Women of substance | Inquirer Opinion

Women of substance

It was at the turn of the century in 1999 that Time editors came out with a list of The 100 Most Influential People of the Century. Five years later, in 2004, they decided to make it an annual issue as The 100 Most Influential People in the World. The individuals who grace the list are nominated by Time 100 alumni and the magazine’s international writing staff. They are then chosen exclusively by Time editors. Those selected are recognized for actions taken that have affected lives in various parts of the world regardless of the ultimate consequences of their actions. The final lineup is broken down into five categories: Pioneers, Artists, Leaders, Titans and Icons.

As managing editor Nancy Gibbs explains, the choices reveal that “power is certain; influence is subtle. Power is a tool; influence is a skill. One is a fist, the other, a fingertip.” Gen. Dwight Eisenhower used to say, “You don’t lead by hitting people over their heads. That’s assault, not leadership.” As such, the list is not about powerful people but, rather, acknowledges the most influential individuals in the world.


This year there are two Filipinos in the roster. They are President Duterte in the leadership category, and Sen. Leila de Lima as an icon.

I have chosen to highlight three women icons, all lawyers from three different continents. All are involved in the fight against powerful and entrenched forces. One has been successful in toppling a sitting president; one is in jail for going against the incumbent; the third is fighting for institutional survival amid criticism that much of her attention has been focused on fellow Africans.


Thelma Aldana

Aldana, 62, is the current attorney general of Guatemala whose inquiries into government corruption led to the resignation of President Otto Perez Molina. Elected president of Guatemala’s Supreme Court in 2011, she created special courts to handle crimes against women with judges and police officers now receiving special gender crime training.

“Guatemala has long been held back by a culture of graft. It is through the efforts of people like Thelma Aldana that the country’s battle against impunity is being fought with new intensity.

“As Attorney General of Guatemala, Aldana uncovered a corrupt network within its customs agency, siphoning off millions and involving every level of government. She worked closely with the UN’s International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala to identify who among the political and economic elite was involved. The trail led all the way to President Otto Perez Molina who was impeached and arrested and is now facing trial for fraud.

“Aldana showed that the rule of law can defeat corruption even when it stretches to the highest office in the land.”

(The write-up on Aldana was done by Jose Carlos Ugaz, chair of the anticorruption group Transparency International.)

Leila de Lima


De Lima, 57, was born in Iriga, Camarines Sur, the eldest daughter of former elections commissioner Vicente de Lima. She finished her law studies at San Beda College in 1985, and was later appointed chair of the Human Rights Commission by President Gloria Arroyo. President Noynoy Aquino designated her as secretary of justice in 2010. She was elected to the
Senate in June 2016.

“Leila de Lima knew with whom she was dealing. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has insulted Pope Francis, told US President Barack Obama to ‘go to hell,’ and expressed regret he did not go ‘first’ in a gang rape. Since last June, when Duterte took office, some 7,000 people have been killed in his merciless anti-drug campaign. Most opposition politicians have kept their heads down, knowing Duterte is both terrifyingly brutal and massively popular.

“But Senator De Lima has become Duterte’s most vocal critic—a role her friends call suicidal. Last August, De Lima convened a hearing on drug war killings, featuring devastating testimony from a former hitman. Duterte allies stripped De Lima of her Justice Committee chair. In February, she was jailed.

“It is a disturbing statement to the current solidarity among strong men and the global surge in impunity that De Lima’s cause has not been more embraced.”

(The write-up on De Lima was done by Samantha Power, former US ambassador to the United Nations. She is also a distinguished scholar who once expressed the idea that “a nation’s sovereignty does not give it the right to behave abominably
inside its borders.”)

Fatou Bensouda

Bensouda, 56, was born in the Gambia, the smallest country in Africa, and served as minister of justice before being elected to the post of deputy prosecutor at the International Criminal Court. In December 2011, she was elected chief prosecutor,
succeeding Luis Moreno Ocampo.

“Former Gambian Justice Minister Fatou Bensouda now presides over investigations and prosecutions at the International Criminal Court. Earlier this year, leaders of the African Union called for a collective withdrawal from the court, claiming that the arbiter is racist, colonial and anti-African because it has almost exclusively investigated and prosecuted Africans. Russia has already left, and the Philippines has hinted that it might follow suit, signaling a dissolution of the only independent international body truly capable of investigating and prosecuting genocide, and crimes against humanity wherever they happen.

“Bensouda is not going to let that happen without a fight. When countries started announcing their intent to leave, she blasted them for giving African leaders a free hand ‘to commit genocide.’ She has directed the court to consider new cases from Ukraine, Iraq, Columbia, and Afghanistan, which should put some of the criticism to rest.”

(The write-up on Bensouda was done by Aryn Baker, Time’s bureau chief in Africa.)

In light of recent developments, the Philippines should be hearing more from Fatou Bensouda in the coming months.

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