Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Is the (Woman) Deputy Speaker for Women?

(This is culled from Women of the House, an article by PCIJ dated 7 September 2007.)

The 14th Congress boasts of having the most number of lady-solons in its roll. Observably, however, not most of them are staunch promoters and/or defenders of causes of/for women.

Of course, outside of party-list groups for women rights, we have our memory of Leticia Ramos-Shahani. She and Santanina Rasul were the first female senators in the post-Marcos Congress. While she rhetorically refused to be “a class legislator,” her first bill was RA 6725 that seeks to strengthen the prohibition of discrimination against women and workplace. In 1994 too she was able to introduced into the national budget the mandatory allocation of five percent of the budget of every government department and agency for gender development. Further, according to her, the two laws on rape (RA 8353 redefining the crime of rape and RA 8505 which provides assistance to rape victims and their families) are the centerpieces of her feminist legislation.

Congress observers say few women in the Lower House can actually matched Shahani (and Rasul and the late Raul Roco – the honorary woman) for their pro-women legislative efforts. An exemption may be Bellaflor Angara-Castillo, who was a strong advocate not only of women’s rights but also of gays and lesbians during her stint in Congress. (She is now the provincial governor of Aurora).

And, so, what are women-solons - except those with women’s-issues activists -- doing for women issues?

Observers for one say that women legislators choose to be quiet because of their lack of skills to defend bills on the floor. Likewise, women solons have different profiles – from the most conservative to the most progressive – thus, explaining why they do not act as one.

In fact, several female legislators ended up in their seats primarily because they belong to political families – and not because they were seen as potential supporters of women’s causes! The deputy speaker of the House, Amelita Villarosa, herself took the seat vacated by her husband JTV several years ago.

Interestingly, when Villarosa was named deputy speaker, the former House Speaker, JDV himself said that her (political) appointment to the post “(was) to address the gender imbalance in the House, so that women legislators will be represented in the House leadership.” Paining to explain her appointed, though, Girlie Villarosa reportedly said: “I was elected as a deputy speaker, period, not a deputy speaker for women. There is no such position in the House… I am deputy speaker for everyone, not just for a particular sector.”

At the very least, Villarosa is never known for women’s causes. Of the 57 house bills she filed in the 13th Congress, only one could be described as being pro-women. It was House Bill 4948, seeking to expand the grounds for legal separation and to amend the definition of psychological incapacity under the Family Code.

For the current (14th) Congress, Villarosa says she co-authors two major pieces of legislation on women. The first being the Reproductive Health Care Bill; the second is the Magna Carta for Women, which would “operationalize” the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), an international women’s rights treaty to which the Philippines is signatory.

If Villarosa’s output as (women) deputy speaker is to be a gauge, she is miserably failing the women’s rights advocates who expect her to fight for the women’s issues with all her muster.

Hontiveros-Baraquel says: “Villarosa’s election is a victory for women in the sense that it created gender balance. But it is yet to become a fully realizable victory (until) (she) (lends) her position and influence to advance women’s causes.”

To which Senator Legarda agrees: “Women legislators have to support women-related legislations. Women comprise half of our population, and while women in our country are considered better off than (women in other cultures) in terms of rights and welfare, there is much to be desired in terms of women’s participation in governance and decision-making. So those who have the opportunity to speak up for other women because of the positions and posts that they hold must do so with zeal and dedication.”

Very diplomatically put, I would say.

But it boils down to this challenge: If you cannot, then give way to the more able.


Sacrum facere said...

sayang naman ang pagiging babae niya kung hindi niya isinusulong ang mga isyu na makatutulong sana sa mga kababaihan.


yan ang problema kung ang posisyon ay nakuha hindi dahil deserving ang nakaupo, kundi dahil lamang sa political accommodation..
and JDV must have learned his lesson -- nang magkagipitan, nakita niya kung kanino mas loyal si Gir-lie.