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At Large

‘Manay’ Gina’s wide network

/ 08:05 PM February 17, 2014

“Only Gina could gather a crowd like this,” remarked former House Speaker and Gina’s hubby Joe de Venecia, observing that she had managed to gather in one place people (mostly women) from the disparate worlds of politics, show business, business, media and NGOs.

Indeed, only “Manay” Gina, congresswoman from Pangasinan and president of the women legislators’ group, could have gathered around one table Imelda Marcos and Loi Ejercito, and on the next table Ballsy Aquino Cruz and Viel Aquino Dee, with Sen. Loren Legarda, Sen. Grace Poe and her mother Susan Roces, Regal Films matriarch “Mother” Lily Monteverde, and Tessie Sy Coson of the SM empire surrounding them. On one table, a group of Gina’s classmates from Assumption cheered her on, while in another were seated members of INA, or Ina na Naulila ng Anak, the NGO Gina founded with media personality Ali Sotto after the deaths of their children.

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We were witnessing around the function room at the Gloria Maris restaurant the fruits of Gina’s hard work and networking for many years, dating from her childhood as one of the daughters of Doc Jose Perez of Sampaguita Films (“the world where I grew up in,” Gina would acknowledge), as the better half of congressman Joe and then president of the Congressional Spouses Foundation, and thence her coming into her own as she took over her husband’s congressional district and assumed responsibility heading the women’s caucus in the House.

“You may have noticed that the great majority of my guests are women,” Manay Gina noted in her brief remarks. “And that is because it is women—aside from my family—who are my chief sources of strength and inspiration these days.”

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“Manong” Joe, still showing signs of pain as he recovers from a broken collarbone in an

accident late last year, shared the “many reasons I love Gina.”

First was her putting up, as head of the Congressional Spouses Foundation, a network of safe houses called “The Haven” for victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. From one center in Muntinlupa, “The Haven” has since expanded to over 30 locations around the country, joined in time by “Havens” for street children and abandoned senior citizens.

After losing their daughter KC in a fire, Gina channeled her grief and pain into establishing INA, and setting up a counseling center for grieving parents inside the DSWD compound in Quezon City.

But Manay Gina has built a network that consists not just of buildings and centers, but even more significant, an even wider network of friends built and maintained by unfailing consideration and caring. As one congresswoman remarked: “Manay Gina’s generosity is legend, she gives us souvenirs from her travels and even little items like shawls and food.”

And all these packaged with charm and sincerity. Gina may have learned the ropes of dealing with people from all walks of life from her producer-father who treated stars and bit players in his Sampaguita stable as family, along with production staffers, talents and fans. But perhaps it is not “lessons learned” that propel her, so much as DNA, as entertainment—and what is politics but another form of entertainment—clearly runs in her blood?

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May the years be kind, Manay Gina, and may you expand your network of do-gooding even further in the future!

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Twenty years after the groundbreaking Cairo Conference on Population and Development in 1994, a conference where the term “sexual and reproductive health and rights” entered the lexicon, women have shown remarkable progress.

In a New York Times commentary, Somini Sengupta observed that women have gained “greater control over their health and destiny, women worldwide have fewer children, are less likely to die of childbirth and have made great strides in literacy.”

Based on a report of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), these rosy findings, however, have a dark lining to them. In poor countries, and in poor communities in these countries “women’s status, maternal death, and child marriage,” the prevalence of which indicate continuing violations of women’s rights, remain high.

“In poor countries,” observes Sengupta, “pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among young women ages 15 to 19. Women continue to be paid less and they are more likely to work in jobs that are less secure and with fewer benefits.”

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Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA executive director, forwards an “obvious” solution: “Men have to change. They have to accept gender equality.”

One worrying statistic is that worldwide, one in three women reported being physically or sexually abused. In Asia, a separate study found that nearly half of the 10,000 men interviewed reported using physical or sexual violence against a female partner, while a fourth of them said they had raped a woman or girl, with the vast majority saying they faced no prosecution.

Concluded the report: “Progress has been unequal and fragmented.” And as Sengupta observed: “The changes may have come at a time when the world has prospered overall, though women in the poorest countries, along with poor women in some richer countries, have not seen their lives improve.”

It seems obvious, then, that while gender disparities continue to haunt the lives of women in the poorest areas, it is still prosperity and a way out of poverty that will lift women out of their abject status and empower them to pursue better lives.

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