At Large

Women voting for women

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Joining the ranks of political endorsers is Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who recently announced her support for two members of Team PNoy: Rep. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara and former Rep. Risa Hontiveros.

“I am endorsing Sonny Angara because I want young people in the Senate,” declared Santiago, describing Angara as “young and idealistic and full of sex appeal.”

As for Hontiveros, the feisty senator told a reporter that she “has always respected Hontiveros for her convictions and her willingness to stand for principle.”

“I don’t necessarily look for a clone of me,” Santiago remarked. But she said she wants in the Senate “someone who has definite views for our country, and who is willing to undergo and make sacrifices, undergo the trials and tribulations of that conviction for our country—and Risa fits the bill.” She believes Hontiveros is “very principled,” she added.

Angara thanked Santiago for the endorsement, saying that “she is known as one of the heavyweights of the Senate,” and that, not being an “ordinary senator,” her endorsement is “no ordinary endorsement.”

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News has it that senatorial candidates are now turning to “command votes” in hopes of boosting their chances at the polls. Candidates are turning to religious groups, civic organizations and even local politicians in hopes of winning their support and thereby guaranteeing their “command votes”—the votes of fervent believers and supporters for whom the views of their leaders are taken as not just an endorsement but an order as well.

Reading this news, I wondered if politicians would ever consider courting the “women’s vote” to ensure victory at the polls. After all, more women than men vote in this country, albeit by a small margin. But the verdict so far has been that women rarely come together “as one” behind a candidate or an issue. Will things change in this year’s elections?

About a week ago, the Philippines observed the 76th anniversary of the plebiscite that gave Filipino women the right to vote. The government had set as a condition for the grant of suffrage to women that at least 300,000 Filipino women vote in favor of the motion. But when the heat of the campaign and voting died down, it turned out that 90 percent of the female population (447,725) voted yes for the measure. Perhaps we can say that this was the first and last time ever that Filipino women voted for a woman’s cause.

The occasion, said the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) in a statement, should compel women to rethink their attitudes toward women candidates and women’s issues in elections.

“COMELEC data on the May 2010 national and local elections show that women only got 18.4 percent of elected posts,” said the PCW. “Despite the greater female voter turnout than male (75.7 percent versus 74.4 percent), women did not vote for women who carry their issues.”

The PCW asserts: “We need to challenge the status quo. It is not enough to have a good number of male politicians who are sympathetic to women’s concerns. Filipino women should recognize that they belong to a sector with special interests. On one hand, having more women in politics could generate greater support to work on women’s issues. But more importantly, we should elect women leaders who truly understand women’s issues and experiences.”

The PCW’s call: That every Filipino voter “be wise, responsible and forward-thinking in casting votes. Let us allow more women to take the lead in shaping the gender-responsive policies and take part in setting the political agenda.”

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Women are also taking the future in their own hands this morning, gathering in front of the Supreme Court to urge the justices to act forthwith on the pending motions regarding the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law.

At a “Mother’s Day” rally, the women and their men supporters—representing mothers, both present and future—aired their concerns about the petitions seeking to block, if not bar outright, the recently passed RH Law.

“We are disturbed,” they said in an open letter, at the way the new law has been “twisted” by petitioners. The law, they said, recognizes the rights of mothers to decide on matters regarding their bodies and ensures protection against deadly complications of pregnancy or childbirth. “It is the mother’s body and health that ensure the life and sustenance of the child in the womb, so it is a huge insult to separate and distinguish the interests of the mother and the child.”

Research indicates, they said, that 54 percent of pregnancies and 36 percent of births are either unplanned or unwanted. “We can attest to the truth of this,” the mothers said in their letter. “We are the first to feel uneasy, feel fear, to worry and blame ourselves. We worry about not just our safe delivery, but also how we would carry the pregnancy to term, how to care for the child, feed it, educate it, keep it safe from harm.”

What a cruel fate it would be, said the  nanay, if drugs and technology that have been proven safe, effective and nonabortive would be barred from their use because of the petitioners’ “religious beliefs.” Without the RH Law, they said, nearly five million Filipino women who use modern contraceptives would be placed in a delicate situation.

In conclusion, the mothers said they hoped for the justices’ “careful and intelligent decision,” hoping that this would put an end to “a great threat to the lives of mothers and our families.”

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