Press Release
March 8, 2023

Transcript of ANC Headstart Interview with Senator Risa Hontiveros by Karen Davila
08 March 2023

Q: Before we talk about the advances for women in the Philippines, I'd like to get your reaction first on the recent killing with Mr Degamo. So, what do you see so far? Clearly, do you see it as related-election violence, political violence? Ano po ito?

SRH: Well, it's really just the latest example of terrible political and yes, election-related violence. Kinokondena ko talaga itong walang-habas na pagpaslang kay Gov Roel Degamo at nakikiramay sa kanyang pamilya, sa kanyang balo, si Mayor Janice Degamo ng Pamplona, Negros Oriental at buong pamilya at mga kaibigan at kasama nila.

Kasunod niyan, I filed Senate Resolution No. 518 calling for an investigation, in aid of legislation, on that brazen killing and the spate of killings of elected incumbent or former local public officials. Imagine, just in this latest attack on Gov. Roel, naka military outfits na naman ang mga salarin, yun ay lubhang nakababahala na apparently involved yung mga miyembro o dating miyembro ng ating uniformed services. Huwag po nating gawing normal ang patayan nagmumukhang hindi na ang COMELEC ay taga bilang lang ng boto or arbiter lang pero nagiging gatilyo pa siya because it seems that this political violence is also election-related.

Q: But what do you think is the problem considering in the last few administrations there have already been attempts to break private armies, in another administration, families with arms were even asked to surrender their arms. Let's start first it all started in a way, not started, in the Mamasapano murder right? that kind of like it was a domino effect, ideally for change and yet increasing number in what they described as isolated cases even during the last administration of political killings

SRH: Right and apparently, those cases are not so isolated as authorities would like us to believe. Nagpatuloy man ang dismantling of private armies yung collection of unlicensed or loose or excessive number of firearms kulang pa rin those have not been at the scale and I guess seriousness to counteract the velocity of that trend most horrifically exemplified by the Mamasapano killings for example.

Yung frequency of attacks on public officials hanggang ngayon ay very disturbing talaga. Imagine, unang mga buwan pa lang ng bagong administrasyon, mayroon na tayong no less than seven killings and attempted killings of elected public officials at karamihan pa ginagawa sa mga pampublikong lugar. We count Cagayan Vice Mayor Almeda, Lanao del Sur Governor Adiong, who thankfully survived that ambush,Mayor Montawal of Datu Montawal, Maguindanao del Sur, former Vice Mayor Danilo Amat of Quezon in Quezon Province, former Vice Mayor Sulit of Lobo, Batangas, former Mayor Rosita Furigay of Lamitan City, Basilan and then recently, itong kay Gov Roel.

Gaya ng sinimulan nating pag-usapan kanina, doble disturbingly yung ganitong political violence also seemed clearly election-related. Hindi ko maiwasan isipin na itong pagpatay kay Gov. Roel Degamo, may kinalaman sa desisyon ng COMELEC na siya ang iluklok bilang gobernador ng Negros Oriental matapos nilang idiskwalipika ang boto ng isang nuisance candidate. The question is, or one question is, could this violence against him and eight other people pati yung mga kawawang 4Ps beneficiaries, could this have been..

Q: Who were described as collateral damage?

SRH: Imagine, naging collateral damage na lang ang tao sa mga political agendas, and could that agenda have been thwarted, could that violence have been prevented kung yung nuisance candidate ay nadeklarang nuisance mas maaga pa, hindi later on? I asked and will ask this question in the investigation kasi it seems COMELEC's processes have become increasingly ineffective and inefficient amy inordinate delay ang COMELEC en banc ruling dito, halimbawa and such delays in their rulings could have aggravated the political vindictiveness after electoral decisions.

Election-related killings really tarnish the sanctity of our elections which comelec is responsible to protect and their call of duty beyond election day at kalimitan when we hear election-related violence, iniisip natin na yung mga acts of violence na ito happened in the lead up to or immediately after an electoral contest pero paano tulad mukhang tulad dito sa kasong ito paano kung matagal na yung eleksyon pero yung ugat ng political violence ay yung eleksyon pa ring iyon? Ano yung framework natin doon?

Q: Good point. I think nobody's ever pointed that out that it would have probably made a difference in the lives of these people if the COMELEC just declare nuisance candidates or make decisions way ahead of election day. That's one right?

SRH: Hindi lang malilinis yung ballot pero medyo kaklaro ng konti yung komplikado na, passionate na, maaaring puno na ng negative feelings if the field is cleared for those who COMELEC would say are the legitimate candidates. Hindi na nakukumplika pa lalo.

Q: You filed the Senate resolution, there will be an investigation on that. Just recently, the House unanimously approved a resolution for a hybrid Constitutional Convention. This will reach the Senate soon. Given the death of Gov. Degamo, what is your take with certain issues of the lower house's decision with the ConCon?

Number 1, they are not banning relatives of politicians from running. I asked Cong. Rufus Rodriguez, he believes that there won't be a conflict of interest, that there won't be political parties involved in terms of those who are running. Given the situation we've just seen, what are your fears with the ConCon, considering that those in power can let their relatives run as a delegate?

SRH: As has been happening in all electoral contests in the past decades na hindi pa namin sa Kongreso sinusunod ang utos ng konstitusyon magpasa ng Anti-Dynasty Law. Medyo it is to be expected, isasabay pa ang balak na inaprubahang resolusyon, isasabay yung paghalal ng mga concon delegates reportedly, [with the barangay], yes, and SK elections.

Supposedly, ang barangay elections ay nonpartisan. Alam naman natin kung gaano ka talaga ka-partisan. So to say that parties won't be a complication. I'm a bit conflicted about that kasi gusto ko nga may mas marami tayong totoong partido, mayroon tayong totoong political party system, but in actuality, even now, talagang involved sila sa mga barangay elections. And I don't think na yung gusto sana ng iba na constitutional convention, hybrid man yan, will simplify the situation.

Ako naman I do support constitutional reform but I am not cha-cha now. At dapat hindi talaga involved diyan ang mga political dynasties among other political actors. Hindi ako para sa pag-amyenda sa section on the national economy and patrimony, which are, in any case, being amended, in fact, by law. Certainly, recent cases of economic legislation that Congress has passed. At hindi pabor din sa cha-cha sa ngayon when there are many other urgent issues.

Q: For you, it's the timing. But you are not against economic reforms in the constitution.

SRH: No, especially if the reforms are in the direction of redistribution of wealth and social protection. If and when constitutional reform will be undertaken, isang importanteng arena of debate yan. Anong direksyon ng ating economic reforms, whether by law, kaya pinagdedebatihan namin yung mga economic bills, or lalo na if through constitutional reform. Pero hindi ngayon.

Q: Do you believe it will face tough sailing in the Senate, even if they are a supermajority so to speak in the Senate? You believe it won't be as easy?

SRH: Hmm. Hindi lang kami ni Minority Leader Koko Pimentel ang nakakaramdam na not many people are talking about it in the Senate at palagay ko, in fairness sa mga kasama namin, kahit sa majority, many would have questions about it, if and when, pagdedebatihan na namin yan. Hindi lang in principle, pero in terms also of the implications to the institution itself. So may mga high-minded at may mga self-interested questions din that will be important in that debate kung buksan ito sa Senado.

Q: Another issue right now is the death of a student of Adamson University, John Matthew Salilig, and it's suspected that he died of hazing while those who actually conducted that hazing already faced the Senate. Is there a need to review the law? Or frankly speaking, is it a deeper cultural problem that we are facing?

SRH: It's really a deep cultural problem. Deeper than any law.

Q: Because the law is quite strict.

SRH: It's quite strict and stronger. Kasi yung current Anti-Hazing Law natin ay inamyendahan na nga only recently at pinalakas pagkatapos ng pagpatay kay Atio Castillo also in a fraternity hazing. And by the way yung kasong iyon ng Castillo family is still awaiting judgment of the courts so hanggang ngayon justice delayed, justice denied pa iyon at ito na sumunod itong trahedya sa Salilig family naman na lubos din akong nakikiramay so we are indeed facing a deeper problem.

It is in our cultures. Kailangan harapin yan at i-confront head-on, simula sa ating mga pamilya, sa ating mga tahanan. Definitely, sa mga eskwelahan, as this recent killing demonstrates, nagluluksa din ang komunidad ng Adamson University, where my late husband was an undergraduate engineering student.

Kailangan harapin at hamunin natin itong kultura ng karahasan at impunity sa ating mga workplaces at sa lahat pa ng mga institusyon at spaces sa ating buong lipunan. Even at the level of government, kasi I think kaya din na-normalize itong karahasan, pagpatay, at impunity, whether sa election-related political violence o sa fraternity hazing killings, ng nakaraang marami-raming taon. Dating from the human rights violations of the martial law dictatorship to the more recent extrajudicial killings.

Q: When an organization for example under any field, if they've broken certain rules, you'd have them, they would be a pariah in that sector, that they wouldn't be recognized, and I wanted to ask you about Tau Gamma Phi specifically. Because these fraternities, the most is student is expelled. Of course, they face criminal charges, but the organization itself.. Tau Gamma Phi has a record. I think out of the 40 hazing deaths of recent years, 11 came from that fraternity and you have one from Cebu recently, it's also Tau Gamma.

Ang tanong ko, what happens to these fraternities? Because these fraternities, yes the students get expelled, those involved face criminal charges, but students join these fraternities because they're believed to have some kind of influence, in certain sectors, whether it be as a lawyer or in another field. What can be done so the fraternity itself, cos in other sectors, if you were like in a law firm, or in another firm or something else, if you keep breaking the rules, you would be out. As a lawyer, you could be disbarred. And yet this fraternity is recognized. It still has influence in terms of applying for jobs, it's recognized in schools. What should be done with the frat itself?

SRH: I think that examination has to be done with self examination. Tau Gamma Phi itself and any other fraternity tuwing may nahahaze o napapatay sa hazing, o nasusugatan o napapatay sa interfraternity rumbles, has to examine itself. Especially for Tau Gamma Phi now it's a very painful and shocking wake up call but I agree they have to do more than that, any fraternity, any sorority has to do more than that.

Actually nung nagtatanong ka, I remembered my late daddy, nung pinatay si Leni Villa, he was so shaken. He said, what has happened to fraternities? What has happened to greek letter societies? Sabi niya, "In our time, they began as honor societies for academics or sport or whatever else excellence." It's only when he died almost a decade ago, dumating the brods of a certain fraternity, he never told us na founding member pala siya nung fraternity na iyon ni Leni Villa that was why he was so disturbed. And I think not just individually but collectively as the brotherhood they are supposed to be each and every frat in this situation in which Tau Gamma Phi finds itself now has to really re-examine itself parang examination of conscience.

Q: But in the reexamination of conscience there's no consequence to the frat. That's my issue. I mean I'm curious, for example UP, these major universities are recognized by the school so if there's a death of that fraternity, that fraternity is no longer recognized. That's harsh.

Number 2, if you apply for a job and youre from that fraternity, you won't be hired. Something so severe, it will force a cultural change within because ang nangyayari sila ang napaparusahan hindi ako, you get? The fraternity is not so disturbed so to speak. Kasi yung bata lang involved in hazing ang naparusahan but the fraternity itself still exists.

SRH: I think you're really onto something, kasi beyond professional ethics and standards for individual professionals for example kung workplace yung site ng violation, pwede sila disiplinahin ng PRC or Philippine Medical Association,etc. But there's no equivalent body for fraternities, sororities and such. Individual universities or colleges or schools may student handbook, paibaiba kung binabanggit man ang ganitong student organizations at ano ang standards that they observe and penalties if any kung lumabag.

And just to call a spade a spade, the challenge in this particular situation is may mga nasa administrations, nasa faculties, nasa ibang academic sectors ng bawat unibersidad for example who are themselves members of these societies and organizations. Malalim talagang cultural change ang hinihingi sa atin ang just like election-related political violence itong persistent problem ng sorority or fraternity-related violence and killings and injuries, I don't know the answer right now but it's a clear and very fair challenge that you have raised.

Sa tingin ko, there was a time na matinding problema yung rumbles among them, and I think a number of them actually talked leadership to leadership kung paano nila titigilin niyan I imagine they come up also with harsh penalties. Baka this is another time with the killing of John Matthew Salilig that the leaderships of the fraternities and sororities should come together again to decide how to end these deaths and injuries of their brothers and sisters as they call each other.

Q: Today is international Women's Day and you are the chair of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality. Let's talk about these accomplishments, of women in the Philippines. In 1993, women were granted the right to be cadets in the Philippine Military Academy through RA 7192 or the Women in Development and Nation Building Act. I know you had a speech recently, let's talk about women moving forward in the Philippines.

SRH: Well the Women in Development and Nation Building Act was a beautiful law led by former Senator Santanina Rasul and beautifully, in collaboration with Senator Raul Roco. So demonstrating how great things are possible and ideally possible when women and men, and of whatever SOGIE I could add today, hand in hand together to build our nation.

Yang Republic Act 7892 was a recognition of the long way we women have come even then, but also remained a challenge to us until today, na malayo pa ang ating lalakarin, matagal-tagal pa ang laban. Today we have women, for example, in all branches of government, at all levels of government, at best represented to maybe 30 to 35 percent at the local government unit level. Lumiliit yung percentage na yan as we ascend the level of government, to the House, the Senate, and across the branches of government.

Sa Senate nga mahigit na 100 na taon na kami pero we've had only, can you believe, more than 20 women senators at ni isa ay wala pang nakapagsilbi bilang Senate President. When you look at the private sector, of course, we women are so strongly represented in the rank and file, more and more so over time at the mid level, pero kulang pa sa levels ng mga presidents at CEOs for example, ng mga kompanya. And in civil society, it also remains a struggle, believe or not, to advance women's rights and feminism kahit pa sa masasabing pinakaprogresibong bahagi ng ating lipunan.

We also always do well, dito sa Pilipinas, for example, the Global Gender Gap Index, and yet ang dami pa ring gaps that we have to fill. It means that we are still alive in an interesting time, marami pang mabuti at importante na kailangang gawin and in addition to what we celebrate today, ibig sabihin we also recommit ourselves to that lifelong task of not advancing not just ourselves but also our sisters, lalo na yung mga susunod pa sa atin, our daughters.

Q: Let us not forget - this actually has your signature on it, a main advocacy that you fought for - the Expanded Solo Parents Welfare Act. Technically it is for both men and women, but here in the Philippines there are many single parents who struggle with raising their children on their own. How does this law help our single mothers today?

SRH: Well a lot of solo moms, and yes solo dads too, in their solo parent organizations and federations really worked in crafting and passing this into law, kaya lahat kami nagdiwang ng sama-sama when it was passed into law.

Marami-raming dagdag benepisyo sa batas na ito, which solo moms and dads now can enjoy and are now beginning to enjoy - P1,000 monthly subsidy or ayuda for solo parents earning minimum wage or les; discounts on certain necessary daily needs of children of solo parents of a certain yearly income below, up to six years of age of their children; scholarships for children of solo parents and even qualified solo parents from Deped, CHED and TESDA; priority in government housing for solo parents; automatic membership of solo parents to PhilHealth.

At lahat ng ito na pwedeng pakinabangan ng solo parents, not only up until the kids are eighteen years of age, pero dahil nga earlier pinasa natin yung K to 12 law, until the children are 22 years of age, because that is the age lamang when children start graduating.

Q: How would you describe the Philippines when it comes to women's advancement? Recent studies report that 81 percent of Filipinas feel that there are equal opportunities at work. It is much higher than the sentiments of other women in Asia. We've had 2 female presidents. But the irony is we don't have divorce and the RH Law was the hardest to fight for, which gives women easy access to contraception, to take control of their bodies, to actually time their pregnancies. Where are we with the implementation of the RH Law?

SRH: Well on the ground, tama ka, after 14 years of fighting for that bill to be passed into law, plus one more year in the Supreme Court dahil in-assail yung constitutionality ng batas pero but eventually in-uphold ng Supreme Court na hindi ito unconstitutional, ito ay constitutional, you are right, until today kailangan magoversee ang Kongreso na it is fully and properly implemented.

Taon-taon kailangan naming bantayan na fully funded ang item na ito sa Department of Health o sa buong health system. At maya't-maya ang mga RH Law advocates ay kailangang ilaban na it be implemented in a particular local government unit kung saan maaring umayaw ang isang LGU official dahil sa personal beliefs nila, pero kailangan namin iassert, "Maam o sir, batas po ito ng buong republika, kailangang ipatupad hanggang sa bawat LGU."

This is one area that shows na kahit malayo man ang narating natin, malayo pa ang ating lalakbayin. Implementation ng RH Law, as you mentioned, yung deliberasyon at harinawang pagpasa ng Dissolution of Marriage Bill. Just as the RH Law is pro-women, pro-youth and pro-family, sinasabi din ng advocates ng Dissolution of Marriage Bill, women and men alike, na the Dissolution of Marriage or Divorce Bill is pro-marriage and pro-family, pro-women, pro-men and pro-children as well.

Q: On that note, maraming salamat Senator Hontiveros. Happy International Women's Day!

SRH: Happy International Women's Day!

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