A Forum on Women’s Life, Dignity, and Democracy
Miriam College,Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City
October 14, 2016
Thank you so much Miriam College, particularly the organizer, the WAGI, Miriam College Women and Gender Institute; concerned women’s CSOs and activists. Thank you, of course, to Ms. Lynda Garcia, for her very kind and gracious words in her introduction; to Ms. Melanie Reyes, very powerful opening remarks; and of course to my dear, favourite, best professor during my La Salle days, Dr. Professor Soc Reyes, the ever sharp and energetic professor, now my number one fan; other professors here in Miriam College; Dr. Marge Acosta, Jerry Jurisprudencia; Atty. Cristine Lao; Prof. Lynda Garcia; Dr. Loreta Castro; Ms. Valerie Buenaventura—wow, ang sarap pa lang maging professor dito. Or is it because it’s an exam week? Is it an exam week? Yun pala. Now I know. Sino pa ba, baka may mga nakakalimutan ako? Who? Jonas David; where are you? Hi Jonas. I understand. Dr. Parayno. Where’s Dr. Parayno? Hi.
I understand these are predominantly Psychology students and International Studies students, also Mass Communications. I was sitting with a pretty lady here, and she told me she is a Masscom student, and I told her I’m sure you’ll become a woman anchor in any of our networks.
Thank you so much, maraming, maraming salamat po sa inyong lahat sa napakamainit na pagbati, pag-welcome sa akin. This is such a respite, a welcome break for me.
You know when I wake up in the morning, I would not know what kind of day I’ll be facing. You know I live by the day. Hindi ko talaga alam kung ano na naman ang mga maririnig ko, makikita ko sa diyaryo, makikita sa social media, although, I avoid going over my Facebook nowadays.
Let me start by making this clear—lest some of you, or many of you have started to believe, or are in fact, believing everything that they see on television, on the social media—those hearings in the House of Representatives, I am not the bad and evil woman, or slut that they are trying to portary in the past few weeks.
I have not partied or slept with any drug convict. I have not received anything from a drug convict or a drug lord, or anyone else. I have not received P2 million in one meeting with one of those convicts at the office of a former director. I have not received P3 million a week, a month—I think that’s what they said—since 2012. I did not receive P10 million from anyone, let alone from a drug convict. I did not receive P5 million in two or three occasions in my house from a former official of BuCor.
I have not benefited from the drug trade. I am not the Queen of the Drug Trade of the Bilibid. I am not the mother of these drug lords. And I am not one who won as a member of the Senate and has turned this country into a narco-state, because in the first place, our country is far from being a narco-state.
And yes, as a human being, as a woman, I have frailties, I have weaknesses, I have certain flaws as a woman, I’ve made mistakes in my personal life, and I’ve always considered my personal life as a private matter. It’s a sacred thing to me. But now, they’ve been intruding and encroaching into my privacy. Yes, I made mistakes, and when I do make mistakes in my personal life, I pick up the pieces and move on.
But never did I betray my country. I want that made clear because that’s what I fear that some of you may have started to believe the relentless, vicious attacks being launched and led by the most powerful man in this country.
With that note, allow me please to now give you my core messages for today’s forum. And I thank the organizers of this forum, the women’s groups, particularly the group of Prof. Soc because we’ve been doing this precisely to generate much awareness among the populace, especially you, young people, young students, beautiful students of Miriam.
We need to raise awareness on our fight for the truth, fight for justice, fight for human rights, women’s rights, and democracy. Human rights because of the spate of extrajudicial killings we are seeing on a daily basis. Women’s rights because of the slut-shaming that I’m being subjected to for being a poster girl, allegedly a poster girl. And democracy because of the muzzling of dissent.
I’m Exhibit A simply because I’m a vocal critic of the anti-human rights policies of this presidency, of this administration, particularly extrajudicial killings. I’m being subjected to these unprecedented attacks on my person, on my character, and on my credibility. Their whole agenda is to crush and break my spirit so that no one would listen to me anymore. Our democracy is in peril.
And that’s why I’m doing this. Halos walang nakikinig sa akin sa Senado so I might as well get out of the Senate halls and reach out to you, in the hope that you would listen and open your minds.
So a good Friday morning to everyone. Good morning. It’s quite an honor and pleasure to be here as a guest speaker in today’s Buhay at Dignidad Forum, more so these days because this has been very trying times for me, a very difficult, very challenging times.
It is a period in my life when finding a role to fill—other than that of a woman who has fallen victim to a constant barrage of attacks from no less than the most powerful man in the land and those who share his vengeful passion—has become of utmost importance in order to hold on to some vestige of personal dignity, and hope for the future of our country.
Even my time in the office is not much of a respite from the stress of unmitigated attacks, which is why times like this—when I get to go out and meet with people, especially the young, face-to-face, see the faces of the people I am fighting for—are even more precious to me than they have ever been before.
So thank you. Thank you for the organizers, thank you for media by the way, for those who are around. They’ve been following me and I don’t mind.And in doing so, giving this woman enough strength to fight another day.
Indeed, at a time when sexism has once again reared its ugly and despicable head in the form of a President who thinks nothing of telling a woman to kill herself—all for the sin of daring to stand up against men on the issue of the spate of extrajudicial killings—the fight to protect the sanctity of human life, and to retain some level of dignity in the face of oppression and inhumanity, has been a daily struggle.
But, let me tell you: it does not surprise me—not even a little bit—that the most immediate and most vocal support I have received are from women. My detractors may hide behind the power of their office, or in the anonymity of the internet or of unrecorded cellphone numbers in order to hurl insults, misinformation, outright lies and even death threats against me.
There are also many who have sent their support, but more discreetly in order not to draw attention to themselves. These are well meaning, and much appreciated supporters, but they are nothing like the people—most of them women, and some notable men—who have spoken out publicly in my defense or, more to the point, against behavior that alternates between vile maliciousness, playground bullying, and professional trolling.
I will admit that there was a moment in the last three months when I began to doubt whether I will ever be vindicated, whether in this lifetime or beyond.
Yes, I must admit that this human rights advocate and former Secretary of Justice was made to doubt if justice will ever be served. Look at all those complaints, why file those complaints to the DOJ when the master of the fakery is now the head of that institution. They must file it directly with the Office of the Ombudsman. But I have people like the women and the few men present here for restoring my faith in mankind.
And speaking of mankind, let’s take a bit of a break from the daytime soap opera-esque turn that might life has taken, and venture a bit into non-Rodrigo Duterte and EJKs territory.
No, I can’t even talk about one of the most internationally-relevant event that is about to happen outside the Philippines in the next few weeks because, then, I would be venturing into Trump territory. God forbid there’s another mysoginistic leader emerging in the world because this would just be trading one chauvinistic mammal for another.
No, let’s step even farther. Back in 1950s, Italian physicist Enrico Fermi—I don’t know if there are students of Physics here—posed a question that has become known as the so-called “Fermi Paradox”.
Simple lang ang tanong niya: sa dinamirami ng mga bituin sa buong kalawakan na katulad ng ating araw, kung saan marami sa kanila ay mas matanda pa kaysa sa ating araw; at sa taas ng probabilidad na ilan sa mga bituing iyon ay may kahit isang kasamang planeta na katulad ng ating mundo, na marahil ay may sibilisasyon na natuto nang makapaglalakbay sa kalawakan—bakit hindi pa nila tayo nabibisita?
That’s the Fermi Paradox.Basically, Fermi was wondering, with such a high probability of alien life capable of interstellar travel: where is everybody?
A few days ago, it was reported that another physicist, Brian Cox, has proposed an answer to the “paradox”, but his answer is more from the field of political science than physics, and it paints a grim picture for humanity.
He said that “One solution to the Fermi paradox is that it is not possible to run a world that has the power to destroy itself and that needs global collaborative solutions to prevent that.”
In other words, he’s saying that civilizations politically implode and exterminate themselves before they can achieve interstellar travel because their members are far too often more prepared to kill each other rather than help and cooperate with each other. Part of his hypothesis is to suggest that maybe the fields of science and engineering inevitably develop faster than our political expertise, which will lead us to disaster.
Basically, saying that we gain the ability to make weapons of mass destruction—and eventually, weapons of mass extinction—faster than our ability to gain the enlightenment and wisdom not to use it on each other.
He then warned that—I’m talking about Brian Cox—“It may be that the growth of science and engineering inevitably outstrips the development of political expertise, leading to disaster. We could be approaching that position.”
Yes, it’s just a hypothesis, but, you must admit, it’s an interesting food for thought, at the very least, and perhaps a cause for alarm if we bother to read the signs of the times.
It can’t be a coincidence that Cox made public his hypothesis in the year 2016, the year when the next space race was declared by the CEO of Boeing, the airlines, the company which “once helped the US beat the Soviet Union in the race to the moon,” by challenging the billionaire-engineer/investor Elon Musk, the man behind SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and SolarCity, to a race to bring human beings to Mars; which is also the year when the world seems to have been turned upside politically—with misogynistic, and narcissistic authoritarians, so-called populist leaders finding their way back to power, ironically, on the back of the masses through so-called democratic processes, by capitalizing on the terror being wreaked by extremist groups.
Let’s all think about that. The signs are telling us to brace for a rough ride. For 2016 is definitely the year we start truly feeling insecure in the possibility of nuclear codes falling into, if not already in the hands of dictatorial sociopaths with itchy fingers, short tempers, and no impulse control.
And why do I bring these up here, in this forum on Women’s Life, Dignity and Democracy?
Because 2016 is also the year when there has been an unacceptable resurgence in sexist behavior that is not just a sign of political immaturity, but is actually intentionally meant to undermine the role and influence of women in society—which could very well be what will ultimately give free reign to the destructive forces in our midst to completely destroy our political structure and our very humanity.
Kapag mga babae na kasi, iba. ‘Di ba, at least ang mga babae ang puwedeng mag-isip at gumawa ng paraan para hindi mangyayari ang mga ganyang kadiliman.
Just last year, an audience in this very academic institution hosted a forum—I don’t know if you were there. I think some or many of you were here—where the key guest was Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who “acknowledged the Philippine progress and efforts to recognize women’s roles in the creation of a just, peaceful, and prosperous society despite them being silenced and overshadowed by men.”
She even went on to say that “[t]here is no doubt about the role played by the women of the Katipunan in 1896, and the contribution of the Katipuneras of Miriam College in the fight against the Marcos dictatorship.”
And she lauded our nation’s progress as “the only Asian country that has been able to completely close the gender gap in education and health, and is the only one placed in the top 10 of the [Global Gender Gap Report 2014].”
Because we are supposed to be number 7 as the most gender-equal nation in the world, and number one in Asia, and even in Asia-Pacific.
Ironic. I, myself, a year ago would have said that, in spite of the gaps that still need to be closed, especially in terms of those created by poverty, Filipino women are in a globally enviable position because of all the factors that could hinder our personal growth and inhibit our potential for achieving our goals, gender is probably near the bottom of the list. I would have said that women are seen as every bit as important as men in this country. I would have said that.
I could have said the same thing just three months ago—after all, I was elected into office, just like many of my fellow female elected officials. And, to a large extent, I would still say that this holds true even today.
The only difference is that the few who still maintain backwards thinking—including a President who unapologetically catcalls female members of the press and then blames them for not accepting the “gesture” as a compliment, the same President who makes jokes about it being a pity that a beautiful missionary woman was raped and killed without the Mayor having a go at her first, and other “boys’ locker room” jokes about no one listening to a female President—are so powerful and so prominently featured in the media that these little toxic drops of poison are threatening to compromise the integrity of the whole well.
That is the challenge we face today. It’s not that we’re facing full-blown social marginalization—it is that this fast-growing and spreading brand of old school misogyny is the type of creeping marginalization and sexism that could very well overwhelm us before we know it.
There was a recently published article that questions the validity of my alleged status as a so-called “poster child” of victims of misogyny, saying that I am going through my travails in the last few months, not because I am a woman, but because I am getting payback—according to that journalist—for the offenses I have allegedly committed against others.
First of all, does that make my situation any better? That I am being publicly shamed and politically persecuted because for the last eight years I tried to do my job the best I could? If I truly stepped on the toes of some people, and they are seeking their vindication, is slut-shaming me really the way to exact justice in this country? I would hope not.
Secondly, yes, it is true. I have been very lucky in my life up to this point. True, I have held very powerful posts. I must point out, however, that my post as a Senator today, though it is still a position of influence, it not truly a position of great power though, as many of you may have seen, judging by how my efforts have been so readily shot down by some of my colleagues in the Senate.
But, more importantly, to become a victim of misogyny, the reason for the attacks need not be because of gender, if the manner in which one is attacked is tantamount to getting stabbed over and over with the dagger of sexism.
The fallacy in the reasoning is no different from what is truly getting in the way of understanding the problem of EJKs. In determining whether or not a particular case is an EJK, it does not matter whatsoever that the person killed was truly a drug suspect, or a drug user, or a drug lord. The identity of the victim or the motive for the killing are not elements of the crime of murder. They are irrelevant to the question of whether he or she was the victim of EJK.
What matters is whether the person was killed—for lack of a better word—“lawfully” in the absence of death penalty, an acceptable reason for killing a drug suspect is self-defense. And, under our laws, self-defense, please no make mistake about that, self-defense is a very exacting grounds to prove: there must be aggression on the part of the victim, reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel it, and lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person defending himself. Those are the only questions that need to be asked.
In the case of misogyny, while being discriminated against or treated unfairly or disrespectfully simply by reason of one’s gender is itself misogyny, unfortunately, that is not the only way by which misogyny can rear its ugly head. The manner and not just the motive or reason could also make malicious and unfair treatment a case of misogyny.
In my case, obviously I owe my predicament, not to my gender, but my sheer audacity to do my job, first as Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights and thereafter, as Secretary of Justice. True, it is perfectly understandable that there are people who will hold a grudge against me—especially powerful people who were the subject of investigations into various high profile cases, who are now, apparently, out to “get me”.
But it is not the motive for trying to destroy me that makes the issue of sexism and misogyny relevant. It is the manner by which they set out to destroy me—with no less than their revered leader calling me an immoral woman, a woman of the world, who should be ashamed of myself and therefore, should go hang myself, while he, himself is a self-confessed unfaithful womanizer. Proud womanizer.
If that is not sexism, what is? If so-called journalists cannot follow the logic, how can we expect the general public?
How can we make our children understand what is wrong with that scenario? How can we hope that our young students, our daughters will not fall victim to the same situations will know how to recognize those situations and, should they be unfortunate enough to encounter it, be able to adequately defend themselves from it? How do we teach our sons to be better than their President or their congressmen?
We can do that by not being cowed into silence.
Sabi nga ho ni Fr. Robert Reyes doon sa kanyang homily noong isang linggo, doon sa Misa Para sa Katotohanan at Katurangan, it’s not only the evil of the killings and the abuse of power that we’re seing now, but there’s also the evil of silence. We cannot be cowed into silence.
By making sure that our voices and views are heard that this so-called democracy, at least, still has some hope for succeeding, and not disintegrating into the rule of an angry, unthinking mob.
They will call us shrill. They will label us as naggers. As irrational women who have to be told to “calm down” even while they themselves are melting down after their masculinity is questioned.
But that is part of the battle we have to fight. Remember, the fight is not just for women. It is for our collective humanity. That maybe, maybe, we really could achieve political maturity that will help prevent us from killing each other, more than we already currently are.
I know it’s a cliché, but I also know that there is truth to the role of women as nurturers. We need to nurture our own dignity, in order to win back our true democracy.
What we have now is mob rule and madness, if we go by the sheer inability of people to see what the problem is. It is not true democracy, for genuine democracy presupposes that we actually have the mental capacity and the will to make informed decisions by actually first understanding the issues.
That is another thing that physicist Cox missed. Our problem is not so much that our capacity for scientific learning outstrips our capacity for political learning. It is only that we keep forgetting what we learn, ang bilis kasi nating makalimot, and the new generation has to learn them again and again—often the hard way.
There is a difference between how we pass on scientific knowledge, or how such knowledge retain their integrity; and how we pass on political wisdom, which is always the subject of doubt and skepticism. I don’t know if we do have political wisdom.
Perhaps it is time that we find innovative ways to teach our young people, our children the lessons of the past, so that they don’t have to re-learn them by making the same mistakes that we did.
Look at all the historical revisionism that is being foisted on us on the issue of the Marcos burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
That’s the life of a woman: while men seem to think of only the here and now, with little regard for the chain of intended and unintended consequences, we, as nurturers, always have to think ahead and think deeply.
That’s why we have intuition, woman’s intuition. Tayo lang po meron niyan. Wala sila niyan. Let’s use it intelligently.
That is why we cannot afford to be silenced. Let’s put a stop to the evil of silence. We must speak, and we must speak, not just as human beings, but specifically as women.
While I never asked to be the poster child for any sort of victimization—Hindi ko talaga na-imagine sa buong buhay ko na magiging biktima rin pala ako ng human rights violation. Akala ko tagapagtanggol lang ako ng mga nabibiktima ng human rights violations. Because you know, my role is that of an advocate being so much more safe and comfortable a role than as a victim—I am not one to let a good opportunity to be an agent of positive change go to waste.
And therefore, I thank all of you again for this opportunity. It has been a welcome break from the daily grind I have been going through, while at the same time, affording me the chance to turn lemons into lemonade by seeing the upside of my situation.
Hangga’t kaya ko, kakayanin ko. Hangga’t kaya ko, lalaban po ako.
Maraming salamat po.