15 March 2017
Speech at the International Women’s Month Forum
St. Scholastica College-Manila
Thank you very much for the privilege of inviting me over this morning. You know all my life I have been surrounded by Scholasticans. My, my high school best friend went to St. Scho for college. I went to UP, but my two roommates were from St. Scholastica.
Um, my, the eldest sister of my husband, um, spent her college years at St. Scholastica’s. And now, my, the head of my advocacy team, my very beautiful spokesperson, Georgina Hernandez, is also a Scholastican. Geo-ann baka you might want to stand up, o dito ka na lang.
I also had several teachers, you know, I, I spent my grade school and high school years at the Universidad de Sta. Isabel in Naga City and I know that some of my, some of my grade school teachers um, transferred to St. Scholastica.
I heard that my grade 2 adviser, Ms. Teresita Cunanan is here. Ms. Cunanan was my grade 2 adviser. And you know she looks the same, after so many years. Ma’am, totoo iyon.
Anyway as I’ve said, thank you all for inviting me over, to celebrate with you today on your 110th anniversary. In each of you, I see future generations of strong, insightful women who can change the world. And I believe that to be nurtured by St. Scholastica’s College, can only allow each of you to enhance your wonderful potential.
Scholasticans have always been known to be very strong women. Who are no strangers to speaking out when it comes to something they believe in dearly. St. Scholastica College, the Benedictine nuns in particular, rallied on the streets during the martial law years. Even now, we hear and see you speaking up against the injustices of today.
Just last year, your institution took a stand with us in condemning the sudden burial of former President in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. In more recent events, you were also vocal towards the alarming spate of killings in the country brought about by the current administration’s war on drugs.
What this shows to me is great courage. But at the same time, hope for our country. As long as we are still fighting for our rights, we have hope that our country is worth fighting for.
It is clear: For our children, our students, to learn about social responsibility and taking action, we must not confine them in our classrooms. Active participation in society means engaging in discourse with people outside of our circles, and joining organizations that further advance our advocacies and our agenda.
We thank the wonderful Benedictine sisters for opening the eyes of our young girls, then and now, and for encouraging them to take part in the conversations that move us.
Proof of these are your St. Scholastica graduates, no less. As I said, your alumnae are vocal, curious and proactive. Persistent, even, in making a stand.
Of course, there is Sister Mary John Mananzan, who was president of the college during the Marcos dictatorship. Back then, and even until now, she continues to be the activist that she is.
She was there—joined by other nuns of various orders—when the dictator was overthrown in EDSA, and I heard, I don’t know if it’s true, she was also there recently, when we took to EDSA again during the 31st celebration of People Power anniversary.
There is also Justice Cecilia Muñoz-Palma, who as we know her today, was the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court of the Philippines. But despite being an appointee of then-President Marcos, Justice Palma wrote several dissenting opinions on the martial law government. Upon retirement, she became a leading figure in the political opposition against Marcos, and much later, helped us in drafting the 1987 Constitution we know today.
Then there is former President Cory Aquino, the first woman to become President of the Republic, and is known to us today as the mother of Philippine democracy—the widow who stood so boldly against an oppressive dictatorship.
So what a great opportunity to be surrounded by great examples of strong women. I hope that you young girls appreciate the legacy that you have. The education that you receive, and most of all, the inspiration from these stalwarts of society.
Today as we celebrate women’s month, let us talk about our roles in giving more women room to grow and room to dream. After you graduate and leave these walls, you will see what it is like in the real world out there for our women.
I hope that you will take the time to learn of troubles of women who are poorer than you, and have lesser opportunities than you. It doesn’t take much to be aware of how the rest of our population live, and engage them with empathy.
Your theme today, “Benedictine Stewardship: We care, an expression of faith, hope and love. A Scholasticans’ response to the year of the poor and the Jubilee Year of Mercy” is so appropriate for our times.
At this stage in our history, it is critical for us women to become each other’s support system. Here and around the world, our little girls are exposed to misogyny from society’s leaders, coarse language, and vulgar references can be heard over the radio and television. Sexual harassment and disrespect have become cool.
We don’t have to silently swallow all of these things. We must learn how to stand up for our rights. So I challenge you to do this, because for so many years I was a human rights’ lawyers for an NGO called SALIGAN.
It is short for Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal. And my main advocacy was to help abused women and emancipate them from their abusers. Our small home in Naga became an unofficial halfway home for women who have nowhere else to go. It has been common for our household to hear someone knocking on our doors in the middle of the night, by women who have been physically abused by their husbands or relatives.
We would shelter them and work on their cases. But more often than not, when it was time for the judge to hear their cases, they would be gone and I would be all alone in the courtroom. They would often go back to their abusers, worried that they have no means to take care of their families.
This problem is not unique in Naga. As I studied and got to know towns and cities from North to South, I discovered that while the Philippines is one of the places known all over the world for its gender friendliness, the suffering at a household level is still real and severe.
So what we have done is to include women empowerment as one of the pillars of the Office of the Vice President’s anti-poverty framework program called Angat Buhay.
Under this program, we seek to provide women with economic empowerment, a stable source of income and linkage to markets so that they can have better chance of earning more from each item that they sell.
Avenues for capability enhancement, mentoring and skills training, will also help women to never slide back into their previous predicaments. We are now targeting 50 different local governments whose leaders show a progressive nature and a willingness to work together.
We are also partnering with the United Nations Population Fund to launch “Babaenihan Talks”, a year-long initiative that will focus on raising awareness on issues related to the marginalization of women and what we all can do to fight it.
The end game is to give the Filipina woman the audacity to dream again. It may sound overly simple, but when women are empowered enough to dream, their families, their children, develop the same ability as well.
The Filipina today is stronger and smarter than she has ever been. Our daughters have more liberties to become who they want to be, to be at par with their male counterparts.
And the platforms to speak out, whenever they see something in society they need to correct. Women empowerment also leads to other forms of freedoms: making decisions, providing for their family’s needs, improving oneself, and becoming a real partner in transformation.
But you know, these freedoms that we must strive, these are freedoms that we must try to preserve. Each one of us has a responsibility to respect our own femininity and embrace our unique strengths and softness.
Ours is not a tug-of-war with the other gender. But to be a woman of strength, we need to know when to speak up, and when to let others speak.
We don’t have to be President Cory, or Sister Mary John Mananzan to show that the girls next to us that she shines in her own light. Let us be kinder to each another. Let us speak with empathy all the time, not with envy. Include rather than exclude in your, in your own little groups. Our world will be much brighter when girls with substance let each other, let each other sparkle in her own authenticity.
You know we reap what we sow all the time. If we sow fear, we also reap fear. If we, you know, if we sow love, we reap love. So the lesson here today is to be kind all the time. To plant love all the time. To embrace each other all the time.
Because as Sister Mary Frances told us, this is a difficult world to be in right now. It’s also a most difficult time to be a vice president right now, sister. But, but you know, when I was, I’m saying this because I really appreciate the visit from the sisters. When I was having a very difficult time, um, embracing all the viciousness around, the first visitors I had at the office were the Benedictine sisters, they were the St. Scholastica’s sisters.
And I will treasure you for the rest of my life. Knowing that you are there for me, that should give me, that should give me enough strength. The should encourage me to, to be stronger and to fight the viciousness all the more, because I know that you’re all behind me, praying for me.
So maraming maraming salamat po, happy foundation anniversary again, and happy international women’s month to one and all.