Privilege Speech on Women’s Month


Privilege Speech


3 March 2014

Mr. President, esteemed colleagues,

I rise today on a matter of personal and collective privilege to welcome the start of Women’s Month, which we have been observing during the month of March since the year 1988. It is a time dedicated to recognizing the achievements and contributions of women throughout history, and more importantly, to promote and instill true gender equality as a norm in our society.

This year’s celebration is a unified salute “to the strong and resilient Juanas” who have inspired change in the Philippines and across the globe.[1] As we emerge from the rubble of last year’s massive natural calamities and political upheavals, the theme, “Juana, ang Tatag Mo ay Tatag Natin sa Pagbangon at Pagsulong!” highlights the indispensible role of women in the process of our nation’s healing, recovery, and rehabilitation. Women play many different roles in nation-building, and each one is important in honing an empowered populace and contributing to overall progress.

On this note, I would like to invite everyone to visit the Women’s Month mobile exhibit entitled, “Empowered Filipinas: Raising the Bar,” located just outside the session hall. This was officially opened today. The exhibit features Filipinas who have brought pride to the nation and made a positive impact in history and society. I would like to recognize each of them for their accomplishments and excellence in their chosen field. Some of them have graciously given us their time and are in the VIP gallery just behind us.

To start with, we have with us, Senator Helena Z. Benitez. She will turn 100 this year, in June. Senator Benitez is an educator with a string of university degrees under her belt. She was the first Filipino Chair of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, the first Filipino and woman President of the UN Environment Program Governing Council, and first Filipino member of the Executive Board of the International Association of Universities, UNESCO Paris. She was elected senator in 1968 and has been recognized for her legislative contribution to education, family, manpower and youth development, housing, and environment.

We also recognize today Senator Geronima T. Pecson who was the first woman to be elected into this chamber and the prime mover of various notable laws focusing on our education system. She was also the first Filipino and first woman to be elected to the executive board of UNESCO.

Clearly, Senators Pecson and Benitez have paved the way for more women senators. Today, there have been 20 female senators and, as we speak, there are six in the Senate, a record high after all these years.

We also honor Lea Salonga, a world-famous theatre actress and singer, who is the first Filipina to ever win the prestigious Tony Award for her role as Kim in the Broadway Musical Miss Saigon, along with many other esteemed awards and recognitions. She has performed for Queen Elizabeth II, George Bush, and Bill Clinton, and has continued to make the nation proud time and time again.

We have with us in the gallery filmmaker Hannah Espia. She premiered her film, Transit, at the 9th Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival to critical acclaim, garnering ten awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Music, and Audience Choice. Hannah is only in her 20s and has been making films since she was 15.

We also have with us, once again, Ariella Arida who was crowned Binibining Pilipinas-Universe 2013. The Chemistry graduate from the University of the Philippines-Los Banos represented the country at the Miss Universe 2013 pageant in Russia finishing 3rd runner-up, and was the only delegate representing an Asian country to place in the top 5.

We also have with us today Wu Shu champion Janice Hung. Janice has earned numerous gold medals in various national and international tournaments. Aside from being a world-class athlete, she also runs the Janice Hung Arts and Sports Foundation, which organizes and promotes nourishment missions, music camps, sports events, and other activities to hone our youth into builders of the community and the nation.

And then we have here with us in the gallery, Captain Aurora “Aimee” Carandang-Gloria. For my fraternity brothers with me in the Senate, she is our sorority sister. Aimee was my contemporary in school, the first Filipina commercial pilot and the first female pilot in Asia. She was also a recipient of the Ten Outstanding Young Women Award. Aimee tells me there are now over 40 Filipina pilots in the country. I believe we will all agree that Aimee paved the way for this to happen.

Next is Engracia “Lola Asiang” Cruz Reyes who started to gain popularity for her Filipino dishes when she hosted regular house parties for colleagues of her husband, Atty. Alexander Reyes, who was eventually appointed as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. The canteen she started in the ground floor of their house eventually led her to put up The Aristocrat Restaurant along Roxas Boulevard, where it still stands today.

We also honor Josie Cruz Natori. She ascended the corporate ladder in New York, landing at Merrill Lynch as the first female vice-president of investment banking. I think many of us, perhaps the men here would remember Josie more because of the career she shifted to. From Wall Street, she shifted to fashion, specifically to lingerie, this is in 1977. This entrepreneurial venture has grown in the past three decades into a recognized lifestyle brand in the US. In 2007, she was awarded the Order of Lakandula, an order of political and civic merit, and considered the highest honor for a Filipino citizen.

We also honor Gen. Lina Sarmiento who is the second female Chief Superintendent of the Philippine National Police, and the first woman to head a national support unit of the PNP as Chief of the PNP Community Relations Group. Gen. Sarmiento is also the second policewoman to be conferred a rank equivalent to a one-star or brigadier general. She once again made history in 2012 by becoming the first female police officer to receive two stars, proving that women can definitely break barriers in a male-dominated field.

Then we have Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, the entrepreneur who co-founded Rags2Riches, a for-profit social enterprise that works with women living in the poor communities across the country, to create eco-ethical fashion and home accessories. These women developed a means to earn a living by recycling scrap pieces of fabric and participating in handicraft production, while being able to take care of their children at home.

Mr. President, these women are exemplifications of how today’s empowered Filipina excels and inspires in the different circuits of society. They encourage and motivate other women to step up, not only in fighting for gender equality, but also in giving back to the community.

Mr. President, though we may have these women to illustrate how empowered Filipinas can be…though we may have drastically improved on gender equality…though we may be faring better than other countries in terms of recognizing the roles and equal rights of women…I believe there is still a lot of work to do.

Allow me to illustrate, over the weekend, I received information about a promo running on the radio and although I did not hear it myself, I had access to a Facebook post of a male who was very offended by it and I immediately called upon this company, this is Air Asia Zest, to make a public apology. I don’t know if it would work. But I will play the recording so that the body can hear it…

[Recorded version of the radio ad is played]

Guy 1: [Makes cat call whistle] ‘Ang hot ng chick pare!’

Guy 2: ‘Hindi naman.’

Guy 1: ‘Ha? Ang ganda kaya ng katawan! Long legs, liit ng baywang, tapos ang kinis pa ng balat! Ano pang gusto mo?’

Guy 2: ‘May mas hot pa dyan.’

Guy 1: ‘Ow…asan? Patingin nga?’

Guy 2: ‘Ayan, o. Yang Red Hot Piso sale ng Air Asia Zest. Di tulad sa chicks, pre, maliit lang ang gastos dito. Mas mag-eenjoy ka pa. O, ano? Sino nang mas hot ngayon?’

Guy 1: ‘Air Asia Zest na pare!’

Mr. President, I take offense and, clearly, from the postings that we saw, many people were offended by this type of ad. It portrayed women as cheaper, or for Zest Air promo to be a better deal than a woman. Mr. President this is not acceptable and we call upon the management to make a public apology. Because we have over the years … I remember when I first ran for the Senate in 2004, and I won’t even mention the brand [of the liquor product] anymore because I do not like to give more attention to wrongful acts of this nature. But there was a public uproar when women again were likened to commercial products. I don’t mind that men, women, children are used in advertisements but they should never be likened to something that  has a price, or to be said that women are cheaper, or doing a commercial activity, a promo is better than being with a woman or something of that nature.

So, Mr. President, we call on this company to retract their statement, to make an apology. The ad is no longer there because the promo has run its course, but I believe that we should be very firm in our action because these kinds of advertisements are heard by many young people, both young girls and young men, and I think it sets a very wrong standard … When we allow these kinds of statements to be made in public.

Thank you very much, Mr. President.


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