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The politician and the performer: Jeff Ortega and Jasmine Curtis-Smith discuss how they navigate life and nurture their love under the public eye. All while finding purpose in their many passions.

Like many of the world’s most ardent love stories, the romance between Jeff Ortega and Jasmine Curtis-Smith began entirely by chance.

The year was 2007. Jasmine had tagged along with her older sister Anne to a party over Christmas, as she often did.

At that time Ortega had been 18 and Curtis was just 14, so nothing really happened. But they’d bump into each other over the years.

Serendipitously, one time in 2015, Curtis-Smith took a trip to a little surf town in La Union. The pair really connected. In Ortega’s words, “she decided to bring me back as a souvenir.”

After a few months of dating, they went official in February 2016. They will biw be celebrating their 7th year together this month.

Truly, Madly, Deeply

The couple has indeed built a beautiful life together. Of synced Google calendars, afternoons with their pugs, a bit of froyo, movie marathons, and watching the sun go down over the horizon. “I love that we’re lovers, best friends, and family. All in one,” shares the 28 -year-old actress.

Being a celebrity, it’s no surprise that work keeps Curtis-Smith occupied. Especially with the last year or so a period of lock-in tapings for the industry as well. Ortega, who is currently the Department of Tourism’s Regional Director for the Ilocos and Pangasinan region, is just as busy. But consistent effort, and investing in the relationship, have allowed the couple to thrive.

“Living together makes spending time together easy! We find joy in the mundane tasks, catch up on each other’s work – we are genuinely interested in each other’s industries, and also adjusting between each other’s [schedule],” narrates Curtis-Smith. The duo has made the maximization of spare time an art form, finding ways to be together at home. Or better yet, go on vacations.

This effort to prioritize their partner’s needs and the relationship is likewise evident in how they each nurture each other’s love languages. “My love language is definitely words of affirmation and service while Jeff’s is touch… Jeff loves to write me letters and find adorable cards to match a bouquet. I shower him with random hugs, kisses, or simply holding his hand makes him the happiest,” Curtis-Smith declares. Ortega agrees, “Like every couple, we do try our best in different ways to make these languages meet halfway.”

As Good As It Gets

Having been together for so long, the couple has begun to finish each other’s sentences, with an enviable chemistry filled with love and laughter. “What keeps us strong is open communication. Allowing each other to occupy space in the relationship. And supporting each other’s endeavors,” shares the actress.

Ortega adds, “I believe that love, patience, and understanding of each other despite what the other is going through is the most important thing that has kept our relationship strong.”

Having a relationship in the public eye does come with its fair share of trials, but they have found a way to make it work. “[Even if] we have encountered a challenge or two, we’ve overcome it through the strength of consciously caring for our relationship in private. I am thankful because our relationship has always been mature enough for what we are going through,” declares Curtis-Smith.

With his position and the fact that he comes from a political family, Ortega is likewise no stranger to publicity. Nonetheless, he recognizes the value of privacy. “We used to share everything on social media as did everyone else – where we go, what we’re doing, and who we are with at the current moment. [Now] we try to do our jobs as best as we can, and enjoy our personal moments quietly,” he declares.

At the shoot held at the Aureo Hotel and Resort in La Union, the young couple banters playfully. There’s a balance to their energies, a bit of yin and yang even. The actress, with her yearslong career in showbiz, is naturally playful and funny. On the other hand, Ortega, is more serious, keen on talking about the work that they’ve done to boost tourism in their region.

Having grown up in front of the camera, Curtis-Smith was a natural at the shoot, but Ortega gamely holds his own. When it was her turn to pose solo, Ortega is a bit relieved, given that it’s been hours on the outdoor set and his job isn’t one that entails such maneuverings on screen. He looks at Curtis with fond eyes, as the actress poses with a disarming smile that has caught his, and all of our hearts.

As the shoot goes on, one can’t help but feel an air of serenity as the waves meet the sand, amidst the locale’s undeniable congeniality and rustic charm. Ortega proudly shares, “What I love most about our province of La Union is the peace and order. Because of this, small communities such as our little surf town of San Juan are allowed to thrive and survive on their own trade.”

He conveys how in recent years, people from the city and even other countries have chosen to take up residence there, making a living by the ocean with remote jobs, without being too far from civilization. “Now that our province is slowly becoming a tourism powerhouse in the north, natural destinations like the Immuki Island tide pools and sea urchin tasting in Balaoan, nature trails and waterfall hikes in San Gabriel, among many other destinations have given visitors more reasons to visit and explore La Union,” declares Ortega.

Aside from his career in government, Ortega is likewise an amazing surfer, and innovative entrepreneur whose love for the sport, he declares had “created a desire of living my life around this surf community forever.”

He started with the La Union Surf School, even teaching students from prestigious international schools as part of the latter’s outdoor education program. As an offshoot of this first business, Ortega then came up with the La Union Surf Shop and Café. When this had to close, he quickly came up with a new concept – Mad Monkeys Burger Lab, a quirky hole-in-the-wall that locals and visitors can’t get enough of. And most recently, Funky Quarters, a boutique hotel with a rooftop bar above Mad Monkeys.

In order to further bolster the community, he and a few friends had also started the first international surf, music, and arts festival in the country called “Soul Surf.”

Ortega says this was the main catalyst in launching “elyu” and its emerging community of MSMEs. “I’m proud to share that this brought 40,000 people to visit La Union over a single weekend. Furthermore, the event went on and consecutively received its award as the Best Tourism Event in the country,” he narrates.

All this may seem like a lot for someone Ortega’s age, who at 31 deftly balances his many roles, much like a surfer maintaining equilibrium on a wave. But he’s not the first in his family to accomplish so much, so young.

His great, great-grandfather Joaquin Ortega was appointed the first civil governor of La Union in 1901 at the tender age of 30.

This zest for life is one thing Curtis adores. “His genuine character is what I love about him the most. I see how he is with himself, his direction in life, and the way he is there for those in his life. And it makes me so inspired,” she shares.

Ortega likewise conveys his sincere admiration for the actress’ determination and dedication. “Whether it’s a personal thing or for work, she makes sure she always gives it her 100 percent,” he declares.

A Love for Travel

During their free time, the couple loves to travel. “Jeff and I love Europe and have been to Italy and France. And we hope to discover the Nordic countries soon,” shares Curtis. Ortega, on the other hand, likewise has a few places on his bucket list, “A dream destination for myself and Jasmine would be an African safari trip, a surf trip in the Maldives, or to see the Northern Lights in Greenland.”

Travel is naturally something the couple is passionate about, especially with Ortega’s career. As Regional Director, Ortega’s responsibilities include overseeing the operations of the regional office, regulating establishments, providing training to tourism stakeholders, and developing their area to be at par with international quality standards.

“Our country boasts a vast array of natural resources, not just in popularly known destinations… but also in other lesser known destinations like La Union, Pangasinan, Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte and many more… Upskilling the people living in these areas can help realize income generation in a more sustainable approach,” Ortega shares.

The young leader is also passionate about helping equip local communities with the know-how so that they can learn to be “stewards of their own destinations.” He is grateful for the support of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., as through the latter’s leadership, “lesser known provinces have equally been given the chance to share the beauty of their local culture and heritage.”

Ortega is also proud to be under the country’s new tourism secretary, Christina Garcia-Frasco, who is endeavoring not only to upgrade the skills of tourism frontline staff, but also those in industries related to travel, from tricycle drivers to toll booth operators, thus helping reintroduce the “Filipino Brand of Hospitality” our country is known for. “Slowly but surely, and with a whole-of-nation approach, we can hope and expect tourism to be the economic powerhouse it used to be in the years to come,” says Ortega.

Indie Queen

As of writing, Curtis is in the United States at the Sundance Film Festival. Here, the thriller In My Mother’s Skin that she stars in has received a nomination. As only one of eight films to be screened in the notable Midnights category, and the only foreign language one, the actress is understandably thrilled. “It’s been 12 years since I began professionally acting and this definitely takes the freaking highlight,” she shares on Instagram.

Set in World War II, the film follows a young girl as she tries to protect her dying mother. This is amidst complications from her misplaced trust in a beguiling flesh-eating fairy. It’s a plot that certainly keeps you on your toes. Not to mention, it has a unique, provocative point of view, not unlike the Filipina-Australian’s other films.

One of her most memorable roles, and one which got her Best Supporting Actress at the Cinemalaya Film Festival, was for her performance in Transit, as the daughter of an OFW in Israel hiding under the threat of deportation. At only 19 years old, and a relative newbie then, Curtis was lauded for her compelling performance. It even had her even speaking Hebrew on set.

For her performance in the film Baka Bukas, where she played a member of the LGBTQ community, she won Best Actress at the 2016 Cinema One Originals Festival. Her acting chops continued to win her acclaim. Even her performance in Siargao bestowed her two Best Supporting Actress awards.

There’s an immersive quality to the way she acts, and one that has allowed the actress to continually evolve. “I love that I am able to discover life experiences through my characters. It allows me to disappear for a while and live in a universe entirely not mine. Then when I come back to real everyday life, I am now able to carry a new perspective,” she muses.

The actress proved her mettle in independent films, thus earning her the title “Indie Queen.”

Moreover, Curtis also gained a reputation as one of the most bankable actresses of her generation. Her romantic-comedy oeuvre includes runaway faves like I’m Drunk, I Love You and The World Between Us with Alden Richards.

“Finding the truth to each character’s story is what allows me to define my performance,” she shares. The actress likened her process to the way one connects with people in literature. “When you read a book, and can find anything to resonate with, or simply understand a character. Then you feel like you are experiencing the story for yourself,” she declares.

“You start to feel things, new truths, truths of the character. When I can bring their truth to life. Then the audience is truly led to believe I am living these experiences of the character and film’s story. That is the magic I always strive for,” she explains.

Curtis also shares that she has two films yet to be released. These are Real Life Fiction with Piolo Pascual and award-winning actress Dolly de Leon, directed by Paul Soriano. As well as Moneyslapper with John Lloyd Cruz and Charlie Dizon directed by Bor Ocampo. She will also start filming another film this month with her Alter Me director, RC delos Reyes.

A Higher Love

Aside from continuing to create world-class performances while acting, the Filipina-Australian is likewise keen on helping out. “I’ve been working with World Vision Philippines since 2010,” she shares. Curtis recalls how she’s always loved volunteering at all the fundraising and social awareness events in her school.

Wise beyond her years, she shares, “Early on… I recognized the privilege and opportunities I had. And so if there was a way to give back and strengthen those who need a boost…I wanted and still want to be there to help make that progress happen.”

The actress has likewise partnered with the DENR, the DOT, and BIOFIN (Biodiversity Finance Initiative). This was to promulgate for the care of the protected areas of the country. “We aim to encourage and raise funds so that those in nearby communities and tourists alike will learn. Start to incorporate in their everyday life and travels the love and care for our flora and fauna,” she declares.

Being of service to the common good is something the couple strongly has in common. Ortega declares, “I think that my life’s purpose is to be of service to others. Whether it’s for work or my home. Service to others is a consistent obligation. Therefore, it is not achieved fully but rather consistently given and received.”

Art Direction MARC YELLOW
Creative Direction PAOLO TORIO
Sittings Editor CANDY DIZON
Makeup JOHNNY PAGADUAN assisted by
Styling GEE JOCSON assisted by MARKO
Videography KIERAN PUNAY
Video Producer MIGUEL LIM
Shoot Coordination MAE TALAID and MJ ALMERO
Shot on Location AUREO HOTEL & RESORT
Short Overall Dress on Jasmine BALMAIN;
Butterfly Gown on Jasmine PUEY QUINONES