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    Message at the Angat Bayi Women’s Political Empowerment Fellowship

    Program Opening Ceremonies

    SEAMEO Innotech, Quezon City

    delivered on 15 November 2018

    Thank you very much. Kindly take your seats.

    Okay iyon, Ma’am, ha. “One and only.” [laughter]

    His Excellency, Canadian Ambassador John Holmes; Senator Risa Hontiveros; Congresswoman Kaka Bag-ao; Dr. Ted Herbosa, Executive Vice President of the University of the Philippines; Dr. Carolyn Sobritchea, Director of the UP Center for Women’s and Gender Studies; Dr. Nathalie Africa-Verceles, Program Director of Angat Bayi; Ms. Maya Tamayo-Gutierrez, Program Manager of Angat Bayi; our Angat Bayi fellows; honored guests; mga minamahal kong mga kababayan: Magandang umaga sa inyong lahat! [Audience: “Magandang umaga!”]

    I actually have a 15-page speech prepared [laughter], but I was looking at the participants for this morning’s event, and I saw that all of you are local officials. I figured that this will be the last time that I will speak before you in the entire duration of your training, and I felt that I might as well not read my speech and relate to you our experiences in Naga.

    Iyong nasa pinaka-unahan sa atin is Councilor De Asis—six-term councilor, topnotcher always, and now unopposed candidate for the vice mayor. [applause] And the reason why I am telling you this is I have worked with her for… I think for almost two decades.

    You know, some of you already know that when I got married, I was very young. I was only 22. And less than a year after I got married, my husband ran for mayor already of Naga and won. But when we got married, I was a full-time college professor and I was a law student in the evening. So I did not have much time to do ‘first lady roles,’ in the traditional mold of first ladies, because I was busy—I was working during the day, I was a student at night. But I was made honorary chairman of almost all of the women’s organizations in Naga. It was an honorary role, in the sense that I was not expected to be involved in the day-to-day activities in all of these women’s organizations, although if they had events, I was obliged to attend. But that was my role.

    But when I finally passed the Bar, I was very sure what I wanted to do. I wanted to do public service lawyering. And at that time, the only kind of public service lawyering that I knew of was PAO, Public Attorney’s Office. I worked with PAO for some time, but then it came in conflict with the obligations of my husband. Nagpapahuli iyong asawa ko ng mga nagpapataya sa jueteng, mga drug addict, and then ako iyong magde-defend [laughter], kasi the cases would be assigned to me and I did not have any choice. So I decided to resign from PAO and look for another opportunity of that mold. And then I found SALIGAN. Doon ko naging officemate si Congresswoman Kaka Bag-ao. I was in SALIGAN for more than a decade, and si Congresswoman Kaka was in our Manila office, and then eventually in Mindanao, but I was assigned to the Bicol branch of SALIGAN. Parang ang dami kong koneksyon dito—nakita ko si Mayor Weng of Masbate. I was program director of a Masbate project, and I was in Masbate every month for two years.

    When I was in SALIGAN, I was the only woman lawyer. I was the only woman lawyer, so naturally, all the women cases were assigned to me. And that was when I worked closely with Councilor De Asis, because Councilor De Asis formed an organization called Bantay Familia. It was actually meant to be a support group, a support group of women who were victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, etc., etc. And I was made a member of the board, not because I was the wife of the mayor, but because I was SALIGAN’s lawyer, and SALIGAN was Bantay Familia’s partner. So we worked very closely together.

    And one of the things that we discovered was that it would always be… there was a pattern. When Bantay Familia was formed, we were doing paralegal trainings, we were doing organizing, etc., etc., so there was more awareness as far as gender equality was concerned, women empowerment was concerned. So there was a spike in cases—cases of rape, cases of, you know, sexual abuse and the like. But one of the things we discovered was, after we rescued them, and they would decide to file cases against the perpetrators. We would spend countless of sleepless nights doing all the paperwork. When we reach the courts, the clients could no longer be found. And— Ayan, tumatango kayo kasi that’s the experience in the local, ‘di ba? The clients would only be very interested in filing cases at the first instance. Pero as time progresses, they lose interest, not because they are no longer interested in pursuing, but because they feel that they don’t have any other option. They could not stand being away from their children, and they would choose to go back to the place of abuse, even if they know that… even if they know what’s forthcoming for them.

    And it was very, very frustrating on our part. Iyong reklamo namin ni Councilor Nene was, our clients would see us on a repeated cycle, ano—siguro mga once a year pumupunta sa amin—because the cycle of violence really continues. Iyong masama pa, sinusugod kami ng mga asawa. Sinasabi na their wives would not have had the, you know, the courage to file cases against them were it not for us. So it became very frustrating for us. We thought of so many things. I formed another women’s group called Lakas ng Kababaihan, just so the women would be organized, and they would have a platform where they could air their views.

    But you know, I was first lady of Naga at a very good time, in the sense that, I think during my husband’s second term, the City Council passed a Women Development Code Ordinance. It was a very good move in the sense that we were among the first LGUs to have a Women Development Code. But while it was a very good development for us, it was never nearly enough. And after the passage… parang, if I’m not mistaken, Councilor De Asis was one of the authors of the Women Development Code. And then the City Council again passed an ordinance creating a Naga City Council of Women. And it became a very, very good framework, and a very good platform, where not just women, but all advocates had a platform where they could push for their advocacies. Ano iyon, it was a tripartite body, composed of the LGU on one hand, NGOs and POs—women NGOs and POs—on the other, and national government agencies as the third party. It became… it was very empowering in the sense that all the organizations had the chance to do leadership roles. All organizations had a chance to participate in committee deliberations where women issues were concerned. All organizations had the chance to—even if they were not members of the City Council—had a chance to push for legislation for women. And I think one of the most important things about the creation of the Naga City Council of Women was that it became the Gender and Development Office of the city, so that the GAD budget was being decided upon by the council. So everyone had a chance to participate in the planning, in the implementation stage.

    What we discovered with other local government units that SALIGAN was dealing with was, when it comes to GAD officers, more often than not, the GAD officer would be a woman department head who had a… who had another assignment other than being the GAD officer. ‘Di ba? Parang, halimbawa, the city budget officer would be a woman, so the city mayor would appoint her as the GAD representative. Nothing wrong with that; the only thing was it’s a full-time job. And most of the time ginagawa iyong mga women-related concerns kapag Women’s Month lang during March. ‘Di ba? Kapag Women’s Month lang during March. Hindi talaga siya natututukan.

    When… I think it was during the time when Councilor De Asis filed for a leave of absence—iyong mga anak niya kasi nasa US. She filed for a leave of absence and I headed Bantay Familia for a while, while I was also with SALIGAN. When I was heading Bantay Familia in her absence, I was elected head of the Naga City Council of Women. And one of the things that we tried to analyze was how the GAD fund was being used. Asawa ko iyong mayor, pero siya iyong binubusisi namin, tinitingnan namin how the GAD fund was being used. And we realized na, parang, ang ginagawa ng city for a time was they would look for regular activities of the city, tapos sasabihin nila, “Ay, ito, puwede itong ma-consider na GAD fund.” So it was not based on any GAD plan. Parang ano lang… parang for compliance. And nagreklamo kami, nagreklamo kami on how the GAD fund was being used. And our complaint was— It is always good to have an active women’s council, kasi papakinggan kayo. Papakinggan kayo because you’re composed of representatives of the many women organizations. So we petitioned before the City Government that the GAD fund should be based on the GAD plan prepared by the Women’s Council. Pumayag naman.

    And iyong na-find out namin nina Councilor De Asis when we were helping victims of abuse, the culprit really is economic dependence on the husband. Ano talaga, one of the things that make women feel powerless is the fact that they are not economically independent. Parating iyan iyong dahilan. Mga 98% of the time, sasabihin nila, “Okay na lang bumalik, titiisin ko na lang, kasi wala akong kita.”

    I don’t know if you are familiar with Republic Act 9262, iyong Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act. It was really… it was really a breakthrough. It was really a breakthrough, in the sense that it recognized a lot of other forms of violence other than physical and sexual violence. Dati kasi, kapag sinabi nating violence, ang hahanapin ng fiscal, kapag mayroon kang— Oo, they would ask for a medical certificate from a public hospital. But under Republic Act 9262, two other forms of violence have been recognized: economic violence saka psychological violence.

    Naging sobrang importante siya sa amin, kasi we come across so many women who have been deprived of support from the husbands. Many women who, parang, literally… literally sacrifice because their husbands are philandering. Paulit-ulit na pambabae, pero wala silang nagagawa, parati because they are financially dependent on the husband. So what we thought of was to give more importance to capacitating women to be more economically independent. So all our efforts were actually—not all, but most of our efforts were actually geared on spending the GAD fund for capacitating women to be economically independent.

    But one of the things that we found out also was—ewan ko kung napapansin niyo din ito—when you organize women’s groups, it’s the same faces over and over again. May mga mahihilig talagang sumali sa mga organizations, ‘di ba? [laughter] Iyong mga active talaga, paulit-ulit sila din. So when you train them, sila din. Ganoon din. [laughter] It’s not really a bad thing. It’s not really a bad thing, in the sense na buti nga may gustong paulit-ulit. But we decided, why not organize the councils in the barangays? Para hindi lang siya city level, but we also organized barangay women’s councils. And the barangay women’s councils were also equipped to be the GAD focal point persons of the barangays, so that iyong mga ordinaryong mga babae, may boses when the GAD planning would be done, where the GAD fund of the barangay would be spent. Kasi iyong GAD fund talaga, most abused. Kakarampot na lang nga, tapos most abused pa. Kadalasan— Even the GAD fund of national government offices… I remember when I was still in Congress, I was always being invited to women activities, and usually bongga—sa magagandang hotel, ang sarap ng pagkain, may mga t-shirt lahat. [laughter] GAD fund iyon. Sasabihin sa iyo, “Ma’am, inuubos kasi namin iyong GAD fund.” [laughter] Women’s Month. Women’s Month or Christmas, kasi matatapos na iyong year.

    Pero if you give spaces for ordinary women to take part in planning, mas nagagamit na tama iyong pondo. ‘Di ba? You are able to make use of the GAD fund well. So it is always a struggle. Kahit noong in-organize na namin siya by barangays, maraming mga kababaihan, ayaw pa ding mag-participate. And these are women who feel that they do not have the time to indulge in activities such as this. Ito iyong parating may dahilan na busy sa bahay, nag-aalaga ng mga bata, etc., etc. And you really have to be very creative in finding ways to make sure that you involve them. Hindi talaga puwedeng city level lang.

    Kaya kahit grabe iyong kampanya—ang daming advocacy campaigns—and I think most of the gender equality and women empowerment campaigns fail is because of the fact na it does not really trickle down to the grassroots in the way that it should. And hindi siya masyadong— Parang, very activity-centered. It should be outcome-centered. There should be a way of measuring whether or not, ‘di ba, because of our spending of the GAD fund, ano ba iyong na-attain na improvement? It’s very difficult to measure, but you have to find a way, because otherwise, iyong kapag hindi ka conscious na naaabot mo iyong pinakababa, mahirap. And Naga— Ambassador, Naga City—I think I told you this already—is one of the earliest recipients of the Canadian Fund Great Women Project. We were doing the Great Women Project and we were helping the pili vendors in Naga, who are all women. Because of the Canadian Fund, we were able to construct a common service facility for them, and we were able to train a lot of women’s group in, I think, six or seven areas in Camarines Sur.

    So ayon, talagang the struggle in the local level is different. Parang, sa national, it’s all about campaign, the use of media, talking about gender equality. But the realities on the ground, it’s different. And I think that is why talk on gender equality and women empowerment is not usually a sexy topic in the local level. Kasi we are not able to translate it, in the manner that it should be translated and made understandable and felt by the rural women. So kaniya-kaniya.

    What we experienced at the local level may be different from your own experiences. Pero the reason why I related to you our experiences is that we cannot always wait for national government to act. We have been advocating for the passage of laws correcting the inadequacies of existing laws. Halimbawa, marami pa ding mga batas na hindi talaga pantay iyong pagtingin sa babae saka lalaki. When I was a member of the 16th Congress— Parati kaming co-authors ni Cong. Kaka noong 16th Congress. When we were members of the 16th Congress, we were pushing for the amendment of the Revised Penal Code, on the crimes of concubinage and adultery, and just make it Marital Infidelity law. Kasi unfair talaga sa mga babae. And many other laws. Halimbawa iyong laws on Article 36 of the Family Code, iyong psychological incapacity, which is a ground for the declaration of nullity of marriage, it is very prohibitive to women who do not have the means to, you know, to file for a case on declaration of nullity of marriage. Halimbawa, ito, although Article 9— Although Republic Act 9262 is a very good law, nahihirapan kami. Halimbawa, under Republic Act 9262, you do not have to wait for the case to be decided on because provisional remedies can already be given. Dati, kapag nag-file ka ng kaso for support, hihintayin mong matapos nang ilang dekada, nag-graduate na iyong mga anak mo, kapag natapos na iyong kaso, saka pa lang lalabas. Pero under Republic Act 9262, when you file a case, the court can immediately issue a temporary restraining order and a permanent restraining order, ordering the husband to already give support. Pero ang problema namin, mauutak din iyong ibang mga asawa. Paminsan magre-resign sa trabaho, kakuntsaba iyong mga employer—hindi na siya lumalabas sa roster ng employees kahit oo pa, para lang makaiwas. Things like that.

    Although we advocate for the amendment of existing laws, pero we cannot wait for Congress to act. We have to act in our own levels. And the City Council is actually a very good venue to push for ordinances. Iyong sa City Council namin, until now, ganoon pa din. I remember, we were able to convince the City Government to give space for our women entrepreneurs. Mahirap kasi iyong you only train them with skills and they do not have opportunities naman para magkita. Iyong halimbawa, we asked the City Government, “Puwede ba at least 30% ng mga binibili niyo, bilhin niyo naman sa mga kababaihan namin?” So nag-pass ng resolution dati iyong City Council na— Halimbawa, we train the women sa cooking, we train them to be caterers, pero wala naman silang pupuntahan kasi wala naman silang masyadong kapital. So what we did was ask the City Government, “Puwede ba na, ano naman, ang dami niyo namang pinapa-cater, 30% naman noon sa mahihirap na kababaihan?” And it happened. Maraming mga bidding requirements, pero may mga exemptions naman, eh. Halimbawa, ang daming conventions sa Naga. Iyong mga kits… iyong mga kits, iyong mga uniforms. Iyong mga tinutulungang magtahi? Iyong mga tinutulungang magtahi, “Puwede ba na iyong 30% naman ng mga kino-contract out niyo na uniforms—mga basketball uniforms during summer, uniforms of employees, kurtina sa City Hall—puwede bang iyong ibang kontrata diyan, ibigay naman sa mga grupo ng mga kababaihan?” Nangyayari.

    So the LGU is really a very powerful tool in helping women. Pero we just have to, parang, pull the campaign to the level of the women, so that it becomes… parang, they would be passionate about it. Because if the campaign is so, parang, high-level, hindi sila kumo-connect, eh. And they become very wary of participating.

    So I’m very glad that UP Office of Gender Studies (UP Center for Women’s and Gender Studies) thought of conceptualizing this particular program, in partnership with our office, and in partnership with the Embassy of Canada, because I think the best way to help women is through local government officials.

    And this is a good time to be in UP. We just had a very historic day yesterday. [laughter] We’re already Top 4—Top 4 sa basketball [applause]—so congratulations to all the UP people who are here.

    Thank you very much! Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat! [applause]

    Posted in Speeches on Nov 16, 2018