Human Face

Women in the news

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In the news almost every day in the past weeks and until now are three women involved in crimes: Janet Lim-Napoles, Ruby Chan Tuason and Deniece Cornejo. Also in the news are the women going after wrongdoers: Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares and Commission on Audit Chair Grace Pulido-Tan.

Napoles is the alleged queen behind the multibillion-peso scam that involved lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund allocations that were channeled through dubious nongovernment organizations of her making. Tuason is the confessed bag lady who served as conduit between Napoles and lawmakers who were recipients of kickbacks of their own PDAFs coming from Napoles. Cornejo is a young woman—22 years old—who filed a rape complaint that backfired on her when the purported rapist, an entertainment celebrity, charged her and her group (one of them well-connected) with serious illegal detention, extortion, etc.

Comments on how women have been hogging the headlines—in negative or positive ways—are not few and far between. But what of it?  Do men have the monopoly of being criminals and crime-busters?

Those who expect women to be the better half of the population are having a rude awakening. Well, alas, indeed. This is not to say that women have come full circle by becoming at par with men in committing headline-grabbing crimes, plunder and extortion among them. “Coming full circle” may not be the right way to describe it. “Gone astray” is more like it. It is hard to accept that just because the females of the species are now in step with the males in terms of positive achievements, they now have an equal share of the blame for the evil sown in this world.

For the women who commit wrong, there are the words “Kababae mong tao.” You’re a woman and more is expected of you. For the men, it is “Kalalake mong tao.” You’re a man and you’re not supposed to be weak. After the Moor’s last sigh on losing Alhambra came the admonition that reverberates to this day: “You do well to weep like a woman for what you failed to defend as a man.” And it was his mother who said that to him.

I have often heard comments about women who err, how they have given womanhood a bad name, how more is expected of them—more kindness, compassion, honesty, integrity, and so forth and so on. As if women have the monopoly of all goodness.

And when they turn out to be the epitome of so many positives, it is as if they were born that way or expected to be that way, anyway.  That is, being long-suffering and patient. Strength of character, strength of will, bravery in the midst of danger, defying oppressive authority—when these are displayed by women, they are likened to men. “Women with balls,” they are called.

But why balls? Why not breasts, or brains, or bones? Why invoke male qualities to describe strong women? Or why liken a weak man to a woman?

When Cecilia Muñoz-Palma became the first woman to sit in the Supreme Court, many hailed her appointment. That the appointing power was a dictatorial president (Ferdinand Marcos) was not lost on those who rejoiced. It didn’t take long for Muñoz-Palma to show her true colors.

Ingrata. Ingrate. That was how she was harshly called by a colleague. Ingrata because as an associate justice speaking before her peers and members of the bar on the occasion of Law Day, she pleaded for the return of the rule of law. That was in 1975, the third year of martial rule. The lady told her audience: “We shall be judged by history—not by what we want to do and can’t, [but] by what we ought to do and don’t.”

She received a standing ovation, but one of her colleagues mumbled, “Ingrata.” When Muñoz-Palma learned of it, she took it as a compliment, a badge of courage.

Also, ingrata because she wrote a dissenting opinion on the habeas corpus case of nationalist and former senator Jose W. Diokno. Her opinion could have stung the dictator but before it could be laid bare, it was “frustrated.” It leaked and jumped the gun on the other justices, and Marcos, too. It paved the way for the release of Diokno, who had been detained for more than 700 days without charges. Muñoz-Palma called the Diokno case her baptism of fire.

She defended her opinion thus: “In closing, I am bothered by the thought that some of my colleagues may attribute my approach to Diokno’s petition to my being a woman, and I may even be accused of allowing my emotions to overpower my reason. If there is such an assumption, I would say that it is incorrect. However, if it is indeed true that my being a woman led me to take this stand… then I am happy and proud that I was born a woman.”

I wrote about her and called her a “beloved ingrata.”

* * *

I have just come from the Creative Nonfiction Workshop organized by the Women’s Features Service (WFS) and held at the Women’s Ecology and Wellness Center in Mendez, Cavite. As one of the resource persons, I shared my experiences and took part in the critical readings of the workshop participants’ pieces. The WFS “fellows” were young women aspiring to be writers.

We discussed women’s issues in our stories, writing techniques and story ideas. We had great farm food every day, as well as wine, poetry and laughter under the stars. Women writing and writhing.

Thanks to the workshop sponsors—St. Scholastica’s College, De La Salle-Lipa and the US Embassy.

This year being The Year of the Laity, I will be speaking this weekend at the three-day gathering of Church lay leaders sponsored by the De la Salle University’s Theology Department. My topic: “A Lay Journalist’s Encounters with the Church of the Poor.”

Send feedback to cerespd@gmail.com or www.ceresdoyo.com

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