A wit once said: “A woman always has the last word in an argument. What a man says after that is the start of another argument.”
Hey, before somebody says I’m making fun of women, let me stress that this piece is actually in praise of women. Take it from a man whose wife is unquestionably the Speaker of the House. Furthermore, I can only extol the fairer sex in this Women’s Month.
This month always reminds of former Makati Rep. Consuelo “Baby” Puyat-Reyes, now the Philippine ambassador to Chile. She authored and sponsored the House version of the bill making March 8 Women’s Day and March, Women’s Month. During her sponsorship of the measure, Baby called then Speaker Ramon V. Mitra “Mr. President” a number of times. When the bill was approved, many in the gallery stood up and applauded her, and applause is a no-no in the House, like in the Senate. Mitra, however, did not bang the gavel to stop the gallery from applauding Baby.
“After she called me ‘Mr. President,’ I have no heart to rule against her admirers,” explained Mitra, who had made no secret of his desire to run for president.
At the Senate, one of the most feared debaters is Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago whose tongue could be venomous. It’s no wonder that very few want to tangle with her on the floor. She symbolizes how far women have gone in politics since Geronima T. Pecson, our first lady senator, was elected in 1947.
Of course, there’s also Sen. Leticia Ramos-Shahani, who became the first Senate President Pro Tempore in 1993. There’s also Sen. Loren Legarda, the first lady majority leader (she got elected to the post in 2001) and the only woman to top the senatorial elections twice, in 1998 and in 2007. And who would ever forget the late Cecilia Munoz Palma who was president of the Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution? (On Tita Celing’s table at her Con-Com office was a sign that read “The best man for the job is a woman.”)
Legislation plays a significant role in bridging the gender gap. One of the more notable laws is the Magna Carta of Women. Ironically, the passage of the measure in the Senate was marred by a clash between two lady senators, Pia Cayetano, one of the authors, and Jamby Madrigal, chairman of the Senate Committee on Women and Youth.
Pia noted that the bill had been languishing at the committee and offered to help Jamby push for its passage. Jamby flared up at this offer of help and denigrated the bill as a mere duplication of existing laws and international agreements. Jamby later got the bill rolling and had cited its approval on the floor as one of her accomplishments.
Other noteworthy laws that enhanced gender equality are the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, the repeal of the antiquated provision in the Labor Code banning night work by women, and the Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act of 2004. The last one was challenged before the Supreme Court by a group claiming that it ignored the fact that men were also victims of violence by women. The high tribunal upheld the constitutionality of the law.
Nevertheless, Pia believes much work remains to be done to close the gender gap.
“We have made progress, but much work remains to push women’s agenda. We have a number of existing laws discriminatory to women that Congress needs to revisit to either amend or repeal,” she said.
She cited the law that states a husband has to beat his wife habitually before she could file serious physical injuries against him.
“She can’t file charges if he beats her black and blue only once. Why should the government wait until the wife could barely walk from continuous mauling before it could order the husband to stop?” she asked.
She also lamented that under Philippine laws, a man who rapes a woman can offer to marry her and be absolved of the offense and that the husband’s decision prevails over his wife in case of disagreement in the administration of conjugal property. As regards divorce, she believes it’s time for the Philippines to legalize it.
Recently, Sen. Miriam said that the Philippines must elect six presidents to achieve gender equality in Malacanang. She didn’t say anything about electing a lady vice-president. Loren tried twice but lost. Lately, the president’s youngest sister, Kris Aquino, was mentioned as probable running mate of DILG Sec. Mar Roxas in the 2016 presidential election. With the consistent image-building of ABS-CBN, and if she could do without sex (she said this had made her lucky) she might make it. Well, this is a situation where many won’t say “Amen.”