckily, the incident only led to an injury that required him to shave his head, and have the scar stitched up.

The wound on my father's head healed soon enough, but no doctor could possibly fix how this had emotionally scarred me and my little brother and sister.

Our fear only grew when a few years later, we received bomb threats and had to live in my grandfather's hotel for a while. And even later on, a boy on my father's campaign trail died after getting shot.

It was presumed that the gunman was an assassin hired by my father's political opponents, and was targeting him specifically.

On my dad's last year as mayor of Tuguegarao, I rejoiced. I thought, “This is it.” My dad is finally going to quit, and we can all lead normal lives. But talk began that he might run for congress.

I can still recall how my mom fell silent and how tears rolled down her face. My dad tried to comfort her, hugging her, saying that it wasn't even a done deal yet. My heart ached. It still does whenever I think back to that day.

I hated that my mother cried. I hated that my father had to pick a career that put his life in danger. I hated that his career put us all in danger. I hated that people were so power hungry that they could kill. I hated the color green.

Philippine politics is still as dirty as it always has been, and I still can't fully comprehend why this has to be the field my dad wants to be in.

But I see that he genuinely wants to serve the people. All my life, I've only ever seen him at his happiest when he was talking about successful projects, when he was able to give speeches in congress, or when he would have a bill passed.

I've learned to accept that my dad is a man for the people, and that he would continue to serve for as long as people would have him. I've also learned to accept the color green. But I still hate politics.