Press Release
May 8, 2017


Mr. President, I rise on a point of personal and collective privilege.

Last April 30, we commemorated the 80th anniversary of a very important milestone for gender equality and women's participation in this country: the plebiscite in 1937 that granted to Filipino women the right to vote.

Perhaps Mr. President, for the benefit of the millennials in the hall, some historical backtracking is in order. The 1935 Constitution, the fundamental law of the land during the Commonwealth period, limited the right to vote to men twenty-one years and older, residents of the Philippines for one year or more, and able to read and write. It had one important proviso, however: suffrage may also be extended to Filipino women if 300,000 of them will vote in favor of the motion in a special plebiscite to be held within two years after the adoption of the Constitution.

Thus it came to pass that on April 30, 1937, a special plebiscite was held to determine whether or not women should be given the right to vote. An overwhelming 90%, or 447,725 out of 500,000 women, voted in favor of women's suffrage. In 1941, the first female member of the House of Representatives was elected, Representative Elisa Ochoa. In 1947, Geronima Pecson of Pangasinan was elected into this very chamber, paving the way for Senators Nancy Binay, Leila de Lima, Loren Legarda, Grace Poe, Cynthia Villar and myself.

Ngunit, Mr. President, hindi po noong 1937 nagsimula ang pagkikilos para sa karapatan ng mga kababaihan na bumoto. Ang tagumpay nang plebisito ng 1937 ay bunga ng mga binhing tinanim ng ilang dekadang pagpupunyagi - mula sa mga organisasyon kagaya ng Asosasyon Feminista Ilongga na tinatag ni Pura Villanueva Kalaw noong 1906, at Asosasyon Feminista Filipino na tinatag ni Concepcion Felix Rodriguez noong 1905, na naging daan para sa unang panukalang batas para sa pagboto ng kababaihan noong 1907 ni Sen. Filemon Sotto (grand uncle of our Majority Floor Leader).

It was a long and arduous struggle, and for this we have to thank our pioneering Filipinas who set in motion the wheels that led to this right that many women of today now take for granted. Maraming, maraming salamat po

Mr. President, the women's vote is important in and of itself, because it recognizes a fundamental truth: that men and women are equal, and that women should have the agency to participate in state formation, and determine the collective future of the nation to which we belong.

But Mr. President, the women's vote should also be seen as seeds that lead to other beneficial outcomes. And in here, we can see that there is more work to be done.

First, having women as members of the voting population should lead to legislation that benefit women. We have, in the past decades, made tremendous strides in enacting legislation and measures for the women of this country. Tampok dito ang Anti Violence Against Women and Children Act o VAWC, ang Magna Carta for Women, ang 60-day Maternity Leave, ang Solo Parents Act na malimit ay pinapakinabangan ng mga solo mothers, at siyempre, ang Reproductive Health Law na nagtamasa ng makasaysayang tagumpay. But there are still gaps that need to be addressed. We need a more modern Anti-Rape Law, one that is more attuned to contemporary times. We need the Expanded Maternity Leave law of 2017 to be passed in the House of Representatives. We need the RH law to finally be implemented. And many women are calling for a more equitable policy regime for marriages that do not work out. For these to happen, for these gains to materialize, we need women voters who are able to exact accountability from their leaders. And leaders who know that the women vote is a vote that matters.

Secondly, Mr. President, women voters are an excellent start, but genuine women's participation in public office is necessary in order to ensure that we build a truly equal playing field for women. According to the Philippine Commission on Women, women comprise half the population but only hold about 1/5 of government elected positions. Dito po sa Senado, sa loob po ng isang daang taon, nagkaroon lamang ng 22 na senador na babae. There has been no female Senate president. But we must go beyond the numbers if we want to discuss the level and quality of women's participation in the country. While there has indeed been some incremental increase in the participation of women in politics, it means nothing if it does not translate to demonstrable progressive behavior that we can see in our daily lives. The harassment of women politicians has become a political strategy to shut off contrarian views. The lengths of our skirts, the appearance of our knees, the relationships that we have or had, the kind of families that we have chosen in the course of our lives -- two parent households, solo parents o anupaman -- have become the burning issues of the day, and not the structural socio-economic issues that we want to address. Galangin natin ang mga ambag nila Concepcion Felix at Pura Kalaw - wag natin hayaan lapastanganin ang mga binhing kanilang tinanim sa tahasang pambabastos sa kababaihan sa pulitika.

Thirdly, Mr. President, we must use the gains of women to fight for other sectors that are marginalized. Ang kalayaan ng kababaihan ay dapat maging daan para sa kalayaan ng ibang sektor. This means pushing for equality for our LGBT friends, and for standing as allies in their desire for a fairer, more equal society. This also means, Mr. President, standing with the unheard the underrepresented, particularly those who have fallen victims to a War on Drugs that has been a slaughter of the poor. This means most of all, fighting for a women's agenda that puts truth-telling, dignity and humanity at the forefront of the struggle. To quote an ally in this struggle, Dr. Agnes Callamard, "we cannot deny the humanity of some people and not lose the humanity of all."

Maraming salamat po. Muli, mabuhay ang women's suffrage movement. Mabuhay ang mga kababaihan.

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