At Large

A favorite place

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One of my favorite places in the country has to be Bacolod—and the entire province of Negros Occidental by extension.

I can’t tell exactly how many times I’ve visited through the years; there was a time when I was there every year, and more often when the need arose. However, I haven’t been there for a visit for some time, in fact not at all in the past year. I was struck by how much I missed the place—and, more important, my friends based there—as I stepped out of the airport and saw familiar faces. Only then did I realize how much time had passed since I was last there, and how happy I always am every time I come for a visit.

This time, it was upon the invitation of the Provincial Council for Women (PCW), which asked me to speak on the occasion of International Women’s Day and the province-wide observance. I accepted with alacrity because the chair of the Negros Occidental PCW is my good friend, Marie June Pavillar-Castro, a sister in our women’s group Pilipina and a councilor in her native Silay City.

The PCW is made up of women in and out of government who belong to the Women’s Councils in their own towns and cities. Now 18 years in existence, the PCW organizes community women not just for the annual observance of International Women’s Day and Women’s Month, but also for articulating issues and lobbying with officials to address women’s needs throughout the year.

It was with a smile that I read in the invitation letter that I was “one of the favorite (suki) sisters of Negrense women,” thus the invitation to speak at the Provincial Women’s Forum.

The feeling is mutual, and even if the trip (as always) proved hectic and tiring, it was also quite fulfilling.

* * *

Arriving on the day before the forum, I was whisked off to Victorias City where I was to “keynote” the induction of officers of the city’s Women’s Council. But before addressing the women gathered at the City Hall, we took time off for a seafood lunch hosted by Rep. Albee Benitez and his wife, the gracious and very charming Dominique (Nikki).

The induction was a mix of pep talk, inspirational messages and lively dance numbers performed by community women who shimmied in color-coded T-shirts and leggings to the latest pop songs.

Congratulations to the Women’s Council of Victorias, headed by its president, Edna Durana.

Then, with Marie June and Mary Ann Duran-Dino, an indefatigable organizer, campaigner, consultant to politicians, and a good friend, we drove to Bacolod for a brief rest before having dinner with members of the Bacolod chapter of Pilipina.

Again, so many familiar faces! I had met the women at different times and for different reasons. I was introduced to barangay officials and community leaders who had gone through Pilipina’s training sessions on local governance and community leadership, and then used this newfound knowledge to broaden their own horizons. Some women I have known since they were students, and now they are married with children. One old friend, Andrea Lizares Si, conveyed the happy news that she is today a grandmother of three. I can just die of envy.

* * *

There was a bit of a mess before the Provincial Women’s Forum could start. As the women, who had kicked off the day with a caravan around the provincial capitol, gathered at the designated assembly hall, they found it filled with families waiting to receive their monthly conditional cash transfers. This, despite June’s having reserved the place and paying the fee days before. After much hurried negotiation, they managed to get permission to use the provincial basketball arena and rushed to transfer the chairs and decorations from the old venue.

What a testament, though, to the PCW leaders’ and members’ resilience and quick thinking, not to mention their determination to push through with the assembly, this opportunity to celebrate being women on International Women’s Day.

It’s a wonder how the day has become institutionalized as an official celebration by both the public and private sector through the years. This year, the theme of the celebration, as determined by the Philippine Commission on Women, is “Kababaihan: Gabay sa Pagtahak sa Tuwid na Daan (Women: Guides to Following the Straight Road).” And it was this link between women’s contributions to society and to governance that I was tasked to explore.

But what made the occasion special for me was meeting more old friends as well as new ones, including Marilyn Andres Dalisay Marañon, wife of Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon.

Also a treat was beholding the talents of women from all over the province who competed in a poster-making contest, a “composo” or song competition (with lyrics on women empowerment), and a “binalaybay” or declamation contest.

* * *

I’d also like to make mention of a recent signing of a memorandum of agreement between the Spanish NGO Paz y Desarrollo (PYD) and two women’s organizations—the Women and Gender Institute (Wagi) of Miriam College, and Pilipina. The agreement covers the second phase in the Philippines of a “Regional Program to Promote Gender Equality in Political Participation,” which likewise covers Bangladesh, Cambodia, East Timor and Vietnam.

Wagi and Pilipina cooperate to encourage and accelerate women’s political participation while assisting state universities in integrating gender in their curricula and policy.

The first phase of the program involved working with “duty bearers,” specifically government officials, who received orientation and training on harnessing state resources to promote gender equality. This time, the project focuses on “rights bearers” or citizens, although PYD country representative Antonio Gonzalez noted that it may involve local officials as well.

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