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11:04 PM May 16th, 2013

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By: Rina Jimenez-David, May 16th, 2013 11:04 PM

One of the less-noted developments in the recent elections is that, with much of the counting over, the country has just doubled the number of women in the Senate. As of this writing, no one among the victorious women is in danger of being dislodged from the winners’ circle, but none of those within shot of securing a place in the two remaining slots is a woman, either.

Reelectionist Sen. Loren Legarda easily secured a seat, although not the top post as she may have hoped. Instead, Loren was steamrollered by what some commentators have called “the Grace Poe juggernaut”—although it is still one for the books that for the first time in our electoral history, women candidates have taken the top two positions in the Senate polls.

Nancy Binay is secure in fifth place in the lineup. Former congresswoman Cynthia Villar, on the other hand, is hovering on uncertain ground in 10th place, but she seems to have retained that foothold in the winners’ circle.

These women join—or rejoin—Senators Pia Cayetano and Miriam Defensor-Santiago in the chamber, bringing to six the number of women in the Senate, the highest so far in history.

By June, we should be seeing whether this “bumper crop” of women senators will result in legislation that redounds to the betterment of the status of women and children in this country. Of course, they may say that they serve in the Senate as representatives of all Filipinos, and not just of women and children. But the majority of Filipinos are women and young people, so it’s a no-brainer. If women legislators cannot speak out, draft laws and champion the cause of women and children, then do we just count on the men to speak for us and act on our behalf? C’mon, sisters!

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Based solely on their vote in favor of the “responsible parenthood and reproductive health” bill, but also taking into consideration their support for such measures as the Magna Carta of Women and, before that, the laws on trafficking of women and children, violence against women and their children, and others, we women know we can count on the continuing support of Senators Cayetano, Santiago and Legarda.

Poe, in her many public statements during the campaign, and in the perception of women’s groups, has proven herself an advocate for women and children, even in her work as chair of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board. Villar, on the other hand, joined her husband, former Senator Manny, in voting against the RH bill. But she framed her campaign propaganda in terms of “livelihood for women,” especially in poor barangays, so maybe we can count on her to champion economic opportunities for women. As a congresswoman, though, especially as head of the congresswomen’s caucus, she provided strategic leadership in pushing prowomen legislation. Hope springs eternal?

Binay remains a cipher, as she has been throughout the campaign. Her TV campaign ads proclaimed her as the “nanay  of the barangay,” meaning she would spend her time in the Senate looking after the welfare of young people. She is herself a mother of four, so we are at least assured that she has hands-on experience in the special challenges of raising a family and rearing children. Dare we hope she will translate this real-world experience to advocacy for women and children in her work in the Senate?

I await the statistics emerging from the results of elections for congressional representatives. Through the years, the number of congresswomen has been rising, and I hope we’ll see an increase this year, too. I look forward to welcoming back our long-time supportive allies in the House, and to meeting and introducing the neophyte women.

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I hope this is not a farewell to public life for Risa Hontiveros. I made no bones about my support for her candidacy, and my belief in her—as a public figure, as a women’s advocate, as an agent for change, and as a person.

Some people expressed discomfort with the “persona” she projected in the campaign, and some told me they could not believe she could be as sweet and amiable in person as she appeared to be in her ads and public appearances. Well, I can say for sure that, while being no pushover, Risa in person is an even more palatable package. The public hasn’t even heard her sing yet!

But yes, it puzzled me—and many observers—no end why Risa seemed so difficult to “sell” as a candidate. After all, she had all the factors deemed necessary to make it in politics in these parts. She is (relatively) young, attractive, fearless in her political advocacy, articulate, loyal. Her only drawback, she has admitted, is that she doesn’t carry a name with much political cachet.

She even has a compelling narrative: widow of a police officer and mother of four, as well as an activist since her teens fighting the good fight for peace, human rights, agrarian reform, and, of course, women’s and children’s causes.

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In an ironic statement—ironic because she herself fared even worse than Risa in the polls—former congresswoman Mitos Magsaysay said Risa’s failure was the result of the anti-RH Church vote. Or, as a friend told me recently, “There may be no Church vote, but there is a Church backlash.”

Indeed, it seemed at times that the bishops and priests had singled out Risa for attack, mainly because they deemed her the most vulnerable of the pro-RH candidates. If true, it says more about the anti-RH camp—vindictive, tunnel-visioned, antiwomen—than it does about Risa.

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